Mahasivaratri worship - important facts

13 February, 2018 Maha Shivaratri. Twitter
In Hinduism, there are countless festivals dedicated to Gods and Goddesses. Maha Shivaratri is a major, but an ancient  festival and has been around for centuries.  It signifies  "overcoming darkness and ignorance" in life by way of paying obeisance to Lord Shiva, a Trinity God in charge of destruction in the Hindu pantheon. According to the Hindu calendar in every lunar month - there is  a Shivaratri on the  13th night/14th day. But the one that falls once a year in late Winter - February/March, (dark half of Phalgun)  before the arrival of Summer, assumes importance and is called  Maha Shivaratri, meaning "the Great Night of Shiva". This year Mahashivaratri is celebrated on 13 February.

The following are interesting facts of Maha Shivaratri festival:

.. Shiva represents Poornathvam (completeness) and Mangalam (auspiciousness) meaning that He blesses his true devotees with everything that is good for them.

.. Shiva's devotees worship Shiva in three ways -  -aruvam (formless), ooruvam (having a form) and Aruvaroovam (lingam - neither a form nor formless). Shiva is commonly being worshiped as Lingam and Maheswara  Moorthis.

.. There are Shiva temples representing certain aspects of his personality. They are called 'Sthalas'  There  are  Sthalas dedicated to five elements (Pancha Boothas), five exotic Thandavas (dances), five Sabhas (mandaps / theaters), Jyothirlingas (in the form of fire / Agni), Mukthi (salvation),etc.

.. On Shivaratri (night of Shiva), Parvathi, consort of Shiva  prays intensely to be with Him. She married Him on this day.

.. On Shivaratri, pujas are held independently at four Jaamams (kaalam /timings)  for the welfare and prosperity of the people.

.. The benefits of Shiva Darshan ( praying to the lord right before him ) are based on the times of  observance: First jaama prayer (7. 30 to 9.30 pm)  will help  cure ailments. Prayer at Somaskandar shrine is good; prayer at second jaamam  (11.00 pm to 12.30 am) will improve wealth, success in business. Worshiping Dakshinamoorthy  is recommended; third jaama  prayer (2.30 t0 3.30 am) will remove sins. It is essential to pray at Lingothbhavar shrine in the sanctum and fourth  jaama prayer (4.30 to 6.30 am) will help get a roof over the head (a place to live with peace of mind and satisfaction). Worship at Chandrasekara shrine in the temple. 

.. During the second Jaamam if devotees undertake Girivalam - going around the Arunachala hill at Thiruvannamali, Tamil Nadu  behind the vast Shiva temple complex is good for the health, self contentment and success in any undertaking. 

.. On this night devotees must  observe the following: 
01. Abishekam (anointing - pouring holy water,etc., over the deity) - this will purify the soul,
 02. Reverentially marking the shivalingam with kunkumam. This will help the devotees lead a virtuous and right life, without deviating into the dark part of the life,
 03. Offering Prasadams (Naivedhyam) to the lord. This will help the devotees success in life and gain longevity and 
04. Lighting of an oil lamp. This will not only give the devotees a spiritual orientation and knowledge, but also self contentment in everything.  Further, it unveils our ignorance and understand the transient nature of this universe.

.. A day before Shivaratri is day of Pradosham so, having food only once is good and in the evening  offering prayer to Shiva (Moolavar in the sanctum / Srikovil or Garbagraha) at the temple is normally done.  The whole night should be spent by way of meditating on Shiva or reading stories from Puranas. This will impart right thinking and  chalking out our lives on the right direction with blessing from God.

.. It is said that the devotees on the following day in the early morning, after head-bath, should visit the nearest Shiva temple and  do prayer with devotion and dedication. They should fast the whole day. In the evening visiting the Shiva temple again is a must. Participating in all four Kaala (jaama) pujas at the temple will give them peace of mind,happiness and good for the welfare of the family. Their nagging problems will gradually go away.

.. In the event the devotees are unable to follow the above, participating in the temple prayers  or doing japa is recommended. 

.. Such fasting and meditation on the festival days are conducive to good physical and mental well-being of the devotees. Chanting of  the mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya'  is an important part of Shiva worship.

.. Anointing the Shivalinga is an essential part of Shivaratri because as per the mythology Lord Shiva swallowed the deadly poisonous scum  coming out of serpent Vasuki (during the churning of the sea of milk) by the Devas - celestial  and Assuras - demons. He did it with a view to saving the Devas as the poison was coming  on their side and to prevent Lord Vishnu (in the form of Koorma - Tortoise) from becoming  dark-skinned due to the effects of poison. The lump of poison was held in his throat (hence he is known as Neelakandan). Consequently, with poison within the throat portion,  the body of Shiva was radiating heat.  It is said that anointing the Shivalinga will help reduce the radiation and keep the lord cool.

.. Further, in order to ward off bad effects of the poisonous scum in his throat, the lord must keep himself awake the whole night. So, Shivas' ardent devotees keep him awake from dozing by way of  doing prayers, pujas, etc., throughout the night. 

.. Across India, all Shiva temples will be open the whole night during Shivaratri and the devotes throng them and engage in prayers, etc.

.. Offerings of bael leaves (bilva leaves) are made to the Lingam. Bael leaves are very sacred as, it is said, Lakshmi resides in them.

.. Participation of women in prayers during Shivaratri is essential as Parvati herself leads the prayer for lord's recovery from the effects of poison. 

.. If unmarried girls pray to Shiva on this auspicious occasion, Puranas/ Sastras say, they will  be blessed with  a compatible husband to take care them through out their lives. 

.. Shiva worship has a unique place among the true Hindu followers. Brahma fasted on this auspicious occasion  and got Saraswati as his consort, besides becoming in charge of Creation. As for Vishnu, he received  the Chakraytham (divine  disc) and married Lakshmi. In addition, he was endowed with the responsibility of Protecting all  creatures - both living and non-living things on earth. 

Ref:  Based on several sources.