As explained by Indian Hindu astrologists Maha Shivarathri is a purely religious ceremony of day time fast and vigil throughout the night. The rituals for the festival are observed by Hindus the world over with the aim of washing away all sins and to pave the way for eternal bliss. This spiritual bliss is experienced through basic religious practices of Ahinsa (non injury), Satya (truthfulness), Brahmacharya (Celibacy), Daya (Compassion), Karuna (forgiveness) and Anissa (absence of jealousy).
Maha Shivarathri offers a solemn occasion to worship Lord Shiva on the longest night in the year.
Maha Shivarathri is celebrated on the fourteenth night of Phalguna (February) according to the Hindu calendar which is the longest night in the year.
Maha Shivarathri is a solemn occasion to worship Lord Shiva who is regarded as the Ocean of love, Ocean of knowledge, Ocean of mercy, Ocean of peace and Ocean of happiness.
God Shiva is formless (Arupa). However, out of compassion for devotees he appears in the form of luminous light arising out of Shiva Lingam. He takes the form in this way for the sake of devotees who otherwise would be left in perpetual darkness.
The origin of Shiva Rathri is explained in Purana legends. In the war between Suras and Asuras (demons or titans) Gods were likely to get defeated at one stage
Object of veneration
Lingam has become the object of veneration of Hindus. Lingam worship signifies that Lord Shiva is prevalent in Shiva temples from ancient times. It is believed that Lord Shiva is in Shiva temples wearing a leopard skin and is in meditation and contemplation.
Trident, the three pointed spear is his weapon. Udakkiya or Udukku, the drum which is small in the middle, is his musical instrument. His vehicle is an ox.
The triad of Gods
God Shiva is also known as God Iswara and is one of the Triad of gods. Brahma created the world. God Vishnu, who is mild, is kind and gentle and protects virtuous people and builds the world which has been created by Brahma. During God Siva’s period, which is known as Iswara Vinsatiya, unrighteous and unlawful people are punished, just as righteous people are protected by God Shiva.
Great God in Hinduism
In Hinduism he is the great God. It is said that out of his three wives, Uma or Umangana is the most beautiful and is a Goddess. Goddess Parwathie has excelled in dancing and music. His third wife Ganga is only a sign or a gesture. The stream of water flowing from god Shiva’s matted hair is believed to be his third wife, Goddess Ganga. They believe that Ganga purifies the whole of India. God of wisdom, Ganesh, and God of war, Skanda Kumara or Karthikeya are God Shiva’s sons.
The origin of Shiva Rathri
The origin of Shiva Rathri is explained in Purana legends. In the war between Suras (gods) and Asuras (demons or titans) Gods were likely to get defeated at one stage. So gods got round their survivor, God Vishnu and begged him to find a way to defeat the Asuras who were unrighteous and unlawful. While he was contemplating on a plan to defeat Asuras God Siva got an idea. He felt that if they could find Amurtaya, the medicine of immortality, ambrosia, the Asuras could be defeated because in that case Gods could remain immortal. Ambrosia or Nectar, the medicine of immortality of gods was deposited in the bed of the Milk Sea.
A hunter who had killed many birds was being chased by a lion in the forest. In order to escape from the lion he had climbed a Vilva (Beli) tree. After sunset too he remained on the tree. To keep himself awake, without falling down from the tree, he went on plucking leaves of the tree and dropping them. This kept him awake the whole night.
Vilva or Beli leaves fell on the Siva Lingam which was at the foot of the tree. This had pleased Lord Shiva and he had saved the hunter despite his sins of killing birds. Later, the people started worshipping Shiva lingam.
Waking up early
To mark the Sivarathri Festival devotees wake up early, take a ritual bath and after wearing fresh clothes visit the nearest Shiva Temple for Abhishekam or anointing the Shiva Lingam with milk, honey, ghee, sugar and water. In the temple priests perform pujas every three hours accompanied by the sound of temple bells. Devotees spend the night singing hymns and chanting Mantras, repeating the words “Om Nama Sivaya”. Flowers and leaves are used when performing pujas. The leaves of the Vilva tree are used because it is believed that the meritorious effect of the leaves of the Vilva tree is more. Usually puja ceremonies are conducted four times (Quarterly) during the night.
The first quarter or Muthalaam Samaam commences at 8.00 P.M. Lotus flowers are given preference for the poojas performed during the first quarter. For this session hundred and eight water Kumbams are used.
At 10.30 P.M. the second quarterly 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 Shiva, although formless, reveals himself in the form of a glowing light before devotees. This is an exalted, holy and a rare occurrence from the point of devotees. It is the climax of the ceremony where five priests participate with five Kumbams. The fourth quarter ceremony called Naankaam Saamam is the last and the auspicious part which commences at 3.00 am and comes to an end at dawn.
Apart from all night pujas devotees attend prayer sessions or bajans in the morning and evening at home or in parks and at river banks, situated near the temples. Devotees recite Sanskrit verses day and night. Some devotees keep awake the whole night. They offer coconuts, Vilva leaves, fruits and prepared food to Lord Shiva and his devine consort, Parvathie Devi.
Cycle of death and rebirth
For the liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth and from pain or suffering Gautama Buddha enunciated the Four Noble Truths (Chathutarya Satya) and showed the way to liberation by following the exalted the Eight-fold Path ( Arya Asthangika Marga) which leads to attaining of Nibbana (Enlightenment).
Hindu way of liberation
The Hindu way of liberation is almost similar to that of Buddhism. Hindus believe that the layman could achieve Moksha or liberation through self realization and spiritual development. They attempt to achieve this target through fasting and prayers and believe that such practices have a tremendous influence over the mind and body.
It is believed that a man who indulges himself in holy thoughts could achieve moksha and Maha Sivarathri is the best opportunity for the layman to engage in prayers and fasting and seek devine favours and achieve the state of Moksha through meditation.