Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Maha Shivaratri



Source adapted from Various Internet Resources
Image from Google

Maha Shivaratri is celebrated throughout the country; it is particularly popular in Uttar Pradesh. Maha Shivratri falls on the 14th day of the dark half of 'Margasirsa' (February-March). In 2011,the date is on March 2.The name means "the night of Shiva". The ceremonies take place chiefly at night. This is a festival observed in honour of Lord Shiva and it is believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvati.

On this festival people worship 'Shiva - the Destroyer'. This night marks the night when Lord Shiva danced the 'Tandav'. In Andhra Pradesh, pilgrims throng the Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam.

About The Lord

Shiva - the word meaning auspicious - is one of the Hindu Trinity, comprising of Lord Brahma, the creator, Lord Vishnu, the preserver and Lord Shiva or Mahesh, the Destroyer and Re-Producer of life. Shiva is known by many names like "Shankar", "Mahesh", "Bholenath", "Neelakanth", "Shambhu Kailasheshwar", "Umanath", "Nataraj" and others.

For few people, Shiva is "Paramatman", "Brahman", the Absolute, but many more prefer to see Shiva as a personal God given to compassion for his worshippers, and the dispenser of both spiritual and material blessings. Related to the Absolute concept is Shiva as "Yoganath" meaning the Lord of Yoga, wherein he becomes teacher, path and goal. As such he is the "Adi Guru" or the Highest Guru of 'Sannyasins' who have renounced the world to attain the Absolute.

He is the most sought-after deity amongst the Hindus and they pray to him as the god of immense large-heartedness who they believe grants all their wishes. Around him are weaved many interesting stories that reveal His magnanimous heart. Not only this, but these stories and legends also enrich the Indian culture and art.

Time is invisible and formless. Therefore Mahakal Shiva, as per the Vedas, manifested himself as "LINGUM" to make mankind aware of the presence of Eternal Time. That day when Shiva manifested himself in the form of "Lingum" was the fourth day of the dark night in the month of 'Magha' i.e. February-March. Maha Shivratri continues to be celebrated forever and ever.

The Story Of King Chitrabhanu

In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma, whilst resting on the bed of arrows and discoursing on Dharma, 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, 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 sage asked the king the purpose of his observing the fast. King Chitrabhanu explained that he had the gift of remembering the incidents of his previous birth.

The king said to the sage that in his previous he was a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. One day while roaming through forests in search of animals he was overtaken by the darkness of night. Unable to return home, he climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a Bael 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. As hunger and thirst tormented him, he was kept awake throughout the night. He shed profuse tears when he thought of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return. To pass away the time that night he engaged himself in plucking the Bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.

The next day he returned home and sold the deer and then 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. They were sent down 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 the unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri. The messengers told him that there was a Lingam at the bottom of the tree. The leaves I dropped fell on the Lingam. His tears, which had shed out of pure sorrow for his family, fell onto the Lingam and washed it and he had fasted all day and all night. Thus, he unconsciously worshiped the Lord.

As the conclusion of the tale the King said that he lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages and now he has reborn as Chitrabhanu.

Legends of Mahashivaratri

There are various interesting legends related to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. According to one of the most popular legends, Shivaratri marks the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Some believe that it was on the auspicious night of Shivaratri that Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction. Another popular Shivratri legend stated in Linga Purana states that it was on Shivaratri that Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga. Hence the day is considered to be extremely auspicious by Shiva devotees and they celebrate it as Mahashivaratri - the grand night of Shiva.

Legend of Shiva Linga

The legend of Shiva Linga or Lingodbhavamurthy is deeply related to Mahashivaratri. The legend narrates the story of vain search by Brahma and Vishnu to discover the Aadi (beginning) and the Antha (end) of Lord Shiva. The legend thus proves the supremacy of Lord Mahadeva over other Hindu Gods and explains why the lingam is believed to be one of the most potent emblems in Hindu ideals. The story is stated in the three of the puranas - the Kurma Purana, the Vayu Purana and Shiva Purana

The Legend

According to Puranas, once the other two of the triads of Hindu Gods, Brahma and Vishnu were fighting over each other’s prowess. Horrified at the intensity of the battle, the other gods asked Shiva to intervene. To make them realize the futility of their fight, Lord Shiva assumed the form of a flaming Linga in between Brahma and Vishnu and challenged both of them by asking them to measure the gigantic Linga (phallic symbol of Lord Shiva).

Awestruck by its magnitude, Brahma and Vishnu decided to find one end each to establish supremacy over the other. Lord Brahma took the form of a swan and went upwards while Lord Vishnu assumed the form of Varaha - a boar and went into the earth towards nether land. Both searched for thousands of miles but neither could find the end.

On his journey upward, Brahma came across Ketaki flower. Exhausted and bewildered with his search to find the uppermost limit of fiery column, Brahma made Ketaki assent to lie that he had seen the top of the column where the flower had previously resided. Accompanied by his accomplice, Brahma confronted Vishnu and asserted that he had indeed discovered the origin of the cosmic column.

At this point, the central part of the pillar split open and Shiva revealed himself in his full glory. Overawed, both Brahma and Vishnu bowed before him accepted lord Shiva’s supremacy. Lord Shiva also explained to Brahma and Vishnu that both of them were born out of him and that the three were then separated out into three different aspects of divinity.

However, Lord Shiva was angry with Brahma for making a false claim. The Lord cursed Brahma that no one would ever pray to him. (This legend explains why there is hardly any Brahma temple of significance in India.) Lord Shiva also punished the Ketaki flower for testifying falsely and banned her from being used as an offering for any worship.

Since it was on the 14th day in the dark fortnight of the month of Phalguna that Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a Linga, the day is extremely auspicious and is celebrated as Mahashivaratri - the grand night of Shiva. To celebrate the occasion, devotees of Lord Shiva fast during the day and pray to the Lord throughout the night. It is said that worshipping of Lord Shiva on Shivaratri bestows one with happiness and prosperity.

Marriage of Shiva and Shakti

The legend of marriage of Shiva and Shakti is one the most important legends related to the festival of Mahashivaratri. The story tells us how Lord Shiva got married a second time to Shakti, his divine consort. According to legend of Shiva and Shakti, the day Lord Shiva got married to Parvati is celebrated as Shivaratri - the Night of Lord Shiva.

The Legend

Legend goes that once Lord Shiva and his wife Sati or Shakti were returning from sage Agastya’s ashram after listening to Ram Katha or story of Ram. On their way through a forest, Shiva saw Lord Rama searching for his wife Sita who had been kidnapped by Ravana, the King of Lanka. Lord Shiva bowed his head in reverence to Lord Rama. Sati was surprised by Lord Shiva’s behavior and inquired why he was paying obeisance to a mere mortal. Shiva informed Sati that Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Sati, however, was not satisfied with the reply and Lord asked her to go and verify the truth for herself.

Using her power to change forms, Sati took the form of Sita appeared before Rama. Lord Rama immediately recognized the true identity of the Goddess and asked, "Devi, why are you alone, where's Shiva?" At this, Sati realized the truth about Lord Ram. But, Sita was like a mother to Lord Shiva and since Sati took the form of Sita her status had changed. From that time, Shiva detached himself from her as a wife. Sati was sad with the change of attitude of Lord Shiva but she stayed on at Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva.

Later, Sati’s father Daksha organised a yagna, but did not invite Sati or Shiva as he had an altercation with Shiva in the court of Brahma. But, Sati who wanted to attend the Yagna, went even though Lord Shiva did not appreciate the idea. To hre great anguish, Daksha ignored her presence and did not even offer Prasad for Shiva. Sati felt humiliated and was struck with profound grief. She jumped into the yagna fire and immolated herself.

Lord Shiva became extremely furious when he heard the news of Sati’s immolation. Carrying the body of Sati, Shiva began to perform Rudra Tandava or the dance of destruction and wiped out the kingdom of Daksha. Everybody was terrified as Shiva’s Tandava had the power to destroy the entire universe. In order to calm Lord Shiva, Vishnu severed Sati's body into 12 pieces and threw them on earth. It is said that wherever the pieces of Shakti’s body fell, there emerged a Shakti Peetha, including the Kamaroopa Kamakhya in Assam and the Vindhyavasini in UP.

Lord Siva was now alone undertook rigorous penance and retired to the Himalayas. Sati took a re-birth as Parvati in the family of God Himalaya. She performed penance to break Shiva’s meditation and win his attention. It is said that Parvati, who found it hard to break Shiva’s meditation seeked help of Kamadeva - the God of Love and Passion. Kaamadeva asked Parvati to dance in front of Shiva. When Parvati danced, Kaamadeva shot his arrow of passion at Shiva breaking his penance. Shiva became extremely infuriated and opening his third eye that reduced Kaamadeva to ashes. It was only after Kamadeva’s wife Rati’s pleading that Lord Shiva agreed to revive Kaamadeva.

Later, Parvati undertook severe penance to win over Shiva. Through her devotion and persuasion by sages devas, Parvati, also known as Uma, was finally able to lure Shiva into marriage and away from asceticism. Their marriage was solemnized a day before Amavasya in the month of Phalgun. This day of union of God Shiva and Parvati is celebrated as Mahashivratri every year.

Another Version of the Legend

According to another version of the legend, Goddess Parvati performed tapas and prayers on the auspicious moonless night of Shivaratri to ward off any evil that may befall her husband. Since then, womenfolk began the custom of praying for the well being of their husbands and sons on Shivaratri day. Unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva, who is considered to be the ideal husband.

Lord Shiva's Assurance

The legend of Lord Shiva’s assurance explains the popularity of Shivaratri festival amongst the devotees. Besides, it also tells us why we observe fast in the name of the Lord and perform ceremonial baths on a Shivaratri day.

The Legend

Story goes that after creation was complete, 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 favorite 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 bael leaves.

Shivaratri Rituals

Devotees of Lord Shiva observe the Shivaratri Festival by following the prescribed rituals with sincerity and devotion. All through the day, devotees abstain from eating food and break their fast only the next morning, after the nightlong worship. Ritual baths of Shivalinga in the numerous Shiva temples by Shiva worshipper, mainly women, is another significant feature of Shivratri customs and traditions. Devotees strongly believe that ritual worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivaratri absolves them of past sins and they are blessed with Moksha.

Rituals Observed on a Shivaratri Morning

As a tradition devotees wake up early in the morning of the Mahashivratri day and take a ritual sunrise bath, preferably in the holy waters of river Ganga. They also offer prayers to the Sun God, Vishnu and Shiva as a part of a purification rite observed on all-important Hindu festivals. After wearing fresh new clothes devotees visit the nearest Shiva Temple to give the customary bath to the Shivalinga.

On a Shivratri day, Shiva temples are thronged by devotees, mainly women, who come to perform the traditional Shivalinga pooja and seek blessings from the god. At times there is so much rush in the temples that devotees have to wait for their turn to observe pooja. At their turn for worship, devotees circumambulate the Shivalinga, three or seven times, and then pour water over it. Some also pour milk. Sounds of bell and shouts of ‘Shankarji ki Jai’ or (Hail Shiva) reverberate in the temple premises.

Ritual Bath of Shivalinga

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.
All-Night Shiva Worship

Worship of Lord Shiva continues all through the night on Shivaratri Festival. Devotees stay awake all night and spend the night in Shiva temples in worship of Lord Shiva. Singing of hymns and verses in praise and devotion of Lord Shiva besides the intense chanting of Om Namah Shivay, the mantra that is said free people from all their sins, continue through the night on Shivaratri.

Special worship of Shiva by priests continues through the nightlong prayer vigil. During this ritual worship, Lord Shiva is offered special food made from the fruits of the season, root vegetables and coconuts. Those observing the Shivaratri Fast break their fast the next morning by consuming the prasad offered to Shiva.


Shivaratri Pooja

Shivaratri Pooja has been given tremendous significance in Hindu mythology. It is said that ritual worship of Lord Shiva on a Shivaratri day pleases Lord Shiva the most. Devotees further believe that by pleasing Lord Shankara on the auspicious Shivaratri day, a person is absolved of past sins and is blessed with Moksha or salvation.

Merits of Shivaratri Puja

According to Shiva Purana, sincere worship of Lord Shiva yields merits including spiritual growth for the devotees. It also provides extensive details on the right way to perform Shivratri Puja.

Shiva Purana further says that performing abhisheka of Shiva Linga with six different dravyas including milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water while chanting Sri Rudram, Chamakam and Dasa Shanthi pleases Lord Shiva the most. According to the mythology, each of these dravya used in the abhisheka blesses a unique quality:

  • Milk is for the blessing of purity and piousness.
  • Yogurt is for prosperity and progeny.
  • Honey is for sweet speech.
  • Ghee is for victory.
  • Sugar is for happiness.
  • Water is for purity.
Besides, worship of Lord Shiva on Shivratri is also considered to be extremely beneficial for women. While, married women pray to Shiva for the well being of their husbands and sons, unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva, who is considered to be the ideal husband.

Getting Ready for Shivratri Puja

To perform the worship of Lord Shiva on Shivratri, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath, preferably in the holy waters of river Ganga. This is followed by worship to Sun God, Vishnu and Shiva in accordance with the purification rite observed on all-important Hindu festivals. Devotees then wear fresh new clothes and pay a visit to the nearest Shiva temple. As a tradition, devotees observe a fast on a Shivaratri day. Some do not consume even a drop of water.

Performing Maha Shivaratri Pooja

Following the method prescribed in Shiva Purana, priests perform ritual puja of Shiva Linga every three hours all through the day and night of Shivaratri Festival. During this pooja, chants of Om Namah Shivaya and sounds of bells reverberate in the temple. Following the bath with milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water that helps in the purification of the soul a vermilion paste is applied on the Linga as it represents virtue. These six items form an indispensable part of Shivaratri, be it a simple ceremony at home or grand temple worship

After this, Bilwa leaves, which have to be a stalk with three leaves, is kept on top of the Shivalinga to cool the hot-tempered deity. Ber or jujube fruit is also offered to Lord Shiva, as it is symbolic of longevity and gratification of desires. Some devotees also offer the auspicious betel leaves to Lord Shiva marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures. Garlanding of Linga with flowers and garlands is also a part of the ritual Shivaratri Puja. Devotees also burn incense sticks as is said to yield wealth. Many also light lamps to symbolize attainment of knowledge. It is said that by offering water, hugging the Linga, lighting the diya and incense and ringing the temple bells, devotees call into focus all their senses, making them acutely aware of themselves and the universe to which they belong.

This ritual worship of Lord Shiva continues through the day and night of Shivaratri. Devotees stay awake and spent the night in Shiva temples by chanting ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ and singing hymns and verses in praise of Lord Shankar. Devotees observing vrat on Shivaratri break it only the next morning by partaking prasad offered to Lord Shiva


Significance of Shivratri

Festival of Mahashivaratri is the most important festival for the millions of devotees of Lord Shiva. The festival has been accorded lot of significance in Hindu mythology. It says that a devotee who performs sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivratri is absolved of sins and attains moksha.

Significance of Shivaratri in Hinduism

Festival of Mahashivaratri has tremendous significance in Hinduism. According to sacred scriptures, ritual worship of Lord Shiva on Shivratri festival that falls on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Phalgun pleases Lord Shiva the most. This fact is said to have been declared by Lord Shiva himself, when his consort Parvati asked him as to which ritual performed by his devotees pleases him the most.

Even till date, devotees of Lord Shiva perform the ritual worship of Shivratri with care and devotion. They observe day and nigh fast and give sacred bath to Shiva Linga with honey, milk, water etc. Hindus consider it extremely auspicious to worship Lord Shiva on a Shivaratri as it is believed that worship of Lord Shiva with devotion and sincerity absolves a devotee of past sins. The devotee reaches the abode of Lord Shanker and lives there happily. He is also liberated from the cycle of birth and death and attains moksha or salvation.

Significance of Shivaratri for Women

Mahashivratri Festival is also considered to be an extremely significant festival by women. Married and unmarried women observe fast and perform Shiva Puja with sincerity to appease Goddess Parvati who is also regarded as ‘Gaura’ - one who bestows marital bliss and long and prosperous married life. Unmarried women also pray for a husband like Lord Shiva who is regarded as the ideal husband.

The Festivity

People observe a strict fast on this day. Some devotees do not even take a drop of water and they keep vigil all night. The Shiva Lingam is worshipped throughout the night by washing it every three hours with milk, curd, honey, rose water, etc., whilst the chanting of the Mantra "Om Namah Shivaya" continues. Offerings of Bael leaves are made to the Lingam as Bael leaves are considered very sacred and it is said that Goddess Lakshmi resides in them.

Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva, such as the "Shiva Mahimna Stotra" of Pushpadanta or Ravana's "Shiva Tandava Stotra" are sung with great fervour and devotion. People repeat the 'Panchakshara' Mantra, "Om Namah Shivaya". He, who utters the names of Shiva during Shivratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths. Many pilgrims flock to the places where there are Shiva temples.

Prabhalu

'Prabhalu' - a specially decorated arches with Lord Siva's replicas with bamboo sticks and new clothes wil be taken in huge procession.Before the Festival begins,people will being very busy in making these Prabhalu in different models,heights and special decorations.

The 'Prabhalu' fete is on the lines of the one held at Kotappakonda in Guntur district.People carry to this place from the near by villages.This is celebrated in a grandway with the participation of thousands of people from every nook and corner of the Village.The main attraction is the height of the Prabhalu .One should not miss to witness the way the procession is taken out.Lakhs of rupees worth crackers would be fired by the large number of devotees.Dance troops and songs are also held.

In the villages,Prabhalu is the main procession and they start by seeing the good periodwith all other prabhas together.We can also find electric Prabhalu too.A person sitting in the vehicle announces the name of the street to which the Prabha belongs.When the Prabhalu starts coming from the street crossing the houses .People & Women gets ready with the water & starts to pour a water contained in a metal vase of a large sized neck .After this they break the coconut & reverse the pot and light the camphor.Like this all the devotees will be doing.

During Prabhalu Uregimpu festival,Prabhalu crosses through agricultural fields,coconut fields.While crossing agricultural fields devotees bring prabhalu crossing the ditches,Thorn bunches (Mulla Kanchelu)etc.from different villages.Devotees don't care the heavy weight carrying prabhalu,people believe that all the persons would not get a chance to carry prabhalu,people shouild do punyam to carry those prabhalu.

While crossing the agricultural fields even the vilagers would not face any problem if their fields gets spoiled (While crossing the prabhalu).A part from that people believe that they would get Golden Crop (Bangaru Panta even if their fields gets spoiled).People with their families comes to se this Prabhalu festival by travelling in bullock carts (Goodu bandlu).

All the devotees reach the temple by carrying from villages and street on the whole night.The night is filled with Prabhalu procession.

Now-a-days ,people do fasting and break the fast in the evening by performing pooja and having little breakfast and vigil the night by seeing the Devotional Movies telecasted in the Television.


Note:
On this auspicious Occasion,I wish  you all of my followers ,Friends ,Family members ,Blog readers and each & every one with a "Happy Maha Shivaratri"










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