Happy Maha Shivaratri: The Great Festival of Shiva
Maha Shivaratri, the great night of Shiva, is a Hindu festival celebrated throughout India before springtime. Shiva is known as the Lord of Destruction. Hence, this is an essential holiday in Hinduism, a solemn reminder of the importance of overcoming darkness and ignorance.
The darkest night
The date of Maha Shivaratri changes every year because it’s related to the Hindu lunar calendar. This year, Maha Shivaratri takes place on Thursday, March 11. Hinduism also praises Shiva regularly throughout the year when the 13th day passes into the 14th day of the month.
According to the Hindu calendar, the festival takes place on the fourth night of the waning moon during Magha or Phalguna's months.
By Wednesday morning, March 10, 2021, the waning crescent Moon will appear to have shifted to below and about halfway between Jupiter and Saturn in the east-southeast. As morning twilight begins, Saturn will appear on the right at about 8 degrees above the horizon, the Moon will appear to the lower left of Saturn only about a degree above the horizon, Jupiter will appear to the upper left of the Moon at 3 degrees above the horizon, and Mercury will appear farthest to the left at less than a degree above the horizon.
On March 11, according to NASA, the Moon and Mercury are still dancing their celestial waltz in the northern hemisphere, promoting a conducive axis of spiritual energy.
Thursday morning, March 11, 2021, will be the last morning Mercury will appear above the east-southeastern horizon at the time morning twilight begins, although Mercury should continue to be visible after it rises until about 30 minutes before sunrise.
Thus, unlike most Hindu festivals that take place during the daytime, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated at night. All-night vigils and prayers represent Shiva’s ability to overcome darkness. Many spend the night around the temple, lighting sacred fires, singing praises to Lord Shiva, and keeping vigil to receive his descent to earth.
Traditions and customs
- Devotees observe a strict fast in Shiva's honor; although many eat a diet of fruits and milk, some do not consume even a drop of water.
- Followers of Lord Shiva believe that sincere worship on the auspicious day of Shivaratri absolves a person of sins and releases him from the cycle of birth and death.
- Shivaratri is considered especially auspicious for women. While married women pray for their husbands' welfare, unmarried women pray for a husband like Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband.
- To mark the festival of Shivratri, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath, preferably in the river Ganga. After wearing new and fresh clothes, devotees visit the nearest Shiva temple to give Shiva Lingum a “bath” with milk, honey, water, etc.
- A Night vigil or jaagran is also observed in Shiva temples, where large numbers of devotees spend the night singing hymns and devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. It is only the next morning that the devotee breaks his fast by partaking in prasadam offered to the deity.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we should all rejoice and celebrate Shivaratri, hoping for a world free from the darkness of the new coronavirus.
However, in 2021, restrictions apply, and large gatherings of people are prohibited because of the pandemic. Hence, the Festival this year will have a more intimate facet. Lord Shiva can be honored at home by looking into our inner-self and listening to the voice of our hearts.
“Shivaratri is when you forget about your mind and let your mind dwell only on the Divine. That’s what Shivaratri is — it is uplifting you and really awakening what is deep inside of you.” Paramahamsa Sri Swami Vishwananda
By doing this, Shivaratri becomes a time of reflection for people of any religion, creed, or life philosophy. Hence, on this day, let’s practice mindfulness by linking mind and heart to the greatness of our inner universe.