Maha Shivratri is one of the biggest Indian festivals, that sees a grand celebration in just about every corner of the country. Every luni-solar month of a year, also called the Krishna Paksha has has a Shivratri on its 13th night or 14th day. But, every year, before the arrival of spring, in the late winter month of either February or March, there comes a day which marks the ‘the Great Night of Shiva’. This is the day that we all call Maha Shivratri.
People from everywhere, not just in India but even abroad, come together in religious enthusiasm to observe, what is known as the day that celebrates Lord Shiva. He is considered to be one of the deities of the Hindu Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (another name for Shiva), and so, He also holds an important place in the Hindu pantheon.
People generally go to any Shiva temple, take a pot full of water, and another pot with milk in it. They pray to Shiva for their as well as their families’ well being. After taking 5 rounds of the Shivling, they pour on it the water and milk, while reciting the mantra ‘Jai Bholenaath’ or chant the Mahamrityunjaya mantra.
The Shiva Purana says, these are the six steps which conclude the traditional puja on the day of Mahashivaratri:
- First, you take bath in the river Ganga to purify your mind, body, and soul. You then bathe the Shivling as well in Ganga, next bathe the linga with milk and honey, and finally offer some bel patra to Lord before commencing puja, for it’s said Lord Shiva loves bel patra.
- Now, apply some vermillion paste on the Shivling.
- You offer fruits and flowers to God, to please them so they offer you a long life filled with joy.
- As you light diyas, you express your desire to gain more knowledge to God above.
- When you apply three lines of holy ash on your forehead, like Shiva Himself, it represents cleanliness, penance, and most of all, the ultimate knowledge.
- And finally, wearing a garland made of Rudraksha – a tree that is said to have had created of the tears of Lord Shiva.
What do People Eat on This Day?
The day of Maha Shivratri is one when most people fast throughout the day and offer prayers all through the night. So, they eat fruits, have delicious Sabudana kheer, or some even have halwa of Kattu. And then night falls, puja begins, with a lot of savory dishes offered as prasad to Shiva, eaten only when the next day comes.
How Do Different Regions Celebrate Maha Shivratri?
This is a festival that people everywhere celebrate in their own way. So, here we bring you a list of some of the best places in India to celebrate Maha Shivratri in.
The Lokanath temple in Puri, Odisha is believed to have Lord Rama placing the Shiva linga in the exact spot that we can find it today. The temple, therefore, gets thousands of devotees who come over to pay their prayers and respects to the linga which remains submerged in water throughout the year, except when it is taken out three days before the eve of Maha Shivratri. People queue up for hours on end, just to have a glance of the linga on the big day.
A small hamlet in the state of Himachal Pradesh, Mandi may not really be the place that strikes one at the first look over the map; but the same place during this festival, becomes one big hub of grand celebration. The week-long Mandi Shivratri Fair is something that not just people from India, but overseas as well look forward to attending. The fair is a part of this day’s tradition that goes around 5 centuries back in time, when the royal family of Mandi had commenced it. Since then, Mandvi has now become one of the places in India to host the best of Maha Shivratri festivities.
If you’re going to be at Varanasi this time around Maha Shivratri, you will see how the people there dance gleefully while reenacting the actual wedding of Shiva and Parvati. It is also one of the places in India where people make ‘Bhaang’ and drink it while dancing in the wedding procession and offering their prayers at the Tilbhandeshwar temple.
Assam’s capital city Guwahati has people from all over joining in one of the largest Maha Shivratri celebrations in the country. The main attraction for all the devotees at this time of the year, is the Umananda Temple, located on the peacock island in the Brahmaputra river. It is grand festival, and is celebrated in Guwahati with a lot of joy and festivity.
Haridwar and Rishikesh
This festival is a big deal in Haridwar and Rishikesh, located in the state of Uttarakhand. Every year, during this time, no less than lakhs of people pay a visit to these religious sites. It is Har ki Pauri in Haridwar, and the Neelkanth Mahadev temple at Rishikesh that people flock towards most, during Shivaratri. Then there are other people who just come there to pay respects at one of the several ghats at Haridwar, or just meditating or practicing yoga in some secluded place.
Again a district in Assam, Sibsagar, now known as Sivasagar has a whole group of structures comprising three Hindu temples of Sivadol, Visnudol and Devidol, other shrines. It was the Ahom Kingdom, of which Sibsagar used to be the capital, that started the fair and festival at the time of Maha Shivratri. After many many years too, today the temple of Sivadol sees people coming together far and wide to celebrate the union of Shiva and Parvati.
Ujjain’s Mahakaleshwar Temple is one of the 12 jyotirlingas, and welcomes people from all over to celebrate the festival of Maha Shivratri on on the banks of river Kshipranear, in the Mahakal forest. This pious city in Madhya Pradesh observes this festival with a lot of joy and delight.
Another jyotirlinga is in Trimbakeshwar – there is the Someshwar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, and the Kalpeshwar temple devoted to Shiva’s bull, Nandi. Located in the picturesque city of Nashik, Maharashtra, it is not only one of the four Kumbh Mela destinations, but also one of the places that observes an awe-inspiring observance of Maha Shivratri.
The Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir valley celebrate this day as the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. They call the festival Herath there, and have traditional celebration that begins a couple of days before Maha Shivratri and ends a couple of days after it. They even have a tradition there where married women visit their maternal homes and return with some money and a pot that is considered really auspicious.