Maha Sivaratri


lunar new year

[Lunar New Year 2016. Credit: google image]

In my view, this google image of the moon and the monkeys teaches the essence of the Maha Sivaratri festival very well.

The moon and the mind play a vital role in the Maha Sivaratri celebration.

The moon has come out of the cosmic mind, chandrama manaso jatah [Purusha suktam]. The moon is the presiding deity of the mind. “The moon does influence the function of humans as well as animals…The new moon raises your unconscious, and you can use the moment to cleanse your mind of any bothersome and disturbing thoughts. The new moon energy can be used to our advantage if we choose to harness the energy to reflect and create a better self.

The monkey in the picture represents my monkey mind. The monkeys clinging on to and frolicking on the tree branch are no different from my mind bouncing around, hanging on to the branches of the tree of life instead of clinging on to its root.

Ratri means night. The moon dominates the night. My mind is influenced by the moon. The moon has sixteen fractions. In the waning phase, the moon’s power decreases by a fraction each successive night. Correspondingly the power of my mind also decreases. Finally on the fourteenth night, only a tiny fraction of the moon is left. At this time, my mind is the weakest and can be most facilely directed to undertake serious spiritual activity. Through this activity, the remaining diluted pull of the mind can be negated, revealing the effulgence of the indweller. This is the blissful beatitude and most auspicious, sivam. Hence this night is called sivaratri, the night facile in Siva. This happens every month on the fourteenth night in the waning phase of the moon. The sivaratri that happens in the month of phalguni (February/March) once a year is called Maha Sivaratri.

I benefit the most if I spend this night thinking of and immersing myself in Bhagavan, with love by doing nama smarana (repetition of the Name), bhajans (devotional group singing) or any form of worship that appeals to me. I have done this, truly speaking, only once in my life so far. That too accidentally. When I was about to call it a night around midnight on Maha Sivaratri about three years ago and go home, the pull of a sweet bhajan kept me back. And the rest of the night turned out to be simply blissful. I would love for this experience to repeat.

The purpose of the Maha Sivaratri function is only to worship one’s favorite form of God in a way that appeals to one, in a most loving and fully dedicated way. And to do this without being concerned with food or sleep through the night.

“Not being concerned with food” normally is understood to mean fasting. What is prescribed is actually upavaasam. upa means near. vaasam means to reside. Upavaasam means to direct the mind to one’s favorite form of God (or to the formless as one’s preference is), keep it there steady and live there.

“Without sleep” is normally taken to mean keeping awake through the night. Being awake not in a mere physical sense of not going to sleep. It actually means being awake to the truth that everything in life is temporary and transient, being awake to the necessity of seeking that which is permanent.

Symbolic form of Siva [Source]

The formless divinity is symbolically represented in a form to facilitate the mind to focus and worship during this night. The form is at once majestic, strong and humble. It is an embodiment of discipline, sense and mind control and renunciation of all that is temporary and transient. Its eyes represent the three eyes of time – the past, the present and the future. The elephant skin the form adorns shows the control and destruction of bestial tendencies. The snake ornaments – necklace, waist-belt, wristlets and anklets – depict full control of mind. For, the snake symbolically represents my mind. Both the snake and my mind have the same characteristics. Both can focus on only one thing at any given moment. Both travel in a crooked path. Both can emit poison. But the poison emitting ability is negated when the fangs are removed in the snake. In the same way, when the fangs of attraction to life’s pleasures are removed in my mind, my mind can poison my life no more. The form carries a crescent moon on its head. The moon cools the agitations of my mind but more importantly the crescent reminds me to grab the salvation opportunity the sivaratri delivers at my door step. The form also has the river ganga  flowing out of its locks. The ganga is nothing but the tears of yearning of Brahma to be one with divinity. This impels me that I must bring out my latent pangs of separation from myself and shed genuine tears for God.

The Dance of Creation [Source]

And the form dances. Not an ordinary dance. It is the dance of perfection. The dance of bliss. Not a dot is out of place in space or time in this dance because both space and time come out of this dance. When my mind is fully controlled and I take residence in It, the form says, I can see this wonderful dance and experience its bliss.

This wonderful form teaches me to control my senses and mind. It teaches discipline . It teaches not to be bothered with the passing clouds of the events in life. This form relates to me as a human being.

Symbolic form of the Formless – lingam [Source]

There is another form symbolizing divinity  that is also worshipped on this night. This form points to formlessness itself. It symbolically represents creation. This is the lingam. Lingam means symbol. Its shape has no beginning, no end. Its form is the shape of the physical universe, egg shaped. Just as the chicken is present in every part of the egg, divinity is present in every part of creation.

Maha Sivaratri is celebrated with enthusiasm and long-awaited expectation in India and the rest of the world by millions of devotees.


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There are many different stories – all interesting – in the scriptures on the origin of this festival. For a brief review, read here, here, here.

Here is a bhajan I think you’ll like.

This year, Maha Sivaratri is on March 7, 2016. Happy Maha Sivaratri, dear reader!


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