Aum Namah Shivaya. Tonight, millions of Hindus all over the world will celebrate Mahashivaratri, Shiva’s Great Night. Through fasting, ritual, and meditation, Hindus dedicate this night to the remembrance of lord Shiva, the Destroyer of ignorance and injustice. Shiva is a god of contradictions: he is a yogi, immersed in solitary meditation, and he is also a bhogi, an enjoyer of worldly pleasures, a loving husband to Parvati and doting father of Ganesha and Karthikeya. In his fearsome aspects, he is Rudra, “the Howler”, Bhairava, "the Frightful”, and Kalantaka, “the destroyer of Time itself.” Yet, as Shankara, he is the “creator of auspiciousness,” and as Neelakantha “the Blue-Throated One,” we are reminded of his infinite compassion, choosing to drink poison in order to save the universe. Covered in ash, adorned by snakes, residing in cremation grounds, he is beyond social conventions, and as Ardhanarishwara, “half-woman Lord”, he is beyond binary distinctions of gender.
On this auspicious occasion, we would like to share this reflection from Sadhana Advisory Board member Dr. Anantanand Rambachan:
Aum tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭivardhanam urvārukamiva bandhanānmṛtyormukṣīya mā'mṛtāt (Rig Veda 7.59.12)
"We offer worship to the fragrant, three-eyed Lord Shiva, who enhances prosperity. May he liberate us from the bondage of death like the water melon; may he not let us turn away from immortality."
“This mantra is called the Mrtunjaya Mantra, since it invokes the blessings of Shiva for conquering death. The beauty of this mantra is that it is a complete prayer for all the four important goals of Hindu life.
Pushti, which means prosperity, includes both artha (wealth) and pleasure (kama). Sugandhim (fragrance) refers to dharma or virtue. The sweetness and beauty of human life do not come from the fact of wealth but from virtue. It is the practice of virtues like truthfulness, non-violence, compassion, generosity and self-control that gives fragrance and beauty to our lives. Wealth without the fragrance of dharma is unattractive and harmful to oneself and to others.
Finally the mantra is also a prayer for the fourth and highest goal of human life, moksha (liberation). A life of dharma leads us gently and naturally to the wisdom (jñāna) that liberates us from the fear of death. A melon goes through a natural ripening process. At the end of it this process, it painlessly separates from the vine. If it is plucked before this process is over, its sweetness is lost. In a similar way if we pursue all of our life-goals in the fragrance of virtue, we are blessed with that knowledge that helps us to overcome the fear of death through understanding the immortal self (ātmā). Moksha is the fruit of wisdom and virtue.”