Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival celebrated annually in reverence of the god Shiva. It is the day Shiva was married to the goddess Parvati. The Maha Shivratri festival, also popularly known as ‘Shivratri’ (spelt as Sivaratri, Shivaratri, Sivarathri, and Shivarathri) or ‘Great Night of Shiva’, marks the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. Maha Shivratri 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 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.
On Maha Shivratri, 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 Shivratri is associated with the marriage of Shiva and Shakti.
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 by product 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.
Pralaya (the Deluge)
Another version of the tale relates that the world was facing destruction and Goddess Parvati prayed to her husband Shiva to rescue it. She prayed for the Jivas (living souls) that remained in seed-like particles of gold dust in lumps of wax, since Pralaya is brought about by Lord Shiva. Shivratri is also when Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva married.
Lord Shiva’s favourite day
After earth’s creation was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which devotees and rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 14th night of the new moon, in the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun, is his favorite day. Parvati repeated these words to Her friends, from whom the word spread to all creation.
The Story of King Chitrabhanu
Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa (India), was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king.
The sage asked the king the purpose of his observing the fast. King Chitrabhanu explained that he had a gift of remembering the incidents of his past birth, and in his previous life he had been a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. The day before the new moon, while roaming through forests in search of animals, he saw a deer, but before his arrow flew he noticed the deer’s family and their sadness at its impending death. So he let it live. He had still not caught anything when night fell, so he climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a Bael tree. His canteen leaked water, so he was both hungry and thirsty. These two torments kept him awake throughout the night, thinking of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously awaiting his return. To pass the time, he engaged himself in plucking the Bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.
The next day he returned home and bought some food for himself and his family. The moment he was about to break his fast a stranger came to him, begging for food. He served the food first to stranger and only ate afterward.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva, sent to conduct his soul to the abode of Shiva. He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by unconscious worship of Shiva during the night of Maha Shivaratri. The messengers told him that there had been a Lingam (a symbol for the worship of Shiva) at the bottom of the tree. The leaves he dropped from the Bael tree had fallen into the shape of a Lingam, in imitation of Shiva’s ritual worship. The water from his leaky canteen had washed the Lingam (also a ritual action), and he had fasted all day and all night. Thus, he unconsciously had worshiped Lord Shiva. At the conclusion of the tale the King said that he had lived in the abode of the Shiva and enjoyed divine bliss for a long time before being reborn as Chitrabhanu. This story is narrated in the Garuda Purana.
‘Shivaratri’ means ‘night of Shiva’. The important components of this religious festival are rigid fasting for twenty four hours and sleepless vigil during the night. Every true devotee of Lord Shiva spends the night of Shivaratri in deep meditation, keeping vigil and observing the fast.
The worship of Lord Shiva consists in offering flowers, Bilva leaves and other gifts on the Lingam, which is a symbol of Lord Shiva, and bathing it with milk, curd, ghee, honey, sugar, coconut water, butter, and rose-water.
When creation had been completed, Shiva and Parvati had been living on the top of Kailas. Parvati asked: “O venerable God, which of the many rituals observed in Thy honour doth please Thee most?” Lord Shiva replied: “The thirteenth night of the new moon, Krishna Paksha, in the month of Magha(February–March) is known as Maha Shivaratri, My most favourable Tithi. My devotees give Me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths, and offerings of flowers, sweets, and incense.
"Just hear, My Beloved, of an episode which will give you an idea of the glory and power of this ritual," said Lord Shiva to Parvati.
“Once upon a time, there lived in the town of Varanasi a hunter. He was returning from the forest one evening with the game birds he had killed. He felt tired and sat at the foot of a tree to take some rest. He was soon overpowered by sleep. When he awoke, it was the thick darkness of night. It was the night of Maha Shivaratri but he didn’t know it. He climbed up the tree, tied his bundle of dead birds to a branch and sat up waiting for the dawn. The tree happened to be My favorite, the Bilva tree.
“There was a Lingam under that tree. He had plucked a few leaves and then dropped them down, accidentally forming the shape of a Lingam. The night-dew trickled down from his body. I was highly pleased with involuntary little gifts of the hunter. The day dawned and the hunter returned home.
“In time, the hunter fell ill and gave up his last breath. The messengers of Yama(Lord of Death) arrived at his bedside to carry his soul to Yamlok(abode of Yama). My messengers also went to the spot to take him to My abode. There was a vicious fight between Yama’s messengers and My messengers. The former were easily defeated. They reported the matter to Yama, Lord of Death. He arrived in person at the portals of My abode. Nandi gave him an idea of the sanctity of Maha Shivaratri and the love which I had for that hunter. Yama surrendered the hunter to Me and returned to his abode. Thereafter, Yama has pledged not to touch my devotees without my consent.
“The hunter was able to enter My abode and ward off death by simple fasting and the offering of a few Bilva leaves, even accidentally, because it was the night of Maha Shivaratri. Such is the solemnity and sacredness associated with that night.”
Parvati was deeply impressed by the speech of Lord Shiva on the sanctity and glory of Maha Shivaratri. She repeated it to Her friends, who in their turn passed it on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus, the sanctity of Maha Shivaratri was broadcast all over the world.
Rituals of Maha Shivratri
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 rudraksha 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.
Other traditional worship of Lord Shiva
Main article: Jyotirlinga
The twelve Jyotirlingas (lingams of light) are sacred shrines to Lord Shiva, and centres for his worship. They are known as Swayambhus, meaning the lingams sprung up by themselves at these locations, and temples were built there afterwards.
Temples are listed in the India tourist guides.
Shivaratri in India
International MahaShivratri Fair
Main article: Mandi Shivaratri Fair
The Mandi festival or fair is particularly famous as this special fair transforms the town of Mandi into a venue of grand celebration, where all Gods and Goddesses of the Mandi district, said to number more than 200, assemble, starting on the day of Shivaratri. The town of Mandi, located on the banks of the Beas River, is popularly known as the "Cathedral of Temples" and is one of the oldest towns of Himachal Pradesh, with about 81 temples of different Gods and Goddesses in its periphery. There are several legends linked to the celebration of Shivaratri. The festival is centered around the protector deity of Mandi "Mado Rai" (Lord Vishnu) and Lord Shiva of the Bhootnath temple in Mandi. This festival is celebrated with great fervor in Mandi and it is common to see many foreign tourists throng to this region, especially to partake in the Maha Shivaratri celebrations in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh.
Maha Shivaratri in Vaiṣṇavism
Great Vaiṣṇava ācāryas recommend the observance of Śiva-ratri. The following is an excerpt from Śiva-tattva published by Gaudiya Vedanta Publications:
We honor Lord Śiva as a great Vaiṣṇava and as guru. We do not worship him separately. We observe Śiva-ratri, Lord Śiva’s appearance day, and we glorify him in connection to his relationship with Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī has written in his Hari-bhakti-vilāsa that all Vaiṣṇavas should observe Śiva-caturdaśī (Śiva-ratri). Lord Śiva, in whom all good qualities reside, should certainly be honored by the observance of this day.We offer obeisance to Lord Śiva with prayers like this: vṛndāvanāvani-pate! jaya soma soma-maulesanaka-sanandana-sanātana-nāradeḍyagopīśvara! vraja-vilāsi-yugāṅghri-padmeprema prayaccha nirupādhi namo namas te Saṅkalpa-kalpadruma, 103“O Gatekeeper of Vṛndāvana! O Soma, all glories to you! O you whose forehead is decorated with the moon, and who is worshipable by the sages headed by Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana and Nārada! O Gopīśvara! Desiring that you bestow upon me prema for the lotus feet of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Mādhava, who perform joyous pastimes in Vraja-dhāma, I offer obeisances unto you time and again.”
Maha Shivaratri celebration in Bangladesh
Hindus in Bangladesh also celebrate Maha Shivaratri. They fast in hopes of getting the divine blessing of Lord Shiva. Many Bangladeshi Hindus go to Chandranath Dham (Chittangong) to observe this special day. It is said by Bangladeshi Hindus that those who fast and perform the Puja will receive a good Husband/Wife, making Maha Shivaratri extremely popular with Hindus all over Bangladesh.
Mahashivaratri in Central India
Central India has a large number of Shiva followers. The Mahakaleshwar Temple, Ujjain is one of the most venerated shrines consecrated to Lord Shiva where a large congregation of Shiva devotees turns up every year to offer prayers on the day of Maha Shivratri. Tilwara Ghat in the city of Jabalpur and the Math Temple in the village of Jeonara, Seoni are two other places where the festival is celebrated with much religious fervour.
Mahashivaratri in Southern India
Maha Shivaratri is celebrated widely in the temples all over Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Shiva is considered the Adi (first) Guru from whom the yogic tradition originates. According to tradition, the planetary positions on this night are such that there is a powerful natural upsurge of energy in the human system. It is said to be beneficial for one’s physical and spiritual well-being to stay awake and aware throughout the night. On this day, artists from various fields such as classical music and dance perform the whole night.
This is a very special and rare puja conducted during the 10 days of the Maha Sivarathri festival. It is well known that Lord Siva is abhishekapriya (lover of ablutions). Lord Parasurama and Kroshta Muni, during their worship of the Lord here, are believed to have bathed the deity with Sahasrakalasam or a thousand pots of holy water, according to Vedic rites. Now during Maha Shivarathri festival, the Head Priest (Thanthri) and his team perform this puja. It is a ten-day function, each day an offering of 101 Kalasam or pots of holy water (100 being made of silver, while one is made of gold), charged with mantras recited by learned Brahmins seated on the Mukhamantapam. The pots are emptied onto Lord Shiva’s statue, the golden pot Brahmakalasam being the last one. A magnificent light is the indication or identity of Lord Shiva and the Shiva Lingam is considered to be the symbol of it. Hence, the formal worship on Maha Shivaratri consists of bathing the Shiva Lingam. Lord Shiva is said to be burning with the fire of austerity and so only those items are offered to Him that have a cooling effect. A cool water bath is believed propitious and to satisfy Shiva best. There is a belief among devotees that participation in Sahasrakalasam and offering holy worship will lead to blessings from Lord Shiva for prosperity and a peaceful life. Hundreds of devotees throng the shrine, chanting "Namah Shivaya", "Hara hara Mahadeva", and "Sambho Mahadeva"…
Sivarathri Nrutham at Thrikkuratti temple, according to religious scholars, resembles the cosmic dance of Shiva, called ‘Anandatandava,’ meaning, ‘the Dance of Bliss’ symbolising the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death. The dance is a pictorial allegory of the five principle manifestations of eternal energy – creation, destruction, preservation, salvation, and illusion.
The Priest keeps sheeveli vigraha (idol) fixed on decorated frame on his head. He makes seven rounds on Pradakshina Vazhi (holy walkway made of granite around Sanctum Santorum). When the fifth round is reached at the west nada (Parvathi nada), the door opens for just 10 minutes. This is an annual ceremony. Thousands of Pilgrims rush to have a glance of this auspicious moment. At this time all the pradakshina vazhi will be lit with camphor and brass temple lamps by thousands of devotes who stay awake through the night while chanting "Nama Sivaya", "Hara Hara Mahadeva" and "Sambho Mahadeva". Older devotees sing "Hara sankara siva sankara duritham kala sivane". In this enlightened serene mood, the Priest performs Nrutham and runs the pradakshina vazhi towards the east nada. During the next two rounds he accepts "Valiya kanikka". The Sivarathri Nrutham is followed by the well known magnificent display of fireworks.
On the evening of the Maha Shivarathri festival, a grand procession starts from Kadapra Kainikkara Temple. It includes: several decorated floats, Kaavadi Aaatam, Mayilattom, Amman Kudom, Thaiyyam, Vela Kali, Kuthiyotta Chuvadu, richly caparisoned elephants and folk art forms. This procession attracts thousands of devotees and tourists. When the main procession reaches Market Junction, other mini processions from Kurattikkadu Mutharamman Temple, Kurattissery Kannamkavil Mutharamman Temple, Thrippavoor Mahavishnu Temple, Vishavarsherikkara Subrahmanya Swami Temple, Sreekaryam Maliekal Rajan Temple, and Alumoodu Sivaparvathy Temple join and make the procession even more magnificent. The marvelous as well as magical effect of the Sinakari Melam and Panchavadyam, a combination of five percussion and wind instruments, is heard and enjoyed. Among the varieties of festivals celebrated in Kerala, the Thrikkuratti Sivarathri procession is one of the most thunderous, spectacular and dazzling. It is an expression of popular fascination for sound and colour, and because of the pageantry, it appeals to all people, including foreigners. Once the procession reaches the temple, Deeparadhana is followed by a colourful display of fireworks.
Shiva, as the God of destroying evil, is the third among the divine trinity of Hindu mythology. Shiva’s holy mantra, consisting of the five-syllables: "Na" "Ma" "Shi" "Vaa" "Ya" (Om NamaH Shivaaya) which praise Lord Shiva, is chanted incessantly on special occasions like Maha Shivaratri. Shiva’s thousands of names, each describing His greatness, may also be chanted. Shiva means "auspicious". As Shankara, He is the giver of happiness to all. Nataraja (the king of dancers) is a favourite form of Lord Shiva’s, revered especially by dancers and musicians.
There is a special set of mantras in the Vedas, "Rudra Sukta (Rudri)", which is recited by Bramhan/pundits (priests) while they offer a holy bath to the Shiva-lingam, with the waters of sacred rivers like the Ganges, as well as cow milk, curd (yogurt), ghee, honey and sugar powder. This ritual, known as "Rudrabhisheka", is an important part of Shiva-puja.
According to the mystic mythology of the Puraanaas, the Kailasa peak of the Himalayas is the abode of Shiva and He bears the Ganges on His head. As the Lord of creatures, He is metaphorically called the Pashupathi (with Nandi, the bull, His favourite animal) and His fearless nature is captured by the title of Sarpabhushana. Shiva’s posture in the meditation is ascribed to Him as the head of Yogis (Yogiraja), who practice various spiritual feats to attain salvation. Lord Shiva’s divine consort, Goddess Parvati (who is also the daughter of Himalaya), is the deity of strength. Shivratri in Kashmir(herath) It is the most important festival for Kashmiri Brahmins . It’s is celebrated in every household as the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. The festivities start 3–4 days before Maha Shivratri and continue for two days after it (Salam).
The Significance of Mahashivarathri
Sadhguru: In the Indian culture, at one time, there used to be 365 festivals in a year. In other words, they just needed an excuse to celebrate everyday of the year. These 365 festivals were ascribed to different reasons, and for different purposes of life. There were to celebrate various historical events, victories, or certain situations in life like harvesting, planting, and reaping. For every situation there was a festival. But Mahashivarathri is of a different significance.
The fourteenth day of every lunar month or the day before the new moon is known as Shivarathri. Among all the twelve Shivarathris that occur in a calendar year, Mahashivarathri, the one that occurs in February-March is of the most spiritual significance. On this night, the northern hemisphere of the planet is positioned in such a way that there is a natural upsurge of energy in a human being. This is a day when nature is pushing one towards one’s spiritual peak. It is to make use of this, that in this tradition, we establish a certain festival which is night-long. One of the fundamentals of this night-long festival is to ensure that – to allow this natural upsurge of energies to find their way – you remain with your spine vertical – you stay awake.
Mahashivarathri is very significant for people who are on the spiritual path. It is also very significant for people who are in family situations, and also for the ambitious in the world. People who live in family situations observe Mahashivarathri as Shiva’s wedding anniversary. Those with worldly ambitions see that day as the day Shiva conquered all his enemies.
But, for the ascetics, it is the day he became one with Mount Kailash. He became like a mountain – absolutely still. In the yogic tradition, Shiva is not worshipped as a God, but considered as the Adi Guru, the first Guru from whom the knowledge originated. After many millennia in meditation, one day he became absolutely still. That day is Mahashivarathri. All movement in him stopped and he became utterly still, so ascetics see Mahashivarathri as the night of stillness.
Legends apart, why this day and night are held in such importance in the yogic traditions is because of the possibilities it presents to a spiritual seeker. Modern science has gone through many phases and arrived at a point today where they are out to prove to you that everything that you know as life, everything that you know as matter and existence, everything that you know as the cosmos and galaxies, is just one energy which manifests itself in millions of ways.
This scientific fact is an experiential reality in every yogi. The word “yogi” means one who has realized the oneness of the Existence. When I say “yoga,” I am not referring to any one particular practice or system. All longing to know the unbounded, all longing to know the oneness in the Existence is yoga. The night of Mahashivarathri offers a person an opportunity to experience this.
Shivarathri, is the darkest day of the month. Celebrating Shivarathri on a monthly basis, and the particular day, Mahashivarathri, almost seems like celebration of darkness. Any logical mind would resist darkness and naturally opt for light. But the word “Shiva” literally means “that which is not.” “That which is,” is existence and creation. “That which is not” is Shiva. “That which is not” means, if you open your eyes and look around, if your vision is for small things, you will see lots of creation. If your vision is really looking for big things, you will see the biggest presence in the existence is a vast emptiness. A few spots which we call galaxies are generally much noticed, but the vast emptiness that holds them does not come into everybody’s notice. This vastness, this unbounded emptiness, is what is referred to as Shiva. Today, modern science also proves that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. It is in this context that Shiva, the vast emptiness or nothingness, is referred to as the great lord, or Mahadeva.
Every religion, every culture on this planet has always been talking about the omnipresent, all-pervading nature of the divine. If we look at it, the only thing that can be truly all-pervading, the only thing that can be everywhere is darkness, nothingness, or emptiness. Generally, when people are seeking wellbeing, we talk of the divine as light. When people are no longer seeking wellbeing, when they are looking beyond their life in terms of dissolving, if the object of their worship and their sadhana is dissolution, then we always refer to the divine as darkness.
Light is a brief happening in your mind. Light is not eternal, it is always a limited possibility because it happens and it ends. The greatest source of light that we know on this planet is the sun. Even the sun’s light, you could stop it with your hand and leave a shadow of darkness behind.
But darkness is all-enveloping, everywhere. The immature minds in the world have always described darkness as the devil. But when you describe the divine as all-pervading, you are obviously referring to the divine as darkness, because only darkness is all-pervading. It is everywhere. It does not need any support from anything. Light always comes from a source that is burning itself out. It has a beginning and an end. It is always from a limited source. Darkness has no source. It is a source unto itself. It is all-pervading, everywhere, omnipresent. So when we say Shiva, it is this vast emptiness of existence. It is in the lap of this vast emptiness that all creation has happened. It is that lap of emptiness that we refer to as the Shiva.
In Indian culture, all the ancient prayers were not about saving yourself, protecting yourself or doing better in life. All the ancient prayers have always been “Oh lord, destroy me so that I can become like yourself.”
So when we say Shivarathri, which is the darkest night of the month, it is an opportunity for one to dissolve their limitedness, to experience the unboundedness of the source of creation which is the seed in every human being. Mahashivarathri is an opportunity and a possibility to bring yourself to that experience of the vast emptiness within every human being, which is the source of all creation.
On the one hand, Shiva is known as the destroyer. On the other, he is known as the most compassionate. He is also known to be the greatest of the givers. The yogic lore is rife with many stories about Shiva’s compassion. The ways of expression of his compassion have been incredible and astonishing at the same time. So Mahashivarathri is a special night for receiving too.
It is our wish and blessing that you must not pass this night without knowing at least a moment of the vastness of this emptiness that we call as Shiva. Let this night not just be a night of wakefulness, let this night be a night of awakening for you.
परोपकाराय वहन्ति नद्यः।
परोपकाराय दुहन्ति गावः परोपकाराय इदं शरीरम्।।
( hari krishnamurthy K. HARIHARAN)"
” When people hurt you Over and Over think of them as Sand paper.
They Scratch & hurt you, but in the end you are polished and they are finished. ”
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