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Celebrate Shivaratri 2008 on 6th March, Thursday

Shivaratri is celebrated on the 6th night of the dark Phalgun (Feb or March) every year. On the auspicious day, devotees observe fast and keep vigil all night. Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed the 'Tandava'. It is also believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvati Ma. On this day Shiva devotees observe fast and offer fruits, flowers and bel leaves on Shiva Linga.

Shivaratri Festival Mahashivaratri Festival or the The Night of Shiva is celebrated with devotion and religious fervor in honor of Lord Shiva, one of the deities of Hindu Trinity. Shivaratri falls on the moonless 14th night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun, which corresponds to the month of February - March in English Calendar. Celebrating the festival of Shivaratri devotees observe day and night fast and perform ritual worship of Shiva Lingam to appease Lord Shiva. Legends of Mahashivratri There are various interesting legends related to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. According to one of the most popular legends, Shivaratri marks the wedding day

of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Some believe that it was on the auspicious night of Shivaratri that Lord Shiva performed the Tandava, the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction. Another popular Shivratri legend stated in Linga Purana states that it was on Shivaratri that Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga. Hence the day is considered to be extremely auspicious by Shiva devotees and they celebrate it as Mahashivaratri - the grand night of Shiva. Traditions and Customs of Shivaratri Various traditions and customs related to Shivaratri Festival are dutifully followed by the worshippers of Lord Shiva. Devotees observe strict fast in honor of Shiva, though many go on a diet of fruits and milk some do not consume even a drop of water. Devotees strongly believe that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivaratri, absolves a person of sins and liberates him from the cycle of birth and death. Shivaratri is considered especially auspicious for women. While married women pray for the well being of their husbands unmarried women pray for a husband like Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband. To mark the Shivratri festival, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath, preferably in river Ganga. After wearing fresh new clothes devotees visit the nearest Shiva temple to give ritual bath to the Shiva Lingum with milk, honey, water etc. On Shivaratri, worship of Lord Shiva continues all through the day and night. Every three hours priests perform ritual pooja of Shivalingam by bathing it with milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water amidst the chanting of Om Namah Shivaya and ringing of temple bells. Nightlong vigil or jaagran is also observed in Shiva temples where large number of devotees spend the night singing hymns and devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. It is only on the following morning that devotee break their fast by partaking prasad offered to the deity. When is Shivaratri? Auspicious festival of Mahashivaratri falls on the 13th or the 14th night of the new moon during Krishna Paksha in the Hindu month of Phalgun. The Sanskrit term, Krishna Paksha means the period of waning moon or the dark fortnight and Phalguna corresponds to the month of February - March in English Calendar. Shivaratri Festival is celebrated on a moonless night. According to Hindu mythology, Shivaratri or 'Shiva's Great Night' symbolizes the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Many however, believe, Shivaratri is the night when Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Nritya - the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. Celebrating the festival in a customary manner, devotees give a ritual bath to the Lingam with the panchagavya - milk, sour milk, urine, butter and dung. Celebrations of Shivaratri Festival mainly take place at night. Devotees of Lord Shiva throng Shiva temples across the country and spend the Night of Lord Shiva by chanting verses and hymns in praise of the Lord. The festival holds special meaning for the ladies. They pray to Goddess Parvati also called 'Gaura', the

giver of 'suhag' for good husbands, marital bliss and a long and prosperous married life. Shivaratri Rituals Devotees of Lord Shiva observe the Shivaratri Festival by following the prescribed rituals with sincerity and devotion. All through the day, devotees abstain from eating food and break their fast only the next morning, after the nightlong worship. Ritual baths of Shivalinga in the numerous Shiva temples by Shiva worshipper, mainly women, is another significant feature of Shivratri customs and traditions. Devotees strongly believe that ritual worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivaratri absolves them of past sins and they are blessed with Moksha. Rituals Observed on a Shivaratri Morning As a tradition devotees wake up early in the morning of the Mahashivratri day and take a ritual sunrise bath, preferably in the holy waters of river Ganga. They also offer prayers to the Sun God, Vishnu and Shiva as a part of a purification rite observed on all-important Hindu festivals. After wearing fresh new clothes devotees visit the nearest Shiva Temple to give the customary bath to the Shivalinga. On a Shivratri day, Shiva temples are thronged by devotees, mainly women, who come to perform the traditional Shivalinga pooja and seek blessings from the god. At times there is so much rush in the temples that devotees have to wait for their turn to observe pooja. At their turn for worship, devotees circumambulate the Shivalinga, three or seven times, and then pour water over it. Some also pour milk. Sounds of bell and shouts of Shankarji ki Jai or (Hail Shiva) reverberate in the temple premises. Ritual Bath of Shivalinga Following the rituals prescribed in the Shiva Purana, every three hours, Shivalingam is given a special bath with milk, yoghurt, honey, sandalwood paste and rose water. Puja, meditation and chanting of Om Namah Shivaya accompany the ritual bath. Following the bath, vermilion paste is applied on the linga. Traditionally, leaves of a forest tree Aegle marmelos (bilwa, maredu, wood apple) are used for Shiva puja. Thereafter, Bilwa leaves, which have to be a stalk with three leaves, is kept on top of the Shivalinga. Ber or jujube fruit is a special offering to the god on this day. Beetle leaves are also offered by some. Some also offer bilwa leaves in the belief that the Goddess Lakshmi resides in them. Others believe it is offered for its cooling effects on the hot-tempered deity. Many devotees also decorate the linga with flowers and garlands and offer incense sticks and fruit. Significance of Puja Items According to the Shiva Purana, there is a special significance of the six essential puja items used in the Shiva worship. Bathing of Shivalinga with water, milk and honey and wood apple or bel leaves added to it, represents purification of the soul. The vermilion paste applied on the linga after the ritual bath represents virtue. Offering of fruits symbolizes longevity and gratification of desires. Burning of incense sticks yields wealth.

The lighting of the lamp symbolizes attainment of knowledge. Offering of betel leaves marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures. All-Night Shiva Worship Worship of Lord Shiva continues all through the night on Shivaratri Festival. Devotees stay awake all night and spend the night in Shiva temples in worship of Lord Shiva. Singing of hymns and verses in praise and devotion of Lord Shiva besides the intense chanting of Om Namah Shivay, the mantra that is said free people from all their sins, continue through the night on Shivaratri. Special worship of Shiva by priests continues through the nightlong prayer vigil. During this ritual worship, Lord Shiva is offered special food made from the fruits of the season, root vegetables and coconuts. Those observing the Shivaratri Fast break their fast the next morning by consuming the prasad offered to Shiva. Shivaratri Pooja Shivaratri Pooja has been given tremendous significance in Hindu mythology. It is said that ritual worship of Lord Shiva on a Shivaratri day pleases Lord Shiva the most. Devotees further believe that by pleasing Lord Shankara on the auspicious Shivaratri day, a person is absolved of past sins and is blessed with Moksha or salvation. Merits of Shivaratri Puja According to Shiva Purana, sincere worship of Lord Shiva yields merits including spiritual growth for the devotees. It also provides extensive details on the right way to perform Shivratri Puja. Shiva Purana further says that performing abhisheka of Shiva Linga with six different dravyas including milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water while chanting Sri Rudram, Chamakam and Dasa Shanthi pleases Lord Shiva the most. According to the mythology, each of these dravya used in the abhisheka blesses a unique quality: Milk is for the blessing of purity and piousness. Yogurt is for prosperity and progeny. Honey is for sweet speech. Ghee is for victory. Sugar is for happiness. Water is for purity. Besides, worship of Lord Shiva on Shivratri is also considered to be extremely beneficial for women. While, married women pray to Shiva for the well being of their husbands and sons, unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva, who is considered to be the ideal husband. Getting Ready for Shivratri Puja To perform the worship of Lord Shiva on Shivratri, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath, preferably in the holy waters of river Ganga. This is followed by worship to Sun God, Vishnu and Shiva in accordance with the purification rite observed on all-important Hindu festivals. Devotees then wear fresh new clothes and pay a visit to the nearest Shiva temple. As a tradition, devotees

observe a fast on a Shivaratri day. Some do not consume even a drop of water. Performing Maha Shivaratri Pooja Following the method prescribed in Shiva Purana, priests perform ritual puja of Shiva Linga every three hours all through the day and night of Shivaratri Festival. During this pooja, chants of Om Namah Shivaya and sounds of bells reverberate in the temple. Following the bath with milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water that helps in the purification of the soul a vermilion paste is applied on the Linga as it represents virtue. These six items form an indispensable part of Shivaratri, be it a simple ceremony at home or grand temple worship After this, Bilwa leaves, which have to be a stalk with three leaves, is kept on top of the Shivalinga to cool the hot-tempered deity. Ber or jujube fruit is also offered to Lord Shiva, as it is symbolic of longevity and gratification of desires. Some devotees also offer the auspicious betel leaves to Lord Shiva marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures. Garlanding of Linga with flowers and garlands is also a part of the ritual Shivaratri Puja. Devotees also burn incense sticks as is said to yield wealth. Many also light lamps to symbolize attainment of knowledge. It is said that by offering water, hugging the Linga, lighting the diya and incense and ringing the temple bells, devotees call into focus all their senses, making them acutely aware of themselves and the universe to which they belong. This ritual worship of Lord Shiva continues through the day and night of Shivaratri. Devotees stay awake and spent the night in Shiva temples by chanting Om Namah Shivaya and singing hymns and verses in praise of Lord Shankar. Devotees observing vrat on Shivaratri break it only the next morning by partaking prasad offered to Lord Shiva. Significance of Shivratri Festival of Mahashivaratri is the most important festival for the millions of devotees of Lord Shiva. The festival has been accorded lot of significance in Hindu mythology. It says that a devotee who performs sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivratri is absolved of sins and attains moksha.