Maha Shivaratri

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Maha Shivaratri

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History of Mahashivratri

On the 14th day of the dark half of Magh Mahashivaratri is celebrated. All day long the devotees observe fast and perform the puja. Lord Shiva, also known as Mahadeva, is one of the three Gods of Hindu Trinity. Maha Shiva Rathri is celebrated throughout India with much zeal and vigor. In West Bengal, Shivaratri is celebrated as a folk festival.

Unmarried girls observe a fast and worship Shiva so that they are blessed with good husbands. Whole night they stay awake as part of the festival. At the temple of Tarakeshwar, which is 57 km from Calcutta, bare – footed pilgrims carry containers of Ganga water to pour over the stone image of the Lord and decorate the granite phallus with garlands of flowers, as a mark of their devotion. In Andhra Pradesh the Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam attracts a lot of pilgrims across the country.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the festival of Shivaratri is celebrated for fifteen days. In Rajasthan, a special puja marks the auspicious occasion. A fair is held at Dabeshwarji in Jaipur. There are various rituals and traditions associated with Shivaratri celebration. The devotees of Lord Shiva take a dip in the nearby river at dawn and go to the temples of Lord Shiva to offer their prayers along with Bilva leaves. They observe fast throughout the day. Shivaratri is considered to be the auspicious time for the pilgrims to visit the twelve Jyotirlinga situated in different parts of the country to earn blessings from Lord Shiva.

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Legends of Shiva

Shiva the word meaning auspicious is one of the gods of the Hindu Trinity, comprising of Lord Brahma, the creator, Lord Vishnu, the preserver and Lord Shiva or Mahesh, the Destroyer and Re – Producer of life. Shiva is known by many names like “Shankar”, “Mahesh”, “Bholenath”, “Neelakanth”, “Shambhu Kailasheshwar”, “Umanath”, “Nataraj” and others.

For few people, Shiva is “Paramatman”, “Brahman”, the Absolute, but many more prefer to see Shiva as a personal God given to compassion for his worshippers, and the dispenser of both spiritual and material blessings. Related to the Absolute concept is Shiva as “Yoganath” meaning the Lord of Yoga, wherein he becomes teacher, path and goal. As such he is the “Adi Guru” or the Highest Guru of ‘Sannyasins’ who have renounced the world to attain the Absolute. He is the most sought after deity amongst the Hindus and they pray to him as the god of immense large-heartedness who they believe grants all their wishes.

Around him are weaved many interesting stories that reveal His magnanimous heart. Not only this, but these stories and legends also enrich the Indian culture and art. He is even refered to as the “Mahakaal” symbolizing time, which is invisible and formless. Therefore as per the Vedas He has manifested himself in the form of ‘Lingum’ to make mankind aware of the presence of Eternal Time.

In our country there are twelve ‘Jyotirlingas’ of Lord Shiva at twelve places that are sacred to the Hindus. It is believed that all these twelve Jyotilingas are ‘Swayambhus’ meaning that they sprung up by themselves at these places and afterwards only temples were built. Every Hindu believes that at least once in his lifetime he must visit these twelve Jyotirlingas and then he will be absolved of all the sinful acts he may have done.

These twelve Jyotirlingas are as follows :

  • Naganath in Marathwada.
  • Ghrusneshwar at Daulatabad.
  • Kashi – Vishveshwar in Benares.
  • Kedarnath in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Trimbakeshwar in Nasik.
  • Somnath in Kathiawar.
  • Parali – Vaijanath in Marathwada.
  • Bhimashanker on the bank of Bhima river.
  • Rameshwar in South.
  • Shri-Shailya – Mallikarjun in the South.
  • Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain.
  • Omkarnath on the bank of river Jamuna

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Maha Shivaratri Festival in India

Maha Shivaratri is celebrated throughout the country with great devotion and faith. Shivratri falls on the 13th ( or 14th ) day of the dark half of ‘Phalgun’ ( February – March ). The name means “the night of Shiva”. The ceremonies take place chiefly at night. This is a festival observed in honor of Lord Shiva and it is believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvati. On this festival people worship ‘Shiva – the Destroyer’. This night marks the night when Lord Shiva danced the ‘Tandav’.

It is celebrated in different manner across the country. This festival of Maha Shivratri is held in great esteem in most of the regions in India but especially in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh it is observed with great reverence. In Ujjain in the famous temple of Mahakaleshwar Shiv’s Lingum is worshipped with the performance of all the religious rites and rituals. Even in Matangeshwar at Khajuraho Lord Shiva is worshipped. Grand puja is offered in both the temples and hundreds of devotees throng these places from all over India. The Shivalingam of Matangeshwar in Khajuraho is considered to be the biggest in India and is the only temple in the thousand-year-old Khajuraho temple complex where worship still continues.

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In Andhra Pradesh, pilgrims throng the Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam. Saivism has been followed since ancient times in Andhra Pradesh. In Kashmir, since the majority of Kashmiri Pandits are followers of Shiv, this Mahashivratri festival is observed for fifteen continuous days. The 13th day of this festival is called Herath, which is celebrated with remarkable zest and joy. The Kashmiris belive that the marriage of Shiv and Parvati was celebrated on the day of Herath. In West Bengal Shivratri has become almost a folk festival.

Young unmarried girls observe day – long fast, keep awake the whole night, sing devotional songs and pray to Lord Shiva to give them good and virtuous husbands. In Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh devotees of Shiv take holy bath at Sangam – the confluence of the three sacred rivers – Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati – with faith that all their sins in the past and present be washed away so that they can go to heaven after death. Magh Mela fair is also held in Allahabad. In Maharashtra on this day of Shivratri every temple of Lord Shiv resounds with Vedic mantras and shlokas. People observe a fast, keep awake at night and distribute alms, food and sweets amongst the poor. In Karnataka majority of Lingayats, who are followers of the Lingayat cult of Lord Shiva, belong to Karnataka.

Shivaratri is a major festival in the state. In assam also it is celebrated with great devotion and faith the great Shiva temple, Umananda Temple, situated on the peacock island in the middle of Brahmaputra near Guwahati, attracts devotees from all over the country during the Shivaratri celebrations. Even in countries like Nepal and Mauritius Shivaratri is an important festival. The famous Shiva temple of Pashupatinath receives thousands of devotees from places around the globe. Hindus in Maurritius make a pilgrimage to the holy volcanic lake, Grand Bassin, in honour of Lord Shiva.

Maha Shivaratri Rituals

On the festival of Shivaratri fasting and night vigil ( jaagaran ), are advocated. Hindus worldwide perform Shiva puja with bael leaves ( Aegle marmelos ) and milk abhishek. On Mt.Girnar in Saurashtra, a grand mela is held, where people throng to have darshan of sannyasis and mystics. People observe a strict fast on this day. Some devotees do not even take a drop of water and they keep vigil all night. The Shiva Lingam is worshipped throughout the night by washing it every three hours with milk, curd, honey, rose water, etc., whilst the chanting of the Mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ continues.

Offerings of Bael leaves are made to the Lingam as Bael leaves are considered very sacred and it is said that Goddess Lakshmi resides in them. Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva, such as the ‘Shiva Mahimna Stotra’ of Pushpadanta or Ravana’s “Shiva Tandava Stotra” are sung with great fervor and devotion. People repeat the ‘Panchakshara’ Mantra, “Om Namah Shivaya”.

He, who utters the names of Shiva during Shivratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the cycle of births and deaths. Many pilgrims dock to the places where there are Shiva temples

Devotees of Shiva fast during the day and maintain a long vigil during the night. In temples all across the country, bells ring, and sacred texts are chanted and traditional offerings of leaves and milk are made to the Shiva lingam, the phallic symbol of the god. According to ancient scriptures, Shiva manifests himself in the form of a huge flaming lingam known as Jyotirlinga on Shivratri.

It is the duty of every worshipper to worship this lingam with at least one bilwa leaf to help the devout keep awake, stories or katha expounding the greatness of Shiva are organized, devotional hymns and songs sung and sacred texts recited. Shiva is worshipped to release the worshipper from the cycle of birth and rebirth. In Kashmir, the festival is held for 15 days; the thirteenth day is observed as Herath, a day of fast followed by a family feast.

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