Mahashivratri is one of the most significant events in India’s spiritual calendar. It is a nightlong festival that is observed every year on the 14th day of the lunar month or the day before the new moon, known as Shivratri. Among all the twelve Shivratris that occur in a calendar year, Mahashivratri, which occurs in February-March, is of the most spiritual significance.
According to tradition, Mahashivratri is a night when nature is pushing one towards one’s spiritual peak. It is a day when the northern hemisphere of the planet is positioned in such a way that there is a natural upsurge of energy in a human being. Therefore, to make use of this natural upsurge of energies, one of the fundamentals of this nightlong festival is to ensure that you remain awake with your spine vertical throughout the night.
Mahashivratri is very significant for people who are on the spiritual path. It is also significant for people who are in family situations and for those with worldly ambitions. People who live in family situations observe Mahashivratri as Shiva’s wedding anniversary. Those with worldly ambitions see that day as the day Shiva conquered all his enemies. But, for the ascetics, it is the day he became one with Mount Kailash. He became like a mountain – absolutely still.
In the yogic tradition, Shiva is not worshipped as a God but considered as the Adi Guru, the first Guru from whom the science of Yoga originated. After many millennia in meditation, one day, he became absolutely still. That day is Mahashivratri. All movement in him stopped, and he became utterly still. Thus, ascetics see Mahashivratri as the night of stillness.
Mahashivratri offers a person an opportunity to experience the oneness of existence. Modern science has gone through many phases and arrived at a point today where they are out to prove to you that everything that you know as life, everything that you know as matter and existence, everything that you know as the cosmos and galaxies, is just one energy that manifests itself in millions of ways.
This scientific fact is an experiential reality in every yogi. The word “yogi” means one who has realized the oneness of existence. When people are seeking well-being, we talk of the divine as light. But when they are looking beyond their life in terms of dissolving, and the object of their worship and their sadhana is dissolution, we always refer to the divine as darkness.
Shivratri is the darkest day of the month, and Mahashivratri almost seems like a celebration of darkness. But the word “Shiva” literally means “that which is not.” “That which is,” is existence and creation. “That which is not” is Shiva. “That which is not” means that if you open your eyes and look around, if your vision is for small things, you will see lots of creation. If your vision is looking for big things, you will see the biggest presence in the existence is a vast emptiness.
This vast emptiness, this unbounded emptiness, is what is referred to as Shiva. Today, modern science also proves that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. It is in this context that Shiva, the vast emptiness or nothingness, is referred to as the great lord, or Mahadeva.