Monday, February 23, 2009


Mahasivarathri The holy night
Dr. Vimala Krisnapillai

To each and every one who seeks Siva with devotion on the holy night of Mahasivarthri, His grace flows in abundance like the radiant sun. Mahasivarathri virata falls today. According to the Hindu calendar it is the 14th day of the new moon in the month of Maasi.

Sivarathri is termed a virata because the devotees observe stipulated nyamas and religious austerities like fasting, penance, vigil, ritual worship, prayers, meditation and dana charity with great religious fervor during the day and night of this holy time.

By observing this virata auspicious forces are created, the negative forces of evil, sin and guilt are destroyed. The channels between the divine and human which have been clogged up with selfish desires and false values are reopened, revitalized and renewed.

The essential religious observances during Sivarathri virata are upavasam, fasting the entire day and night; keeping vigil in contemplation of Siva throughout the night; ritualistic performance of abishekam and puja of Sivalingam; japa and contemplation.

Fasting helps in restraining the senses from wondering in search of deluding pleasures. Abstaining from food is conducive to the starvation of lust, greed, envy and purifying the body and mind by promoting love of God.

Literally rathri signifies not only night but spiritual darkness or ignorance. The act of vigil, keeping awake cultivates inner wakefulness. Siva consciousness is awakened. And the lord of the Jiva Siva emerges as the dazzling light of luminosity in the spiritual heart.

External abiseka of Sivalingam, with pure abundant flow of love would eventually leads one to the internal abiseka. Pandit Kasi Ghanapahti of Shirengari Math quoting the scriptures explains the esoteric meaning of abiseka, as the pouring of the water of purest love on Atmalinga in one’s spiritual heart, the inseparable eternal abode of Siva.

The puja and archana performed with even a single vilva leaf pathra on this day is of great significance. The leaves or flowers offered to the Sivalingam are symbolically brought close to the heart, the eternal abode of Siva as Atma during puja. Japa, the chanting of Panchachara, the sacred mantra of Siva Namasivaya is of vital importance. Namasivaya is the essence and meaning of the four Vedas, extols St. Mannickavachagar in his Thiruvachagam.

Accompanying every virata and religious festivals are puranas, legends, stories and anecdotes which explain the origin, significance and merit earned by observing them. The genesis of Mahasivrathri as related in the Sivapuranam, Skanda puranam, Padmapuranam and Mahabaratam.

In all Sivan temples the Sivalingham occupies the mulasthanam, the innermost central sanctum garbagragham. In every Sivan temple on the outer wall of the central sanctum exactly just behind the spot where the Sivalingham is installed is the Lingothbhavamoorthy, a sculpture engraved on the wall. The Lingothbavam sculpture, visualizes the grace of Siva, the supreme revelation on the midnight on Sivarathri manifesting as the visible form which is cognizable and accessible for worship. Parasivam the absolute out of His formlessness emerged in the form of lingam as an endless column of light (Jothi) to shower His grace.

In this sculpture the formless form of Siva whose expanse and the physical limit, neither the top of His head nor the bottom of His feet was visible. Neither Brahma Deva in the form of the swan flying very high nor Vishnu in the form of a boar burrowing deep down to the bowels of the earth could fathom or reach Him.

In allegorical terms this reminds one that even the celestial Devas in their egoistic frame of mind failed to gauge the bottom or top, the beginning or end of the luminous cosmic pillar of light. What to say of the finite human intellect to cognize the glory of Him?

In addition to these Puranas there are various stories and legends relating to Sivaratri, which help to strengthen the resolve of the devotees to observe Sivarathri. There may be some slight variations among these stories but the underlying theme remains the same.

They all conclude that even if unknowingly one performs the stipulated observances on Sivarartri it bestows on one’s great merits and heavenly abodes. So what to speak, of the merits acquired by those who knowingly and willfully observing Sivrathri?

The Saivite Hindus perceive the Sivalingham as the most sacred symbol of the formless nirguna aspect of Parasivam. Sivalingham is considered the mulavigragha fundamental form and the prime manifestation of Siva and the most sacred visible symbol of God.

The Lingam form in which Siva is worshipped is known as the aru uru thirumani symbolizing both form and formlessness. The Baana Linga too is elliptical in shape without beginning or end. The literal meaning of linga in Sanskrit is symbol.

Etymologically the word Lingam is said to be derived from ‘li’ which means dissolve and ‘gam’ which means to go out.

The Sivalingham symbolizes the ultimate reality into whom the creation of the universe dissolves and out of which they evolve again and again in eons of time.

Saint Thirumular interpreted the upper, middle and bottom part of the Sivalingam as the Akaaram, Ukaaram, Maakaram of the mantra AUM. He has extolled the glory of the Lingam as Anandalingham, Pindalingam, Sadasivalingam, Atmalingam and Janalingham.

Throughout the length and breath of India are spread out twelve Jothirlinga temples which are held in high veneration. They are as follows: The holiest of holy Kasi Viswanath of Varnasi; Kedarinath situated in the Himalayas 11,000 feet above sea level; Mahakaleswar at Ujjain; Nageswar at Audhagram; Omkaranath in Madhya Pradesh; Thryambgeswar in Nasik; Ghusenishwar in Auranagabad; Rameswar Ramalinga of Sethu worshiped by Lord Rama in the southern most tip of India; Somanath in Patan; Shaileshwar in Sreesailam; Bhimashankara in Pune; Vaidyanath in Marathawala.

Five Elements
Beside these there are in the Southern India, the five Pancha Bhuta Sehetra Sivalingams representing the five elements earth, water, fire, air and ether. Prithivilingam at Kanchipuram; Apaslinggam at Thiruvaikal; Tejaslingam at Thiruannamalai; Vaulingam at Kalasthy; Akasalingam at Cithambaram.

At Cithambaram Thillai temple, the priest invokes the Linga from bottom upwards in the ascending order of subtlety, the space above the lingam being Akasalingam, the ethereal space which signifies the subtle manifestation of divinity as the ultimate reality. In Sri Lanka, the very ancient historic Sivalinga temples which have withstood many onslaughts stand the temples of Tirukketisvaram, Tirukkoneswaram, Munneswaram, Naguleswaram and Chandramauliswaram.

May Siva which connotes Chit- pure wisdom, a state of perfection and bliss which leads one to mukti or final deliverance from the cycle of birth and death, shower His Divine Grace on those who seek Him on this powerful holy, the crest jewel of viratas on Mahasivaratri.

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