The Festival of Maha Shivaratri – a celebration of Shiva

Maha Shivaratri means Great night of Lord Shiva – the time most sacred to the Indian God Shiva. In 2014 it falls on Thursday 27th February.

One legend about Mahashivaratri is that it’s when Shiva danced the ‘Tandav’. Shiva Nataraja (below) is the cosmic dancer. He holds a drum in one hand calling the universe into being and a flame in the other destroying it. With his foot he crushes the dwarf of ignorance and illusion.
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Shiva is said to be the first yogi – one aspect to his character is the ascetic, deep in meditation. He sits on a tiger skin rug, holding a trident in one of his four arms and seeing everything with his third eye. Shiva wears a serpent about his throat and the new moon is in his hair.
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The river Ganges flows down from the hair of Shiva, as he sits in the high Himalayas (below left). He is often shown with Nandi the bull. Sometimes Shiva appears with wife Paravati and son Ganesha (right). Mahashivaratri is when Shiva married Paravati.
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Shiva is also represented by the Lingam – a phallic shaped rock or column. Puja (ritual worship) at the festival of Mahashivarati centres around these Shiva Lingams. In India the celebrations draw huge crowds, especially at the important Shiva temples.

Maha Shivaratri is always held at the dark of the moon, in the Hindu month of Phalguna.

Another legend about this sacred night concerns a hunter: Forced to take shelter overnight in a forest tree, he carried out all the ritual observances quite by accident, and gained great blessings from Shiva.

Mahashivatri celebrations at temple near Amritsar

Pouring milk onto a temple lingam (near Amritsar)

Important customs and observances at Mahashivaratri are:

  • Fasting
  • Chanting of mantras, such as ‘Om Namah Shivaya’
  • An all night vigil
  • Bathing the lingam in milk, water, ghee or honey.
  • Offering fruit and bilva leaves and decorating the lingam with flowers.

    puja lingam

    Puja – Bathing the Lingam

LINK: Video (Youtube 14 mins) Maha Shivaratri Festival 2013 at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

LINK: (Blog post) How to celebrate Shivaratri

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