Shivaratri is celebrated every year with a lot of religious fervor and devotion. Devotees keep fast, make offerings on Shivling and stay awake all night (jagaram) to get the blessings of God Shiva. Unknown to most of the devotees, the festival of Shivaratri holds the mystery to something most crucial namely, how God liberates the entire humanity from sorrow and suffering. Till this mystery is solved by God himself, Shivaratri is celebrated merely as an annual ritual sans its original significance and purpose.
To truly celebrate Shivaratri, it is vital to know as to who Shiva is and what the word ‘ratri‘ which means night has to do with Shiva. The Supreme Soul is one and souls are many. The Supreme Soul is the Creator and Director of the eternal World Drama and souls are the actors in it. By becoming pure, souls can become great souls (mahatma), religious souls (dharamatma) and divine or deity souls (devatma) but they cannot become Supreme Soul i.e. Paramatma. Souls are the progeny and not a part of the Supreme Soul.
God Shiva is the creator of all deities, even Brahma, Vishnu and Shankar. Devotees worship them as “Devtaya namaha” (salutations to the lords or deities). In comparison, Shiva is always worshipped as “Shiva Paramatmaya namaha” (Salutations to God Shiva) and “Om Namaha Shivay” (I salute Shiva). Lord Rama and Lord Krishna are shown as worshipping God Shiva at Rameshwar and Gopeshwar respectively. The light form of God Shiva has been idolised as jyotirlingam (pillar of light) in 12 famous jyotirlingam Shiva temples in India viz. in Kedarnath, Somnath and Mahakaleswar etc. The light form of God is worshipped in most of the faiths in the world.
Interestingly, Shivaratri does not mean Shiva’s night. The festival commemorates God’s descent on earth to end the unlimited ratri (night) of ignorance and suffering and to usher in the golden dawn of peace, harmony, and happiness. Here, ratri connotes that critical juncture in eternal world drama cycle when unrighteousness reaches its extreme and all human efforts to redeem the situation fail. It’s a period of extreme sorrow and suffering when the vices of ego, lust, anger and attachment rule human thoughts and actions.
In Hindu scriptures, there is mention of the night of Brahma (Brahma ki raat) and also the night of the Shaktis or Goddesses (Navratris). The night of Brahma signifies the age of ignorance and unrighteousness in which God’s first and purest creation, Brahma and the Brahmins, are clouded by ignorance and vices. When God Shiva comes and opens their third eye of wisdom by bestowing divine intellect, they are able to forge a mental link with Him and draw His power. They thus become Shiva Shaktis who destroy ignorance and vices in the world with the help of Shiva.