Shivarathri – The Festival of Lord Shiva
Importance of Mahashivarathri festival
Shivarathri is a Sanskrit phrase that can be literally translated as ‘The night of Shiva’. Shiva is one of the Hindu trinity which comprises Lord Brahma (creator), Lord Vishnu (preserver) and Lord Shiva (destroyer and reproducer of life).
"Maha-Shivarathri" another name of the Shivarathri, is a Hindu festival that is celebrated throughout the country and it occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of Phalguna( a month of the Hindu calendar) when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction. Shiva is known by a number of names such as “Shankar”, “Mahesh”, “Neelkanth”, “Natraj” etc.
This day is determined according to the Vedic calendar system, and generally falls in the month of February or March. It is said to be the night when the Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Nritya or the cosmic dance. The festival is celebrated for one day and one night only. Though generally, the night time is considered sacred and suitable for the worship of the feminine aspect of' the deity, on this particular occasion Siva is worshipped during the night time. The observance of ‘Vratha’ (fasting along with prayers) is believed to free the devotees from their sins. People keep awake during the four ‘yamas’ of the night and worship Lord Shiva.
Reasons for Observing Shivarathri
There are a number of reasons associated with the observance of Shivarathri. Some of them are mentioned below.
- Lord Shiva becoming Nilkanthan: According to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. It could destroy the entire world. To avoid this, Lord Shiva drank the deadly poison. But he held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as Nilkantha, the blue throated one. Shivarathri celebrates this event by which Lord Shiva saved the world.
- The night worshipped by Parvathi: Once, the whole world was under destruction. At that time Goddess Parvathi worshipped her husband Lord Shiva and prayed to him that the living souls remaining in space like particles of gold dust in a lump of wax during that long period of pralaya night, should, when they became active once again and are in the enjoyment of their short day and night, have his blessings if they but worshipped him just as she did then, and her prayer was accordingly granted. This particular night fixed by Parvathi for worshipping Lord Shiva, was named as Maha Shivarathri.
- Wedding day: This day is also considered as the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvathi. It is also believed that the effulgent Shiva Lingams appeared on the earth in the form of Jyothir Lingam this day.
A Myth Emphasizing the Importance of Shivarathri Worship
Once, a hunter went to a forest to procure meat for his family. But unfortunately he couldn’t find any thing and during the night time he remained on top of a bael tree, as he was attacked by a wild animal. The animal was lying down under the tree expecting the man to come down any time. The hunter threw a hand full of bael leaves down so that it would scare the animal. But these leaves fell on top of a Siva-Lingam that was near. It was the Shivarathri day and though his actions were not intentional to worship Siva, yet he is said to have gained heaven as he had observed the Shivarathri – Vratha. The hunter’s fasting during the day as he didn’t find anything to eat, the leaves dripped with water on account of the recent shower all contributed to his worship.
Shivarathri Celebrations in Different places
The month of Kumbham is noted for Shivarathri festival in Kerala. Lots of people attend the Siva temple at Aluva on the sand bank of River Periyar for celebrating Shivarathri. Here the idol of Shiva rises out of the sand on the bank of the river. Siva Tharpanam is done here by people from many parts of Kerala and outside
In Andhra Pradesh, pilgrims throng the Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam.
In Himachal Pradesh the International Mandi Shivarathri fair is held every year to celebrate this special day.
Maha Shivratri Dance
Festivities Connected with Shivarathri
The devotees of Shiva stay awake throughout the night and pray. Shiva temples are flocked by devotees from the very early morning. Devotees perform the traditional Shivalinga worship and hope for favours from God. They break their fast only the next morning after the night long worship. Some devotees don’t even drink a drop of water throughout the night and worship the Shiva lingam with milk, curd, honey etc. Bael leaves are offered to the lingam and considered sacred as Goddess Lakshmi is believed to reside on them. Many hymns are sung in praise of Lord Shiva with great devotion. The Panchakshara Mantra, "Om Namah Shivaya", is repeated by devotees during this occasion, as who utters it with perfect devotion and concentration, is believed to be freed from all sins. There are hundreds of temples and shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and during Shivarathri pilgrims dock to these places.
The basic message that Shivarathri renders is that there is an opposite side to every thing. I.e., there would be a sad time following a good one, just like night is followed by a day. In the same manner we should always remember the fact that death is sure to follow birth and try to lead a good life. So we should never be elated at success nor should we allow ourselves to be carried away by despair at failures but have trust in God and worship him always!
Which reason did you find the most interesting in connection with the observance of Maha Shivarathri festival?
- Lord Shiva becoming Nilkanthan
- The night worshipped by Parvathi
- Wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvathi
Please try to share any other reasons behind the celebration of Shivarathri.