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photoMaha Siva Raatri
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Maha Siva Raatri means the great night of Lord Shiva and it is observed on the fourteenth lunar night(chaturdasi)of the dark forthnight(Krishna Paksh)in the Hindu month of Phalgun.This corresponds to late February and early March in the English calendar.

Maha Siva Raatri's time duration is such that the lunar day or thithi(chaturdasi in this case)must pass through midnight.A great deal of preparation is involved in order to celebrate this religious event since it requires the performance of Pooja(prayers).

Lord Siva is the Devta or diety worshipped here.His worship is done in the form of a Lingam Pooja.

The Lingam is a stone with an oval shape and it represents the abstract form of God.

Siva - the word meaning auspicious - is one of the Hindu Trinity, comprising of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the Preserver and Shiv or Mahesh, the Destroyer and Re-Producer of life. Time is invisible and formless. Therefore Mahakal Shiv, as per the Vedas, manifested himself as "LINGUM" to make mankind aware of the presence of Eternal Time. That day when Shiv manifested himself in the form of "Lingum" was the fourth day of the dark night in the month of Magh i.e. February-March. This is confirmed by Rishi Markendeya in the sloka :-

"That night, when the many-splendoured Shiv-Lingum dazzled the world with its appearance, was the night of the Mahashivratri- the night of the great Siva". This Mahashivratri festival continues to be celebrated for ever and ever. Maharishi Narada advised mankind to fast on this day and pray to the All Powerful Siva so that in all His kindness He pardons all the sins that are committed in the past three lives.

Lord Siva is portrayed as an ascetic, sitting on a tiger skin, a bunch of poisonous snakes coiled round his blue neck, his hair and his body. He received the waters of the sacred river Ganga that rushed down from heaven with an unimaginable force and ferocity in the coil of his hair on his head to save the world from total annihilation and released the water slowly on the plains to flow.

Lord Siva has a third eye in the centre of his forehead along with a crescent moon. His most powerful weapon is the Trishul, the trident. His favourite mount is the sacred bull, Nandi who is also worshipped. His abode is on the high majestic Kailash mountain where he resides with his celestial consort goddess Parvati.

Lord Siva is worshipped in the form of `Siva Lingum' which symbolises the power behind the creation. As Nataraj, the master of the art of dancing, he is depicted in sculptures in bronze and images in metal. In fact, the entire world of art revolves round Lord Shiv and goddess Parvati.

In our country there are twelve "JYOTIRLINGAS" of Lord Shiv at twelve places that are sacred to the Hindus. It is believed that all these twelve Jyotilingas are "Swayambhus" meaning that they sprung up by themselves at these places and afterwards only temples were built. Every Hindu believes that at least once in his life-time he must visit these twelve Jyotirlingas and then he will be absolved of all the sinful acts he may have done.

These twelve Jyotirlingas are:-

Somnath in Kathiawar.
Shri-Shailya-Mallikarjun in the South.
Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain.
Omkarnath on the bank of river Jamuna.
Parali-Vaijanath in Marathwada.
Bhimashanker on the bank of Bhima river.
Rameshwar in South.
Naganath in Marathwada.
Ghrusneshwar at Daulatabad.
Kashi-Vishveshwar in Benares.
Kedarnath in Uttar Pradesh.
Trimbakeshwar in Nasik.

Lord Siva is known by many names like Shankar, Mahesh, Bholenath, Neelakanth, Shambhu Kailasheshwar, Umanath, Nataraj and others. He is the most sought-after deity amongst the Hindus and pray to him as the god of immense large-heartedness who they believe grant all their wishes.

Thus this Mahashivratri festival is in honour of Lord Siva. Devotees observe fast the whole day and keep vigil throughout the night. After fasting the whole day devotees bathe with the water that is boiled with black sesame seeds to wash away bodily impurities. Then putting on new clothes they wash the Lingum with milk and perform religious rites, put haldi-kumkum on the lingum and a garland of white and pink lotus flowers. Bel leaves are placed in front of the Lingum and "aarthi" and "bhajans" are sung to invoke his blessings.

The aroma of the lighted agarbattis seem to float in the air and from temples are heard the chinning of the bells and the sound of melodious devotional songs. All this surely must reach Mount Kailash and wake Him up from his deep meditation to bless mankind. Our ancient religious scriptures specially `Linga Puran', abound with stories of Lord Siva's kindness and large-heartedness in giving boons to His devotees.

Young unmarried girls observe day-long fast, keep awake the whole night, sing devotional songs and pray to Lord Shanker to give them good and virtuous husbands.

During Maha Siva Raatri,Hindus observe fasting. They abstain from eating and drinking forbidden foods and they will make all the necessary preparations for the Pooja which begins at sunset.

Actually,the complete Maha Siva Raatri Pooja consists of four individual poojas. The first Pooja starts at sunset and with two hour intervals,the remaining three is done.The last one must finish at midnight.A vigil is maintained all night until before sunrise of the next morning. Bhajans and kirtan(hymns and praises)are encouraged in order to maintain this vigil and also discourses relevant to the occasion are read.

The first Pooja culminates with the offering of milk; at the end of the second Dahee or curds are offered ; at the end of the third Ghee (cow's butter) is offered and at the end of the last Pooja, honey is offered on the Lingam.

From midnight until before sunrise next morning, Jal or water is offered on the Lingam .However,the most important article of worship in this Pooja is Bail leaves (the leaves of the wood apple tree). These leaves are exceedingly loved by Lord Shiva and the offering of same brings some form of spiritual elevation to the person who has made such an offering. In order to achieve the maximum benefits,the services of a qualified Pandit (Hindu priest) is very important in performing this Pooja.

Important Notes On Maha Siva Raatri.....

Lord Siva grants His blessings to His devotees who worships Him on the night of Maha Shiva Raatri.Worshiping Him on this night promotes spiritual growth.

Maha Shiva Raatri does not in any way relate to the birthday or the wedding of Lord Shiva.Any such discourses read on this night is purely coincidental and does not indicate that these incidents took place on the night of Maha Shiva Raatri.,BR>

Care should be taken in the selection of a Lingam. A Lingam with an image of Lord Shiva and /or His consort Parvati or a snake as is commonly seen,is NOT considered as a Lingam but as a Murti. Therefore,it is not appropriate to use such,as a Lingam for this purpose. The Lingam is a representation of the infinite form of God,without beginning and without end and this cannot be effectively represented by a Lingam with a human resemblance.

The offering of Jal (water)on the Lingam should NOT extend on to daytime of the following day. The word Raatri means night and any worship that extends into daytime violates the concept of night and day and constitutes sin.

Siva Raatri.....

Siva Raatri occurs once a month on the night of the fourteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksh or the dark forthnight.There are eleven Shiva Raatris in a year but in Malmaas,there is one more and in Kshai Maas there is another. Lord Shiva is worshipped at this time with all the grandeur of Maha Shiva Raatri.The worship of the Murti can also be done at this time.

The importance of time.....

Since Maha Siva Raatri must go past midnight of the night in question,the chances are that the thithi or lunar day (chaturdashi in this case)might not last until the next morning.For example, it might finish at two o'clock in the morning;how does this affect the proceedings?

The celebrations can continue as normal and conclude at two o'clock in the morning or it can continue and conclude before the sun rises.This would be a matter of personal choice.In any event,both ways are in accordance with the Shastric (recommended) principles and are acceptable.

This festival of Maha Sivratri is held in great esteem in most of the regions in India but especially in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. In Ujjain in the famous temple of Mahakaleshwar Siva Lingum is worshipped with the performance of all the religious rites and rituals. The story goes that a powerful demon who lived on Ratnamal mountain attacked Avanti - the name of the present-day Ujjain in those days - and killed a Brahmin sage by putting him in fire. The angry Lord Siva opened his third eye and burnt the demon to ashes. On that very spot of land where Lord Shiv opened his third eye and killed the demon appeared the Siva-Lingum. A majestic temple was built on that ground. The mention of this temple is found in `Adi-Brahma Puran' and its detailed description in the `Gyan-Samhita'.

The illustrious king Vikramaditya during the time he was the ruler of Ujjaini, visited the MahaKaleshwar temple every morning, after his bath. He bowed before the Siva-Lingum in all humility and prayed to Lord Siva to mercifully grant prosperity and happiness to his subjects and peace to the land over which he ruled. He placed one hundred and eleven Bel leaves one by one on the Shiv lingum and while placing each leaf he praised Lord Shanker by reciting shlok.

In Kashmir, since the majority of Kashmiri Pandits are followers of Siva, this Maha Sivratri festival is observed for fifteen continuous days. The thirteenth day of this festival in Kashmir is known by the name of HERATH which is celebrated with indescribable zest and joy. The Kashmiris belive that the marriage of Siva and Parvati was celebrated on the day of Herath.