Maha Shivaratri Festival – History, Significance, and Celebrations

As the long and cold winter is coming to an end, religious Hindu people from around the world are getting ready to welcome the spring with Mahadeva. Mahadeva or Shiva, the destroyer, is one the deity among the Hindu trinity which consists of Brahma and Vishnu, widely recognized as the Trimurti.

Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri symbolizes the great night of the auspicious Lord Shiva. Maha Shivaratri is celebrated as a marked festival of the Hindu calendar. It is celebrated on the 13th night/14th day as the Phalguna or spring season approaches in February or March.

History of Maha Shivaratri

Many medieval Shaiva textbooks like Skanda Purana, Linga Purana, and Padma Purana mention distinguished versions of Maha Shivaratri. The Puranas also state different rituals associated with the festival like fasting. There are many legends linked with this festival that describe its significance. The Shavities which follow Shaivism describe it as the night when Mahadeva dances in heaven. This dance reflects the creation, destruction, and preservation of the world. Based on this legend people pay their reverence to Shiva by chanting hymns and joining the heavenly cosmic dance of Shiva. Another legend describes Maha Shivaratri as the night when Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati got married. This is why Hindu women fast and pray for the healthy being of their husbands. Some legends also consider that offering respect to Shiva or Linga (Shiva icon) can help people in getting past their sins and start new paths with new virtues and liberations.

Significance of Maha Shivaratri

According to Hindu Mythology, Maha Shivaratri has been granted huge significance. Millions of devotees pay sincere respect and show their utmost affection towards Lord Shiva.

Devotees of Mahadeva believe that worshipping Lord Shiva on this auspicious 14th day of Phalguna pardons them of their sins and lead them towards a path to attain ‘moksha’ i.e., freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth. It is also believed that worshipping Lord Shiva on the 14th day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna pleases Lord Shiva the most.

Also this fact, according to sacred scriptures was proclaimed by Lord Shiva himself when Goddess Parvati questioned him about what rituals carried out by his devotees pleases him the most.

Even in this new era people completely devote themselves towards worshipping, fasting for the whole day and night and bathing Shiva Linga with milk, water or honey, and such is the magic of Shiva.

Maha Shivaratri also has tremendous significance for women. Women, both married and unmarried indulge themselves in fasting and pleasing Goddess Parvati by performing Shiva Puja. Goddess Parvati, also known as Gaura, lavishes women with a long and happy married life.

The unmarried women pray so that they may get an ideal future spouse like Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva also grants good health and well being to their partners.

Celebrations

As part of a purificatory rite, it is important for all the devotees to take bath at sunrise, preferably in the Ganga, or any other holy water source and offer prayers to the sun, Vishnu and Shiva. After the bath, the devotees wear a clean piece of clothing and carry pots of water to the temple to bath the Shiva Linga. There the Shiva Linga is decorated with flowers and garlands and also offered incense sticks and anointed with sandalwood paste, vermilion, etc.

It’s a belief that Lord Shiva is very hot-tempered and so various things like, wood apple or bel leaves and fruit, milk, sandalwood, and jujube fruit or ber, which have a cooling effect are offered to the Linga.

On Maha Shivaratri Festival use of these things in the process of worshipping Lord Shiva is important as each of them has its own significance.

After bathing the linga, the vermilion paste that is applied represents virtue; the fruits offered to relate to longevity and gratification of desires; betel leaves marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures; lighting of the lamp is considered helpful to attaining knowledge and yielding wealth is represented by burning of incense.

Whether a simple ceremony at home or worshippers worshiping in a grand temple, these six items, till today, form an indispensable part of Maha Shivaratri.

According to one myth, Parvati performed tapas and prayed and Parvati meditated on this day to ward off any evil that may befall her husband on a moonless night. Since then, Maha Shivaratri is also believed to be an auspicious occasion for women to pray for the well-being of their husbands and sons.

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