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Maha Sivaratri - the Great Night of Lord Shiva

Courtesy: Google Images

Om Namah Sivaya!  Hara Hara Mahadev! Samho Sankara! Jai Bholenath !

These chanting reverberates across the length and breadth of the country on the highly sacred and one of the most important days (specifically night) of Maha Sivaratri. The Hindus across the world particularly the staunch devotees of Lord Shiva celebrate the Holy festival with great devotion.

Mahasivaratri is celebrated on the chaturdasi (14th) day in the Krishna Paksha i.e darker half of the moon (after Magha Pournami / Purnima) in the Hindu month of  Magha Masam (Phalguna as per the lunar calendar). The night is considered highly sacred as the day / night is very dear to Lord Shiva. The festival generally falls in the months of Feb / March of the Gregorian calendar.

How to celebrate Sivaratri

Bilva dalam.
Courtesy: Google Images
Hindus in general and the staunch devotees of Lord Siva in particular, spend the whole day and night in the name of Lord Siva. Most of the people throng to the nearby Siva temples to worship the Lingam by performing abhishekam (pouring Ganga / water or milk on the Lingam) and worshiping the Lingam with Bilva patram / dalam (bel leaves) which are believed to be very dear to Lord Siva. The devotees perform these with full devotion as Lord Siva is known as Abhisheka Priya or the one who loves abhishekam and is also very fond of Bilva patram. 

Siva temples across the world remain opened till mid-night on this divine day to perform special poojas and Lingodbhavam. Poojas, abhishekams and archanas are continuously performed in the Siva temples through out the day and till late night. 

Most of the Hindus observe fasting the whole day and some take only fruits / milk in the night after offering these to Lord Siva as naivedyam. And then most of the members of the household remain awake / 'jagarana' the whole night and involve / immerse themselves in devotional activities like reading or listening to Siva Puranam, chanting or playing Siva mantras and slokams and other such activities. People perform Eka Rudra Abhishekam / Rudraabhishekam or Lingaarchana by reciting Rudram Namakam Chamakam and Mahannyasam during the daytime in their houses. Devotees even recite Dwadasa Jyotirlinga stotram or Maha Mrutyunjaya Mantram:

Om Trayambakam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pusti Vardhanam
Oorvaruka Miva Bandhanaat Mrutyor Mukshiya Mamrutat.

Those who remain awake on the Sivaratri night are not supposed to sleep in the afternoon of the following day but they should sleep only in the following night. Those who observe fasting, break their fast the following day after having a shower and performing their daily pooja. They break their fast by taking fruits that are offered to the god as naivedyam and then take their regular diet. Most of the Hindus celebrate the festival in their own way to seek the divine blessing. It is a belief that those who celebrate Maha Sivaratri with full devotion, get redeemed from their sins of all the births, reach Sivalokam / Kailasam and thus gets liberated from the cycles of life and death. 

Women folk too are involved in the worship of Lord Siva and Parvati Devi for a blissful married life.

However, worshiping Siva with full devotion on this day and reciting Siva Panchaakshari mantram i.e 'Om Namah Sivaya' would suffice. You can perform your daily pooja on this sacred day and if you have a Lingam at home, you can place it in a small bowl and pour either milk or cold water on the Lingam. Fasting on the day depends on your convenience and body condition. Don't mind if you are not fasting or remaining awake the whole night as this is conditional. If everything is fine, then you can do it otherwise, just performing abhishekam on the Lingam at home and reciting anyone of the Siva mantras would do good. A whole-hearted devotion is more important.

Dwadasa Jyotirlinga temples of India are specially decorated on this day which are heavily crowded with devotees. Srisailam Mallikarjuna temple in Andhra Pradesh and Amarnath Cave Temple which is at a distance of around 140 Km from Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir are few of the most important Siva temples which are heavily crowded with devotees on this special day. At Amarnath Cave temple devotees will have the divine darshan of the snow-covered Lingam.

Mythological significance of Sivaratri

Siva Lingam
Courtesy: Google Images
There are certain mythological views in connection with the divine day. As per certain belief, it is on this sacred day when Lord Parvati got married to Lord Siva. While some believe that it is on this divine day when Lord Siva perform 'Siva Tandavam' - the celestial dance which eventually led to the creation of the Universe. Yet another belief states that Lord Siva took the form of Lingam  or 'Lingaakaram' on this divine day and Lord Siva gets pleased with those who worship the Lingam on this Holy day with Bilva dalam and abhishekam and thus showers His blessing on them.

According to certain story, Bhakta Kannapa who was a Kirataka (a hunter) and lived on hunting later became a great devotee of Lord Siva, one day happen to find nothing to hunt and was tried of the whole days day with empty stomach. He did not give up and in the night climbed a tree (which happened to be a Bilva tree) and remained awake the whole night. To spend / kill the time, he plucked the leaves from the tree and dropped them on the ground and these were dropped on the Siva Linga which was under the tree. Thus, unknowingly it so happened that the day was Sivaratri day and he observed fasting on the day, remained awake the whole night and unknowingly worshiped Lingam with Bilva patram.

Later, this Kirataka transformed into a great devotee of Lord Siva of Sri Kalahasti.

Besides Mahasivatri, the Hindu month of Kartika Masam is also equally dear to Lord Shiva when the Hindus worship Lord Shiva during the entire month. Mondays are considered as dear to Lord Shiva and this year (2016), Maha Siva Ratri falls on Mondays which is highly auspicious.

Date of Maha Sivaratri: February 24, 2017 (Friday).