“Shiva bound is Jiva; Jiva liberated is Shiva.” – Sri Ramakrishna
"As the different rivers, taking their start from different mountains, running straight or crooked, at last come unto the ocean, so, O Shiva, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead unto Thee." Shiva Mahimnah-stotra
Also read : What is Supreme Worship?
What is Shivaratri?
The Puranas contain many stories and legends describing the origin of this festival. According to one, during the churning of the ocean by the gods and the asuras, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. This terrified the gods and demons as the poison was capable of destroying the entire world, and they ran to Shiva for help. To protect the world from its evil effects, Shiva drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This made his throat turn blue, and he was given the name Neelakantha, the blue-throated one. Shivaratri is the celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world.
Spiritual Significance of the Story of Samudra Manthan
The ocean is compared to the human mind and the process of churning to meditation. In the hours of meditation, the sadhaka or spiritual aspirant churns his own mind. There is a constant war between the devas and the asuras, that is, between the good and the bad tendencies (samskaras) accumulated in the sub-conscious mind. During the process of churning of the mind, both good and bad tendencies surface to the conscious mind. Spiritual aspirants pay and seek the blessings of Shiva (who is none other than their own divine Self) to digest all these poisons without getting affected by them. Then alone will they be able to manifest their divine nature and obtain the pot of nectar – Amruta Kumbha – that is immortality.
Aspects of Shiva
Shiva has two aspects, the Unmanifest and the manifest. The transcendental, eternal infinite field of all energies (Shakti) as the source of creation is the Unmanifest Shiva.
Upanishads describe ‘SHIVAM SHANTAM ADVAITAM CHATURTHAM MANYATE SA ATMA SA VIGYAYAHA’. The Shiva, which is tranquil, unified and non-dual beyond the three realms is verily the ATMAN, which must be known and experienced in our consciousness.
The manifest aspect of Lord Shiva is SHAMBHU, SHANKAR and MAHADEV as one of the lords of TRINITY, who dissolves the precious state to enable new creation of Brahma. He is the fountainhead of all esoteric knowledge of yoga, Tantra and occult traditions. He is associated with cosmic dance of NATRAJ – TANDAV.
Lord Shiva – NATARAJA - is the master of dance. Shiva’s dance indicates a continuous process of creation, preservation and destruction. The Damaru (drum) represents the principle of shabda (sound) and hence akasha (ether), which proceeds immediately from the Atman and is responsible for further creation or evolution. Fire represents pralayagni, the fire that destroys the world at the time of dissolution of the world. Thus Damaru and fire represent the continuous cycle of creation, preservation and destruction. The other two hands indicate that one who takes refuge at the feet of the Lord will have nothing to fear. The Apasmara-purusha on which Shiva is standing symbolizes ignorance, which makes us lose our balance and consciousness. He is trampled upon by the Lord for the good of the devotees.
Swami Vivekananda on the Origin of the Shivalinga
Swami Vivekananda said that “the worship of the Shiva-Linga originated from the famous hymn in the Atharva-Veda Samhita sung in praise of the Yupa-Stambha, the sacrificial post. In that hymn a description is found of the beginningless and endless Stambha or Skambha, and it is shown that the said Skambha is put in place of the eternal Brahman. As afterwards the Yajna (sacrificial) fire, its smoke, ashes, and flames, the Soma plant, and the ox that used to carry on its back the wood for the Vedic sacrifice gave place to the conception of the brightness of Shiva's body, his tawny matted-hair, his blue throat, and the riding on the bull of the Shiva, and so on--just so, the Yupa-Skambha gave place in time to the Shiva-Linga, and was deified to the high Devahood of Shri Shankara. In the Atharva-Veda Samhita, the sacrificial cakes are also extolled along with the attributes of the Brahman.”
Shiva is the sublime aspect of God. The Shivalinga, is the most popular emblem of the Lord. The word “linga” means 'sign, mark, or symbol'. Shiva is the Absolute, transcendental Reality which is beyond all qualities and yet the substratum of all phenomenon or relative universe, his Shakti. The Shivalinga emblem is used to facilitate the ritualistic worship of the transcendental Reality.
Spiritual Significance of Worship
All worship and spiritual disciplines are for the purpose of the purification of the mind so that we can apprehend the divine Consciousness within us and others. This mental purification is achieved by spiritual disciplines (tapasys) such as study, meditation, repetition of the divine name (mantra) which burn up the mental impurities that cover the Atman which is of the nature of Infinite Existence, Knowledge and Bliss. It is our divine birthright. Purification of the mind is achieved through purity in thoughts, words, actions, relationships and connections. Sri Ramakrishna compares the mind to white linen. It will take the colour of whichever dye it comes in contact. When it is dipped in blue dye, it becomes blue, when dipped in red dye it becomes red. Likewise, if the mind is “dipped in holy and pure thoughts” by meditating on the Divine, it becomes pure and holy; if it is dipped in worldliness, it becomes impure and does not reflect the divine truth within. Thoughts are the seeds of all our speech and actions.
Shiva and His Shakti (maya) are one and the same. This world is the relative aspect of Shiva. His maya Shakti deludes us and binds us in worldliness. We forget our blissful divine nature and behave like miserable beings. When Shiva is propitiated with worship and devotion, he becomes gracious and frees us from the clutches of his maya. He grants us the divine virtues of renunciation, discrimination, dispassion to worldly attractions, devotion to the Supreme Being, compassion to all beings, fearlessness, strength to practise spiritual disciplines for the control and purification of the mind.
On the night of Shivaratri, devotees observe vigil and spend their time in worship, japa, meditation, singing hymns and bhajans etc. and thus try to unite their minds with the Divine Lord.
Significance of Fasting on Shivratri
The Sanskrit word for fasting is Upavasa. “Upa” means near, close by; “vasa” means to stay or abide in, thus “upavasa” means keeping the mind close to God by meditating and contemplating on His divine qualities so that the mind imbibes the divine qualities. This requires an alert and concentrated mind. Thus, when we abstain from eating and drinking, the body feels light and the mind is alert. However, if necessary one may take some fruits and milk. The important thing is to keep the mind on the Lord and not on the stomach.
Furthermore, fasting is also a great instrument for self-disciplining the mind, body and the senses and developing the will-power. It helps one to endure hardships, to persevere under difficulties and not give up.
According to Hindu philosophy, the word “ahara” means whatever we “take in”. It includes all that we take in through the fives senses and not only food. Pure “ahara” really means talking in pure perceptions through all the sense organs. Therefore, true fasting means disciplining all the senses so that the mind can be elevated for higher contemplation.
Shiva Manas Puja (Mental Worship of Shiva)
This hymn is unique in its completeness of mental worship of lord Shiva. He is installed in the Consciousness of the devotee who offers entire range of worship ceremonies. As a result he feels that his soul (Atman) is verily Shiva, his intelligence is Divine Mother Parvati, His body is the temple, all enjoyments are His worship, every utterance is His prayer (hymn) and every action performed is a step in the process of unifying with Lord Shiva. The fourth verse is given below:
atmaa tvam girijaa matih sahacharaah praanaah shariiram griham puja te vishayopabhogarachanaa nidraa samaadhisthitih .
sanchaarah padayoh pradakshinavidhih stotraani sarvaa giro yadyadkarma karomi tattadakhilam shambho tavaaraadhanam.
You are my Self; Divine Mother Parvati is my reason. My five pranas are Your attendants, my body is Your house, and all that I take in through my five senses are objects to use for Your worship (as oblations poured in to the fire of your divine consciousness dwelling in my body). My sleep is Your state of samadhi. Wherever I walk I am circumambulating around You. All my speech are hymns of praise of You, everything I do is in devotion to You, O benevolent Lord!
Swami Vivekananda’s Address at the Rameswaram Temple
It is in love that religion exists and not in ceremony, in the pure and sincere love in the heart. Unless a man is pure in body and mind, his coming into a temple and worshipping Shiva is useless. The prayers of those that are pure in mind and body will be answered by Shiva, and those that are impure and yet try to teach religion to others will fail in the end. External worship is only a symbol of internal worship; but internal worship and purity are the real things. Without them, external worship would be of no avail. Therefore you must all try to remember this.
People have become so degraded in this Kali Yuga that they think they can do anything, and then they can go to a holy place, and their sins will be forgiven. If a man goes with an impure mind into a temple, he adds to the sins that he had already, and goes home a worse man than when he left it. Tirtha (place of pilgrimage) is a place which is full of holy things and holy men. But if holy people live in a certain place, and if there is no temple there, even that is a Tirtha. If unholy people live in a place where there may be a hundred temples, the Tirtha has vanished from that place. And it is most difficult to live in a Tirtha; for if sin is committed in any ordinary place it can easily be removed, but sin committed in a Tirtha cannot be removed. This is the gist of all worship--to be pure and to do good to others.
He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Shiva in him, without thinking of his caste, or creed, or race, or anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.
A rich man had a garden and two gardeners. One of these gardeners was very lazy and did not work; but when the owner came to the garden, the lazy man would get up and fold his arms and say, "How beautiful is the face of my master", and dance before him. The other gardener would not talk much, but would work hard, and produce all sorts of fruits and vegetables which he would carry on his head to his master who lived a long way off. Of these two gardeners, which would be the more beloved of his master? Shiva is that master, and this world is His garden, and there are two sorts of gardeners here; the one who is lazy, hypocritical, and does nothing, only talking about Shiva's beautiful eyes and nose and other features; and the other, who is taking care of Shiva's children, all those that are poor and weak, all animals, and all His creation. Which of these would be the more beloved of Shiva? Certainly he that serves His children. He who wants to serve the father must serve the children first. He who wants to serve Shiva must serve His children--must serve all creatures in this world first. It is said in the Shastra that those who serve the servants of God are His greatest servants. So you will bear this in mind.
Let me tell you again that you must be pure and help any one who comes to you, as much as lies in your power. And this is good Karma. By the power of this, the heart becomes pure (Chitta-shuddhi), and then Shiva who is residing in every one will become manifest. He is always in the heart of every one. If there is dirt and dust on a mirror, we cannot see our image. So ignorance and wickedness are the dirt and dust that are on the mirror of our hearts. Selfishness is the chief sin, thinking of ourselves first. He who thinks, "I will eat first, I will have more money than others, and I will possess everything", he who thinks, "I will get to heaven before others, I will get Mukti before others" is the selfish man. The unselfish man says, "I will be last, I do not care to go to heaven, I will even go to hell if by doing so I can help my brothers." This unselfishness is the test of religion. He who has more of this unselfishness is more spiritual and nearer to Shiva. Whether he is learned or ignorant, he is nearer to Shiva than anybody else, whether he knows it or not. And if a man is selfish, even though he has visited all the temples, seen all the places of pilgrimage, and painted himself like a leopard, he is still further off from Shiva.