Maha Shivaratri

December 3, 2007 RENU

Maha Shivaratri

It is celebrated every yr on the 14th day of krishna paksha of phalguna masa. The most significant practices of this day are offering of Bilva leaves to the Lord Shiva and perform abhishekams, fasting and all through night long vigil chanting Shiva Panchakshari mantra. People repeat the Panchakshara Mantra Om Namashivaiah as it is said he who utters the Names of Shiva during Shivaratri, with perfect devotion and concentration is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths. Many pilgrims flock to the places where there are Shiva temples.

Shiva’s abode is called Kailash. He is always found meditating. Mtn King Himavanta’s kingdom was near Kailash. King was married to the heavenly nymph Menaka. Their daughter, Goddess Parvati desired to marry Lord Shiva from her childhood. She gains consent of Siva & began serving him with poojas to appease him. During that time, a demon Tarakasura had the boon that he was to die in hands of Lord Siva’s son. So his marriage became more imp to rid the world of the demon. Lord Brahma ordered Manmatha to shoot love arrow at Shiva. But when Manmatha does that, Shiva gets disturbed & angered, opened his 3rd eye & burned him. He resumed his meditation. Parvati now confirmed that Lord could be only won by way of worship. She performed hard penance. One day a sage talked to her, found out the reason of her penance & tried to explain that Shiva was a cheat. But she didnot believe. Shiva appeared & agreed to marry her. They get married & Shiva also restored life into Manmatha. Their son, Kumara swami is called shanmukha as has 6faces. He killed Tarakasura.

In AP, famous Siva temples are in Srisailam, Daaksharamam, Srikalahasti, Vemulawada. 

According to a legend, during the Samudra Mathanam by the Gods and Demons, a poision came out of the ocean. It was so toxic, that its effect would have wiped out of the entire creation. At this juncture, on the advice of Lord Vishnu, the Gods approached Mahadev and prayed him to protect their lives by consuming the poision. The Lord pleased by the prayers out of compassion for living beings, Lord Shiva drank this poision and held it in this throat by binding it with a snake. The throat became blue due to the position. That is why Lord Shiva is otherwise called Neelakanta and Lord Shiva remained unharmed. The Ashwini Kumaras advised the Gods to keep Lord Shiva awake during the night as part of the therapy. To amuse Lord Shiva and to keep him awake, the gods took turn performing various dances and playing music. A vigil was thus kept by the gods in contemplation of Lord Shiva. As the day broke out, Lord Shiva pleased with their devotion and blessed them all. Since then, on this day and night, devotees fast, keep vigil, sing glories of Lord and meditate.

After creation was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva of which rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 14th night of the new moon, during the month of Phalguna, is my most favorite day. It is known as Shivaratri. Parvati repeated these words to her friends, from whom the word spread over all creation.

Once upon a time, a hunter worshipped Lord Shiva unknowingly on Shivaratri. He did this by dropping bilva leaves on a Shiva linga at the base of a bilva (bael) tree from its branches where he was hiding and fasting all night. For this he was forgiven of all his sins. This forms the basis behind the offerings of bilva to the Lord on Shivaratri.

In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma, whilst resting on the bed of arrows and discoursing on dharma, refers to the observance of Maha Shivaratri by King Chitrabhanu. The story goes as follows –

Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa, was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavkra came on a visit to the court of the king. The sage asked the king the purpose of his observing the past. King Chitrabhanu explained that he had the gift of remembering the incidents of his previous birth.

The king said to the sage that in his previous he was a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. One day while roaming through forests in search of animals he was overtaken by the darkness of night. Unable to return home, he climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a Bilva tree. He had shot a deer that day but had no time to take it home. So he bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree. As hunger and thirst tormented him, he was kept awake throughout the night. He shed profuse tears when he thought of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return. To pass away the time that night he engaged himself in plucking the Bilva leaves and dropping them down onto the ground. The next day he returned home and sold the deer and then bought some food for himself and his family. The moment he was about to break his fast a stranger came to him, begging for food. He served the food first to stranger and then had his own.

At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva. They were sent down to conduct his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by the unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri. The messengers told him that there was a Lingam at the bottom of the tree. The leaves he dropped fell on the Lingam. His tears, which had shed out of pure sorrow for his family, fell onto the Lingam and washed it and he had fasted all day and all night. Thus, he unconsciously worshiped the Lord. As the conclusion of the tale the King said that he lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages and now he has reborn as Chitrabhanu.

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