Mahashivratri — All You Need to Know
Mahashivratri is a Hindu festival dedicated to Shiva, who is known as the destroyer and is one of the main deities of the Hindu Trinity. This festival is unique in India because while most Hindu festivals are celebrated during the day, Mahashivratri is celebrated at night and during the day after.
This festival commemorates the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and is celebrated by chanting prayers and fasting. It is also a holiday that focuses on ethics and virtues such as self-restraint, honesty, non-injury to others, forgiveness, and the discovery of Shiva
Why You Should Experience Mahashivratri in India
- During the holiday, you can visit the many Shiva temples which are beautifully decorated with lights and flowers.
- Watch the ritual where the Shiva linga or the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva is bathed with milk, water, and honey then anointed with sandalwood paste and decorated with flowers and garlands.
- Visit the Mandi Fair where hundreds of statues of gods and goddesses are worshipped.
- See the wedding procession of Shiva performed by many people playing the roles of different gods and goddesses.
- Visit the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple in Haridwar which is one of the most revered holy shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Mahashivaratri or the ‘The Night of Shiva’ is celebrated with devotion and religious fervor in honor of Shiva, the Destroyer, one of the most important gods in Hinduism. This holiday celebrates the marriage of Shiva and the goddess Parvati.
In the Hindu calendar, there is a night called Shivaratri that takes place on the thirteenth or fourteenth night of every month. Once a year in late winter before the arrival of summer, there is a special Shivaratri called Maha Shivaratri which is the day of celebrations.
The main idea behind this festival is the remembrance of overcoming darkness and ignorance in life and in the world. The holiday is celebrated by remembering Shiva through prayers, fasting, and meditating on virtues such as self-restraint, honesty, and forgiveness.
Certain very devoted Shiva followers stay awake all night during the holiday. Others Hindus celebrate by visiting one of the Shiva temples in their region.
Mahashivratri is also considered to be an extremely significant festival for women. Married and unmarried women often fast and pray to Shiva and Goddess Parvati who is also known as ‘Gaura’ or the one who bestows marital bliss and grants long and prosperous marriages.
When is Mahashivratri
According to the Hindu calendar, the day before the new moon is known as Shivratri and takes place on the thirteenth or fourteenth night of every lunar month.
There are twelve Shivratris in one calendar year, but the Mahashivratri occurs in February or March is of the most spiritual significance.
Upcoming Mahashivratri Dates:
- 2020: February 21st
- 2021: March 11th
- 2022: February 28th
Mahashivratri Legends and History
There are many stories associated with Mahashivaratri and its origins. One such legend concerns Lord Shiva and his wife, Goddess Parvati.
This legend states that after the creation of the universe was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which day he liked the most.
The Lord replied that the 13th night of the new moon, during the month of Phalgun, was his favorite day. Parvati told this to her friends and quickly the news spread over all creation. This is the reason why Mahashivratri is observed when it is.
According to another legend, Mahashivratri commemorates the day on which Lord Shiva performed the "Tandava", a divine dance. In Indian philosophy, the three main deities have different roles. Lord Shiva is regarded as the destroyer while Lord Brahma is the creator of the universe and Lord Vishnu is the preserver.
The "Tandava" is described as the dance of early creation, preservation, and destruction. The day of Mahashivratri is said to mark a time when Lord Shiva performed the dance and destroyed much of the universe. In Hinduism, destruction is seen as an important part of the cycle of creation.
How Mahashivratri is Celebrated in India
On Mahashivratri, people often fast, sing devotional songs, and recite popular tales of Lord Shiva. In the early morning, many devotees will take a bath in a holy river such as the Ganges River and then put on new clothes. People also visit Shiva temples that are beautifully decorated with lights and flowers.
Married women often pray to Shiva to ask for the well-being of their husbands and sons while unmarried women pray for their desired husband. Boys also pray to get a beautiful wife and successful life in the future.
The priests in the Shiva temples perform the puja, or religious ritual, according to the scriptures. The ritual involves bathing the Shiva linga with milk, yogurt, honey, ghee, sugar, and water amidst religious chanting. This happens four times throughout the night.
A night watch or jaagran is also observed in Shiva temples where large numbers of devotees stay up all night singing devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. The following morning, devotees break their fast by partaking in prasad or the eating of leftover food that was offered to the deity during the previous evening.
Celebrations in Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu, the people celebrate Mahashivaratri by performing a special process of worship called "Girivalam" or ‘Giri Pradakshina’ which is a 14-kilometer barefoot walk around the Annamalai Temple. There is also a huge oil lamp that is lit on the hilltop at sunset after the walk is complete.
The fair in the town of Mandi is a particularly famous venue for Mahashivaratri celebrations. The Mandi Fair is an annual 7-day festival in the location where it is believed that all gods and goddesses assemble on the day of Mahashivaratri.
Statues of the gods and goddesses are carried on ornate palanquins by devotees from distant villages. These processions are accompanied by the playing of traditional Indian instruments and the singing of religious songs.
The day after the Mahashivaratri, on the second day of the fair, a pageant that includes folk bands, dancers, and worship is held in Paddal, a large open area between the Beas and Suketi rivers.
This fair is also a large marketplace where local come to sell local products such as wool, opium, honey, walnuts, clarified butter, and general merchandise from the regions of Kangra, Kullu, Shimla, Bilaspur, and the neighboring state of Punjab.
One day before the festival ends, the jagaran or night watch is held in the evening. During the event, a guru and his disciple will proclaim prophecies for the following year. On the last day, prayers are chanted and, after paying respect to Lord Shiva, all the statues of deities assembled in Mandi start their journey home.
How Mahashivratri is Celebrated in Nepal
In Nepal on Mahashivratri, thousands of devotees often visit the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu and the nearby Shiva Shakti Peetham. At the temple, worshippers offer milk and flowers to Lord Shiva and light oil lamps.
Artists of various classical music and dance forms perform through the night which is a sight to see and helps people continue on their night watch and stay awake until morning.
Where Should you Celebrate Mahashivratri in India
There are the two places to visit to see the best and most interesting celebrations of Mahashivratri. These two cities are Varanasi and Hardiwar.
Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India and is home to one of the most important Shiva temples in the country, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. This temple sees over a million Hindus from around the country who come every year to participate in the rituals.
Several temples in the city also organize a wedding procession of Shiva where many people play the role of different gods and goddesses. The preparation for the parade starts early in the morning when the committee chooses the right characters for the parade.
The parade lasts for five hours and goes takes place the southern part of the city and starts and ends at the Tilbhandeshwar Temple. The procession is accompanied by music and a large throng of people many of which have consumed bhang, a drink mixed with cannabis.
After the procession, everyone returns to the temple to offer their prayers.
Haridwar, also known as the Land of Yogis, is frequented by devotees during Mahashivratri. This city is famous for its temples and ghats (flights of steps leading down to a river) where pilgrims worship and bathe to wash themselves of their sins.
Many devotees will first take a dip in the Ganges at Har Ki Pauri ghat then head to Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, one of the most revered shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, where they will make an offering of Bael leaves, coconut, flowers, milk, honey, fruits, and water to the deity.
There are various spots to visit in Mathura which stand as reminders of important milestones of Krishna’s childhood. The most prominent are Potara Kund, where Krishna’s clothes were washed, and Vishram Ghat, where Krishna rested after his battle with his evil uncle, King Kamsa.
How to Celebrate Mahashivratri as a Traveler
Visiting a Shiva temple is a great thing to do on Mahashivratri. At temples, you can see millions of devotees as they perform the necessary holiday rituals and pray. Doing this allows you to understand more about the religious aspects of this festival.
At the temples, you can also observe the larger rituals such as when the Shiva linga is bathed with milk, water, and honey then anointed with sandalwood paste and decorated with flowers and garlands.
Tips for Experiencing Mahashivratri
- Wear appropriate clothing when visiting the temples. This often includes covering your shoulders, chest, and legs.
- Avoid wearing black clothes as it is said that Lord Shiva doesn’t like the color black.
- Respect fasting devotees by not eating food in front of them.
Experience Mahashivratri with Asia Highlights
If you want to celebrate Mahashivratri in India, contact Asia Highlights to start planning your trip. We can help make your bookings for you and give recommendations as to where to celebrate this festival so that you can have the best Mahashivratri experience.