Maha Shivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence to Lord Shiva.
It is also known as Padmarajarathri. Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva.
OM TAT-PURUSHAYA VIDMAHE, MAHA DEVAYA DHIMAHI, TANNO RUDRA PRACHODAYAT
Meaning: Om, I meditate on the great Purusha. O Supreme (Shiva), bestow upon me higher intellect, and let Rudra illuminate my mind. ‘Rudra’ means terror personified. It is one of the divine qualities of Shiva
Maha Shivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence to Lord Shiva. It is also known as Padmarajarathri. Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva. It is celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day of the Maagha or Phalguna month of the Hindu calendar.
The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bilva leaves to Lord Shiva, all-day fasting and an all-night-long vigil. In accordance with scriptural and discipleship traditions, penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach life’s summum bonum (the highest good) steadily and swiftly.
Hindus celebrate Maha Shivaratri, because according to Vedic Literatures ; there is a legend associated with Samudra Manthan (churning of ocean), a process in which the Asuras (demons) and the Devas joined hands to churn out amrita (divine nectar) from the depths of the ocean, using a mountain and a snake as a rope. The Devas and the Asuras (demons) counterparts were churning for nectar of immortality.
Among many things that came out, a pot of poison came out of the ocean. This poison was so potent that it has the power to destroy the whole universe. The problem that arose was that the poison could not be discarded; it had to be drunk by one of the Devas or Asuras.
No one wanted to drink the poison because they all felt that they were too valuable or sacred to drink it. Shiva, came forward in a calm disposition and said that He would drink the Halahala (poison) for “the sake of His family to sustain peace and allow them to find the nectar of immortality.” By drinking the Halahala, He eliminated its destructive capacity. Goddess Parvati caught hold of His neck and hence managed to stop it in his neck itself and prevent it from spreading all over the universe.
However the poison was so potent that it changed the colour of His neck to blue. For this reason, Lord Shiva is also called Neelkanta, The blue throated one. After drinking the poison, Shiva went to the Himalayas to meditate. The nectar of immortality was found. By drinking the poison, Shiva sacrificed Himself for the safety of His family and humanity. Shivaratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world.
THE STORY OF KING CHITRABHANU
This story is narrated in the Garuda Purana. Once there was a King called Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa (India). He was observing Maha Shivaratri with his wife. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the King. The sage asked the king the purpose of his observing the fast.
King Chitrabhanu explained that he had a gift of remembering the incidents of his past birth, and in his previous life he had been a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals.
The day before the new moon, while roaming through forests in search of animals, he saw a deer, but before his arrow flew he noticed the deer’s family and their sadness at its impending death.
So he let it live. He had still not caught anything when he was overtaken by nightfall and climbed a tree for shelter on the banks of river Kolidum when he heard the growl of a tiger. To protect himself from the beast he climbed up a tree nearby. The tiger pitched itself on the ground below the tree fostering no intention to leave.
It happened to be that the tree he climbed was a Bilva tree. His canteen leaked water, so he was both hungry and thirsty. These three torments kept him awake throughout the night, thinking of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return.
To pass away the time he engaged himself in plucking the Bilva leaves and dropping them down onto the ground. The next day he returned home and bought some food for himself and his family. The moment he was about to break his fast a stranger came to him, begging for food. He served the food first to stranger and then had his own.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva, sent to take his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by unconsciously worshipping Lord Shiva during the night of Shivratri.
The messengers told him that there had been a Lingam (a symbol for the worship of Shiva) at the bottom of the tree. The leaves he dropped had fallen on the Lingam, in imitation of its ritual worship. The water from his leaky canteen had washed the Lingam (also a ritual action), and he had fasted all day and all night.
Thus, he unconsciously had worshipped the Lord. As the conclusion of the tale the King said that he had lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for a long time before being reborn as Chitrabhanu.
RITUALS OF MAHA SHIVRATRI
From the very early morning, Shiva temples are flocked by devotees, young and old, who come to perform the traditional Shivalinga worship (puja) and hence hope for favours from the God.
They offer prayers to the sun, Narayana and Shiva. Women pray for the well-being of their husbands and children. The temple reverberates with the sound of bells and shouts of “Shankerji ki Jai” meaning ‘Hail the Great Lord Shiva’. Devotees circumambulate the Shivalinga Temple, three or seven times, and then pour water over it. Some also pour milk. According to the Shiva Purana, the Maha Shivaratri worship must incorporate six items:
Bathing the Shivalinga with water, milk and honey, ghee, thill oil, milk curd, or bilva leaves added to it, represents purification of the soul. The sandalwood paste applied on the Shivalinga after bathing it, represents virtue.
Offering of fruits, which are conducive to longevity and gratification of desires and wealth; Burning incense, represents yielding of negative vibration; The lighting of a ghee lamp which is conducive to the attainment of knowledge.
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), they also 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.