Mahashivratri is a celebration of the Hindu God, Shiva. Shiva is often explained in Western society as being the god of destruction. However, this is an over-simplification of his significance in Hinduism. Shiva is regarded as a limitless and formless source of divine energy and it is to him that Hindus attribute the creation of the universe. This being done, Brahma and Vishnu (also one with the infinite form of Shiva), took on the responsibility of creating life and maintaining balance in the world, respectively. So where does the confusion that he is a “destroyer” come from? There is a belief that there will come a time when Shiva will lead the universe to collapse on itself and return to nothingness. In fact, this is in line with one of the three possible fates of the universe according to modern physics: the universe will ultimately collapse on itself in a process known as the Big Crunch.*
Now that I’ve explained a little about the significance of Shiva, let’s talk about Mahashivratri. This holiday is celebrated on the 14th day of the lunar cycle between February and March. Years ago, my mother explained to me that spiritual energy of the world is strongest on this day. It is traditionally celebrated by fasting during this day and sitting upright throughout the night in prayer to Shiva.
I am a practicing Hindu but there are very few religious holidays in which I partake of the traditional festivities. This happens to be one of them and, whenever I am able, I attend the temple to join others in devotion. I sit in a room of devotees who join to sing bhajans in praise of Shiva. When we chant “Om,” the phrase seems to carry more weight and resonance than usual. When I hear the blow of the conch shell, a surge of energy moves up my spine and I feel rejuvenated.
There is something about this night that permeates a feeling of unity and evokes in me a strong spiritual connection to the world. This, I feel, is what religion is all about. No matter the faith, I think the reason it has been such a strong force in this world is because it emphasizes a sense of community. Humans, as social creatures, crave connection with each other. Historical evidence suggests that numerous civilizations have found religion to be one of the most effective ways to satisfy this desire.
Before I finish this post, I would like to say that my object here was not to push my beliefs on anyone. I simply wanted to share my experience of a festival that I observe. So whether you practice Hinduism, another religion, or none at all, I hope that you, too, experience a sense of community and connection to your fellow man.
*I am not a physicist and I haven’t read enough peer-reviewed literature to know how popular this theory is among physicists. If I eventually find the time to do so, I’m sure I will post my findings to the page (because I think it’s fascinating!). But if you are interested and don’t want to wait for my post, I suggest that you research it, yourself!