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MAHA SHIVARATHRI
By Mohan Shenoy

Maha Shivarathri is an important ancient festival of India. It is said that the first Shiva Linga was installed on this day. It is the fourteenth day in the second fortnight of the month of Magha (Maagha Bahula Chathurdashi) every year.

This day, Shivarathri differs from year to year in relation to the common calendar, and therefore a common day to celebrate this festival is selected, which is the third Friday of February, every year.

Linga is a black stone having the shape of a short pillar with a hemispherical top. Linga is Sanskrit for phallus. Shiva Linga means the phallus of Lord Shiva. It is Lord Shiva that one worships when one worships the Shiva Linga.It might have been the phallus that people really wanted to worship since there was probably a notion that the world's security is dependent upon the continuity of reproduction.

On the other hand Bhaga was also worshipped for the same reason. Bhagavathi was the female goddess. Bhaga was equivalent to Yoni (vagina). Reproduction was the main concern for man in ancient times, and still is.

Linga was the only male god in those times until the Puraanas were written and the human form of Shiva was depicted. The human form of Shiva is worshipped in many temples. Most of the ancient temples still have the Linga form of Shiva being worshipped. The human form is more appealing to the devotees. The human form of Shiva has three eyes; the third eye is in the middle of the forehead. Shiva opens this eye only occasionally. This eye is used as a weapon to destroy enemies. The third eye opens when Shiva is angry and wishes to destroy the person or subject that caused his anger. The human form is wearing one or two snakes entwined around his bare chest, a Rudraksha chain around his neck and ashes all over his body. His hair is long and tied in the form of a tall upward plait from the top of which water is shown to rush out in the form of a fountain and fall on the ground beside him.

This water is referred to as the Ganga River, which is said to descend from Shiva's hair on to the earth. Shiva has a Trishula or trident in his right hand and a Danda (a baton with a hand-rest) on which he rests his left arm. There is Kamandalu (a brass pot with water in it for ablutions). He is seated in the Padmaasana posture. Padmaasana is a squatting pose. His vehicle is Nandi (a bull). In portraits and sculptures of Shiva, Nandi is shown to stand or sit near him. Nandi is also his door-guard.

OM NAMAH SHIVAAYA

;Parvathi or Gowri is Shiva's wife. Parvathi is worshipped in the Gowri Vritha
festival. There are many stories about Shiva and Parvathi in the Puraanas.
Those who are deeply devoted to Lord Shiva fast on the Shivarathri day and
perform Puja in the evening with Bilva leaves. It is said that the Bilva leaves are the favorite offering Shiva wishes to receive from his devotees.

Thousands of names of Shiva are chanted by the ardent devotees on Shivarathri, and one Bilva leaf is offered for each name chanted, during the Puja.

This goes on for the whole night and the devotees remain awake until
morning. This is called Jaagarana (remaining awake). They sing Bhajans
(songs praising Shiva) and listen to Keerthan (soliloquies). Some
devotees hold a Rudraksha Maala (a chain of Rudraksha beads) and
silently repeat Shiva's name as they turn the beads between the thumb
and fingers.

They say 'Om Namah Shivaya' i.e. O Shiva, I salute you.
They repeat this prayer once for each bead, throughout the night. This
is called Jappa. Some of the staunch Shiva devotees stand on one leg
folding the other knee up. They then close their eyes and do Jappa with
the Rudraksha Maala in their right hand. They stand in this posture for
the entire night. This is called Thappa.
It is a belief that those who do Jappa and/or Thappa on Shivarathri night attain Moksha when they die.
Moksha is release from the cycle of births and deaths. This belief persuades the devotees to undertake the self-inflicted suffering.
SWAMI DAYANANDA SARASWATHI
It was on a Shivarathri night that the Hindu reformer Swami Dayananda Saraswathi was struck with a doubt in his mind as to the capacities of Lord Shiva in the form of Linga.

Mulshankar was the name of young Dayananda and he was 10 years of age, when he stoically followed the reprimand of his father that he should fast on Shivarathri and perform Jappa. As he was doing Jappa he saw many rats run all over the Shiva Linga and eat the various food items and other stuff kept nearby. The rats were dropping their feces as they moved on the Shiva Linga. He wondered if Shiva was as strong and powerful as he was said to be, in the Puraanas, then how come he tolerated the defecation on himself by these rats. Then and there he determined to study Hinduism in depth and learn everything about God and Nature. He later established a society of Hindus by the name of Arya Samaaj. People who join Arya Samaaj do not believe in Idol-worship.
Ellunde

One of the sweets people prepare for Shivarathri festival is
Ellunde (sweet balls of white sesame seeds). Ellunde is prepared in the kitchen by first heating jaggery to form three-string syrup and adding the roasted sesame seeds to it. From this mixture small balls (3 cms. in diameter) are rolled and pressed with hands. If there are enough

Ellundes to go around then each person gets an Ellunde after he gets a box or a slap on his back. When the receiver sees the Ellunde he forgets the slap, and smiles at the giver.

MAHA SHIVARATHRI FESTIVAL

The festival of Shivarathri is celebrated in various ways in different parts of India. There are twelve ancient temples with Jyotirlinga dedicated to Shiva. These twelve temples have the name Eeshwara as suffix. Eeshwara is another name of Shiva. Vishweshwara temple in Kashi is an example. In these Shiva temples, during the Shivarathri festival, which is held for two or more days, devotees throng the temple premises in large numbers. Many of them travel from far away places to take a Darshan of the Lord Shiva there.Darshan is not just viewing, but doing Archana or Namaskaara and ask for boons. There are also people who come to fulfill a vow that they took in the past in their difficult days. In that vow they had promised to undertake the Yathra if their difficulties were mitigated by the Lord.Yathra means travel from home to the temple and back. In the temple they would perform the worship, as part of the Yathra.

Concluded.
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