The Hindu festival Mahashivratri is an extremely paschal and ritualistic event. The day begins with a cleansing bathe in holy water, ideally in the Ganga or some other source of holy water. After bathing, clean clothes are adorned and the prayers begin. Women are to either pray for their husbands and sons or, if unmarried, to pray to find a man as good as Shiva. Lord Shiva is considered the example of an exemplary husband. There are chants hailing Shiva and then the linga are circled between three and seven times. After the ritualistic circling, either water or milk is poured onto the Shivalinga.
The Hindu celebration occurs on the 14th day of the Phalgun Hindu calendar, which would correspond to either February or March in the English calendar. The moon must be a new moon as Mahashivratri stands for “the great night of Shiva” and recognizes the long dark night.
There are six ceremonial items that must be incorporated into any Mahashivratri celebration. They are:
1) Bathing the Shivalinga with either water, honey or milk that contains either Wood apple or beal leaves = represents purification of the soul
2) Vermilion paste is then applied to the Shivalinga after the bathing = represents virtue
3) Fruit offerings = represents gratification of desires and a prayer for longevity
4) Incense burning = represents wealth
5) Lighting of the lamp = represents knowledge
6) Betel leaves = represents being pleased or happy with one’s worldly pleasures
As part of the worship ritual, three lines of ash are applied to one’s forehead; which are believed to represent purity, penance, and spiritual knowledge. These three lines are also representative of the three eyes of Shiva.
It is customary to wear a rudraksha seed rosary during the worship ceremony. The rudraksha tree is said to have been created by Lord Shiva’s tears, and as such is considered a sacred tree.
There are festivals all over India to celebrate Mahashivratri. Many of them incorporate fairs and the worshipping of other religious deities, such as the Mandi festival which celebrates over 200 deities throughout the fair. There is also the Sahasrakalasabishekam which is a 10 day-long festival celebrating Kroshta Muni’s and Lord Parasurama’s ritualistic bathing of the deity, Shiva, with a thousand pots of holy water.
There are many other mantras and festivals of differing focuses throughout India, such as the mantra in the Vedas or the Mahasivarathri Procession; which is a grand procession to the temple that is joined throughout the processional journey by several other mini processions. It is considered by many to be the most dramatic and sensational celebratory display of color, sound, pageantry and fireworks – a celebration befitting the irreverent Lord Shiva for being protector of the world.