Mahadev means one who is above ‘Devas’; the greatest of all. He is known by various names such as Bholenath (the innocent one), Pashupatinath (lord of the animals), Shiva (auspicious) and Shankar (one who brings prosperity and happiness) among others. Shivratri literally means ‘night of Lord Shiva’ and falls on the 13th Day of Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) every month. The Shivratri which comes in the month of Phalgun (Magh) is known as Mahashivratri. Mahadev is not just Adiyogi and Adiguru but also a ‘vairagi’ and ‘house-holder’ at the same time. He is both attached and detached at the same time; He is the one who has transcended the pairs of opposites.
Mahashivratri is the night dedicated to this great God who is Svayambhu meaning self-made or self-manifested. Shiv Purana states that Mahadev appeared before Brahma Dev and Sri Hari Vishnu when both were arguing as to whom among them was superior. Lord Shiva is possibly the most enigmatic of all deities in the Hindu pantheon. His personality is both awe-inspiring and worthy of emulation (though quite difficult). For Him all devotees were the same; be it a Deva, Asura or human. Like most other things in Hinduism there are several stories associated with Mahashivratri.
Legends associated with Mahashivratri
The Devas and Asuras were once churning the ocean of milk in order to get ‘Amrita’ (nectar of immortality). During the process a deadly poison known as Halahala emerged. This poison had the potential to destroy the universe and hence Devas and Asuras sought the help of Mahadev to deal with the situation. Acceding to their request Mahadev drank the deadly poison but before He could gulp it Devi Parvati caught His throat where it remained giving Him the name Nilkanth (one whose throat is blue). According to Puranas, Shivaratri is a celebration of this event whereby Mahadev saved the world from destruction.
As per a legend in the Shiva Purana, Mahashivratri is when Shiva first manifested as a Linga when He appeared as a pillar of fire before Brahma Deva and Sri Hari Vishnu when they were arguing as to whom among them was superior. According to some other accounts Shiva became householder Shankara by marrying Devi Parvati on the 14th day of Phalgun Krishna Paksha. It also the day when Mahadev gave a new lease of life to Chandra (moon) when the latter was cursed by Prajapati Daksh. Angered by Chandra’s partial behaviour against his daughter Revati, Prajapati curses the moon with death. Responding to the prayers of devotees asking Him to grant ‘abhaya’ to moon, Mahadev agrees to adorn moon on His head thereby reducing the effect of Prajapati’s curse. The moon waxes and wanes in accordance with Mahadev’s blessings which partially negated the curse.
Significance of Mahashivratri
The stories and legends apart; this is a night to celebrate the greatest of all Gods Mahadev. It is not just about rituals such as offering Bel leaves or keeping a fast or even staying awake all night. It is all about realising the Parmatma seated within all of us and awakening our soul. He is a teacher not just as Dakshinamurthy but also through His deeds. He shows us that one can easily balance spirituality and materialism by exercising control over one’s mind.
It is not easy to transcend the pair of opposites yet we can at least attempt to make a beginning on this auspicious night. It is not what we wear or how we look that defines but how we conduct ourselves. The key to a happy life is simplicity and being equanimous. The moment we realise that materialism is nothing but illusion we would not have the urge to hoard and once there is no need to hoard then we would automatically be happy with what we have. Another issue today is we are so caught up in the rituals that we fail to recognize the true meaning of Bhakti. It is not about closing our eyes in front of a Vigraha but realising that Mahadev is within us.