Shivaratri is a sacred Yogi celebration.
Shivaratri means the “Night of Lord Siva”.
Lord Siva is the giver of yoga and so for Yogis this is one of the most sacred nights of the year.
Devotees fast throughout the day into the night till sunrise. Priest perform ritual Pujas (prayer ceremonies) of Shivaligam by bathing it with milk, yogurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water amidst the chanting of “Om Namah Sivaya” and ringing of the temple bells all night long, from sundown to sunrise.
I was fortunate enough a year ago to connect to the festival without even knowing what it was. I was at my month long Teacher Training Course at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat Center in the Bahamas and it fell on one of the nights in the second week, actually March 6th to be exact.
I was not sure if I would be able to stay up all night. Everyone was talking about it. It was all the buzz with the instructors. I thought I would try to be there as much as I could but I may end up going to my tent and sleeping for a while and then going back to the temple. Well, forget about going to my tent, the energy was so engaging I easily stayed in the temple all night. It’s the one night you can actually lay down in the temple; usually it is a sign of disrespect to lie down or event point your feet in the direction of the alter. I did end up needing about two separate ten-minute naps during the night. Normally if I wake up after only ten minutes, I am groggy and resistant. It is quite different with the sound of chanting and drumming going on all around you. The music gently rocks you awake. Once awake, I was blissfully chanting, drumming and dancing.
Five different times throughout the ceremony the priest performs pujas. Each one is different and each one we all stand up in line to receive our blessings, all the while chanting is going on. “Siva Siva Siva Shambho, Siva Siva Siva Shambho, Mahadeva Shambho, Mahadeva Shambho” we repeat slowly at first till the drumming speeds up and the chant gets faster and faster, climaxing, then once again for the last few rounds or even last round the chanting is very slow. Some songs last 10 minutes, some last 20 minutes or longer. Just as important as the drum is the harmonium, a hand pumped keyboard, a popular instrument in India.
When we finally get up to the priest we bow down to the ground then the priest helps us pour milk to bath the Siva Lingum and toss flower petals at them. This varies every round.
Around 5am we trail behind the priest and Swami’s to circle the Ashram to bless the grounds.
When the sun makes its début to us in the morning, we all go and have a feast outside the temple. Many people were preparing food for a few days before the ceremony and suddenly it all appears on many tables ready to be partaken from; sweetbreads, pastries, candies, puddings, anything sweet with lots of Chi tea to wash it all down. With our bellies full and our heart soaring we retreat to our tents for a few hours sleep before we begin again with more yoga and meditation or if we choose, long walks on the beach. Remember this Yoga center is in the Bahamas surrounded by the Caribbean seas.
It is said that worshipping of Lord Shiva on Shivaratri bestows one with happiness and prosperity. There are many things that bring happiness and prosperity and I am more than willing to bring more opportunities for that into my life. The fact that I can enjoy something this much and it might bring happiness to me is all the more to love.