Maha Shivaratri which means “the Great Night of Lord Shiva” is a Hindu festival celebrated annually in the month of February or March. The date is generally on the 13th or 14th day of the month of Phalguna of the Hindu calendar.
Maha Shivratri marks the end of winter and the beginning of summer. It is one of the most auspicious festivals of the Hindus and is celebrated all over India and by the Hindus outside India. In the morning a lot of devotees fast, worship the lingam (Shiva Shrine) with water and/or milk and ghee. They offer flowers, bael leaves, fruits and sweets. People donate or feed the poor and needy. The celebrations continue for the whole night. It is said that one should stay awake to introspect, reflect and meditate. It is believed to be the night of overcoming darkness and ignorance.
The night of Maha Shivratri is extremely significant. There is a myth about the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati on this night. This is the night when Lord Shiva performs the heavenly dance (Tandava) of creation, preservation and destruction, according to a legend in the Shaivism tradition. The significance of dance tradition to this festival has therefore evolved. The Maha Shivaratri has served as a historic confluence of artists for annual dance festivals at major Hindu temples such as Konark, Khajuraho, Pattadakal, Modhera and Chidambaram. This event is called Natyanjali, meaning ‘worship through dance'. Various temple grounds arrange for Shivratri fairs too. The Maha Shivaratri fair near Murghi Kund, Gujarat's Junagadh is the most popular one. Thousands of devotees visit to take a dip in the Kund (pool) as it is believed that Lord Shiva had himself taken bath there.
A Popular Belief
Legend also has it that this is the night of the Neelkanth. Lord Shiva is also called Neelkanth because his neck (Kanth) turned blue (Neel) with the consumption of poison which came out during the great Samudra Manthan (churning of the sea) by the Devas (gods) and the asuras (demons). The poison was toxic enough to wipe out all lives and so out of compassion Lord Shiva drank it, without taking sides with the gods. He is the epitome of virtue. This is why it is believed that Maha Shivratri is the night of walking towards the light. It is the night to have the wisdom to know the difference between good and evil and finally choose good over evil.
India has numerous Shiva Temples of various scales. There are some significant pilgrimage circuits and sites and sacred temples which are age old. The list will be exhaustive. So out of these, I have made a list of five age old temples which have the highest footfall of devotees to celebrate Maha Shivaratri every year.
- Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh: Varanasi is the religious hub for the Hindus in India. On the auspicious occasion of Maha Shivaratri, the temple town is decorated and Lord Shiva's wedding procession is taken from the Mahamrityunjaya Temple to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Vishwanath is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas and is considered one of the holiest Shiva shrines in India.
- Mahakaleswar Temple at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh: 9-day long Navratra is observed at the Mahakaleswar Temple of Ujjain before the final celebration of Maha Shivaratri on the tenth day. This is another of the 12 Jyotirlingas and so is an extremely popular and significant pilgrimage site.
- Arunachaleswara Temple or Annamalai Temple on the Annamalai Hills in Tamil Nadu: Maha Shivratri is celebrated with grandeur here. ‘Giri Pradakshina' is the major phenomenon here. ‘Giri' means hill and Pradakshin means ‘going round'. So devotees go round the hilltop rather than the entire temple complex on the hilltop. They walk 14 kilometres bare feet and then finally reach the shrine for worshipping. It is believed that this leads humans to moksha.
- Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneswar in Orissa: This 11th Century temple is flocked by devotees on Maha Shivratri. Devotees light large diyas (lamps made of clay) with oil, ghee and camphor inside the temple. The flames enhance the gorgeousness of the temple's architecture. Cultural events are lined up too.
- Baidyanath Temple at Deoghar in Jharkhand: Baba Baidyanath is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas and is mythological significant. It is said that Ravana worshipped Lord Shiva here. For years the town of Deoghar has been decked up with lights, flowers and tabloids on this day. Lord Shiva's wedding procession is celebrated on this day. Devotees from all over the country pour in. The environment is of absolute joy and festivity.
This year obviously the scale of celebrations will be brought down and strict Covid protocols will be maintained.
Besides these legendary ancient temples, there are also a lot of new temples or ashrams. They celebrate Maha Shivaratri in a very contemporary non-religious fashion. The Isha Yoga Centre at Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, is the most popular one.
The iconic statue of Adiyogi (the first yogi) at the scenic foothills of Velliangiri Hills is the centre of attraction. This statue is designed by Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev. It is recognised by “The Guinness Book of World Records' as the ‘Largest Bust Sculpture'. The statue represents Lord Shiva as the creator of Yoga; 34 meters tall, 25 meters wide and 45 meters long, weighing 500 tonnes. This majestic Adiyogi statue was inaugurated on Maha Shivaratri, 2017. Since then Maha Shivaratri is celebrated every year in front of the iconic statue with great vigour and devotion. The contemporary celebration attracts a huge number of people too especially the youth. It is exemplary and inspirational and makes one dive deep into the self.
Maha Shivratri to me is a reminder of self-introspection and rectification. The mystery and magic of the night cannot be defined by the narrow shackles of religions. It is a meditative experience where all are welcome.
Om Namoh Shivay.
A versatile writer and travel freak, discovering the world in her own casual way. Loves to immerse into the core of Mother Nature and extract her inherent beauty.