Mahasivarathri is purely a religious ceremony of day time fast and vigil throughout the night. Hindus world over observe special religious rites on the fourteenth night of Phalguna (February /March ) which is the longest night in the year according to the Hindu calendar. These observances are started in the morning on this day and continued throughout the night in a bid to wash away all sins and pave the way for eternal bliss through basic religious disciplines of Ahinsa (Non injury), Satya (Truthfulness), Brahmacarya (Celibacy), Daya (Compassion), Ksama (Forgiveness) and Anissa (Absence of jealousy).
A solemn occasion to
worship Lord Siva
Mahasivarathri is a solemn occasion to worship Lord Siva who is regarded as the ocean of love, ocean of knowledge, ocean of peace, and ocean of happiness. God Siva is formless (Arupa). However, out of compassion for devotees he appears in the form of a luminous light arising out of Siva Lingam. He takes a form in this way for the sake of devotees, who will otherwise be left in the perpetual darkness.
How Sivarathri festival is celebrated
To mark the Sivarathri festival devotees wake up early, take a ritual bath and after wearing fresh, new clothes visit the nearest Siva temple for “Abhishekam” or anointing the Siva lingam with milk, honey, ghee, sugar and water. In the temples the priests perform “Poojas” every three hours ringing temple bells. Devotees spend the night singing hymns and chanting Manthras repeating the words” Om Nama Sivaya”. Flowers and leaves are used in the performance of Puja. Devotees specially include the leaves of the Vilva tree because it is believed that the meritorious effect of the leaves of the Vilva tree is more.
Rituals of Maha Sivarathri
Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of holy ash applied to the forehead by worshippers of Lord Siva. These stripes symbolize spiritual knowledge, purity and penance (spiritual practice of Yoga), so also they represent the three eyes of Lord Siva. The seed of the rudraksha tree is said to have sprung from the tears of Lord Siva. When worshipping Lord Siva it is ideal to wear the seed of the rudraksha tree. A rudraksha is reddish in colour with yellow stripes.
On Sivarathri, only cold water and bael leaves are offered to the Lingam. Other traditional offerings, such as bathing it in milk and Punchmruta ( a mixture of milk, curd, ghee and honey ) or anointing it with vermillion (kumkum) or white consecrated rice ( Akshata) (symbols of fertility, or creation), are not done on this day when Lord Siva is worshipped as the deity of dissolution.
Night time quarterly Poojas
Usually puja ceremonies are conducted four times during the night i.e. quarterly. The first quarter or Muthalam Samam commences at 8.00 p.m. Lotus flowers are given preference in the first quarter puja. For this puja one hundred and eight water kumbams are used. At 10.30 p.m. the second quarter ritual commences. This puja is performed with forty nine Kumbams. In the second quarter puja Thulasi leaves are given preference. The most important part of the Sivarathri ceremony is performed during the third quarter commencing at Mid Night. This is called Linootpava puja. It is believed that Lord Siva although formless reveals himself in the form of glowing light before devotees. This is an exalted and holy occurrence which is a rare gift for devotees and it is the climax of the ceremony where five priests participate with five Kumbams. The fourth quarter ceremony called “Nankam Samam” is the last and the auspicious part which commences at 3.00 a.m. and comes to an end at dawn. During this session of puja Sengulinir flowers are used.
Prayers in the morning and evening
Apart from all night pujas devotees attend to prayers in the morning and evening at home or in the parks or rivers flowing by the side of temples. Devotees recite Sanskrit verses throughout the day and night. Some devotees keep awake the whole night.
Hope to attain “Moksha” or Salvation
Through worshipping and meditation during Sivarathri devotees hope to attain “Moksha” or salvation. For this liberation from the cycle of rebirth and pain or suffering Gautama Buddha enunciated the Four Noble Truths”. “Chathurarya Satya” and showed the way for liberation by following the Exalted Eight Fold Path”Ariya Attangika Marga” and attaining Nibbana.
Lord Siva guides man in the Spiritual path
Lord Siva guides man in the spiritual path. Sivarathri is especially auspicious for women. Married women pray for the well being of their husbands. Unmarried women pray for husbands like Lord Siva who is regarded as the ideal husband. It is believed that a man who indulges himself in holy thoughts can achieve salvation “Moksha” and Maha Sivarathri is the best opportunity for laymen to engage in prayers and fasting and seek divine favours and to achieve the state of Moksha through meditation.