Maha Shivratri or Sivaratri is one of the widely celebrated Hindu festivals in India associated with Lord Shiva annualy on the 13th night / 14th day in the Krishna Paksha of the Maagha or Phalguna month in the Hindu Calendar. This year 2012 Shivaratri Festival falls on 20th February 2012. Here are some of the main rituals and observances associated with Shivratri Festival.
Devotees follow the prescribed rituals on the festival day. Throughout the day, they abstain from eating food and break their fast only the next morning. The ritual baths of Shivalinga (Shiva Linga) in the Shiva temples by devotees, especially by women, is another significant feature of the festival. It is believed that worshipping Lord Shiva on this auspicious day releases the devotees from their sins and they are blessed with Moksha.
Ritual Bath of Shivalinga or Shivling
According to the Shiva Purana (one of the Puranas dedicated to Lord Shiva), Shivalingam is given a special bath with milk, yoghurt, honey, sandalwood paste and rose water for every three hours. After the bath, vermilion paste is applied on the linga. As a part of the tradition, leaves of a forest tree, namely, bilwa, maredu and wood apple are used for puja. Then, Bilwa leaves, which should be a stalk with three leaves, are kept on top of the Shivalinga. Ber or jujube fruit is offered to the god on this day. Beetle leaves are also offered by some devotees.
Shiva Purana also says that performing Abhisheka to Shiva Linga with six different dravyas (substances) such as milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water, with the chanting of Sri Rudram, Chamakam and Dasa Shanthi is the most significant way to please Lord Shiva. The dravyas used in the Abhisheka bestow the devotees with various qualities:
• Milk – for the blessing of purity and piousness
• Yogurt – for Prosperity and Progeny
• Honey – Sweet Speech
• Ghee – Victory
• Sugar – Happiness
• Water – Purity
Devotees observe vigil throughout the night and spend the night in Shiva temples worshipping Lord Shiva. They sing hymns and verses in praise of the Lord. The ritual worship is accompanied by special food made from the fruits, root vegetables and coconuts. Devotees who observe fast during the day break their fast the next morning by consuming the Prasad offered to Shiva.