After the creation of universes, Lord Shiva and His divine consort Parvati headed for Kailash. Seated atop, Parvati asked Shiva: "O adorable Lord, which of the many rituals observed in your honour does please you the most?"
Lord Shiva said:
"The fourteenth night of the new moon in the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun (February) is dear to Me. It is called Shivaratri. My devotees please Me by fasting than by ceremonial baths and offerings of flowers, sweets and incense. The offering of a few bilwa (bael) leaves is more precious to me than precious jewels and flowers. My devotee must observe strict spiritual discipline during the day and worship Me at night."
The Advent of Mahashivratri:
Parvati was intensely pleased by the sweet words of Lord Siva. She repeated them to her friends, who in their turn passed them on to the ruling princes and kings on Earth. Thus was the sanctity of Shivaratri broadcast all over the world.
Worships by Devotees:
On Mahashivaratri, the devotees observe strict spiritual disciplines during the day. The devotees worship Lord Shiva at night in four different ways during each of the four successive three hour periods of the night. Bathing the Shiva-Linga in milk in the first period, in curd during the second period, in ghee in the third period and in honey in the fourth and last period is to be done. Every three hours, a round of worship of Shiva Linga is conducted.
What to Do on Mahashivratri?
The daily ceremonials are of austerely simple kind. Water is to be poured on Shiva-Linga with a few oblations of flowers and bilwa leaves.
It is remarkable that even in cases where food is offered to this divinity it is not allowed to be eaten by his votaries.
According to the Brahminical rule leaves, flowers, fruits and water become unfit to be consumed after being consecrated to Shiva.
The three most important religious activities during the Maha-Shivaratri festival are: fasting during the entire lunar day, keeping a strict night vigil and worshipping the lingam with offerings of foods, leaves, flowers etc. and with recitation of mantras.
The two great natural forces that afflict man are Rajas (quality of passion) and Tamas (inertia). The Shivaratri Vrata aims at the perfect control of these two qualities. The motivation behind the vrata or fast is mainly the promotion of physical and mental self-control by acts of penance, thanks giving, and praise of the Supreme God and for desiring special boon.
In the morning, the devotees should feed the Brahmins (priests) first and after doing the prescribed ceremonies, break the fast. The devotees observe vigil throughout the night. After the completion of the rites of Shivaratri, the devotee presents gifts or donations to the officiating priests.
Benefits of Observing Fast on Mahashivratri:
Evils like lust, anger, jealousy, born of Rajas and Tamas, are subdued. The devotees break the fast after the fourth and last round.
According to Vedic scriptures, the performance of this ritual is both obligatory and desirable. The injunction laid down for the performance of the ritual for transforming the devotee's body into a residence fit for the divinity are: non-injury to living creatures, truthfulness, freedom from anger, celibacy, compassion, forbearance, austerities, calmness, freedom from passion and malice.
Rewards of Celebrating Mahashivratri:
It is said that one who performs the sacrifice of Shivaratri with all the attendant rituals and keeps the fast according to the rules laid down attains happiness and realizes his most cherished desires. In the case of Shiva as chief of ascetics, no food is generally offered as prasad.
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