Maha Shivaratri

Mahashiva Ratri is celebrated through out India and especially in the Uttar Pradesh.Maha Shivaratri is the "Great Night (Ratri) of Shiva",which is a festival celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day of the Hindu month of Maagha (February),as per Shalivahan or Phalguna (March),as per Vikram.Shivratri is the time period,when Lord Shiva takes rest for one 'prahar' (three hours) of the night.When Lord Shiva takes rest,,which is the time when He is engrossed in His own spiritual practice and he goes into a meditative state.

During this period, the 'Shivtatva' does not accept any 'Tamogun' (sattva, raja & tama) or any halahal (venom churned from the ocean) coming from the Universe. As a result, the ratio of halahal or the pressure of the negative energies increases.For protection from this pressure, things like 'bilva patra', white flowers, 'rudraksha' beads etc are offered to Lord Shiva,which attract the 'Shivtatva' from the atmosphere,thus providing protection from the increasing effect of the negative energies.

It is said that after the creation of the world was complete,Parvati asked Lord Shiva - which period pleases him the most.On this Lord Shiva replied that the 13th night of the new moon,during the month of Maagha,is the most pleasing day for him.Parvati spread this news all over and the day was being celebrated as Maha Shivaratri.

Shivratri is very auspicious for women.Married women pray for the well being and logetivity of their husbands and sons,while unmarried women pray for an ideal husband like Shiva,who is the spouse of Kali, Parvati and Durga.It is believed that one who chants the Shiva Mantra during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins and reaches the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and

. On this festival the devotees worship Lord Shiva by offering the leaves of Bael (Bilva)and observe a fast. 'Ganja' is traditionally used as an offering for Lord Shiva and his followers.The penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to get the salvation.Devotees drink milk mixed with Bhang and enjoy the festival with traditional songs of Shivaratri.

Rituals

Bilvarchan Offering bilvapatra to the Shivpindi and chanting the mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya' with each offering is known as bilvarchan.Continue offering the bilvapatra until the pindi is completely covered. Offer the bilvapatra from the lower part of the pindi. By starting from the feet of the idol, more benefit is derived and the idol can be covered completely

Only cold water and bel is offered to Lord Shankar's pindi.Neither is it bathed with milk and panchamrut (a mixture of milk, curds, ghee, sugar and honey) nor offered turmeric, vermilion (kumkum) or white consecrated rice (akshata).Milk and clarified butter (ghee) symbolise sustenance while turmeric is an underground stem and represents fertility of the soil, that is creation. Vermilion is prepared from turmeric. Since Lord Shiva is the deity of dissolution, substances such as milk, vermilion and turmeric are not used in His worship.

Wearing a rudraksha when worshipping Lord Shiva is ideal.The rudraksha converts light frequencies of deities from the universe into sound frequencies in the body of humans and vice versa.As a result, humans can absorb frequencies of deities and thoughts can get converted into the language of deities.

Shivji Mantra

During the 'Pradakshina' ie the circum-ambulation,one should begin from the left side and continue till the channel of the shalunka from where the water offered during the 'Abhishek' (the ritualistic bathing)flows. It should not be crossed,since it is the flow of vital energy,which gets affected if crossed.So circumambulation should be completed by moving in the reverse direction up to the other side of the channel.

Devotees circumambulate thelingam and worship it throughout the night. It is bathed every three hours with the 5 sacred offerings of a cow, called the 'panchagavya' - milk, sour milk, urine, butter and dung. Then the 5 foods of immortality - milk, clarified butter, curd, honey and sugar are placed before the lingam. Datura fruit and flower, though poisonous, are believed to be sacred to Shiva and thus offered to him.

The whole day the devotees observe severe fast,chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya", make offerings of flowers and incense to the Lord,amidst the ringing of temple bells.They are awake during the night and listen to the legends,hymns and devotional songs.The fast is broken only the next morning, after the nightlong worship.

The Legends

*As per the Puranas, during the 'Samudra Manthan' ,the mythical churning of the ocean, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean.The gods and the demons were terrified that it could finish the entire world. They all ran to Lord Shiva for his help.Lord Shiva,with the motive to protect the world,gulped the deadly poison,by holding it in his throat instead of swallowing it.Shivratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world.

* Once Lord Vishnu and Lord Bramha challengd each other over the strength and power.However, Lord Shiva challenged both of them.He appeared as a flaming Linga and challenged the duo to measure the gigantic Linga (phallic symbol of Lord Shiva).The Lord Bramha,took the form of a swan and Lord Vishnu appeared as a boar,but they were unable to measure the Shivlinga.

So Lord Shiva emerged out of the Linga and declared himself to be the most powerful in the universe.Maha Shivratri therefore means the grand night of Shiva.This legend marks the supremacy of Mahadev over other Hindu Gods.

*The King Daksha,did not allow his daughter, Sati's marriage with Lord Shiva.Later,in a 'yagnya'(holy sacrifice)organised by Daksha,Lord Shiva's presence was totally ignored which insulted Shiva in front of all the invitees.Sati was very much shaken by this insult and she jumped into the sacrificial fire and ended her life.On knowing the news of Sati,the furious Lord Shiva started to perform 'Tandav', the furious dance.

He finished king Daksha's kingdom and undertook a rigorous penance by retiring to the mount of Himalaya.All the Gods were feared that the severity of Shiva's penance might bring an end to the world and they revived Sati in her new avatar of Parvati.Shiva and Parvati got married and this reunion is celebrated on Maha Shivratri day.

*There was a hunter who did not get any animal and was very exhausted.Later, a tiger saw him and started chasing him.To rescue himself from the tiger, he climbed a tree,which was a Bilva(Bel) tree.The tiger waited down the tree for him to get down.The hunter who was quite tensed up could not sleep.He started plucking the bilva leaves and leaving down casually.

Coincidently, there was a Shiva lingam below the tree where the bilva leaves were falling the whole night .God Shiva was pleased with the tiger's Upavasa (hunger) and the Pooja of the hunter,which was done without any knowledge.The delighted God gave 'Moksha' (salvation) to the hunter and the tiger .

*The King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty,who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa,was observing a fast with his wife and the day was Maha Shivaratri.The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king and asked the king the motive of his fast.Chitrabhanu clarified to him that it was his remembering the incidents of the previous birth that he was a hunter in Varanasi with name Suswara.His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals.

One day while hunting in a forest,he was tired and overtaken by the darkness of night.He soon climbed a tree to rest,which was a Bael (bilva) tree.He had shot a deer that day but had no time to take it home.So he bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree.Due to hunger he was awake throughout the night and also felt bad for his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return.Under the circumstances,he was casually plucking the Bael leaves and dropping them down.

The next day he on return he sold the deer and bought food for his family.As he was about to eat, a stranger came there,begging for food.He served the stranger with the food and the family too had it.

When Suswara was breathing his last,he saw messengers of Lord Shiva,who had come to welcome him to the abode of Lord Shiva.He also came to know about the great merit he had unknowingly earned by the worship of Lord Shiva, during his jungle stay,on the night of Shivaratri.

The messengers told him that there was a Shiva Linga below the tree,where he was resting and the bael leaves dropped by him fell on the Lingam.Further the tears he shed for his hungry family,fell onto the Lingam and washed it.Also he had fasted the full day and night.So unknowingly he had worshipped Lord Shiva.Later,he enjoyed the divine bliss for long ages in the abode of Shiva and now he was reborn as Chitrabhanu.