||Date of Observance: Thirteenth night of the waning moon
Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in
reverence of Lord Shiva.It is also known as padmarajarathri.
Alternate common names/spellings include Maha Sivaratri, Shivaratri,
Sivarathri, and Shivaratri. Shivaratri literally means the great
night of Shiva or the night of Shiva. It is celebrated every year on
the 13th night/14th day of the Maagha or Phalguna month of the Hindu
calendar. Since many different calendars are followed by various
ethno-linguistic groups of India, the month and the Tithi name are
not uniform all over India. Celebrated in the dark fortnight or
Krishna Paksha(waning moon) of the month of Maagha according to the
Shalivahana or Gujarati Vikrama or Phalguna according to the Vikrama
era. The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael or
Bilva/Vilvam leaves to Lord Shiva, all-day fasting and an
all-night-long vigil. In accordance with scriptural and discipleship
traditions, penances are performed in order to gain boons in the
practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach life's summum
bonum steadily and swiftly. A week-long International Mandi
Shivratri Fair held at Mandi in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh
every year is one of the major tourist attractions in the state.
Hindus celebrate Mahashivratri, because according to Vedic
Literatures ; there is a legend associated with Samudra Manthan
(churning of ocean), a process in which the asuras (demons) and the
gods joined hands to churn out amrut(nectar) from the depths of the
ocean, using a mountain and a snake as a rope. The devas( deities)
and the asuras (demons) counterparts were churning for a nectar of
immortality. Among many things that came out, a pot of poison
came out of the ocean. This poison was so potent that it has the
power to destroy the whole universe. The problem that arose was that
the nectar could not be discarded, it had to be drunk by one of the
devas or asuras. No one wanted to drink the poison because they all
felt that they were too valuable or sacred to drink it. Shiva, upon
the request of the gods, came forward in a calm disposition and said
that he would drink the Halahala (poison) for “the sake of his
family to sustain peace and allow them to find the nectar of
immortality.” By drinking the Halahala, he eliminated its
destructive capacity. Shocked by his act, Goddess Parvathi strangled
his neck and hence managed to stop it in his neck itself and prevent
it from spreading all over the universe supposed to be in Shiva's
stomach. However the poison was so potent that it changed the color
of His neck to blue. For this reason, Lord Shiva is also called
Neelkanta.. After drinking the poison, Shiva went to the Himalayas
to meditate. The nectar of immortality was found, and the asuras
tried to steal it from the devas. They wanted to become more
powerful than the devas to be able to destroy them. After a “series
of divine interventions”, the devas emerged as the winners and
received the gift of immortality. By drinking the poison, Shiva
sacrificed himself for the safety of his family and humanity.
Pralaya (the Deluge)
Another version relates that the whole world was facing
destruction and Goddess Parvati worshipped her husband Shiva to save
it. She prayed for the jivs (living souls) remaining in se –- like
particles of gold dust in a lump of wax—during the long period of
pralaya (deluge) night, that they should, upon becoming active
again, have His blessings, but only if they worshipped Him just as
she did. Her prayer was granted. Parvati named the night for the
worship of Ishwar by mortals Maha-Sivaratri, or the great night of
Shiva, since Pralaya is brought about by Him.om shiv
The Lord Shiva's Favourite Day
After creation was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which
devotees and rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the
13th night of the new moon, during the month of Maagha, is his most
favourite day. Parvati repeated these words to her friends, from
whom the word spread over 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 he was overtaken by nightfall and 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 waiting for his return. To
pass away 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 then had his own.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva, sent
to conduct his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. He learnt then for
the first time of the great merit he had earned by unconscious
worship of Lord Shiva during the night of 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 had fallen
on the Lingam, in imitation of its 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
worshipped the Lord. As the conclusion of the tale the King said
that he had lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss
for a long time before being reborn as Chitrabhanu. This story is
narrated in the Garuda Purana.
‘Sivaratri’ means ‘night of Lord Siva’. The important features of
this religious function are rigid fasting for twentyfour hours and
sleepless vigil during the night. Every true devotee of Lord Siva
spends the night of Sivaratri in deep meditation, keeps vigil and
The worship of Lord Siva consists in offering flowers, Bilva leaves
and other gifts on the Linga which is a symbol of Lord Siva, and
bathing it with milk, honey, butter, ghee, rose-water, etc.
When creation had been completed, Siva and Parvati had been living
on the top of Kailas. Parvati asked: “O venerable Lord, which of the
many rituals observed in Thy honour doth please Thee most?” Lord
Siva replied: “The thirteenth night of the new moon, Krishna Paksha,
in the month of Phalguna (February–March) is known as Sivaratri, My
most favourable Tithi. My devotee gives Me greater happiness by mere
fasting than by ceremonial baths, and offerings of flowers, sweets,
“The devotee observes strict spiritual discipline in the day and
worships Me in four different forms in the four successive Praharas,
each made up of three hours of the night. The offering of a few
Bilva leaves is more precious to Me than the precious jewels and
flowers. He should bathe Me in milk at the first Prahara, in curd at
the second, in clarified butter at the third, and in honey at the
fourth and last. Next morning, he should feed the Brahmins first and
break the fast after the performance of the prescribed ceremonies.
There is no ritual, O Parvati, which can compare with this simple
routine in sanctity.
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 overpowered by sleep. When he woke up, it was all thick
darkness of night. It was the night of Sivaratri but he did not 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
favourite, the Bilva.
“There was a Linga under that tree. He plucked a few leaves dropped
them down. 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 to his house.
“In course of time, the hunter fell ill and gave up his last breath.
The messengers of Yama(Hinduism) arrived at his bedside to carry his
soul to Yama(Hinduism). My messengers also went to the spot to take
him to My abode. There was a severe fight between Yama’s messengers
and My messengers. The former were easily defeated. They reported
the matter to their Lord. He presented himself in person at the
portals of My abode. Nandi gave him an idea of the sanctity of
Sivaratri and the love which I had for the 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 offering of a few Bilva leaves, however involuntary it
might be because it was the night of Sivaratri. Such is the
solemnity and sacredness associated with the night”.
Parvati was deeply impressed by the speech of Lord Siva on the
sanctity and glory of the ritual. She repeated it to Her friends who
in their turn passed it on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus was
the sanctity of Sivaratri broadcast all over the world.
Rituals of Maha Shivratri
From the 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 Shiva Sagartank at Khajurao). This is a
purificatory rite, an important part of all Hindu festivals. Wearing
a clean piece of clothing after the holy bath, worshippers carry
pots of water to the temple to bathe the Shivalinga. They offer
prayers to the sun, Vishnu and Shiva.Women pray for the well-being
of their husbands and sons. An unmarried woman prays for a husband
like Shiva, who is considered to be the ideal husband. The temple
reverberates with the sound of bells and shouts of “Shankerji ki
Jai” meaning 'Hail Shiva'. Devotees circumambulate the linga, three
or seven times, and then pour water over it. Some also pour milk.
According to the Shiva Purana, the Mahashivaratri worship must
incorporate six items:
Bathing the Shiv Linga with water, milk and honey, and Wood apple or
bel leaves added to it, representing purification of the soul;
The vermilion paste applied on the Shiv Linga after bathing it,
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
And betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of holy ash applied
to the forehead by worshippers of Lord Shiva. These stripes
symbolise spiritual knowledge, purity and penance (spiritual
practice of Yoga), so also they represent the three eyes of Lord
Wearing a rosary made from the rudraksha seed of the rudraksha tree
(said to have sprung from the tears of Lord Shiva) when worshipping
Lord Shiva is ideal. A rudraksha seed is a mahogany-like color,
sometimes black, and sometimes may have traces of sacred sandalwood
powder, turmeric, kumkum, or holy ash if the rosary was used in
worship ceremonies or anointed.
Other Traditional Worship of Lord Shiva
The twelve Jyotirlingas (lingams of light) are sacred shrines of
Lord Shiva, and centres for his worship. They are known as
Swayambhus, meaning the lingams sprung up by themselves at these
places and temples were built there afterwards.
Shivaratri in India
International MahaShivratri Fair
The Mandi festival or fair is particularly famous as the special
fair transforms Mandi town into a venue of grand celebration when
all gods and goddesses, said to be more than 200 deities of the
Mandi district assemble here, starting with the day of Shivaratri.
Mandi town located on the banks of the Beas River, popularly known
as the "cathedral of temples", 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 this event. The festival is centred around the
protector deity of Mandi "Mado Rai" (Lord Vishnu) and Lord Shiva of
the Bhootnath temple in Mandi.
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 music and dance
perform the whole night.
This is a very special and rare puja conducted during 10 days of
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 Mahasivarathri festival
days 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),
surcharged with mantras recited by learned Brahmins seated on the
Mukhamantapam. These are emptied on the deity, 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 to propitiate Him best. There is a belief among devotees
that participation in Sahasrakalasam and offering holy worship
materials, will lead to blessings with prosperity and peaceful life.
Hundreds of devotees thronging the shrine with chants of “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’ symbolizing 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 Sivarathri day evening 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 etc.
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 joins and makes the
procession quite livening. The marvellous as well as magical effect
of the Sinakari melam and Panchavadyam, a combination of five
percussion and wind instruments is to be felt and enjoyed. Among the
varieties of festivals celebrated in Kerala, 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 colourful display of fireworks.
Shiva, as the god of destroying evil, is the third among the
divine trinity of Hindu mythology. The holy mantra consisting of
five-syllables: "Na" "Ma" "Shi" "Vaa" "Ya" (Om NamaH Shivaaya) in
praise of Lord Shiva is chanted incessantly on special occasions
like Shivaratri. His thousands of names, each of which describe 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 adored by dancers and musicians.
There is a special mantra in the Vedas, (the most ancient
scripture in the history of human race and which forms the
fountain-head of the Hindu culture) - Rudra Sukta (Rudri) - which is
recited by Bramhan/pundits while they offer a holy bath to
Shiva-lingam. Which are the symbol of Lord Shiva, with the waters of
sacred rivers like the Ganges, Cow milk, Card, Ghee, Honey and Sugar
powder. This ritual is known as "Rudrabhisheka". Rudrabhisheka of
the Shiv lingam is a 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
as Pashupathi (with Nandi, the bull, His favourite animal) and His
fearless nature is euphemised as Sarpabhushana. Shiva's posture in
the meditation is ascribed to Him as the head of Yogis (Yogiraja)
who practises 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.