Maha Shivratri

27th February, 2014:

Maha Shivratri

Maha Shivratri, Meaning  “great night of Shiva” is a Hindu festival largely celebrated in India as well as in Nepal. The day is celebrated to venerate Lord Shiva, an important deity in Hindu culture. Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Shiva is celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day of the krishna paksha or waning phase of the moon in Phalgun. Along with keeping a fast, cold water and bel patra (leaves of the wood apple tree) are offered to the lingam during the day. The festival is celebrated by traditional offerings such as bathing Shiva in milk, panchamruta (milk,curd,ghee,sugar and honey ), one after the other in succession; or anointing the lingam with vermilion (kumkum), white consecrated rice and askshata, (symbols of fertility or creation), when Shiva is worshipped as the god of dissolution.

Legends and Stories of Maha Shivratri

There are many mythological legends associated with this day.

Legend of Hunter

According to a popular legend, when a hunter could not find anything to kill for his food in a forest, he waited on the branch of a Woodapple tree. In order to attract deer, he started throwing the leaves of the tree on the ground, unaware that there was a Shiva Lingam beneath the tree. Pleased with the Woodapple leaves and the patience of the hunter, it is believed that Lord Shiva appeared in front of the hunter and blessed him with wisdom. From that day onwards, the hunter stopped eating meat.

Marriage of Shiva and Shakti

Another legend has it that after the Earth was faced with an imminent destruction, Goddess Parvati pledged with Lord Shiva to save the world. Pleased with her prayers, Lord Shiva agreed to save the world on the pretext that the people of the Earth would have to worship him with dedication and passion. From that day onwards, the night came to be known as Maha Shivratri and people began worshiping Shiva with a great enthusiasm.

Legend of Samundra manthan

Another legends of shivratri tells that during samudra manthan, a container filled with poison appeared. This container scared all the Gods and evil spirits, as this poison could ruin the whole world. Lord Shiva was asked for help and in order to save the entire world the whole poison was drunk by Lord Shiva to safe the world. Lord Shiva never swallowed the poison but hold it in his throat because of which his throat turned to be blue and he is also known by the name of Neelkantha for this. People thereby celebrate Shivratri because Lord Shiva saved the world.

Legend of Shiva Linga

The legend of Shiva Linga is also deeply related to Maha Shivratri. According to the story, Brahma and Vishnu searched hard to discover the Aadi (beginning) and the Antha (end) of Lord Shiva. It has been believed that on the 14th day in the dark fortnight of the month of Phalguna, Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a Linga. Since then, the day is considered to be extremely auspicious and is celebrated as Maha Shivratri – the grand night of Shiva. To celebrate this occasion, devotees of Lord Shiva keeps fast during the day and worship the Lord throughout the night. It is said that worshipping Lord Shiva on Shivratri bestows one with happiness and prosperity.

Legend of Ganga

The legend of Ganga is another popular legend which is related to Shivratri. Ganga’s descent from the heavens to the earth has been narrated in the Hindu mythological epic of Ramayana. This legend explains the popular custom of giving bath to Shiv Linga on Shivratri festival. According to this legend, Lord Shiva held out his thick matted hair to catch the river ganga, as she descended from heaven. The meandering through Shiva’s lock softened Ganga’s journey to the earth and the holy waters washed away the ashes of Bhagirath’s ancestors. The Ganga, thus, became an attribute of Shiva and therefore Shiva is also known as Gangadhara. Believing in this legend, Shiva is given a bath with gangajal and devotees take a dip in the holy water of river Ganga, on Shivratri.

The three principal reasons for Shivratri

1] Sadashiv, the cosmic form of Lord Shiva, appeared as ‘Lingodbhav Moorti’ precisely at midnight on Maha Shivratri. That is why all Shiva devotees keep vigil during the night of Shivratri and do abhishek of the Shivalingam (the form in which Shiva is worshipped). It is the night when Shiva performed the tandava nritya or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction.

It is believed that Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as Krishna, was born in Gokul in the middle of the night on Janamashtami, 180 days after Shivratri. Amazingly the circle of one year is divided into two by the festivities of Shivratri and Janamashtami.

2] Lord Shiva was married to Goddess Parvati on Shivratri. Shiva without Parvati is an absolute ‘Nirgun Brahman’ (formless static God), whereas with Parvati, or purna-shakti, the most complete form of divine feminine energy, He becomes the ‘Sagun Brahman’ for his dedicated devotees.

3] On Shivratri, Lord Shiva became ‘Neelkantham‘ or the blue-throated one by swallowing the deadly poison, halahala, that came up when the devas and asuras churned the sea to obtain the nectar of immortality. Even a drop of the poison would have annihilated the entire world but Shiva held it in His neck, which turned blue with its impact.Ever since Shivratri is celebrated as a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for protecting us from destruction.

Shivratri

How to celebrate

Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival which is celebrated by people following Hinduism in India. People often fast on the night of Shivratri and sing hymns and praises in the name of Lord Shiva. Hindu temples across the country are decorated with lights and colorful decorations and people can be seen offering night long prayers to Shiva Lingam. Woodapple leaves, cold water and milk are offered to the Shiva Lingam on this day as they are believed to be Lord Shiva’s favorite.

It is believed that the people who fast on this night and offer prayers to Lord Shiva bring good luck into their life.

Mantra for Mahashivaratri

The best mantra is Maha Mrityunjay Mantra from the Sukla Yajurveda Samhita III. 60.

Shiv Parvati Marriage

|| Om Trayambakam Yajaamahe
Suganghim Pushtivardhanam

Urvaarukmiva Bandhanaan
Mrityor Mokshiya Mamritaat ||

[The meaning of the Mantra is as follows:]

I worship thee, O sweet Lord of transcendental vision (the three -eyed one or Lord Siva). O giver of health and prosperity to all, may I be free from the bonds of death, just as a melon (or cucumber) is severed effortlessly from its bondage or attachment to the creeper.

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