Maha Shivaratri festival of March 8, 2024 - many related fascinating rituals and beliefs

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 Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on March 8th.

Maha Shivaratri greetings, 2024

Maha Shivaratri.

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

The following are some interesting rituals and  beliefs associated with Maha Shivaratri: 

01. Worship of god Shiva: 

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.

02. Types of Shiva's temples: 

Wonderful Indian Architecture
Above image: Pancha Bootha sthalam in Tamil Nadu and Andhra. 

There are Shiva temples across India representing certain aspects of his personality. They are called 'Sthalas'  dedicated to five elements (Pancha Boothas), five exotic Thandavs (dances) -  five sabhas (mandaps / theaters); all are in Tamil Nadu. , Jyothirlingas (in the form of fire / Agni), Mukthi (salvation),etc., scattered across India.

03. Parvati's worship of God Shiva:

On Shivaratri (night of Shiva), Parvathi, consort of Shiva,  prays intensely to be with Him after a long separation. Impressed by her devotion and perseverance the lord  finally married Him on this occasion. 

04. Worship at Shiva temples:

On Shivaratri, pujas are conducted at temples all through night  independently at four Jaamams (kaalam /timings)  for the welfare and prosperity of the people and of nation. Devotees stay alive and and participate in the puja rituals without fail. At Major Shiva temples across India, the Shiva Lingam is worshiped throughout the night by anointing it  every three hours with milk, curd, honey, rose water, etc., amidst  chanting of the Mantra ''Om Namah Shivaya''. Offerings of bael (Bilva leaves) leaves are made to the Lingam. as they are sacred;  it is said, goddess Lakshmi resides in them. 

05. Night of prayer, meditation and worship: 

The ‘Great Night of Shiva,’ Maha Shivratri  is an auspicious festival considered for receiving Lord Shiva’s blessings and removing karma, and the long held belief has been that  the energies of Lord Shiva are most accessible on this night.  It  marks  the spiritual aspects of  "overcoming darkness and ignorance" in life and the world. It is observed by remembering Shiva and chanting prayers, fasting, and meditating 

06. Celestial wedding of Shiva and his consort Parvati:

shiva-Parvati celestial wedding.

Above image:  Celestial wedding Scene of god Shiva and goddess Parvati - Kalyansundaram Panel. wooden crafting. Both soft and hard wood are used. Mahogany, Oakwood, Walnut wood, Weet cherry wood, etc., are preferred by sculptors because their fiber is hard. Sculpting is done by special tools like pointed chisel, mallet, gouge, etc.................... 

The  festival marks the celestial wedding of  Shiva and Parvati; the latter has been away from him and is unable to bear the pangs of pains of marital separation.  Maha Shivratri  celebrates their union - of Shakti and Shivam and it is symbolic of  the harmony of the mind and soul, as well as the convergence of masculine and feminine powers in the universe (aspects of Ardhanarisvara - half man and half woman(see image below).

bronze idol of Ardhanarisvara - Shiva- Parvati.

07. Samudra Manthan (Churning of the mythological Milky Ocean):

Odisha painting. Samudra

While churning the ocean of milk by the Devas and Assuras to get the Amrita - the nectar of immortality, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. To protect the world and people, Shiva consumed the poison, and Parvati, his consort held his throat  to avoid swallowing it. but his throat turned blue due to the poison. Hence, Shiva is also known as Neelkanth (the one with the blue throat). Maha Shivratri symbolizes  this act of saving the universe.

08. Shiva’s Cosmic Dance:  

Cosmic dance of God Shiva

Above image: The cosmic dance took place in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, South India.....................

Often called Cosmic dancer, during  Maha Shivratri, it is believed,  Lord Shiva enthralls his devotees and others by performing the heavenly  cosmic dance of creation, preservation, and destruction  called tandava, and it symbolizes the natural processes of the cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution in the universe, thus establishing an equilibrium among them. The natural  process in the universe and on the earth even today continue unabated. 

09. Formless entity:

Formless Shivalinga

Above image:  The icon is regarded to represent the Parashiva and Parashakti aspects of Shiva and Parvati and their union...............

Shiva Lingam: An abstract or aniconic representation of god Shiva.  Another significant aspect of Maha Shivratri relates to the worship of the Shiva Lingam, representing Shiva’s formless aspect. The various parts of Shiva Linga symbolize the merging of microcosmos and macrocosmos, the divine eternal process of destruction, creation and regeneration, and the union of the feminine and the masculine that recreates all of existence.

10. Path of liberation

Legends say that on this day, Shiva manifested as a lingam for the first time. Devotees observe fasts, perform rituals, and offer milk, water, bel leaves, and fruits to the Shiva Lingam, seeking blessings for well-being and moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).  It’s an opportunity to reflect, reconnect with the divine, and embark on a path of spiritual growth.

11. Aspects of holy union of Shiva and his consort: 

As some also view it as the holy union of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, it represents the perfect balance of power and energy. Others recall the story of Lord Shiva protecting the world from darkness by consuming deadly poison that surfaced during the cosmic ocean’s churning, highlighting how this spiritual journey can lead to liberation from the endless cycle of birth and death. As for his consort Parvati how she saves him from the impending death by holding the potent poison in the neck. 

Maha Shivratri is celebrated across India with different local customs and traditions. In northern states, devotees fast and visit Shiva temples, while in southern states like Tamil Nadu, grand celebrations at Thiruvannamalai, Chidambaram, etc., are observed. Girivalam- going round the Arunachala hill with barefoot by thousands of devotees at Thiruvannamalai is an impotent ritual  during this period. In the western Indian state of Maharashtra, people chant prayers and offer thandai. In West Bengal and Odisha, unmarried girl devotees fast for a suitable husband and happy married life. Traditional dance festivals or performances are held at famous temples like Nataraja temple, Chidambaram, TN, Konark, Khajuraho, Odisha