A significant festival of the Hindu religion Maha Shivaratri or Maha Sivaratri/ padmarajarathri, is celebrated yearly with sanctity and religious passion in the honour of Lord Shiva, one of the deities of the Hindu Trinity. Shivratri means, The Great Night of Lord Shiva. By the Hindu calendar, the festival is observed on the dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha, on the 13th night or 14th day of Maagha or Phalguna (month of February or March as per the English calendar) in Varanasi. On this auspicious occasion, the Shivalingam is prayed to please Lord Shiva.
History of Maha Shivratri
The festival intends to delight Lord Shiva by offering leaves of Bael or Bilva/Vilvam, Bhang, Dhatura, flowers, coconut, fruits, water, cow milk, and other things. The devotees and the followers of Lord Shiva observe a whole day and night fast. They pray to Lord Shiva for a loving life partner who has good health and fortune. Penances are performed to reap gains in the practice of yoga and meditation as per the traditions. At Maha Shivratri, a big carnival takes place in Varanasi city of Uttar Pradesh. This funfair is held at the consequential tourist place of the city, Kashi Vishwanath Temple, more precisely in front of the Virla Temple and Vishwanath Gali of the old Vishwanath temple.
Another legend associated with Maha Shivratri is that the entire world was on the verge of destruction and very much near the pralaya. Therefore Goddess Parvati worshipped her husband Lord Shiva to protect the world from ending. Lord Shiva accepted her prayer and Goddess Parvati called the night Maha Shivratri or the great night of Shiva.
Favourite Day of Lord Shiva
It is supposed that after the world was created, Goddess Parvati requested Lord Shiva to tell which devotees and rituals pleased him the most, and Lord Shiva said that the 13th night of the Maagha month is dearest to him. Later Goddess Parvati shared the same with her friends, and her words spread all over the world.
Rituals of Maha Shivratri
On this pious occasion, young and old devotees assemble in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple since early morning. The followers of Lord Shiva observe the whole day and night fast. The devotees carry out the puja of the sacred Shivalingam in the temple, hoping to receive what they prayed for. People take a bath in the holy water of Ganga (the symbol of purity and holiness) early morning before sunrise and wear clean clothes after the sacred bath.
Every devotee carries a pot of the holy Ganga water to the temple to offer it to the Shivalingam. Women worship Lord Shiva for their husbands and sons’ good health and prosperity, unmarried women offer their prayers to get the desired husband, usually like Lord Shiva ( who is known to be the ideal husband ), boys pray for a suitable wife and good fortune in life. One can hear the sounds of the bells and people exclaiming the slogans of “Shankerji ki Jai” or “Mahadevji ki Jai” in the temple. Devotees usually take five rounds around the Shivalingam and also pour water or cow milk on the Shivalingam.
Mahashivratri puja includes the following six steps in keeping with the Shiv Purana.
First, one takes a bath in Ganga for purifying one’s soul, mind and body. Next, the Shivalingam is bathed with the holy water of Ganga, followed by milk and honey. Lord Shiva is fond of Bel Patra (three stalked in one); therefore, these leaves are included in every ritual of the puja ceremony.
Subsequently, the vermilion paste is applied to the Shivalingam, regarded as the symbol of morality.
Then, fruits and flowers are offered to have a long life and for the fulfilment of wishes.
The burning of incense sticks yields wealth.
The lighting of diyas denotes the attainment of knowledge.
Betel leaves are also offered that give satisfaction and delight.
Like Lord Shiva, his devotees also apply three horizontal lines of holy ash on their forehead; it signifies consciousness, purity and penance. The followers and the worshippers wear the garland made of the Rudraksha (seed of Rudraksha tree) while offering their prayers to Lord Shiva. As per the traditional legends, the Rudraksha tree stemmed from the tears of Lord Shiva. Shivaratri is also believed to be the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Mata Parvati.
What gratifies Lord Shiva more than anything else?
It is mentioned in Shiv Purana that doing abhisheka of the Lord Shivalinga with six dravyas such as cow milk, yoghurt, sugar, honey, ghee and Ganga water while reading Sri Rudram, Chamakam and Dasa Shanthi delights Lord Shiva more.
Significance of Mahashivaratri festival
For all the millions of Hindu devotees living in India and abroad, the festival of Mahashivaratri is of enormous importance. This festival is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the Phalgun month on the dark fortnight at the end of the winter season every year. Since the festival is one of the greatest festivals of the Hindu religion, devotees have the opportunity to charm Lord Shiva to get their desires fulfilled. For women, the festival has another significance. Both married and unmarried women observe a severe whole day fast and perform the Shivalinga puja with sincerity to gladden Goddess Parvati or Gauri Mata to have marital bliss and long, abundant, fortunate, happy married life. It is believed at Mahashivaratri, Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva got married in ancient times, and the devotees celebrate this festival every year by carrying out the same ceremony. People of Varanasi commence the rituals from the Mahamrityunjaya temple of Daranagar to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Several customs and traditions are followed by the worshippers of Lord Shiva all over the world. It is believed that the devotees who observe the severe fast from early morning to the following day for Lord Shiva are blessed with all their desires. The devotees have the liberty to eat some fruits, milk, juice or water. However, some observe the Nirjala fast without eating and drinking anything because of their strong faith and devotion towards Lord Shiva. On this holy day, sincere devotees are condoned by the Lord for all their wrongdoings and liberated from the cycle of birth and death and eventually graced with Moksha.
People sing folk and traditional songs during the festivities, perform aarti/puja, drink bhang, and dance to music.
The activities to revere and offer prayers to Lord Shiva go on for the entire day; it begins early morning and continues till night. First and foremost, early morning, a puja ceremony of Shivalingam is performed by the sacred priests of the temple. They give a bath to Shivalingam with milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar (also known as panchagavya) and then with water while chanting the mantra of “Om Namah Shivaya”. At some places, people bathe the Shivalinga with milk, yoghurt, honey, sandalwood paste and rose water. Then the vermillion paste is applied to the Shivalinga, and Bilwa leaves (usually three joined leaves in one stalk) are kept on the top in faith that Goddess Lakshmi resides in Bilwa leaves and it has cooling effects to the hot-tempered deity. Thus, it would help the worshippers to delight Lord Shiva with ease.
The temple bells are rung by the devotees powerfully and thunderously. The devotees now enter the temple and perform their rituals and offer prayers. Some Shiv temples also conduct night long Jagran where a big crowd of devotees assemble to sing holy hymns and devotional songs honouring Lord Shiva and Mata Parvati. Again in the morning, the devotees carry out the same traditional rituals like bathing, offering water to Shivalinga, etc. Finally, the devotees break their fast by having the Prasad offered by the priest of the temple.
Significance of offerings to the Shivalinga
- It is considered that bathing Shivalinga with panchagavya or milk, honey, water, and bael leaves signifies the sanctification of the mind, body and soul.
- Offering Ganga Jal denotes the attainment of enlightenment and wisdom.
- Applying the vermillion paste to the top of Shivalinga after the bathing ceremony represents righteousness.
- Offering fruits to the Shivalinga denotes long life and fruition of desires.
- Offering dhoop batti or incense sticks signifies prosperity and wealth.
- Ghee Diya used in the ceremony represents the attainment of wisdom and knowledge.
- Offering betel leaves yield joy, success and contentment.
- Bhang is offered to delight Lord Shiva, and it has a cooling effect as well.
- While offering prayers to Lord Shiva, chanting mantras like “Om Namah Shivaya”, “Karpur Gauram Karunavataram, Sansara Saram Bhujagendra Haram, Sada Vasantam Hridayaravinde, Bhavam Bhavani Sahitam Namami”, etc. signifies the mind concentration and tranquillity.
- Observing fast at Mahashivratri denotes control over great natural forces, control over longings, rage and envy and signifies the strength to annihilate the evil forces.
- Bathing in the sacred Ganga water represents the cleansing of mind, body and soul.
Traditions and Customs of Mahashivratri
The worshippers of Lord Shiva perform a variety of rituals and customs from ages in Varanasi. The festival of Maha Shivratri is observed in the dark fortnight or on a moonless night. It is believed that on Maha Shivratri, Lord Shiva had performed the Tandava Nritya, which is called the dance of ancient creation, preservation and demolition. The devotees observe severe fast on this day in honour of Lord Shiva; they can eat only fruits and drink milk, some devotees do not even drink water and observe Nirjala Vrat.
The ritual of offering prayers at Maha Shivaratri continues for the entire day and night. The puja carried out by priests in the temple takes three hours. They bathe the Shivalinga with cow milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar, and the holy water Ganga while powerfully reciting “Om Namah Shivaya” and ringing bells. In Varanasi, a large crowd participates in night Jagran where the entire night is spent chanting Shiva mantras and other traditional devotional songs to gratify Lord Shiva.
Shivaratri puja has enormous value in the Hindu religion. As per the Shiv Purana, offering prayers to Lord Shiva has significant benefits. Therefore a prayer offered genuinely can yield a lot of blessings.
Haridwar, also well known as the Land of Yogis, celebrate Maha Shivaratri with full enthusiasm. Yogis are the prominent worshippers of Lord Shiva, who celebrate the festival with zeal and passion every year. Haridwar is considered a Holy city that is believed to be the path to God. The city is famous for its temples and ghats, which are visited by thousands of devotees and pilgrims every year to solemnize the occasion of Maha Shivaratri. Early morning they take a bath in the holy water of Ganga to free themselves from all the sins. Many followers get together in Haridwar before the festival to take the sacred dip at Har ki Pauri (renowned ghat at the Ganga riverbank in Haridwar).
The worshippers also visit various Lord Shiva temples in Haridwar, take pleasure at Lakshman Jhula and enjoy water rafting in Rishikesh. In addition, many of them try exciting activities like Bungee Jumping and so on.
Hindus celebrate it as a religious festival every year at Shree Jabreshwar Mahadev Mandir.
On this day, temples are full of devotees who offer fruits, flowers, bel leaves, bhang leaves, dhatura etc., to the Shivalingam. The atmosphere of the whole country on this auspicious day is merry and in high spirits. One can hear the slogans of Bol Bam all around in praise of Lord Shiva.