The great night of Shiva or Maha Shivarathri as it is popularly called, is a very important and spiritually significant festival that commemorates the legend of Brahma, Vishnu and all the other gods bowing to the supremacy of Lord Shiva who manifests as the infinite column of effulgence, after having earlier humbled the pride of Brahma and Vishnu. At their request, Lord Arunachala out of compassion, takes the form of a Linga and this is known as Lingodbhavamurthy.
Tiruvannamalai is one of the Pancha Bhootha Sthalams of Lord Shiva where the Lord manifests Himself as the Agni or Fire element. Therefore Maha Shivarathri has a special significance here. The Arunachaleswara temple gates open at around 2 in the morning on that day and after the initial abhishekam and puja, laksharchana (chanting the Lord’s name one hundred thousand times) begins and continues till late afternoon. The temple is open the whole night with pujas at three-hourly intervals, the first of which is held at six in the evening. This year too, the temple was filled with devotees praising and worshipping Lord Shiva. Many were engaged in making enormous colourful designs (kolams) on the floors depicting various forms of Shiva. Thousands and thousands of fire lamps were lit everywhere. Every stone vibrated with the tremendous Shiva energy which was descending like an avalanche from the Heavens. Giri Pradakshina was performed by many all through the night and the Hill of Arunachala radiated with a Divine energy which seemed to engulf everyone and everything.
The true meaning of Maha Shivarathri was expounded by Sri Ramana Maharshi on a Shivarathri night many years ago. When one of the sadhus sitting in the Maharshi’s presence requested him to explain Adi Shankara’s Dakshinamurthi stotra (hymn), He said, “Yes, sit down”. Devotees eagerly awaited to listen to His exposition, but Bhagavan maintained his usual posture and a steady silence. The clock ticked by and hours passed. There was a spellbound silence. Everyone present was deeply absorbed within himself. With the break of dawn people began to regain their body consciousness. Bhagavan graciously asked the questioner whether he understood now the significance of the hymn. the sadhu and the others nodded and made their grateful obeisance to the Master. Thus the real significance of Shivarathri as demonstrated by Bhagavan Ramana was that, whatever the body might be doing on that day, the mind must merge into its source.