The core of mahashivratri celebrations

Mahashivaratri is one of the most pious of days in the Hindu calendar. It is a staunch belief that can never be easily defied by logic that birth, death and marriage are ruled by destiny. Destiny or providence is under the domain of gods and is proclaimed by their voluntary action. Hence the Hindu womenfolk in India fast daylong as each aspires only to be blessed with a husband who is an incarnation of the Lord Shiva himself. Lord Shiva is worshipped with all grandeur at temples and homes through each session of the day and throughout the night. The daylong festivities spill over to the next morning when Brahmins are offered meals and gifts to end the round of celebrations. Mahashivratri the night for worshipping Lord Shiva comes on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna in the Hindu calendar.

It falls on a moonless night when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction.

In legends, shivaratri wherein ratri refers to night comes when Lord Shiva is said to have performed the Tandava Nritya or the dance of prehistoric creation, protection and obliteration.

In Hindu mythology Lord Shiva had swallowed a pot of poison that had emerged from the ocean before the pot of nectar during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan. He had helped in saving the world by holding this lethal venom in his throat instead of swallowing it. This had eventually turned his throat blue earning him the name Nilkantha or the blue-throated one. Mahashivratri is also a celebration of this extraordinary event by which Shiva saved the world as found in the fables.

Shivaratri is especially auspicious for women. Married women fast throughout the day for the well being of their husband and children. Unmarried women pray for an ideal husband like Shiva who is known to be the consort of goddesses like Kali, Parvati and Durga. It is also widely known that anyone who utters the name of Shiva during this occasion with absolute devotion is liberated from all sins. Further this pure dedication ensues in their transcending the cycle of birth and death to reach the abode of Shiva. On the day of shivaratri a three storied podium is erected around a fire among which the upper most tier represents heaven, the middle space and the bottom most is earth. Eleven urns decorate the top plank for the eleven manifestations of shiva. Bael leaves beautify the podium along with white flowers that adorn it during prayers and chanting of mantras.

Shiva is worshiped in his phallic form and shivaratri is a celebration that includes bathing the phallus. The phallus or lingam symbolizes Lord shiva and is worshipped.

It is usually made of granite, soapstone, quartz or marble. Devotees bath the lingam every three hours which continues throughout the night into the wee hours. The Lord is offered milk, curd, honey, coconut water, sandalwood paste, aatar and clarified butter along with bael leaves, flowers especially white and various seasonal fruits. Mantras are chanted all through the day by the devotees while the ambiance is created by lighting incense sticks and oil lamps. Temple bells keep ringing daylong and even through the night while worshippers keep awake by listening to stories, hymns and sacred songs.

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