Maha Shivratri – The Night of Lord Shiva
The one festival that is closely associated with Lord Shiva is Maha Shivratri which means ‘the grand night of Lord Shiva’. It is considered the most auspicious day to worship Lord Shiva. The festival of Maha Shivratri usually falls on the moonless (amavasya) 14th night of the new moon in the month of Phalgun of the Hindu calendar (the month of March). Although this year the festival is on February 27th. All through the month, devotees flock to Shiva temples to offer their atonements and seek Lord Shiva’s blessings.
Devotees observe a day and night fast and worship Lord Shiva to seek his blessings on this particular day. It is believed that by keeping a fast and praying with dedication on this day would liberate the person from the cycle of birth and death.
Traditions and Customs of Maha Shivratri
There are many traditions that devotees follow to perform the worship of Lord Shiva. The most common is observing a strict day and night fast. While some people consume only fruits and milk others don’t even consume a drop of water till their fast is over. By successfully observing the fast Lord Shiva blesses his followers with a long life and liberates them from all their sins. Devotees get up early in the morning, take a bath (preferably with Ganga jal) and go to the temple.
The usual offerings that devotees give in the temple are –
- Panchamrit (milk, water, Ganga jal, sugar/honey and Saffron) in a bronze container
- White flowers (as Lord Shiva likes white flowers)
- Bel leaves
- Bel fruit
- Sandalwood paste
- Ber fruit
- Incense sticks
(The significance of all the items is explained below.)
The first and foremost thing is to pour the Panchamrit on the Shivling followed by pouring some water. Next, all the fruits and flowers are offered to the Lord. After applying the sandalwood paste tilak on the idols, the incense sticks are lighted and the puja is performed.
The Maha Shivratri puja continues all through the day and night. In many Shiva temples jaagrans also happen wherein a large number of devotees spend the night singing devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. The following morning devotees break their fast by taking prasad offered to the deity.
Significance of Puja items –
The significance of the 6 puja items used on Maha Shivratri, according to the Shiva Purana (the holy book of chants and mantras of Lord Shiva) are –
- Bathing the Shivling with Panchamrit represents purification of soul.
- The sandalwood paste that is applied on the Shivling after bathing corresponds to virtue.
- Offerings in the form of fruits and flowers symbolize longevity and gratification of desires.
- Burning of incense sticks yields wealth.
- The lighting of the lamp symbolizes attainment of knowledge.
- Offering of betel leaves marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
Tradition of Thandai:
The festival of Maha Shivratri is considered incomplete without Thandai. Lord Shiva who is known as an ascetic god is hugely popular with the ascetics or the babas. Thandai has become an inseparable part of the festival. The drink is made by mixing bhang (cannabis) and almonds in milk. The evergreen bhang was greatly relished by Lord Shiva, thus, it became an integral part of the celebrations.
By performing the puja with pure devotion and dedication the devotees reap fruitful benefits.
Om Namah Shivaya!!!