Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva, on the day of Shivratri, All Hindus perform anointing on Shivlinga in Shiva Temples and chant Shiva mantra while all Hindu women celebrate fasting and perform Shiva puja on the proper Shivratri Muhurta.
Basically It occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna. It falls on a moonless February night, when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction. Shivratri (In Sanskrit, ‘ratri’ = night) is the night when he is said to have performed the Tandava Nritya– the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. The festival is observed on new moon’s 14th day in the month of February or March and the day is moonless.
Why is Shivratri Celebrated
The major festival marks overcoming darkness and ignorance in life, and as such, it is observed by remembering Shiva, changing prayers and practicing yoga, fasting and contemplating ethics and virtues of honesty, restraint, and forgiveness. Three main events in Shiva’s life are celebrated on this day.
- Shivratri is the day in the Hindu calendar when the absolute formless God Sadashiv appeared in the form of “Lingodbhav Moorti” exactly at midnight. God in his manifestation as Vishnu made his appearance as Krishna at Gokul at midnight, 180 days after Shivratri, commonly known as Janmashtami. Thus, the circle of one year is divided into two by these two auspicious days of the Hindu Calendar.
- Shivratri is also the ritual wedding anniversary of when Lord Shiva was married to Devi Parvati. Remember Shiva minus Parvati is pure ‘Nirgun Brahman’. With his illusive power, (Maya, Parvati) He becomes the “Sagun Brahman” for the purpose of the pious devotion of his devotees.
- It is also believed that on Shivratri, Lord Shiva became ‘Neelkantham’ or the blue-throated by swallowing the deadly poison that came up during the churning of “Kshir Sagar” or the milky ocean. The poison was so deadly that even a drop in His stomach, which represents the universe, would have annihilated the entire world. Hence, He held it in His neck, which turned blue due to the effect of poison. Shivratri is therefore also a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for protecting us from annihilation.
Origin of Shivratri
According to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified, as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for help, he, in order to protect the world, drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and because of this he came to be known as ‘Nilkantha’, the blue-throated one. Shivratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world.
Ritual Bath of Shivalinga
Following the rituals prescribed in the Shiva Purana, every three hours, Shivalingam is given a special bath with milk, yoghurt, honey, sandalwood paste and rose water. Puja, meditation and chanting of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ accompany the ritual bath. Following the bath, vermilion paste is applied on the linga. Traditionally, leaves of a forest tree Aegle marmelos (bilwa, maredu, wood apple) are used for Shiva puja.
Thereafter, Bilwa leaves, which have to be a stalk with three leaves, is kept on top of the Shivalinga. Ber or jujube fruit is a special offering to the god on this day. Beetle leaves are also offered by some. Some also offer bilwa leaves in the belief that the Goddess Lakshmi resides in them. Others believe it is offered for its cooling effects on the hot-tempered deity. Many devotees also decorate the linga with flowers and garlands and offer incense sticks and fruit.
Shivaratri a Festival Significant for Women
Shivratri is considered especially auspicious for women. Married women pray for the well-being of their husbands and sons, while unmarried women pray for an ideal husband like Shiva, who is the spouse of Kali, Parvati and Durga.
But generally, it is believed that anyone who utters the name of Shiva during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins. He or she reaches the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
Significance of Puja Items on Maha Shivaratri
- According to the Shiva Purana, there is a special significance of the six essential puja items used in the Shiva worship.
- Bathing of Shivalinga with water, milk and honey and wood apple or bel leaves added to it, represents purification of the soul.
- The vermilion paste applied on the linga after the ritual bath represents virtue.
- Offering of fruits symbolizes longevity and gratification of desires.
- Burning of incense sticks yields wealth.
- The lighting of the lamp symbolizes attainment of knowledge.
- Offering of betel leaves marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
Om Namah Shivaya
All through the day, the devotees keep severe fast, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra “Om Namah Shivaya”, and make offerings of flowers and incense to the Lord amidst ringing of temple bells. They maintain long vigils during the night, keeping awake to listen to stories, hymns and songs. The fast is broken only the next morning, after the nightlong worship. In Kashmir, the festival is held for 15 days. The 13th day is observed as a day of fast followed by a family feast.