Mahashivratri falls on the date 17 February in 2015. It falls every year on the fourteenth day after the Purnima, one day before Amavasya, in the lunar month of Magha. This day is considered as the most auspicious for all Shiva devotees and spiritual seekers. Mahashivratri means, the “Great Night of Shiva,” and it is the darkest day of the year. Thus, it is a very appropriate time to worship Shiva, who is the Lord of Destruction. The word Shiva means “that which is not.” That which is not can only be dark!
Mahashivratri is a day when the planetary positions are aligned such that there is a natural upwards pull in the energy of human being. This upward pull aligns with the spine, and helps one raise their kundalini, or psychic energy without much effort. The scriptures say that sitting erect and aware during this one night can surpass the benefits of even many years of intense sadhana.
The festival is celebrated widely throughout India and by Hindus around the world as well. The largest celebrations occur at the Velliangiri Foothills in Tamil Nadu, South India. The Velliangiri Mountain is known as the Kailash of the South, and it is said that Shiva spent much time here many thousands of years ago. Mahashivratri is a night when many hundreds of thousands of devotees make the pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. At the foothills, stands the Dhyanalinga temple, where the devotees stop to pay obeisance to the largest live linga in the world. Mahashivratri at the Dhyanalinga also includes the Pancha Bhuta Aradhana, a special celebration which involves the cleansing of the five elements in the body – earth, water, fire, air, and space.
At the Isha Yoga Center, also at the foothills, over 600,000 people celebrate Mahashivratri with Isha Foundation and yogi and mystic, Sadhguru.The celebrations are also webstreamed live for free at their Mahashivratri website.
Preparing for Mahashivratri
Mahashivratri holds the highest place in terms of all practices, rituals and austerities. The Shiv Puran speaks of the importance of performing sadhana on this day. There are a few steps a devotee can take to maximize the benefits that he or she can receive.
1. Eat sattvic food. It is advised to avoid consuming tamasic foods, especially meat and substances such as alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. Eat foods that will be easily digested, such as fruits and raw or boiled vegetables.
2. Spend the day listening to some of the sacred chants of Shiva. Our page on the many Shiva songs provides Youtube videos to the chants, as well as downloadable mp3 versions for your desktop or mobile.
3. If you have access to any sacred spaces or temples, spend some time in them.
4. At night, refrain from sleeping or lying down. Keep your spine erect and stay awake and alert throughout the night.
Stories of Mahashivratri
There once was a forest hunter, a Bhil tribal, whose name was Gurudruha. “Gurudruha” means one who receives the grace of the Guru, but still remains without gratitude for this great benediction. Being a poor man, he spent most of his time in the forest hunting for food. One a particular day, having failed at finding any food, he was returning home, when he came upon a pond.
Gurudruha climbed up a bael tree beside the lake and and waited. A small linga had been established at the base of the tree, and it happened to also be the day of Mahashivratri. The sun set and three hours passed. Gurudruha saw a doe, a female deer walk up to the pond with her young fawn. As he prepared to take aim and let loose his arrow, some leaves from the bael tree fell loose from the branches and scattered upon the shivalinga. A few drops of water from his vessel also fell onto the linga. Unaware, Gurudruha had worshipped Shiva as appropriate, during the first quarter of the night.
When the doe heard the noise, she looked up and saw Gurudruha take aim. She asked him what his intentions were and Gurudraha replied that he wished to kill her so he could take her meat to his family. The doe pleaded with him to allow her to leave so that she could leave her fawn with her husband safely. She promised to return immediately after that. Gurudruha was reluctant, but on seeing the pleading look in the doe’s eyes, he relented and gave her permission.
In the meantime, the doe’s sister also arrived at the pond with her fawns. Gurudruha again made ready and took aim, and in the process dislodged a few more leaves and drops of water onto the linga. It was the second quarter of the night, and Gurudruha had once again worshiped Shiva, unaware.
When the second doe heard the noise, she too looked up and the same act was repeated again. Once again the doe pleaded, once again Gurudraha was reluctant but he finally relented.
Gurudruha sat despondent upon the tree, waiting for the two does. The third quarter of the night began when a stag, a male deer, arrived there looking for his wife and children. Once again, the acts were repeated. Gurudruha took aim, dislodging leaves and water and inadvertantly worshiping the linga. The stag heard him and seeing what was about to happen, requested Gurudruha to allow him to find and meet his family one last time. The deer promised to return. Gurudruha let him leave too.
The third quarter ended and the fourth began. Suddenly, Gurudruha saw all the three deer coming towards the pond. He was extremely pleased at having a chance to bag all three animals for his family. He drew his bow and dislodged the leaves and water onto the linga. He had thus worshiped Shiva again, and had been awake all night on the great night of Mahashivratri, while also observing a fast.
Such is the power of this great night that though Gurudruha had done all this unaware, he still attained enlightenment. Thus, Gurudruha became an enlightened one and attained mukti.