We are celebrating the night of Shivaratri shortly. I thought of writing another declaration of my love for Him on this auspicious occasion; another pouring out of my heart in the days I feel Him especially present and vibrating as if in an intensified frequency of vibration. I thought I wanted to dance in that all-pervading Vibration that my beloved Shiva is. Again I thought that He is the Life of my life in the most literal sense – I would not be alive was He not being making my heart beat…and then I also thought that I want Him to be known more in details by whoever wants to read this. So here you have: nobody like a knowledgeable saint as Swami Sivananda could explain better the significance of Shivaratri and of Shiva Himself. Here are some excerpts from his book “Lord Siva and His Worship”.
OM NAMAH SHIVAYA! HAR HAR MAHADEV!
Silent adorations to Lord Siva, consort of Parvati, the destructive aspect of Brahman, who is known by the names Sambhu, Sankara, Mahadeva, Sadasiva, Visvanatha, Hara, Tripurari, Gangadhara, Sulapani, Nilakantha, Dakshinamurti, Chandrasekhara, Nilalohita, etc., who is the bestower of auspiciousness, immortality and divine knowledge on His devotees, and who does Tandava Nritya or the Dance of Death at the end of Time or Cosmic Pralaya, and who is the real Regenerator but not the destroyer.
Maha Sivaratri means the great night consecrated to Lord Siva. Maha Sivaratri falls on Trayodasi or the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Kumbha month (February-March).
In the Santi Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma refers to the observance of the Maha Sivaratri, by king Chitrabhanu, when he was giving the discourse on Dharma, resting on his bed of arrows.
‘Sivaratri’ means ‘night of Lord Siva’. The important features of this religious function are rigid fasting for twentyfour hours and sleepless vigil during the night. Every true devotee of Lord Siva spends the night of Sivaratri in deep meditation, keeps vigil and observes fast.
The worship of Lord Siva consists in offering flowers, Bilva leaves and other gifts on the Linga which is a symbol of Lord Siva, and bathing it with milk, honey, butter, ghee, rose-water, etc.
When creation had been completed, Siva and Parvati had been living on the top of Kailas. Parvati asked: “O venerable Lord, which of the many rituals observed in Thy honour doth please Thee most?” Lord Siva replied: “The thirteenth night of the new moon, Krishna Paksha, in the month of Phalguna (February-March) is known as Sivaratri, My most favourable Tithi. My devotee gives Me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths, and offerings of flowers, sweets, incense, etc.
“The devotee observes strict spiritual discipline in the day and worships Me in four different forms in the four successive Praharas, each made up of three hours of the night. The offering of a few Bilva leaves is more precious to Me than the precious jewels and flowers. He should bathe Me in milk at the first Prahara, in curd at the second, in clarified butter at the third, and in honey at the fourth and last. Next morning, he should feed the Brahmins first and break the fast after the performance of the prescribed ceremonies. There is no ritual, O Parvati, which can compare with this simple routine in sanctity.
Just hear, My Beloved, of an episode which will give you an idea of the glory and power of this ritual.
“Once upon a time, there lived in the town of Varanasi a hunter. He was returning from the forest one evening with the game birds he had killed. He felt tired and sat at the foot of a tree to take some rest. He was overpowered by sleep. When he woke up, it was all thick darkness of night. It was the night of Sivaratri but he did not know it, He climbed up the tree, tied his bundle of dead birds to a branch and sat up waiting for the dawn. The tree happened to be My favourite, the Bilva.“There was a Linga under that tree. He plucked a few leaves dropped them down. The night-dew trickled down from his body. I was highly pleased with involuntary little gifts of the hunter. The day dawned and the hunter returned to his house.
“In course of time, the hunter fell ill and gave up his last breath. The messengers of Yama arrived at his bedside to carry his soul to Yama. My messengers also went to the spot to take him to My abode. There was a severe fight between Yama’s messengers and My messengers. The former were totally defeated. They reported the matter to their Lord. He presented himself in person at the portals of My abode. Nandi gave him an idea of the sanctity of Sivaratri and the love which I had for the hunter. Yama surrendered the hunter to Me and returned to his abode quickly. “The hunter was able to enter My abode and ward off death by simple fasting and offering of a few Bilva leaves, however involuntary it might be because it was the night of Sivaratri. Such is the solemnity and sacredness associated with the night”.
Parvati was deeply impressed by the speech of Lord Siva on the sanctity and glory of the ritual. She repeated it to Her friends who in their turn passed it on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus was the sanctity of Sivaratri broadcast all over the world.
In Me the universe had its origin,
In Me alone the whole subsists;
In Me it is lost—Siva,
The Timeless, it is I Myself,
Sivoham! Sivoham! Sivoham!
Salutations to Lord Siva, the vanquisher of Cupid, the bestower of eternal bliss and immortality, the protector of all beings, destroyer of sins, the Lord of the gods, who wears a tiger-skin, the best among objects of worship, through whose matted hair the Ganga flows. Lord Siva is the pure, changeless, attributeless, all-pervading transcendental consciousness. He is the inactive (Nishkriya) Purusha. Prakriti is dancing on His breast and performing the creative, preservative and destructive processes.
When there is neither light nor darkness, neither form nor energy, neither sound nor matter, when there is no manifestation of phenomenal existence, Siva alone exists in Himself. He is timeless, spaceless, birthless, deathless, decayless. He is beyond the pairs of opposites. He is the Impersonal Absolute Brahman. He is untouched by pleasure and pain, good and evil. He cannot be seen by the eyes but He can be realised within the heart through devotion and meditation.
Siva is also the Supreme personal God when He is identified with His power. He is then omnipotent, omniscient active God. He dances in supreme joy and creates, sustains and destroys with the rhythm of His dancing movements. He destroys all bondage, limitation and sorrow of His devotees. He is the giver of Mukti or the final emancipation. He is the universal Self. He is the true Self of all creatures. He is the dweller in the cremation-ground, in the region of the dead, those who are dead to the world.
The Jivas and the world originate from Him, exist in Him, are sustained and rejected by Him and are ultimately merged in Him. He is the support, source and substratum of the whole world. He is an embodiment of Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Bliss. He is Satyam, Sivam, Subham, Sundaram, Kantam.
He is the God of gods, Deva-Deva. He is the Great Deity—Mahadeva. He is the God of manes (Prajapati). He is the most awe-inspiring and terrifying deity, Rudra, with Trisul or trident in His hand. He is the most easily pleased (Asutosha). He is accessible to all. Even the untouchable Chandalas and the illiterate rustics can approach Him.
He is the source of all knowledge and wisdom. He is an ideal Yogi and Muni. He is the ideal head of an ideal family with Uma as His devoted wife, Lord Subrahmanya, the brave general of strength and courage, Lord Ganesa, the remover of all obstacles.
At the end of Pralaya, the Supreme Lord thinks of re-creation of the world. He is then known by the name Sadasiva. He is the root-cause of creation. From Sadasiva creation begins. In Manusmriti He is called Svayambhu. Sadasiva is unmanifested, He destroys the Tamas caused by Pralaya and shines as the self-resplendent light bringing forth the five great elements, etc., into being.
The Siva Purana says that Siva is beyond both Prakriti and Purusha. Siva is Mahesvara. He is the witness, well-wisher and nourisher of all beings. The Gita says: ‘Upadrashtanumanta cha bharta bhokta mahesvarah’. Mahesvara conducts the work of creation according to His will and pleasure. The Sruti says, ‘Mayam tu prakritim viddhi mayinam tu mahesvaram’. Know Prakriti to be Maya and Mahesvara to be the wielder of Maya or Prakriti. The Sakti of Siva works in two different ways. Mula Prakriti and Daivi Prakriti. Mula Prakriti is Apara Prakriti from which the five elements and other visible objects and the Antahkarana are evolved. Para Prakriti is Chaitanya Sakti which converts the Apara Prakriti and gives name and form to it. Apara Prakriti is Avidya and Para Prakriti is Vidya. The controller and dispenser of these two Prakritis is Lord Siva. Siva is distinct from Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra.
Lord Siva is the Lord of innumerable crores of Brahmandas or worlds. Isvara united with Maya gives rise to Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra out of Rajas, Sattva and Tamo Gunas respectively, under the command of Lord Siva. Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra are the trinities of the world.
There is no difference among the trinities, Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. By the command of Mahesvara these three do the creative, preservative and destructive duties of the world. The work of all the three deities is done conjointly. They all have one view and one definite purpose in creating,preserving and destroying the visible universe of names and forms. He who regards the three deities
as distinct and different, Siva Purana says, is undoubtedly a devil or evil spirit.
The Lord who is beyond the three Gunas, Mahesvara, has four aspects: Brahma, Kala, Rudra and Vishnu. Siva is the support for all the four. He is the substratum for Sakti also. Siva is distinct from the Rudra included in the trinities. Rudra is really one though according to the different functions He is considered to have eleven different forms.
The first face of Siva does Krida or play, the second does penance, the third destroys or dissolves the world, the fourth protects the people and the fifth, being knowledge, fully covers the entire universe by its power. He is Isana the creator and promoter of all beings, from within.
The first form of Siva is the enjoyer of Prakriti as Kshetrajna Purusha. The second is Tatpurusha resting in Sattva-guna, rooted in Bhogya-Prakriti, the Prakriti-enjoyed. The third is Ghora rooted in the eightfold Buddhi like Dharma, etc. The fourth is Vamadeva rooted in Ahankara and the fifth is Sadyojata, the presiding deity of the mind. The eight forms of Siva are Sarva, Bhava, Rudra, Ugra, Bhima, Pasupati, Isana and Mahadeva, rooted respectively in earth, water, fire, air, ether, Kshetrajna, sun and moon.
Brahma was unable to create and bring forth creatures from his mental creation. To know the method of creation he did Tapas. As a result of his Tapas Adyasakti arose in Brahma’s mind. Through the help of Adyasakti Brahma meditated upon Tryambakesvara. Pleased by the penance of Brahma, Lord Siva appeared in the form of Ardhanarisvara (half male and half female). Brahma praised Ardhanarisvara. Lord Siva then created from His body a Goddess by name Prama-Sakti. Brahma said to the Goddess: “I was not able to bring forth creatures by my mental creation. Though I created the Devatas yet they could not multiply. Therefore, I wish to bring forth creatures by intercourse. Before Your appearance or till now, I was not able to create the endless female species. Therefore, O Devi, be merciful and take birth as the daughter of my son, Daksha.”
The most auspicious and useful work beneficial to mankind ever carried out by Lord Siva, is to impart the knowledge of Yoga, Bhakti, Jnana, etc., to the world. He blesses those deserve His grace and who cannot get out of Samsara without His grace. He is not only the World-Teacher but also an ideal example to the Jivanmukta or sage. He teaches by His very actions in His daily life.
Uniting the self with the true Siva Tattva by the control of the senses is real wearing of Bhasma, because Lord Siva through His third eye of wisdom burnt passion to ashes. The meditation of Pranava should be done through Japa. One should attain the real Jnana, Yoga and Bhakti by steady practice. In the heart, there is a ten-petalled lotus. It has ten Nadis. It is the Jivatma’s abode.
This Jivatma lives in a subtle form in the mind and it is Chitta or Purusha itself. One should ascend to the moon by cutting open or transcending the Dasagni Nadi by the regular practice of Yoga as instructed by the Guru and practising dispassion, righteousness and equality. The moon then gradually attains fullness, as it gets itself pleased with the Sadhaka on account of his regular application in Yoga and purification of Nadis. In this state, the Sadhaka overcomes waking and sleeping state and through meditation merges himself in the object meditated upon in this waking state itself.
Siva and Vishnu
Siva and Vishnu are one and the same entity. They are essentially one and the same. They are the names given to the different aspects of the all-pervading Supreme Soul or the Absolute.
‘Sivasya hridayam vishnur-vishnoscha hridayam sivah—Vishnu is the heart of Siva and likewise Siva is the heart of Vishnu’.
The sectarian worship is of recent origin. The Saiva Siddhanta of Kantacharya is only five hundred years old. The Vaishnava cults of Madhva and Sri Ramanuja are only six hundred and seven hundred years old respectively. There was no sectarian worship before seven hundred years.
Brahma represents the creative aspect; Vishnu, the preservative aspect; and Siva, the destructive aspect of Paramatman. This is just like your wearing different garbs on different occasions. When you do the function of a judge, you put on one kind of dress. At home you wear another kind of dress. When you do worship in the temple, you wear another kind of dress. You exhibit different kinds of temperament on different occasions. Even so, the Lord does the function of creation when He is associated with Rajas, and He is called Brahma. He preserves the world when He is associated with Sattva Guna, and He is called Vishnu. He destroys the world when He is associated with Tamo-Guna, and He is called Siva or Rudra.
Brahma, Vishnu and Siva have been correlated to the three Avasthas or states of consciousness. During the waking state, Sattva predominates. During the dream state Rajas predominates and during the deep sleep state Tamas predominates. Hence Vishnu, Brahma and Siva are the Murtis of Jagrat, Svapna and Sushupti states of consciousness respectively. The Turiya or the fourth state is Para Brahman. The Turiya state is immediately next to the deep sleep state. Worship of Siva will lead quickly to the attainment of the fourth state.
Vishnu Purana glorifies Vishnu and in some places gives a lower position to Siva. Siva Purana glorifies Siva and gives a lower status to Vishnu. Devi Bhagavata glorifies Devi and gives a lower status to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. This is only to instil and intensify devotion for the respective deity in the hearts of the devotees. In reality, no deity is superior to another. You must understand the heart of the writer.
May you all realise the oneness of Siva and Vishnu! May you all be endowed with pure subtle intellect and proper understanding!