[Excerpts from the Satsang of Pujya Bapuji]
In the Skanda Purana, Sutaji says, ''Shiva is the Lord. Shiva is the kinsman unto embodied beings. Shiva is the Atman. Shiva is the jiva as well. There is nothing else other than Shiva. Worthy is the tongue that sings praises of Lord Shiva. Worthwhile is the mind that remains engrossed in meditation of Lord Shiva. Truly worthy are the ears that always remain eager to hear the glory of Lord Shiva, and blessed indeed are the hands that worship Him. One whose all senses are fully engrossed in activities related to the worship of Lord Shiva in the aforesaid manner, transcends samsara and attains both worldly pleasures and salvation. (- Brahmottar Khanda : 4.1, 7, 9)
Mahashivaratri is the festival to worship and propitiate Lord Shiva, the Lord of all riches, the Supreme Being, the all pervading, the very personification of Truth- Absolute, Consciousness- Absolute and Bliss-Absolute, the attributeless, the formless, the Supreme Lord of the universe. It was on the auspicious day of Mahashivaratri that jyotirlinga came into existence on earth; and this is the pious day of Lord Shiva's marriage too. As per the laws of Nature, it is the unique occasion when the stars and planets are conducive to the union of the individual consciousness of the jiva with the Supreme Consciousness of Shiva and thus aid in the realization of their essential unity.
Shiva means beneficence. Mahashivaratri is a night of supreme beneficence. Jap, austerities and fast done on this day earn a thousand times more religious merits compared to that accrued from the same effort exerted on any other day.
In the Ishana Samhita, Lord Shiva says to Maa Parvati, ''The fourteenth lunar day of the dark fortnight of the month of Falguna is a dark auspicious night known as Shivaratri. Anyone observing a fast on this day successfully propitiates Me. A fast observed on this day is far superior to any other form of worship like bathing Me and even offering clothes, incense and flowers to Me.''
A vrata is primarily characterized by faith, fasting and prayers. A vrata has the capacity to convert an atheist to a theist, a hedonist to yogi, a selfish person to an altruistic, a miser to a generous, an impatient to a patient and an intolerant to a tolerant one. Those, firm in their vrata and righteousness, elevate their lives. The Shivaratri vrata destroys all sins and primarily facilitates the accomplishment of yoga and God-Realization.
The Skanda Purana states, ''The vrata of Shivaratri is supreme, there is none superior to it. The jiva who does not worship the Lord of all the three worlds on this day with ardent devotion is bound to be mired in the vicious cycle of life and death for thousands of years.''
The vrata of Shivaratri involves staying awake at night, worshipping Lord Shiva with Bael leaves, sandalwood paste, flowers etc. and engaging in jap and meditation. 1,25,000 number of jap of the Beeja Mantra ''Bum'' ( बं) done on this day, greatly helps to alleviate joint pains and diseases related to Vata Dosha.
If you remain awake on this night with the conviction that you are not going to fritter away this precious human birth in petty pursuits of sense enjoyments, but would rather persevere to take advantage of its true worth by utilizing it to attain Enlightenment, the supreme goal of human-birth; then such a night vigil will be supremely rewarding. It destroys the sins accumulated over a multitude of previous births and purifies the intellect. This paves the way for the final attainment of the very essence of Shiva, the Supreme Consciousness.
Other festivals like Deepawali, Holi, Makar Sankranti give importance to delicacies, wearing new clothes and meeting people; but Shivaratri is not like that. This is a day of taking and observing vows of fasting and austerities so that the real meaning of Upawas i.e. proximity to God -is realized. In other festivals one reaches out to meet others whereas Shivaratri is an occasion to destroy one's own ego and become one with the Lord. It is a day when one can and should strive to attain oneness with the Shiva-Consciousness. A man, as such, is intrinsically endowed with extraordinary happiness, peace and capabilities. He is capable of experiencing the Supreme bliss in which Lord Shiva is perennially engrossed. If he gets the opportunity to be in the holy company of the Self-realised Saints, who are ever engrossed in the Shiva-Consciousness, listens to their satsang, obtains their guidance and is blessed with their nectarine glance, this night can very well turn into that of ultimate beneficence, into the real Shivaratri.
Mahashivaratri is the supreme festival of realizing the Supreme Being, the Shiva. It is the day of worshipping the Shiva of one's True Self and becoming established therein.