Mahashivratri is an Indian festival celebrated in admiration and respect of Lord Shiva. It is popularly known as the day when Shiva got married to Goddess Parvati. There are twelve Shivaratri in a year but Mahashivratri is the most prestigious and holy.
Mahashivratri is one of the most popular Hindu festival. Most of the Hindus keep fast on this day and almost everyone visits a temple to offer prayers. The sacred mantra of Shiva- ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ is chanted throughout the day and the devotees usually start their day by bathing in the Ganga or any other holy water source if possible.
The holy book, Shiv Purana includes a list of items that should be offered while worshipping Shiva and these items are:
- Betel leaves
- Incense stick
- Bel leaves
- Ber or jujube fruit
- Ash powder
- Sandalwood powder
Four statues of Lord Ganesha (son of Lord Shiva), Goddess Gauri (Parvati), Lord Kartikeya (another son of Lord Shiva) and Ox Nandi (ride of Lord Shiva) surround the Shivling. A metal snake is also wrapped around the Shivling. Whatever is offered to Lord Shiva is first offered to Lord Ganesha, Goddess Gauri, Lord Kartikeya, Ox Nandi and the Naag Devta (the snake) and then offered at the Shivling.
The puja ritual generally goes with the following offerings in a sequence:
- Sandal powder
- Gauri & Lord Shiva tied together with a sacred red thread (Mauli)
- Bel, Patra, Datura, Flowers, Ber
- Lighting of Diya
Different items used during Puja signify different meanings: Milk and water represent purity and piousness, Honey signifies sweet speech, Sugar symbolize happiness, Ghee (clarified butter) is for victory and lighting lamps signifies attainment of knowledge. Bindi, Sindoor and Bangles are offered to Goddess Gauri to seek her blessings for a long and happy married life.
Special puja is performed at night in the temples. There are four Prahars of night that usually last over the following period and Rudrabhishek (Rudra (Lord Shiva) + Abhishek (Puja) is performed with a special item during each of the Prahars. Other items like water, curd, etc. remain common for use in Puja.
– Ratri First Prahar Puja Time = 6:30pm to 09:30pm – Abhishek with Milk
– Ratri Second Prahar Puja Time = 09:30pm to 12:35am – Abhishek with Mustard Oil
– Ratri Third Prahar Puja Time = 12:35am to 03:40am – Abhishek with Sugarcane Syrup
– Ratri Fourth Prahar Puja Time = 03:40 am to 06:40am – Abhishek with Kusha (Grass) water
It is a common belief that by offering the aforementioned items, lighting the diya and ringing the temple bells, the devotees or worshippers unite their senses and are acquainted with self as well as the universe. Some people, especially Hindu ascetics popularly known as Sadhus drink Thandai (drink made of cannabis and milk) and smoke marijuana on this occasion as they believe that Lord Shiva is fond of it. Mahashivratri is celebrated in different parts of the country in different ways, from Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa to West Bengal. Though the ways to conduct Puja may differ, but the feeling of devotion to Lord Shiva remains common in all of them. It is also celebrated by people in Mauritius and Nepal.
At some of the temples, wedding processions are taken out with Lord Shiva statue dressed as Groom and taken to the temple of Goddess Gauri who is dressed as the Bride. Special food is prepared and served to the people being guests attending the wedding.
Devotees worship Lord Shiva in the hope of salvation. It is believed that by worshiping Lord Shiva on this auspicious day, a person is acquitted of all past sins.
May Lord Shiva bless us all.