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Maha Shivaratri: Holy Night of Shiva (2022 updated)

  • 12-Feb-2018
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Mahashivaratri, "One of the greatest and holiest nights of the Shiva," is the most sacred and significant event in the Hindu's spiritual calendar. Shivaratri is the amalgamation of Shiv and Ratri, where Shiv signifies Lord Shiva, "The Destroyer" within the Trimurti, the triple deity of supreme divinity that includes Brahma and Vishnu, and Ratri indicates the night. 

The 14th day that occurs in every lunar month is known as Shivaratri. Among all the twelve Shivaratri's that take place in the lunar calendar year, Mahashivaratri is the one that falls in February-March, holding the utmost spiritual significance, which is the convergence of the forces of Shiva and Shakti. On this pious night, the planet's northern hemisphere is positioned in a new way. As a result, there is a natural upsurge of the energy in human beings, which forces one towards their spiritual pinnacle.

Hindu Philosophy of the Mahashivaratri- Holy night of Shiva
Many Hindu scriptures have different stories that show the happening of the Mahashivaratri, among all the most significant ones, are:

One philosophy claims that Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati tied their knot on this holy day, where Lord Shiva embodies Purusha (mindfulness), while Parvati embodies Prakriti (nature).

Another philosophy speaks about the mythical event in Hindu literature that during the Samundra Manthan, a pot emerged from the ocean, full of poison. Meanwhile, all the gods and demons were terrified that this would destroy the entire world. Therefore, Lord Shiva drank the whole poison and held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. Due to this, his throat became blue, and hence he is also named" Neelakantha." ( Neel means blue, and Kantha means throat).

One of them says that it is on this night that Lord Shiva performs his cosmic dance of creation, preservation, and destruction. This cosmic dance is known as tandava.

Mahashivaratri in Nepal - Pashupatinath Temple

Mahashivaratri is celebrated throughout Nepal, but the one performed in Kathmandu's Pashupatinath temple holds the utmost spiritual significance, limited not only to Nepal but to the world. 

Pashupatinath Temple is one of the Hindu's most prominent and holy pilgrimage sites listed in the UNESCO world heritage sites lying across the Bagmati river. Pashupatinath temple was built around the 5th century on the pagoda style of architecture, where two-level roofs are of copper and pinnacle covered with gold. Pashupatinath is a large complex of temples, shrines, bathing areas, cremation sites, and Ghats.

Whether you are a foreigner or a Nepali, it would be best to grab your opportunity to explore this spiritual place on Mahashivaratri day, where over a million people from different parts of the world make their way on Shivaratri. 

The crowd and the chaos of people are uncontrollable; the main highways around (Ringroad) the Pashupati gets blocked during this day.; hence the proper planning and special arrangements for the Shivaratri are made by the Pashupati Area Development Trust(PADT) are carried out before the arrival of this holy day so that devotees can conveniently carry out their devotion to the Lord.

Furthermore, there's a continuous dedication of the Nepal Police, Red Cross, Medical and Emergency services, and public volunteers assistance in the queue management, sanitation, safety, and security issues.

Frequently asked questions:

1. What to explore in Pashupatinath during Mahashivaratri?

There's no limit to exploring this area on this holy day, whether from the aspects of religion, faith, traditions, culture, people, art/architecture, or many others. Apart from these, some of the significant insights you can get are:

a. Sadhus and Yogis: Pashupatinath is a major attraction, especially for the Sadhus and Naga Baba ( the naked Hindu yogis). The sadhus travel long distances on naked foot, mainly from India, to reach Pashupatinath. You will see the reflection of Hindu cultures around their body as they paint their skin with turmeric or holy ash and a Rudraksha garland on the neck. They are primarily high since they consume Hashish and Marijuana, which are legal from the government authorities on this day. These spiritual sadhus are taken special care of by providing proper food and even travel fare by the Government authority. 

b. Devotees Rituals: You will see the massive crowd of Shiva's devotees around the temple serving the Lord with all the scripted traditions of Hindu culture(Vedic or tantric worship) by the offering of fruits, leaves (Belpatra), sweets, and milk to the diety by doing fasting. Furthermore, some perform meditative yoga, and some continuously chant the sacred mantra" Om Namah Shivaya" throughout the day. On the Shivaratri day, Lord Shiva is worshipped in a unique form of Linga called 'Lingodbhavamurti.

Among all, the main celebration the devotees perform on this day is "Ratri Jaagaran," an all-night awakening performed by the devotees by doing vigil and prayers (Bhajans and kirtans) because Shiva Hindus remarks this night as "overcoming darkness and ignorance" in one's life. The four Prahars of Puja are carried out all day/night long; you will see the devotees staying in tents along the Gaushala road.

c. Enjoy the holy Aarti: The Aarati is worthwhile watching; it is a ritual of worshipping the Lord in which the light from wicks soaked in ghee is offered to the god. You will see three priests line up on the bank of the Bagmati, from where they get a direct view of the Pashupatinath temple. The priests conduct this custom with oil lamps, lanterns, and other religious elements by chanting sacred mantras. The Aarti starts by worshiping with coal intense burned with the vegetable oil and different kinds of woods. Then, the priests first dip the lights four times on the bottom; circle it seven times on the top in perfectly coordinated motions.

The whole objective of this sacred ritual is to show our devotion, respect, and gratitude towards Lord Shiva, the holy Bagmati River, and to the Goddess Parvati".

d. General practices and temple arrangements:  You can witness younger/older orphans or beggars roaming around the temple premises to collect donations. Devotees' preparations of a sacred meal and bonfires are set up to celebrate and enjoy the occasion of this festival. As Hinduism believes in serving humanity, you will see many devotees eager to distribute food to everyone present inside the temple premises. Attendance camps, security of police, emergency ambulance, tight security, and many more are arranged around the Pashupati premises on this day. 

The above points are one of the best reasons to traverse around the Pashupatinath in the Mahashivaratri.

2. What traveling/safety tips are for the Pashupatinath temple in Mahashivaratri?

Given below are some of the significant points that might help you before you visit the Pashupatinath Temple in Mahashivaratri:

There's no doubt that the temple will be highly crowded during Shivaratri. You might have to stand in a long queue for hours to set foot entry into the temple. Keep in mind that there are alternate entrances to the temples with shorter lines. You are recommended to find out the possible entry points convenient for you.
Don't get close to the Sadhus as it might irritate them. There have been many incidents before when they have thrown the ashes and quarreled towards the people who try to get close or communicate with them. It will be better to stay at least a few feet away.

You should remember that Shivaratri attracts millions of crowds (both evil and good intension people), making the environment chaotic and full of conflicts. So take care, look after all your crucial belongings, and stay with your group. If you lose anything, take a visit to the temple's lost and found section. 
Don't tease or get close to the animals (monkey/dogs); many incidents of harming people have been observed before.
Do not think of buying or smoking marijuana in public. While it is common to see people buying and smoking weed around the premises of Pashupatinath Temple, it is still against the law.

In a Nutshell:

The celebration of Mahashivaratri in Nepal's Pashupatinath temple can be one of the best cultural and holistic festivals for anyone seeking the spiritual meaning of their life. Never mind whether you are a citizen or a non-citizen of Nepal, Nepali people are very open to every citizen to share their experience and their way of celebrating their sacred rituals. So, if you are willing to experience the pinnacle of the spiritual being, you should catch the bus/flight towards the Pashupatinath on Mahashivratri.

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