The word Sivaraatthiri
Sivaraatthiri, consists of two words, namely Siva and raatthiri; raatthiri means night. In Sanskrit, the word Sivam has the meanings like goodness (nanmai), auspiciousness (manggaLam) and happiness (inbam). Hence, Sivaraatthiri is an auspicious night for Lord Siva; it is the night of bliss. On the occasion of Sivaraatthiri, being inspired by our devotion to Lord Siva, we fast the whole day and keep vigil at night, thus bringing our senses under our soul’s control. If our senses can be continuously kept under control by God’s grace, we gain will power. If we have will power along with faith in God, we will be able to face any challenges in our life. One having such will power will be always blessed by God and therefore life will be pleasant for him/her.
When Sivaraaththiri is observed?
Sivaraatthiri, Mahaa Sivaraatthiri, to be exact, is observed on the day when the fourteenth phase of the waning moon (thaey piRai Sadhurtthasi) occurs in the Tamil month of Maasi (mid-March to mid-April). It is said that it is ideal if the thirteenth phase of the waning moon is prevalent until sunset and the fourteenth phase is prevalent throughout the night of Sivaraatthiri and for the whole of the following day.
Other kinds of sivaraatthiri are also acknowledged. They are known as Nitthiya Sivaraatthiri, Maadha Sivaraatthiri, Patcha Sivaraatthiri and Yoga Sivaraatthiri. MahaaSivaraatthiri is said to be conferring all the benefits which would be gained by observing the other four kinds of Sivaraatthiri, besides conferring benefits, specific to it.
Why Mahaa Sivaraatthiri is observed?
In keeping up with the Hindu tradition, various puraanic episodes are given to account for the special significance of Mahaa Sivaraatthiri.
According to one puranic story, once when the world came to an end, Devi Paarvathi prayed to (meditated on) Lord Siva throughout the night to persuade Him to create the world back. When Lord Siva accepted Devi’s prayer and request, She asked another boon by which that particular night was to be called by Lord’s name, and those who fasted and prayed through that night be blessed with all goodness in this life and salvation after it. This particular night is called Sivaraaththiri.
Another puranic account is that, once when the entire world submerged under water, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a boar, and saved it by balancing it on the tip of His single horn. After saving the world, Lord Vishnu returned to His bed of Adhisaesha. At this point Lord Brahma, by God’s will, restarted His function of creation. After creating the living and non-living things, He went around seeing the beauty of His creation. Being elated by the grandeur of His work, He felt superb. He acclaimed that He was the God. Lord Vishnu claimed that He was the God. Both of them ended in a quarrel, and continued to fight for a long time. To bring their fight to an end, Lord Sivaperumaan appeared in between them as a huge cosmic flame. There was a voice which said that whoever sees either the top or the bottom of the flame will be considered to be greater than the other. Lord Vishnu went on to find the foot of the flame in the form of a boar, while Lord Brahma took the form of a swan and went in search of the top of the flame. Neither of them could find either ends of the flame. They stood humbled and prayed to God to appear to their sight. The flame cooled down into the form of a Sivalinggam.
Nataraja Deekshidhar says in his blog that siva means the destruction of sorrows, and raatthiri means conferring of well-being/happiness; therefore sivaraatthiri removes sorrows and instills devotion. He continues to say that the thirteenth phase of the moon, thirayoadhasi thithi, is an embodiment of Devi Uma and the fourteenth phase, sadhutthasi thithi, is that of Lord Siva. The night when these two thithis co-occur is Sivaraatthiri.
Incidentally, according to the puraans on ThiruvaNNaamalai, the cosmic flame cooled down to become the sacred hill, ThiruvaNNaamalai. It will be useful to recollect that, ThiruvaNNaamalai is said to be the agni sthala (sacred place of fire), among the pancha bootha sthalas (sacred places of the five elements).
Both the above episodes indicate that, Sivaraatthiri is the night when Sivalinggam appeared. Before the non-attributable Almighty takes Its various forms along with the beginning of a creation, It first assumes the form-cum-formless aspect of Sivalinggam; It is also known as Sadhaasivam, which is a compound word made up the two words, Sakthi and Sivam. In short, Sivaraatthiri indicates the advent of the creation of the world, for which the Almighty brings out Its force of Grace to perform the fivefold graceful functions. God’s grace is depicted as His Sakthi. The various puranic episodes relate to deluges at various times; therefore whenever a deluge takes place, it will be followed by the appearance of Sivalinggam, which indicates the moment of the beginning of a new creation.
How to observe the fast?
According religious scholars, well-versed in Hindu scriptures, one who intends to fast during Mahaa Sivaraatthiri, is supposed to eat one meal (vegetarian) in the afternoon of the eve of Sivaraatthiri, and go to bed after taking some light meal like fruits and milk. In the morning of the day of MahaaSivaraatthiri, we get up early and take our bath, after which we do our prayers at home. We fast the whole day; the fast is aimed at disciplining our mind and five senses; this sort of discipline is very important to succeed in whatever effort we undertake, whether it be materialistic or spiritual.
It is ideal to exclusively be in the thoughts of Lord Siva the whole day. This can be achieved by reading about the Lord, singing His praise, chanting Hus auspicious manthra and hearing to religious discourses. If we are working or schooling, the least we can do is to be Siva-conscious (God-conscious) in the depth of our hearts, during the entire fast. Four special abishegams and prayers should be performed for Lord Siva at night. Each abishegam and poojaa has its specific objects for abishegam and offering. The special poojaas can be performed at our homes; but it is relatively simple and probably more effective to go to a temple and participate in the special abishegams and poojaas. Spending the night in the temple, enhances our chances of listening to songs in praise of God and listening to speeches about the significance of Sivaraatthiri and the greatness of God. The second special poojaa, which occurs at midnight is the most auspicious, because the Sivalinggam appeared in the midnight. In our country the midnight occurs around 1.25 am in the month of February. Therefore, the second special pooja is the most auspicious one at our temple. For those who cannot stay for the entire night, staying until this second poojaa will be beneficial. At Sri Kandaswamy Temple, after the fourth special poojaa, God goes on procession around inner courtyard and the theerttham aaduthal ceremony is performed by the side of the pond. This is indicative of souls receiving the grace of God; this indicates that souls are immersed in cool grace of God.
Early next morning, we have our bath, do our prayers, prepare a proper meal and feed devotees, before breaking our fast. Ideally, we break our fast, within two to two and half hours after the sunrise, i.e. before 9.00 to 9.30 am. Although, we break our fast in the morning, it is ideal to sleep only after sunset.
The Benefit of Mahaa Sivaraatthiri Fast
Sincere observation of Mahaa Sivaraatthiri fast will give all goodness in this life and salvation after this life or better life in the next birth.Even if the fast has been observed, unknowingly without intention, he/she will still be conferred with due benefit. The story of King Chithrabanu, found in the Shanthi Parva of the Mahabharatha, illustrates this fact. The story is as follows: Bhishma was lying on the bed of arrows in the battle field. At that instance, he was explaining about Dharma. While doing so, he referred to the observance of Mahaa Sivaraatthiri by King Chithrabaanu. Once upon a time King Chithrabaanu of Ikshvaaku dynasty, who was ruling the whole of Jambudvipa, was observing a fast with his wife. It was the Mahaa Sivaraatthiri fast.
At that juncture, sage Ashtavakra happened to visit the king. Realising that the king was fasting, the sage asked the king the reason for his fast.
King Chithrabaanu said that he had the gift of remembering the incidents of his previous birth. The king continued to say that he was a hunter by the name, Suswara, in his previous birth. He was at Varanasi. His only livelihood was to kill and sell animals and birds. One day, when he was still going in search of his prey, night befell. Not being able to return home, he found shelteron a tree, which happened to be a Bael (Vilvam) tree. He had shot a deer. Therefore, he bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree. He could not sleep because of hunger and thirst. He shed tears when he thought of his hungry wife and children awaiting his return. He passed his night by plucking the Vilvam leaves and throwing them to the ground.
The next morning, he returned home, sold the deer, and bought some food for him and his family. As he was about to eat, a stranger came to him, begging for food. Therefore, before eating, he served the food to the stranger.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Siva; they were sent to bring his soul to the abode of Lord Siva. The king realized the great merit he had earned by unintentionally worshipping Lord Siva during the night of Sivaraatthiri. He was told by the messengers that, there was aSivalinggam at the bottom of the tree, and the leaves dropped by the then hunter fell on the Sivalinggam. His tears fell on the Linggam thus bathing it. He had fasted the whole night. Thus, he had observed the Sivaraatthiri fast perfectly, though unintentionally. As a result, the then hunter was blessed to blissfully live in the abode of Lord Siva for long ages, after which he was reborn as Chithrabaanu.
It is to be noted that, although the hunter was unintentionally observing the Sivaraatthiri fast, his mind was free from wandering about; it was just focusing on one thought, spending the night safely and setting out when the day came by.
Puranas state that if Mahaa Sivaraatthiri fast is observed for twenty years and ended ritualistically, the person concerned will reach the feet of Lord Siva and be in permanent bliss; their 21 generations will be blessed with all goodness.
The message of Mahaa Sivaraatthiri
From the two puranic stories, we are clearly reminded, that God cannot be realized as long as we do not give up our egotism. God can be experienced only by those humble souls who fully realize that everything they do is through the grace of God. Devi Uma’s prayer, reminds us of the fact, God Who is in a blissful state on His own, starts performing the five-fold function due to His immense grace toward the souls, and His grace is depicted as His Sakthi.
The most important aspect of a fast is to stabilize the mind and exclusively focus it on God. This is ritualistically communicated by the performance of the four special abishegams and poojaas. We have five senses which distract the mind toward worldly things; likewise we have four faculties at the mental level; they are known as andhakaraNams (internal instruments/mental faculties). The four mental faculties are, mind (manam), initiativeness (ahanggaaram), intelligence (putthi) and memory (sittham). The four special abishegams and poojaas, are indicative of submitting our four mental faculties to God, thus achieving a fully focused mind on God.
Let us try to spend the day of Mahaa Sivaraatthiri, with the awareness that God is within us guiding us through all our three pronged deeds – action, word and thought.