Maha Shivratri - A Night of Lord Shiva

Maha Shivratri is celebrated to venerate Lord Shiva. It is a belief that the Linga is worshipped as a symbol of fertility. After Maha Shivratri, the trees are filled with flowers as if they are announcing that the fertility of the earth is revived. The merriments of Maha Shivratri is celebrated in different ways all over India. In Karnataka, the children are allowed to get into mischief and the only rule of the day is that later they have to ask for punishment. This is inspired by the story wherein, Lord Shiva punished Lord Brahma for lying. The Kashmiri Brahmins celebrate the marriage of Lord Shiva to Goddess Parvati and have celebrations for a period of 3-4 days. 

Origin and significance:

Lord Shiva is seen as the Adi Guru or the first Guru and he is the backbone of all the spiritual knowledge on earth. Because of this reason, Maha Shivratri is significant for the people who are on a spiritual path. It gives endless possibilities to a spiritual seeker. It is an auspicious occasion for the people who meditate as their soul is taken to a higher realm of peace and power. 

This day is celebrated by many people as the marriage anniversary of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Maha Shivratri holds a lot of significance for the unmarried women. Lord Shiva is considered to be an ideal masculine character and they pray to be blessed with a husband like him. Married women pray to Lord Shiva for the welfare of their husbands. 

Taking the name of Lord Shiva with complete devotion helps a devotee to remit all his sins and removes them from the cycle of death and birth. People with high desires and motivations see this as the day when Lord Shiva seized his enemies. It is a belief that on this day the energy patterns resound with the energy of Lord Shiva. 

There is a reason behind the celebration of this festival on a moonless night. The people worshipped Lord Shiva as he wears the crescent moon as an adornment in his hair. This was probably to ensure that the Moon rose the next night.

Legends:

Shiva is known as the destroyer and the most compassionate. He is also the greatest giver. There are many stories about Shiva’s compassion. 

During the time of Sagar Manthan (churning of the ocean), all the goddesses and demons came across a pot of poison. This poison was so toxic that it could destroy the whole creation, so all the Gods went to Lord Shiva as he was the only one who could drink this poison. While drinking the poison his consort Goddess Parvati kept a hand on his throat; preventing it from going in his stomach. The poison was so strong that Lord Shiva’s throat became blue which gave him the name “Neelkanth” meaning the one with the blue throat. As Lord Shiva saved humankind, people started celebrating Maha Shivratri.

Another story is that Lubdhaka - a poor tribal man and a devout worshipper of Lord Shiva had lost his way back home when he had gone to the forest to collect firewood. He climbed the nearest bael tree at night to seek shelter. As he was dangling on the branch of a tree he was afraid that if he dozed he might fall off from the tree. To keep himself awake all night, Lubdhaka decided to pluck the bael leaves; all the while he kept on chanting the name of Shiva. By sunrise, the devout tribal realized that he had dropped thousands of leaves on to a Shiva Lingam, which he had not seen in the darkness. Lord Shiva was pleased with his worship and by his grace tigers and other wild animals went away. Thus, Lubdhaka not only survived but was also rewarded with divine bliss.

According to another legend in the Shiva Purana, once Lord Brahma and Lord 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. 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. But the fire had no limit and though they searched for thousands of miles they couldn’t find the end. Brahma lied on his return and told that he had been on the top. The angry Shiva revealed his true form and punished Brahma by cursing him that no one would ever pray to him.  

Puja & Celebration:

Maha Shivratri is celebrated with great enthusiasm by the devotees. They wake up early in the morning and have a bath, preferably in the holy Ganges. Huge lines can be noticed in front of the Shiva temples, as the devotees want to perform their rituals and get blessed by Lord Shiva. They use water and milk to properly clean the Linga and then they offer bael leaves. Applying holy ash on the forehead is a ritual at this festival. 

The devotees keep a fast on this day and eat fruits and Prasad given the pujaris. Sadhus visit different Shiva temples on this day and give marijuana to the disciples in the form of the Prasad. Some follow a strict fast by not consuming even a drop of water. The Shivalingam is worshipped throughout the day and night. After every Pahar (period of three hours) the priests perform pooja by bathing the Linga with milk, honey, water, yogurt, and ghee while chanting the Shiva mantra.

A night-long Jagran is observed on Maha Shivratri. They sing hymns and praises in the name of Lord Shiva.

Having thandai is an important part of this festival. It is also considered that the celebration of Maha Shivratri is incomplete without the consumption of Thandai. This drink is made by mixing bhang and almonds in milk. It is a belief that bhang is greatly savored by Lord Shiva.

This is the night when a spiritual aspirant performs Sanatan Kriya and mantra sadhana. On this day, the guru gives a specific mantra to his student that he has to practice on a specific mahurat on the night. This brings the people in a different kind of trance and gives them an amazing psychic experience that cannot be experienced on any different night. 

Mantras:

1. Om Tryambhakam Yajamahe
Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam |
Urvarukamiva Bandhanan
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat ||

2. Om Tatpurushaya Vidmahe Mahadevaya Dhimahi
Tanno Rudrah Prachodayat

3. Om Namo Bhagwate Rudraay

4. Karcharankritam Vaa Kaayjam Karmjam Vaa Shravannayanjam Vaa Maansam Vaa Paradham | Vihitam Vihitam Vaa Sarv Metat Kshamasva Jay Jay Karunaabdhe Shree Mahadev Shambho ||