Shivratri is an age-old festival in Kashmir, which is celebrated with the same fervour and elaborate arrangements as was observed thousands of centuries ago. The ancietness regarding Shivratri adds to its mystique as also deepens the faith in the concepts of existence, sustenance and destruction.
In the Hindu lunar calendar the 14th day of the dark half of the month heads to the 15th day, i.e, the ‘Amavasya’ is an auspicious day for those seekers who are treading the path of spirituality.
Just as neither the sun nor the moon is visible on the Amavasya night, similarly when the subject and the object get absorbed into one reality that is called as Shivratri in philosophical terms. This very fact has been expressed by the great Kashmiri Shaivite Guru Acharya Utpal Deva of the 9th century AD in his devotional treatise ‘Shivastotravali’.
Shivratri when the sun, moon and all other stars set at the same time there arises the radiant night of Shiva spreading a splendour of its own. Here the sun and the moon are symbols of inhaling and exhaling breath, i.e, ‘pran’ and ‘apana’ and the stars are the entire thought construction at the junction point known as the ‘Madhya Dham’. ‘Pran’ and ‘Apana’ are to be set at the end to get the glimpse of Shivratri.
Shiva is the life force, he emanates from this creation and reabsorbs it within. He is the only reality of the universe. Shiva is infinite consciousness. He is independent, eternal, formless, second less, omnipresent . He is the subject and the object, the experiencer and the experienced being the ‘Ashutosha’. He is propitiated easily as ‘Ardhanarishvara’, the union of Shiva and Shakti. We cannot think of one without the other. He is the remover of darkness being the eternal master.
‘Master is Shiva’ and ‘Shiva is the Master’. There is no difference. Due to this very fact all philosophers and thinkers of India from time immemorial have laid stress on Shiva worship as only it can lead us to happy life in this world and in another world also.
‘Shivaratri’: There are two words: Shiva & Ratri in it.
What is Shiva? Who is Shiva?
Etymologically Shiva means the one who releases one from worldly entanglements or in whom the whole universe resides and who does not accept any change. He is Shiva. He is auspicious, pleasant and changeless.
What is Ratri?
The Ratri word ‘Ra’ means to give because when ‘ratri’ (night) comes it bestows pleasure and peace to all. So it is called ‘Ratri’
‘Shivratri’ means that night which is blissful and is associated with Shiva. It illuminates everything and helps in recognizing reality. In Skanda Purana it is said that nothing exceeds Shivaratri. It is the highest of all. One who does not worship Rudra, who is the Lord of the three worlds, with devotion on Shivratri, he moves from one birth to another birth for thousands of years.
There is no doubt after worshipping Lord Shiva on the 14th day of dark half month of Phalguna without sleeping throughout the night. One does not come to the womb of the mother and is thus free from birth and Death.
Shri Madhavacharyam the author of ‘Kalamadhava’, enunciates that Shivaratri is the night dearer to Lord Shiva. Observing fast on that night is to bliss oneself with Lord Shiva’s Grace. Manifestation of Ratri takes place almost simultaneously with Lord shiva, because unless there is consciousness of what is manifested. How can it be found to have manifested at all.
Shivaratri is blissful for all irrespective of caste, creed, colour and country. The observance of fast and other rituals on Shivratri helps one to tread the path of spirituality smoothly and get released from the worldly pangs.
As per Hindu Moon calendar there are 12 Shivaratris in a year, every 14th day of the dark half of the month is taken as Shivaratri. The 10th and 11th number of Shivaratris, i.e, 14th day of ‘Magha’ Month and 14th day of ‘Phalguna’ month are considered ominous because these two are related with the manifestation of ‘Vatuka Bhariva’ and with the union of Lord Shiva and Mata Parvati.
Shivratri is not an ordinary night, but it is the night of receiving all desired objects and getting all coveted desires fully filled.
Why is Shivaratri called ‘Hearth’ in Kashmir?
The ‘Hearth’ word ‘Har- Ratri’ means the night of Hara-Shiva. So Shivratri is that night in which this mundane world exists nowhere, only the pervasiveness of Lord Shiva-hood pervades from all sides.
This ‘Hearth’ word meant for Shivratri is not an old one. It is said that the last governor of Afghan rulers in Kashmir was Abdul Jabbar. He tortured the people of Kashmir by all means. It was during his rule that Kashmiri Pandits were directed to celebrate Shivratri in June instead of February to test their firm belief that on Shivaratri snowfall is a must.
It is said that in June when this festival was being celebrated it snowed heavily. The ruler was upset and shouted ‘hai-rut (astonishment)’. Since then, this word came into prominence along with Shivratri. At this time also the people of Kashmir make reference to this event.
Our ancestors used to say that in ‘Satya Yuga’, the first period of four Yugas, this festival used to be celebrated from the first day of dark half of Phalguna month to the tenth day of bright half of the month of Phalguna and would culminate on ‘Phalgun shakul Dashami’. This way for 25 days this festival was being celebrated.
Most of the Kashmiri Pandit families in Kashmir follow the tradition of 25 days of celebration of Shivaratri festival. Some Kashmiri Pandit families strictly observe vegetarian offerings and would not permit any outsiders to visit them or stay with them during these days.
Some Kashmiri Pandit families, who were Tantric Puja followers, would offer non-vegetarian offerings on the 4th day of worship and would permit all to visit them during these days.
Kalhana, the great historian of Kashmir, mentioned that a few Kashmiri Pandit families used to follow tradition for full one year & they were ordered by supreme force to act accordingly, i.e, worshipping ‘Amriteshwar Bhairava’ and ‘Vatuka Bhairava’ uninterruptedly for full one year.
In the ‘Kaliyuga’, the span of worship period has been reduced to five days only, i.e, from the 11th day of the dark half of the month of Phalguna to Amavasya. The special worship of Shivratri is usually performed during the night hours from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.
One thing here is noteworthy that the starting day of this festival has always been the ‘Haur Eak dhou’, i.e, the first day of the dark half of the month Phalguna from Satya Yuga till date. The meaning of the ‘Huar’ is that from this day we have to clean the house. It actually signifies cleaning the consciousness before the puja.
In every house a separate small room is decorated with flowers, etc., . The puja essentially involves the ‘Vatuk Puja’, which is about the worship of ‘Vatuk Bhariva’ along with other deities, namely ‘Ram Gadve’, ‘Rishya Duliz’, ‘Sanya Puttal’, ‘Vagur’, ‘Sanya Vaar’, ‘Kshetrapal’ and ‘Dhoope zoor’.
From the night of the 11th day, the ritual worship would start. This Day is named as ‘Gaad -Kaha’. In Kashmir Gaad means fish. The spiritual meaning of this day is that we have to control our sense organs which are compared with fish because of their unstable and vacillating nature. Five sense organs of the action and five sense organs of cognition and their ruler mind and heart are eleven in number. ‘Kaha’ means eleven in Kashmiri language. So this first day of puja , namely ‘Gaad Kaha’ is meant to purify our senses and keep them ready for performing the ritual worship.
In Tantras, it is said that Kaha (eleven) of Kashmir is symbol of KA ‘Kadi Vidya’ that is 15 syllable mantra known as ‘Panchdasheri’ and ‘Ha’ ‘Hadi Vidha’ 16 syllable mantra known as ‘shodashakshari’ of ‘Maha- Tripura Sundari’. So this first day known as ‘Gaad Kah’ is a very sacred day of Shivratri rituals because we have to surrender to Goddess Tripura Sundari wholeheartedly to get the entry ticket for performing the worship of Lord Shiva.
It is said that this Shivratri ‘Yagya’ used to be performed by the sage Vishvamitra. While performing it, the demons distributed him and he had to take refuge from Lord Rama who helped him by removing those evils and enabling him to complete the yagya. Since then the symbol of Lord Rama is kept as the ‘Ram Gadve’ so that evil forces may not disrupt the puja.
Reshya Duliz, as the name suggests is purely ‘Sattvic vegetarian dishes — milk, kheer, sugar candies — are to be offered in this circular open mouthed earthen post having the cosmic shape of the divine.
‘Sanya Puttal’ is of pure Shaivite form in Kashmir Shaiva philosophy — Shakti and Shiva are inseparable, They are one, so this Sanya Puttal is the union of Shakti and Shiva. Shivratri being the divine union day, those two aspects of the absolute reality are worshipped and meditated for the upliftment of devotees .
‘Vagur’ is a very important principle in this Shivaratri Puja. The 12th day of the dark half of the month of Phalguna is called ‘Vagarayabaha’.
In ‘Rudrayamala Tantra’ ‘Vagut’ is said to be BanduRupa. So Vagur is (pash) or net which is woven by the specific mantras of ‘Hamsavagishavari- Kubjika’ and ‘Navatma Mantra’ and is worshipped according to the family tradition. The offerings are made in a clay model, which is attributed as binding as well as releasing force.
Spirituality speaking this is indicative of ‘Anahat-Chakra of Kundalini Yoga. Etymologically Vagur means the feeling of sublime sound experienced by the yogi while meditating Kundalini Yoga.
Third day of the worship is attributed to (Herath Truvaha). This day ‘Vatuk bhairava’ with his 8 energies, namely somya, bhima , danpradha, etc., is worshipped in an elaborate way.
‘Kshetrapal’ literally means the protector of a particular place; these are worshipped by this specific name everywhere in various worships. In Kashmir nine kshetrapala known as ‘Kshetranavk’ are worshipped accordingly.
These ‘Kshetrapal’ or ‘Bharivas’ are known as Lord Vital Bhariva, Mangleshwar Bhariva, Tushakraj Bhariva, Anandashewar Bhariva, Barvat Keshvar Bhariva, Raj Rajeshwar Bhariva, Lokshatak Bhariva, Hatkeshwar Bhariva and Nandkeshwar Bhariva. These Nine ‘Bharivas’ are incharge of particular different regions in Kashmir valley and are worshipped on Shivratri.
Spirituality Kshetrapal is our own body and the protector of that body is ‘ataman’ as is said by Kashmiri Shaivite yogi scholar Abhinav Gupta in his little treatise known as wheel of deities residing in our body.
Among eight Bhariva attendants of Lord Shiva ‘Heyruk Bhariva’ being superior is worshipped by side of kshetrapal separately with special mantras on the Shivratri day. His presence is regarded as very essential (Sanyavaara) which is represented by a pot of clay and is to be filled with fresh water.
Dry walnuts are to be deposited in it up to the brim with vermilion to be painted on all sides of the Vatuka Bhariva along with red thread to be tied near the brim of the pot and then to be decorated with flower garlands.
They are considered foremost among all dry fruits. Walnuts are the symbols of our four Vedas because they have four sides within. Walnut has two sides and represents Shiva and Shakti as per tantras. In a philosophical way, walnuts being oval shaped are considered the replica of the round shaped universe.
It is kept in mind that all these major or lesser deities are to be kept on grass pods and it is a custom of every family to tie the neck of every pot with ‘Vasur’. It is made of a special weed usually found in the marshy lands . The significance of this is related to the earth element.
As per old tradition seven cereals (sat sos) are to be put in the Vatuka Bhariva vessel. Lord Shiva’s Grace is showered on all devotees on this day irrespective of caste creed and colour By mere ‘japa’ on this day one is liberated.
Fifth day of the worship is called ‘Doon Mavas’. On this day, this long festival of activities culminates with fervour .After performing special worship all walnuts are taken out of the main vessel and are distributed amongst the kiths and kins as special prasad. Thus, shivaratri is the state of transcendence cum immanence as per Kashmir Shaivism.
(Author Satish Mahaldar is Chairman of JK Peace Forum)