What Is Maha Shivaratri And How Do Hindus Celebrate?
Maha Shivaratri is the significant event celebrated by Hindus across the world, it literally translates to “The Great Night of Lord Shiva”. On 14th day of every month of lunar calendar or a day before the full moon is known as Shivaratri. Among the twelve Shivaratris that occur in a calendar year, Maha Shivaratri is the one that occurs in Phalguna month (Feb-March)of Hindu calendar has the most spiritual significance.
According to Puranas, Maha Shivaratri symbolises the wedding of Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvathi. It is believed that on the very same day Lord Shiva consumed poison (Halahala) that is produced by churning the ocean (Samudra Manthana), by doing so Lord saved the universe.
Many devotees prefer to visit Jyotirlinga shrines on this auspicious day. Jyotirlinga is a devotional representation of Lord Shiva, Jyothi literally translates to “Light/Radiance” and Lingam translates to “Symbol” that represents Lord Shiva. There are 12 holy Jyothirlinga shrines located across various places in India.
Maha Shivaratri Celebration in India
Jammu & Kashmir: This festival is called Herath and celebrated for 21 days. The celebration begins on the first dark fortnight of Phalguna month locally known as Hur Uk Doh and ends on the 8th day after full moon day. Shiva pooja is performed in a unique way when compared to other parts of India. The two pots called Kalash depicted as Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati are filled with walnuts and water, kept undisturbed for three days. On the third day that is on the day of Amavasya (no moon day), the soaked walnuts are taken out of the pot and distributed to family and friends as prasad.
Karnataka: The important features of this festival are fasting and Jaagarana (staying awake whole night). While on Jaagarana, devotees meditate and recite mantras. Abhisheka is performed to Shiva linga, devotees offer milk, water, bilwapatre (bael leaves), flowers and special pooja is performed throughout the day and continues until early next morning in the Lord Shiva temple. Devotees break the fasting on the next morning.
West Bengal: Along with fasting throughout the day, devotees make four Shivalingas made with the clay from the holy river Ganga. These Shiva lingas are offered pooja in four Prahars of the night. Prahar is a measure of time equal to 3 hours, in the 1st Prahar one of the Shiva lingas is offered abhisheka with milk, in 2nd, 3rd and 4th Prahar abhisheka is performed with yogurt, ghee and honey respectively. The devotees stay awake the whole night, next morning they pray and offer Dakshina(alms) to a priest and finally break their fast with prasad.
Himachal Pradesh: The famous Bootnath temple in Mandi hosts the Shivaratri pooja that is renowned for its international fair held for a week. The royal family of mandi has started this tradition around 500 years back and continues to attract people across the places.
Assam: The hub of Mahashivratri in this state is at Umananda temple situated on the peacock island in the middle of Bramhaputra River in Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. People gather in large numbers to celebrate this event.
Popular Shivratri Vrat Dishes
There are two types of fasting devotees observe on this festival. Nirjala Vrat is the tough form of the fasting where a person does not consume any liquid or food including water throughout the day. However, not many people can do this fasting due to their health issues and age. Hence the majority of the devotees observe a fast where they can have fruits, milk, certain vegetables and non-grain items. Check a few popular dishes that can be served on this festival day:
Sabudana Khichdi: A simple comfort dish made with tapioca pearls and basic spices that are allowed during fasting.
Sabudana Kheer: A sweet dish made with tapioca pearls, sugar and flavoured with cardamom.
Makhana Kheer: Makhana is also called foxnuts cooked with sugar and cardamom.
Buckwheat Khichdi: A simple dish made with buckwheat and dal.