Definition - What does Maha Shivaratri mean?
Maha Shivaratri is an important Hindu festival that is celebrated in reverence to the god of destruction, Shiva. The name for this holiday comes from the Sanskrit roots maha, meaning "great," Shiva, referring to the deity, and ratri, meaning "night." Thus, Maha Shivaratri literally translates to "the great night of Shiva."
A smaller version of the celebration, simply called Shivaratri, takes place every month on the day before the new moon. Maha Shivaratri takes place from the 13th night to the 14th day of the Hindu calendar month Phalunga or Maagh (February or March).
Lord Shiva is also called Adiyogi or Adi Guru. This is because he is considered to be the first of all yogis and the original yoga teacher. Thus, many yoga practitioners will celebrate the holiday of Maha Shivaratri to honor the deity who blessed them with the practice of yoga.
Yogapedia explains Maha Shivaratri
Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with great fervor by the devotees of Lord Shiva. It is said that the earth witnesses an increase in energy levels on this day because of its unique planetary position.
There are several legends behind this great celebration. Some believe this was the day that Lord Shiva swallowed poison to save the universe. Others believe that it is the day when Shiva married the goddess, Parvati. It is also said that Shiva performed the Tandava on Maha Shivaratri -- a dance which signifies creation, preservation and destruction.
During this holiday, Shiva's devotees chant mantras and offer prayers in the temple. They fast during the day until the morning of the next day. Many devotees will stay awake all night singing devotional songs and chanting mantras. These devotees take extra care to keep their spines erect throughout the night, mimicking the posture of Shiva as Adi Yogi so they might experience the upward surge of energy through the channels around the spine.
Maha Shivaratri holds special importance among yogis because it is the special day of Shiva, the first yogi. Practitioners will often chant mantras or perform meditation for longer hours on this day and may even design special sequences or devote the day's practice to Shiva in order to honor him.
Maha Shivaratri is a time for individuals to expel ignorance and become aware of Self and the universe. Celebrating Maha Shivaratri reminds devotees of the compassion of Shiva, who is not only a destroyer but also a giver.