Isheeta Sharma

प्रचण्डं प्रकृष्टं प्रगल्भं परेशं
अखण्डं अजं भानुकोटिप्रकाशं
त्र्यःशूलनिर्मूलनं शूलपाणिं
भजेऽहं भवानीपतिं भावगम्यम् ५॥

(Salutations to Sri Rudra) Who is Terrible, Eminent and extremely Strong;

Who is the Highest Lord, Who is ever Unborn and Whole;

and with the Effulgence of Million Suns, Who has a Trident in Hand,

the Three Spikes of which Uproots the bondages of the Three Gunas

(Tamas, Rajas and Sattva),
I Worship the Consort of Devi Bhavani Who can be Attained only by Devotion.

Rudrashtakam by Tulsidas

In the second month of Shishir rtu – Phalguna – the transition towards Basant rtu is palpable. While the coolness of Shishir lingers on, the temperature has begun to rise. The dark, barren land of Shishir rtu begins its slow transformation to the bright, intoxicating colours of Basant as tender green leaves and the first of the flower buds begin to appear – waiting to burst forth in riotous blooms. People and animals, alike, anticipate the arrival of Basant rtu – the season of new life and growth.

Maha Shivratri falls on February 21 this year. Maha Shivratri literally translates into ‘the grand night of Shiva’ and is celebrated with much fanfare by devotees of Shiva. Bael leaves are offered to the deity and many people observe a 24 hour long fast. There are many popular legends associated with this day. One legend says that Shiva and Parvati wed each other on this day. Because of this legend it is believed that Maha Shivratri is the day when the two energies – Shakti and Shiva – converge. Another legend says that Shiva performed Tandava – the dance of creation and destruction – on this day. Yet another says that this day is the first time Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Lingam.

Traditionally the Mahamrityunjaya mantra is recited on this day. Mahamrityunjaya mantra literally translates as ‘the great death-conquering chant’. This mantra appears in the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. It is also known as Rudra mantra, referring to Shiva in the form of Rudra, and Tryambakam mantra, addressed to the three-eyed one, that is, Shiva. There are legends around the origin of this powerful mantra.

One says that Shiva taught this mantra to Sukracharya after he hung upside down from a tree over a fire for twenty days, as a form of penance. Another legend associated with this mantra narrates the story behind the Moon’s waxing and waning. Chandra Dev (Moon god) was married to 27 daughters of King Daksha. Daksha made Chandra Dev promise that he would love all his 27 wives equally. However, Rohini was Chandra Dev’s favourite wife. When Daksha discovered this, he cursed Chandra Dev that he would gradually fade away. Chandra Dev, worried and distraught, approached Brahma who told him that although the curse could not be lifted, its affects could be reduced by chanting the Mahamrityunjaya mantra. However, Shiva – the deity of Mahamrityunjaya mantra – had revealed this mantra only to Sage Markandeya. Chandra Dev then convinced Sati, another one of Daksha’s daughter, to approach Markandeya and convince him to reveal the mantra. It is to Sati that Markandeya revealed the mantra which was later chanted by Chandra. Daksha’s curse on Chandra was partially lifted and since then the Moon wanes for one fortnight (Krishna Paksh) and waxes during the second fortnight (Shukla Paksh).

It is also believed that reciting the Mahamrityunjaya mantra brings us closer to emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. The mantra: 

त्र्य॑म्बकं यजामहे सु॒गन्धिं॑ पुष्टि॒वर्ध॑नम्

उ॒र्वा॒रु॒कमि॑व॒ बन्ध॑नान् मृ॒त्योर्मुक्षीय॒ मा ऽमृता॑त्

o tryambaka yajāmahe sugandhi puṣṭi-vardhanam
urvārukam iva bandhanān m
tyor mukīya mā 'mtāt

Loosely, it translates as: ‘We worship the Three-eyed Lord who is fragrant and who nourishes and nurtures all beings. As a vine ripened fragrant fruit (with the intervention of the gardener) is freed from its bondage (to the creeper), may he liberate us from death for the sake of immortality.’

Phalguna Amavasya arrives on February 23 bringing Krishna Paksh – the waning lunar phase – to a close. The next day, on February 24, Phalguna Shukla Paksh – the waxing lunar phase – begins with Pratipada, the first day of the lunar fortnight.

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