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 be the night before Amavasya, the New Moon day. The greatest of such monthly Shivaratris is known as Maha Shivaratri, a day considered extremely sacred for the worship of Lord Shiva. This falls on 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.
Significance of Shivaratri
The greatest significance of Maha Shivaratri lies in the belief that this occasion has the efficacy of wiping out all the accumulated sins of an individual. This, Lord Shiva himself is said to have declared categorically to his consort Parvati, when she wanted to know which was the worship that pleased him to the greatest level. It is hence, firmly believed by the devotees that observing austerities on Maha Shivaratri and worshipping the Lord with devotion can absolve the devotees of all sins, provide spiritual advancement and bestow them with Moksha, the ultimate state of liberation.
Rituals of Shivaratri Pooja
Observing Vrat or fast forms a very important aspect of Shivaratri Pooja. 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 Abishekam (hydration ceremony), and grand rituals are held in the temples when scared baths are given to Shiva Lingas (abstract representation of Shiva) with materials like milk, honey, water etc. amidst the chanting of sacred hymns.
Performance of Shivaratri Pooja
Shiva Purana details the procedure and merits of Shivaratri Pooja.
Holding the performance of Abishekam as paramount in the Pooja, the legend stresses the importance of doing the sacred bath with six dravyas or materials. These are milk (signifies piousness), curd (signifies prosperity), honey (signifies sweetness), ghee (signifies victory), sugar (signifies happiness) and water (stands for purity). Such sacred baths are believed to purify our souls.
People get up early in the morning on Shivaratri day, take bath, wear fresh clothes, do ritualistic worship of Sun God, Vishnu and Shiva and then offer prayers in Shiva temples. They also observe fasts throughout the day and night, spending their time in meditation and holy chanting.
Ritualistic Pooja ceremonies take place in the temples almost throughout the day and night with the chanting of the sacred name ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. Grand Abishekam are also performed to the Shiva Linga specially with the six dravyas, amidst the recitation of Sri Rudram, Chamakam and Dasa Shanthi. Then, the idol is also given a gentle coat of vermillion paste, which remains as a symbol of virtue. The deity is then decorated with flowers and garlands, the sacred Bilwa stalk having three leaves is placed on top of the Linga, and water, lighted lamps, incense sticks, ber or jujube fruits, betel leaves etc. are offered.
Many devotees keep vigil throughout the night, spending their time in reciting hymns and singing songs in praise of Shiva. They complete their fasting the next day morning after the having the Prasad (sacred offering) offered to the Lord.