Maha Shivarathri – Why do people fast?

Maha Shivarathri according to Hindus

Maha Shivarathri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva. It is also known as Padmaraja Rathri. Shivarathri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva.

Maha Shivarathri

Maha Shivarathri is celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day of the Magha month of the Hindu calendar i.e., in the dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the month of Magha according to the Shalivahana or Gujarati Vikrama or Phalguna according to the Vikrama era.

Maha Shiva RathriThe festival is celebrated by offerings of Bael or Bilva/Vilvam leaves to Lord Shiva after all-day fasting and an all-night-long vigil.

All through the day the devotees, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra dedicated to Lord “Om Namah Shivaya”.

In accordance with scriptural and discipleship traditions, penances are performed in order in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and Meditation in order to reach life’s ultimate goal of divinity.

In Nepal, millions of Hindu visit to attend Maha Shivarathri festival together from various places at famous Pashupatinath Temple.

On Mahashivrathri, Nishita Kala is the most famous perfect time to observe Shiva Pooja. On this day, in all Shiva temples, the most auspicious Lingodbhava puja is performed.

LEGENDS

Maha Shivarathri according to Hindus

Hindus celebrate Mahashivrathri, according to Vedic Literature – there was a legend associated called Neelakanta. After drinking the poison came out from the churning of the ocean, Shiva went to the Himalayas to meditate and he sacrificed himself for the safety of his family (universe).

Pralaya (THE DELUGE)

Pralaya - Deluge

Another version relates that the whole was facing destruction and Goddess Parvathi worshiped her husband Shiva to save it. She prayed for the jivas(living souls) remaining in seed-like particles of gold dust in a lump of wax, since pralaya was brought about by Lord Shiva. Maha Shivrathri is also in remembrance of the occasion when Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva married again.

Maha Shivrathri – Lord Shiva’s Favourite Day

When the creation of the universe was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which devotee and the rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 14th night of the new moon. In the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun, is his most favourite day. Parvati repeated these words to her friends and the devotees spread over all creation.

Maha Shivrathri According to Garuda Purana

  • Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa (India), was observing a fast with his wife, on the day of Maha Shivarathri.
  • The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king.
  • The sage asked the king the purpose of his observing the fast.
  • King Chitrabhanu explained that he had a boon of remembering the incidents of his past birth, and in his previous life he had been a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara.
  • His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. The day before the new moon, while roaming through forests in search of animals, he saw a deer, but before his arrow flew he noticed the deer’s family and the their sadness at its impending death.
  • So he let it live. He had still not caught anything when he was overtaken by nightfall and climbed a tree for shelter.
  • It happened to be a Bael tree. His water pot leaked, so he was both hungry and thirsty.
  • These two torments kept him awake throughout the night, thinking of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return.
  • To pass away the time he engage himself in plucking the Bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.
  • The next day he returned home and bought some food for himself and his family. The moment he was about to break his fast a stranger came to him, begging for food.
  • He served the food first to stranger and then had his own.
  • At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva, who took his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva.
  • He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Maha Shivarathri.
  • The messengers told him that there had been a Lingam at the bottom of the tree.

The leaves he dropped had fallen on the Lingam, in imitation of its ritual worship. The water from his leaky water pot had washed the Lingam and he had fasted all day and all night. Thus, he unconsciously had worshiped the Lord. As the conclusion of the tale the King said that he had lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for a long time before being reborn as Chitrabhanu.

‘Siva Rathri; means ‘night of Lord Siva’. The important features of this religious function are rigid fasting for twenty four hours and sleepless vigil during the night. Every true devotee of Lord Siva spends the night of Sivarathri in deep meditation, keeps vigil and observes fast. The worship of Lord Siva consists in offering of Lord Siva, and bathing it with milk, honey, butter, ghee, rose-water, etc.

Thus, it is clear that whosoever prays and has faith in Lord Shiva, He blesses him of good deeds and divinity.

Rituals on Maha Shivrathri

Very early morning, Shiva temples are flocked by devotees, young and old, men and women who come to perform the traditional Shivalinga worship (puja) and hope for favours from the god. Devotees bathe at sunrise, preferably in the Ganga, or any other holy river.

This is a rite of purification, which is an important part of all Hindu festivals. Wearing clean clothes after the holy bath, worshipers carry pots of water to the temple to bathe the Shivalinga. Women and men both offer prayers to the Sun, Vishnu and Shiva. The temple reverberates with the sound of bells and shouts of “Shankarji ki Jai” meaning “Hail Shiva”. Devotees circulate the Lingam three or seven times, and then pour water over it. Some also pour milk over it.

According to the Shiva Purana, the Maha Shivarathri worship must incorporate six items :

  • Bathing the Shiva Linga with water, milk and honey. Wood, apple or bael leaves were added to, which represent purification of the soul;
  • Vermilion paste applied to the Shiva Linga after bathing it which represents virtue;
  • Offering of fruits, which is conducive to longevity and gratification of desires;
  • Burning incense, yielding wealth;
  • The lighting of the lamp which is conductive to the attainment of knowledge;
  • And betel leaves mark the satisfaction with worldly pleasures.

Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of holy ash applied to the forehead by worshipers of Lord Shiva. These stripes symbolise spiritual knowledge, purity and penance.

Wearing a mala (rosary) made from the rudraksha seeds of the rudraksha tree when worshiping Lord Shiva is ideal. A rudraksha seed has mahogany-like color, or may be black.
They might also have traces of sacred sandalwood powder, turmeric, kumkum, or holy ash if the rosary used in worship ceremonies or annotations.

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