Maha Shivratri is the Great Night of the Lord Shiva! In the waning moon, devotees of the Lord Shiva will offer up leavess of Bael, or Bival Vilvam to Shiva in hopes that he will be merciful enough to grant a boon in hopes that one will become closer to acheiving enlightenment. Devotees will fast throughout the day and participate in an all night vigil. Special meditations, physical disciplines, and other forms of Raja Yoga will be preformed. Statues, temples, and sacred places will be decorated in flowers and colored ribbons.
Mandi, India hosts the week long International Mandi Shivratri Fair. Around 200 dieties as well as Lord Shiva will be carried into town and paraded around, traditionally in palaquins. Traders, musicians, singers, and dancers come out for the celebrations. While there is some commercial enterprising, the religious nature of the even still holds sway regardless of the amount of tourists that are brought in.
On the day of Maha Shivaratri, unmarried women will pray for a husband like Shiva. Because of Shiva’s eternal devotion and actual healthy relationship with his love and counterpart Parvati, it’s a noble prayer. Unlike Vishnu, Shiva has never been incarnated without Parvati being incarnated with him. They are renoun for their faithfulness towards each other as well as their trust in each other’s respective abilities. Another name for Parvati is Shivaradni/Shivaragyei meaning, “Queen of Shiva”.
Some of the legends of Maha Shivaratri include how Parvati saved the world from distruction by praying to her husband to spare the jivas, or living souls, to become active and vital again if only they would worship him as she did. Her prayer was granted. The date of Maha Shivaratri is said to be on the night that Shiva told Parvati was his favorite.
Another legend of the day is about King Chitrabhanu from the Garuda Purana. The King was observing a fast with his wife when he was visited by the holy man, Ashtavakra. Ashtavakra asked the King why he fasts. Apparently, King Chitrabhanu remembered an occasion from a previous life where he was a hunter. When he was about to secure a deer, he noticed the deer’s family near and spared it’s life for the happiness of the deer’s family. He spent the night in the woods both hungry and thirsty. He mourned for his hungry family at home waiting for him. The tree he slept in was a Bael tree. On his way home, the former incarnation of the King bought food and was returning it home when he encountered a stranger begging for food. He fed the stranger, then attended his family. He was rewarded by the Lord Shiva for his unconcious worship of the Lord Shiva the night he fasted in attending to the tree he was sleeping in. So he was taken up into Shiva’s heaven where he enjoyed bliss before he was reborn into the form of the King Chitrabhanu.
Next article will include popular rituals and rites of the day!