Updated: Feb 28
Most of us have learnt about the five elements of nature - Air, Water, Earth, Fire, and Ether(Quintessence). These are supposedly the elements found in nature which also govern various laws of nature.
In Vedanta, 25 such elements(tattvas) are recognized, which ultimately lead to the highest tattva - Shiva Tattva. In Kashmiri Shaivism, this number goes up to 36, the ultimate being the 5 purest elements - also known as Shuddha Tattvas. These include:
Shuddha vidya, Ishwara, Shiva, Shakti, and Sada Shiva.
Sada Shiva tattva is one tattva that is found across all 36 tattvas. So it is the ultimate tattva, which is, but is not.
However, the final two tattvas of Shuddha Tattvas, Shakti & Shiva tattva are interdependent. And in these tattvas, we come to realize the subjectivity in its purest form.
The impression which comes in these two tattvas is - Only I, the pure I, the universal I. It is not “this universe is my own expansion” or “I am this whole universe.” It’s just I, pure I, universal I."
Mahashivratri is of a great spiritual significance since it is the night when the earth is aligned in such a way, that there is a thrust in the energies of every being in a way that can potentially raise them to the realization of the Shuddha Tattvas, ultimately to the Shakti and Shiva Tattva. This is the day when the possibility of this realization is aided by the nature.
Many anecdotes about Shivratri indicate towards the significance of this day. One such is the story of Lubdhaka - a poor tribal man and a devout worshipper of Lord Shiva who on one particular Mahashivratri went into the deep forests to collect firewood & could not find his way home. He became extremely terrified of animal growls and to seek protection till morning, climbed the nearest bel tree( Shiva’s favourite tree). To keep himself from falling, he stayed awake all night, and plucked one leaf at a time from the bhel tree and dropped it while chanting the name of Shiva. By sunrise, he had dropped thousands of leaves on to a Shiva Lingam, which he had not seen in the darkness. Lubdhaka’s all night worship pleased Lord Shiva and by his divine grace, not only did he survive, but was also rewarded with realization of Shakti & Shiva tattva.
In Kashmiri culture, Mahashivratri is the most significant festival, and is a 3-day long festivity, celebrated with great fervour. With a string of rituals, it is celebrated as a revered day of Shiva and Parvati’s wedding. On this day, Kashmiri Pandits fast, and carry out the wedding rituals of Shiva and Parvati( a unique and beautiful part of the ritual worth witnessing), and chant spiritual mantras.
The idea is to stay awake, celebrate the great day, and pursue towards the Shuddha Tattvas.
This Shivaratri, I pray that we all realise the Shuddha Tattvas at some point in our lives!
Herath Mubarak (Happy Shivratri)
Sources: Observation of Kashmiri culture over the years, learnings from Shaivism, Shivratri anecdotes, and Grace of my Sadhguru.