Shiva means your very self, the purest Self, your innermost core. Shiva means good or benevolent. The word ratri in Sanskrit means that which relieves you from three types of agony – ethereal, mental and material. At night everything becomes quiet and peaceful. The body gets tired and goes to sleep. ‘Shivaratri’ literally means that night which infuses the Shiva tatva or the transcendental principle to the three instruments: the body, mind and speech.
Shivaratri is a night of deep rest. It is the night that takes you into its lap, comforts you and gives rest. When the mind rests on the lap of the Divine, that’s real rest. Like the mind, memory and intellect, Shiva is also a tatva or principle in us. Shivaratri is when the Shiva tatva and Shakti become one.
The jagran in Shivaratri – staying awake all night – is not just forcing oneself to be awake or sing devotional songs. It is about being consciously aware of the inner rest that sleep brings everyday. When you surpass a certain layer of sleep, samadhi happens. Samadhi is often referred to as Shiva Sayujya, the presence of Shiva, a state of deep rest with alertness, which brings freedom from all identities. Kabir Das calls it koti kalpa vishram – a billion years of rest consolidated in a moment. When you come out of it, you experience certain pleasantness and reduced entropy, which brings an unusual freshness to the mind and senses.
The linga in Shiva temples symbolises identification or sign through which you identify someone as being male, female or neutral. The Divine is beyond the three genders; hence the Divine is called Ekalinga, or unigender. What is that one gender? The Self, the Atma. The Self is beyond body, mind or intellect; it is beyond likes and dislikes. Ekalinga is the Lord of the Self.
On Shivaratri, the Shiva Shakti merges into the whole universe. Shiva has been associated with destruction; but transformation, new beginning for the better, can only happen when something is destroyed. Shiva is the factor of transformation. ‘Sham’ means peace and good and ‘kara’ means one who does that. ‘Shankara’ means one who gives peace and does good.
The whole of Creation is the dance or play of Shiva, the tandav or dance of one consciousness, one seed, which manifested into a million species in the world. The whole world moving in an auspicious rhythm of innocence and intelligence is Shiva. Shiva is the permanent and eternal source of energy – the one and only eternal state of Being.
There is a story related to Shivaratri, about the union of Shiva and Shakti. The primordial and dynamic energy is wedded to the transcendental. Shiva is the silent witness and Shakti is chitti or chidvilasa, the energy that plays and displays in infinite space. Shiva is the formless Being; Shakti is manifestation in the field. This is the recognition of the dual aspect of matter and energy, prakriti and purusha, the dravya and guna – substance and its qualities. Recognising the underlying non-dual nature of Brahmn is Shivaratri.
It is only wakefulness that brings out this knowledge in our consciousness and Shivaratri is the night to celebrate the wakefulness of one universal consciousness without falling into the unconscious sleep state. Breaking the pattern of unconscious sleep gives you a glimpse that you are not a mechanical apparatus but a legend in Creation. To recognise the Shiva tatva, you have to be awake.