Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri which means 'the Great Night of Shiva' is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in honor of Lord Shiva.

Updated: June 16, 2020

Maha Shivaratri which means 'the Great Night of Shiva' is  a Hindu festival celebrated every year in honor of Lord Shiva. There is a Shivaratri in every luni-solar month of the Hindu calendar, but Maha Shivaratri once a year in late winter in the month of either February or March and before the arrival of Summer. The festival  involves 'overcoming darkness and ignorance'. Mahashivratri was the day when Shiva drank poisonous negativity to protect the world. It is believed that on this particular day Lord Shiva gulped the poison produced during Samudra manthan and behelded it in his neck which bruise and turned blue, after which he was named as Neel Kanth. It is also believed that the famous Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is the place where this incident took place or where Lord Shiva consumed the poison as Dark matter and saved the universe.

Significance of Maha Shivaratri:

The significance of Maha Shivaratri is described by different legends. According to one legend in the Shaivism tradition, this is the night when Shiva performs the heavenly dance of creation, preservation and destruction. The chanting of hymns, the reading of Shiva scriptures and the chorus of devotees joins this cosmic dance and remembers the presence of Shiva everywhere. This is the night when Shiva and Parvati got married as per another legend.

Celebration of Maha Shivaratri:

This is an ancient Hindu festival which is observed by remembering Shiva and chanting prayers, fasting, and meditating on ethics and virtues. Unlike most Hindu festivals which are celebrated during the day, the Maha Shivaratri is celebrated at night. The devotees keep awake all night. 

Others visit one of the Shiva temples or go on pilgrimage to Jyotirlingams. The celebration includes maintaining a "jaagaran", an all-night vigil and prayers. It is believed that  that the offering to Shiva icons such as the linga on this occasion will get over past sins of the individuals if any. Offerings of fruits, leaves, sweets and milk to Shiva are made on this day. Some perform all-day fasting with vedic or tantric worship of Shiva, and some perform meditative Yoga. 'Om Namah Shivaya', the sacred mantra of Shiva, is chanted through the day in Shiva temples.

Hindu devotees around the world observe Shivratri Vrat or Upvaas or fast. Though many go on a diet of fruits and milk, some do not consume even a drop of water all through the day and night of Shivaratri Festival. Saindha Salt is used in the food prepared for Vrat(Mahashivratri Vrat) and even Black pepper is used instead of Red Chilli. Maha Shivaratri is the wonderful opportunity for the followers of Lord Shiva, to praise the God and seek his blessings. The fasting involves refraining from eating any food and not sleeping throughout the night. The Mahashivratri fasting begins on the morning of Shivratri and ends next day morning or the Amavasya morning. Devotees wake up before sunrise and take bath and wear clean clothes. On the day of this festival, the ritual of bathing Shiva Linga with milk and honey takes place in temples of Lord Shiva. Also the devotees sing devotional songs and bhajans, to invoke Lord Shiva.

Maha Shivaratri is considered the day when adiyogi or the first guru awakened his consciousness at the material level of existence. No objective experience takes place and the mind is transcended at this stage of consciousness. The meditator transcends time, space and causation.It is regarded as the brightest night of the soul, when the yogi attains the state of Shoonya or Nirvana, the stage succeeding samadhi or illumination.

On this day, many devotees perform the Maha Rudra-Abhishek puja to receive blessings of peace, prosperity and happiness from Lord Shiva. Indian women follow the ritual to pray for well being and long life of their husbands. The auspicious occasion of Sawan Shivaratri is observed mostly among devotees in North Indian states including Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar.

The Jyotirlinga Shiva temples of India, such as in Varanasi and Somanatha, are particularly frequented on Maha Shivaratri. They serve also as sites for fairs and special events. In North India, popular Shiva temples such as the Kashi Vishwanath and Badrinath Dham, host special pujas and Shiva Darshan during this month for lakhs of Shiva devotees.

Annual dance festivals are held at major Hindu temples such as at Konark, Khajuraho, Pattadakal, Modhera and Chidambaram. At the Chidambaram temple, this event is called Natyanjali, literally means "worship through dance", which is famous for its sculpture depicting all dance mudras in the ancient Hindu text of performance arts called Natya Shastra. At Khajuraho Shiva temples, a major fair and dance festival happens on Maha Shivaratri every year. This involvs Shaiva pilgrims camped over miles around the temple complex.

Celebration in Different Regions:

Celebration of Maha Shivaratri differs in different region around the world.

India:

In Tamil Nadu, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with great pomp and fanfare in the Annamalai temple located in Tiruvannamalai district. There is a special process of worship on this day which is caled as 'Girivalam'/Giri Pradakshina. In this process a 14-kilometer bare foot walk will be taken around Lord Shiva's temple on top of the hill and a huge lamp of oil and camphor is lit on the hilltop at sunset.

In Andhra and Telangana, Shivratri yatras are held at different places. Mallayya gutta near Kambhalapalle, Gundlakamma Kona near Railway Koduru, Penchalakona, Bhairavakona, Uma Maheswaram are some of the places among those. Special pujas are held at Pancharamas: Amararamam of Amaravati, Somaramam of Bhimavaram, Draksharamam, Kumararama of Samarlakota and Ksheerarama of Palakollu.

At Srisailam, one of 12 Jyotirlinga sites, Brahmotsavaalu is celebrated the days immediately after Shivratri. At the Rudreshwara Swamy's 1000 pillar temple in Warangal, Mahashivaratri utsavalu are held.

Srikalahasti, Mahanandi, Yaganti, Antarvedi, Kattamanchi, Pattiseema, Bhairavakona, Hanmakonda, Keesaragutta, Vemulawada, Panagal, Kolanupaka are some of the famous places where devotees throng for the special poojas.

The town of Mandi is particularly famous as a venue for Maha Shivaratri celebrations where Mandi fair is held.  Mandi, located on the banks of Beas, is popularly known as the "Cathedral of Temples" and one of the oldest towns of Himachal Pradesh, with about 81 temples of more than 200 different Gods and Goddesses on its periphery. It is believed that all of these gods and goddesses of the area assemble here on the day of Maha Shivaratri.

In Kashmir Shaivism, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated by the Brahmins of Kashmir and is called, "Herath" in Kashmiri. The word is derived from the Sanskrit word "Hararatri" the "Night of Hara" which is another name of Shiva. Shivaratri, regarded as the most important festival of the community. The festival is celebrated by them on trayodashi or the thirteenth of the dark half of the month of Phalguna which falls between February and March. The reason behind not celebrating it on chaturdashi or the fourteenth as in the rest of the country is  that this long drawn festival that is celebrated for one full fortnight as an elaborate ritual is associated with the appearance of Bhairava (Shiva) as a jwala-linga or a linga of flame.

As per as Bhairavotsava in Tantric texts, on this occasion Bhairava and Bhairavi, His Shakti or cosmic energy, are propitiated through Tantric worship. The origin of the worship is associated with a legend that descibe, the linga appeared at pradoshakala or the dusk of early night as a blazing column of fire. Mahadevi's mind-born sons, Vatuka Bhairava and Rama (or Ramana) Bhairava approached it to discover its beginning or end but miserably failed. They got terrified and began to sing its praises. Then they went to Mahadevi, who herself merged with the awe-inspiring jwala-linga. The Goddess blessed both Vatuka and Ramana that they would be worshipped by human beings and would receive their share of sacrificial offerings on that day and those who would worship them would have all their wishes fulfilled.

Vatuka Bhairava and Rama is represented by a pitcher full of water in which walnuts are kept for soaking as they emerged from a pitcher full of water after Mahadevi cast a glance into it, fully armed with all his weapons. They are worshipped along with Shiva, Parvati, Kumara, Ganesha, their ganas or attendant deities, yoginis and kshetrapalas (guardians of the quarters), all represented by clay images. The ceremony is called ’vatuk barun’ in Kashmiri, which means filling the pitcher of water representing the Vatuka Bhairava with walnuts and worshipping it. The soaked walnuts are later distributed as naivedya.

The Mahakaleshwar Temple, Ujjain is one of the most venerated shrines consecrated to Shiva. A large congregation of devotees gathers to offer prayers on the day of Maha Shivaratri here. 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.

In Punjab, Shobha Yatras is organised by various Hindu organisations in different cities. It is a grand festival for Punjabi Hindus. 

In Gujarat, Maha Shivaratri mela is held at Junagadh where bathing in the Murghi kund is considered holy. It is believed that Lord Shiva himself comes to bath in theMurghi kund.

In West Bengal, Maha Shivaratri is observed devoutly by unmarried girls seeking a suitable husband, often visiting Tarakeswar. 

Varanasi and Somanatha, are particularly frequented on Maha Shivaratri. They serve also as sites for fairs and special events.

Nepal:

Maha Shivaratri is a National Holiday in Nepal and celebrated widely in temples all over the country. Especially in the Pashupatinath temple, thousands of devotees visit the famous Shiva Shakti Peetham. Holy rituals are performed all over the nation. Artists from various classical music and dance forms perform throughout the night. On Maha Shivaratri, married women pray for the well being of their husbands, while unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva. Shiva is also worshipped as the Adi Guru (first teacher) from whom the divine wisdom originates.

Pakistan:

Hindus in pakistan visit Shiva temples during Shivrathri. The three day Shivrathri festival in the Shiv Mandir, Umerkot is a famous one. It is one the biggest religious festivals in the country which is attended by around 250,000 people. All the expenses were borne by the All Hindu Panchayat of Umarkot. Hindus also visit Churrio Jabal Durga Mata temple during Shivrathri. About 200,000 pilgrims visit the temple annually on Shivratri. Hindus cremate the dead and ashes are preserved till Shivratri for immersion in the into holy water.

Outside South Asia:

In Mauritius, Hindus go on pilgrimage to Ganga Talao, which is a crater-lake.

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