Maha Shivratri is one of many Hindu festivals. It falls on the 14th night of the new moon during the month of February/March. This year, Shivratri falls on March 6, 2008. Shiva is the God of Destruction. “Shivratri” literally means “The night of the Lord Shiva”.
Shiva is one of the Gods in the Hindu Trinity, comprising of Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva, the Destroyer and Re-Producer of life.
Shiva has many names: Shankar, Mahesh, Bholenath, Neelakanth, Shambhu Kailasheshwar, Umanath, and Nataraj.
LEGEND OF SHIVARATRI
According to one Purana, or legend story, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The poison was capable of destroying the entire world. The Gods and demons ran to Shiva for help. Shiva drank the poison to protect the world, but he held it in his throat. This made his throat turn blue. Shivratri is a celebration of how Shiva saved the world.
After creation of the Universe, Shiva lived on top of Mount Kailash with Parvati, a Goddess and his wife. They are said to have been married on Shivratri.
The Goddess asked Shiva to pick his favorite day when Shiva’s devotees could perform rituals for him. Lord Shiva picked out the 14th night of the new moon, and this day is Shivrathri. He outlined how his devotees should worship him on that day.
Shiva asked his devotees to offer him Bael or Bilva leaves, which were more precious to him than jewels and flowers. It is said that the God Lakshmi resides in them. He outlined 4 periods of worship. These 4 periods are throughout the night, when he wanted the symbol of Shiva, the Shivalinga to be washed every 3 hours. He wanted to be bathed in milk during the first period and curd in the second; then in butter in the third and honey in the fourth and last period. During the bathing period, the devotees continue to chant the Panchakshara' Mantra, “Om Namah Shivaya”. On the next day, Shiva wanted his devotees to feed the Brahmins first, and only then could they break their fast.
Goddess Parvati was impressed in hearing Shiva outline his worship. She spoke to all her friends, and word quickly spread all over the universe. People all over began celebrating Shivrathri.
According to one myth, Parvati meditated on this day to ward off any evil that may befall her husband on the moonless night. Some devotees consider the Mahashivaratri to be an auspicious occasion for women to pray for the well-being of their husbands and sons. Unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva, who is considered to be an ideal husband.
Hindus observe a fast all day and night. A vigil is kept all night long. Devotees offer fruits, flowers and Bael leaves on Shivratri.
The morning of Shivratri begins early. A ritual sunrise bath is taken, and if possible in the Ganga River. Prayers are offered to the Sun God, Vishnu and Shiva. New clothes are then worn, and devotees visit a Shiva Temple. Women typically give a customary bath to the Shivalinga in the temple. Devotees walk around the Shivalinga three or seven times and then pour water or milk over the Shivalinga. Shouts of “Shankarji ki Jai” and bells resound through the temple walls.
According to the Shiva Purana, the Mahashivaratri worship must have 6 items:
1. Purifying the Soul by Bathing the Linga with water, milk and honey, and Wood apple or bel leaves added to it
2. Attainment of Virtue through the vermilion paste applied on the linga after bathing it
3. Longevity and Gratification of Desires by offering of fruits
4. Attainment of wealth by burning incense
5. Attainment of Knowledge by lighting of the lamp
6. Satisfaction with Worldly pleasures is attained by the Bael leaves
If these rituals are performed by one with attention to detail, strict devotion, and concentration, all sins will then be absolved and liberation from the wheel of birth and death can then occur.
In Nepal and North India, many people consume Bhang Lassi, which is believed to be Shiva’s favorite drink. Bhang is a liquid derivative of Cannabis, which has similar effects to forms of marijuana. It is legal in India, and mostly used for religious purposes. Lassi is originally from Punjab, and is make by blending Yogurt with water, salt and spices until it gets frothy. The Lassi is flavored with ground cumin. Some will top the lassi with malai or cream; others will add turmeric powder to it.
The Receipe for Bhang Lassi is as follows:
2 cups water
1 ounce marijuana (fresh leaves and flowers of a female plant preferred)
4 cups warm milk
2 tablespoons blanched and chopped almonds
1/8 teaspoon garam masala [a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, and cardamon]
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 to 1 teaspoon rosewater
1 cup sugar
Boil water in a teapot. Then, remove any seeds or twigs from the marijuana, add it to the teapot. Let this brew for about 7 minutes. Then strain the water and marijuana.
Collect the water and save. Take the leaves and flowers and squeeze between your hands to extract any liquid that remains. Add this to the water.
Place the leaves and flowers in a mortar and add 2 teaspoons warm milk. Slowly but firmly grind the milk and leaves together.
Gather up the marijuana and squeeze out as much milk as you can. Repeat this process until you have used about 1/2 cup of milk (about 4 to 5 times). Collect all the milk that has been extracted and place in a bowl. By this time the marijuana will have turned into a pulpy mass. Add the chopped almonds and some more warm milk. Grind this in the mortar until a fine paste is formed. Squeeze this paste and collect the extract as before. Repeat a few more times until all that is left are some fibers and nut meal. Discard the residue.
Combine all the liquids that have been collected, including the water the marijuana was brewed in. Add to this the garam masala, dried ginger and rosewater. Add the sugar and remaining milk. Chill, serve, and enjoy.
Maha Shivaratri is the night when Lord Shiva performed Tandava. Shiva’s Tandava is a dance performed by Shiva. Shiva’s Goddess Parvati also performs the dance, however her’s is called Lasya. The dance is of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. Shiva is also known as the Nataraj or the Dancing God. The Tandava is his depiction of his violent nature as the destroyer of the Universe.Many religious scholars describe his dance as Anandatandava which means “the dance of Bliss”. Its symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction as well as birth and death. The dance depicts the 5 principles of eternal energy: creation, destruction, preservation, salvation and illusion.
This is the dance which the Goddess Parvati performs. Her dance is more gentle, graceful and erotic.
Shiva Linga is the symbol of Lord Shiva, which is sacred to the devotes of Shiva. Lingum is a Sanskrit word that means “symbol” and Shiva Lingum means the symbol of Shiva. “linga” is a Sanskrit word for the male reproductive organ. The Shiva Linga is found in all Shiva temples and is “rounded and elliptical”, and set on a circular base, the base representing the Yoni or the female reproductive organ. Devotees worship the Linga or the reproductive function. Scholars and historians believe that this symbol originated from the tribes of the Indus Valley, who saw the Shiva Linga as a source of energy, creation and enlightenment.
Other interpretations of the Shiva Linga exist. Some believe that it is an abstract symbol of God, and that God may be conceptualized in any convenient form. The form is irrelevant; only the power behind the form is what matters. Therefore, to these believers, the Shivalinga represents the formless Supreme Being or The “Nirguna Brahman”.
Hindus celebrate Shivratri in many different ways, usually using one or all of the above mentioned rituals.