One night of each year in the Indian calendar is dedicated to worship of Lord Shiva. This holiday is known as Maha Shivaratri – the great night of Shiva. Maha Shivaratri 2013 falls on Saturday, March 9 in the U.S. and on Sunday, March 10 in India.
In the Vedic tradition, there is a trinity of the major GODs.
Lord Brahma is the Governor
Lord Vishnu is the Operator (or Sustainer)
Lord Shiva is the Destroyer
Shiva removes that which has outlived its usefulness and then allows us to start anew. He can remove our limitations, negativities and false beliefs. He brings about radical transformation. Shiva has many names: Nataraj, Mahadeva, Mahesh, Rudra, Ugra, Ardra, Maheshwara, Shambho, Shankara, and the list goes on. Each name describes a specific quality of the lord’s multi-faceted being. Shiva is “Mahadeva” – the great lord. Shiva means “that which underlies.”
On this auspicious and sacred night, it is said that one repetition of the mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” is magnified 1,000 times. Due to the great merit of this mantra repetition (or japa), it is customary people to gather and stay up all night chanting the sacred mantra. People typically fast on this day or refrain from eating grains. Steamed milk with aromatic spices if prepared and served or left outside in the moonlight. White clothing is traditionally worn on Shivaratri.
The rudraksha mala is traditionally associated with Lord Shiva. It is said that Shiva cried tears when he saw the suffering of humanity and these tears fell to the ground and formed seeds which grew into the rudraksha tree. Rudra is another name for the fierce form of Shiva. Aksha translates as “eyes”. When doing mantra japa to Shiva, it is beneficial to use a rudraksha mala if possible.
While chanting is common in groups and at ashrams, spiritual retreat sites, etc., the focus in entirely inward. As we chant “Om Namah Shivaya” (I honor Shiva – the supreme being who resides in each of us), we can connect once again to our own innate divinity and acknowledge that there are multiple facets to our own great being. We can also recognize the divinity that exists in each of us and honor that time and again.
The celebration of Maha Shivaratri is done on the 14th night of the waning Moon in the Indian lunar calendar in the month of Maagha. Typically, in Vedic astrology, the phase of the Moon is calculated at sunrise in a location. However, for this lunar holiday, astrologers look at where the Moon is at midnight. The phase or tithi of the Moon on Shivaratri is known as chaturdashi tithi in Vedic astrology.
This phase of the Moon begins at 2:35 PM on Saturday continues until approximately 1 PM Pacific time on Sunday in the U.S. Information on Maha Shivaratri can be found on the Mypanchang website.