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MAHASHIVARATRI CELEBRATIONS, CUSTOMS & TRADITIONS
– In the Morning –
The devotees of Lord Shiva wake up early in the morning to take a ceremonious bath, after which, they would wear new clothes, smear bhasm (holy ashes) on their forehead and head towards the nearest Lord Shiva temple to take part in the celebrations. On the other hand, if they are at home, they would conduct a puja in the morning, by offering Bilwa leaves, flowers and garlands to the deity and thereafter, observe a fast for the entire day. A certain diet is formulated especially for the day, which consists of fruits and beverages (including tea, milk and coffee) as the food for the day.
– Celebrations At Temple –
Lord Shiva temples are decorated beautifully with festoons, on the wonderful occasion of Mahashivaratri. Apart from the usual pujas of the temple, special pujas are conducted to make the day different from the ordinary. On the festival, as many as six types of Abhishekas can be witnessed, each using milk, ghee, sugar, honey, water and sandalwood paste. The priest would chant mantras and conduct the pooja, while the devotees would queue up to have a glimpse of the rituals performed at the altar and offer prayers to the deity. The devotees would often offer incense sticks, dhup, Bilva leaves and garlands to the temple, which are offered to the Shiva Linga.
– Celebrations In the Night –
The merrymaking reaches its peak in the night of Mahashivratri, when devotees of Lord Shiva would sing songs, bhajans, chant mantras and offer prayers to the Almighty. The devotees would continue to observe their fast. In fact, they would remain at the temple premises all through the night, to take part in the kirtans or jagrans that are arranged by the temple authorities, for the festival. The devotees are served tea occasionally, to keep them awake during the night. Either the devotees themselves would sing the bhajans or professional singers are called upon on the festival, to serve the purpose. The celebrations of Maha Shivaratri would culminate only in the dawn of the next day, when the devotees would break their fast by eating the prasad that was offered to the deity in the previous night.
– Holy Bath –
On Mahashivaratri, the devotees wake up early in the morning and take a ceremonious bath, by using black sesame seeds. It is believed that bathing purifies one’s body. Thereafter, they would offer prayers to Sun God, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, as a part of the purification rituals that is observed on all the important Hindu festivals. After wearing new washed clothes, the devotees would head towards the nearest Lord Shiva temple to worship the deity. During the festival, the temples with Lord Shiva as the deity are flocked by devotees. Special pujas are conducted on the day.
– Rituals At Shiva Temples –
Lord Shiva temples are thronged by devotees on the glorious occasion of Mahashivaratri, because it is the day to honor the deity. The traditional Shiva Linga puja is performed, while the devotees seek blessings from the God. Holy water (Gangajal) is poured over the Shiva Linga, as a part of the ritual. According to the rituals prescribed in the Shiva Purana (mythology), Shiva Linga is given a ceremonious bath with milk, yogurt, honey, sandalwood paste and rose water, every three hours on Mahashivaratri. Therefore, the priest in the temple would perform the ritual without fail. While performing the Abhisheka, bells are rung and the devotees would chant the names of Lord Shiva.
After the ritual of Abhisheka is over, kumkuma (vermilion) is applied on the Shiva Linga, to mark the culmination of the previous ritual and pave the way for the next. Traditionally, the leaves of Bilva (Aegle marmelos) are used for the performance of Shiva pooja. Therefore, a stalk of three Bilva leaves is placed on the top of the Shiva Linga. Jujube fruit is offered to the deity. Flowers and garlands can also be offered to the Linga. Many devotees offer incense sticks and fruits to the deity. Special pujas are performed in the temples, where bhajans of Maha Shivaratri are sung.
Merry making is at its peak at the night of Maha Shivaratri. Devotees awake all through the night of the festival. They spend the whole night in Shiva temples, in the worship of the God. Singing of hymns, bhajans and verses in the praise of Lord Shiva is one of the traditions of Mahashivaratri, besides the chanting of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. Special food is prepared by using fruits, root vegetables and coconuts. The devotees, who have observed the Mahashivaratri vrat, would break the fast early in the next morning by eating the prasada that was offered to Lord Shiva, in the previous night.
Significance of Pujas
– Maha Shivaratri Puja at Home –
After waking up early in the morning on Mahashivaratri, the devotees of Lord Shiva would take a ceremonious bath, using warm water and seeds of black sesame. It is a popular belief that by bathing in warm water, with few seeds of black sesame, the body is purified. After wearing new clothes, the devotees would smear bhasma (holy ash) on their forehead. One may worship Lord Shiva at home by offering Bilwa leaves to the deity and by chanting mantra – ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. Apart from Bilwa leaves, flowers and garlands can also be offered to the deity.
– Maha Shivaratri Puja In Temples –
Special pujas are performed at Lord Shiva temples on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri. In many temples the pooja is conducted strictly according to the method prescribed in Shiva Purana, according to which, Shiva Linga should be given ceremonious bath and puja should conducted every three hours on Mahashivratri. Abhisheks are done using milk, yogurt, honey, ghee, sandalwood paste and rose water. Each item is poured over the Shiva Linga, to symbolize different meanings. Milk stands for piousness, while yogurt symbolizes prosperity. Abhishek is done with honey to acquire a sweet speech, while ghee is used to represent victory. It is said that sugar symbolizes happiness and water is the symbol of purity.
After the Abhisheka are performed, the Shiva Linga is adorned with a stalk of three Bilva leaves, to mark the culmination of the previous ritual. Thereafter, kumkum (vermilion) is applied on the Shiva Linga. Apart from Bilwa leaves, one can see devotees offering beetle leaves to the deity. Jujube fruit is a favorite of the deity, and hence, it is also offered by the devotees. In the mean time, the devotees indulge in immense chanting of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. Sounds of bells add to the festive mood in the temples. The air is filled with the aroma of incense sticks and dhup.
– Puja Items –
The main items needed for Shiva Puja on Mahashivaratri include vermilion, haldi (turmeric powder), Aguru (holy perfume), Vibhuti/Bhasma (sacred ash made using dried cow dung), Rudraaksha Mala (prayer beads made of the dark berries of Elaeocarpus ganitrus, to chant Om Namah Shivaya), Akshata (uncooked rice) and a stalk of Bilva (Bael) leaves. Incense sticks, fresh flowers and camphor are other requisites for the puja. Earthen lamp and lota (container filled with holy water) is also required for the puja.
Significance of Maha Shivratri
– Importance In Dharma –
According to the Purana mythology, Lord Shiva declared that the rituals performed by his devotees on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Phalgun please him the most. Therefore, year by year, the day is observed as Mahashivratri, wherein devotees observe fast, sing songs and bhajans and offer prayers to the Almighty to seek his blessings. Pujas conducted in Lord Shiva temples during the day have significance too. This is because the rituals are conducted strictly in accordance with the method that is prescribed in Shiva Purana, a Hindu epic. According to the Purana, pujas are conducted once in every three hours, on Maha Shivaratri.
– Importance In Human Lives –
It is believed that the devotion of Lord Shiva on Mahashivaratri would freed the devotee from the past sins. Moreover, the devotee would reach the adobe of Lord Shiva and live there happily, because he/she is liberated from the cycle of birth and death, once he/she attains moksha or salvation. Therefore, all the devotees of Lord Shiva would flock the temples to offer their prayers. To serve the purpose, jujube fruits, stalks of Bilwa leaves, flowers and garlands are offered to the Shiva Linga by the devotees. If the devotee celebrates the festival at home, he/she would perform the Mahashivratri Puja by taking a holy bath (in warm water) early in the morning, wearing new clothes and then smearing bhasm (holy ash) on their forehead.
– Importance For Women –
Maha Shivaratri is especially important for women. Ladies, both married and unmarried, would perform Shiva Puja and observe fast with great devotion and sincerity. This is predominantly done to appease Lord Shiva along with his consort Goddess Parvati, who is often called Ma Gauri. It is believed that Ma Gauri bestows marital bliss on unmarried women and blesses the married women with healthy and blissful married life. Since Lord Shiva is regarded as the ideal husband by the Hindu women, the unmarried women would not miss to observe the stringent fast on Shivaratri.
Maha Shivratri Gift Ideas
– Nataraj Idol –
Nataraj Idol is one of the best gifts that one can gift to someone on the occasion of Mahashivaratri. The beautiful idol of Natraj (a form of Lord Shiva) is not only cherished by the artists but also equally regarded by any Shiva devotee.
– Shiv Lingam –
What better can you think of gifting someone other than a Shivalingam itself on the occasion of Mahashivaratri? You can buy a beautiful white marble Shivalingam and gift it to any Shiva devotee along with a Shiva chalisa.
– Calendars –
A calendar or poster of Lord Shiva is also an economic yet wonderful gift for any Shiva devotee on the occasion of Mahashivratri. It is the easiest available yet nice gift that would be cherished by a Shiva devotee.
– Dry Fruit Box –
Dry Fruit is the best gift for any festive occasion. As most of the devotees are on fast on this occasion, they preferably consume dry fruits and milk. So, a dry fruit box would be a very useful gift on the occasion of Mahashivratri
– Spiritual Tour –
If you are planning to gift your elderly parent a surprising and wonderful Mahashivaratri gifts, what could be better than a spiritual tour to Kailashnatha, Badrinatha or Amarnatha. All you need to do is simply arrange a ticket for the next visiting season.
Maha Shivratri Vrata
– Significance –
Puranic mythology suggests that the observance of vrat on Mahashivaratri helps one to attain control over the two great forces that afflict man – rajas guna (the quality of passionate activity) and tamas guna (the quality of ignorance). When the devotee observes a fast with discipline and spends the entire day at the feet of Lord Shiva, his/her mind is controlled. Moreover, evils like lust, anger and greed are subdued, thereby acquiring control over rajas guna. When he/she wakes vigil throughout the night of Maha Shivaratri, he/she develops the ability to conquer the evils of tamas guna too. Therefore, Mahashivaratri vrat is significant.
– Fasting Rules –
Traditionally, people who observe fast on Mahashivaratri would take bath early in the morning, with warm water and black sesame seeds. However, nowadays, people prefer to take a hot water shower, in the morning. By bathing, it is believed that the bodily impurities are washed away. After wearing new laundered clothes, the devotees would visit the nearest Lord Shiva temple to worship the deity. The ritual of bathing Shiva Linga with milk and honey takes place in temples of the diety, on the festival. While in the temple, the devotees would sing devotional songs and bhajans, to invoke Lord Shiva. All through the day and night during the festival, they would indulge in chanting of three words ‘Om Namah Shivaya’.
– Food For Mahashivaratri Vrata –
A diet is followed by the devotees of Lord Shiva, on Maha Shivaratri.
On the day, they would abstain from food made with rice, pulses or wheat. However, the devotees may eat fruits and drink tea, milk or coffee during the fast, if they have not observed nirahara vrata (fast without the consumption of any form of foodstuff).
In the evening, after performing puja, they would break the fast by eating rotis made of singhare ka atta (kuttu ka atta) and sabuta dana khir (dessert made of sago). Sendha namak (rock salt) is used to cook food for the fast. To offer the deity, people would prepare dishes such as potato pumpkin pancakes, lauki ka halwa (sweet dish made of bottle guard), thandai, etc.
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