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|Observed by||Hindus in general, Shaivites in particular, International Mandi Shivratri Fair|
|2013 date||10 March, Sunday|
|Observances||Fasting, worship of Lingam|
Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva. It is also known as padmarajarathri. Alternate common names/spellings include Maha Sivaratri, Shivaratri, Sivarathri, and Shivaratri. Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva. It is celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day of the Maagha month of the Hindu calendar. Since many different calendars are followed by various ethno-linguistic groups of India, the month and the Tithi name are not uniform all over India and Nepal. Celebrated in the dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha(waning moon) of the month of Maagha according to the Shalivahana or Gujarati Vikrama or Phalguna according to the Vikrama era. The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael or Bilva/Vilvam leaves to Lord Shiva, all-day fasting and an all-night-long vigil. All through the day the devotees, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra dedicated to Lord "Om Namah Shivaya". 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 summum bonum steadily and swiftly. A week-long International Mandi Shivratri Fair held at Mandi in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh every year is one of the major tourist attractions in the state.
In Nepal,Millions of hindu attend shivaratri together from different part of the Globe at Famous Pashupatinath Temple. Thousand of devotees also attend Mahasivaratri at Different Famous Shiva shakti peetham of Nepal.
On Mahashivratri, Nishita Kala is the most perfect time to observe Shiva Pooja. On this day, in all Shiva temples, the most auspicious Lingodbhava puja is performed during this time.
Samudra Manthan Hindus celebrate Mahashivratri, because – according to Vedic Literatures – there is a legend associated called Neelkanta. After drinking the poison, Shiva went to the Himalayas to meditate. Realising that the nectar of immortality was found,the asuras tried to steal it from the devas, as they wanted to become more powerful than the devas in order to be able to destroy them. After a “series of divine interventions,” the devas emerged as the winners and received the gift of immortality. By drinking the poison, Shiva sacrificed himself for the safety of his family(universe).
Pralaya (the Deluge)
Another version relates that the whole world was facing destruction and Goddess Parvati worshiped her husband Shiva to save it. She prayed for the jivas (living souls) remaining in seed-like particles of gold dust in a lump of wax, since Pralaya is brought about by Him. Shivratri is also when Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva married again.
The Lord Shiva's Favorite Day
After 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 Phalgun, is his most favourite day. Parvati repeated these words to her friends, from whom the word spread over all creation.
The Story of King Hitrabhanu
Once upon a time King Hitrabhanu 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 Hitrabhanu 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 the their sadness at its impending death. So he let it live. He had still not caught anything when he was overtaken by nightfall and 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 waiting for his return. To pass away 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 then had his own.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva, sent to conduct his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of 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 had fallen on the Lingam, in imitation of its 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 the Lord. At the conclusion of the tale the King said that he had lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for a long time before being reborn as Hitrabhanu. This story is narrated in the Garuda Purana.
'Sivaratri' means 'night of Lord Siva'. The important features of this religious function are rigid fasting for twentyfour hours and sleepless vigil during the night. Every true devotee of Lord Siva spends the night of Sivaratri in deep meditation, keeps vigil and observes fast.
The worship of Lord Siva consists in offering flowers, Bilva leaves and other gifts on the Linga which is a symbol of Lord Siva, and bathing it with milk, honey, butter, ghee, rose-water, etc.
When creation had been completed, Siva and Parvati had been living on the top of Kailas. Parvati asked: “O venerable Lord, which of the many rituals observed in Thy honour doth please Thee most?” Lord Siva replied: “The thirteenth night of the new moon, Krishna Paksha, in the month of Phalguna (February–March) is known as Sivaratri, My most favourable Tithi. My devotee gives Me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths, and offerings of flowers, sweets, incense, etc.
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 overpowered by sleep. When he woke up, it was all thick darkness of night. It was the night of Sivaratri but he did not 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 favourite, the Bilva.
“There was a Linga under that tree. He plucked a few leaves dropped them down. 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 to his house.
“In course of time, the hunter fell ill and gave up his last breath. The messengers of Yama(Hinduism) arrived at his bedside to carry his soul to Yama(Hinduism). My messengers also went to the spot to take him to My abode. There was a severe fight between Yama’s messengers and My messengers. The former were easily defeated. They reported the matter to their Lord. He presented himself in person at the portals of My abode. Nandi gave him an idea of the sanctity of Sivaratri and the love which I had for the 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 offering of a few Bilva leaves, however involuntary it might be because it was the night of Sivaratri. Such is the solemnity and sacredness associated with the night”.
Parvati was deeply impressed by the speech of Lord Siva on the sanctity and glory of the ritual. She repeated it to Her friends who in their turn passed it on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus was the sanctity of Sivaratri broadcast all over the world.
Rituals of Maha Shivratri
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 Shiva 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:
- Bathing the Shiv Linga with water, milk and honey. Wood, apple or bel leaves are added to, which represents purification of the soul;
- Vermilion paste is applied to the Shiv Linga after bathing it. This represents virtue;
- Offering of fruits, which is conducive to longevity and gratification of desires;
- Burning incense, yielding wealth;
- The lighting of the lamp which is conducive to the attainment of knowledge;
- And betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
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.
Other Traditional Worship of Lord Shiva
The twelve Jyotirlingas (lingams of light) are sacred shrines of 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.
Shivaratri in India
International MahaShivratri Fair
The Mandi festival or fair is particularly famous as the special fair transforms Mandi town into a venue of grand celebration when all gods and goddesses, said to be more than 200 deities of the Mandi district assemble here, starting with the day of Shivaratri. Mandi town located on the banks of the Beas River, popularly known as the "cathedral of temples", 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 this event. The festival is centred 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 here and it is not uncommon to see many foreign tourists throng to this region especially to partake in the Maha Shivratri celebrations in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh.
Maha Shivaratri in Vaiṣṇavism
Great Vaiṣṇava ācāryas recommend the observance of Śiva-ratri. The following is an excerpt from Śiva-tattva published by Gaudiya Vedanta Publications:
- We honor Lord Śiva as a great Vaiṣṇava and as guru. We do not worship him separately. We observe Śiva-ratri, Lord Śiva’s appearance day, and we glorify him in connection to his relationship with Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī has written in his Hari-bhakti-vilāsa that all Vaiṣṇavas should observe Śiva-caturdaśī (Śiva-ratri). Lord Śiva, in whom all good qualities reside, should certainly be honored by the observance of this day.
- We offer obeisance to Lord Śiva with prayers like this:
- vṛndāvanāvani-pate! jaya soma soma-maule
- gopīśvara! vraja-vilāsi-yugāṅghri-padme
- prema prayaccha nirupādhi namo namas te
- Saṅkalpa-kalpadruma, 103
- “O Gatekeeper of Vṛndāvana! O Soma, all glories to you! O you whose forehead is decorated with the moon, and who is worshipable by the sages headed by Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana and Nārada! O Gopīśvara! Desiring that you bestow upon me prema for the lotus feet of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Mādhava, who perform joyous pastimes in Vraja-dhāma, I offer obeisances unto you time and again.”
Maha Shivaratri celebration in Bangladesh
Hindus in Bangladesh also celebrate the day. They fast for getting the divine bless of Lord Shiva.Many Hindus go to Chandranath Dham(Chittangong)to observe the special day. It is said if any people perform fast and perform the Puja he/she will get a good Husband/Wife.So Maha Shivaratri is also very popular In all over Bangladesh.
Mahashivaratri in Central India
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.
Mahashivaratri in Southern India
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 music and dance perform the whole night.
This is a very special and rare puja conducted during 10 days of 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 Mahasivarathri festival days 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), surcharged with mantras recited by learned Brahmins seated on the Mukhamantapam. These are emptied on the deity, 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 to propitiate Him best. There is a belief among devotees that participation in Sahasrakalasam and offering holy worship materials, will lead to blessings with prosperity and peaceful life. Hundreds of devotees thronging the shrine with chants of "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 Sivarathri day evening 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 etc. 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 joins and makes the procession quite livening. The marvellous as well as magical effect of the Sinakari melam and Panchavadyam, a combination of five percussion and wind instruments is to be felt and enjoyed. Among the varieties of festivals celebrated in Kerala, 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 colourful display of fireworks.
Shiva, as the god of destroying evil, is the third among the divine trinity of Hindu mythology. The holy mantra consisting of five-syllables: "Na" "Ma" "Shi" "Vaa" "Ya" (Om NamaH Shivaaya) in praise of Lord Shiva is chanted incessantly on special occasions like Shivaratri. His thousands of names, each of which describe 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 adored 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, cow milk, curd (yoghurt), 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 as Pashupathi (with Nandi, the bull, His favourite animal) and His fearless nature is euphemised as Sarpabhushana. Shiva's posture in the meditation is ascribed to Him as the head of Yogis (Yogiraja) who practises 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.
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- Sharma, Usha (2008). Festivals in Indian Society (2 Vols. Set). Mittal Publications. pp. 263 pages(83–86). ISBN 978-81-8324-113-7.
- Sharma, Gupta, S.P. ,Seema (2006). Fairs and festivals of India. Pustak Mahal. pp. 146 pages(see:73–74). ISBN 978-81-223-0951-5.
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