MAHA SHIVARATRI CELEBRATIONS
MAHA SHIVARATRI CELEBRATIONS
Maha Shivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated annually in reverence of the God Shiva . It is believed to be the day Shiva saved the universe by drinking “haalaahala” the poison that emerged from the churning of the ocean (samudra manthana). While most Indian festivals are celebrated during the day, Shivaratri is celebrated during the night by keeping a “jaagaran” – a night-long vigil as its believed that Lord Shiva saved the universe from darkness and ignorance. This day is also believed to be the day that Shiva was married to the Goddess Parvati. The Maha Shivaratri festival, also popularly known as ‘Shivaratri’ (spelt as Sivaratri, Shivaratri,Sivarathri, and Shivarathri) or ‘Great Night of Shiva’, marks the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on the Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi of Hindu calendar month Maagha as per Amavasya-ant month calculation. As per Poornima-ant month calculation, the day is Krishna Paksha Trayodashi or Chaturdashi of Hindu calendar month Phalguna which falls in February or March as per the Gregorian Calendar. Of the twelve Shivaratris in the year, the Maha Shivarathri is the most holy.
The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael leaves to Shiva, all-day fasting and an all-night-vigil (Jagaran). All through the day, devotees chant “Om Namah Shivaya”, the sacred mantra of Shiva. Penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach life’s highest good steadily and swiftly. On this day, the planetary positions in the Northern hemisphere act as potent catalysts to help a person raise his or her spiritual energy more easily. The benefits of powerful ancient Sanskrit mantras such as Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra increase greatly on this night.
In Nepal, millions of Hindus attend Shivaratri together from different part of the world at the famous Pashupatinath Temple. Thousands of devotees also attend Mahasivaratri at the famous Shiva Shakti Peetham of Nepal.
Indo-Caribbean communities throughout the West Indies, thousands of Hindus spend the auspicious night in over 400 temples across the country, offering special jhalls to Lord Shiva. In Mauritius, Hindus go on pilgrimage to Ganga Talao , a crater-lake, turned into the main Hindu prayer site of this sole
Hindu majority African country. Maha Shivaratri is the main Hindu Festival among Hindu Diasporas from the Northern Indian State of Bihar.
On Maha Shivaratri, Nishita Kala is the ideal time to observe Shiva Pooja. Nishita Kala celebrates when Lord Shiva appeared on the Earth in the form of Linga. On this day, in all Shiva temples, the most auspicious Lingodbhava Puja is performed.
‘Maha Shivaratri’ is associated with Shiva saving the Universe by drinking poison that came out of the samudra manthan.
It is also associated with the marriage of Shiva and Shakti, and the night he performed the Taandava, the cosmic dance.
The legends signify that this day is the favorite of Lord Shiva and also throws light on his greatness and the supremacy of Lord Shiva over all other Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
Maha Shivaratri also celebrates the night when Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’ the cosmic dance.
According to another legend of Samudra manthan Shiva saved the world from the disastrous effects of a poison that emerged as a byproduct of the churning of the sea (Samudra manthan), by consuming the whole of the poison. Shiva could arrest the poison in his throat by his Yogic powers and it didn’t go down his throat. His neck turned blue due to the effect of the poison on his throat and henceforth he is also known as Neela Kantha or The Blue Throated or garala kantha.
Rituals of Maha Shivaratri
Very early morning, Shiva temples are flocked by devotees, young and old, who come to perform the traditional Shivalinga worship (puja) and hence hope for favours from the God. Devotees bathe at sunrise, preferably in the Ganga, or any other holy water source (like the Shiv Sagartank at Khajurao). This is a rite of purification, which is an important part of all Hindu festivals. Wearing clean clothing after the holy bath, worshippers carry pots of water to the temple to bathe the Shivalinga. Women and men both offer prayers to the Sun, Vishnu and Shiva. The temple reverberates with the sound of bells and shouts of “Shankerji ki Jai” meaning ‘Hail Shiva’. Devotees circulate the lingam three or seven times, and then pour water over it. Some also pour milk over it.
According to the Shiva Purana, the Mahashivaratri worship must incorporate six items:
• Bathing the Shiva Linga with water, milk and honey. Woodapple or bel leaves are added to, which represents purification of the soul;
• Vermilion paste is applied to the Shiva Linga after bathing it. This represents virtue;
• Offering of fruits, which is conducive to longevity and gratification of desires;
• Burning incense, yielding wealth;
• The lighting of the lamp which is conducive to the attainment of knowledge;
• And betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of holy ash applied to the forehead by worshipers of Lord Shiva. These stripes symbolise spiritual knowledge, purity and penance (spiritual practice of Yoga). They also represent the three eyes of Lord Shiva.
Wearing a mala (rosary) made from the rudrasha seeds of the rudraksha tree (said to have sprung from the tears of Lord Shiva) when worshiping Lord Shiva is ideal. A rudraksha seed is mahogany-like color, or could sometimes be black. They might also have traces of sacred sandalwood powder, turmeric, Kumkum, or holy ash if the rosary is used in worship ceremonies or annointations.