February 17, 2017: Yasodha Jayanthi
February 19, 2017: Satabisha Karthe, Mangala Vratam, Seeta Ashtami
February 22, 2017: Vijaya Ekadasi
Maha Shivaratri or Shivaratri a prominent Hindu festival being celebrated every year on the 14th day of Krishna Paksha of the month of Phalguna Masa according to the Hindu calendar. The most significant practices of this day are offering of Bilva leaves to the Lord Shiva and perform abhishekams, fasting and all through night long vigil chanting Shiva Panchakshari mantra. People repeat the Panchakshara Mantra Om Namashivaiah as it is said he who utters the Names of Shiva during Shivaratri, with perfect devotion and concentration is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths. Many pilgrims flock to the places where there are Shiva temples.
According to a legend, during the Samudra Mathanam by the Gods and Demons, a poision came out of the ocean. It was so toxic, that its effect would have wiped out of the entire creation. At this juncture, on the advice of Lord Vishnu, the Gods approached Mahadev and prayed him to protect their lives by consuming the poision. The Lord pleased by the prayers out of compassion for living beings, Lord Shiva drank this poision and held it in this throat by binding it with a snake. The throat became blue due to the position. That is why Lord Shiva is otherwise called Neelakanta and Lord Shiva remained unharmed. The Ashwini Kumaras advised the Gods to keep Lord Shiva awake during the night as part of the therapy. To amuse Lord Shiva and to keep him awake, the gods took turn performing various dances and playing music. A vigil was thus kept by the gods in contemplation of Lord Shiva. As the day broke out, Lord Shiva pleased with their devotion and blessed them all. Since then, on this day and night, devotees fast, keep vigil, sing glories of Lord and meditate.
After creation was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva of which rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 14th night of the new moon, during the month of Phalguna, is my most favorite day. It is known as Shivaratri. Parvati repeated these words to her friends, from whom the word spread over all creation.
Once upon a time, a hunter worshipped Lord Shiva unknowingly on Shivaratri. He did this by dropping bilva leaves on a Shiva linga at the base of a bilva (bael) tree from its branches where he was hiding and fasting all night. For this he was forgiven of all his sins. This forms the basis behind the offerings of bilva to the Lord on Shivaratri.
In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma, whilst resting on the bed of arrows and discoursing on dharma, refers to the observance of Maha Shivaratri by King Chitrabhanu. The story goes as follows -
Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa, was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavkra came on a visit to the court of the king. The sage asked the king the purpose of his observing the past. King Chitrabhanu explained that he had the gift of remembering the incidents of his previous birth.
The king said to the sage that in his previous he was a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. One day while roaming through forests in search of animals he was overtaken by the darkness of night. Unable to return home, he climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a Bilva tree. He had shot a deer that day but had no time to take it home. So he bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree. As hunger and thirst tormented him, he was kept awake throughout the night. He shed profuse tears when he thought of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return. To pass away the time that night he engaged himself in plucking the Bilva leaves and dropping them down onto the ground. The next day he returned home and sold the deer and then bought some food for himself and his family. The moment he was about to break his fast a stranger came to him, begging for food. He served the food first to stranger and then had his own.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva. They were sent down to conduct his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by the unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri. The messengers told him that there was a Lingam at the bottom of the tree. The leaves he dropped fell on the Lingam. His tears, which had shed out of pure sorrow for his family, fell onto the Lingam and washed it and he had fasted all day and all night. Thus, he unconsciously worshiped the Lord. As the conclusion of the tale the King said that he lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages and now he has reborn as Chitrabhanu.
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 Sankara on the auspicious Shivaratri day, a person is absolved of past sins and is blessed with Moksha or salvation.
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.
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.
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 prasadam offered to Lord Shiva.
Maha Shivaratri falls on the following days in the respective years:
2011: Wednesday, March 2
2010: Friday, February 12
2009: Monday, February 23
2008: Thursday, March 6
2007: Friday, February 16
2006: Sunday, February 26
2005: Tuesday, March 8