Of all India’s cultural festivals, Shivratri is celebrated magnificently in every corner of the country. Devotees sing devotional songs glorifying Shiva, recite stories from scriptures like Shiva Purana and engage in meditation. They observe fast in order to purify their mind, body, heart and soul.
But what is Shivratri is all about? In the deepest spiritual sense, what does it signify? Let us understand.
Realizing one’s Self
Shivratri in a spiritual sense associated with the peak of Self-realisation. It is the Union of Shiva and Shakti or Prakriti. The core of human consciousness is dormant and it awakens only when it comes into contact with material manifestation. The dormant soul becomes conscious when it unites with the physical reality and the darkness of the ignorance is dispelled.
When Consciousness Meets Divinity
Ultimately, Shivratri is the union of us as Consciousness with material manifestation (Shakti). A seed when stored in a plastic box lies dormant. But when dropped in mud, the same seed germinates in no time. The mud (Prakriti) or nature nourishes this seed with water, nutrients and sunlight until this seed becomes conscious of its nature and germinates, growing into a huge tree, which serves the world. Similarly, the Shiva in us is awakened when we merge with Prakriti, the world outside. She lies within us as the Kundalini Shakti in the Muladhara. During union, she rises up to meet Him and he awakens. This is the festival of Maha Shivratri, the night when their union is celebrated. The night when He awakens and the darkness of ignorance is shattered is Maha Shivratri.
What Stops Us From Realizing Our True Identity
It is our illusions that prevent us from realising our true nature, the illusion of separation from Prakrti and our true selves. These illusions can be dealt at two levels – internally and externally. On an internal level, we must cleanse our vision of Prakriti. For this we must cleanse ourselves of low self-esteem, fears, stress and negativity.
On an external level, we must develop confidence and self-power to face our challenges in the world. We must clear our mistrust, fear of betrayal and lack of acceptance in all our dealings with the world. Remember the Puranic story of the union of Shiva and Parvati, and how Kamdev (desire) had to be annihilated before Shiva could unite with his beloved. This is the reason why, on Shivratri night, Shiva and Shakti (symbolised in Shivlinga and Yoni) are ritually cleansed with milk, curd and then sweeteners like sugarcane juice are poured on them. This reminds us that we must cleanse ourselves of all vrittis and then sweeten ourselves to bring sweetness in all our relationships. We offer Dhatrua to Lord Shiva to make ourselves strong to bear the negativity in our environment. We offer the Lord fruits that are rich in prana and Belpatra for its sattvic frequencies, which protect us from delusion.
Maha Shivratri – the Great Night of Union
Self-Realisation happens when you are able to look at Prakriti which is the material world straight in the eye without judgement. She then becomes the Self and you realise yourself through her. The union of Shiva and Shakti is a celebration of the end of the lessons to be learned and the start a new journey with awakened consciousness.