What is the spiritual significance of Mahashivratri in Hinduism?
A quick guide!
Mahashivratri is one of the most powerful nights in the entire year. In Vedic Hindu dharma, Mahashivratri is one of the ‘ratris’ where people stay awake the whole night. Shiva is commonly known as the ‘destroyer’ as part of the Brahma Vishnu Mahesh triad which makes up the entire universe. But Shiva is also the whole universe itself. Shiva is the beginning and the end, Shiva is the cosmic life force intelligence of the universe within us and within everything. Shiva comes in many forms, from the 12 jyortirlings of which Kashi Vishweshwar Mahadev is one - from his Aghori Swaroop to his Ghrihastha (married) Swaroop. He is worshipped by everyone, by the devas and the asuras, he is known as Bholanath because he is Bhola or innocent.
Mahashivratri is celebrated as the Vivah or sacred marriage union of Shiva and Parvati in Hindu Vedic culture. This year, Mahashivratri also coincides with SHANI PRADOSHAM which is extremely significant!
What does Mahashivratri mean?
Well, Shiva and Shakti together make up the entire creation we see and experience. They are the divine source of our human life. On a fundamental level, our soul seeks connection with our source. We keep reincarnating into different bodies as we move through this process of circulating through Maya, until we have the desire to seek something deeper, to seek our origins and that is the spiritual process. Hence Mahashivratri is one of the most powerful times to do any spiritual Sadhana and achieve merging with your source.
On a biological and energetic level, we contain Shiva and Shakti within us. Our Kundalini Shakti is the coiled serpent energy which lies at the base of our spine. When our Kundalini Shakti rises, she travels through the chakra system and meets Shiva at the top of the head. The sacred union of Shiva and Parvati within ourselves is complete self realisation.
In modern times, there are too many distortions of Kundalini yoga from modern so called teachers and new age hindu organisations. Kundalini yoga is only supposed to be approached through initiation from a traditional lineage guru, the reason being it is an extremely specific knowledge system and when distorted or taken out of its traditional context, one can harm themselves. It’s really important to be aware in a world of heavy cultural appropriation of ancient systems and for one’s own safety.
Having said that, Kundalini Shakti is gently and naturally rising during this time in Mahashivratri ON ITS OWN which is why it is recommended to sit up the whole night with the spine straight! Not only do we accumulate lifetimes worth of spiritual benefit, we ascend to new levels within our consciousness. The subtle levels of our being get purified, combined with fasting and other rituals, we experience massive purification and ascension with just simple discipline.
Mahashivratri is the main Shivratri of the year, yet Shivratri also occurs every month which you can check in the Vedic panchang calendar. Different Hindu lineage communities celebrate Shivratri in different ways. There are different ancestral traditions in each geography.
Here are some things to keep in mind during Mahashivratri:
1. Keep a fast the whole day and break it the next morning. It is easy to fast, you can simply consume fruits and milk, dry fruits. If you are very hungry you can eat Falahaari food. Don’t consume any grains, salt, alcohol etc. Anyone can fast depending on their physical capacity and what they feel.
2. Chant the mantra Aum Namah Shivaya in your mind or outloud as much as you can. This awakens the Shiva consciousness within you and facilities the merging of your own consciousness towards source. It also helps to draw the mind inwards.
3. If you are a Hindu, visit a traditional ancient Shiva mandir (Pran pratishthit shivling). Some modern ashrams have installed shivalingams but they don’t have any relation to original Vedic / Agamic traditions or Sanatan Dharma. When the temple is a traditional one, the shivling is a direct connection to the consciousness of the deity. Offer water to the shivling in ideally a copper lota, when offering make sure you offer with both hands or otherwise touch the right hand with the left finger when offering. When offering the water chant “Aum Namah Shivaya” 3x, 7x, 11x, 21x according to your will. Please always respect the rules and restrictions of traditional temples in any geography because they are sacred religious sites.
4. Do spiritual practices like meditation, pranayama and spend time especially during the night observing your energy. When we are involved in our thoughts, we are dissipating our energy. When you draw your energy and awareness inwards, you strengthen your spiritual energy and connect to the cosmic flow of energy
5. Do some kind of Sewa, daan, offer food to hungry people, feed animals, donate for dharmic causes is also significant on this day. Please see one good, honest and independent NGO that I know personally to donate here to restoration and protection of Hindu temples.
6. Learn more about the ancient traditions. Shiva is also known as the first guru, Kashmir Shaivism is one of the most ancient streams of knowledge for example. There are so many. You can search for more books, you can read the Shiva Purana which are stories of Shiva and Parvati. The temples of Kashi are mentioned in the Kashi Khand of the Skanda Purana if you want to read more about them.
How is Mahashivratri celebrated in Kashi? Well, there is a big Baarat or the wedding procession of Shiva and Parvati at night. In this Baarat you can see the whole universe present, from the devas to the asuras, aghoras to the dancers, all the beings are present in the cosmic union of Shiva and Parvati.
According to Vedic traditions, there are 4 pujas which happen in the night of Mahashivratri. People also drink bhang, which is a cannabis based drink (in small proportions, haha, it can be very strong) as bhang is offered to Shiva as a sacrament. The energy is high the whole day and night and everything feels divine. There is much more to write about ancient Kashi and its festivities but more on that later.
Mahashivratri is a time of merging, of connection and purification.
Anyone can connect to this cosmic energy and there is something we can all do for our spiritual elevation during this time.
Click here to join my next group yatra trip to Kashi in April.
Blessings on Mahashivratri to you all, have a full powered one.
Aum Namah Shivaya!