In Sanskrit, the word Shiva means perfect, benevolent, kind, and auspicious. Lord Shiva is always blissful and auspicious due to self-perfection and non- dependence on anything external. The Shiva Purana extols the meaning, significance, and profoundness of the Panchakshara Mantra Om Namah Shivaya. The Panchakshara or five syllables are the centre of the four vedas. They also represent the five elements air, water, fire, earth, and space.
Om is a sacred sound and symbol that is uttered at the beginning of mantras and refers to the Absolute. The actual meaning of the Panchakshara Mantra is Namah (not mine) Shivaya (belongs to Shiva). This mantra instils humility as everything belongs to Shiva and nothing is mine. This powerful and great yet simple mantra is easy to chant and bestows enormous benefits to the devotees.
Lord Shiva, known as the auspicious one, is a revered Hindu God. This is the most significant day for worshipping Lord Shiva, who is also known as Shankar, Mahadev, Bholenath, Mahesh, Nataraj, Pashupathi, Umapathi and several other names. The 1008 names known as the Shiva Sahasranamam are invoked to elevate the worshipper.
Legend has it that when Goddess Parvathi asked Lord Shiva which puja offered by the devotees pleases him the most, he replied that it was the one offered on the the14th night of new moon in the month of Phalgun. This day starts with a ritual bath or Ganga snan and is celebrated as Maha Shivarathri. Devotees also follow a rigorous fast for the whole day and hold an all-night vigil.
Devotees believe that the vrat (fast) is auspicious and equal to the Ashwamedha Yagna.
The Shiva Purana says that puja to Lord Shiva must include Abhishek or the ceremonial bath for the –—a traditional symbol for Lord Shiva. The use of the six materials or dravyas for Abhishek while chanting Chamakam and Rudram, gives a distinct blessing. The six dravyas are:
- Milk for devoutness
- Yoghurt for affluence
- Honey for sweet speech
- Ghee for success
- Sugar for happiness
- Water for purity
The sacred Bilva or bhel leaves are dear to Lord Shiva. The trifoliate leaves are believed to be a symbol for the Trimurthis or for the three eyes of Lord Shiva. Married women worship Lord Shiva for the well-being of their husbands while young girls pray for an ideal husband like Lord Shiva. Devotees who fast all day long break the fast on the next morning after a night vigil and have the prasad offered to Lord Shiva.
Some devotees go on a pilgrimage to some or all the 12 auspicious Jyotirlinga temples. In the Shiva Purana, the Jyotirlinga is described as the supreme infinite Shiva who appeared as a fiery column of light representing the infinite manifestation of Lord Shiva who has no beginning or end.
The 12 Jyotirlinga temples mentioned in the Shiva Purana are:
- Somnatheshwar in Prabhas Patan
- Mallikarjuna in Srisailam
- Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain
- Omkareshwar in Shivpuri
- Kedarnath in Uttarakhand
- Bhimashankar in Dakini
- Kashi Vishwanath in Varanasi
- Trimbakeshwar at Nashik
- Vaidyanath in Parali
- Nageshwar in Aundha
- Rameshwar in Rameshwaram
- Grishneshwar in Devasrovar
Lord Shiva is the embodiment of purity and righteousness. He is portrayed as Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram (truth, goodness, beauty). Maha Shivarathri is a significant day to Shaivites (devotees of Lord Shiva) who invoke and receive his blessings and his divine consort, Goddess Parvathi. It is believed that pleasing Lord Shiva on the auspicious Maha Shivarathri day will remove the sins of the past and take devotees towards spiritual progress and liberation or moksha.
This article was originally published in the Indian Weekender on February 23, 2017