This year Maha Shivratri will be celebrated on the 18th of February. The festival is celebrated in honour of Lord Shiva, one of the trinity gods of Hinduism, and is considered to be one of the most important festivals in Hinduism.
Shiva is used as an adjective in the Rig Veda ( c. 1700–1100 BCE) and as an epithet for several Rigvedic deities, including Rudra. In the Rigveda, he is mentioned in three hymns as the fearful and vengeful Rudra. He is described as the god of sickness, disease, death, destruction and calamity.
In the Atharvaveda and the Yajurveda, Shiva is addressed as Sarva, Bhava, Nilakantha, Pasupathi, Nilagriva, Sitkantha and Sobhya. ना तस्य प्रतिमा अस्ति |“The Formless Supreme Spirit that pervades the universe can have no material representation, likeness or image.”~Yajur Veda 32:3.
As Adi Yogi, Lord Shiva was the first Yogi who taught the Yogic sciences to the Sapta rishis. He is limitless, formless, transcendent, and has no beginning or end. He is known by many names, such as Viswanatha (lord of the universe), Mahadeva, Mahesh, Maheshvara, Shankara, Shambhu, Rudra, Hara, Trilochana, Devendra (chief of the gods), Neelakanta, and Trilokinatha (lord of the three realms).
Maha Shivaratri is an auspicious Hindu festival celebrated with great devotion and enthusiasm all over India on the new moon day in the Hindu month of Maagha.
There are different stories and legends about the origin of the festival.
1. According to a legend, Maha Shivratri means 'the great night of Shiva' and is observed as the day when Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, a reincarnation of his earlier wife Sati, were married.
2. According to Hindu mythology, it is believed that Lord Shiva performed the 'tandava' dance of creation and destruction on this day, which is why it is known as the 'Night of Shiva'.
3. According to Shiva Purana, there was a quarrel between two of the Hindu gods' triads – Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu to establish their superiority as the greatest among them. Lord Brahma said he had created the whole world and was the greatest. But, on the other hand, Lord Vishnu said that he is the one who preserves and protects the world, so he is the greatest.
At this time, Lord Shiva appeared between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu in the form of a massive column of fire and asked them to find the pinnacle of the column. Lord Brahma assumed the form of a swan and went upwards, and Lord Vishnu took the form of Varaha (boar) and went downwards under the earth. But both could not find the end of the light and returned empty-handed. While Lord Vishnu accepted that he could not see the end of the light, Lord Brahma lied, showing the Ketaki flower he had found at the top of the fire column. He presented the white flower of Ketaki as a witness, which had also lied to Brahma that she was that she had been offered at the top of the fire column. Infuriated at the lies, Lord Shiva cursed Lord Brahma that he would not have a temple anywhere and cursed the Ketaki flower that she would never be included in his worship.
How is Maha Shivaratri celebrated?
The celebrations of Maha Shivratri begin with an early morning bath and prayers to Lord Shiva. People also perform a special puja offering milk, water, and bael leaves to the Shiva Linga.
Devotees also offer fruits, flowers, and leaves to the deity. After the puja is completed, they chant mantras and offer prayers to Lord Shiva. The actual celebrations begin at night with the lighting of lamps and incense sticks. People gather in Shiva temples and offer prayers to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Special poojas and prayers are performed along with the chanting of mantras.
On this day, devotees observe a fast to seek Lord Shiva's and Goddess Parvati's blessings. It is believed that observing the fast on Maha Shivratri will bring good luck and prosperity in one's life. There are 12 Shivaratri observed in a year, but the Maha Shivaratri is considered the most auspicious one.
The spiritual significance of Maha Shivaratri
Maha Shivaratri is an opportunity for the devotees to come closer to the Divine. It is a day to experience Lord Shiva's blessings and surrender to his grace. Through prayer and meditation, one can experience the divine presence of Shiva and become one with him.
Maha Shivaratri also symbolizes the importance of inner transformation and spiritual growth. It is believed that we can attain spiritual enlightenment by worshipping Shiva and purifying ourselves. One can make a fresh start by worshipping Shiva and achieving peace, harmony and prosperity.
Benefits of worshipping Lord Shiva
Lord Shiva is worshipped for mental and spiritual well-being. It is believed that he bestows Moksha or Nirvana.
It is believed that the god of destruction protects those who worship him and averts untimely death.
Those who worship Lord Shiva with complete devotion are blessed with marital bliss.
He bestows courage and strength upon those who worship him to face the challenges in life.
Worshipping Lord Shiva helps eliminate negative emotions like fear, hate, ego, greed, and jealousy.