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Shiva the “Great God” - “It is probable that, long before the arrival of the Aryans, the ‘great god’ (‘Mahadeva’or ‘Maheshvara’) was worshipped in India.” Mount Kailash in the Himalayas is the abode of Shiva. “The Ganges came down from the heavens because Shiva bore on the matted locks of his head the forceful impact of her falling torrents.”

Lord Shiva is portrayed as an ascetic, sitting on a tiger skin, a bunch of poisonous snakes coiled round his blue neck, his hair and his body. He received the waters of the sacred river Ganga that rushed down from heaven with an unimaginable force and ferocity in the coil of his hair on his head to save the world from total annihilation and released the water slowly on the plains to flow. Lord Shiva has a third eye in the centre of his forehead along with a crescent moon. His most powerful weapon is the Trishul, the trident. His favourite mount is the sacred bull, Nandi who is also worshipped. His abode is on the high majestic Kailash Mountain where he resides with his celestial consort goddess Parvati.

Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of `Shiv-Lingum’ that symbolises the power behind the creation. As Nataraj, the master of the art of dancing, he is depicted in sculptures in bronze and images in metal. In fact, the entire world of art revolves round Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati. Shiva’s family is composed of his wife Uma (Sakti) and their two sons Ganesh and Kartikeya (Subrahmanya). Their respective mounts are the bull, the lion, the mouse and the peacock.

Male and Female

In the full figure of Shiva the male and female principles are united, and he himself is said to be half man and half woman. The emblem under which he particularly delights to be worshipped is the lingam or phallus, which is always erect. Lingam and yoni (the female organ) represent the totality of his nature and the totality of all created existence.

Celebrations in various parts of India:

Thus this Mahashivratri festival is in honour of Lord Shiva. Devotees observe fast the whole day and keep vigil throughout the night. After fasting the whole day devotees bath with the water that is boiled with black sesame seeds to wash away bodily impurities. Then putting on new clothes they wash the Lingum with milk and perform religious rites, put haldi-kumkum on the lingum and a garland of white and pink lotus flowers. Bel leaves are placed in front of the Lingum and "aarthi" and "bhajans" are sung to invoke his blessings. The aroma of the lighted agarbattis seem to float in the air and from temples are heard the chinning of the bells and the sound of melodious devotional songs. All this surely must reach Mount Kailash and wake Him up from his deep meditation to bless mankind. Our ancient religious scriptures specially `Linga Puran' abound with stories of Lord Shiva's kindness and large-heartedness in giving boons to His devotees.

Maha Shivratri is held in great esteem in most of the regions in India but especially in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. In Ujjain in the famous temple of Mahakaleshwar Shiva's Lingum is worshipped with the performance of all the religious rites and rituals. The story goes that a powerful demon that lived on Ratnamal Mountain attacked Avanti - the name of the present-day Ujjain in those days and killed a Brahmin sage by putting him on fire. The angry Lord Shiva opened his third eye and burnt the demon to ashes. On that very spot of land where Lord Shiva opened his third eye and killed the demon appeared the Shiv-Lingum. A majestic temple was built on that ground. The mention of this temple is found in `Adi-Brahma Puran' and its detailed description in the `Gyan-Samhita'.

In Kashmir, since the majority of Kashmiri Pandits are followers of Shiva, this Mahashivratri festival is observed for fifteen continuous days. The thirteenth day of this festival in Kashmir is known by the name of HERATH, which is celebrated with indescribable zest and joy. The Kashmiris believe that the marriage of Shiva and Parvati was celebrated on the day of Herath.

In West Bengal Shivratri has become almost a folk festival. Young unmarried girls observe day-long fast, keep awake the whole night, sing devotional songs and pray to Lord Shanker to give them good and virtuous husbands.

In Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh devotees of Shiva take holy bath at Sangam - the confluence of the three sacred rivers - Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati - with faith that all their sins in the past and present be washed away so that they can go to heaven after death. Magh Mela fair is also held in Allahabad.

In Maharashtra on this day of Shivratri, every temple of Lord Shiva resounds with Vedic mantras and shlokas. These are recited during the Lord Shiva's "Abhishek" which is the ritual bath given to the Shiv-Lingum. Fasting is observed & night vigil is kept, alms, food and sweets are distributed amongst the poor.

In our country there are twelve "JYOTIRLINGAS" of Lord Shiva at twelve places that are sacred to the Hindus. It is believed that all these twelve Jyotilingas are "Swayambhus" meaning that they sprung up by themselves at these places and afterwards only temples were built. Every Hindu believes that at least once in his lifetime he must visit these twelve Jyotirlingas and then he will be absolved of all the sinful acts he may have done.

These twelve Jyotirlingas are:

    Bhimashankar in Daminyal near Pune in Maharashtra
    Dhushmeshwar in Ellora near Aurangabad
    Kedarnath in the Himalayas
    Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh
    Mallika1 in Uttar Pradesh
    Nageshwar in Dwarka
    Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh
    Rameshwar in Tamil Nadu
    Somanath in Saurashtra
    Trimbakeshwar near Nashik
    Vaidyanath in Parli in Marathvada
    Vishvanath in Benares     

Lord Shiva is known by many names like Shanker, Mahesh, Bholenath, Neelakanth, Shambhu Kailasheshwar, Umanath, Nataraj and others. He is the most sought-after deity amongst the Hindus who pray to him as the god of immense large-heartedness who they believe grants all their wishes. Around him are weaved many interesting stories that reveal His magnanimous heart. Not only this, but these stories and legends also enrich the Indian culture and art.

Heaps of bilva jostle with mounds of Nandi, dronapushpa, parijata, and red ixora. Litres and litres of bhang (a concoction made out of slightly intoxicating wild leaves, mixed with savouries and water) are consumed.


The legend surrounding this festival is remarkable. It is said that a poor tribal man, Lubdhaka, a great devotee of Shiva, once went into the deep forests to collect firewood. As the shadows lengthened, he lost his way and could not get back home. Darkness engulfed the jungle; he could hear the growls of tigers, and was extremely frightened. In the darkness, he blindly climbed up the nearest tree - which happened to be a bel tree - and sought safety and shelter in its branches till dawn.

All night, he could hear wild animals and did not have the courage to leave his refuge. Perched among the branches it was natural that he should doze off, fatigued by the events of the day. In order to stay awake, he plucked one leaf at a time from the tree and dropped it down, chanting the name of Shiva.
By the time the first rays of the sun warmed the earth, he had dropped thousands of leaves on a Shiva lingam below, which he hadn't noticed in the darkness. This unconscious all-night worship pleased Shiva, by whose grace the tiger went away and the tribal was rewarded with divine bliss.

According to one, during the Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. This terrified the gods and demons as the poison was capable of destroying the entire world, and they ran to Shiva for help. To protect the world from its evil effects, Shiva drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. Because of it, his throat turned blue, and he was given the name Nilkantha, the blue-throated one. Shivratri is the celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world.
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