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The significance of Maha Shivaratri

Today is an auspicious day as we are celebrating Maha Shivaratri to honour Lord Shiva across India.

Of the Shivratris celebrated across the 12 months, once a year at the end of the winter months and the beginning of the summer season, is the auspicious Maha Shivratri.

There is more than one story that surrounds the significance of this day.

One such popular reference is that Lord Shiva married Parvathi (Shakti), marking this couple's sacred union.

Another fable talks about the time when the Gods and demons churned the ocean together; however, before they obtained nectar at the ocean's depths, a pot of poison arose.

Lord Shiva consumed this poison, saving both God and mankind. He did not consume it but swallowed it; the poison lodged in Lord Shiva’s throat, which is why it is blue in colour.

Honouring him and this remarkable event is one of the many reasons for Shivratri. Another legend has it that Goddess Ganga descended from the heavens. Lord Shiva caught her in his matted locks and released her onto Earth as streams of water.

This incident prevented the destruction of the Earth and all living beings. Hence devotees bathe the Shivalinga on the night of Shivratri and stay awake offering prayers.

Maha Shivratri, literally translates to ‘The Great Night of Shiva’, and it is on this night that Lord Shiva performs his heavenly dance called ‘Tandav’, which is symbolic of creation, preservation and destruction.

This auspicious day marks overcoming darkness and ignorance in life and the world. The reason MahaShivratri is considered auspicious is that it is supposed to be the night of convergence of Shiva & Shakti (Parvathi); which is the coming together of masculine (Shiva) and feminine(Shakti) energies that balance the world.

The night of Mahashivratri is dedicated to self-reflection and introspection to pave the way for success and leave behind anything that comes in the way & is undesirable. This feast is celebrated by organizing pujas.

Devotees abstain from food and observe full-day fasting and meditation to attain the blessings of Lord Shiva. The position of the constellations on the night of Maha Shivratri is considered auspicious for meditation; hence, devotees stay awake and meditate.

In the context of our Yogic culture and tantric systems, Shiva is known as the first Guru, commonly referred to as Adi Guru. He is the Adi Yogi or the First Yogi, also known as Yogeshwara (The Lord of Yoga).

He became ecstatic out of his realization and danced all over the mountains, and sat in stillness.

Shiva oscillated between phases of stillness and mad dancing. All the Gods witnessing this event were in a state of disbelief, watching Shiva doing so.

When they probed further and asked him what this was all about, he finally introduced them to Yoga, which in turn was passed to the rest of mankind.

It is said that Shiva first imparted his knowledge to Parvathi or Shakti, his spouse.

The teachings of Shiva were initially passed on to the rishis and then came down to humankind in the form of Agama Shastras.

From these teachings came various traditions and that gave way to a lineage of Siddhas who specialized in Yoga, Tantra, Medicine, Astrology and allied Sciences. In the daily chaos of life, we often forget the source of energy - which is the core of our being.

Mahashivratri serves as a reminder to draw our complete awareness to the root of our very existence – ‘Shiva’- and through this act, consciously awaken the divinity within us.

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