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Maha Shivratri: Significance and celebrations of Lord Shiva

Mahashivratri (Mahashivaratri, Maha Shivratri, Maha Shivaratri), from a Vedanta perspective, is a deeply spiritual occasion that goes beyond mere ritualistic worship to encapsulate profound philosophical and spiritual meanings. It is not just a festival to honour Lord Shiva, but also a symbolic event that offers insights into the nature of reality, self, and the universe from a Vedantic viewpoint:

Significance of Mahashivratri

Realization of Brahman: Lord Shiva is often identified with Brahman in Vedantic texts, representing the supreme consciousness that is omnipresent, eternal, and beyond attributes. Celebrating Mahashivratri can be seen as an opportunity for devotees to meditate upon this ultimate reality, striving to realize their inherent unity with it.

Dissolution of ego and ignorance: The night of Mahashivratri, dedicated to Lord Shiva, symbolizes overcoming darkness and ignorance in life through the light of spiritual knowledge. Vedanta teaches that ignorance of one’s true self (Atman) as Brahman is the root cause of all suffering. The practices and meditations performed on this night aim at dissolving the ego and the false identification with the body and mind, leading to liberation (Moksha).

Cycle of creation and destruction: Lord Shiva is associated with the creation, preservation, and destruction cycle. From a Vedantic perspective, this cycle reflects the transient nature of the phenomenal world (Maya). It underscores the importance of recognizing the eternal Brahman as the only unchanging reality amidst the changing universe.

Inner awakening: Mahashivratri is an auspicious time for spiritual awakening and introspection. Vedanta encourages individuals to look inward and experience the Atman, the innermost self that is pure consciousness. The night-long vigil, fasting, and meditation practices are tools to quiet the mind, refine one’s consciousness, and awaken to realizing one’s true self as non-different from the divine.

Unity of existence: Celebrating Mahashivratri with devotion and understanding can lead to recognizing the oneness of all existence, a central theme in Vedanta. It emphasizes that all beings manifest the same ultimate reality and that true knowledge involves seeing oneself in others and the divine in all.

Why is Mahashivrati important?

Mahashivratri holds profound significance in Hinduism, symbolizing spiritual reverence and devotion towards Lord Shiva. It carries several layers of importance, both spiritual and mythological.

From a spiritual perspective, Mahashivratri symbolizes the mystical union of Shiva (consciousness) with Shakti (energy), representing the harmony of creation. This union is a reminder of the balance needed in life and the universe. The night-long festival symbolizes overcoming the darkness of ignorance with the light of knowledge and understanding, leading to spiritual growth and enlightenment. Finally, many devotees believe that worshiping Lord Shiva on Mahashivratri can lead to liberation from the cycle of birth and death, as the day is considered especially auspicious for spiritual awakening and self-realization.

According to various Hindu scriptures, Mahashivratri is the night when Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Nritya, the primal creation, preservation, and destruction dance. It is also believed to be the night when Shiva and Parvati married. Another legend recounts that during the churning of the ocean (Samudra Manthan), a pot of poison emerged, threatening to destroy the universe. Shiva consumed the poison to protect creation, holding it in his throat, which turned blue, earning him the name Neelkanth. Mahashivratri celebrates this selfless act of Shiva.

The practices associated with Mahashivratri, such as fasting, meditating, and staying awake through the night, are also seen as beneficial for physical and mental health, aiding in detoxification and the rejuvenation of the body and mind.

How to celebrate Mahashivratri

The festival is observed on the 14th night of the dark fortnight in the Hindu month of Phalguna or Maagh (February or March in the Gregorian calendar). The celebration of Mahashivratri involves various customs and practices that are both symbolic and spiritual:

Fasting: Many devotees observe a strict fast on Mahashivratri, abstaining from food and, in some cases, water. The fast is broken the next morning after the night-long worship. The fasting is believed to purify the body and mind, aiding in the focus on spiritual practices.

Vigil night: Devotees spend the night of Mahashivratri awake, engaged in Shiva worship. The vigil night is divided into four “prahars” or watches, during which Shiva Lingam (the symbolic representation of Lord Shiva) is worshiped with special rituals.

Pooja: The worship of Shiva Lingam is central to Mahashivratri celebrations. Milk, water, honey, yoghurt, ghee (clarified butter), sugar, and bel leaves are offered to the Lingam. These offerings are made with the chanting of “Om Namah Shivaya,” the sacred mantra of Shiva. The ritual symbolizes the purification of the soul, and each offering has significance, representing virtues such as purity, sweetness, and austerity.

Chanting and prayer: Chanting hymns, devotional songs (bhajans), and prayers dedicated to Lord Shiva is another important celebration aspect. The “Shiva Purana,” one of the sacred texts describing the legends of Lord Shiva, is read or recited in temples and homes.

Meditation and yoga: Given Lord Shiva’s association with yoga and meditation, many devotees practice meditation and yoga on Mahashivratri. Meditation on this night is considered especially powerful and can lead to spiritual growth and enlightenment.

Visiting temples: Pilgrims and devotees flock to Shiva temples to offer prayers, with some of the most famous shrines attracting thousands of worshippers. The temples are adorned with lights and decorations, and the air is filled with the ringing of bells and the fragrance of incense.

Charity and almsgiving: Giving alms to the poor and feeding the hungry are considered meritorious acts on Mahashivratri. Many devotees engage in charitable activities, reflecting the festival’s spirit of benevolence and kindness.

Some prayers and bhajans sung during Mahashivratri

Singing bhajans (devotional songs) and reciting prayers dedicated to Lord Shiva are central to Mahashivratri. Here are some popular bhajans and prayers that are often sung on this auspicious night:


  • Om Namah Shivaya” – This is not just a mantra but also sung as a bhajan. It’s considered the most powerful and fundamental mantra dedicated to Lord Shiva, meaning “I bow to Shiva.”
  • Shiv Tandav Stotram” – A traditional and powerful hymn believed to have been composed by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. It describes the power and beauty of Lord Shiva’s dance.
  • Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra” – Another highly revered mantra that is believed to grant longevity and immortality. 
  • Bholenath Bhajans” – Many bhajans refer to Shiva as Bholenath, which means the kind and merciful lord. These bhajans are filled with expressions of love and devotion toward Shiva.
  • Shiva Shambho Shambo” – An uplifting bhajan that repetitively recites Shiva’s name and invokes his energy and blessings.


  • Shiva Panchakshara Stotra” – A stotra (hymn) that glorifies Shiva through the five sacred syllables, “Na Ma Si Va Ya,” which are considered to encapsulate the essence of the entire universe.
  • Lingashtakam” – A prayer of eight verses that praises the glory of the Shivalingam, symbolizing the formless aspect of Lord Shiva.
  • Rudrashtakam” – An eight-verse hymn praising Lord Rudra (Shiva), expressing the singer’s devotion to Shiva in many aspects.
  • Shiva Chalisa” – A forty-verse prayer that recounts the qualities, deeds, and legends associated with Lord Shiva, asking for his blessings and guidance.
  • Shiva Manasa Puja” – A mental worship prayer composed by Adi Shankaracharya. It’s a beautiful expression of devotion, wherein the devotee offers everything to Lord Shiva through the mind’s eye.

Thoughts on Shivaratri from Swami Chinamayananda

The Supreme State experienced by the Mystics, pointed out in all the world’s great scriptures, is the STATE indicated by a popular term in Hinduism, SHIVARATRI.

SHIVARATRI is the day in India when winter ends; from the next day onwards, it is summer. Positively the climate changes. The climate changes outside. The Ganges will be flooded because more of the lower snow layers will melt.

So, by this natural phenomenon they fixed this particular day, because the day after SHIVARATRI the climate conditions must change. Where? Outside! Meteorological Department! No!! IT IS THE CLIMATE OF OUR MIND!!! After Realisation, the Man of Realisation gets up from his meditation seat a totally different man. He is not the man who went to the seat of meditation. It is a complete transformation!

Significance of Shiva Ling

All movements in the Cosmos are elliptical; therefore, the ellipse diagram represents our Cosmos. If that ellipse is half-buried, a SHIVA LINGA would be seen on the surface. So, the SHIVA LINGA represents the manifested and vividly visible part of the Cosmos, which is supported by the other part of the ellipse hidden from our vision. Thus, the universe of names and forms is the LINGA (symbol) for the Lord, who supports it all.

A time when the usual world of plurality is blanketed away from our awareness of Pure Infinite Subjective Experience is that which is indicated by SHIVARATRI. So that it may come to the masses and the average man may spend time lifting his mind, turning his mind’s attention to the Lord, it has been brought into a very significant ritual, dedicating this day to Lord Shiva. On this auspicious day, seekers re-dedicate themselves to the subjective science and the pursuit of excellence in their daily lives.

Mahashivratri and the ego

In the present state of your ego, it clearly sees MAHADEVA with name, form and all properties. When the ego in you through surrender to MAHADEVA comes to experience the “awakening”, the Essential Reality; that MAHADEVA represents a State of Eternal Auspiciousness and Bliss – SADASHIVA. Therefore, consistent and sincere sadhana is the bridge. Offer all your Rajas and Tamas to MAHADEVA – that is true, Archana. As the Sattva predominates in you, your inner equipment becomes extremely pure and steady in contemplation — there you experience SADASHIVA.

A spiritual seeker’s sole purpose is to destroy the ego, and the “non-apprehension of the Reality” (Avidya), which is the cause for it. Where this destruction is complete, the very Lord of Destruction, SHIVA “alone” remains. Hence, Lord Shiva is often represented as the Lord of Meditation. The ability inherent in us to destroy an undesirable thought in us is the “Shiva-Shakti”, the spirit of detachment. Invoking this “power-divine”, we, with the Grace of Lord Shiva, progress on our march from imperfections to PERFECTION.

Destroying the ego

A quietened mind becomes contemplative and it becomes the grand way for realising the Shiva-State of Perfection. In the heat of contemplation, our vasanas get burnt down and if anything is burnt, it becomes the white ashes and theses ashes become an ornament, “Bhooshana” of Lord Shiva. Beyond all vasanas is the PURE SELF.

In Dhyan, the mind, the seat of the separative ego-centre melts and the relationships of I-separate-from-my-Shiva….rolls off; the final experience is “I-am-Shiva.” This is ISHWARA DARSHAN — the vision in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum in the Temple.

The process of Constructive Destruction is SHIVA, the Annihilator. Thus SHIVARATRI is the destruction of Ego in the discovery of the Self – SHIVA.

May all devotees come to experience at least the shy rays of the early dawn at the end of one’s own inner “ratri” in the emerging beams of the Shiva-Spirit in us. Be quiet. Be silent within. Blind. Deaf. Mum. BE…..  Invoke. Be expectant. Let SHIVA happen. TRY….. May Lord Shiva’s Grace be upon all during this SHIVARATRI celebration!!

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