The Sacred Night of Observance
Mahashivratri (Night of Shiva), is the night to revere Lord Shiva for saving the world by confining the poison in his neck, thus assuming the title of Neelkantha (नीलकंठ). This is the Night of exemplifying Shakti (शक्ति), where in Lord Shiva displays his potency in saving the world.
Furthermore, this is the night of Bhakti, signified by the overcoming of fear by a terrified Shiva bhakt, lost in the jungle, taking shelter on a wood apple tree (Bel - बेल), throwing bel patra (बेल पत्र) on the floor throughout the night while chanting the mantra of “Om Namah Shivaya”.
According to many lores, on this Night, Shiva and Parvati got married and entered into material life (भौतिक जीवन) depicting the night of coming together of ethereal and the corporeal, material and the spiritual. Parvati as Prakriti (प्रकृति) gets Lord Shiva, the sanyasi (सन्यासी), in the domesticated form (Ambikanath -अंबिकनाथ) and guides Lord Shiva, Purusha (पुरुष), for a purpose.
Thus, this sacred Night is the night to realise and appreciate the fine balance of Bhakti, Shakti and the material life (भौतिक जीवन).
The world (संसार) created by Brahma (ब्रह्म) and continued by Vishnu (विष्णु) needs Bhakti and Shakti in the material world of desires to progress. The world needs Maya (माया) to create desires and detachment at the same time so as not to get engulfed in its own desires. Thus, it signifies the balance of contrasts; desires along with renunciation.
It is considered auspicious to be awake the whole night on Mahashivratri. It is a night of vigil, a night to explore one’s potential and be conscious of one’s real Self. It is the night of darkness - Krishna paksha (कृष्ण पक्ष) which removes all differences and brings the realisation of Oneness. Light reveals differences as it accentuates our form and uniqueness differentiating from others but darkness engulfs all these differences making us one with vast expanse of universe. This helps one to attain the spirit and energy of Adi Yogi. This is the Night of celebration of being one with this universe.
On this Night, according to another legend, Shiva takes the form of a massive column of fire spread across the universe and asks Brahma and Vishnu to find the end of the fire column and establish their supremacy. Brahma falsely projects the end and was punished by furious Shiva for this deception. Here, Fire indicates the limitless possibilities of endless human mind. Those who falsely limit themselves are unknowingly punished by self and become prisoners of their own limitations.
This Night is a night to wake up and look within, to move to the inner lights of wisdom. It’s a night of balance and harmony, it’s a union of matter and spirit to bring harmony and balance in the universe. It’s the night of Tandav (तांडव) which is the cosmic dance of creation and destruction to assume a new form.
(Maha Shivratri is celebrated on the Chaturdashi Tithi of Krishna Paksha in Phalgun Month according to the Hindu Lunar Calendar)