Maha Shivratri, which literally translates to “great night of Shiva” is a Hindu festival largely celebrated in India as well as in Nepal. The festival is celebrated on the new moon day in the month of Maagha according to the Hindu calendar. The day is celebrated to venerate Lord Shiva, an important deity in Hindu culture. As Per Vikram Samvat, Mahashivratri falls on the moonless 14th night (Krishna Paksh) of the Phalgun Maas(month), which corresponds to the month of February – March in English Calendar. This year it is falling on 24.02.2017.
Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival which is celebrated by people following Hinduism in India. People often fast on the night of Shivratri and sing hymns and praises in the name of Lord Shiva. Hindu temples across the country are decorated with lights and colorful decorations and people can be seen offering night long prayers to Shiva Lingam. Woodapple leaves, cold water and milk are offered to the Shiva Lingam on this day as they are believed to be Lord Shiva’s favorite.
Mahashivaratri is thus not only a ritual but also a cosmic definition of the Hindu universe. It dispels ignorance, emanates the light of knowledge, makes one aware of the universe, ushers in the spring after the cold and dry winter, and invokes the supreme power to take cognizance of the beings that were created by him.
Did You Know?
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. Lord Shiva was married to Devi Parvati on Shivratri. 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.
Shivaratri Pooja has been given tremendous significance in Hindu mythology. It is said that ritual worship of Lord Shiva on a Shivaratri day pleases Lord Shiva the most. Devotees further believe that by pleasing Lord Shankara on the auspicious Shivaratri day, a person is absolved of past sins and is blessed with Moksha or salvation.
Merits of Shivaratri Puja:
According to Shiva Purana, sincere worship of Lord Shiva yields merits including spiritual growth for the devotees. Shiva Purana further says that performing abhisheka of ShivaLinga with six different dravyas including milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water while chanting Sri Rudram, Chamakam and Dasa Shanthi pleases Lord Shiva the most. According to the mythology, each of these dravya used in the abhisheka blesses a unique quality:
- Milk is for the blessing of purity and piousness.
- Yogurt is for prosperity and progeny.
- Honey is for sweet speech.
- Ghee is for victory.
- Sugar is for happiness.
- Water is for purity.
Shivaratri Celebrations in India are marked with devotion and religious fervor. Joy is writ large on the faces of millions of Lord Shiva devotees as they start preparing for the biggest Lord Shiva festival in advance. Celebrations of Shivaratri began with the break of the dawn on the Shivratri day and continue all though the night. Devotees observe fast and spend the day in devotion and worship of Lord Shiva. Many worshippers also participate in the jaagran or the night vigil organized in various Shiva temples across the country. Devotees believe that sincere observance of Shivaratri puja and all night worship of Lord Shiva will absolve them of all their sins and liberate them from the cycle of birth and death.
A Day for Fasting:
Not eating too much, eating light, and doing more meditation on this day helps in the fulfillment of desires – this is the ancient belief. Like a sponge in water (a rasagulla in syrup), when the mind and body are resting in the Shiva Tattva, small wishes get fulfilled effortlessly.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen on any other day. At any time that one’s heart is open and mind is calm, prayers do get answered. People usually eat very light, some fruits or something and do fasting. I don’t recommend fasting without consuming anything. We should eat fruits or some light easily digestible food and spend the day awake and meditate at night. We don’t need to do meditation all night, just for some time.
“Shivratri is to remind us that we are Shiva. That is why we say, “Shivoham, Shivoham“, which means ‘I am Shiva, I am that principle, I am the truth, eternity, beauty, and benevolence‘. Shivratri is an occasion to remember this.”