Date: March 10, 2013
Also Called: Shivratri
Celebrations: Worshiping Lord Shiva, fasting
Mahashivaratri is celebrated with gusto by the Hindus all over India. It is an important day for the followers of Lord Shiva, as it honors their favorite deity. The celebrations are marked by fasting and the observance of a number of rituals. The festival is significant in many aspects. For instance, it bears mythological importance, because Lord Shiva is considered one of the deities of Hindu Trinity, the other two being Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu. On Maha Shivaratri, the devotees of Lord Shiva observe a stringent fast, which is broken only during the next morning, after prasad is offered to the deity. Know more about the celebrations of Mahashivratri, in the article.
Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna. It falls on a moonless February night, when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction. Shivratri (Sanskrit 'ratri' = night) is the night when he is said to have performed theTandava Nritya or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. The festival is observed for one day and one night only.
Origin of Shivratri:
According to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for help, he in order to protect the world, drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as 'Nilkantha', the blue-throated one. Shivratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world.
Here're three reasons to celebrate Shivratri:
1. The absolute formless God, Sadashiv appeared in the form of "Lingodbhav Moorti" exactly at midnight on Maha Shivratri. That is why all Shiva devotees keep vigil during the night of Shivratri and do "Shivlingam abhishekham" (coronation of the phallic idol) at midnight.
Did You Know?
1.God in his manifestation as Vishnu made his appearance as Krishna at Gokul at midnight, 180 days after Shivratri, commonly known as Janmashtami. Thus, the circle of one year is divided into two by these two auspicious days of the Hindu Calendar.
2. Lord Shiva was married to Devi Parvati on Shivratri. Remember Shiva minus Parvati is pure 'Nirgun Brahman'. With his illusive power, (Maya, Parvati) He becomes the "Sagun Brahman" for the purpose of the pious devotion of his devotees.
3. It is also believed that on Shivratri, Lord Shiva became 'Neelkantham' or the blue-throated by swallowing the deadly poison that came up during the churning of "Kshir Sagar" or the milky ocean. The poison was so deadly that even a drop in His stomach, which represents the universe, would have annihilated the entire world. Hence, He held it in His neck, which turned blue due to the effect of poison. Shivratri is therefore also a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for protecting us from annihilation.
The 14th shloka of Shivmahimna Stotra says: "O three eyed Lord, when the poison came up through the churning of the ocean by the gods and demons, they were all aghast with fear as if the untimely end of all creation was imminent. In your kindness, you drank all the poison that still makes your throat blue. O Lord, even this blue mark does but increase your glory. What is apparently a blemish becomes an ornament in one intent on ridding the world of fear."
A Festival Significant for Women :
Shivratri is considered especially auspicious for women. Married women pray for the well being of their husbands and sons, while unmarried women pray for an ideal husband like Shiva, who is the spouse of Kali, Parvati and Durga. But generally it is believed that anyone who utters the name of Shiva during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins. He or she reaches the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
On the day of Shivratri, a three-tiered platform is built around a fire. The topmost plank represents 'swargaloka' (heaven), the middle one 'antarikshaloka' (space) and the bottom one 'bhuloka' (earth). Eleven 'kalash' or urns, are kept on the 'swargaloka' plank symbolizing the 11 manifestations of the 'Rudra' or destructive Shiva. These are decorated with the leaves of 'bilva' or 'bael' (Aegle marmelos) and mango atop a coconut representing the head of Shiva. The uncut shank of the coconut symbolizes his tangled hair and the three spots on the fruit Shiva's three eyes.
WHY SHIVA IS WORSHIPED IN HIS PHALLIC FORM
Ganga Comes Down to Earth :
A legend from the Ramayana speaks of King Bhagirath who once meditated before Lord Brahma for a thousand years for the salvation of the souls of his ancestors. Pleased with his devotion Brahma granted him a wish. He requested the Lord to send the river Ganges down to earth from heaven so that she could flow over his ancestors' ashes and wash their curse away and allow them to go to heaven.
Brahma granted his wish but asked him to pray to Shiva, for he alone could support the weight of her descent. Accordingly he prayed to Shiva and he allowed the Ganges to descend on his head, and after meandering through his thick matted locks, the holy river reached the earth. This story is re-enacted by bathing the 'linga'.
The Tiger & the Leaves:
Once a hunter while chasing a deer wandered into a dense forest and found himself on the banks of river Kolidum when he heard the growl of a tiger. To protect himself from the beast he climbed up a tree nearby. The tiger pitched itself on the ground below the tree fostering no intention to leave. The hunter stayed up in the tree all night and to keep himself from falling asleep, he gently plucked one leaf after another from the tree and threw it down.
Under the tree was a Shiva Linga and the tree blessedly turned out to be a bilva tree. Unknowingly the man had pleased the deity with bilva leaves. At sunrise, the hunter looked down to find the tiger gone, and in its place stood Lord Shiva. He prostrated before the Lord and attained salvation from the cycle of birth and death.
Why Shiva is Worshipped in His Phallic Form:
According to another legend, once Brahma and Vishnu, two other deities of the holy Trinity, had an argument as to their supremacy. Brahma being the Creator declared himself to be more revered, while Vishnu, the Preserver, pronounced that he commanded more respect.
Just then a colossal 'lingam', known as Jyotirlinga, blanketed in flames, appeared before them. Both Brahma and Vishnu were awestruck by its rapidly increasing size. They forgot their quarrel and decided to determine its size. Vishnu assuming the form of a boar went to the netherworld and Brahma as a swan flew to the skies. But both of them failed to accomplish the self-assumed tasks. Then, Shiva appeared out of the 'lingam' and stated that he was the progenitor of them both and that henceforth he should be worshiped in his phallic form, the 'lingam', and not in his anthropomorphic form.
Bathing the Phallus:
The phallus symbol representing Shiva is called the lingam. It is usually made of granite, soapstone, quartz, marble or metal, and has a 'yoni' or vagina as its base representing the union of organs. Devotees circumambulate the lingam and worship it throughout the night. It is bathed every three hours with the 5 sacred offerings of a cow, called the 'panchagavya' - milk, sour milk, urine, butter and dung. Then the 5 foods of immortality - milk, clarified butter, curd, honey and sugar are placed before the lingam. Datura fruit and flower, though poisonous, are believed to be sacred to Shiva and thus offered to him.
"Om Namah Shivaya!":
All through the day the devotees keep severe fast, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya", make offerings of flowers and incense to the Lord amidst ringing of temple bells. They maintain long vigils during the night, keeping awake to listen to stories, hymns and songs. The fast is broken only the next morning, after the nightlong worship. In Kashmir, the festival is held for 15 days. The 13th day is observed as a day of fast followed by a family feast.
Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat
"OM. We worship and adore you, O three-eyed one, O Shiva. You are sweet gladness, the fragrance of life, who nourishes us, restores our health, and causes us to thrive. As, in due time, the stem of the cucumber weakens, and the gourd is freed from the vine, so free us from attachment and death, and do not withhold immortality." - by Arthur Berriedale Keith
Word By Word Translation
Tri-ambaka-m - The three-eyed-one
Yaja-mahe - We praise
Sugandhi-m - The fragrant
Pusti-vardhana-m - The prosperity-increaser
Urvaruka-m - Disease, attachment, obstacles in life, and resulting depression”
Bandhanat - From attachment Stem (of the gourd); but more generally, unhealthy attachment
Mrtyor - From death
Mukshiya - May you liberate
Ma - Not
Amritat - Realization of immortality