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India is a land of festivals. Throughout the year, there are festivals lined up for each month, especially in the Hindu religion. While some of these festivals have greater social acceptance than the others, all of these are special in their own way. The Hindu religion does not have different sects.
However, there are three groups of devotees which worship either Goddess Durga, or Lord Vishnu or Lord Shiva as the main deity. Unlike sects, these groups, accept the existence of other Gods and worship them as well. So the basic difference lies in who they consider their primary deity.
Lord Vishnu is the primary deity in Vaishnavite tradition, Lord Shiva in Shaivite tradition and Goddess Durga in Shaktism tradition. Also, the festivals belonging to any of these gods are celebrated by all the three groups.
For the Shaivites, one of the most widely celebrated festivals is the Maha Shivratri. From the northern regions of Haridwar and Rishikesh to Kanyakumari, this festival does not lose its fervour, as it travels the lengths and breadths of the country.
It is celebrated in recognition of the devotion that we have towards Lord Shiva, the destroyer, among the Holy Trinity. Shivratri is celebrated by men and women of different age groups, for Lord Shiva is someone that everyone connects to at some level or the other.
In fact, the festival is celebrated with the same amount of enthusiasm even in the Himalayan country of Nepal.
Traditionally, India follows the lunar calendar. According to the same, the day before every new moon (or the fourteenth day of every lunar month) is a Shivratri. Thus, there are twelve Shivratris in a year.
Among these, the Maha Shivratri that occurs in the month of February or March has the utmost significance. This year, the Maha Shivratri falls on the March 4. So, read on to know more about this auspicious festival.
According to astronomers, it is on this day that the Northern hemisphere's position is such that there is a natural upsurge of energy in an individual. To ensure that this extreme energy is balanced, one needs to stay up all night.
That is why our ancestors have established the celebration of this festival in such a way that the entire night is invested in celebrating the varied traditions of this unique festival.
One interpretation of this festival is such that Shiva had conquered all his enemies on this day. Another tale says that it is on this day that Shiva and Parvati got married. For some reason or the other, this day holds a special significance for everyone, irrespective of whether they are on a spiritual path, in some family situation or have worldly ambitions of their own. All the different types of people celebrate the festival with equal reverence.
When Negative Is Not All That Bad
As per beliefs, it is on the eve of Shivratri that Lord Shiva did the famous Tandava dance. The Tandava dance is one that is performed by him in extreme anger and is used to symbolize destruction. This belief is carried forward into the festivities (which unlike all other ‘positive' Hindu festivals is carried out in the darkness of the night). All of us know that Shiva is the one who destroys it all, yet he is worshipped by all of us. On a similar note, the festival of Maha Shivratri is all about finding inner peace, as creation begins once everything that existed has been destroyed.
The Concept Of Fasting
A very important aspect of the festival of Shivratri is the fast that accompanies the same. Devotees do not eat anything since morning and then offer prayers throughout the night. As stated earlier, the night is the most important aspect of the festival. The next morning, the fast is broken.
Due to the long duration of the fast, it can be pretty strenuous on the body. However, if you look at the energy and zeal of the devotees, you will not feel that they haven't consumed a morsel of food since morning. The festivity and enthusiasm that surrounds the Maha Shivratri fast are commendable.
The Dance And Music
Lord Shiva in his Nataraj form is known as the Lord of Dance. Thus for a night that is dedicated to him, it is obvious that there will be a lot of merrymaking involved. Tradition has it that devotees sing and dance the entire night and there are bhajans dedicated to this particular festival. Loud and repetitive chanting of ‘Om Namah Shivay' in the Lord's praise is also a mandatory part of the celebrations.
Like any other Indian festival, Shivratri has a lot of rituals associated with itself. One is the wearing of new clothes, while keeping a fast on the day of Maha Shivratri. Shiva Lingams are given a ritual bath. Honey, milk and water form essential components of the same.
Women who keep the fast perform this ritual bath once in the morning, while once every three hours priests perform the same. Such is the enthusiasm associated with this festival that while this bath is being carried out, one can hear the ringing of the temple bells as well as the chanting of the symbolic ‘Om Namah Shivay'.
Role Of Women
Although this festival is celebrated by everyone, it is considered to be all the way more auspicious for women. It is on this day that married women keep a fast and pray for the well-being of their husband. This is done in reverence to the fact that Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati are considered to be the ideal couple. Young, unmarried girls are encouraged to keep a fast on this day. It is believed that doing so will please Lord Shiva who will then bless them with ideal husbands like himself.
Gifting Options For Shivratri
Gifting of puja accessories like brass diyas, diya stands, Rudraksha mala, rehal and candle holders are considered to be auspicious. Receiving an idol of Lord Shiva or Shiva Linga on this day is said to signify good fortune for the family.
In case you want to keep up with the times and gift something innovative, you can always go for the aromatic candles that are available these days or CDs featuring Shiva bhajans, Shiva chants songs and prayers. This type of gift will not only make the person receiving the gift happy, but it will also give you inner peace and joy.