Mahashivaratri Festival or the ‘The Night of Shiva’ is celebrated with devotion and religious fervor in honor of Lord Shiva, one of the deities of Hindu Trinity. Shivaratri falls on the moonless 14th night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun, which corresponds to the month of February – March in English Calendar. Celebrating the festival of Shivaratri devotees observe day and night fast and perform ritual worship of Shiva Lingam to appease Lord Shiva.
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.
Who is Lord Shiva
Shiva means auspicious one. He is one among Trimurti Gods: Brahma, Bishnu and Maheswor. Shiva is Maheshwor. Lord Shiva is regarded as creator, preserver, destroyer, concealer,
He lives in Himalaya at the Northern side of Nepal at mount Kailash and lives as a saint (sadhu) with snake around his neck, wear deer skin and sits on tiger’s skin. Damaru is his musical instrument and Trisul is his weapon.
Shiva wears rudraksha on his neck and his hair is home of the holly Ganga. Nandi (ox) is his vehicle. He is a great mediator and he notices everything that happens in the world. He is very kind to his devotees. Just chanting of “Om Namaha Sibhaya” relives anyone from sufferings.
Shiva’s first wife was Satidevi and he married Parvati as his second wife. Ganesh and Kumar are his sons.
Legends of Mahashivratri
There are various interesting legends related to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. According to one of the most popular legends, Shivaratri marks the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Some believe that it was on the auspicious night of Shivaratri that Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction. Another popular Shivratri legend stated in Linga Purana states that it was on Shivaratri that Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga. Hence the day is considered to be extremely auspicious by Shiva devotees and they celebrate it as Mahashivaratri – the grand night of Shiva.
Traditions and Customs of Shivaratri
Devotees observe strict fast in honor of Shiva, though many go on a diet of fruits and milk some do not consume even a drop of water. Devotees strongly believe that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivaratri, absolves a person of sins and liberates him from the cycle of birth and death. Shivaratri is considered especially auspicious for women. While married women pray for the well being of their husbands unmarried women pray for a husband like Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband.
To mark the Shivratri festival, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath, preferably in river Ganga. After wearing fresh new clothes devotees visit the nearest Shiva temple to give ritual bath to the Shiva Lingum with milk, honey, water etc.
On Shivaratri, worship of Lord Shiva continues all through the day and night. Every three hours priests perform ritual pooja of Shivalingam by bathing it with milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water amidst the chanting of â€œOm Namah Shivaya’ and ringing of temple bells. Nightlong vigil or jaagran is also observed in Shiva temples where large number of devotees spend the night singing hymns and devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. It is only on the following morning that devotee break their fast by partaking prasad offered to the deity.
There is always a big fair and market set around Pashupati temple area in Shiva Ratri. Large number of people are seen visiting the temple. People are seen buying things. Announcements, music, dances, sadhus, markets, and large number of tourist make Shivaratri more fun. Women and kids are seen putting mehendi on their hands Mehandi (Heena) by the local artists sitting on the pavements. Snake dance, circus and other fun activities can also be seen in the surrounding areas of Pashupati temple.
There are many stories behind the celebration of Shivaratri.
During Samundra Manthan, the poison Halahal came out of the ocean. It started creating destruction all over. To protect the universe from the devastation Lord Shiva drank the poison and managed to keep it in his throat. His throat turned blue. Since then he is known as Nilkantha. Nila Kantha in Sanskrit is one with blue throat.
Shiva protected the world from the dangerous poison; therefore, people started celebrating the day as Shivaratri and thanking Shiva for shaving the world.
It is believed Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati on this day. Some places, Shivaratri is observed as marriage anniversary of Shiva-Parvati too.
How is Maha Shivaratri celebrated
Shiva devotees observe whole day and night fasting. Shiva Linga pooja is done in the night by chanting mantras, offering Beal leaf and pouring water on the linga. Fireplace is set in avenues and in temples at night to make Lord Shiva warm.
Pashupatinath is the biggest temple of lord shiva In Nepal. In Shivaratri Pashupatinatha temple has a big possession. Hindu devotees from all over Nepal and India visit Pashupatinath. Large number of Shadus come to Pashupatinath. Different types of Shadus can be seen around Pashapupati and its surroundings.
The shadus are covered with bhibhuti (Ashes). The Shadhus are said to have mastered the pain of heat, cold and sufferings and have devoted their life to Lord Shiva. They stand naked blessing the devotees. They smoke weeds as a divine gift of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is the one who enjoys taking bhis(Poison), bhang, Dhatooro (jimson Weeds).
According to the Shiva Puran, six items are regarded precious to worship and offer Lord Shiva in Maha Shivaratri.
The six Items are Beal fruit, Vermilion Paste (Chandan), Food Items (Prasad), Incense, Lamp (Diyo), Betel Leaves.
1) Beal Leaf (Marmelos leaf) – offering of Beal Leaf represents purification of the soul.
2) Vermilion paste (Chandan) – Applying chandan on Shiva Linga after washing the Linga represents good feature. Chandan is inseparable part of Worshipping Lord Shiva.
3) Food items – Food items such as rice and fruits are offered to the Lord to ensure a long life and fulfillment of desires.
4) Incense (Dhoop batti) – Incense sticks are lit before Lord Shiva to be blessed with wealth and prosperity.
5) Lamp (Diyo) – The lighting of Cotton handmade batti , lamp or diyo is believed to be helpful to gain knowledge.
6) Betel leaves (Paan ko patta) – Beatle leaves or Pan ko pat represents satisfaction with maturity.
Shiva Puran states, the beat of Damaru revealed the first seven letters of music. Those notes are source of language too. Shiva is inventor of notes of music Sa, Re, Ga, Ma Pa, Dha, Ni. He is worshiped as inventor of language on his birthday too.
The Shiva linga is washed with Pancha kavya (mixture of five products of cow) and Panchamatrit (mixture of five sweet things). Pancha kavya includes cow dung, cow urine, milk, Curd and Ghee. Panchamrit includes Cow milk, Yogurt, Honey, Sugar and Ghee.
In front of the Shiva Linga Kalash (Medium size vessel with small neck) filled with mixed water and milk is set. The neck of the Kalash is tied with white and red piece of cloth. Flower, mango leaves, peeple leaves, beal leaves are kept inside the kalash. Mantras are chanted to worship Lord Shiva.
(Information are gathered from various sources.)