Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship
of Shiva, falls on the Krishna Chathurdasi day, on the 14th night
of the new moon during the dark half in the month of Megha or sometimes
in Phalguna also.
Shivratri ('ratri' = night) is the night when he is said to have
performed the Tandava Nritya or the dance of primordial creation,
preservation and destruction. In Kerala the month of Kumbham is
noted for the Sivarathri festival which falls in February -March.
It falls on a moonless February night, when
Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction.The festival
is observed for one day and one night only. Shiva is known by many
names like "Shankar", "Mahesh", "Bholenath",
"Neelakanth", "Shambhu Kailasheshwar", "Umanath",
"Nataraj" and others.
According to the Puranas, during the great
mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of
poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified
as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for
help, he in order to protect the world, drank the deadly poison
but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned
his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as Nilkantha,
the blue-throated one. Shivratri celebrates this event by which
Shiva saved the world.
On the day of Shivratri, a three-tiered
platform is built around a fire. The topmost plank represents swargaloka
(heaven), the middle one antarikshaloka (space) and the bottom one
bhuloka (earth). Eleven urns or kalash, are kept on the swargaloka
plank symbolizing the eleven manifestations of the Rudra Shiva.
These are decorated with bilva (woodapple leaves) and mango leaves
atop a coconut representing the head of Shiva. The uncut shank of
the coconut symbolizes his tangled hair and the three spots on the
fruit Shiva's three eyes.
According to the Shiva Purana, the Maha
Shivratri worship must incorporate six items: the ceremonial offer
of cooling bael leaves to the deity, representing purification of
the soul; the vermilion paste applied on the linga after bathing
it, representing virtue; food offering which is conducive to longevity
and gratification of desires; incense, yielding wealth; the lighting
of the lamp which is conducive to the attainment of knowledge; and
betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
All through the day the devotees keep severe
fast, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya",
make offerings of flowers and incense to the Lord amidst ringing
of temple bells. They maintain long vigils during the night, keeping
awake to listen to stories, hymns and songs. The fast is broken
only the next morning, after the nightlong worship.
The celebration of Sivarathri at the Siva
temple at Aluva on the sand bank of River Periyar is attended with
great eclat. Here the Lingom (idol) of Siva rises out of the sand
on the bank of the river. The sand bank is extensive and the pilgrims
running into several thousands congregate here. People belonging
to all classes, castes and creeds assemble for this festival, some
for worship, some for merchandise and some for sightseeing.
There are rows of sheds built where merchants
exhibit every kind of merchandise for sale. There are shows, dances
etc. meant for keeping the pilgrims awake throughout the night.
In addition to the observance of Shivratri rites, most of the pilgrims
offer Bali (sacrifice) to their ancestors in the morning succeeding
the holy night.