Mahashivaratri – The Great Night of Shiva

Mahashivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva on the new moon night of February. It is a festival which celebrates the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. And it is also said that this day is Lord Shiva's favourite day, celebrated with worshipping, chanting, fasting and meditating. As this is an auspicious day, devotees would fast all day and night long, some would not even drink a single drop of water. The meaning behind the fasting is that only with a light stomach and a clean body the mind can tune into a state of peace and through this grace of stillness, bliss and enlightenment can be reached.

All through the day the devotees chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya" which is dedicated to Shiva. In accordance with scriptural and discipleship traditions, penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach life's highest God steadily and swiftly.

As I am still in India, I was able to experience this auspicious day myself, I was there to feel the energy and to be part of these devotional traditions. On the streets people would greet each other with “Happy Mahashivaratri” and in their homes and temples, the simple celebration of Shivalingam pujas would go on every three hours, all through the day and night.

In the late afternoon I decided to visit Annamalaiyar temple in Town. Arriving there at 6pm I took the side entrance at the West Gate to avoid the long queue at the main entrance where already hundreds of Hindus were queuing up, eager to enter through the South gate, the main gate.

The temple was filled with colours, chants, the smell of incense sticks, saddhus in their orange robes and many devotees arranging ghee lamps on the floor in beautifully organised patterns. Every large space in the temple was filled with Shiva related ornaments in form of large pictures drawn and crafted with raw salt which was coloured before. At first sight they looked like huge carpets and only by closer observation I noticed that it was salt they used to create these arts pieces.

While I walked around the temple I received blessings from the temple elephant who put its trunk on my head after I dropped a coin into its trunk – a beautiful and widely spread practice in temples around India. At sunset all the ghee lamps were lit and the whole temple appeared in an eternal light. I then took the chance and made my way to the inner sanctum where I received Darshan at the Shiva sanctum and later also at the Parvati sanctum. The energy inside was so intense that it touched me deeply and brought clarity to my mind which was quiet busy all day long. Filled with this energy and love, I lit some ghee lamps myself outside the Parvati temple, circled the temple with the “9 planets” a few times and found a spot to sit down to contemplate. While I was sitting there I could hear traditional chanting which was performed just next to me. Diving into the moment I embraced everything happening around me, the smell of fresh jasmine filled my nostrils and my skin tingled. I don't know how long I sat there but when I opened my eyes I felt pure love around and deep within me.

After a few more moments I got up bowed to the sacred mountain Arunachala – which is clearly visible from the inner part of the temple – and left the heart of the temple. To the side of the East Gate, a special stage was arranged and people gathered in groups to listen to the traditional music and to tune in and chant along. Children were running around in a playful way and some devotees would lay down in a corner to rest for a moment. Me too, I took a little rest there, enjoyed the sound and being surrounded by all those people, before I left the temple.

Although the temple was packed, it was such a peaceful harmony that made this festival just an unforgettable experience.

At 10pm, when I left the temple I went straight to the Sri Ramana Ashram to attend one of the Shivalingam pujas. As Lord Shiva appeared on the Earth in the form of Lingam, this is the day when in all Shiva temples, the most auspicious Shivalingam puja is performed. It means that the Ligam is bathed with six different dravyas (substances) including milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water while the monks chant the most beautiful Shiva songs.

According to the mythology, each of these dravya used in the Shivalingam puja blesses a unique quality:

• Milk is for the blessing of purity and piousness

• Yogurt is for prosperity and progeny

• Honey is for sweet speech

• Ghee is for victory

• Sugar is for happiness

• Water is for purity

Having experienced that I was transferred into a different state of peace. Warmth and love filled my heart and tears rolled down my cheeks – I was so beautifully touched once again that same evening. I sat down for a while, meditating and offering my prayers to Shiva and Sri Ramana before I left to go home.

And although the End of Shivratri is only at about 5am, when devotees would go home, take a bath and offer simple prayers while breaking their fast, I felt much earlier that I received so much beautiful energy from Shiva, Arunachala and my prayers, that I fell asleep still being in bliss.

Om Namah Shivaya!

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