There are twelve Shivaratri days that are observed in an entire year, but Maha Shivaratri is the one that is celebrated on the Krishna paksha Chaturdashi, or on the fourteenth day of the dark or the waxing moon phase of the month of Magha or Phalguna as per the Hindu calendar and February, March as per the Gregorian Calendar.
This year, it will fall on Saturday, 25th February, 2017.
Maha Shivaratri essentially means the night or ratri of Shiva. This festival is not only celebrated with much devotion in India, but in distant countries like Nepal as well.
Legends associated with Shiva Ratri
There are numerous legends associated with Shiva Ratri or why and how it came to be celebrated. According to a mythological legend, when the great ocean was being churned to take out the Amrita, then a pot full of poison came up from the depths of the sea. Everyone was terrified lest it should destroy the whole world. They appealed to Shiva for help. Shiva in order to save the universe drank the garal or the poison which is called the kalakootam, but instead of swallowing it, held in his throat and thus it became blue from the effects of the poison. From this he came to be known as Neelakantha; or one whose kantha or neck is blue. Shivaratri celebrates this sacrifice of Shiva having drunk poison.
Another legend says that Lord Shiva married Devi Parvati on this auspicious day. Thus the union of the two greatest forces happened on this day – Shakti and Shiva.
It is also believed that the Lord Shiva appeared as a formless God, as a Linga or a phallus at midnight on this auspicious day and is called the Lingodbhav Moorti. Thus the entire night vigil is mandated in the rituals.
It is also believed that throughout this auspicious night, the Lord Shiva engages himself in the divine dance form of Tandava.
Significance of observing Maha Shivaratri
Shivaratri is considered to be extremely auspicious for women folk in general. The unmarried women pray that they get an ideal husband like the Lord Shiva, and the married women pray for the well being of their husbands and their sons.
It is also believed, according to the Garuda Purana, King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who was a reincarnate of hunterer from Varanasi from his previous life, was observing a fast on Shiva Ratri along with his wife, the queen. The sage Ashtavakra who arrived at his court asked the king the reason for his fasting. Chitrabhanu then recounted that in his previous life, he had been about to hunt a deer when he saw the grief in the deer’s family. Saddened and guilty, he let the deer go but as he was empty handed, he climbed a tree for shelter as it was approaching night and he had been fasting the entire day. It was a woodapple or a bael tree. His water container kept leaking, thus he was thirsty and hungry. To while away the time and to relieve himself from wondering his family,he kept plucking the leaves of the tree and dropping them in the ground. Next day he returned home with some food for himself and his family. Just when he was about to eat, a stranger arrived and asked for some food. He gave away his and ate later. While in his deathbed, the hunter noticed two messengers from Lord Shiva who had come to take him to the abode of Lord Shiva s he had unconsciously offered puja in a state of fasting for the whole day and night, with bael leaves and his leaking water had bathed the Shiva linga that was under the ground.
Rituals to be followed for observing Maha Shivaratri –
According to Shiva Purana, the following rituals are to be observed on the Maha Shivaratri day and the following ingredients are to be used –
- Bathing the Shiva linga with devotion in water, honey and milk. Bael leaves are added to this which signifies purification of the soul.
- To represent virtue, vermillion paste is applied all over the Shiva LInga.
- Fruit is offered as prasads which is conducive for longevity
- Burning of the incense or dhoop signifies wealth
- Lighting of diya or the lamp signifies the attainment of knowledge
- Betel leaves mark satisfaction of worldly pleasures
On the day of the Maha Shivaratri, a three tiered platform is built surrounding a fire. The topmost layer represents swargalok, the middle one stands for antarikshaloka or space; and the bottom one stands for bhuloka or the earth. Eleven kalash signifying eleven manifestation of Lord Shiva are kept on the topmost plank and are decorated with flowers and bael leaves. All throughout the day the devotees keep chanting On Namah Shivaya or keeps on offering prayers to the God. They make night vigils and only break their fast the next day. People keeping night long vigils chant shiva stotras, sing his hymns and keeps on offering milk, water and the bael leaves to the Lord.
Festivities on Maha Shivaratri
Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with devotion and reverence. In Kashmir, these festivities last for fifteen days. The most popular Shiva ratri festival takes place probably in Ujjain, in Madhya Pradesh. Large processions are carried out. Throughout the country all Hindu temples are decorated with flowers on this day.
Maha Shivratri Picture
Maha Shivratri Wallpaper
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