Shivaratri is a festival which is a gateway to understand the Divinity Shiva, Shiva Tattva. Once we understand the meaning of Shiva Tattva and the celebration of Shivaratri, no doubt, our celebrations and the enjoyment of the Tattva of Shiva will be enhanced manifold. It will make our celebrations more relevant and meaningful.
In Kashmir, which is the home of Kashmir Shaivism, MahaShivaratri is celebrated with the name of Herath, among the Kashmiri Pandit community.
The word Herath is a phonetic derivation Har Rath, meaning the night of Hara, Shiva. In the legend, it was on this day that the marriage between Shiva and Parvati took place. In Kashmir, every woman is regarded as an embodiment of Parvati, Shakti and every man, of Shiva. Thus every marriage is between Shiva and Shakti.
Herath celebrates the union of Shiva tattva and Shakti tattva that has given rise to the whole creation.
In another sense, Herath also signifies the mergence of Shakti tattva – the Prakrithi with Shiva tattva, the Purusha, leading to complete liberation.
One of the seats of knowledge in ancient India was Kashmir. The Kashmir Shaiva thought is considered even today to be very advanced. It was called Trika. This aspect of Shiva representing the potential to manifest has also been expressed in the Kashmir Shaiva thought Trika, by Acharya Abhinavagupta in 1000 CE.
Acharya Abhinavagupta, who belonged to the school of thought initiated by Rishi Shvetasvatara many thousands of years ago, describes Shiva as the nature of existence in all beings and calls this nature as Prakasha. This shows that the chain of thought all the way from the days of Rishi Shvetasvatara to even 1000 years ago could understand Shiva as the ability to manifest and the nature of existence in all beings.
As per Trika too, Shiva can be understood to be of 3 states, Arupa, Rupa Arupa, Sarupa, and hence the name Trika. To gain the knowledge of Trika, they recommend 4 steps:
1. Anavopaya i.e disciplining the ego
2. Anava i.e meditation
3. Saktopaya i.e activating the energy centre by centering one’s attention in silence
4. Sambavopaya i.e freeing oneself from thought
Thus we see that Shiva represents the chain from subtle to gross to subtle and the ways to understand Shiva therefore also require subtleness and meditation.
This is emphasized through the description for Shiva,
Since this state is beyond our comprehension or does not have a form that is cognizable or can be perceived, it is akin to formless and can also be referred to as Arupa as well and for reference referred to as Turiya or the fourth state.
In this state, the body is restful and mind is alert like a snake. This concept of Shiva as the formless and with form, spanning the entire universe, before and beyond, has thus been beautifully brought out through this Slokha from Vignana Bhairava Tantra,
Wherever we go, it is the travel of the body. This body could be a human body, the body of planets like our earth, the body of our sun and other stars, the body of the different galaxies of the Universe. These are the physical bodies. Shiva exists in all these and where all these go.
Beyond this physical level, is the level, where only the mind, which is subtle, can go. This Shiva, exists there too, even before the mind can conceptualize about such places and go there.
Thus this auspicious, potential of this Universe, which is here known by the name Shiva, exists within and outside all these bodies mentioned above, in its natural tranquil state. The uniqueness of the Indian thought is that the divinity does not exist outside alone controlling the Universe through puppet strings, but exists within all bodies in this Universe all the way down to the humans and all other living beings and inanimate objects – a profound understanding.
Herath celebrates this profound understanding.
Herat, the province and the city
There is a province and a city in Afghanistan which goes by the name Herat, signifying a phonetic link from India. This shows that the festival of Herat was not limited to the Valley of Kashmir alone. The festival of Herat and concept of Herat spread all the way upto Afghanistan to warrant a province and city to be named Herat. This show that Kashmir Shaivism of Trika, till about 500 years back was the prominent religious thought of not just Kashmir, but also in northern parts of Pakistan, and much of Afghanistan too. These were not just geographically contiguous regions, but also had religious thought of Shiva and Shakti ingrained in them.
More on the concept of Shiva, Shakti and Kashmir Shaivism in our book and film, Understanding Shiva.