A Look at the Hindu Maha Shivaratri Festival

The Hindu Customs and Traditions of Maha Shivaratri.

On March 7, 2016, Hindus around the world will celebrate the Maha Shivaratri Festival. It’s an occasion celebrated in honor of Shiva, part of the Hindu Trinity or top three deities together with Vishnu and Brahma. And aside from honoring the deity, the festivity also marks the divine marriage between Shiva and the Sakti (goddess) Parvati. In Hindu calendar, Shivaratri falls on the 14th night during new moon of the month of Phalguna. In today’s Gregorian calendar, the specific date usually falls between February and March.

Religious significance

Based on Hindu mythology, the day when Shivaratri falls is considered to be the favorite day of Lord Shiva. This has been affirmed by his wife Parvati who passed down said information throughout history. The entire day and night of the Maha Shivaratri is believed to be very auspicious. On this day, Shiva proved his greatness and supremacy over all other Hindu gods and goddesses. It’s the day when Shiva came down to earth and manifested himself in the form of Linga.

Hindus also believe that Shiva performed the Tandava during this day. Tandava is the cosmic dance that prompted creation, preservation and eventual destruction. In his desire to preserve the earth, Shiva consumed the poison which is a by-product of the sea and arrested it on his throat. In an astronomical aspect, Maha Shivaratri is the time when cosmic stars and planets are positioned in a manner that promotes spiritual growth for humans.

Customs and traditions

It is said that Lord Shiva himself is pleased with people who honor him through fasting, all-night vigil, and the offering of bael leaves. Thus, these three main activities generally mark the Maha Shivaratri festival. In certain cultures, fasting starts in the day before Shivaratri known as Vrat Vidhi and devotees can only break the fast a day after known as Chaturdashi Tithi. Nighttime is considered to be the most auspicious time of the festivity encouraging everyone to stay awake through meditation and chanting of various mantras.

The foremost activity for devotees after waking up is bathing on holy rivers like the Ganges which symbolizes purification. Everyone is also encouraged to wear new or fresh set of clothes on Maha Shivaratri.

Most Hindus also visit Shiva temples to witness traditional forms of puja (worship) and make their offerings to the deity. Included in the common offerings are woodapple or bael leaves, flowers like marigold, fruits, betel leaves and the lighting of incense or a lamp.

Another important tradition is the ceremonial bathing of Shiva Linga. Shiva is noted as a lover of ablutions and enjoys bathing. Different regions have their specific ways of performing this puja. There are cultures who bath the Linga with milk, honey, coconut water, rose-water, etc while there are also those who only use holy water from the Ganges. While performing the ritual, devotees chant mantras and temple bells are ringing. There’s also a tradition of circulating around the Linga about three to seven times for luck.

Maha Shivaratri is also a special day for women. It’s the time when single women can pray to Shiva and ask for a good husband while married women usually pray for the well being of their husbands and family.

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