Today we are celebrating Sivarathri. "Sivarathri" means "Auspicious darkness". At least on this day, one should chant Shiva's name all through the night. At least on one day in a year, chant the Lord's name. This night, devotees are expected to stay awake by chanting the sacred name of Shiva. Keeping awake in any other way is purposeless. Spending the night reciting the Lord's name sanctifies one's life.
The lesson of Sivarathri is that devotees should foster good and sacred thoughts. They should be filled with godly thoughts. They should seek to become one with the Divine by reflecting on their inherent divinity. If you constantly chant the name of God, God realization will come in due course.
Whatever other things they may possess, men suffer from lack of peace and bliss. These two can be obtained only from God. It is for these two that men should pray to God and not for anything else, because God alone can give them. When these are secured, all other things will come of their own accord by the grace of God. People should yearn for God. All other desires are worthless.
Sivarathri has a variety of meanings. "Rathri" implies the darkness of night. But "Sivarathri" connotes not darkness but the special sacredness of this night. There is darkness in this night also, but this darkness is invested with auspiciousness. The reason is that on this l4th day after the Full Moon (Chathurdasi day), the moon, who is the presiding deity for the mind, has shed fifteen of his sixteen digits. This is an auspicious time for having proximity to God.
The Upanishaths refer to the attributes of the Divine as Truth, Goodness, and Beauty (Sathyam, Shivam, Sundaram). Plato regarded Truth, Goodness, and Beauty as the attributes of the Divine Goodness (Shivam) represents the principle of auspiciousness. It is associated with Truth on one side and beauty on the other.
This is the primary message of Sivarathri. I am giving you three maxims that you have to bear in mind: Service, service, service (Seva, seva, seva). Never forget the duty to serve. For this you have to develop love. To develop love, you have to promote the spirit of sacrifice. Service will become meaningful when it manifests the love that issues from sacrifice. Consider service as conducive to your own spiritual development. Be good, do good.
The terms Shiva and Sankara mean Auspicious. Sam means blissful awareness (chitaanandha). Kara means the one who causes it. Thus, Sankara means the One who causes blissful awareness. Sankara is the One who confers blissful awareness on those who take refuge in Him or adore Him.
The secret of creation is evident from the description of the form of Shiva. The crescent moon on Shiva's head symbolizes the consciousness in human beings, the Ganges river (Gangaa) symbolizes the life force, and the snakes on Shiva's body represent the myriad of living beings. He resides on a silver mountain. His dearest friend is Kubera, the Lord of Wealth. Despite being endowed with all these, why was He obliged to carry the begging bowl? To demonstrate to the world that every kind of wealth is a hindrance to spiritual advancement, Shiva renounced everything. It is through renunciation that Shiva became the eternal embodiment of supreme bliss.
The three eyes of Shiva represent the three worlds (lokas). Shiva's trident is symbolic of the past, present, and future, the three aspects of time. The three qualities (gunas) --serenity, passion, sloth (satwa, rajas, thamas)-- are images of the Trinity: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The three worlds, the triune aspect of time, and the three qualities are the manifestations of the God Principle (Easwara Principle). When the Divine is installed in the heart in this manner, man can raise himself to the level of the Divine.
The day when man is able to experience the divine state of being-awareness-bliss (sath-chith-ananda) is really the holy day of Sivarathri. Till then, man is in perpetual darkness. Until a fruit ripens on a tree, its juice is not sweet. When the fruit is fully ripe, it drops from the tree. Attachment to the tree is gone. Likewise, when a man achieves spiritual maturity, he acquires detachment (vairagya) automatically. Man has to endeavour to reach this level of maturity by spiritual practices that transform his consciousness.
Turn your minds toward the Divine. Repetition of the Lord's names has been prescribed as a spiritual discipline to turn your mind away from the things of the world. If you devote the whole of this night to thoughts about the Lord, your minds will be transformed, even if you are not able to reach the highest state of "Over-Mind". Ever bearing in mind the triple characteristics of the Divine --Truth, Wisdom, Eternal Brahman (Sathyam, Jnanam, Anantham Brahman)-- strive to achieve the supreme goal of Man.
Sivarathri is a very auspicious day for all. It is the fourteenth day of the lunar fortnight, when the moon is waning and the sun is in the sign of Aquarius. However, the festival is related to the moon rather than the sun. Unlike other nights, this particular night is the night of consecration, of dedication, of illumination.
The mind is intimately associated with the moon. Chandra, the deity of the moon, is the presiding deity of the mind. He loses one sixteenth of his brilliance every day after the full moon day and continues waning until, on this night, he is left with just one sixteenth of his power. The waned moon may be taken to stand for the mind with all its wild fancies and waywardness reduced after it has been conquered by spiritual discipline. On this night, there is just a minute part more to be conquered, and that can be done by keeping vigil and dwelling on the glory of God
The vigil that is prescribed is symbolic of the eternal vigil one has to observe, while the rite of fasting is symbolic of divesting the senses of the pleasures for which they crave. The night-long devotional singing is significant of the life long consciousness of the Divine Presence that everyone should cultivate. The rites and vows laid down for Sivarathri being absent on other nights of the year, their observance on this day comes as a reminder that they are useful.