On this eve of the new moon that welcomes in the new beginnings of Spring, Hindu devotees and yogis and yoginis celebrate the Maha Shivaratri, the great night of Lord Shiva. Often depicted as the Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, Shiva performs the cosmic dance of the Universe in a rhythmic cycle of creation, maintenance, and destruction. Though Shiva is often thought of as the god of destruction, he really represents change and transformation. When one thing ends/is destroyed, the way is opened for something new to come, a new beginning. Shiva means Auspicious One, and it seems fitting that his celebration ushers in the new life and new beginnings of Spring.
Shiva is also the Great Yogi, whose guidance can help us burn away the ignorance and desire of the ego with Tapas (austerity). Through Tapas and all yogic practices we can strive to liberate ourselves from the ego and enter into the new awakened state of Samadhi, becoming One with the divine vibrations of All.
Besides worship and fasting, Maha Shivaratri is a night filled with the chanting of mantra for self-realization. Om Namah Shivaya is often sung 108 times, a number that represents the Oneness (1), the Emptiness (0), and the Infinity (8) of the Universe. Two other mantras to Lord Shiva are the Shiva Sahasranama, the thousand names of Shiva, and the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra.
The Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is a beautiful and powerful meditation mantra. With the epithet “three-eyed one”, this mantra addresses the god Rudra, the fierce and destructive aspect of Shiva. The transformative vibrations of this mantra can assist us in overcoming illness, mental and physical, and promote rejuvenation, healing, and longevity. But, more importantly, this mantra is sung to conquer death and bring us immortality – not immortality of the physical body, but of the soul, the Self. It invokes Rudra, the destroyer of the ego, to strengthen (nourish) us through the process of transformation towards greater awareness. The Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is a prayer for moksha, spiritual liberation.
Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra:
Om tryambakam yajaamahe
sughandim pushti vardhanam
mrityor mokshiya maamritaat
We meditate on (worship) the three-eyed one (Rudra/Shiva)
who is fragrant and nourishes all beings
bound by overpowering disease
may he liberate us from death with immortality (amrita, the immortal nectar)
नर्तक आत्मा । Nartaka Aatmaa
–Such a one who has realized his essential spiritual nature is a Self that is only a dancer on the world stage.
– Shiva Sutra #9, section 3