It is said that in ancient India, there were 365 days of importance – days that were either meant to be celebrated with great fervour or days that were meant for the conducting of rituals and religious offerings. Over time, most people have stopped observing a lot of these dates and days, but there are some that continue to be of great importance. In the Hindu calendar, there are days that are wholly dedicated to certain deities – so while Ganesh Chaturthi is meant to celebrate Lord Ganesha, Janmashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna.

Similarly, Shivaratri or Maha Shivratri is a day that is dedicated to Lord Shiva – as per Hindu mythology, he is considered the destroyer, but in his calm form, he is also one of the most powerful gods in the Hindu universe. As the name suggests, this is the night of Lord Shiva; and as opposed to most other celebrations that happen during the day or in the morning, this is one celebration that is done in the night; as a matter of fact, the celebrations tend to go on through the night and ends early in the morning.
The Story, The History And The Importance Of Maha Shivaratri

What is Mahashivratri?

As per the Hindu luni-solar calendar, there is one day each month, that is known as Shivratri – this is the day before the new moon. So technically, there are 12 shivaratris in each year. However, once in a year, normally during the late winters as in late February or early March, there is one Shivaratri that is known as Mahashivratri or the Great Night of Shiva. More precisely, this day comes in the Magha or Phalguna month on the Chaturdashi Tithi during Krishna Paksha, which is why the date in the English calendar might keep changing. It is believed that on this one night, the northern hemisphere of earth is position in a particular manner and that encourages a natural upsurge in the energy that is resident in the body of every human being. In order to make use of this natural upsurge, there is a need to stay awake through the night, while maintaining a straight spine (as is done in meditation or yoga). If history is to be believed then the festival and the celebrations along with it, started somewhere in the 5th century BC.

While most festivals are about the festivities and revelries and food and sweets, this is one festival that is more about overcoming the ignorance and darkness that is often present in our lives. Shivaratri is more about introspection, fasting and meditation - Maha Shivratri celebration in the present day have become a lot more boisterous, with music and dancing, but in the past, it was more about self-contemplation and chanting Shiva mantras.

What is the story behind Mahashivratri?

There are several stories related to this particular day, but some of the most prominent ones include:
  • As per one legend in Shaivism, this is the one night when Lord Shiva performs the tandav, something you will be able to see in eCraftIndia’s Lord Shiva paintings; a dance that is known to create, preserve as well as destroy. This is one of the reasons why devotees too dance during the celebrations, because it is an ode to the dance that Lord Shiva does and a chance to join him in this cosmic dance.
  • There is another story that states that this is the night that Shiva and Parvati got married – because this was a cosmic wedding, the celebrations went on deep into the night and every Shivratri, devotees stay awake through the night, celebrating that celestial wedding all over again.
  • Another legend in Shaivism is related to the linga – it is said that Lord Shiva gave his devotees the opportunity to utilise one day in the year to understand all the sins committed in the past, atone for them and restart on a path of being virtuous, which will thereby allow them to attain moksha and reach Mount Kailash.
  • One more Maha Shivaratri story goes something like this – it is said that every night Lord Shiva stays awake to keep vigil over the world. On Shivratri, he sleeps through the night and the devotees stay awake in an attempt to allow the lord to sleep peacefully. This is one of the reasons why the chant of Om Namah Shivaya is popular – not only because it is a way to remember the deity, but is also a soothing chant to entice sleep.

What is the significance of Mahashivratri?

Apart from being an important day for the devotees of Lord Shiva, this is considered one of the darkest nights of the year, and where there is darkness, there arises a need for light. This night allows the spiritual seeker to understand the in-depth nuances of being a yogi – it is the chance to understand that light is not eternal and it is the darkness that is all pervading and everywhere. Darkness is not just the absence of light, it is also a source in itself, because darkness has no source and is a vast emptiness that is, as per Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva. This is one of the reasons why many of the Lord Shiva wall hangings that you see will have a dark background or a night scape.

How to celebrate Maha Shivratri?

For Shiva devotees, all over the globe, this is a day for penance, fasting and also celebration – each person might have a slightly different way of celebrating the same. The most popular methods however, include visiting Shiva temples and making offerings of milk, ghee, honey, coconut water or flowers to Shiva statues or Shiva lingas. Several people choose to spend their day involved in some form of charity or volunteer work and the night chanting hymns or singing devotional songs. There are also people who choose to embark on a journey to visit the Jyotirlingas of the country. The most common way of celebrating is offering prayers at home and this would also be a good time to bring home a new Lord Shiva statue, that you can use for your pooja.

How to do Shivratri puja at home?

If you are planning to perform the pooja at home, there are several things that you will need to do and keep in mind.
  • Ideally, you should wake up and get ready in the Brahmamuhurat, which is 2 hours before sunrise. After taking a bath, you need to spend a little time meditating first.
  • If you have a Mahadev Shivling or a statue of Shiva, place it on a platform, probably wooden or marble and cover it with a fresh white cloth.
  • Light an oil lamp, sprinkle some water on the statue or linga, offer some water to the same and then pour a little water into your right palm and drink it. You can also offer milk, honey, curd or coconut water too and then ensure that you change the white cloth.
  • Next set of offerings need to include sacred thread, broken rice, sandalwood, flowers and leaves, agarbatti as well as some form of bhog.
  • Stand up, and with your hands in a namaskar position, walk around the statue in a pradakshina, starting from your right side.

How to keep Shivratri fast?

There are also a lot of people who like to fast on this day, but here too there are some rules that need to be adhered to:
  • You should wake up in the Brahmamuhurat, take a bath and wear fresh and clean clothes. After doing some meditation, there has to be a pledge that needs to be made that the fasting will be done with whole heart and complete sincerity.
  • Prepare or use a decorated pooja thali to do the pooja – you can offer water, milk, honey and any type of bhog at the time of the pooja.
  • You need to maintain celibacy for the entire day – you cannot consume any form of wheat, rice or pulses. You can take milk, fruits and fasting recipes that are made using sabudana, kuttu and vegetables.
At eCraftIndia, you can find a huge range of products that you can for your Shivaratri – right from decorative thalis to god idols for pooja room; from incense holders to paintings and wall hangings, you will be able to find it all here!