Amid the sordidness of mundane life, a quest for peace and prosperity seems to be a wild goose chase, as Man’s unquenching thirst for love, lust and power leaves him nowhere but in a dreary desert of ceaseless profligacy. But it is fast, festivals and celebrations which with their divine forces steer him out to merge with the beatitude of supernatural and spiritual progress of life on earth.
Since time immemorial, Indian culture has been enriched with various sorts of festivals, religious observances, and cultural events. Here are so many festivals that almost every day some festival or the other is celebrated with great gusto and gracefulness. One of them is Maha-Shivratri (Great Night of Ziva) which is well- known for its remarkable significance in life as described in Hindu mythology. It is the most important sectarian festival of the year for the devotees of the Hindu god ‘Zhiva’.
According to Hindi calendar this great festival falls on the 14th night of the darker half of the month, Phalgun (February). ‘The Great Night of Shiva’ is celebrated on this day with unstinted devotion and religious fervor because it is believed that on this very day Lord Shiva who forms a part of the Hindu holy Trimurti (trinity of Gods) appeared in the form of Linga containing in itself behemoth forces of myriad Suns.
On the occasion of Maha-Shivratri, celebrations take place in all the Shiva temples across India. Devotees celebrate it by keeping fast during the day and offering prayers throughout the night. This night has its own significance because worshipping Lord Shiva at this very night is believed to give salvation to life. Moreover, this auspicious occasion means a lot to women, as the married ones pray for the well being of their husbands and sons, the unmarried for a husband like Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband.
As a result, the atmosphere in and around temples and houses becomes vibrant with Hymns sung in praise of Lord Shiva and the Panchakshara Mantra, Om Namah Shivaya-a mantra capable of freeing one from all sins, echoes the universe by making it fragrant and pious.
Like other religious festivals, Maha-Shivaratri also has its source in the Indian mythology and is celebrated by the Hindus not just for their faith in Lord Shiva but also for its own scientific and spiritual significance. According to astrology, on this very day the Moon is nearer to the Sun, creating a perfect moment for the communion between two sustaining forces, one being the source of life with beauty, warmth and passion and the other being Shiva himself exuding light ,strength and energy. Going on a spiritual note, Maha-Shivaratri is an auspicious announcement of the divine descent of Lord Shiva. So the sincere worship of Lord Shiva is said to yield merits as well as spiritual growth for the devotees.
Scriptures are fraught with a number of interesting legends and stories associated with the festival of Maha-Shivaratri. There goes a story in the glory of Maha-Shivaratri. Once upon a time there lived a hunter named Gurudruh in a certain forest of Baranasi. He was brawny and cruel and eked out his livelihood by hunting only. One day his whole family, out of hunger, requested him to bring some food. In search of his quarry he wandered here and there in the forest but found none till the sunset.
So he decided to continue his hunt even into the darkness of the night. Near a pond in the forest he climbed up a tree called Bilva and sat on one of its branches waiting for his quarry. At last he chanced to have a thirsty deer over there. He tried to kill him but he did not succeed. Thus he made four attempts at different periods of the night and failed each time. But one thing that happened to make all the difference over there was that each time when he tried to kill the deer some of the water he had in a pot tucked to his waist and some leaves of the tree fell on to a Shivligum lying under the same tree.
In this way, though unknowingly, he made his offering to Lord Siva four times at that night. It being the night of Maha-Sivaratri, Lord Shiva was pleased with this act of the hunter and appeared there to bless him. This divine happening changed his life altogether and led him to salvation. Being inspired by this story, the tradition of observing Maha-Shivaratri came in vogue.
Moreover, Maha-Shivaratri is not just a celebration of faith in Lord Shiva but also helps us maintain the ethos of Vedic and cultural values in life. The fast that is observed on this sacred occasion is considered to be the greatest fast on earth, filling life with all sanctity of spirituality and making man come over the negative forces of life and enabling him to live a righteous and peaceful life.