India has no dearth of festivities, and almost every day in a year there used to be a celebration in India. Amongst many other festivals, Shivaratri or Maha Shivratri is regarded as the most pious Hindu festivals in India. Adding new spirit to the rich culture of India, every year in the month of February or March this greatest festival is celebrated in reverence of the deity Shiva. This year (2017), Maha Shivratri is going to be celebrated on February 24 in various parts of the country. This post is going to emphasis on the significance of Shivaratri and some important information related to it.
Significance of Maha Shivratri:
As per Hindu calendar, this festival takes place on the 13th night or 14th day in the month of Maagha on Krishna Paksha, which is known as Shivratri. In contrast to any other festivals that are commonly celebrated at day time, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on the darkest night of the month. According to the Hindu myths, various tales and beliefs are there regarding the celebration of Shivratri. It is believed that Maha Shivaratri is when Lord Shiva has performed his extraterrestrial Tandava dance and became ‘Neelkantham’ after swallowing the lethal venom. With this religious belief, people celebrate Maha Shivaratri to liberate from this cycle of demise and renaissance.
If you plunge into the medieval era, the occurrence of Maha Shivaratri has been mentioned severally in some of the prehistoric Hindu Puranas like Padma Purana, Skanda Purana and Linga Purana. These great Puranas also let you know about the day long fasting during Shivaratri and all rituals associated with the Lingam. It is also said that the emergence of Maha Shivaratri has been in Hindu religion since the 5th century CE.
Every year Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with great enthusiasm in different parts of India. On the religious day of Shivaratri, devotees fast since sunrise and start flocking at the temples offering prayers to the idol of deity Shiva. In addition, people also take a holy dip into the waters of various sacred rives in India. With devotional songs and religious chanting around the shrines, the overall ambience of the country turns to a different height of mysticism.
Shivaratri is quite an imperative festival for every woman wherein, the married women are on fast and pray for the well-being of their husbands and offspring. On the other hand, all unmarried women seek blessings of Lord Shiva with this belief that they will have a husband like the Lord Shiva. They start visiting their nearby temples since early morning offering milk, cold water and bael leaves on the Lingam.
The workshop of Lord Shiva is predominantly performed by offering Bael or Bilva/Vilvam leaves on the idol of the three eyed Lord. While offering the milk and bael leaves on the Lingam, devotees hymn the sacred mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” dedicated to Lord Shiva.
And don’t be surprised after exploring some saints and devotees who entirely gets themselves into an intoxicating drink called Bhang. As per the Hindu mythology, it is believed that in order to stay focused and in complete state of meditation, Lord Shiva always used to have Bhang. This is the reason why many monks and devotees consume Bhang on the eve of Maha Shivaratri.
The Religious Rituals on Shivratri:
On the auspicious day of Shivratri, in most of the Shiva temples, a three-tiered platform is formed around a fire. The upper flat timber of this platform signifies the ‘swargaloka’ (heaven), the middle plank represents ‘antarikshaloka’ (space) and the lower most plank indicates the ‘bhuloka’ (earth). Next, 11 urns are positioned on the top plank representing 11 signs of the ‘Rudra’. These urns are further embellished with the leaves of Bilva and mango atop a coconut symbolising the head of the deity Shiva. The shank of the coconut is not peeled off. The reason being, this uncut shank depicts the knotted hair of Lord Shiva, and the three spots on the shank symbolises the three eyes of the almighty Shiva.
Another important ritual being performed on the Maha Shivaratri is the sacred bath of Lord Shiva with five offerings of a cow. These offering include milk, urine, dung, butter and sour milk; and these are collectively termed as the ‘panchagavya’. Besides, five eatables such as sugar, honey, milk, curd and clarified butter are also offered before the Lingam. Amongst many other offerings, Datura fruit is also considered to be the most essential item offered before the Lingam.
On the auspicious eve of Maha Shivaratri, all the shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva are embellished with lights and flowers. The ideal time to witness the Maha Shivaratri is during Nishita Kala i.e. on the 8th muhurta of Shivaratri night. Nishita Kala is considered as the preferred period of worship.
Let’s illuminate the significance of Jyotirlingams. As we all know the prime worship of Lord Shiva is dedicated to the shivalinga, and there are various other forms of this Lingam. A Jyotirlingam is basically a saintly object signifying the Lord Shiva. The word ‘Jyoti’ indicates luminosity and the word ‘lingam’ on the other hand denotes the sign of the deity Shiva. This Jyotirlingam means the luminosity sign of the Lord Shiva.
If you go through the Shiva Purana, you will come across 12 Jyotirlingams and their respective locations. There is a popular shloka in Sanskrit outlining these 12 Jyotirlinga temples. Here’s the shloka:
“Saurashtre Somanathamcha Srisaile Mallikarjunam|
Ujjayinya Mahakalam Omkaramamaleswaram ||
Paralyam Vaidyanathancha Dakinyam Bheema Shankaram |
Setu Bandhethu Ramesam, Nagesam Darukavane||
Varanasyantu Vishwesam Tryambakam Gautameethate|
Himalayetu Kedaaram, Ghrishnesamcha shivaalaye||
Etani jyotirlingani, Saayam Praatah Patennarah|
Sapta Janma Kritam pApam, Smaranena Vinashyati||”
The following are the names of these Jyotirlingams with their respective places and states:
|Name of Jyotirlinga||Location||State|
|Mallikarjun Jyoptirling||Srisailam||Andhra Pradesh|
|Mahakaleshwar Jyotirling||Ujjain||Madhya Pradesh|
|Omkareshwar Jyotirling||Shivpuri||Madhya Pradesh|
|Visweswar Jyotirling||Varanasi||Uttar Pradesh|
|Kedareswar Jyotirling||Kedarnath||Uttar Pradesh|
|Rameshwar Jyotirling||Rameshwaram||Tamil Nadu|
Places to be visited during Maha Shivaratri:
Being one of the most eminent Hindu festivals, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with religious spirit and great enthusiasm all over India. If holidaying somewhere on the eve of Maha Shivaratri is in your travel plan, here’s some places that you must count on:
When we talk about any religious location in India, Varanasi probably the most eminent name that strikes our mind first. Famed as the spiritual capital of India, the city has several Shiva temples that pull plenty of Hindu pilgrims on the eve of scared Shivaratri. Devotees flock Varanasi to witness the spectacular wedding processing of Lord Shiva wherein, different roles of Gods and Goddesses are being played here by various Shiva devotees. The starting point of this pageant is Tilbhandeshwar temple, and the procession gradually moves ahead towards the southern part of the city. This five-hour long parade unites many devotees chanting devotional songs, and they get into a different frame of mind consuming Bhaang. Before the procession ends at the same point from where it started, people turn back to the temple seeking Lord Shiva’s blessing.
After Varanasi, one more spectacular destination that you may visit on Shivaratri is Haridwar, the land of Yogis. This place is known for various holy shrines and Ghats where lot of Hindu devotees come and take a holy dip in waters of holy Ghats. An important holy hub here is the Neelkanth Mahadev temple, which is visited by several devotees during Shivaratri. Apart from celebrating the Shivaratri in Haridwar, you can also enjoy a blend of exciting outdoor activities like Bungee Jumping and river rafting.
Located in the North-Eastern state of Assam, Shibsagar is known for its group of three Hindu shrines including Visnudol, Devidol and Sivadol. In addition, you can also visit some other holy shrines and a museum in Shibsagar. Numerous Hindu pilgrims flock here on Shivaratri to pay their floral reverence to the deity Shiva. Whole temple is decorated in flowers in honour of the Lord Shiva. If you happen to be in Assam during Shivaratri, Umananda is another religious shrine in Guwahati that you can also visit.
Situated in the state of Andhra Pradesh, Srisailam is one of those 12 important Jyotirlingams discussed earlier. Some of the key attractions that you must experience here during Shivaratri are wedding of Shiva and Parvati and the tandava performance by Shiva devotees. One of the popular temples visited mostly here on the eve of Shvratri is Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple. Thus, Srisailam has lot of religious offerings for you on the eve of Shvratri.
As the name suggest, this holy shrine is located in Kashmir. Devotees come from various parts of India to witness the four-day celebration of Mahashivratri here in Kashmir. The Hindu Pandits perform all the religious rituals here by celebrating the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. This festival is known as Herath. Well, there is an interesting tradition being followed here during Shivaratri by the Kashmiri Brahmins wherein, married women visit their maternal homes and return back with money and a pot.
Like Andhra Pradesh, Nashik is also known for boasting one of the 12 Jyotirlingams. The city has various shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva. If you happen to be there during Mahashivratri, don’t forget to visit Someshwar Temple and Kalpeshwar temple. During Mahashivratri, this prominent city of Maharashtra becomes a centre of various Hindu devotees.
Apart from the cited locations there are several other shrines in India that you can plan to explore during Mahashivratri. Some of these are Ujjain, Khajuraho, Kedarnath, Puri, Mandi etc. Not only this, Mahashivratri is celebrated with equal enthusiasm in places like Nepal, Mauritius, Malaysia and Australia. It clearly portrays the significance of Mahashivratri across the globe.
So, this Shivratri take yourself to you a new height of theology filled with Bhang and hymn the words “Bhom Bhom Bhole”.