Pooja is a sacred ritual performed to worship or revere and have a sublime connection with the deity. Performed with heightened spiritual intent (Sankalpa), utmost devotion and prescribing to the sacred texts of Vedic tradition are important. The spiritual devotion, the offerings (Samagri), the chanting of the sacred hymns (Mantras) has a profound effect and results in the manifestation of the Sankalpa. It can invigorate the deity, awakening them to release divine energy. Positive vibrations and energies reverberate in the atmosphere.
Shivaratri is derived from a Sanskrit word, which means a night-long celebration and devotion to Shiva. It is one of the ancient festivals of India. It is essential to awaken early in the morning on the day of the festival. Ancient scriptures prescribe that adding black sesame seeds to the bathing water purifies it and further purifies the body and soul. If possible, one can take an early bath in the Ganges. While taking the holy bath, one should promise to undertake the Shivratri Vrat (fast) and break it only the next day. It is suggested to have only one meal the day before Maha Shivaratri and then commencing the fast to avoid any trace of food in the digestive system while one is on a fast.
Devotees visit the nearby Shiva temples early in the morning after taking a holy bath. Temple priests perform the pooja for the Shiva Linga during the day and all through Maha Shivaratri night. They chant the ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ mantra and the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra during the pooja, which is performed once in three hours. The temples reverberate with the ringing of bells, making the energy in the surroundings vibrant. Temples remain open through the night as devotees maintain a ‘Jaagaran’ (all-night vigil) with prayers, chanting of Shiva mantras, and recitation of the Shiv Chalisa. Diyas (lamps) are also lit by devotees offering prayers.
Some of the Shiva temples hold the traditional dance festival called Natyanjali (worship through dance). Fairs and special events are held near the temple premises.
Devotees should adhere to Sankalpa (spiritual devotion) to observe the 24-hour fast for self-determination. During the fast, one usually abstains from consuming any food. While some people do not take food and water, others undertake the fast by consuming only fruits and milk during the day. They abstain from consuming water, while some consume only water during the fast. Keeping the Vrat involves staying awake the whole night, and one can keep the fast for 24 hours. Shivaratri night can be spent performing pooja to Shiva.
Maha Shivaratri pooja can be performed at home too. East has specific importance, and the pooja room should face an east-west direction. Usually, the eldest member of the family conducts the pooja. First, worship is offered to the Sun God, Vishnu, and then Shiva. The pooja Vidhi starts for the day. Devotees take another bath in the evening before commencing the Shivratri pooja.
Shivaratri pooja is performed at night. One observes purity and sanctity if they are maintaining and worshipping a Shiva Linga at home. Those who do not have a Shiva Linga can make a Linga out of the mud and apply ghee (clarified butter) on it and do the Abishekam(hydration) pooja.
The whole- night pooja can be divided into four parts. This is called the Four Prahar, and pooja can be performed four times to Shiva. Those wanting to perform a single pooja can do it at midnight. The pooja timings should be checked for all times.
It is essential to follow the pooja Vidhi, which is an indispensable part of the festival. The Shivratri pooja is conducted by following the prescribed texts making offerings to the deity. One can offer Bilva leaves, white-colored flowers, holy water from the Ganges, sacred ash, yogurt, ghee, milk, sugar, water, and sandalwood paste to the deity.
According to Vidhi, the Abishekam (hydration) pooja must be done with six different elements.
Milk – for the blessings of purity and piousness.
Yogurt- for prosperity and progeny.
Honey for sweetness in speech.
Ghee is for victory.
Sugar is for happiness.
Water is for purity.
Those performing the Four Prahar pooja must perform the Water Abishekam in the First Prahar. Curd Abishekam follows this in the Second Prahar. Ghee Abishekam is performed in the Third Prahar, followed by Honey Abishekam in the Fourth Pahar, apart from other elements. One must chant the ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ mantra throughout the pooja.
After the Abishekam, Shiva Linga is adorned with Bilva leaves garland, which is believed to soothe Shiva. The Bilva leaves can be offered before the flowers. After that, sandalwood can be applied to the Shiva Linga. Then, the Diya (lamp) and Dhoop (incense) are lit. Later, the Mahar flowers and Bhasm (sacred ash) are offered to the Shiva Linga. Bhasm (sacred ash) or Vibuthi is made using dried cow dung.
After the pooja, Nivedhya (sacred food offering) can be made with different types of fruits and sweets to Shiva. Later betel leaves are offered to Shiva, chanting the mantra. At the end of the pooja, one can donate Prasad, food, clothes, and other items to the needy.
Devotees can break the fast the next day between sunrise and before the end of Chaturdashi Thithi to derive maximum benefit from the Vrat. The fast should be broken after taking a bath. Plain rice and yellow condiment made of gram flour are prepared and offered to the deity and later to a Baba called Bham Bole, representing Shiva. The family partakes of food after they make this offering. Maha Shivaratri pooja performed on the festival day is said to appease Lord Shiva and is considered very auspicious. It is believed to absolve the individual of past sins and helps to attain Mokha (salvation).