Maha Shivaratri

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  Date of Observance:  Thirteenth night of the waning moon of Magh



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.[4] 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 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 observes fast.

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, incense, etc.

“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, representing 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 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 Shiva.

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
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.

Mahasivarathri Procession
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.  












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