Om Namah Shivaia!!!
Maha Shivaratri is celebrated throughout the country; it is particularly popular in Uttar Pradesh. Maha Shivratri falls on the 14th day of the dark half of ‘Margasirsa’ (February-March). The name means "the night of Shiva". The ceremonies take place chiefly at night. This is a festival observed in honour of Lord Shiva and it is believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvati.
On this festival people worship ‘Shiva – the Destroyer’. This night marks the night when Lord Shiva danced the ‘Tandav’. In Andhra Pradesh, pilgrims throng the Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam.
Shiva ratri vratam
Shiva rathri is one of the most auspicious vratas for the devotees of Lord shiva. The purANas explain the grand significance of this vrata.
History of shivaratri
Once when everything in all the worlds got reduced into Lord shiva, in that darkness of nothing present, the mother pArvati worshipped Lord shiva in the Agamic way with great devotion. The parameshwar pleased by Her prayer blessed Her. She asked for the benefit of all the creatures that in future whoever worships the Lord on the shiva rAtri day with devotion, they should be blessed and should be given the ultimate liberation. The pashupati granted that showing way for all of us to get blessed easily.
When Brahma and Vishnu fought between themselves as "who is the greatest", Lord Shiva appeared before them as a pillar of fire. They were not able to find the starting and end of that pillar. This day is Thirukkaarthikai.(1)
Then Brahma and Mahavishnu repented for their mistake and prayed to Lord Shiva for forgiving their sin worshiping the shiva li.ngam which is the form of the flame. In the night of Shiva rathri Lord Shiva appeared before them and blessed them. Devotees pray the God throughout the night of Shiva rathri by performing Abisheka, chanting and other holy deeds.
Every month in Krishna paksha chathurdhasi (fourteenth moonday) is called masa Shiva rathri. The one that comes in the month of "Masi" (mid February to mid March) is called Maha Shiva rathri. This is considered as the most important vrata by the devotees.
There are many incidents told about the greatness of this day. Once a hunter in a jungle after searching throughout the jungle, was quite tired and could not get any animal. In the nightfall a tiger started chasing him. to escape from that he climbed a tree. That was a Bilva tree. The tiger sat under the tree waiting for him to come down. The hunter who sat on a branch of the tree was quite tense and didn’t want to sleep. He was plucking the leaves and putting down as he was not able to be idle. Below the tree there was a Shiva lingam. The whole night went on like this. God was pleased with the Upavasa (hunger) and the Pooja the hunter and the tiger did even without knowledge. He is the peak of the grace. He gave the hunter and the tiger "Moksha".
In a Shiva temple on a Maha Shiva rathri day the lamp kept in the altar was very dim. That time a mouse which came take its prey touched the flame. Due to the heat it moved its head immediately. In the process it kindled the lamp and the altar was illuminated well. Lord Shiva, pleased by this deed made the mouse Mahabali, the renowned asura king.
There are many incidents like this told in our Puraanas. If we do the vrata with pure devotion and love there can be no doubt about getting the Grace of the Almighty.
When is shivaratri observed
ska.ndha purANam describes about four shiva rAtris. The first one is nitya shivarAtri (daily shivarAtri – every night). The second one is the mAsa shivarAtri which is observed on the kR^iShNa paxa chaturdasi (fourteenth moonday on the moons diminishing phase). The third one is the mAga prathamAdi shivarAtri which is observed for the thirteen days starting from prathama titi in the month mAga (mAsi) and on the chaturdasi night the Lord is worshiped throughout the night.
The fourth one is observed on the mAsi (mAga) month kR^iShNa paxa chaturdasi. This is the one observed in a widespread manner. It is also called mahA shivarAtri.
Way of observing shivaratri
Getting up early in the morning one meditates on the Infinitely Auspicious, ornated with thousands of splendid garlands, Who is in the form of the holy symbol of shiva(mahA li.ngam). Bathing and staying clean the worship of Lord shiva in the form of shiva li.ngam is done in the four jamas of the night (four equal time intervals of the night). (Note that the li.nga worship is explicitly mentioned for this vratam as this is the time the God out of Its grace for the benefit of pashus appeared in a formless-form that is a symbol (li.ngam) from Its true nature of formlessness.)
Legends of Mahashivratri
There are various interesting legends related to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. According to one of the most popular legends, Shivaratri marks the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Some believe that it was on the auspicious night of Shivaratri that Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction. Another popular Shivratri legend stated in Linga Purana states that it was on Shivaratri that Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga. Hence the day is considered to be extremely auspicious by Shiva devotees and they celebrate it as Mahashivaratri – the grand night of Shiva.
Traditions and Customs of Shivaratri
Various traditions and customs related to Shivaratri Festival are dutifully followed by the worshippers of Lord Shiva. Devotees observe strict fast in honor of Shiva, though many go on a diet of fruits and milk some do not consume even a drop of water. Devotees strongly believe that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivaratri, absolves a person of sins and liberates him from the cycle of birth and death. Shivaratri is considered especially auspicious for women. While married women pray for the well being of their husbands unmarried women pray for a husband like Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband.
To mark the Shivratri festival, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath, preferably in river Ganga. After wearing fresh new clothes devotees visit the nearest Shiva temple to give ritual bath to the Shiva Lingum with milk, honey, water etc.
On Shivaratri, worship of Lord Shiva continues all through the day and night. Every three hours priests perform ritual pooja of Shivalingam by bathing it with milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water amidst the chanting of “Om Namah Shivaya’ and ringing of temple bells. Nightlong vigil or jaagran is also observed in Shiva temples where large number of devotees spend the night singing hymns and devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. It is only on the following morning that devotee break their fast by partaking prasad offered to the deity.
Merits of Mahashivratri Vrat
According to Hindu mythology, observance of mahashivratri Vrat with discipline helps a devotee to control the two great natural forces that afflict a man, rajas guna (the quality of passionate activity) and tamas guna (the quality of inertia). When a devotee spends an entire day in the Feet of Lord and worships with sincerity, his motion is controlled and evils like lust, anger and jealousy, born of Rajas are ignored and subdued. Besides, when a devotee observes vigil throughout the night (jaagran) he manages to conquer the evils of Tamas Guna too. It has also been mentioned that when a devotee observes a round of worship every three hours, the Shivaratri Vrata becomes perfect.
Devotees of Lord Shiva believe consider Shivratri fast to be extremely auspicious and rate it equal or more than performing an Ashwamedha Yagna. Some believe that a devotee who observes a Shivaratri Fast with sincerity and utters the name of Lord Shiva with perfect devotion is absolved from all sins. Such a devotee reaches the abode of Lord Shiva and lives there happily. He is also liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
Customs and Traditions of Shivaratri Fast
As a tradition, devotees who are on a strict fast on Shivaratri take bath with the water that is boiled with black sesame seeds to wash away bodily impurities. After putting on fresh new clothes, a devotee visit the nearest Lord Shiva temple to perform the ritual Shiva Linga bath with milk, honey etc. While bathing the Lingam a devotee prays, "O Lord ! I will bathe Thee with water, milk, etc. Do Thou kindly bathe me with the milk of wisdom. Do Thou kindly wash me of all my sins, so that the fire of worldliness which is scorching me may be put out once for all, so that I may be one with Thee-the One alone without a second."
Following the sacred bath, devotee applies haldi-kumkum on the lingum and place a garland of white and pink lotus flowers on it. Bel leaves are also placed at the top of the Lingum. Aarthi and bhajans in praise of Lord Shiva are also sung to invoke his blessings. Devotee also light incense stick and ring temple bell to invoke the blessing of the large-hearted Lord Shiva.
It may be noted that unlike most other festivals, where after performing the Puja of the deity a feast follows, a Shivratri fast continues all through the day and night. Devotees observe an all night vigil while chanting the mantra, "Om Namah Shivaya" and singing devotional hymns and songs. Even during the night, Shiva Lings is given the holy bath every three hours. An offering of fruits is also made to the deity. There is also the tradition to listen to the recital of various legends and stories related to Shivaratri and Lord Shiva and to understand its deeper meanings. It is only in the following morning that a devotee breaks the fast by consuming the prasad offered to Lord Shankar.
Significance of Shivratri
Significance of Shivaratri in Hinduism
Festival of Mahashivaratri has tremendous significance in Hinduism. According to sacred scriptures, ritual worship of Lord Shiva on Shivratri festival that falls on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Phalgun pleases Lord Shiva the most. This fact is said to have been declared by Lord Shiva himself, when his consort Parvati asked him as to which ritual performed by his devotees pleases him the most.
Even till date, devotees of Lord Shiva perform the ritual worship of Shivratri with care and devotion. They observe day and nigh fast and give sacred bath to Shiva Linga with honey, milk, water etc. Hindus consider it extremely auspicious to worship Lord Shiva on a Shivaratri as it is believed that worship of Lord Shiva with devotion and sincerity absolves a devotee of past sins. The devotee reaches the abode of Lord Shanker and lives there happily. He is also liberated from the cycle of birth and death and attains moksha or salvation.
Significance of Shivaratri for Women
Mahashivratri Festival is also considered to be an extremely significant festival by women. Married and unmarried women observe fast and perform Shiva Puja with sincerity to appease Goddess Parvati who is also regarded as ‘Gaura’ – one who bestows marital bliss and long and prosperous married life. Unmarried women also pray for a husband like Lord Shiva who is regarded as the ideal husband