Maha Shivaratri: A Celebration of Lord Shiva’s Divine Night

Maha Shivratri is one of the most revered and celebrated Hindu festivals in Nepal and India. The deity Rudra-Shiva is mentioned in the Rigveda. The Shiva cult and Shaivism thus date from very ancient times. In Sanskrit, Maha means great or big, and Shivaratri means a night dedicated to Shiva. Mahashivaratri is a magnificent occasion for the Shiva followers to praise him and seek his blessings.

Maha Shivratri (the night of Lord Shiva) is observed on Chaturdashi (fourteenth tithi of Krishna Paksha), the eve of the New Moon Day (Amavasya), which falls in the middle of Magha and Phalguna (February-March). Devotees fast throughout the day and night stay awake the whole night, worshipping Lord Shiva and chanting the mantra om namah shivaya. This year, Mahashivratri was celebrated on March 8, 2024.

According to the Rudra Samhita, Shiva and Parvati’s wedding occurred in the Himalayas. On that day, Parvati transformed herself into Chandraghanta with golden skin and ten arms, and they got married in their beautiful divine forms at Triyuginarayan village in Rudraprayag, India. So, their marriage is celebrated as Mahashivaratri every year.

According to Sadhguru, founder and head of the Isha Foundation in Coimbatore, India, on Mahashivaratri, the planet’s northern hemisphere is positioned in a way that creates a natural upsurge of energy in humans. To allow the energy to find its way, one of the fundamentals of this nightlong festival is to remain awake throughout the night, keeping your spine positioned vertically. Sadhguru says Mahashivaratri is significant for people on a spiritual journey.

There are five nights of Lord Shiva: 

  1. Maha Shivaratri (Great Night of Lord Shiva)
  2. Yoga Shivaratri (night which a yogi creates for himself by yogic trance)
  3. Nitya Sivaratri (Nightly Shivaratri)
  4. Paksha Shivaratri (Fortnightly Shivaratri) and 
  5. Masa Shivaratri (Monthly Shivaratri): It is celebrated in every month of the luni-solar calendar, in accordance with the Sanatan calendar, also known as the Hindu calendar.

Maha Shivratri Celebration Practices

Some fast for the entire day and perform vedic or tantric worship of Shiva, while others practice meditative yoga. People also perform the Rudra Abhishek, a special puja, to please Lord Shiva and seek his blessings. The rituals are carried out throughout the day or in different muhurtas (ancient measurement of time which is equals to 48 minutes ). Though the daytime rituals differ, people generally stay awake at night doing bhajan, kirtans, meditation, sadhanaUpasana, etc.

Shiva is revered for saving the worlds several times over. King Bhagirata performed penance at Tapovan to seek His assistance in bringing Ganga to earth. Shiva broke the fall of the river Ganga, containing her energy in his matted locks and thus prevented her life-giving waters from destroying everything in her path. Ganga and the waters of other sacred rivers are invoked doing the abhishekam for Shiva.

We fast and keep vigil on Shivaratri like Parvati did, we wait for Uttarayana Punya Kalam just as Bhishma Pitamah did, we go to temples and observe Pradosham—an occasion that commemorates the success of the Samudra Manthanam and Shiva’s subsequent blessing. This act represents an exceptional aspect of our culture, where historical and cultural events are remembered through monuments and active participation.

Fasting in Maha Shivratri 

During Shivratri night, penance should be observed without sleep and food, along with the worship of Shiva. Observing people take a single meal during the day and sleep in a clean place at night before the beginning of the day of penance. In the morning of Shivaratri, believers take a holy bath in a river or in warm water with sesame seeds at their homes in order to clean themselves. Then, visit a Shiva temple and worship or witness the worship of Lord Shiva.   Believers stay awake and fast during the night while worshipping the Lord.  

Four sets of prayers are offered at four different junctures of night or yaamams, each with its own special offering of flowers, fruits, and nivedhya.

  1. 1st Yama: According to the scriptures, penance should be observed by worshipping Lord Shiva with lotus flowers, offering Him a pudding called pongali rice and mung bean cooked together in milk, and reciting Rigveda until the end of the first yama (a quarter of the night).
  2.  In the second yama, they should worship Him with Tulasi leaves (Ocymum sanctum), offer Him a pudding called payasamrice cooked in milk to a liquid consistency, and recite Yajurveda. 
  3. In the third yama, bael leaf (bilva leaves, Aegle marmelos or Crataeva religiosa) worship, offering of sesame flour mixed food, and recitation of Samaveda are observed. 
  4. In the fourth yama or the last quarter of the night, neelotpala (blue lotus or sengalinir) flower worship, offering simple food, and recitation of Athrvaveda are observed. (Food is offered to the Lord but only eaten once the entire penance is completed the next morning).

Initiated devotees chant the five-syllable Panchakshara mantra—Namah Shivaya. Some families perform elaborate prayers at their home shrines, taking care to have an ablution before each prayer. Ardent devotees also make a special lingam to worship on Shivaratri.

Origin of Maha Shivaratri Celebration 

There are several myths about the origin of Mahashivaratri.

Shiva Purana

According to a legend in the Shiva Purana, Brahma (the four-faced god of creation) and Vishnu once fought over who was superior. Horrified at the intensity of the battle, the other gods asked Shiva to intervene. 

To make them realize the futility of their fight, Shiva assumed the Linga form of a huge column of fire, Lingodhbhava, between Brahma and Vishnu. From this unending column of effulgence emanated the sound, OM. Awestruck by its magnitude, they decided to find one end each to establish supremacy over the other. 

Brahma assumed the form of a swan and rose high into the blue skies in pursuit of its summit. Vishnu, as Varaha, bored his way deep into the universe in the quest for its base. The column of fire had no limit, and though they searched for thousands of miles, neither could find the end.   Brahma came across a ketaki flower wafting down slowly on his journey upwards. When asked where she had come from, Ketaki replied that she had been placed at the top of the fiery column as an offering. Unable to find the uppermost limit, Brahma ended his search and took the flower as a witness. 

Both failed, as this cosmic pillar was none other than Shiva himself. How can one measure the immeasurable?  When Vishnu returned, he conceded defeat. However, not wanting to admit failure, Brahma boasted that he had scaled the summit. As proof, he presented a white ketaki flower that he claimed to find on top. 

No sooner was the lie uttered than Shiva appeared in his proper form at night. He punished Brahma for lying and cursed him so that no one would ever pray to him. By becoming an accomplice to this fraud, the flower fell from grace.  The ketaki flower, too, was banned from being used as an offering for any worship, as she had testified falsely.  

Ever since then we offer prayers to Shiva at night. There is one night dedicated to Shiva each month of the year called Shivaratri. There is also a special fortnight dedicated to Shiva. This is from Magha Krishna Paksha Prathipada to Magha Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi. Further, when a Monday coincides with the new moon i.e., when all twenty hours fall during the Amavasya, it is called Yoga Shivaratri.

Since it was on the 14th day in the dark half of the month of Phalguna that Shiva first manifested himself as a shivalinga, the day is especially auspicious and is celebrated as Mahashivratri. Maha Shivaratri is the supreme and is observed by millions of Hindus the world over.

Vaamana Purana

According to Vaamana Purana, chapter 6, Shiva wandered about the world naked, grieving the death of his wife, Satidevi, at the Yajna fire conducted by her father, Daksha. He covered his body only with the ashes of His wife and lived on alms.

Shiva reached the Vindhya Mountains and entered the Daaru forest, where certain ascetic Maharishis and their beautiful wives lived. When the women saw the most handsome naked ascetic in the world, they were overcome by love for him, brought fruits and roots, and followed him. Enraged Maharishis castrated Shiva, and Shivalinga fell to the ground. As the Phallus fell, Shiva disappeared, and the world shook with a vast upheaval.

Brahma and Vishnu, startled by the upheaval, came to where the great Phallus fell. Bewildered by the enormity of the Phallus, they decided to find the beginning and end of the great Phallus. Failing to find the origin and end of the Phallus, they praised Lord Shiva and requested Him to rescue the world. Shiva appeared and agreed to take back his Phallus on one condition: that all worship His Phallus. Vishnu decided to that condition and prepared four texts, Saivam, Paasupatam, Kaaladmanam, and Kaapaalikam, for the four kinds of humans depending upon their qualities and abilities (gunas). That was the beginning of the worship of Shiva Linga.

According to the another myth, Mahashivaratri is the day Lord Shiva drank the halahala poison that emerged from the milky ocean (kshira sagara) when the gods and demons were churning it, thus saving the worlds from destruction.

Another myth attributes its greatness to the day of Shiva’s marriage to Parvati, the daughter of the mountain king Himalaya. Yet another myth describes this day as the day on which Lord Shiva, out of joy, burst forth into a great dance that has since been known as Shivatandava nrutya.

Worship of Shiva

On this day, the basic disciplines to be maintained are ahimsa (non-injury), Satya (speaking the truth), daya (compassion), brahmacharya (continence), kama (forgiveness), and anasuyata (absence of jealousy).

According to Agnipurana, Nandikesa and Mahakala should be worshipped first. Then Ganga, Yamuna, the ganas, Vastupurusa, Sakti, and Dharma are to be worshipped. Later, the navasaktis (nine energies), i.e., Vaama, Jyeshta, Raudra, Kaali, Kalavikarini, Balavikarinin, Balapramathini, Sarvabhuutadamani, and manonmani should be worshipped. Then, the chanting of the mantra “Haam, huum, haam, Shivamuurtaye” should be performed.

Worshipping Shiva using the Bilva (Aegle marmelos) leaves is very auspicious, more so on a Shivaratri day. This is illustrated by the legend of a hunter who was chased by a tiger. To escape, he scrambled up a Bilva tree and, to stay alert, plucked and dropped its leaves all night. The leaves happened to fall on a Shivalinga, thus earning the hunter salvation. Shiva, the all-merciful, grants the wishes of His devotees irrespective of their flaws.

The Shiva worship should incorporate six items:

  1. offering bilva leaves to the Linga after giving it a ceremonial bath, which represents purification of the soul;
  2. applying vermilion paste on the linga after bathing it, which represents virtue;
  3. offering food, which is conducive to longevity and the gratification of desires;
  4. lighting incense, which yields wealth;
  5. lighting an oil lamp, which signifies the attainment of knowledge; and
  6. offering betel leaves, which marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures.

Mahashivarati Celebration

Mahashivaratri is celebrated all over India, Nepal, and some other countries. Some of the widely known celebrations in India are at the

  • Vishwanath temple in Varanasi;
  • the Bhootnath temple at Mandi in Himachal Pradesh where a week-long International Mandi Shivaratri Fair is held;
  • Neelkanth Mahadev temple in Rishikesh,
  • Sri Kalahasteshwara temple at Srikalahasti;
  • Bhramaramba Mallikarjunaswamy Temple in Srisailam;
  • Umananda temple in Guwahati,
  • Matangeshwar temple in Khajuraho where a 10-day fair is held;
  • Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain;
  • Lokanath temple in Puri;
  • Nataraja temple in Chidambaram; and
  • Aluva Mahadeva temple near Ernakulam.


During Shivaratri, we offer our deepest gratitude to Shiva through self-control: silence, prayer, and fasting, which involves giving up what we routinely do and enjoy— talk, sleep, and eat! Silence conserves energy, allows the mind to calm down and attain some degree of spiritual clarity. Prayer allows us to get in touch with the Lord who is our inner Self. Fasting helps us be free from the bondage of body and mind.

Find more about the benefits of fasting in this article.

Shubha Shivaratri!

Why Hindu

We, a group of youths born into Hindu families, were raised in the rich culture of Vedic Sanatan Dharma, embracing its cultures and traditions. Post-graduation, recognizing the immense value of our Sanatan Dharma for humanity, we initiated the "Why Hindu" project. With guidance from our elders, we aim to create awareness about Hindu Dharma, delve into Vedic scripture, explore Vedic mantras, and elucidate the significance of festivals. Through this endeavor, we strive to share the profound teachings of our heritage, fostering understanding and appreciation for the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma.

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