Maha Shivratri

The Festival
The word Shivratri literally translates into "the night of Shiva. This is because the ceremonies take place chiefly at night. A daylong fast, a nightlong vigil, and the reverberating rhythm of sacred chants mark the day. This is a festival observed in honor of Lord Shiva. It is said that Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati on this auspicious day. 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. Bael leaves are very sacred, for it is believed that Goddess Lakshmi resides in them.

About The Lord :
Shiva - the word meaning auspicious - is one 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 a 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.

Time is invisible and formless. Therefore Mahakal Shiva, as per the Vedas, manifested himself as "LINGUM" to make mankind aware of the presence of Eternal Time. That day when Shiva manifested himself in the form of "Lingum" was the fourth day of the dark night in the month of 'Magha' i.e. February-March. Maha Shivratri continues to be celebrated forever and ever.

This is an important day for the devotees of Shiva, who stay awake throughout the night, praying to him. In all major centers of Shoveling worship, Shivaratri, also called Mahashivaratri, is a grand occasion. From the very early morning, Shiva temples are flocked by devotees, mostly women, who come to perform the traditional Shoveling worship and hence hope for favors from the god. All through the day, devotees abstain from eating food and break they are fast only the next morning, after the nightlong worship. The day is considered to be especially auspicious for women. According to one myth, Parvati performed tapas, and prayed and meditated on this day to ward off any evil that may befall her husband on the Moonless night. Since then, Mahashivaratri is also believed to bean auspicious occasion for women to pray for the well-being of their husbands and sons. An unmarried woman prays for a husband like Shiva, who is considered to be the ideal husband.

Stories And Legends
The Story of King Chitrabhanu
The story goes as follows - Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa, 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 past. King Chitrabhanu explained that he had the gift of remembering the incidents of his previous birth. The king said to the sage that in his previous he was a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. One day while roaming through forests in search of animals he was overtaken by the darkness of night. Unable to return home, he climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a Bael tree. He had shot a deer that day but had no time to take it home. So he bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree. As hunger and thirst tormented him, he was kept awake throughout the night. He shed profuse tears when he thought of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return. To pass away the time that night he engaged himself in plucking the Bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground. The next day he returned home and sold the deer and then 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 a stranger and then had his own. At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva. They were sent down to conduct his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. He learned then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by the unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri. The messengers told him that there was a Lingam at the bottom of the tree. The leaves I dropped fell on the Lingam. His tears, which had shed out of pure sorrow for his family, fell onto the Lingam and washed it and he had fasted all day and all night. Thus, he unconsciously worshiped the Lord. As the conclusion of the tale, the King said that he lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages and now he has reborn as Chitrabhanu.

Shiv Purana
According to another legend in the Shiva Purana, once Brahma and Vishnu were fighting over who was the superior of the two. Horrified at the intensity of the battle, the other gods asked Shiva to intervene. To make them realize the futility of their fight, Shiva assumed the form of a huge column of fire in between Brahma and Vishnu. Awestruck by its magnitude, they decided to find one end each to establish supremacy over the other. Brahma assumed the form of a swan and went upwards and Vishnu as Varaha went into the earth. Nevertheless, light has no limit and though they searched for thousands of miles, neither could find the end. On his journey upwards, Brahma came across a ketaki flower wafting down slowly. When asked where she had come from, the ketaki replied that she had been placed at the top of the fiery column as an offering. Unable to find the uppermost limit, Brahma decided to end his search and take the flower as a witness. At this, the angry Shiva revealed his true form. He punished Brahma for telling a lie and cursed him that no one would ever pray to him. The ketaki flower too was banned from being used as an offering for any worship, as she had testified falsely. Since it was on the 14th day in the dark half of the month of Phalguna that Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a linga, the day is especially auspicious and is celebrated as Maha Shivratri. Worshipping Shiva on this day is believed to bestow one with happiness and prosperity.

According to a legend in the Ramayana, once King Bhagiratha left his kingdom to mediate for the salvation of the souls of his castors. He observed a penance to Brahma for a thousand years, requesting Ganga to come down to earth from heaven. He wanted her to wash over his ancestor's ashes to release them from a curse and allow them to go to heaven. Brahma granted his wish but told him to pray to Shiva, who alone could sustain the weight of her descent. Accordingly, Ganga descended on Shiva's head, and after meanderingt through his thick matted locks, reached the earth. According to a modified version, what reached the earth was just sprinkles from his hair. This story is believed to be re-enacted by bathing the linga. The love of water, the primary element of life, is also remembered in this ritualistic action.

Significance of Maha Shivaratri 
Apart from the significant Tandava performed by Lord Shiva, it is also believed that Lord Shiva married Parvati on this night. It is said that on this night Parvati prayed fervently for the wellbeing of Lord Shiva.
Another legend goes that on this day, when Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu had a dispute over the beginning and the end of Lord Shiva, he manifested himself in the form of a ‘Lingum’ to portray that there is no beginning or end to his being.

According to Hindu mythology, when Parvati asked Lord Shiva which ritual he liked best, Lord Shiva proclaimed that the services and rituals performed by his devotees on the 14th night of the Phagun month delighted him the most.

Rituals of Mahashivaratri
The devotees take an early morning bath and swarm the nearby Shiva temple in order to seek blessings from Lord Shiva and make offerings to the deity.

The traditional Shiva-Linga puja is performed where the Shiva Linga is given a solemn bath with milk, rose water, curd, ghee, honey and sandalwood paste. The puja is carried out once in every three hours!
People also make offerings of milk, gangaajal (holy water), incense sticks, bel leaves, fruits and flowers. The devotees strictly perform all the rituals of Maha Shivratri as it is considered to be an auspicious day to worship Lord Shiva, and it is believed that they will be cleared of their past sins.

Devotees bathe at sunrise, preferably in the Ganga, or any other holy water source (like the Shiva Sagartank at Khajuraho). They offer prayers to the sun, Vishnu and Shiva. This is a purificatory rite, an important part of all Hindu festivals. Wearing a clean piece of clothing after the holy bath, worshippers carry pots of water to the temple to bathe the Shoveling. The temple reverberates with the sound of bells and shouts of Shiva'. Devotees circumambulate the linga, three or seven times, and then pour water over it. Some also pour milk.

The linga is bathed with milk, water, and honey. It is then anointed with sandalwood paste. People offer a wood apple or bel leaves and fruit, milk, sandalwood and jujube fruit or ber to the linga. Shiva is believed to be very hot tempered, and hence things, which have a cooling effect, are offered to him. People decorate the linga with flowers and garlands and also offer incense sticks and fruit. In bigger temples, there is almost a stampede as devotees seek favors from the beloved god. Many also employ the services of a priest to perform special prayers.

Phalguna is a peculiar month. Immediately after Maha Shivratri, almost like a miracle, the trees are full of flowers as if to announce that after winter, the fertility of the earth has been rejuvenated. The linga is worshipped throughout India as a symbol of fertility. The festivities differ in various parts of India.
The Great '' AGHORIS '' Preparing to Celebrate MAHA SHIVARATRI
12 Jyotirlingas in India
In our country, there are twelve "JYOTIRLINGAS" of Lord Shiv 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 afterward only temples were built. Every Hindu believes that at least once in his life-time 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:-
  • Somnath in Kathiawar.
  • Shri-Shailya-Mallikarjun in the South.
  • Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain.
  • Omkarnath on the bank of river Jamuna.
  • Parali-Vaijanath in Marathwada.
  • Bhimashanker on the bank of Bhima river.
  • Rameshwar in South.
  • Naganath in Marathwada.
  • Ghrusneshwar at Daulatabad.
  • Kashi-Vishveshwar in Benares.
  • Kedarnath in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Trimbakeshwar in Nasik.
Lord Shiv is known by many names like Shanker, Mahesh, Bholenath, Neelakanth, Shambhu Kailasheshwar, Umanath, Nataraj and others. He is the most sought-after deity amongst the Hindus and prays to him as the god of immense large-heartedness who they believe grant 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 Indian culture and art.

By: +Prof: Koti Madhav Balu Chowdary 


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