Mahashivaratri means “the Great Night of Shiva”. It is a great Hindu festival celebrated annually in honour of Lord Shiva and is widely celebrated across India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mauritius, Tobago and Trinidad. This year’s Mahashivratri falls on March 11 and Devotees of Lord Shiva are preparing to offer their sincere prayers to the Supreme God Shiva and perform the sacred rituals.
Unlike other festivals Mahashivaratri is not a celebration of cultural revelry but concentration, fasting, meditation on Shiva, social harmony and an all night vigil at Shiva temple. Hindus consider this night as “overcoming darkness and ignorance” and following the life of Shiva. “Om Namah Shivaya” , the sacred mantra of Shiva is chanted throughout the day. Mahashivaratri is celebrated three to ten days based on the Hindu calender. These days offerings of milk and honey, and panchamrita is given to Shiva.
On the day of Mahashivaratri, Devotees of Lord Shiva practice certain rituals prescribed in the Shivapurana,
Below are 5 important rituals that are practiced in India.
On the Mahashivaratri day, the devotees wake up early in the morning and take a ritual sunrise bath in water and black sesame. It is believed that the sesame cleanses one’s body impurities and make them clean. They offer prayers to Sun God, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. which is practiced religiously on all important Hindu festivals. After wearing new clothes, devotees visit a nearby Shiva temple for the customary bath to the Shivalinga with the following offerings.
According to the Shiva Purana, the Maha Shivratri worship must incorporate six items which are Bael leaves, Vermilion paste (Sindoor), Food items such as rice and fruits, incense (Dhoop), Lamp (Diya), Betel leaves (Paan patta).
Ritual Bath of Shivalinga
In Shiva Temples, Shivalingam is given a special bath with milk, yoghurt, honey, sandalwood paste and rose water every tree hours which is accompanied with Puja, meditation and chanting of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ Mantra. Following the bath, all other puja items are offered to the Diety.
Holy Vrat (Shivaratri Fast)
Fasting on Mahashivaratri begins on the morning of Shivaratri, all night long and ends the next morning. Majority of the devotees observe fast largely consisting of fruits, water and milk, while others opt fasting throughout the day without a single drop of water. It is believed, if the person can complete the fast with utmost concentration and sincerity, Lord Shiva would bless him abundant prosperity and cleanse off his sins.
Unmarried women take fast for a husband like Shiva, who is considered as the ideal. Married women fast for the well-being of their husbands.
Unlike other festivals, devotees spend most of their time in temple especially at night observing all-night vigil chanting hymns and telling stories in praise of Lord Shiva. They break their fast only after the next morning pooja. The fast is broken by consuming prasad from the respective temple.
Devotees go on pilgrimage to Jyotirlinga temples on Mahashivaratri. Some of the famous Jyotirlinga temples in India are:
Somnath temple, Gujarat
Mallikarjuna (Srisailam) temple, Kurnool district, Andhra Pradesh
Mahakaleshwar temple, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh
Omkareshwar temple, Madhya Pradesh
Kedarnath temple, Uttarakhand
Bhimashankar temple, Pune, Maharashtra
Kashi Vishwanath temple, Kashi
Trimbakeshwar temple, Nashik, Maharashtra
Baidyanath temple, Jharkhand
Aundha Nagnath temple
Rameshwar temple, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu
Grishneshwar temple, Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Yoga and Dance
In Yoga, Lord Shiva is not worshipped as a God, he is considered as the first Guru or Adi Guru. Shiva is known for his meditation. After many millennia in meditation, one day he became utterly still. There was no movement, so ascetics call Maha Shivaratri as the night of stillness. Maha Shivaratri is the celebration of darkness, nothingness,and vast emptiness which is referred to as Shiva. While Yogi means who has realised the oneness of the Existence, Yoga means longing to know the oneness in the Existence.
Shiva who is also known as Nataraja, Lord of dance. Shiva’ dance is known as thandavam, which is a vigorous dance. It is the source of creation, preservation and destruction. There are seven types of thandavam and they represents his activities.
Indian dance forms are inspired by thandavam. Therefore, on Maha Shivaratri major temples conduct natyanjali that may last four to five days. The festival is dedicated to the Lord of dance. The dance would last all night on Maha Shivaratri night. A festival of contemplation
“During the Vigil Night of Shiva, Mahashivaratri,
we are brought to the moment of interval
between destruction and regeneration;
it symbolizes the night
when we must contemplate on that which
watches the growth out of the decay.
During Mahashivaratri we have to be alone
with our sword, the Shiva in us.
We have to look behind and before,
to see what evil need to eradicate from our heart,
what growth of virtue we need to encourage.
Shiva is not only outside of us but within us.
To unite ourselves with the One Self
is to recognize the Shiva in us.”
—The Theosophical Movement, Volume 72