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|Observed by||Hindus in general and Shaivites in particular|
|Observances||Fasting, worship of Lingam|
Maha Shivratri or Maha Sivaratri or Shivaratri or Sivaratri (Night of Shiva or "Great Night of Shiva") is a festival celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day in the Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the month of Maagha (as per Shalivahana or Gujarati Vikrama) or Phalguna (as per Vikrama) in the Hindu Calendar (that is, the night before and day of the new moon). The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael (Bilva) leaves to the Lord Shiva, all day fasting and an all night long vigil. Ganja is traditionally used as an offering for Lord Shiva and his followers.
Per scriptural and discipleship traditions, the penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach the goal more swiftly and avoid rebirth.
Samudra manthan (the Churning of the Ocean)
During the samudra manthan (the churning of the ocean) by the Gods and demons, haalaa-hala, a poison, came out of the ocean. It was so toxic, it could have wiped out the entire creation. At this juncture, on the advice of Lord Vishnu , the gods approached Lord Shiva and prayed to him to protect their lives by consuming this poison. Pleased with their prayers, and out of compassion for living beings,Lord Shiva drank the poison but it was so intense that something was required to cool its effects as his throat became blue. Help was taken from Chandra( Moon God ) and finally a snake was placed around his neck which cooled the effect of the poison and the throat became blue.Thus Lord Shiva is also known as Neelakantha.This saga of hari-dasa story between Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, is often depicted in many Hindu household.
Pralaya (the Deluge)
In another version, it is believed that the whole world was once facing destruction and the Goddess Parvati worshipped her husband Shiva to save it. She prayed for the Jivas (living souls) remaining in space – like particles of gold dust in a lump of wax – during that long period of pralaya (deluge) night, should, upon becoming active again, have his blessings, but only if they worshipped him just as she did then. Her prayer was granted. Parvati named the night for the worship of Ishwara by mortals Maha-Sivaratri, or the great night of Shiva, since Pralaya is brought about by him.
Shiva's Favourite Day
After creation was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 13th night of the new moon, during the month of Maagha, is his most favourite day. Parvati repeated these words to her friends, from whom the word spread over all creation.
The Story Of King Chitrabhanu
In the Shanti Parva (chapter) of the Mahabharata epic, Bhishma, whilst resting on the bed of arrows and discoursing on Dharma (righteousness), refers to the observance of Maha Shivaratri by King Chitrabhanu. The story goes as follows:
Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa (India), was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king.
The lord asked the king the purpose of his observing the fast. King Chitrabhanu explained that he had a gift of remembering the incidents of his past birth, and in his previous life he had been a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. The day before the new moon, while roaming through forests in search of animals, he saw a deer, but before his arrow flew he noticed the deer's family and their sadness at its impending death. So he let it live. He had still not caught anything when he was overtaken by nightfall and climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a Bael tree. His canteen leaked water, so he was both hungry and thirsty. These two torments kept him awake throughout the night, thinking of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return. To pass away the time he engaged himself in plucking the Bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.
The next day he returned home and bought some food for himself and his family. The moment he was about to break his fast a stranger came to him, begging for food. He served the food first to stranger and then had his own.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva, sent to conduct his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri. The messengers told him that there had been a Lingam (a symbol for the worship of Shiva) at the bottom of the tree. The leaves he dropped had fallen on the Lingam, in imitation of its ritual worship. The water from his leaky canteen had washed the Lingam (also a ritual action), and he had fasted all day and all night. Thus, he unconsciously had worshipped the Lord.
As the conclusion of the tale the King said that he had lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages and now he was reborn as Chitrabhanu.
Rituals of Maha Shivratri
Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of holy ash applied to the forehead by worshippers of Lord Shiva. These stripes symbolise spiritual knowledge, purity and penance (spiritual practice of Yoga), so also they represent the three eyes of Lord Shiva.
Wearing a rosary made from the rudraksha seed of the rudraksha tree, said to have sprung from the tears of Lord Shiva) when worshipping Lord Shiva is ideal. A rudraksha seed is a mahogany-like color, sometimes black, and sometimes may have traces of sacred sandalwood powder, turmeric, kumkum, or holy ash if the rosary was used in worship ceremonies or anointed.
On Shivaratri, only cold water and bael leaves are offered to the Lingam. Other traditional offerings, such as bathing it in milk and Panchamruta (a mixture of milk, curds, ghee, sugar and honey) (symbols of sustenance), or anointing it with vermilion (kumkum) or white consecrated rice (Akshata) (symbols of fertility, or creation), are done on this day, when Lord Shiva is worshipped as the deity of dissolution ..
Chanting the Rudram is considered very auspicious
Other Traditional Worship of Lord Shiva
The twelve Jyotirlingas (lingams of light) are sacred shrines of Lord Shiva, and centres for his worship. They are known as "Swayambhus", meaning the lingams sprung up by themselves at these places and temples were built there afterwards.
Temples are listed in the India tourist guides.
Mahashivaratri in Southern India
Mahashivaratri is celebrated widely in the temples all over Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Shiva is considered the Adi (first) Guru from whom the yogic tradition originates. According to tradition, the planetary positions on this night are such that there is a powerful natural upsurge of energy in the human system. It is said to be beneficial for one's physical and spiritual wellbeing to stay awake and aware throughout the night." On this day, artists from various fields such as music and dance perform the whole night.
The date for Shivaratri in 2009 is 23 February (coldest and darkest winter eve without a moon is the yearly celebration of Tamil Nadu's tradition in the West).
Thrikkuratti Mahadevar Temple  is one among 108 sivalayas built by Lord Parasurama, situated in Mannar, also known as The Bell Metal Town,a major business town mid way between Mavelikara and Tiruvalla, in Alappuzha District of Kerala state, India, on State highway 6 (kayamkulam – Thiruvalla Road). It is believed that the mammoth thrikkuratti mahadeva temple compound wall was built by Bhootangal of Lord Paramasiva in one night. The unique festivities of Thrikkuratti temple (Sahasra kalasam, Maikatti puja and Sivarathri Nritham) attracts lot of pilgrims. The antique wooden carving of Thrikkuratti mahadeva temple sricovil came to lime light recently through visual media, attracting lot of art lovers including foreginers. At a special Nada (gate) on east side of the Thrikkuratti temple compound wall, other religious members, in particular, Muslims, present offerings daily basis. This practice is believed to be centuries old and this is considered to be a true embodiment of religious harmony. The Thrikkuratti Mahasivarathri Festival, only next to Aluva sivarathri in terms of mass congregation, attracts thousands of devotees. The West Nada (Parvathi) will be open for ten minutes during Sivarathri Nritham on Sivarathri day only. All other days during the year it remains closed. The Srikovil of Thrikkuratti Mahavishnu temple is built on North Indian Architecture.
The Mahasivrathri festival at Thrikkuratti Mahadeva temple is different from other temples due to its unique festivities. Though the spectacular and colourful cultural programs are performed by renowned artists during these eleven days, the main emphasis is for Sahasrakalasabishekam, Sivarathri Nrutham and Mahasivarathri Procession.
This is a very special and rare puja conducted during 10 days of Mahasivarathri festival. It is well known that Lord Siva is abhishekapriya (lover of ablutions). Lord Parasurama and Kroshta muni, during their worship of the lord here, are believed to have bathed the deity with Sahasrakalasam or a thousand pots of holy water according to Vedic rites. Now during Mahasivarathri festival days the Head Priest (Thanthri) and his team perform this puja. It is a ten day function, each day an offering of 101 Kalasam or pots of holy water being made 100 pots of Silver and one of Gold at do centre all filled with water and surcharged with mantras recited by learned Brahmins seated on the Mukhamantapam. These are emptied on the deity, the golden pot Brahmakalasam being the last one. A magnificent light is the indication or identity of Lord Shiva and the Shiva Lingam is considered to be the symbol of it. Hence, the formal worship on Maha Shivaratri consists of bathing the Shiva Lingam. Lord Shiva is said to be burning with the fire of austerity and so only those items are offered to Him that have a cooling effect. A cool water bath is believed to propitiate him best. There is a belief among devotees that participation in Sahasrakalam and offering holy worship materials, will lead to blessings with prosperity and peaceful life. Hundreds of devotees thronging the shrine with chants of “Namasivaya”, “Hara hara mahadeva”, and “Sambho Mahadeva”.
Sivarathri Nrutham at Thrikkuratti temple, according to religious scholars, resembles with, the cosmic dance of Shiva, called ‘Anandatandava,' meaning, ‘the Dance of Bliss’ symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death. The dance is a pictorial allegory of the five principle manifestations of eternal energy - creation, destruction, preservation, salvation, and illusion.
The Priest keeps sheeveli vigraha (idol) fixed on decorated frame on his head. He makes seven rounds on pradakshina vazhi (Holi walkway made of granite around Sanctum Santorum). When fifth round reaches at west nada (Parvathi nada), the door opens for just 10 minutes. This is an annual ceremony. Thousands of Pilgims rush to have a glance of this auspicious moment. At this time all the pradakshina vazhi will be lighted with Camphor and Brass temple lamps by thousands of devotes who spent a sleepless night with chants of “Namasivaya”, “Hara Hara Mahadeva” and “Sambho Mahadeva”. Old people sing “Hara sankara siva sankara duritham kala sivane”. In this enlightened serene mood, the Priest performs Nrutham and runs along pradakshina vazhi towards east nada. Next two rounds he accepts “Valiya kanikka”. The Sivarathri Nrutham is followed by the well known magnificent display of fireworks.
Mahasivarathri Procession On Sivarathri day evening a grand procession starts from Kadapra Kainikkara Temple. It includes, several decorated floats, Kaavadi Aaatam, Mayilattom, Amman Kudom, Thaiyyam, Vela kali, Kuthiyotta chuvadu, richly caparisoned elephants and folk art forms etc attracts thousands of devotees and tourists. When the main procession reaches Market Junction, other mini processions from Kurattikkadu Mutharamman Temple, Kurattissery Kannamkavil Mutharamman Temple, Thrippavoor Mahavishnu Temple, Vishavarsherikkara Subrahmanya Swami temple and Alumoodu Sivaparvathy Temple joins and makes the procession quite enlivening. The marvellous as well as magical effect of the Sinakari melam and Panchavadyam, a combination of five percussion and wind instruments is to be felt and enjoyed. Among the varieties of festivals celebrated in Kerala, Thrikkuratti Sivarathri Procession is one of the most thunderous, spectacular and dazzling. It is an expression of popular fascination for sound and colour, and because of the pageantry, it appeals to all people including foreigners. Once the procession reaches the temple, Deeparadhana followed by colourful display of fireworks.
- Shivaratri in Assam