History and Customs of Maha Shivaratri
Maha Shivaratari, or simply Shivaratari, is a Hindu festival celebrated all across India. The name literally means ‘the great night of Shiva’. The auspicious time begins at sundown on the the 13th night during the month of Maagha in the Hindu calender and ends at sundown the following day. Since the date of the festival is calculated on the Hindu lunar calender it always falls on a moonless night.
Shivaratari has a special significance for women because it has its roots in a ritual performed by Parvati, Shiva’s wife. It is believed that on this night Shiva goes into a meditative state for one prahar (three hours). During this time he is vulnerable and so to protect him Parvati, offers prayers so no harm may come to him while he is unable to defend himself.
In the same way married women pray for their husband’s safekeeping and fast as penance for their safety. In contrast unmarried women pray for a husband who bears the qualities of Shiva.
The observance of this holy time begins at sunset with a nightlong vigil or jaagran. Priests offer a puja in a three-hour cycle where they ritualistically bathe a lingam, a statuette that symbolises the deity. The ritual of bathing a representation of a god is known as the ‘abhishek’.
Devotees believe that by uttering Lord Shiva’s name cleanses them of their sins. They further believe that if they do this on the night of Shivaratari, the power of his name is magnified.
In the morning men and women alike participate in a ritualistic bath, abhishekam. They will then visit a Shiv-temple where they perform a ritualistic bath of a lingam, much like the priests did the night before. They smear vermillion paste on the lingam to purify it. They offer a variety of fruit, incense, and betel leaves to the statuette in order to cast away their sins.
What does Maha Shivaratri mean?
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