Lord Shiva, also known as Mahadeva, is one of the three Gods of Hindu Trinity. His abode is believed to be at Mt Kailash in the Himalayas. Shivaratri is essentially a Hindu festival that is celebrated by Shiva devotees in all parts of India. Shiva Ratri is said to be the night when Lord Shiva first appeared by His own Divine Grace. The words literally mean 'the night consecrated to Shiva' and falls on the fourteenth day of the waning moon in the month of Phalgun (according to the Hindu calendar). Maha Shiva Rathri is celebrated throughout India with much zeal and vigor. According to the scriptures and Vedas, it is believed that Shiva is the god of favors. Devotees can get his blessing by devoting themselves truthfully to him. Many devotees practice meditation and penance to receive boons from Lord Shiva on this day. Unmarried girls too worship him and fast on this day because it is believed that worshipping Lord Shiva will help young women get their desired husband.
There are many legends that claim the actual reason of Shivaratri to commence. It is nearly an impossible task to determine which one is right because these legends come from various Puranas and have been translated by many scholars and hence have many versions. Out of the many this version is the most common one. The legend says that once, out of the three Hindu trinity (Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva), Lord Vishnu and Brahma were arguing over who was the greatest of all. Lord Shiva intervened and said that He is the greatest god among them. To prove this, He takes the form of 'Linga'. Vishnu turns himself into a boar and Brahma into a swan. Both of them try to their level best but cannot cross the huge Shiva Linga. Finally Lord Shiva comes out of the Linga and declares himself as the greatest of all. Thus, Shivaratri is considered as the day of Shiva and his greatness. Other legends also say that the marriage of Shiva-Parvati is celebrated as Shivaratri. It is also believed that Lord Shiva performed 'Tandava', the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction on this auspicious night of Shivaratri.
Celebrations and Rituals
The devotees of Lord Shiva take a dip in the nearby river at dawn and go to the temples of Lord Shiva to offer their prayers along with Bilva leaves. They observe fast throughout the day. Often, devotees can be seen indulging themselves with intoxicating substances such as 'afeem' (marijuana) and 'bhang' (opium). It is said to be an indication of the wild lifestyle of Lord Shiva. It is even offered as 'prasad' at some holy places. According to Puranas, worshipping Lord Shiva on Maha Shivaratri cleanses a person of all his or her sins. Even Viashnavas, the devotees of Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna, pray to Lord Shiva for His mercy on this day as they believe that He is the biggest devotee of the Lord and thus, can bless them with special devotion and access to the Lord. Gaudiya vaishnavas in Vrindavana visit the temple of Gopesvara Mahadeva and offer flower garlands and water from the Ganges to the Holy Linga there. It is believed that Lord Shiva Himself appears in his idols and deities on this night. Many people keep awake all night and sing 'bhajans' and prayers in the praise of Lord Shiva. According to modern science, Maha Shiva Rathri marks transition from winter to spring.
Places it is celebrated
Maha Shivaratri is celebrated in many parts of both North India and South India. In North, Kashmiris celebrated Shivaratri as it is their major festivals. Similarly, it is celebrated in other northern states. In South India, it is celebrated in all the states. Shiva is considered as the 'Guru' of Yogis. Artists and dancers perform all night because it is believed Shiva can grant physical and spiritual boons. Apart from this, there are twelve Jyotirlingas (lingams of light) that are centers for Shiva worship. They are called Swayambhus that denotes places were these Lingams are said to have sprung on their own, miraculously. They are Somnath, Mallikarjuna, Mahakaleshwar, Omkareshwar, Kedarnath, Bhimashankar, Kashi Vishwanath, Trimbakeshwar, Vaijyanath, Nageshvara, Rameshwar and Grishneshwar.
Maha Shivaratri in India holds a special significance for Hindus and calls for much celebration. Check out more information about this festival.
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