Shiva is known by 108 names and has many forms, some terrible and some serene. He has the power to destroy the entire universe when it has become so overtaken by the evil that only death and regeneration can restore it to wholeness. He also has the supreme wisdom to conquer ignorance.
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Maha Shivratri, which literally translates to “great night of Shiva” is a Hindu festival largely celebrated in Nepal as well as India. The festival is celebrated on the new moon day in the month of Maagha according to the Hindu calendar. The day is celebrated to venerate Lord Shiva, an important deity in Hindu culture.
Two common beliefs include:
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1. Parvati (Shiva’s wife) prayed and meditated on the 13th night of the new moon to ward off any evil that might befall her husband
2. With the world facing destruction Parvati asked her husband Shiva to save it by dedicating a night where living souls would become active again and upon worshiping Shiva would have his blessings. Hence, it became known as the night of Shiva
Maha Shivaratri celebrates the night when Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava‘, the cosmic dance.
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Maha Shivaratri is thus not only a ritual but also a cosmic definition of the Hindu universe. It dispels ignorance, emanates the light of knowledge, makes one aware of the universe, ushers in the spring after the cold and dry winter, and invokes the supreme power to take cognizance of the beings that were created by him.
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Rituals of Maha Shivaratri
According to the Shiva Purana, the Mahashivaratri worship must incorporate six items:
- Bathing the Shiva Linga with water, milk and honey. Woodapple or bel leaves are added to, which represents purification of the soul;
- Vermilion paste is applied to the Shiva Linga after bathing it. This 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 conducive to the attainment of knowledge;
- And betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
Shivaratri in India
International MahaShivaratri Fair
The festival is centered around the protector deity of Mandi “Mado Rai” (Lord Vishnu) and Lord Shiva of the Bhootnath temple in Mandi. This festival is celebrated with great fervor in Mandi and it is common to see many foreign tourists throng to this region.
Maha Shivaratri in Central India
Mahashivratri at Haridwar (Image Source – Wikimedia Commons)
The Mahakaleshwar Temple, Ujjain is one of the most venerated shrines consecrated to Lord Shiva where a large congregation of Shiva devotees turns up every year to offer prayers on the day of Maha Shivaratri.
Mahashivaratri in Southern India
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According to tradition, the planetary positions on this night are such that there is a powerful natural upsurge of energy in the human system. It is said to be beneficial for one’s physical and spiritual well-being to stay awake and aware throughout the night. On this day, artists from various fields such as classical music and dance perform the whole night.
Shivaratri in Kashmir (Herath)
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It is the most important festival for Kashmiri Brahmins. It is celebrated in every household as the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. The festivities start 3–4 days before Maha Shivaratri and continue for two days after it (Salam)
In Indo-Caribbean communities throughout the West Indies, thousands of Hindus spend the auspicious night in over 400 temples across the country, offering special jhalls to Lord Shiva.
How is Shivaratri celebrated in Nepal?
In Nepal, millions of Hindus attend Shivaratri together from different part of the world at the famous Pashupatinath Temple. Thousands of devotees also attend Mahasivaratri at the famous Shiva Shakti Peetham of Nepal.
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Aside from the crowds, it’s a happy and welcoming festival with ancient stupas, temple areas, some brazen monkey’s and a bevy of Sadhus all around.
Sadu sleeping in Maha Shiva Ratri festival at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal. Image Credit – khomson srisawasdi
It’s the Sadhus that make Pashupatinath that extra bit special during Shivaratri.
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Many have covered their bodies in ash to give it a pale complexion while then decorating many parts in bright colors. This is their holiest day and some may not be total with it due to both fasting, making long journeys and a copious consumption of hashish.
There are quite a few Sadhus who walk around completely naked during Shivaratri. This is normal. Many will often be lost in a trance and dance by the Ghats. They usually attract a crowd and have been taking hashish.
Although smoking pot is illegal in Nepal, only the “sadhus” are legally permitted to smoke it for religious rituals inside the Pashupatinath temple area.
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You’ll notice Sadhus openly smoking hashish in and around Pashupatinath. Smoking weed and hashish is allowed inside the temple, but selling them outside is illegal.
Likewise back in Kathmandu hashish becomes available in many forms like Ladu or any form of cake or Bhang. Bhang, which is made of the cannabis plant, is easily accepted in the society as the offering from Lord Shiva.
The night of Shivaratri in Nepal
Bonfires are lit and feasts of food are put out for all to enjoy well into the night. For the Nepalese Shivaratri is one of the most enjoyable and celebrated festivals of the year.