Maha Shivratri Rituals are quite a sight to see as it is experienced. There are different forms of rituals done on this day:
Holy Bath: Devotees are required of the early morning ritual of taking a dip in the river of the Holy Ganges river. The devotees pray to the Gods to forgive their past sins and then proceed to wear new and clean clothes to visit the nearest Temple of Shiva.
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Shivalingam: On the day of Maha Shivratri, people will ensure to be in strict fasting for the whole day and night. People usually flock to the temples to perform the puja of the traditional Shivalingam in hopes to achieve what they have prayed for to Lord Shiva. Married women pray for the well-being of their husbands and sons, bachelor men pray to get a beautiful wife and earn success where unmarried women pray to attain a husband like Lord Shiva. The temples resonate with the sound of bells and devotees performing the puja shouting 'Shankerji Ki Jai' or 'Mahadevji ki Jai'. The devotees further take 3 to 5 rounds around the Shivalingam and pour water on the Shivalingam. Many of the devotees also use Cow milk. The Maha Shivratri Puja contains 6 steps that are to be followed like:
- Taking bath in the Holy water of Ganges as the symbol of purification of the Soul, Mind and Body which should be done at dawn and then drape oneself with clean clothes after the holy bath.
- Bathe the ShivaLingam with the Holy water of Ganges followed by bathing it with Milk and Honey. Lord Shiva immensely loves the bel patra leaves so the devotees add it to the puja.
- This is followed by pasting the Vermilion on the ShivaLingam which represents virtue.
- An offering of fruits and flowers which are for attaining longevity of life and satisfaction of one's desires.
- Incense burning will lead to wealth accumulation.
- The lighting with Diya's represents achieving higher knowledge. Offering's of betel leaves is expected to provide the satisfaction of substantial pleasures. Devotees apply 3 horizontal lines of Holy Ash on their forehead with regard to Lord Shiva which represents spiritual knowledge, cleanliness and penance. They also wear rudraksha garlands as it is believed to be Lord Shiva's tears. Most devotees will ensure a full night vigil and chanting of Bhajans and kirtans till the morning after. All of which is done with the chanting of prayers and full day and night fasting. It is believed that the best results can be achieved by performing the Puja 4 times during the night.
Devotees located around the world will visit Temples of Shiva to offer their humble prayers and seek blessings of the supreme Lord Shiva. The offerings of dishes are prepared specifically with almost every kind of fruit and root vegetables. The devotees who have observed the Maha Shivratri fasting or more aptly called 'vrat' will break the fast early next morning with the prasad which was offered to Lord Shiva the prior night.
Historical Drink: Ascetics bear a specific significance to Lord Shiva as he is worshipped as an ascetic God. There is a special drink made from almonds, milk and Bhang commonly known as cannabis which is essentially made for Maha Shivratri. The devotees, in particular to the ascetics have this drink and offer their prayers to Lord Shiva to seek his blessings.
Om Namah Shivaya!