Maha Shivaratri: Night Dedicated to Worship of Lord Shiva
Maha Shivaratri: Night Dedicated to Worship of Lord Shiva
Celebrations of Shivaratri begin with the break of the dawn on the Shivratri day and continue all though the night. Devotees observe fast and spend the day in devotion and worship of Lord Shiva. Many worshippers also participate in the jaagran or the night vigil organized in various Shiva temples across the country. Devotees believe that sincere observance of Shivaratri puja and all night worship of Lord Shiva will absolve them of all their sins and liberate them from the cycle of birth and death.
After the ritual bath, preferably in the sacred waters of river Ganga, devotees pay a visit to the nearest Lord Shiva temple carrying the traditional puja items like milk, water, bel leaves, fruits, incense stick, oil lamp etc. Due to massive popularity of the festival several stalls selling puja items come up outside the temple and do a thriving business.
In the bigger and more popular Shiva temples there is massive rush of devotees. Long queues can be noticed as devotees, mostly women, wait for their turn to perform puja. Since, bathing of Shiva Linga with milk is part of the Shivaratri Puja tradition; little rivers are formed due to the excessively overflowing milk and fruit in the Shiva temples on this day.
Ritual worship of Shiva Linga is done by temple priests every three hours all through the day and night of Shivaratri Festival. Shouts of ‘Shivaji ki Jai’, chanting of the mantra, ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ and ringing of temple bells make the atmosphere religious and devotional.
Nightlong vigil on Shivratri or the Jaagran is celebrated by singing of devotional hymns and songs in worship of Lord Shiva. And, it is only in the following morning that the devotees break their fast by consuming prasad offered to the Lord.
Shivratri Festival is particularly awaited by Hindu women. On Shivaratri, married and unmarried women perform puja with great faith, as Goddess Parvati who is also called ′Gaura′, is regarded as the giver of ′suhag′ – good husbands, marital bliss and a long and prosperous married life. One can therefore see find women enthusiastically observing the fast and performing the rituals Shiva Pujas on the day.
In this article we look at few places in India and neighbouring countries’ celebrations of Maha Shivaratri:
Celebrations of Shivaratri are observed with extreme enthusiasm in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Devotees throng the various important Shiva temples in the state mainly Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam. Devotees also observe fast and chant mantras in honor of Lord Shiva to mark the auspicious festival.
In the North-Eastern state of Assam, the hub of Shivratri celebrations is at the Umananda Temple, situated on the Peacock Island in the middle of Brahamaputra river in Guwahati, the capital of Assam. Thousands of Shiva devotees from all over the country pay a visit to the temple on the occasion of Shivaratri. Sibsagar, the capital of the erstwhile Ahom kings, is the other major centre of Mahashivaratri celebrations in Assam.
The Temple of Bhutnath at Mandi in Himachal Pradesh is said to host the biggest Shivaratri Puja in the country. Every year on Shivratri Festival, the Governor of the state leads a Shobha Yatra at a function inaugurated by the Chief Minister. The royal family of Mandi started the tradition some 500 years ago. An eight-day-long fair is also organized which witness the participation of artists from India and even beyond.
Jammu and Kashmir
Hindus of Kashmir observe Shivaratri with utmost zeal and devotion. Here, Shivratri is celebrated for three weeks or 21 days, beginning on the first day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna (locally known as hur ukdoh) and end on the 8th day of the bright half of Phalguna. Kashmiri Brahmins perform Shivaratri puja on the 13th day of the dark half of Phalguna Krishna Paksha to mark Lord Shiva′s wedding with Uma, the beautiful daughter of the Himalayas. In keeping with their hospitable nature, Kashimiri Brahmins offer even non-vegetarian food in puja to entertain Bhairavas who are said to form the major part of Shiva′s baaraat.
Shivratri puja in Jammu and Kashmir is performed in a very distinctive way. Two pots (called kalash), depicting Shiva and Parvati are filled with walnuts soaked in water. These walnuts are taken out only on the third day which usually falls on the no moon day or amavasya. On the third day this walnut which is wet is distributed to all friends and neighbours as prasad. On the chaturdashi (14th day after full moon) there is the real feasting when the families invite each other for dinners.
In Kashmir, Shivaratri is also called Hayrath, which is the corrupt form of ‘hairat’, a Persian word meaning ′utter surprise′. The term was coined during the Pathan occupation of the valley. Besides, Shivaratri puja is better known as Vatuk Puja in Kashimir where Vatuk means, collection or an assemblage of different objects. The name has been given because the main puja on Shivaratri day involves collection of a large number of articles. The name could also be traced to the term Vatuk Dev, Lord Shiva′s celibate form. People in Kashmir also worship Vatuk Bhairav, said to be Shiva′s most trusted dwarpal (gatekeeper). This is done in a bid to seek his favor for an audience with the Lord. On Hayrath day the children are given money as a gift called “herat kharch”. Interestingly it is not only children who receive gifts, for even husbands give gifts to their wife and the elder brother gives to younger brother. On the next day there is also a tradition to play the game of “harr” which is played with the help of sea shells.
Festival of Maha Shivaratri is observed with pomp and enthusiasm in the southern state of Karnataka. A grand Sri Shidlingappa′s fair is observed to mark the auspicious occasion. Deity is taken to the river in a palanquin accompanied by drummers (Dollu and Majalu) from several neighboring and is then worshipped. Linagayats, people of the Shiva cult, worship Linga on Shivaratri. Following a tradition, married women wear a linga made of silver or gold on their body. In southern Karnataka, children make believe that they are kings and dole out punishments to all and sundry. This particular tradition is based on the mythological legend related with Shivaratri that narrates the story of Shiva punishing Brahma for lying about measuring the length of Linga.
Shivaratri is celebrated with religious fervor in the state of Madhya Pradesh. As a tradition, people in Madhya Pradesh take a holy dip in Sagar tank in Khajuraho. The place houses a beautiful Shiva temple.
Bundelkhand Region, which has a stronghold of Shaivites hosts the biggest Shivaratri celebrations in the state. A large number of Lord Shiva devotees flock the Matangeshwar Temple and worship throughout the night. Highpoint of the Shivaratri celebrations at the Matangeshwar Temple is the 10-day-long fair that witness the participation of traders, peddlers and gypsies from other parts of the state. Display of traditional fare and a variety of handicrafts besides the rural circus show, magic shows, folk theatre, and merry-go-rounds add to the excitement.
Festival of Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with devotion and enthusiasm in the state of Orissa. Major centres of Shivaratri celebrations in the state are Lingaraj Temple and Hakateswar Temple Atri. Shiva temples located at Mahendragiri, Gupteswar, Kapilas, Bhubaneswar and Khiching also draw a large of pilgrims from across the state.
Shivaratri celebration at Lokanath Temple, Puri is also quite popular. According to a legend popular in Orissa, long ago, Puri was a center of Shiva worship. The story goes, Lord Ramachandra himself installed the Lingam in the Lokanath Temple. This lingam is kept submerged, in a vat of water. It can only be seen on Pankodhar Ekadasi, before Shivaratri, when the water is removed from the vat. On that day, thousands of devotees come for darshan.
In the state of West Bengal the festival of Maha Shivaratri is performed with great devotion and enthusiasm. On a Shivaratri day, devotees in West Bengal fast throughout the day. Following the tradition, they also make four Shivlings made of clay of the holy river Ganga. These Shivlings are later offered in puja in four “prahars” (a meassure of time equal to 3 hours) of the night. In the first prahar one of the shivalings is bathed in milk. In the second period, it is bathed with curd, in the third with ghee and in the fourth with honey. The devotees also stay awake the all – through the Shivaratri night. The following morning, they pray, listen to religious discourses, feed the Brahmins, offer them dakshina (alms) and finally break their fast with prasad.
At some places in West Bengal, Mahashivratri celebrations are confined to the Shiva temples. Women visit the temple carrying a copper vessel containing milk and water. They also carry with them leaves of a woodapple tree, a wood apple, fruits and flowers and a lamp. As a tradition followed in many places, devotees bathe Shiva Linga with water mixed with milk. Puja is performed and fruits and flowers are offered. After Puja they return home to break their fast with fruits.
At the temple of Tarakeshwar, 57 km from Kolkata, bare-footed pilgrims carry containers filled with the sacred water of river Ganga to pour over the stone image of the Lord and decorate the granite Lingum with garlands and flowers, as a mark of their devotion.
In Mauritius, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated in a big way for over three days. A large number of island′s Hindu population makes a pilgrimage to the holy volcanic lake, Grand Bassin and make food sacrifices and stockpile vessels of the holy water.
Shivaratri is a much-anticipated festival in the Hindu kingdom of Nepal. Thousands of pilgrims and holy men from all over Southeast Asia flock Nepal weeks before the festival to worship at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. This Lord Shiva temple is considered as one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus. To mark the festival of Maha Shivaratri, devotees fast throughout the day. They also take a holy bath or dip in the river on a Shivaratri morning and visit the temple to worship.