Shiva Ratri literally means Shiva's night. It is celebrated on the darkest night of the Moon. This night also indicates the shift of seasons- from winter to spring. Shiva married Parvati on this night.
Celebrated annually on Chaturdashi Tithi of the Krishna Paksha, the month of Phalgun (14th day of the lunar phase in February or March). In south India, it is in Magha month on the same tithi. The difference in the names of the months is due to the way lunar months are calculated in India. In north India, the lunar month starts with the full moon, while in south India it begins with the New moon. The date of Shivaratri is the same throughout India, regardless of what month it is supposed to be in.
There are many ways to celebrate Maha Shivaratri, here is how to celebrate:
VRATA, A strict fast is observed preferably one where you do not even drink water. The fast for Mahashivaratri is considered a perfect fast.
HAVAN or YAGYA and ABHISKEKAM is done four times during the night. Every three hours, known as pahar, a new havan and abhishekam are done with the chanting of all the sacred mantras and rituals. After completion of each havan and abhishekam, the devotees' shower. Devotees remain awake all night.
Lord Shiva is Light which is burning with the fire of austerity. The havan, which is a fire ceremony burns away the impurities of the devotees. Then the abhishekam.
Chanting OmNamah Shivaya, the sacred panchaakshari mantra for Shiva. It is good to chant all night especially if you are unable to go and attend the ceremony. Think of the chanting purifying the negativity.
At the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, the Shivaratri festival is celebrated in the following manner:
- All spiritual aspirants fast the whole day, many of them without taking even a single drop of water.
- A grand havan is performed for the peace and welfare of all.
- The whole day is spent in doing the Japa of Om Namah Shivaya and in meditation upon the Lord.
- At night all assemble in the temple and chant Om Namah Shivaya the whole night.
- During the four quarters of the night, the Shiva Lingam is worshipped with intense devotion.
- Sannyas Diksha (the initiation for renunciation) is also given on this day to sincere seekers on the path of realization.
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