Shivratri falls on March 6, but since Mondays are consecrated to Shiva, here's the story today. Unlike other festivals which are celebrated by day, Shivratri is nocturnal, celebrating the mythic marriage of Shiva and Parvati.
It falls a night before Amavasya (the full dark night). Amavasya is symbolic of the darkness of ignorance, sin and evil, treachery and falsehood.
Shiva appeared just before the universe entered Kaliyuga, the age of darkness, symbolised by Amavasya, to lead his devotees from darkness to light. Lord Rama and Lord Krishna have human forms.
But Lord Shiva has no human embodiment. His celestial form makes him a different entity.
The Ganga and the crescent moon on his head signify he is a preserver of the world, the bestower of fertility and tranquility. It implies we should never lose our cool.
Further, the trident is emblematic of the trebling of his potency. It also symbolises threefold hostility to triple sin, to the perversion of three vital urges for "possession, property and authority.
" That is why Shiva has his abode on a lonely isolated place at Mount Kailash, far from our acquisitive world. Mount Kailash represents sattva guna- goodness and superiority - compared to rajas, the intermediate world of appearances and tamas, the world of inferiority and darkness.
Mount Kailash is equated with inner loftiness of spirit and with the greatness of generosity. It symbolises the idea of meditation, spiritual elevation, the communion of the blessed and a point of contact between earth and heaven.
The garland of skulls Shiva wears represents truth: what survives of the living once the body is destroyed. It impels us to think of universal brotherhood, before this body is reduced to ashes.
As Neelkantha, Shiva drank poison to save the world. So must we sometimes swallow unpalatable events for the greater good.
It is this Shiva we worship with utmost devotion on Mahashivratri.