Significance of Maha Shivratri

Posted on March 1, 2011

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Maha Shivratri or Maha Sivaratri or Shivaratri or Sivarathri (Great Night of Shiva or Night of Shiva) is a festival celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day in the Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the month of Maagha (as per Shalivahana or Gujarati Vikrama) or Phalguna (as per Vikrama) in the Hindu Calendar (that is, the night before and day of the new moon). The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael (Bilva) leaves to the Lord Shiva, all day fasting and an all night long vigil. Cannabis is traditionally used as an offering for Lord Shiva and his followers. Per scriptural and discipleship traditions, the penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach the goal more swiftly and avoid rebirth.

Significance of the day
Per Hindu puranas, the day was determined as follows: after creation was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 13th night of the new moon, during the month of Maagha, is his most favorite day. Parvati repeated these words to her friends, from whom the word spread over all creation.

Rituals of Maha Shivratri
Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of holy ash applied to the forehead by worshippers of Lord Shiva. These stripes symbolise spiritual knowledge, purity and penance (spiritual practice of Yoga), so also they represent the three eyes of Lord Shiva.Wearing a rosary made from the rudraksha seed of the rudraksha tree (said to have sprung from the tears of Lord Shiva) when worshipping Lord Shiva is ideal. A rudraksha seed is a mahogany-like color, sometimes black, and sometimes may have traces of sacred sandalwood powder, turmeric, kumkum, or holy ash if the rosary was used in worship ceremonies or anointed.On Shivaratri, only cold water and bael leaves are offered to the Lingam. Other traditional offerings, such as bathing Him in milk and Panchamruta (milk, curd, ghee, sugar and honey (symbols of sustenance) one after the other respectively, or anointing it with vermilion (kumkum) or white consecrated rice (Akshata) (symbols of fertility, or creation), are done on this day, when Lord Shiva is worshipped as the deity of dissolution.Chanting the Rudram is considered very auspicious.

Other Traditional Worship of Lord Shiva
The twelve Jyotirlingas (lingams of light) are sacred shrines of Lord Shiva, and centres for his worship. They are known as Swayambhus, meaning the lingams sprung up by themselves at these places and temples were built there afterwards.Temples are listed in the India tourist guides.

Shivratri in West Bengal
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 through out 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 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.

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