Maha Shivaratri: The What, Why, and How!

Jaiii Shambhoooo - is something that we hear a lot in Nepal. This phrase is especially common during the season of Maha Shivaratri.

This is a festival that is rather infamous among a lot of Nepali commoners. While a lot of youths know this festival as the festival of “Weed”, there is a deeper religious side to Maha Shivaratri. As with every old Hindu festival, there is a religious reason and deep lore behind this seemingly ordinary festival that is widely known and celebrated in Nepal. Here we are talking about this very festival and exploring the religious side of it.

But before we reach anywhere, we have to clarify one thing. Shivaratri is not a festival meant for smoking pot. It is a festival meant to worship lord shiva and ask for his blessing for different aspects of life.

With that being cleared, let’s get started.

What is Maha Shivaratri?

Let’s start by knowing what Shivaratri actually is before we move on to anything else. It may seem like an obvious answer, but there are many people who are unaware of what this festival is all about.

Maha Shivaratri is an annual festival in Nepal that is dedicated to Lord Shiva - one of the Hindu Holy Trinity. In fact, Maha Shivaratri is the major festival of Shaivism - a branch of Hindu religion centered on the teachings of Lord Shiva. Similar to other Hindu festivals, this Nepali Festival too has its own significance, method of celebration, and its own riches of lore. Shivaratri is also different from most Hindu Festivals.

But jokes aside, Maha Shivaratri is indeed one of the major Hindu festivals. On this day, offerings of fruits, leaves, sweets, and milk are given to the Statues of Lord Shiva. Besides the statues of lord shiva, they are also offered to Shiva Linga - a sculpture representing lord shiva- as well. Along with this, you can also observe fasting among many people. When we talk about fasting and things people do, it leads us to another question about Maha Shivaratri.

How do people celebrate Shivaratri?

As we all know, there is a proper way to celebrate every Hindu festival. While people can celebrate every one of them by just worshipping their related gods and goddess, it wouldn’t be a proper celebration without some religious acts. This case applies to Maha Shivaratri as well. People celebrate Maha Shivaratri by:

1) Fasting

 Maha Shivaratri

Everyone knows what fasting is - an act of not eating any food or drink for a period for reasons related to health, culture, or religion. And on this day of Maha Shivaratri people fast as well. Fasting is known for boosting the cognitive functions of the body, decreasing the rate of metabolic diseases, reducing overall inflammation, and supporting weight loss. In fact, it is medically proven that fasting once a month can improve one’s digestive function and boost their cognitive abilities by a large margin.

That being said, depending on the region, culture, and health condition of people, people fast in different ways as well. While in some cultures and regions fasting is done without drinking a drop of water, in other areas eating fruits is allowed. Regardless of these, consider your own health before being involved in fasting. Since you won’t be eating much or at all during this period, make sure that you can handle hunger and don’t harm yourself.

2) Meditate

 Maha Shivaratri

This is another one of those activities of Shivaratri that is scientifically beneficial for you. While meditation may not help you gain superpowers like in the movies or cartoons, it will help you introspect and gain more self-awareness. This is a somewhat obvious activity since one of the core concepts behind Maha Shivaratri is introspection.

Besides helping you with introspection, meditation also helps you to increase your attention span, increase creativity, boost your cognitive functions, and reduce stress as well. In fact, this is one of those religious practices that is recommended by modern doctors and has been proven to reduce anxiety moderately.

Besides the practical benefits, it is also said that the position of constellations on the night of Maha Shivaratri is good for meditation. And besides, meditation was primarily a religious practice done to call forth the blessings of the gods anyway.

3) Chant “Om Namah Shivaya”

Since this is a Nepali Festival dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is natural to have a mantra dedicated to Lord Shiva. And “Om Namah Shivaya” is a classic example of that. While there are other mantras as well, for instance, “Om Namo Bhagwate Rudraaya” and “Om Tatpurushaay Vidmahe Vidmahe Mahadevaay Deemahi Tanno Rudra Prachodayat”, the first one remains the classic, and the most used one. It simply means “I bow down to Lord Shiva” which is what people do during Maha Shivaratri. Along with that, while unproven, this mantra is said to elevate your energy as well.

Religiously, Om refers to the sound of the universe, and the five letters in this mantra “na” “ma” “shi” “va” “ya” are said to show the 5 elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. By chanting all 6 words together, it is said to create harmony between all 5 of these elements of nature and grant the chanter bliss and harmony.

And if you are wondering about the meaning of the two other mantras we mentioned here, the first one is the praise for Lord Rudra (another name for Shiva) and the second one is meant as a request for the blessing of Lord Rudra for greater intellect and foresight to a brighter path.

4) Attend Mahashivaratri or Rudra Puja

No Hindu festival is complete without a puja. And it’s the same for Maha Shivaratri as well. On this day, a special mantra is performed at major Hindu temples in honor of Lord Shiva. This is done to ask lord Shiva to give his blessing in this world and destroy all forms of evil.

As per religious beliefs, if you take part in these pujas, you will meditate easily and be given the blessing of Lord Shiva. Attending lord these pujas are also said to destroy your evil thoughts as well. After all, Lord shiva is known as the lord of destruction and lord of compassion. So it makes sense that he can both destroy the evil and bless you at the same time.

5) Worship Shiva Linga

There is a common misconception that Shiva Linga is the manhood of lord Shiva, it is not. Shiva Linga is a symbolic sculpture of Lord Shiva. This is because Lord Shiva is considered a formless deity; at least when he is in his normal form in the mortal world. And because of this, people worship Shiva Linga.

To worship Shiva Linga, people offer Bel Patra as it is considered to represent three aspects of your own being. These three beings include Raja, Tama, and Sattva. Raja is the aspect that handles your activity. Tama is the one that brings moves you and sattva is the aspect that brings you positivity and creativity.

By surrendering these three to Shiva Linga on the day of Maha Shivaratri, you can get divine peace and freedom.

Why is Maha Shivaratri Celebrated?

By now you know what Maha Shivaratri is and how it is celebrated. That brings us to the “why” of this Nepali festival. There are a few reasons behind the “why” of the celebration of Maha Shivaratri, and all of them have to do with lore or a myth. So get ready for some ancient stories, as we will cover one of these lores called Samudra Manthan.

Phase 1: Curse and War

Back in the old days of the mythical era, gods were as real as humans. While they were revered and respected, they did not differ from a supreme mage that you read about in fantasy novels during this time on earth. And in this era, if humans could gain powers, they could curse even the gods. In fact, this was a rather common occurrence.

And a curse placed on gods by humans was exactly what caused the even of Samundra Manthan. A sage named Durvasa cursed Indra and all the Deva’s because of his Bahan, the elephant threw away the garland given to Lord Indra. The curse was simple - all the gods and lords would lose all of their powers. Taking advantage of this event, Ashura waged a war against the Devas and soon enough they took control over the universe.

Phase 2: Solution

The Devas were virtually powerless, and they had only one hope to save the world- Lord Vishnu. But he couldn’t do anything much either. He gave advice though, but that advice was a tough one to follow. As per his advice, the devas had to go to the bottom of the Celestia ocean named Ksheer Sagar and find the nectar living there. But in order to do this, they had to churn the ocean.

There was only one minor issue - the Devas were powerless. So they came up with a plan; lure out the Ashuras with the nectar and betray them at the end. In this aspect, the gods in Hindus are simply humans with superpowers who lean towards the good.

Phase 3: Lord Shiva the Saviour

The Ashuras have basically overpowered humans with evil thoughts in this era. So unable to stay away from their greed, the asuras agreed. And so they churned the ocean day and night till they saw the sector. This was done by using one Vasuki, the king of snakes as a rope, and Mount Mandara as the churning rod. The curing went on for 1000 years. When the process finally ended, there were 14 supreme things that came out of the ocean along with the Nectar. One of them was poison so toxic that it could kill any lords and any demons.

All except one - lord Shiva. This was because he was someone who constantly wore Vasuki, the king of snakes, around his neck. He was an expert on poisons and also immune to all. But despite this, swallowing the poison from the bottom of Ksheer Sagar turned him purple (or only his neck, depending on the source) and nearly killed him. To save him from this poison, rishis and doctors of that time advised him to stay awake during the night. To keep Lord Shiva during the night, gods took turns dancing and playing music all throughout the night.

This is the night that we now know as Maha Shivaratri; a night where we celebrate the act of lord shiva saving the universe from the most toxic poison in Hindu Mythology.

On the funny side, the name of the poison that almost killed a god who was immune to poison is Halahala.

Lord Shiva and Marijuana.

 Maha Shivaratri

We talked about the major event of a mythical caused by the cause of a mortal sadhu and poison. Let’s talk about some weed. If you ask the sadhus, they consider marijuana as the “prasad” of lord shiva. Depictions of lord shiva smoking are not rare either. If you are wondering why shiva smokes weed, he had always been somewhat of an oddity amongst the gods.

There are many stories why Shiva has their anti-god-like traits but the simplest one is - he was not always a primary god. In fact, as per Rig Veda, he started out as a minor god with only two hymns dedicated to him. As a minor god, he hunted and ate meat before he gained prominence in Rig Veda. In post-Puranic literature, the writers expanded on this aspect of lord shiva to add alcohol and marijuana to the mix as well.

In the end,

 Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri is one of those Nepali festivals that has deep religious roots and practical applications - if we follow the process right. While its name has been tainted in modern times marijuana is just a small part of this festival. So it is better to focus on the primary reason we celebrate Maha Shiva Ratri - introspection and self-reflection.

Hope you found this both entertaining and informative. If you did, why not check out:

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