My grandmother was very religious. Every year she used to go on a pilgrimage, mostly to Tirupati and Pandarapur. Every year, on the day of Shivaratri they used to keep awake (do Jagarane) the whole night. I remember, once me and some of my childhood friends went to Mahadevapura Shiva Temple and spent a whole night there. Of course we had no idea of God and we just followed our grandparents. We roamed around the temple, arranged a fire outside the temple and made ourselves comfortable. I think that was long back, probably when I was in my primary school. On couple of other occasions, they took us to a movie. Watching the movie would make it about 1:00AM and somehow the rest of the night used to be spent. On some other occassions, villagers arranged devotional film shows in the night. They probably played 3 to 4 movies. I don’t remember learning anything from it. For us, they were wonderful stories and they made us glad every time we saw them. It’s impossible not to feel reverence for these type of things, for they embody purity and self surrender of the highest degree.
After primary education, my life has been full of travel. Shivaratri became more of a break than any festival. And also Shivaratri is a low key affair as far as the celebrations are concerned. We are expected to fast in the day and later keep vigil in the night – something which is not possible without knowledge and commitment. It was mostly like this till I got connected to Ramakrishna Ashram in 2005 or thereabout.
In Mysore Ramakrishna Ashram, there will be Bhajans in the evening hours of Shivaratri but no ‘keeping vigil’. But they do it in many centers like the Belur Math in Kolkata and also Ulsoor Math in Bangalore. One on occassion, I went to a Shiva Temple near our house where they played the videos of Kailas Manas Sarovar Yatra. By the next year, our youth group in Ashram had a pretty good strength. There was also a Brahmachari who was very friendly with us. One of our members suggested that we can do a ‘Jagarane’ this time. We thought over it and decided that we will do it in a temple near the village where we currently built our library. This temple is on the banks of river Cauvery and no houses are nearby. It was an ideal place. About 10-12 of us went there in our bikes, we also hired an Ambassador Car to go there. We reached there around 12:00 midnight and spent the next 6 hours Chanting and doing Bhajans. It’s always great to have a monastic member of Ramakrishna Math with you. He taught us many wonderful things including Vedic Chanting and Shiva Bhajans. Now he is currently a Sanyasin and is in Bihar. We have very fond memories with him.
We repeated this for next 3 years – keeping vigil the whole night doing Chanting and Bhajans and taking bath in the Cauvery river the next morning. Some of us used to fast. One year 4 of us went to Rameshwaram and did Jagarane there. Another year we went to one Baby Math near KRS where many villagers sang their devotional Songs throughout the night. Last year, it was in Viveka Mandira, a small knowledge center which we built from our Trust in Chindegowdana Koppalu. It is quite near to the temple where we used to do ‘Jagarane’ regularly.
Now, these are all external observances. A question will certainly arise in our mind as to whether these practices have any meaning and whether they give any real benefit to us. From my limited experience, I would say ‘Yes’.
Taking my own journey from childhood till now and taking each instance of Shivaratri which I observed in one way or the other, I find that it has done me a tremendous good. Certainly, when I was a child looking at the movies ‘Bhakta Siriyala’, ‘Bhakta Markandeya’, and ‘Bedara Kannappa’ I had absolutely no idea of God. Even when I tried to make something out of these movies, all that I could get was the idea that there is a God called Shiva. Of course I couldn’t relate him to my life, which was something entirely different from that of these great devotees Siriyala, Markandeya and Kannappa. So Shiva was an objective God who attended to some of his devotees and I had no genuine reason to relate him to my life.
But as I grow, I find that Shiva is not someone exclusive to the above mentioned devotees. If so, I have no reason to either think of him or to worship him. But the truth is that Shiva, or Mahadev as he is called is a supreme principle that clearly shows us the higher dimension of life. By this I am not referring to the image of Shiva with a Trishool in his hand and a serpent round his neck. That has to be a symbolic representation. Just as there are many Stotras describing Shiva’s body and the ornaments that he wears, there are wonderful Stotras on the impersonal aspect of the Shiva principle where Shiva is seen as a principle, the energy which creates, preserves and destroys this universe. It is pure science. There is also a message to mankind in this Shiva worship. It is wonderfully depicted in the Rudra Prashnam which is chanted in all the Shiva temples, and the message is that, We are essentially, Shiva himself. As of now we feel limited by so many things and we feel we undergo all these changes like birth, death, misery, old age, disease etc. But there the Shiva principle stands eternally where time, space and causation can not disturb its equilibrium, it’s infinite and is established in the everlasting peace and is eternally meditative. My religion teaches me to attain to that state of Shiva, it calls me to reach that Infinite, reaching which we attain to the Highest.
Shivaratri provides me a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon this idea and make the ideal stronger in mind.