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Maha Shivaratri is one of the most important festivals associated with Shiva worship. Shivaratri (the night of lord Shiva) is observed on chaturdasi (14th day), the eve of New Moon Day (Amavasya) falling in the middle of Maagha and Phalguna (February-March). During Shivaratri night, penance should be observed without sleep and food, along with the worship of Shiva.
There are five nights of Lord Shiva: 1) Maha Shivaratri (Great Night of Lord Shiva, see below), 2) Yoga Shivaratri (night which a yogi creates for himself by yogic trance), 3) Nitya Sivaratri (Nightly Shivaratri), 4) Paksha Shivaratri (Fortnightly Shivaratri) and 5) Masa Shivaratri (Monthly Shivaratri).
A Vrata (penance) is observed on Maha Shivaratri during the night. The night is divided into four quarters called yama. Believers stay awake and fast during the night while worshipping the Lord. Observing people take a single meal during the day and sleep in a clean place during the night previous to the beginning of the day of penance. In the morning of Shivaratri, believers take a ritual bath in a river like Ganga, Cauveri, Godavari, Krishna etc., if possible. Then visit a Shiva temple and worship or witness the worship of Lord Shiva. The worship is continued throughout the night. According to scriptures the penance should be observed by worshipping Lord Shiva with lotus flowers, offer Him a pudding called pongali - rice and mung bean cooked together in milk, and recite Rigveda till the end of first yama (quarter of the night). In the second yama, they should worship Him with Tulasi leaves (Ocymum sanctum), offer Him a pudding called payasam- rice cooked in milk to a liquid consistency, and recite yajurveda. In the third yama, bael leaf (bilva leaves, Aegle marmelos or Crataeva religiosa) worship, offering of sesame flour mixed food, and recitation of Samaveda are observed. In the fourth yama or the last quarter of the night, neelotpala (blue lotus or sengalinir) flower worship, offering of simple food and recitation of Athrvaveda are observed. (Food is offered to the Lord, but not eaten until the entire penance is completed in the next morning).
In different parts of the Indian Continent, various myths are attributed to the observance of the day. It is said that Lord Shiva destroyed the whole world in a deluge on this night, which is part of a cyclical creation and destruction. However, Lord Shiva's wife Parvati worshipped the Lord and requested him that life be restored back, and bless the mortals with salvation when they worship Lord Shiva, as she did. Her request was granted. The night, which Pravati fixed for mortals for the worship of Ishwara (Lord of the Universe), was named mahaa-shiva-raatri (Great Night of Shiva).
According to a legend in the Shiva Purana, once Brahma and Vishnu were fighting over who was the superior of the two. Horrified at the intensity of the battle, the other gods asked Shiva to intervene. To make them realize the futility of their fight, Shiva assumed Linga form of a huge column of fire in between Brahma and Vishnu. Awestruck by its magnitude, they decided to find one end each to establish supremacy over the other. Brahma assumed the form of a swan and went upwards and Vishnu as Varaha went into the earth. The column of fire had no limit and though they searched for thousands of miles, neither could find the end. On his journey upwards, Brahma came across a ketaki flower wafting down slowly. When asked where she had come from, Ketaki replied that she had been placed at the top of the fiery column as an offering. Unable to find the uppermost limit, Brahma decided to end his search and take the flower as a witness. At this, the angry Shiva revealed his true form. He punished Brahma for telling a lie, and cursed him that no one would ever pray to him. The ketaki flower too was banned from being used as an offering for any worship, as she had testified falsely. Since it was on the 14th day in the dark half of the month of Phalguna that Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a linga, the day is especially auspicious and is celebrated as Mahashivratri.
According to Kannassa Ramayana, Brahma was born in the lotus that originated from the navel of Sri Maha Vishnu. Brahma tried to find the origin of the lotus and found Lord Vishnu. He asked Vishnu, "Who are you?" Vishnu replied, "I am Vishnu, your father." Father and son got into a quarrel over the origins Brahma and then into a fight. They shot their respective the most powerful weapons of mass destruction, Brahmastra and Narayanastra arrows, which caused devastation of the world. At that point a great phallus appeared to the amazement of both. They both determined to find the beginning and end of the great phallus and failed to reach its edges. At that moment Lord Shiva revealed himself and withdrew both weapons of mass destruction. Shiva enjoined that Brahma, Vishnu and the whole world should do penance that night every year by fast and worship of his great Phallus, Shivalinga. That night was Shivaratri.
According to Vaamana purana, chapter 6, Shiva wandered about the world naked grieving the death of His wife Satidevi at the Yajna fire conducted by her father Daksha. He covered his body only with the ashes of His wife and lived on alms. Kamadeva (Cupid/Eros) followed Shiva wherever He went attacking with the arrows of love. Shiva reached the Vindhya Mountains and entered Daaru forest, where certain ascetic Maharishis and their beautiful wives lived. When the women saw the most handsome naked ascetic in the world they were overcome by love for him, brought fruits and roots, and followed him. Enraged Maharishis castrated Shiva and Shivalinga fell to the ground. As the Phallus fell, Shiva disappeared and the world shook with a huge upheaval. Brahma and Vishnu startled by the upheaval came to the place where the great Phallus fell. Bewildered by the enormity of the Phallus, they decided to find the beginning and end of the great Phallus. Failing to find the origin and end of the Phallus, they praised Lord Shiva and requested Him to rescue the world. Shiva appeared and agreed to take back his phallus on one condition that all worship His Phallus. Vishnu agreed to that condition and prepared four texts Saivam, Paasupatam, Kaaladmanam and Kaapaalikam for the four kinds of humans depending upon their qualities and abilities (gunas). That was the beginning of worship of Shivalinga.
According to Vaamana purana, chapter 45, eighty-eight thousand Vaalakhilyas were born from the mind of Brahma. Vaalakhilyas emaciated their bodies by constant baths, fasting and worship of Shiva for one thousand divine years. Yet they failed to realize Shiva. However, Parvati took pity on them and suggested Lord Shiva to show mercy on the Vaalakhilyas. At this request Lord Shiva told Parvati that the Valakhilyas were mere fools, they were not free from lust and anger and they were not following the correct path to salvation. Puzzled at this response, Parvati requested Him to show their true nature. Shiva told Parvati to wait there and went to them. He appeared to them as a handsome naked young ascetic with only a garland on the head and with a begging bowl in the hand. The wives of the Vaalakhilya rishis gave fruits and roots to him. Enchanted by the divine handsome nude ascetic, the women were seduced. The rishis got enraged at the seduction of their wives and struck down Lord's Phallus. Lord Shiva disappeared and returned to Kailasa Mountain as the Phallus fell to ground causing a great upheaval in the universe. Surprised and scared by the outcome of their actions, the sages ran to Brahma for advice. Brahma enlightened them and suggested them to go to Kailasa and pray to Lord Shiva for instruction. Lord Shiva pleased by the prayers appeared to rishis and told them to install the Shivalinga in a lake called Sannihita and worship. Rishis went to Lord's fallen Phallus and attempted to remove it to the lake. However, they could not move the great Phallus at all. They went back to Lord for advice, whereupon Lord Shiva helped them remove the Phallus and install in the lake Sannihita. Thus installed Lord's Phallus is known as Sthaanu. That was the beginning of worship of Shivalinga.
According to Maha Bharata, sauptika parva, in the beginning Lord Brahma entrusted Lord Shiva with the duty of creation. Shiva went to acquire all the power to procreate. Lord Brahma having waited for Lord Shiva for a long divine time created prajapatis to do the creation. Shiva came out of his penance after acquiring the required powers of creation and found out that the job entrusted to him was taken away. Lord Shiva felt that there was no need for his great powers acquired for creation and the Phallus, and so he plucked his Phallus out and threw it away. The great Phallus of Lord Shiva fell on earth pointed upwards. In his frustration, Lord Shiva performed a dance of annihilation. Finally, at the request of Devas who worshipped Shiva's Phallus, Lord Shiva agreed to shed the fire of wrath in the water. Since then the worship of Shivalinga became popular.
According to another legend, Lord Shiva performs the ritualistic dance of Creation, Preservation and Dissolution on this night and so devotees also spend the night fully awake while reciting praises of Shiva. In some parts of the country Shivaratri is believed to have been the night when Shiva consumed the poison to save the world. Shiva was in pain and agony. The whole night, water, milk and other cooling material are poured on the Shiva Linga to relieve Shiva of suffering from the heat.
Worship of Shiva in general: According to Agnipurana, Nandikesa and Mahakala should be worshipped first. Then Ganga, Yamuna, the ganas, Vastupurusa, Sakti, and Dharma are to be worshipped. Later, the navasaktis (nine energies), i.e., Vaama, Jyeshta, Raudra, Kaali, Kalavikarini, Balavikarinin, Balapramathini, Sarvabhuutadamani, and manonmani should be worshipped. Then chanting of mantra, "Haam, huum, haam, Shivamuurtaye" should be performed.
The Shiva worship should incorporate six items: offering bilva leaves to the Linga after giving it a ceremonial bath, which represents purification of the soul; applying vermilion paste on the linga after bathing it, which represents virtue; offering food, which is conducive to longevity and the gratification of desires; lighting incense, which yields wealth; lighting an oil lamp, which signifies the attainment of knowledge; and offering betel leaves, which marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
Shivaratri's importance is described in many stories. According the following stories, even if one prays inadvertently to Shiva during Shivaratri, s/he would go to heaven even if s/he were a dreadful sinner..
According to Sivaratrimahatmya, Sukumara was the son of a Brahmin manager of the king of Kunjara, a kingdom on the banks of river Sindhu (Pakistan). He married a non-Brahmin and relinquished Brahminism. One day he went to a Shiva temple searching for flowers for his beloved wife. It was Shivaratri and the festival was being celebrated at the temple. Sukumara participated in the celebrations. Shortly afterwards he died. Agents of Kala Yama came to take his soul to hell for he relinquished his dharma and religion. At the same time angels from Kailasa also came to pick Sukumara's soul. Shiva's angels won over Yama's agents and took Sukumara to Shivaloka due to his accidental participation in Mahashivaratri celebrations.
Another Brahmin youth of a very bad character was once banished from his country as a punishment for his sins and evil deeds. One day he was wandering from morning to night looking for food. At the sunset he reached a Shiva temple. He saw offerings placed in front of the Lord in sanctum sanctorum of the temple. He wanted to steal the food. He went into the sanctorum and increased the light by adjusting the dying lamp. However, he was caught. It was the night of Maha Shivaratri. After the penance was complete, he was put to death for his crime of attempt to steal. It was believed that because he participated in the penance by performing the fast and stayed awake the entire night listening to recital of prayers and vedas in the temple, although involuntarily, he went to heaven.
Once upon a time, a hunter with his wife and a child lived in a forest. One day he went out hunting as usual. Night approached, but he was not able to hunt any thing. On his way back home, he stopped at a lake and climbed a bilva tree, hoping to catch an animal that might approach to drink water. Soon a doe approached the tree to eat the bilva leaves dropped by the hunter. The hunter took aim and was about to shoot the doe with his arrow. Suddenly, the doe addressed the hunter in a human voice, "O Hunter! Do not kill me, please." Startled by the human voice, the hunter said, "My dear doe! I have to kill you. You must be food for my family tonight." The doe requested the hunter to let her go home and bid final goodbye to her family and promised to come back to become hunter's food. The hunter, moved by her request, permitted her to go home. While he waited for the doe to return, a stag approached his tree. He was about to shoot the animal and again he was surprised when he heard that deer also beg him in a human voice to let him go home to see his wife and child and say goodbye. The hunter granted the request. Soon after a fawn appeared and also requested the hunter to let it go home to its parents and say goodbye. The hunter let the fawn go as well. The hunter waited foolishly for the return of the three deer as promised. It was almost dawn and there was no sight of the animals. He was about to go home resigned to his fate, there he saw at the dawn the three honest animals return. About the same time he saw his wife and child come running to him after searching for him the whole night in the forest. At that tender moment, the hunter decided to let the animals go free. Unknown to the hunter, the tree on which he lodged for the night happened to be the bilva tree the leaves of which are held to be sacred to Lord Shiva; and he unwittingly offered worship to Shiva through out the night by dropping the leaves on an image of Shivalinga which was lying under that tree. To add to the hunter's fortune, the night on which all these things took place was Maha Shivaratri night, though the hunter was ignorant of it. Therefore, there appeared before the hunter a divine airplane and carried away the hunter and his family along with the animals to the abode of Lord Shiva who was pleased by the hunter's actions.
According to another story, a hunter who failed to kill any animal was up on a tree all the night for the fear of wild beasts. While the wild animals were waiting for him under the tree, he plucked the leaves of the tree and kept on throwing at the beasts to keep them away. The leaves fell on the Shivalinga under the tree. It was the night of Maha Shivaratri. So, he went to heaven as Lord Shiva saved him despite his sinful hunting life.
Jyotirlingas: There are dwadasa (12) jyotirlinga shrines enshrining Shiva in the form of a jyotirlingam (Linga of Light), have been held in reverence since time immemorial in the Saivite religion. The 12 jyotirlingas are Bhimashankar, Deogarh, Grishneshwar, Kedarnath, Nageshwar, Omkareshwar, Rameswaram, Somnath, Sree Sailam, Tryambakeshwar, Ujjain and Varanasi. The southernmost of these is located at Rameswaram, while the northernmost is located in the snowy heights of the Himalayas at Kedarnath. These temples are closely linked with legends from the puranas and are rich in history and tradition.
Maha Sivaratri Celebrations in Andhra Pradesh
Srisailam is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in the Indian continent. The origins of this temple are buried in antiquity. The Skanda Purana has a chapter dedicated to it. The Satavahanas of the 2nd century AD had referred to it and the Saivite Tamil Saints had sung its glory. The great religious leader Aadi Sankara is said to have visited this shrine and composed his immortal Sivananda Lahiri here. The Kakatiyas and the Vijayanagar kings, esp Krishnadevaraya, made several endowments here. Praise of this temple has been sung by the Tamil Saint poets.
Mahasivaratri is celebrated here with pomp and grandeur. Thousands of devotees from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra thronged the temple of Sri Mallikarjuna Swamy and Bramarambika Devi in February. About 100,000 pilgrims visited Srisailam on Sivaratri day, February 18, 2004. The Chief Minister N.Chandrbabu Naidu offered prayers at the Sri Bhramarmba and Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple at Srisailam on the occasion of Mahasivarathri.
The three-day Mahashivaratri jatara (festival) was celebrated at the historic shrines of Vemulawada Sri Raja Rajeshwara Swamy and Kaleshwaram Muktheeswara Swamy and other Shiva temples in Karimnagar district. This year the Vemulawada jatara attained additional significance because of the Medaram Samakka-Sarakka jatara in Warangal district. Shiva temple shrines reverberated with the chanting of hymns of Lord Shiva and other devotional songs. The Andhra Pradesh State Road Transportation Corporation has operated about 200 buses from various places to the Vemulawada temple shrine.
The richly decorated temple of Lord Sri Kalahastheeswara beckoned devotees to the annual Brahmotsavams which started with the Maha Shivaratri festival on Wednesday, February 18, 2004. The entire Srikalahasti town was dazzling with huge illuminated cutouts of Lord Siva and the Linga. Srikalahasti is equated with the holy city of Varanasi and revered as `Dakshina Kasi'. Built and developed during the Chola and Pallava periods, the place derived its name from a spider (sri), snake (kala) and elephant (hasti), that had worshipped the Lord and attained salvation, thus standing as models for devotion. The shrine is also important on the count the Lord here is worshipped as `Vayulinga' (Linga of Air), one among the five such sacred ones in the country. Devotees from all over the State and neighboring Tamil Nadu thronged the shrine for the 13-day annual festival, which started with Shivaratri on February 18. Leading classical music and dance artistes performed on the occasion. A stream of devotees thronged the Kotappakonda chanting the `Hara Hara Mahadeva' mantra en route the bottom of the hill by all possible modes of transport on February 18, 2004.
Religious fervor and gaiety marked the occasion at Amaravati, which is one of the `pancharamams' with devotees taking a holy dip in the shallow waters of the Krishna close by. The APSRTC ran 500 special buses to Kotappakonda and Amaravati. While special poojas were performed at all Shiva temples in Guntur City, people thronged to the temples at Quarry, Govada, Pedakakani, Tsundur, Chejarla, and Satrasala.
Thousands took a holy dip in river Krishna and offered prayers at the various Siva temples in Krishna district on the occasion of Mahasivaratri. Several took the holy dip at Durga ghat upstream the Prakasam barrage and offered prayers at the Malleswaraswami temple on Indrakeeladri hillock, at the Ramalingeswar temple in Yenamalakuduru.
In Machilipatnam, devotees took the holy dip at Nagaleru, a tributary of Krishna River, and offered prayers at the Sivaganga Temple. The devout also offered prayers to Durganageswara swami at Pedakallepalli and to Nageswara swami at Kruthivenu. Sivaratri was celebrated in the temple town of Basar in Mudhole mandal, with a heavy rush of pilgrims to take the holy dip in the Godavari River. In Vizianagaram district, Mahasivaratri was celebrated at Punyagiri in South Kota mandal and Ramatheerthalu in Nellimarla mandal where thousands of devotees from all over the district and neighbouring Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam districts stood in serpentine queues to offer prayers to the presiding deities - Uma Koti Lingeswara Swamy and Sri Rama - respectively. The Uma Koti Lingeswara Swamy temple in Punyagiri, tucked in Eastern Ghats, 4 km from South Kota and 35 km from Vizianagaram City, is one of the ancient Siva temples in the north Andhra.
1) South Indian Festivities, P.V. Jadeesh Ayyar
7) News Reports
8) Story from Shiva Purana, as told by Dr. Rajagopal Duddu.
Om! Asatoma Sadgamaya, Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya, Mrityorma Amritamgamaya, Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih!
(Lead the world from wrong path to the right path, from ignorance to knowledge, from mortality to immortality and peace!)
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