|Observed by||Hindus in general, Shaivites in particular, Mandi Shivaratri Fair|
|Observances||Fasting, worship of Lingam|
|2015 date||17 February |
|2016 date||7 March |
Maha Shivratri (the 'Great Night of Shiva') is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva. It is the day Shiva was married to Parvati. The Maha Shivratri festival, also popularly known as 'Shivratri' or 'Great Night of Lord Shiva', is observed on the 13th night/14th day in the Krishna Paksha every year on the month of Falgun according to the Hindu calendar. Alternate common spellings include Sivaratri, Shivaratri, Sivarathri, and Shivarathri. It marks the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. Maha Shivratri is celebrated on the Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi of Hindu calendar month Maagha as per Amavasya-ant month calculation [As per Poornima-ant month calculation, the day is Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi of Hindu calendar month Phalguna] which falls in February or March as per the Gregorian calendar. Of the twelve Shivaratris in the year, the Maha Shivarathri is the most holy.
The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael or golden apple or Bilva/Vilvam leaves to Lord Shiva, all-day fasting and an all-night-(jagarana). All through the day, devotees chant "Om Namah Shivaya", a sacred Panchakshara mantra dedicated to Lord Shiva. 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 highest good steadily and swiftly. On this day, the planetary positions in the Northern hemisphere act as potent catalysts to help a person raise his or her spiritual energy more easily. The benefits of powerful ancient Sanskrit Mantras such as Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra increase greatly on this night.
In Nepal, millions of Hindus attend Shivaratri together from different part of the world at the famous Pashupatinath Temple. Thousands of devotees also attend Mahasivaratri at the famous Shiva Shakti Peetham of Nepal.
On Maha Shivratri, Nishita Kala is the ideal time to observe Shiva Pooja. Nishita Kala celebrates when Lord Shiva appeared on the Earth in the form of Linga. On this day, in all Shiva temples, the most auspicious Lingodbhava Puja is performed.
Maha Shivratri is associated with the marriage of Shiva and Shakti.
The legends signify that this day is the favorite of Lord Shiva and also throws light on his greatness and the supremacy of Lord Shiva over all other Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
Maha Shivaratri also celebrates the night when Lord Shiva performed the 'Tandava', the cosmic dance.
According to another legend of Samudra manthan, Shiva saved the world from the disastrous effects of a poison that emerged as a by product of the churning of the sea (Samudra manthan), by consuming the whole of the poison. Shiva could arrest the poison in his throat by his Yogic powers and it didn't go down his throat. His neck turned blue due to the effect of the poison on his throat and henceforth he is also known as Neela Kantha or The Blue Throated.
Another version of the tale relates that the world was facing destruction and Goddess Parvati prayed to her husband Shiva to rescue it. She prayed for the Jivas (living souls) that remained in seed-like particles of gold dust in lumps of wax, since Pralaya is brought about by Lord Shiva. Shivratri is also when Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva married.
After earth's creation was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which devotees and rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 14th night of the new moon, in the dark fortnight during the month of Phagun, is his favorite day. Parvati repeated these words to Her friends, from whom the word spread to all creation.
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 night fell, so he 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 awaiting his return. To pass 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 only ate afterward.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva, sent to conduct his soul to the abode of Shiva. He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by unconscious worship of Shiva during the night of Maha 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 from the Bael tree had fallen into the shape of a Lingam, in imitation of Shiva's 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 worshiped Lord Shiva. At the conclusion of the tale the King said that he had lived in the abode of the Shiva and enjoyed divine bliss for a long time before being reborn as Chitrabhanu. This story is narrated in the Garuda Purana.
'Shivaratri' means 'night of Shiva'. The important components of this religious festival are rigid fasting for twenty four hours and sleepless vigil during the night. Every true devotee of Lord Shiva spends the night of Shivaratri in deep meditation, keeping vigil and observing the fast.
The worship of Lord Shiva consists in offering flowers, Bilva leaves and other gifts on the Lingam, which is a symbol of Lord Shiva, and bathing it with milk, curd, ghee, honey, sugar, coconut water, butter, and rose-water.
When creation had been completed, Shiva and Parvati had been living on the top of Kailas. Parvati asked: “O venerable God, which of the many rituals observed in Thy honour doth please Thee most?” Lord Shiva replied: “The thirteenth night of the new moon, Krishna Paksha, in the month of Magha(February–March) is known as Maha Shivaratri, My most favourable Tithi. My devotees give Me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths, and offerings of flowers, sweets, and incense.
"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 soon overpowered by sleep. When he awoke, it was the thick darkness of night. It was the night of Maha Shivaratri but he didn't 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 favorite, the Bilva tree.
“There was a Lingam under that tree. He had plucked a few leaves and then dropped them down, accidentally forming the shape of a Lingam. 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 home.
“In time, the hunter fell ill and gave up his last breath. The messengers of Yama(Lord of Death) arrived at his bedside to carry his soul to Yamlok(abode of Yama). My messengers also went to the spot to take him to My abode. There was a vicious fight between Yama’s messengers and My messengers. The former were easily defeated. They reported the matter to Yama, Lord of Death. He arrived in person at the portals of My abode. Nandi gave him an idea of the sanctity of Maha Shivaratri and the love which I had for that 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 the offering of a few Bilva leaves, even accidentally, because it was the night of Maha Shivaratri. Such is the solemnity and sacredness associated with that night.”
Parvati was deeply impressed by the speech of Lord Shiva on the sanctity and glory of Maha Shivaratri. She repeated it to Her friends, who in their turn passed it on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus, the sanctity of Maha Shivaratri was broadcast all over the world.
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 Shiv Sagartank at Khajurao). This is a rite of purification, which is an important part of all Hindu festivals. Wearing clean clothing after the holy bath, worshippers carry pots of water to the temple to bathe the Shivalinga. Women and men both offer prayers to the sun, Vishnu and Shiva. The temple reverberates with the sound of bells and shouts of “Shankerji ki Jai” meaning 'Hail Shiva'. Devotees circulate the lingam three or seven times, and then pour water over it. Some also pour milk over it.
According to the Shiva Purana, the Mahashivaratri worship must incorporate six items:
Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of holy ash applied to the forehead by worshipers of Lord Shiva. These stripes symbolise spiritual knowledge, purity and penance (spiritual practice of Yoga). They also represent the three eyes of Lord Shiva.
Wearing a mala (rosary) made from the rudraksha seeds of the rudraksha tree (said to have sprung from the tears of Lord Shiva) when worshiping Lord Shiva is ideal. A rudraksha seed is mahogany-like color, or could sometimes be black. They might also have traces of sacred sandalwood powder, turmeric, kumkum, or holy ash if the rosary is used in worship ceremonies or annointations.
The twelve Jyotirlingas (lingams of light) are sacred shrines to Lord Shiva, and centres for his worship. They are known as Swayambhus, meaning the lingams sprung up by themselves at these locations, and temples were built there afterwards.
Temples are listed in the India tourist guides.
The Mandi festival or fair is particularly famous as this special fair transforms the town of Mandi into a venue of grand celebration, where all Gods and Goddesses of the Mandi district, said to number more than 200, assemble, starting on the day of Shivaratri. The town of Mandi, located on the banks of the Beas River, is popularly known as the "Cathedral of Temples" and 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 Shivaratri. The festival is centered around the protector deity of Mandi "Mado Rai" (Lord Vishnu) and Lord Shiva of the Bhootnath temple in Mandi. This festival is celebrated with great fervor in Mandi and it is common to see many foreign tourists throng to this region, especially to partake in the Maha Shivaratri celebrations in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh.
Great Vaiṣṇava ācāryas recommend the observance of Śiva-ratri. The following is an excerpt from Śiva-tattva published by Gaudiya Vedanta Publications:
Hindus in Bangladesh also celebrate Maha Shivaratri. They fast in hopes of getting the divine blessing of Lord Shiva. Many Bangladeshi Hindus go to Chandranath Dham (Chittangong) to observe this special day. It is said by Bangladeshi Hindus that those who fast and perform the Puja will receive a good Husband/Wife, making Maha Shivaratri extremely popular with Hindus all over Bangladesh.
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.
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 classical music and dance perform the whole night.
This is a very special and rare puja conducted during the 10 days of the 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 Maha Shivarathri festival, 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), charged with mantras recited by learned Brahmins seated on the Mukhamantapam. The pots are emptied onto Lord Shiva's statue, 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 propitious and to satisfy Shiva best. There is a belief among devotees that participation in Sahasrakalasam and offering holy worship will lead to blessings from Lord Shiva for prosperity and a peaceful life. Hundreds of devotees throng the shrine, chanting "Namah Shivaya", "Hara hara Mahadeva", and "Sambho Mahadeva"...
Sivarathri Nrutham at Thrikkuratti temple, according to religious scholars, resembles the cosmic dance of Shiva, called ‘Anandatandava,' meaning, 'the Dance of Bliss' symbolising 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.
On the evening of the Maha Shivarathri festival, 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. This procession 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 join and make the procession even more magnificent. The marvelous as well as magical effect of the Sinakari Melam and Panchavadyam, a combination of five percussion and wind instruments, is heard and enjoyed. Among the varieties of festivals celebrated in Kerala, the 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 a colourful display of fireworks.
Shiva, as the God of destroying evil, is the third among the divine trinity of Hindu mythology. Shiva's holy mantra, consisting of the five-syllables: "Na" "Ma" "Shi" "Vaa" "Ya" (Om NamaH Shivaaya) which praise Lord Shiva, is chanted incessantly on special occasions like Maha Shivaratri. Shiva's thousands of names, each describing 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 of Lord Shiva's, revered especially by dancers and musicians.
There is a special set of mantras in the Vedas, "Rudra Sukta (Rudri)", which is recited by Bramhan/pundits (priests) while they offer a holy bath to the Shiva-lingam, with the waters of sacred rivers like the Ganges, as well as cow milk, curd (yogurt), ghee, honey and sugar powder. This ritual, known as "Rudrabhisheka", is an 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 the Pashupathi (with Nandi, the bull, His favourite animal) and His fearless nature is captured by the title of Sarpabhushana. Shiva's posture in the meditation is ascribed to Him as the head of Yogis (Yogiraja), who practice 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. Shivratri in Kashmir(herath) It is the most important festival for Kashmiri Brahmins . It's is celebrated in every household as the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. The festivities start 3–4 days before Maha Shivratri and continue for two days after it (Salam).
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