According to legend, Shiva was the first practitioner of yoga. He is also associated with transformation, of getting rid of the old so that new growth can emerge. A festival named Shivaratri (“night of Shiva”) is said to be the most auspicious day of the year for undertaking new ventures, creating new habits, and making positive changes in our lives.
There are many stories surrounding Shivaratri. One of the most popular is the tale of Suswara, a poor hunter who went too deeply into the jungle in search of game and did not make it out before nightfall. He sought shelter in a tree and to keep himself awake, he plucked leaves and dropped them to the ground below. As the night wore on, Suswara shed many tears at the thought of his wife and children, who must be hungry and worried about him. Finally dawn came and, relieved, Suswara left the tree to return home. Only later did he learn that at the base of his sheltering tree was a statue of Shiva. Suswara’s tears had washed the statue and the leaves of the tree he dropped were sacred to Shiva. Shiva, pleased with Suswara’s devotion, transformed the poor hunter into a mighty king.
This tale is symbolic of the journey all of us undertake. The jungle represents our mind, and the animals we try to hunt down represent our instinctive urges. The climbing of the tree represents our climb to higher consciousness, and the dawn is the dawning of a new, happier state of mind. Suswara’s transformation represents the heights we all can reach if we persevere through difficult circumstances.
During Shivaratri, participants practice yoga techniques which are transformative at the deepest level: kirtans (call-and-response singing of mantra) release old emotional tensions; chanting distracts the mind from its habitual patterns and creates a newfound sense of peace. All ages are welcome to the Atma Center’s celebration of this festival. It is free; any donations you make will be gratefully accepted and will go to the building fund, which helps maintain the building that houses not only the Center but 2 international non-profit organizations that serve to bring yoga to underserved populations.