Maha Shivratri: Looking Through the Eyes of a Spiritual Seeker

By Denise Everheart 

Understand this often misunderstood Indian festival, Maha Shivratri- Looking through the eyes of a spiritual seeker from Motown.

I grew up just north of Motown aka Detroit, and Maha Shivratri couldn’t have been further away from my reality. Yet I find myself a huge FAN! Maha Shivratri is an auspicious, joyful celebration and the most powerful day on the planet for deep meditation. Here’s some of my journey, and what I have learned about Maha Shivratri along the way.

My fascination with all things from India started when I was just 8 years old as a Brownie Girl Scout. I was attending a special gathering with Girl Scouts of all ages from my district. There was a senior Girl Scout there who had recently returned from India where she had just visited one of our G.S. World Centers. I remember being instantly intrigued by her story, complete with a slide show. But the most fascinating part for me was when she demonstrated how to wrap a sari, a traditional Indian dress. The process was mesmerizing and the fabric was memorably brightly colored with lots of sparkles! I knew then that I would have to visit India one day.

Some years later when I was 13 I had the great fortune of learning a mantra-based meditation technique originating from India, along with my entire family. I must admit that for some reason I was very nervous starting this journey. My imagination had gotten carried away with me thinking that I would be getting involved in some kind of strange ‘commune’ where nakedness was expected. Did I say I was just 13? Lol!

It’s funny how preconceived notions can sneak into our minds, and be totally wrong. Thankfully those worrisome thoughts didn’t stop me from learning meditation and having a truly wonderful experience that paved the way for my meditation journey and eventually visiting India.

Just as my mother had been the one to introduce me to meditation as a teen, she also shared the Art of Living’s SKY Breath Meditation with me many years later. After learning SKY I found myself effortlessly experiencing deeper states of relaxation while also turbocharging all the benefits of a meditation practice. I found myself again wanting to visit India, the spiritual home of meditation as we know it today. 

I took the leap for my first visit in 2006 during Art of Living’s Silver Jubilee where 2.5 million people gathered to meditate for world peace. I will never forget the profound experience of listening to 2.5 million people chant Om before the meditation session. Before the Om reached the back of the gathering another Om in front had started...it was one enormous Om rolling one into another Om. It was incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately, this first visit was a short one and I wasn’t able to stay for the special festival, Maha Shivratri, that was just on the next day of the event.

Since then I have learned much more about the mystical land of India. One of the most fascinating things I have learned on my journey has been about the festival Maha Shivratri. It is considered one of the most auspicious festivals in India. People celebrate it with lots of devotion, chanting, and meditation. As a seeker and long-time meditator, my journey to understand more about this festival has led me to not only better understand the real beauty of it but also many interesting misconceptions surrounding it. Here’s some of what I have learned.

Maha Shivratri Explained

What does Maha mean? Maha means very big or great. Shivratri comprises two words- Shiva and Ratri (night). Here’s where it gets a little interesting. Shiva, thought by many to be an entity and often depicted by artists as having blue skin, a serpent around the neck, and holding trident! But Shiva is not a person! Talk about a misconception! 

Shiva is that principle that is the highest in the whole creation and pervades the entire universe. Wherever there is beauty, truth, and benevolence, there is Shiva. And, there is no place where the Shiva principle is absent. You can think of Shiva as space or consciousness or even energy. 

Ok, so you’re still wondering why the blue skin and serpent around the neck? And a trident? These are symbols! The blue-colored skin represents infinity as in the blue sky. You cannot see the end to the sky, can you? The serpent symbolizes awareness. And the trident, well I am still learning! 

So what makes me such a big fan of Maha Shivratri? For one, it is revered as one of the most auspicious days for meditating. It is a day where Shiva energy is most readily available. Which translates to deep rest for the mind and spirit. And when your mind and spirit get uplifted and blossom, then you transcend everything and experience that ultimate state of being- bliss. Also known as, really DEEP meditations!

And the second reason I love Maha Shivratri? It’s a really big celebration! A celebration that reminds us of what lies within us! 

So what do people do besides meditate on Maha Shivratri?

To ensure a deeper meditative experience, some people will either fast or eat on the lighter side on the day of Maha Shivratri. Having less energy spent on digesting food is said to benefit meditation. I must confess though, I typically will eat on the lighter side and haven't yet tried to fast. And still I have amazing meditations on Maha Shivratri! If you do fast, it is recommended to take fruit juices throughout the day to sustain your energy.

Traditionally people will also stay up all night! Or as long as they can. On the night of Maha Shivratri, the Shiva Tattva, or the principle, the energy, which is a few inches above the ground level, touches the ground. This sacred period is the perfect time to meditate and attain a deeply enriching spiritual experience. Staying up all night is a worthwhile goal but if you’re like me, the body may call you to sleep well before dawn. And that’s ok!

I typically tune in virtually to the Maha Shivratri celebrations live webcast from India. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living, global spiritual leader, and ambassador of peace, leads guided meditations and shares beautiful wisdom at various intervals on the night of Maha Shivratri. It’s almost like being there! At least meditation-wise. And with the time difference, I don’t feel I have to stay up all night! But you can if you want to! 

Another aspect of Maha Shivratri is singing or chanting Shiva Bhajans (songs) in Sanskrit. Although this might sound intimidating and certainly something new for many, it is a wonderful tool for meditation! And not as difficult as one might think. Many of the Shiva songs are composed of three words, Om Namah Shivaya. What makes these three words special? Om is an ancient primordial sound often translated as peace. Na represents the earth element. Mah, the water element. Shi, the fire element. Va, the air element. And Ya, the space element. By singing or chanting these sounds we are literally soothing the environment and our bodies which are made of these elements. And the best part is sinking into a beautiful meditative state!

If you would like to experience Maha Shivratri, virtually, just visit this website and register!

If you would like to learn more about the Art of Living’s SKY Breath Meditation, which I practice every day, I recommend you to attend a free online session called Beyond Breath. During this session, you will learn a simple breathwork tool and experience a guided meditation led by a SKY Breath Meditation instructor. SKY is AMAZING, you just have to try it for yourself!

Maha Shivratri is a divine opportunity for the whole world to move towards beauty, love, and truth, and away from conflict. Are you in?


Denise Everheart is a freelance writer, breath meditation coach, party planner, and recipe designer. Follow her @everheartstudio4meditation and @celeplateyourlife on Instagram.

Art of Living Part 1 course: Discover Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ancient secret to modern well-being.

Subscribe to Art of Living Blog Digest