Mahashivratri is one of the largest and most significant among the sacred festivals of India. The festival celebrates the Grace of Shiva, who is considered the Adi Guru or the First Guru from whom the Yogic tradition originates. The planetary positions on this night, which is also the darkest night of the year, are such that there is a powerful natural upsurge of energy in the human system. It is enormously beneficial for one’s physical and spiritual wellbeing to stay awake and aware in a vertical posture throughout the night.
Significance of Mahashivratri
▵ Mahashivratri, “The Great Night of Shiva” is the most significant event in India’s spiritual calendar. Sadhguru explains what makes this night so important, and how we can make use of it.
In the Indian culture, at one time, there used to be 365 festivals in a year. In other words, they just needed an excuse to celebrate every day of the year. These 365 festivals were ascribed to different reasons, and for different purposes of life. They were to celebrate various historical events, victories, or certain situations in life like sowing, planting, and harvesting. For every situation there was a festival. But Mahashivratri is of a different significance.
▵ Why Mahashivratri Is Celebrated
The fourteenth day of every lunar month or the day before the new moon is known as Shivratri. Among all the twelve Shivratris that occur in a calendar year, Mahashivratri, the one that occurs in February-March is of the most spiritual significance. On this night, the northern hemisphere of the planet is positioned in such a way that there is a natural upsurge of energy in a human being. This is a day when nature is pushing one towards one’s spiritual peak. It is to make use of this, that in this tradition, we established a certain festival which is nightlong. To allow this natural upsurge of energies to find their way,one of the fundamentals of this nightlong festival is to ensure that you remain awake with your spine vertical throughout the night.
▵ Importance of Mahashivratri
Mahashivratri is very significant for people who are on the spiritual path. It is also very significant for people who are in family situations, and also for the ambitious in the world. People who live in family situations observe Mahashivratri as Shiva’s wedding anniversary. Those with worldly ambitions see that day as the day Shiva conquered all his enemies.
But, for the ascetics, it is the day he became one with Mount Kailash. He became like a mountain – absolutely still. In the yogic tradition, Shiva is not worshipped as a God, but considered as the Adi Guru, the first Guru from whom the science of Yoga originated. After many millennia in meditation, one day he became absolutely still. That day is Mahashivratri. All movement in him stopped and he became utterly still, so ascetics see Mahashivratri as the night of stillness.
This scientific fact is an experiential reality in every yogi. The word “yogi” means one who has realized the oneness of the existence. When I say “yoga,” I am not referring to any one particular practice or system. All longing to know the unbounded, all longing to know the oneness in the existence is yoga. The night of Mahashivratri offers a person an opportunity to experience this.
▵ Shivratri – The Darkest Night of the Month
Shivratri, is the darkest day of the month. Celebrating Shivratri on a monthly basis, and the particular day, Mahashivratri, almost seems like celebration of darkness. Any logical mind would resist darkness and naturally opt for light. But the word “Shiva” literally means “that which is not.” “That which is,” is existence and creation. “That which is not” is Shiva. “That which is not” means, if you open your eyes and look around, if your vision is for small things, you will see lots of creation. If your vision is really looking for big things, you will see the biggest presence in the existence is a vast emptiness.
A few spots which we call galaxies are generally much noticed, but the vast emptiness that holds them does not come into everybody’s notice. This vastness, this unbounded emptiness, is what is referred to as Shiva. Today, modern science also proves that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. It is in this context that Shiva, the vast emptiness or nothingness, is referred to as the great lord, or Mahadeva.
Every religion, every culture on this planet has always been talking about the omnipresent, all-pervading nature of the divine. If we look at it, the only thing that can be truly all-pervading, the only thing that can be everywhere is darkness, nothingness, or emptiness.
Generally, when people are seeking well-being, we talk of the divine as light. When people are no longer seeking well-being, when they are looking beyond their life in terms of dissolving, if the object of their worship and their sadhana is dissolution, then we always refer to the divine as darkness.
▵ Significance of Shivratri
Light is a brief happening in your mind. Light is not eternal, it is always a limited possibility because it happens and it ends. The greatest source of light that we know on this planet is the sun. Even the sun’s light, you could stop it with your hand and leave a shadow of darkness behind. But darkness is all-enveloping, everywhere. The immature minds in the world have always described darkness as the devil. But when you describe the divine as all-pervading, you are obviously referring to the divine as darkness, because only darkness is all-pervading. It is everywhere. It does not need any support from anything.
Light always comes from a source that is burning itself out. It has a beginning and an end. It is always from a limited source. Darkness has no source. It is a source unto itself. It is all-pervading, everywhere, omnipresent. So when we say Shiva, it is this vast emptiness of existence. It is in the lap of this vast emptiness that all creation has happened. It is that lap of emptiness that we refer to as the Shiva.
In Indian culture, all the ancient prayers were not about saving yourself, protecting yourself or doing better in life. All the ancient prayers have always been “Oh lord, destroy me so that I can become like yourself.” So when we say Shivratri, which is the darkest night of the month, it is an opportunity for one to dissolve their limitedness, to experience the unboundedness of the source of creation which is the seed in every human being.
▵ Mahashivratri – A Night of Awakening
Mahashivratri is an opportunity and a possibility to bring yourself to that experience of the vast emptiness within every human being, which is the source of all creation. On the one hand, Shiva is known as the destroyer. On the other, he is known as the most compassionate. He is also known to be the greatest of the givers. The yogic lore is rife with many stories about Shiva’s compassion. The ways of expression of his compassion have been incredible and astonishing at the same time. So Mahashivratri is a special night for receiving too. It is our wish and blessing that you must not pass this night without knowing at least a moment of the vastness of this emptiness that we call as Shiva. Let this night not just be a night of wakefulness, let this night be a night of awakening for you.
Benefits of Mahashivratri
▵ Biologists have pointed out that one of the biggest steps in the evolutionary process of an animal was the movement from a horizontal to a vertical spine. It was only after this step that the flowering of the intelligence has happened. So, by making use of this natural upsurge of energies on the nightlong festival of Mahashivratri, with the right kind of mantras and meditations, we can move one step closer to the Divine.
The raising of energies takes place even if there is no sadhana in a person’s life. But especially for those people who are into some kind of yogic sadhana, keeping the body in a vertical position- or in other words, not sleeping on this night- is very important.
Mahashivratri is very significant for people who are on the spiritual path, and also for people with careers and in family situations. For people living in family situations, Mahashivratri is worshipped as Shiva’s wedding anniversary. The ambitious see it as the day Shiva conquered all his enemies. But in the yogic tradition, we do not consider Shiva as a god, but as the first guru or Adi Guru – the one who originated the science of Yoga. The word “Shiva” means “that which is not.” If you can keep yourself in such a state that you are not yourself, and allow Shiva to be, then the possibility of opening up a new vision into life and looking at life with total clarity is possible.
Shivratri – The Night of the Dark One
▵ The 14th night of the lunar month – the night before the new moon – is the darkest night of the month. It is referred to as Shivratri. When we say “Shiva”, one aspect is we are referring to the Adiyogi, the first yogi. Another aspect is, the word “Shiva” literally means “that which is not.” That which is, is creation. That which is not, is Shiva. Today, modern science says the whole creation has come from nothing and will go back to nothing. Everything comes from nothingness and goes back to nothingness. Nothingness is the basis of existence. So we are referring to Shiva as the basis of existence. “That which is not” is the basis of that which is.
The word Shivratri literally means Shiva’s night. On that day, there is a natural upsurge of energies in your physiology.
If you look up at the night sky, there are billions of stars out there, but that’s not the important thing. There is a lot more empty space than the number of stars. Creation is just a miniscule. It is the vast emptiness which is the big thing. Creation is held in the lap of that emptiness. We say the whole creation is happening in Shiva’s lap and refer to Shiva as the “Dark One.” Ironically, modern scientists are referring to that which holds everything together in this existence as dark energy . They are calling it dark energy because they are not able to describe it in any other way and are unable to grasp the nature of what it is. They are just short of saying Shiva!
So this whole Shiva stuff is not about some God up there, this is just physical sciences expressed in a dialectical format; it is a certain way of expression, but it is just describing the physical nature of the existence.
One of the names for Shiva is Bhuteshwara – the lord of the elements. The Pancha Bhuta Aradhana which takes place every Shivratri in the Dhyanalinga is mainly to access that dimension of grace in the Dhyanalinga.
The word Shivratri literally means Shiva’s night. On that day, there is a natural upsurge of energies in your physiology. To make use of this we have specific sadhana in yoga. Fundamentally, whether it is the individual human body or the larger cosmic body, essentially they are made of the pancha bhutas or the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and space. What you call as “myself” is just a mischief of these five elements. If you want to realize the full potential of this mechanism that you call a human being, or if you want to transcend this one and become one with the larger cosmic mechanism – whether your desire is for the individual or for the universal – unless you have a certain amount of mastery – knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously – over these five elements, you can neither know the pleasure of the individual self nor the blissfulness of the cosmic being.
One of the names for Shiva is Bhuteshwara – the lord of the elements. The Pancha Bhuta Aradhana which takes place every Shivratri in the Dhyanalinga is mainly to access that dimension of grace in the Dhyanalinga. Pancha Bhuta Aradhana creates a powerful possibility where you can integrate your system and allow the five elements in your body to bind much better.
From one body to another, how well integrated these five elements are, determines almost everything about that person. If this body has to become a stepping stone for a bigger possibility, it is very important that the system is properly integrated. The air that you breathe, the water that you drink, the food that you eat, the land that you walk upon and the fire of life in the form of the life force, these are the ingredients with which your physical self is made. If you keep these controlled, vibrant, and focused, health, wellbeing and success in the world are assured. It is my endeavor to create various devices which will allow people to make this happen for themselves in such a way that the very way you exist is a Pancha Bhuta Aradhana.
▵ Mahashivratri (Isha)