The Supreme Lord Shiva is venerated every year on the auspicious occasion of Mahashivratri. Literally meaning “the Great Night of Shiva”, Mahashivratri is celebrated on the new moon day (Hindu Calendar) in the month of Maagha, which falls in late winter (February, or March) and before the arrival of spring.
This year Mahashivratri will be celebrated on Friday, the 24th of February.
Mahashivratri is in fact a very solemn festival; a time for introspection and a reminder to remove the darkness and ignorance from one’s life. Lord Shiva is symbolic of self-restraint, honesty and forgiveness, and during this festival the Hindus all around the world re-establish their faith in mankind.
The Mythological Legend
While this day marks the convergence of the divine powers of Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti, when Lord Shiva accepted Goddess Parvathi, the reincarnation of Goddess Sati as his wife, there are more legends associated to this festival.
- On this day Lord Shiva, in the form of Lord Nataraja, had performed the “Tandava”, the celestial dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution.
- Once a hunter was sitting on the branch of a wood apple tree trying to attract a deer by throwing the leaves of the tree. The hunter was unaware that there was a Shiva Lingam beneath the tree and the leaves that he threw fell on it. Lord Shiva was pleased and appeared before the hunter and blessed him with wisdom.
- According to another legend, once the Earth was faced with an imminent destruction and Goddess Parvati prayed to Lord Shiva to save the world. Lord Shiva was pleased with Goddess Parvati and saved the world. He also promised that on the day of Shivratri he would bless all those who worshipped him with devotion and sincerity.
During the festival of Mahashivratri, the ardent devotees maintain abstinence and observe absolute fast. The entire day is spent in chanting prayers, practicing yoga, meditating and staying awake through the Great Night of Shiva.
- Hindu Temples all over the world are decorated.
- Devotees offer night-long prayers to the Lingam with wood apple leaves and fruits, cold water, honey and milk. It is believed that the water and the milk will keep Lord Shiva cool and calm.
- Mahashivratri celebration in Ujjain in the most popular with large processions carried throughout the city.
- It is believed that those who fast during this festival will be blessed with good fortune.
- In Bengal, girls fast on Shivratri with a wish to find a consort like Lord Shiva.
- Devotees also go on a pilgrimage to any of the 12 Jyotirlinga shrines of Lord Shiva.
The Jyotirlinga Shrines
Jyotirlinga literally means “The Radiant Sign of The Almighty Shiva” and represents the image of Lord Shiva.
According to Siva Mahapurana, once Lord Brahma (the god of creation) and Lord Vishnu (the preserver of life) had an argument over supremacy of creation. Lord Shiva intervened to settle the debate and pierced the three worlds appearing as a huge Infinite Pillar of Light. The shrines of the Jyotirlingams are where this fiery column of light cooled down to form the lingams. The Jyotirlingams have no beginning, and are endless, symbolising the infinite nature of Lord Shiva.
It is believed that there are 64 Jyotirlingams, but 12 of these are considered to be the most auspicious and holy. Each of these 12 Jyotirlingams are a manifestation of the Supreme Lord Shiva and take the name of his different manifestations. These 12 include:
- Somnath in Gujarat
- Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh
- Mahakaleswar at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh
- Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh
- Kedarnath in Uttrakhand
- Bhimashankar at Pune in Maharashtra
- Viswanath at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh
- Tryambakeshwar at Nashik in Maharashtra
- Vaijyanath Temple in Deoghar District of Jharkhand
- Aundha Nagnath at Aundha in Hingoli District in Maharashtra
- Rameshwar at Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu
- Grushneshwar at Ellora near Aurangabad, in Maharashtra.
Every festival is a celebration of life and a means to re-establish the faith not only in oneself but in mankind. May this Shivratri help us rid of our ignorance and may we be blessed with infinite wisdom. Happy Mahashivratri!