Sivaratri, or Mahasivratri, is one of the most auspicious occasions for members of the Hindu community. The day holds special significance for pious Hindus all over the world, especially devotees of Lord Shiva. Many of whom observe a strict day-long fast or Upvaas in honour of Lord Siva. The fast is broken only in the early morning of the next day, with the consumption of some traditional food items and drinks.
While virtually every Hindu festival comes with a sumptuous list of foods to feast on, during Mahasivaratri most Hindus fast. A spiritual practice found in almost all of the world’s religions, fasting calms the physical, mental and emotional energies, helping the devotee draw nearer to the ineffable Self within. While the most strict fast on nothing but water; others permit themselves fruits, milk or rice.
Many observe silence on this night, thinking of nothing but God. Silence, known in Sanskrit as mauna, quiets the demands of the mind and body, bringing forth spiritual clarity.
In Hinduism, God is not separate from creation. A virtuous life and certain techniques, such as yoga and ascetic practices, allow a person to remove the veil that makes us think of ourselves as separate from Him.
Who is Siva?
For hundreds of millions of Hindus Siva is the Supreme Being, the absolute One God who both transcends creation and pervades it—thus existing as our own innermost essence. Siva is the powerful Deity whose energetic dance creates, sustains and dissolves the universe in endless cycles. He is the master yogi delving into unfathomable mysteries, the supreme ascetic, the prime mystic, the Light behind all light, the Life within all life. Siva is often called Mahadeva, “Great Being of Light,” for He created other, lesser Gods such as Ganesha and Karttikeya. Although Siva is usually depicted as male, in reality God and the Gods are beyond gender and form, as depicted by His half-male, half-female form, Ardhanarishvara. Parvati, regarded as Siva’s consort in village Hinduism, is mystically understood as His manifest energy, inseparable from Him. The ancient Tirumantiram scripture says of Siva, “Himself creates. Himself preserves. Himself destroys. Himself conceals. Himself all of this He does and then grants liberation—Himself the all-pervading Lord.”
What happens on Maha Sivaratri?
Many Hindus perform an all-night vigil, plunging the soul into its own essence, led by Siva, the supreme yogi, who is both the guide and the goal of the search. Staying awake through the night is a sacrifice and a break from life’s normal routine, a time out of time to be with God within, to reach for the realisation of our true, immortal Self. Siva is known as Abhisheka Priya, “He who loves sacred ablutions,” and thus many temples and home shrines have water always dripping on the Sivalinga. On this special night, Sivalingas are bathed with special substances, sometimes several times. Mahasivaratri occurs on the night before the new moon in February/March.
Prasadam Offerings for Sivaratri
- Veggie Platter makes a wonderful Rasayana as a prasadam offering for Sivaratri.
- More prasadams from Chitra Amma
- Download more information about Sivaratri (and other Hindu Festivals) here.