Maha Shivaratri Festival or the ‘The Night of Shiva’ is celebrated with devotion and religious fervour in honour of Lord Shiva, one of the deities of Hindu Trinity. Shivaratri falls on the moonless 14th night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun, which corresponds to the month of February - March in English Calendar.
Celebrations of Shivaratri began with the break of the dawn on the Shivaratri day and continue all through the night. Devotees observe fast and spend the day in devotion and worship of Lord Shiva. Many worshippers also participate in the jaagran or the night vigil organized in various Shiva temples across the country. Devotees believe that sincere observance of Shivaratri puja and all night worship of Lord Shiva will absolve them of all their sins and liberate them from the cycle of birth and death.
There are various interesting legends related to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. According to one of the most popular legends…
Lord Shiva began to live on top of the mount Kailash with his consort Parvati. One day, Goddess Parvati asked Shiva that his devotees perform many rituals to please the Lord, but which one pleases him most. To this, Lord Shiva replied that the 14th night of the new moon, during the month of Phalgun is his favourite day. The day is celebrated as Shivaratri. On this day, devotees observe strict spiritual discipline and worship Shiva in four different forms during each of the four successive three-hour periods of the night. Lord further said that the devotees offer him bel leaves on the day and that those leaves were precious to him than the precious jewels and flowers. Explaining the right way of worshipping to Shiva, the Lord said, devotees should bathe me in the milk during the first period, in curd at the second, in clarified butter in the third and in honey in the fourth and the last period. Lord Shiva further added that next morning devotees must feed the Brahmins first and, only after following the prescribed ritual must he break the fast. Shiva further told Parvati that rituals of Shivaratri could not be compared with any other.
Goddess Parvati became deeply impressed with Lord Shiva’s speech and she narrated it to her friends. Through them the word spread all over the creation. Hence, Shiva devotees began to celebrate Shivaratri by fasting and by performing the ceremonial baths and making an offering of bel leaves.
Following the rituals prescribed in the Shiva Purana, every three hours, Shivalingam is given a special bath with milk, yoghurt, honey, sandalwood paste and rose water. Puja, meditation and chanting of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ accompany the ritual bath. Following the bath, vermilion paste is applied on the linga. Traditionally, leaves of a forest tree Aegle marmelos (bilwa, maredu, wood apple) are used for Shiva puja. Thereafter, Bilwa leaves, which have to be a stalk with three leaves, is kept on top of the Shivalinga. Ber or jujube fruit is a special offering to the god on this day. Beetle leaves are also offered by some. Some also offer bilwa leaves in the belief that the Goddess Lakshmi resides in them. Others believe it is offered for its cooling effects on the hot-tempered deity. Many devotees also decorate the linga with flowers and garlands and offer incense sticks and fruit.
Significance of Puja Items:
According to the Shiva Purana, there is a special significance of the six essential puja items used in the Shiva worship.
· Bathing of Shivalinga with water, milk and honey and wood apple or bel leaves added to it, represents purification of the soul.
· The vermilion paste applied on the linga after the ritual bath represents virtue.
· Offering of fruits symbolizes longevity and gratification of desires.
· Burning of incense sticks yields wealth.
· The lighting of the lamp symbolizes attainment of knowledge.
· Offering of betel leaves marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
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