Today is Shivaratri. The whole atmosphere surrounding the Monghyr ashram is charged with energy and joy. In the evening everyone will drink bhang and then the kirtan will begin.

In thousands of Shiva temples all over India, worship is going on. Millions of people from every walk of life are taking part. In the villages, towns and cities, devotees and priests, rich and poor, men and women are joining together to fill the air everywhere with the glories of Shiva. It is strange to imagine that all these people offering flowers and singing the name of Shiva are unaware of him as being the representation of their highest consciousness.

Whether people believe in Shiva or not is irrelevant, for his worship is eternal and known to all cultures. Throughout the ages, even in the most ancient civilizations such as the Mayas, Sumerians and Incas, Shiva - symbolic of the highest consciousness in man - is represented, deified and worshipped. If you read about these ancient cultures you will see that the worship of Shiva is a very old and universal tradition.

According to tantra and kundalini yoga, when Shakti is awakened, she arises in the form of divine energy to envelop Shiva - the totality of consciousness. This is called the cosmic embrace of Shiva and Shakti. Until she is awakened from her deep slumber in the mooladhara chakra, Shakti lies dormant in the womb of primal nature (moola prakriti). When she is aroused, she forces herself into sushumna. Like lightning she rises up to unite with Shiva in the sahasrara chakra, where they become one. This is Shiva-tantra.

In Shivaratri, however, the concept is reversed. This consciousness or Shiva comes down to unite with Shakti. Thus they become one, but for the sake of the universe, they live as two and function as duality. In darkness there is no light; in light there is no darkness, yet still the two remain together.

Imagine the eternal, endless, formless, limitless, conscious being, that cosmic soul who roams about in the cremation grounds. Until he unites with Shakti, he is alone, unknown. Shivaratri takes place on the darkest night of the moon, when Shiva goes to the house of Parvati in the Himalayas, riding upon a huge bull. He is accompanied by his marriage - party of rakshashas all of whom are most peculiar and terrible to look at. Some have eyes in their stomachs and noses in their necks, some have huge ears like an elephant or else no ears at all, only holes. Some have three legs and others only have one. Some are riding upon donkeys and some upon pigs.

Such a strange procession was Shiva's marriage party that when it approached Parvati's town, all the children who had rushed out to greet them with drums and conches ran away in fright. As soon as Parvati's mother heard the news, she nearly fainted. For not only was her son-in-law's marriage party made up of ghouls, but Shiva was practically naked, covered only in ash, with matted hair and snakes all over his body. How was it possible to give the most beautiful and tender Parvati, soft as a flower, to such a horrible husband?

Actually it was all Narada's fault. For he was the one who had suggested this gruesome match, telling them a batch of stores about the great and wise king of yogis, Shiva. And it was he who had arranged the marriage. The whole household was in a state of distress. But when Parvati heard about the frightful wedding party, she merely replied, 'If it is my destiny to marry him, then why should I hesitate?'

All the townspeople were totally aghast as Shiva approached the house of Parvati, but no sooner had he entered her gate then their horror changed to awe. For Shiva and his rakshasha associates were instantaneously transformed into beautiful gods, too dazzling to even behold. Shiva appeared in the finest of silks and was ornamented from head to toe with gold, silver and precious jewels. And so the wedding took place with great joy and wonder. Then afterwards, Shiva brought Parvati down with him to the earthly level.

The divine union which takes place when Shiva comes to meet Shakti is Shivaratri. It represents enlightenment in absolute darkness, the evolution of creation in empty space, the manifestation of knowledge in nirvikalpa. When the whole of maya sleeps, this is what sannyasins call Shivaratri. It signifies the passing of the entire universe and all worldly attachments into the unconscious state where there is no abode nor any sensual possibilities. This is the end of all directions into which the mind, the sun, moon and stars have all disappeared. Here the fire of passion is extinguished and there prevails only shoonyata. This state of consciousness is called Shiva or Shankara, the state of siddha. But this is not the final state, the ultimate aim. Beyond shoonyata where everything is submerged, the universal consciousness which is Shiva and the universal power which is Shakti, surrounded by devas, rakshashas and ghosts meet in advait (union) mudra in great bliss and happiness, fear and surprise on the highest summit of Mt. Kailash. Then they return to the state of shoonya.

By tomorrow, the last day of the dark fortnight, Shiva's marriage party will have returned to its starting place. Sages, aspirants and devotees are all aware of his departure and accept conscious Shakti in her most illumined state.

Swami Satyananda was initiated for the first time on Shivaratri. On this auspicious day when Shiva dominates our consciousness, disciples are advised to take to 'khechari' and 'vijaya' in order to taste the divine nectar or soma.

Nowadays, however, disciples are mostly unskilled and obstinate. What the guru tells them they understand to be otherwise. They hear only what they want to and interpret it in their own way. They believe that on the day of Shivaratri they will surely receive the divine nectar even though they are unprepared, having wasted their time and energy in useless and selfish pursuits. By practising yoga we can train our bodies and minds to actually receive this divine drink without becoming overloaded, out of control, cracked. Guru Gorakhnath, Gherand Muni and many other great mahatmas have pointed out the direction. There are many ways to obtain divine nectar and become fully awakened. But we must start living our life with this goal in mind. If we spend each day only fulfilling the petty wishes and demands of ourselves, our family and our friends, how can we hope to be able to receive and withstand this divine nectar, even on Shivaratri?