MAHASHIVRATRI WILL BE CELEBRATED ON THURSDAY, 27th FEBRUARY 2014. THE WHOLE NIGHT PUJA WILL START AFTER 9.00 P.M. IN THE UNIVERSAL TEMPLE.
|7.45 P.M.||Puja Starts-1st Prahar|
|11.00 P.M.||2nd Prahar|
|1.00 A.M.||3rd Prahar|
|3.00 A.M.||4th Prahar|
|5.15 A.M.||Prasad Distribution|
Mahashivratri or Shiva`s great night falls on the fourteenth night of the New Moon, during the dark half of the month of Phalguna (February – March). It is said that, on the night of Shivratri, Shiva manifested himself for the first time in the form of a lingam. The Lingam is worshiped to remove the sins committed during the year.
Lord Vishnu was lying on his serpent-couch on the primeval waters between the lifeless interval between dissolution and the creation of the universe. He was approached by the four-headed Brahma. He enquired Vishnu about his origination. This annoyed Vishnu and they both started an argument. Each of them claimed to be the creator and the destroyer of the universe. Their argument came to an end when they saw a towering Lingam crowned with flames, rising out of the ocean. To ascertain the depth of the Lingam, Brahma in the form of a swan, flew upwards into heaven.
Vishnu assumed the form of a boar and dived into the ocean and traversed the patala(netherworld). The Lingam grew bigger and bigger. Both Brahma and Vishnu returned without success. Just then, the side of the Lingam burst open and in its niche was standing Shiva. Shiva announced to the two deities that he was their progenitor and was the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer. He said that Brahma was his right side and Vishnu his left and they all collectively existed in Shiva. He then put out the law that he must be worshiped in his Phallic form and not in his anthropomorphic form.
There is another story of a savage named Lubdhaka who was metamorphosed into a Shaivite saint. Shaivite is the one who worships Shiva and believes that He transcends all form. Lubdhaka kept an accidental vigil on the night of the Shivaratri. He was a forest dweller and made his living by hunting wild animals and selling the flesh to the villagers. He had contracted a debt and payments. His creditor went to law and had him confined in a cell. It was near a Shiva temple. He could hear the devout who worshiped at the shrine repeat the name of Shiva, and spent the day, repeating the name of Shiva as he had nothing else to do. He did not know who or what Shiva was. All the same, the mechanical repetition of Shiva`s name was meritorious, and by the evening he was released from the prison by a wealthy man who paid off his debt. Lubdhaka went hunting that night and hid himself on the branch of a Bel tree. Under this tree was a hidden Lingam of Shiva and while clearing the foliage, the Bel leaves fell on the Lingam.
The Bel is sacred to Shiva, and offerings of its leaves particularly pleasant to the deity. Thus, the accidental dropping of the leaves added to his merit and he became half a saint. Looking for a prey he kept constant vigil. By midnight a doe, big with young and in labour, came that way. But, as he took aim, the animal prayed him to spare her and promised that after delivering her young one she would return to be killed. Lubdhaka, taking pity on her,let the doe go. Shortly after came another doe in heat seeking her mate. As the hunter bent his bow, the doe saw him and requested to be spared. She too promised to return in the morning after mating, and Lubdhaka let her also go. A black buck seeking his mate then came that way, and he too was spared by the hunter on his promise to come back. The hunter was thus kept awake the whole night.
By the time the deer returned in the morning the hunter had become a full-fledged saint with the gift of omniscience, and he preached to the animals a sermon on the greatness of Shiva and this god himself appeared in person at the site and took the hunter to heaven. Those who keep vigil on Shivaratri are promised, material prosperity and paradise after death. The indolent that sleep on this night are destined to lose their worldly possessions and go to hell on death.
The essential religious activities during the festival are vrata (fasting) for the whole day, yajna (sacrificial), keeping a strict night vigil and worshipping the Lingam with flowers, leaves of Bel tree and food with recitation of mantras (hymns). Every orthodox hindu keeps awake by engaging in pious activities. Fast is observed, mainly to achieve physical and mental self-control. It is a way to show gratitude and to praise the Supreme God, Shiva. The fast is also kept in the hope of a special boon. Fairs held during the festival are considered honorable.
Yajna (sacrifice) is performed by constructing a three-tiered platform which represents the three levels of the universe- swargaloka, antariksha-loka and bhuloka (heaven, space and earth). Eleven kalashas or kumbhas (earthen pitchers), filled with water, are placed on a raised platform. These represent the eleven forms, in which Rudra-Shiva manifests himself to the world. The lowest of the three tiers of the platform represents the earth and is left vacant. Ten kalashas are placed on the middle platform to represent the middle region of the universe i.e., antarikshaloka.
Two kalashas each are placed on the eastern and western sides; three each on the northern and southern sides. These are filled with water and perfumed with sandalwood and rosewater. On the highest level of the platform is placed the largest kalash which represents the essence of Surya as well as the ethereal regions. The major portion of the offerings and oblations go to this level as Shiva in a way, is also Surya.
Each kalash is wrapped in string netting and decorated with the bilva and mango leaves. A narial (coconut) is put on the mouth of the kalash that is draped with a single strip of cloth. The coconut represents the head of Shiva, the outer fibrous covering the matted hair of Shiva the ascetic, and the three black spots on it, his three eyes.
A silver or golden plate is placed inside the largest Kalash and on it a lingam is placed. The lingam is bathed with the five sacred gifts of the cow called panchagavya – milk, curd, clarified butter, honey and sugar. After this, sacred mantras(hymns) are recited and til (sesame seeds), grains of rice, boiled rice and clarified butter are offered. Sacrificial flowers like dhatura and jati, traditionally considered sacred to Shiva, are also offered. During the chanting of mantras, the priests carry a rosary made of rudraksha beads.
Rudraksha beads which are the stones of the fruits of Eleocarpus ganitrus are considered to be the aksha (tears) that Shiva as Rudra shed when he was compelled to destroy the three cities of his former devotees, the Tripuras. He had to destroy them as the three brothers Tarakaksha, Vidyunmali and Kamalaksha, the sons of demon Taraka, had become arrogant and started committing atrocities on the people.
Eleven Brahmin priests sit in a circle round the platform and continuously chant mantras. In big temples, four groups of eleven Brahmin priests chant the mantras eleven times. By such an invocation, Shiva takes residence in the eleven vessels on the altar.
There are eleven Rudras among the thirty-three Gods of Hindu pantheon. They symbolize the eleven life-giving energies which make up the universe and the individual. The eleven Rudras are worshiped on the ekadasi, the eleventh day, of the bright and dark halves of the month of Shravana.