INDIA INFO: India - Maha Shivratri Festival

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Maha Shivratri Festival

The festival of Maha Shivratri comes around February-March of the Gregorian calendar. The word Shivratri exactly translates into "the night of Shiva." This is a festival observed in honor of Lord Shiva. It is said that Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati on this auspicious day.

Lord Shiva is believed to be the creator of the universe and all forms of life is believed to have emerged from his loins or lingam. Hence on Shivratri day the lingam is worshipped, however women are not supposed to touch it. They perform the puja from a distance.

The holy books contain many stories and legends describing the origin of this festival. According to one, during Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. This terrified the gods and demons, as the poison was capable of destroying the entire world. They ran to Shiva for help. To protect the world from its evil effects, Shiva drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. Because of that, his throat turned blue, he was given the name Nilkantha - 'the blue-throated one'. Shivratri is also the celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world.

On this day, devotees bathe at sunrise, in the sacred Ganga. This is a purificatory rite, an important part of all Hindu festivals. The lingam is then bathed with milk, water and honey. People offer wood apple or bael leaves, fruit, milk and sandalwood to the lingam. Shiva is believed to be very hot tempered and hence things that have a cooling effect are offered to him. People decorate the lingam with flowers and garlands and offer fruits. However, onion is not offered.

The Shiva Lingam is worshipped throughout the night by washing it every three hours with milk, curd, honey and rose water, while the chanting of the hymn "Om Namah Shivaya" continues. The devotees essentially drink Thandai, a drink made with cannabis, almonds and milk. This is so because cannabis is said to have been very dear to Shiva.

Maha Shivratri is an important day for the devotees of Shiva. They stay awake throughout the night, praying to Him. From early morning, devotees, mostly women, come to perform the traditional worship of the Shiva lingam, at Shiva temples. They fast for the whole day and break their fast only the next morning, after the nightlong worship.

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