Shivaratri, an Introduction
Shivaratri is an important festival, considered highly auspicious for the worship of Lord Shiva. It is Shivaratri, that is, the Night of Shiva and is meant for offering prayers to the Lord. Shivaratri is actually a monthly occurrence, which takes place on every 13th or 14th night of the dark fortnight of Krishna Paksha, which also happens to the night before Amavasya, the New Moon day. The greatest of such monthly Shivaratri, Shiva Nights is known as Maha Shivaratri, a day considered extremely sacred for the worship of Lord Shiva. This falls in the Hindu month of Phalguna or the Tamil month of Masi (February–March) and is celebrated with intense religious fervor all over the country and even beyond.
Observing Vrat or fasting forms a very important aspect of Shivaratri worship. Many people observe complete fasts during the day and also in the night of Shivaratri, remain awake right through and spend all their time in meditating, reading, singing and hearing about the glories of Shiva. While people offer worship to the Lord at home, a very large number of people flock to Shiva temples, especially during the Shivaratri night and offer prayers to him. Shiva is believed to be very fond of Abhishekam or hydration ceremony, and grand rituals are held in the temples in the night when sacred baths are given to Shiva Lingas with materials like milk, coconut water, honey, water etc. amidst the chanting of sacred hymns.
Regional Celebrations of Shivaratri
While the observance of the sacred Shivaratri remains broadly similar everywhere, consisting mainly of keeping Vrat and performing the sacred bath, the celebrations at various places have their own cultural flavors and minor regional variations. Let us, here, see in brief, the features of Shivaratri celebrations in various states and regions.
The southern state of Karnataka celebrates Shivaratri with immense enthusiasm. The highly popular Shidlingappa fair is conducted at many parts of the state, when the idols are carried to river banks and worshipped. In the state of Andra Pradesh, the most fervent Shiva worship and celebrations take place in the Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and in the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam.
Matangeshwar temple in Bundelkhand region remains the main center of the Shivaratri festivities in Madhya Pradesh. People also take holy dip in the Sagar tank in Khajuraho. In the state of Odisha, enthusiastic celebration takes place at the Lingaraj temple, Bhuvaneshwar and Hakateswar temple at Atri village. People in large numbers also visit Lokanath temple at Puri and offer prayers to the Shivalinga, which was said to have been installed by none other than Lord Rama himself. In the eastern state of West Bengal, people make four Shivalings out of the clay taken from the banks of the holy Ganga and offer ceremonial worship. Ceremonial bathing of Shivalinga with Ganga water also takes place at the Tarakeshwar temple there. In north-eastern state of Assam, the biggest celebration takes place at the Umananda Temple, in the Peacock Island of river Brahamaputra in the capital Guwahati and also at Sibsagar.
Perhaps, the grandest of Shivaratri Pooja in the country is said to take place at the Bhuthnath temple in Mandi, in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. In the picturesque Jammu & Kashmir, Shivaratri is celebrated as the auspicious occasion of the marriage of Shiva and Parvathi, when water-soaked walnuts are taken in two pots representing the divine couple and are distributed later as holy Prasad (sacred offering).
In the neighboring country of Nepal, Shivaratri remains to be a grand festival. On this day, people observe fasts and devotees in large numbers offer fervent payers at the Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu, considered as one of the holiest of temples in the world.