A story in Purana says that Markandeya, son of a rishi destined to live for sixteen years began worshipping Shiva to ward off his death. On his sixteenth year Yamaraj, God of Death ordered the boy to get ready for death but the boy tightly gripped the Shivalinga that he was worshipping.
Yamaraj tied a noose around the boy’s neck and the boy cried out loud, ‘Shiva, Shiva’ and Lord Shiva appeared bursting the linga and granted that the boy will be immortal. Markandeya rishi is believed to be eternal.
Calling Shiva, a Destroyer is not justified as He has preserved mankind by drinking the poison. During the churning of ocean, Shiva drank the poison and His neck turned blue, ‘Neelkantha’ thus showing that He absorbs sins of devotees and grants them a new life. He looks after the tamas aspect of Creation which means He destroys negativities, desires, bad karmas, ignorance- everything that hinders spiritual progress and inner evolution. He is ‘layakarta’, ‘jagaharta’ meaning one who dissolves the world in Himself, one who takes the world back in Himself so that it can be revived again at the right time. Destroying means to demolish, to tear down some thing, completely finish it so that it can never be revived again. Destruction in Sanskrit would be vinashakarta, vidhwansakarta which Shiva is not. He is Jagaharta, dukhharta- one who takes away the world, the sorrows, the illusions, the negative emotions.
The three features of the Supreme Being are Brahma as Creator (jagakarta), Vishnu as Preserver (jagapalankarta) and Siva as Dissolver (jagaharta). But Shiva knows how to protect and save also. In the Shiva arati we sing, ‘Sukhakarta (He gives happiness), dukhharta (He takes away sorrows), jagapalankarta (He looks after the world), Hara, hara, Mahadeva’. Swami Shivananda explains that Layakarta is merging back into the original unmanifest state, the nameless, formless unified state.
To run a house one needs home, food and shelter while to remove negative desires and get real knowledge one needs to renounce these things mentally. Vishnu, the nurturer of Creation is depicted as fond of dress and ornaments (Alankarpriya Vishnu) while Shiva is pleased with offering of water alone (Abhishekapriya Shiva). Parvati’s mother Maina at first refused to let her daughter Parvati marry the unattractive bridegroom on a bull. She was puzzled for she had seen handsome Vishnu decorated with jewels, gems; silky clothes while the bridegroom was not only dressed shabbily, His friends were ghosts, dwarfs, snakes and weird creatures. At Parvati’s insistence Shiva showed Maina His effulgent form and she agreed immediately to make Shiva her son-in-law. Mahashivratri is the Great Night when Shiva is said to have manifested as Light in front of Brahma and Vishnu, performed the Tandava dance that threatened to dissolve the Cosmos, because Sati was burnt to ashes and also the Night when He married second time as Sati is reborn as Parvati.
A Shivalinga represents mind & body, Shiva & Parvati, Purusha and Prakriti and on this Night, union of Kundalini & sahsrara chakra is celebrated.
Devotees fast the entire day to please Shiva so that He may grant knowledge, cut the bindings of birth and death, absorb their sins (poison) and grant them materialistic comforts. Shiva is s a yogi, one who has no desires, who wants nothing for Himself but can give anything to anyone because He is possessor of everything. He is ‘Ashutosh’, easily pleased by just water and bilva leaves. In temples a brass–pot filled with water and hole underneath hangs above Shiva’s head so that water falls on Him continuously. He is so Bhola, so innocent, so free of wickedness that He can never fathom why anyone would ask for an evil boon. No wonder Shiva was trapped by Bhasmasura in giving him a cunning boon of burning whosoever he may touch into ashes. Vishnu rescues Shiva from such devotees. The Ganges water, moon and sandalwood paste cool Him from the fire of Knowledge.
This Great Night is observed on chaturdashi tithi/13th night/14th day in Krishna Paksha (waning moon) every year in Phalguna or Maagh month. Devotees observe fast during the day and vigil during the night. Fasting means controlling the outgoing senses, the extrovert mind, and vigil is guarding the mind from falling asleep. To gain knowledge one must be light, alert and wakeful. Only then can a seeker get over his waking and sleeping states and reach the realization state.
1. Pictures of 12 Jyotirlings
2. Pictures of Shiv Temples
3. About Shivaratri
4. Siva – His Cosmic Form and Dance by T N Sethumadhavan
5. Mrityunjaya Mantra
6. Basavanna and Vir Saivism – Lingayat Movement
7. Pictures of Mount Kailash Yatra