“Maha Shivaratri” is a Hindu festival dedicated to lord Shiva; a revered Hindu Deity. The followers of Shiva worship him as the supreme God. They believe that he is the creator as well as the destroyer of the universe. Many Hindu festivals are celebrated during day, but Maha Shivaratri holds an exception of being celebrated during night. It is also called the great night of Shiva.
Maha Shivaratri is celebrated in the Hindu calendar month of Magha, which is the tenth month of the year and corresponds to February/March months in Gregorian calendar.
Like other Hindu festivals, there are various historical legends related to Maha Shivaratri and all of them are related to Lord Shiva. The festival of Maha Shivaratri holds much significance for Hindus and is usually celebrated with worships, meditation and self realization rather than lively and noisy festivities, like in other festivals.
When is Maha Shivaratri 2019?
The “Maha Shivaratri” in 2019 will be observed on 4th March, Monday. The Chaturdashi Tithi will begin at 16:28 P.M. on 4/03/2019 up to 19:07 P.M. 5/03/2019.
When is Maha Shivaratri Celebrated?
“Maha Shivaratri” is celebrated in the Hindu calendar month of Magha, just before the arrival of summer. Though, every month of Hindu calendar has a Shivaratri usually falling on 13th or 14th day of the month; Maha Shivaratri is celebrated in the late winter months corresponding to February/March. According to Hindu calendar, Maha Shivaratri falls in the month of Phagun and is celebrated on the 14th moonless night before a new moon.
As per the south Indian calendar, “Maha Shivaratri” is celebrated in Krishna Paksha on Chaturdash Tithi in the month of Magha. Despite differences in nomenclature of both south and north Indian calendars, the festival of Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on the same date.
Why Do We Celebrate Maha Shivaratri?
Maha means great and Shivaratri means night of Shiva; therefore, Maha Shivaratri means “The great night of Shiva”. It is celebrated as reverence to Lord Shiva, who is believed by Hindus to be supreme God – The creator, preserver and destroyer of universe.
“Maha Shivaratri” falling on a moon less night before a new moon reflects the victory over darkness and ignorance. There are also many mythological beliefs and stories based on the night which transcend the faith of Hindus in Lord Shiva as the creator and savoir of this world; as an eternal pillar of light; as a great husband; as a warrior; as someone who helps his devotees and also someone who has the power to destroy the world, if evoked.
Therefore, Maha Shivaratri celebrates the various forms and qualities of Lord Shiva and is also observed to show respect and reverence towards him and his colossal powers of creation and destruction.
Stories/Legends of Maha Shivaratri
There are many mythological legends that have been associated to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. All of the stories reaffirm the deep rooted Hindu beliefs of Shiva being the creator and savior of the universe. Few stories project Lord Shiva as kind hearted; one who listens to prayers of his devotees while some suggest of him having the power to destroy the universe, when angered. Some of famous legends related to Maha Shivaratri and the respective revered forms of Lord Shiva are narrated below-
1) Shiva – The Savior of The World
According to a legend Maha Shivaratri is the day when Lord Shiva drank poison to save the world from its effects. Gods were churning the ocean for Amrit (Nectar), a lot of things came out of the ocean and one of them was a pot of poison.
The poison was so potent that a mere touch of the pot was enough to burn anyone. God’s feared touching the pot and requested Shiva to find a solution and save the world. Concerned by the potency of poison and conceding to the requests of other gods, Lord Shiva drank the whole poison, accumulating it all in his neck. The gods are believed to have danced all the night to keep Shiva awake.
The poison was so potent that Shiva’s neck turned blue and he got the name “Neelkantha. Thus, the day when Lord Shiva drank the poison to save the world is celebrated as Maha Shivaratri and a night long vigil is organized at the temples.
2) Shiva – The God of Fertility
After Maha Shivaratri the landscape of earth changes. Almost like a miracle the flowers start blossoming as if to announce the departure of winter and rejuvenation of earth’s fertility. According to the story, Parvathi approached Shiva whenever the world was threatened by destruction. Shiva is said to have put the condition that he will help the world only when people started worshipping him. Since then, the day is celebrated as Maha Shivaratri and is considered the harbinger of fertility. This is also the reason why Shiva Linga is worshipped as a symbol of fertility.
3) The Wedding Anniversary of Shiva-Parvathi
A popular belief is that Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on the wedding anniversary of Shiva and Parvathi. As per the legend after Shiva’s previous wife Sati died, he went into a state of mourning and deep sorrow. Meanwhile Sati was reborn as Parvathi, but Shiva refrained from interacting or even looking at her. So she went in the company of Kamadeva and the latter was killed by Shiva in anger. By the passage of time Shiva developed love for Parvathi and decided to marry her. The date for the marriage was decided to be the day before amavasya in the month of Phagun, which is celebrated as Maha Shivaratri.
4) Shiva – The infinite Pillar of Fire/Jwala
The mention of Lord Shiva as an infinite pillar of light is mentioned in Shiva Purana. According to the story once Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu were fighting over supremacy. On the behest of other Devas, to pacify the duo, Lord Shiva intervened, manifesting himself as a pillar of fire or jwala called “jyotirlinga”.
Shiva told Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma that whoever finds the end of the Jyotirlinga will be considered superior to the other. Brahma proceeded to the top while Vishnu to the bottom of the Jyotirlinga. Unable to find the end Vishnu returned and accepted his defeat. Brahma on the other hand conspired with Kataki flower to falsely testify that the former has met the latter at the top end of Jyotirlinga. Lord Shiva came know about this false activity and cursed Brahma with a spell that he will never be worshipped by humans and also praised Vishnu for his honesty and truth.
Realizing their mistake of fighting over a trivial issue both Brahma and Vishnu started worshipping Shiva, seeking for forgiveness. Pleased by their persistence Shiva declared that this day will be known as Maha Shivaratri and I will fulfill the wishes of whoever prays to me devotedly.
5) The Dance of Creation, Preservation and Destruction
On the night of Maha Shivaratri, Shiva is believed to perform Tandava nritya – a dance of creation, preservation and destruction. Shiva is also called “Nataraaj” – the supreme god of dance. The dance is performed vigorously and manifests five principles of eternal energy: Shrishti – creation or evolution; Sthiti – preservation; Samhara – destruction; Tirobhava – Illusion and Anugraha – grace.
6) Shiva – A Kind Hearted God
This story was also told by Bhisma Pitamah in Mahabharata while on death bed. It narrates the incidents that happened to a hunter, who was also an ardent devotee of lord Shiva. Once while on a hunt in deep forest, the hunter was chased by a tiger. Fearing his life the hunter climbed on a Bel tree and the tiger settled below the tree.
Incidentally there was a Shiva Lingam at the base of the tree but the hunter was unaware of it. The hunter plucked the Bel Patra (Bel leaves) the whole night and threw it below in order to stay awake and prevent a fall on ground, where the tiger was waiting. Surprisingly the bel patra fell on the Shiva Linga and this in turn pleased Lord Shiva. As a result the tiger moved away in the morning and the hunter went home.
As soon as the hunter reached his home and was about to eat a meal, a feeble and poor man presented himself at his door asking for food. Despite being hungry for the whole night, the hunter gave his food to the stranger. This act of kindness by the hunter wherein he worshiped Shiva Linga the whole night and broke his fast after feeding a poor stranger, pleased Lord Shiva. In return Shiva blessed the hunter and said that the night will be known as Maha Shivaratri and whoever worships him with true devotion will be blessed.
Rituals/Traditions and Customs of Maha Shivaratri
Maha Shivaratri is celebrated by Hindus following different cultures and traditions. Sometimes the rituals may vary depending up on the local culture and customs. Whatever the case may be, it is mainly celebrated with reverence to Lord Shiva.
Some communities or individuals on Maha Shivaratri, worship Shiva as the creator, preserver and the destroyer, while some worship him as an infinite source of light while some just celebrate it as the wedding night of their revered God.
Unlike the majority of Hindu festival, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated during night. Temples of Lord Shiva are thronged by devotees; both men and women, to make a wish to their supreme God. Temples are decorated with lights, flowers and strings of bel patra (Indian Quince leaf).
Devotees sing hymns and chants of Shiva, observing a full night vigil in temples. Lord Shiva is also known as a perfect husband; therefore, many young girls visit the temples, praying Shiva to bless them a husband like him.
There is also a custom of offering water, milk, dhatura and flowers on Shiva’s idol or Shiva Linga and taking five rounds as a token of reverence to Lord Shiva. The ritual of bathing Shiva Linga with milk is also commonly followed by the devotees.
The rituals of Maha Shivaratri along the coast of river Ganges, also involve a must bathing in the sacred water of the river. Devotees fast for 24 hours and visit temple on the day of Maha Shivaratri, before taking a dip into the sacred river.
Bathing in the Ganges on the auspicious occasion of Maha Shivaratri is believed to bring wisdom by purifying soul and mind. Vermilion paste is also applied to Shiva linga and to the foreheads of the devotees, as it is believed to represent virtue.
Rudraksha (Elaeocarpus Ganitrus) seeds are also a common sight in the decoration of the temples. The seeds are considered sacred by the Hindus and are believed to be evolved from the tears of Lord Shiva. Long strings of Rudraksha seeds could be been hanging with flower garlands and also adoring Shiva Linga and pillars of temples.
History of Maha Shivaratri
The origin of Maha Shivaratri could be traced back to the medieval period and some historians believe that the custom started in 5th century. Some medieval era Puranas – Skanda Purana, Linga Purana and Padma Purana mention Maha Shivratri as a festival of reverence to lord Shiva and Shiva Linga.
Old and Modern Customs
There have been gradual changes in the rituals or customs associated with Maha Shivaratri since the beginning of the festival in ancient days. In ancient days much emphasis was given to spiritual enlightenment through fasting, yoga and meditation, but in modern times it has mostly taken the form of festivities including chanting of mantras; decoration of temples; bathing Shiva Linga with milk and water and a night long vigil in the temples.
Mostly an affair of yogi’s and ardent devotees of Shiva, in ancient times; Maha Shivaratri now has become a major Hindu festival and also one of the most popular festivals with reverence to Lord Shiva. In ancient times only those who abstained from eating meat, consuming liquor and other infatuations were observing the festival, but in modern times even non fasting people visit in the temples and pray to lord Shiva.
Significance of Maha Shivaratri
The significance of Maha Shivaratri lies in the legends describing it. It is a festival to realize the eternal and extreme powers of Lord Shiva and to thank him for utilizing them creatively and for welfare of the world.
The festival lacks the noise and show, like many other Hindu festivals and is mainly focused at reverence of Shiva and performing yoga, meditation of self introspection in order to achieve wisdom. Therefore, Maha Shivaratri is also significant form the point of view of gaining wisdom and attaining the control of your body; transcending the superiority of soul.
Maha Shivaratri also signifies the Hindu belief about the creation of the universe and also its preservation as well as its destruction. It reiterates the old Hindu belief of Lord Shiva being the one and only Supreme God.
It is also significant for reminding us the qualities of Shiva and adopting the same in our behavior and conduct. Shiva is powerful yet humble; surrounded by ghosts and demons as disciples, yet has kept his conduct virtuous; he is a gentleman dressed like a nomad. Despite being surrounded by negative forces and followers like ghosts, demons and barbarians, the way Lord Shiva treats his wife Parvathi is commendable. All in all, Lord Shiva signifies the triumph of good over evil and teaches us to be pure even while surrounded by evil impurity.
The festival of Maha Shivratri also hold cultural significance, as it represents the culture of the community and is a manifestation of their ages old beliefs and rituals.