As the name indicates this festival is celebrated in honor of Lord Shiva, the third God of the Hindu Trinity.
WHEN IS MAHASHIVARATRI CELEBRATED ?
Every month in Hindu calendar has listed the thirteenth day of the darker half of the month as Shivaratri i.e. ‘Shiva’s great night’. Shivaratri falls on the krishna paksha, in the month of Magha and is celebrated all over the country as ‘Mahashivaratri’. It is believed that on this night Shivji performed the Tandava or the prehistoric creation, preservation and destruction dance.
HOW IS MAHASHIVARATRI CELEBRATED ?
Devotees of Shiva fast during the day and maintain a long vigil during the night. In temples all across the country, bells ring, sacred texts like “Om Namah Shivaya!” are chanted all night and traditional offerings of leaves and milk are made to the Shiv lingam, the phallic symbol of the god.
On the day of Shivratri, the lingam is bathed with the five sacred offerings of a cow, called the panchagavya – milk, sour milk, urine, butter and dung. Thereafter the five foods of immortality – milk, clarified butter, curd, honey and sugar – are placed before the lingam. Dhatura and jati, though poisonous fruits, are believed to be sacred to Shiva and thus offered at his temple.
Special celebrations are held at all important Shiva temples. In Kashmir, the festival is held for 15 days; the thirteenth day is observed as “Herath”, a day of fast followed by a family feast.
Married women and unmarried girls perform puja and keep fast with great faith, zeal and feeling. Maa Parvati is considered as ‘Gaura’ the giver of ‘Suhag’ – married women worship her for blissful long and prosperous married life. The unmarried girls pray to ‘Guara’ to give them handsome husbands with wealth, knowledge and talent.
WHY IS MAHASHIVARATRI CELEBRATED ?
Mahashivratri Legend 1- Story of Lubdhaka
There was once a hunter by the name of Lubdhaka. He made his living by hunting wild animals and selling the flesh to the villagers. But once he could not pay off his debt to the creditor and he accumulated huge debts. His creditor went to the court and had him arrested and confined to the prison for non-payment of his debts. It so happened that his prison cell was near a Shiva temple of that village. All day long he heard the devotees come into the temple and worship the deity and chant the Lord’s name. Not being particularly religious he was unaware of the deity’s existence.
Out of sheer boredom he too started chanting Shiva’s name after the devotees, almost mocking them. By the evening he was released from prison by the kind courtesy of a wealthy man who had paid off his debt. Just by repeating the Lord’s name he had earned for himself his release. Later that night he went to hunt as usual and hid himself on a tree which was a Bel tree. Under the tree unknown to him was a Shiva Linga. While making a place for himself to sit on the tree the Bel leaves fell on the Linga. Now the Bel leaves are extremely sacred to Shiva and its offering is very pleasant to the deity.
Waiting for the prey to arrive he kept awake all night vigil. Around midnight, a doe, young and in labor came to the tree. The hunter took aim but the doe pleaded for her life and promised to return to him after delivering her young one. Lubdhaka took pity on her and let her go.
Next came another doe seeking her mate. The hunter once again took aim but again the doe asked to be spared and the man against his will had to let her go. This doe too promised to return in the morning. Then came along a black buck looking for his mate, but he too was spared after it promised to return.
Unknowingly, the hunter had observed the fast of Shivaratri. He was rewarded by being made a saint. Lord Shiva himself escorted him to heaven.
Legend 2 describes Mahashivratri as – The Wedding night of Lord Shiva.
Shiva’s (the third deity of the Hindu trinity) first wife was Sati, who killed herself by jumping into a sacred fire, when her family had insulted Shiva. Shiva was devastated and angered at her death, and began to dance violently performing TANDAAV. His dance terrified the Gods, for the earth began to shake and terrified all creation.
During this time Shiva was known as Rudra, the roaring. His body covered with ash, his hair long and matted he went to the Himalayas to become an ascetic.The Gods were worried by his deep penance and decided that the only way to draw Shiva out of his meditation and into creation, was by bringing Sati back to life. Sati was born as Parvati and was a devotee of Lord Shiva. With Kamdev’s help (the God of love) Parvati, transformed Rudra to Shiva and they lived as a blissful couple, united in the creation of the world.
Legend 3 – According to ancient scriptures : Who is Supreme?
Shiva manifests himself in the form of a huge flaming lingam known as Jyotirlinga on Shivratri. It is the duty of every worshiper to worship this lingam with at least one bel leaf. There is a Shiv Ling legend behind Shiva’s phallic form. It is believed that once Brahma and Vishnu, the two pillars of the holy Trinity were having an argument as to who was supreme. Brahma declared himself to be the Creator of all and thus more respectful.
Vishnu claimed that since he was the Creator and the Destroyer, he commanded more respect. At that moment a huge lingam ablaze with flames appeared from nowhere. Both the gods were so overwhelmed by its constantly increasing size, that they forgot their quarrel and decided to determine its size.
Vishnu took the form of a boar and went to the netherworld while Brahma in the form of a swan ascended to the skies. Neither could ascertain the size. Just then, Shiva appeared out of the lingam and proclaimed that he was the progenitor of both of them. He was the Creator, Preserver and the Destroyer. He demanded that thereafter he be worshiped in his phallic form, the lingam.
Legend 4 – SAMUDRA MANTHAN
Mahashivratri is also linked to the day when Shivji drank poison as a result of Samudra Manthan.
RECIPES OF MAHASHIVRATRI
KAJU KATLI– This fasting season enjoy nutty sweet delicacy-Kaju Katli also known as Kaju ki burfi. Kaju in hindi means cashews and katli means “slice”.
SABUDANA KHICHDI –Sabudana khichdi or spicy tapioca salad recipe is a popular vrat/fasting food. Soaked Sago pearls or tapioca is sauteed with bite size potatoes, peanuts and mild spices.
MILK PEDA – Milk peda also referred to as doodh peda is traditionally made with mawa and flavored with cardamoms and nuts.