Swami Sivananda on the Reason for Observing Shivaratri

Silent adorations to Lord Siva, consort of Parvati, the destructive aspect of Brahman, who is known by the names Sambhu, Sankara, Mahadeva, Sadasiva, Visvanatha, Hara, Tripurari, Gangadhara, Sulapani, Nilakantha, Dakshinamurti, Chandrasekhara, Nilalohita, etc., who is the bestower of auspiciousness, immortality and divine knowledge on His devotees, and who does Tandava Nritya or the Dance of Death at the end of Time or Cosmic Pralaya, and who is the real Regenerator but not the destroyer.

Maha Sivaratri means the great night consecrated to Lord Siva. In the Santi Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma refers to the observance of the Mahashivratri, by king Chitrabhanu, when he was giving the discourse on Dharma, resting on his bed of arrows.

Once upon a time, king Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who was ruling over the
whole of Jambudvipa, and his wife were observing a fast on the day of Maha Shivratri. The Sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king.

The Sage asked: “O king, why are you observing fast today?”

King Chitrabhanu explained the reason for observing a fast on that day. He had the gift of remembering the incidents of his previous birth.

He said to the Sage Ashtavakra: “I was a hunter by name Susvar in my previous birth. I eked out my livelihood by killing and selling birds and animals. One day, I was roaming in a forest in search of animals. I was overtaken by the darkness of night. I was not able to return home and so climbed up a Bilva tree for shelter. I shot a deer that day but I had no time to take it home. As I was tormented by hunger and thirst, I kept awake throughout the night. I shed profuse tears when I thought of my poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously awaiting my return. I engaged myself in plucking and dropping down the Bilva leaves.”

There was a Siva Linga at the foot of the Bilva tree. The tears and the leaves fell upon the Siva Linga.

“The day dawned. I returned home and sold the deer. I got food for myself and for my
family. I was about to break my fast. A stranger came to me and begged for food. I served him with food first and then I took my food.”

After this incident several years passed and at the hour of my death, I saw two messengers of Lord Shiva. They were sent down for the sake of conducting my soul to the abode of Shiva.

I learnt there for the first time, of the great merit I had earned by the observance of the fast on the day of Maha Sivaratri, though I did it unconsciously by an accident. I lived in the abode of Siva and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages. I am now reborn on this earth as Chitrabhanu.”
Swami Sivananda