Know how to celebrate Maha Shivaratri

The important night of Lord Shiva is celebrated on the new moon night in the month of Phalguna (generally falls in early March), and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The festival observed especially by married women to ensure the long life of their husbands. Usually, a full day fast is observed by anointing the idol of Shiva with milk, water and honey.

Literally 'the great night of Shiva', celebrated on the moonless night of the month of Phalguna, which is fourteenth day in the dark half, this festival is specially dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer. This is an important day for the devotees of Shiva, who stay awake throughout the night, praying to him. In all major centers of Shivalinga worship, Shivaratri, also called Mahashivaratri, is a grand occasion. 

From the very early morning, Shiva temples are flocked by devotees, mostly women, who come to perform the traditional Shivalinga worship. All through the day, devotees abstain from eating food and break their fast only the next morning, after the night-long worship. 

How the Lord is worshipped:

Devotees bathe the Shivalinga with milk on Maha Shivaratri. According to one myth, Parvati performed tapas, and prayed on this day and meditated to ward off any evil that may befall her husband on the moonless night. Since then, Mahashivaratri is also believed to be an auspicious occasion for women to pray for the well-being of their husbands and sons. An unmarried woman prays for a husband like Shiva, who is considered to be the ideal husband. 

Devotees bathe at sunrise, preferably in the Ganga, or any other holy water source (like the Shiva Sagartank at Khajurao). They offer prayers to the sun, Vishnu and Shiva. This is a purificatory rite, an important part of all Hindu festivals. Wearing a clean piece of clothing after the holy bath, worshippers carry pots of water to the temple to bathe the Shivalinga. The temple reverberates with the sound of bells and chanting of “Shankerji ki Jai” or 'Hail Shiva'. Devotees circumambulate the linga, three or seven times, and then pour water over it. 

Some also pour milk. According to a legend in the Ramayana, once King Bhagiratha left his kingdom to mediate for the salvation of the souls of his ancestors. He observed a penance to Brahma for a thousand years, requesting Ganga to come down to earth from heaven. He wanted her to wash over his ancestors' ashes to release them from a curse and allow them to go to heaven. Brahma granted his wish but told him to pray to Shiva, who alone could sustain the weight of her descent.

Accordingly, Ganga descended on Shiva's head, and after meandering through his thick matted locks, reached Shivaratri. Ganga meandered through Shiva's hair before she was led by Bhagiratha to wash over the ashes of his ancestors the earth. 

According to a modified version, what reached the earth was just sprinkles from his hair. This story is believed to be re-enacted by bathing the linga. The love of water, the primary element of life, is also remembered in this ritualistic action. The linga is bathed with milk, water and honey. It is then anointed with sandalwood paste, vermillon, etc. People offer wood apple or bel leaves and fruit, milk, sandalwood and jujube fruit to the linga. Shiva is believed to be very hot tempered, and hence things which have a cooling effect are offered to him. People decorate the linga with flowers and garlands and also offer incense sticks and fruit. 

According to the Shiva Purana, the Mahashivaratri worship must incorporate six items:Bathing the Linga with water, milk and honey, and Wood apple or bel leaves added to it, representing purification of the soul;The vermilion paste applied on the linga after bathing it, representing virtue;Offering of fruits, which is conducive to longevity and gratification of desires;Burning incense, yielding wealth;The lighting of the lamp which is conducive to the attainment of knowledge;Betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures.

So, you are all set to celebrate the great festival Maha Shivaratri.