Maha Shivaratri is the most significant event in the Hindu’s spiritual calendar. On this annual festival, devotees glorify and worship the life of Lord Shiva. They worship the lingam (symbol of Shiva), observe night-long fasting, and meditate on several ethics during the festival.
Masik Shivaratri falls on the fourteenth day of every lunar month. Out of all the twelve Shivaratris, Maha Shivaratri holds the most spiritual significance. It is observed on the fourteenth day of the waning moon in the Nepali month of Falgun (Feb/Mar).
During this day, Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu witnesses a considerable surge of devotees and Sadhus (holy sage) offering their worship. Likewise, the devotees around the country celebrate this festival by worshipping Lord Shiva at various temples, rivers, and ponds.
On this day, married women in Nepal pray for the well-being of their husbands. However, the unmarried girls offer their worship to find a husband like Lord Shiva, who is considered the ideal husband.
History and Significance of Maha Shivaratri
Different legends and traditional lores describe the significance of Maha Shivaratri discreetly.
According to one legend, this is the night of convergence of Shiva and Shakti. It represents the significance of masculine and feminine energies to balance the world.
A different legend states that this is the night when Lord Shiva performed Tandava — a cosmic dance of ‘creation, preservation, and destruction.’
According to another one, Maha Shivaratri marks the wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Thus, people who live in families observe this festival as a sacred union.
According to Hindu mythology, this is the night when Lord Shiva saved gods and humankind from annihilation.
It is believed that gods and demons once churned the ocean together to obtain ambrosia. From the depth, however, a pot of poison arose. Lord Shiva consumed the poison and ultimately saved the world from destruction. But, the poison resided in Lord Shiva’s throat and eventually turned him blue.
Maha Shivaratri Celebration
Unlike most Hindu festivals, Maha Shivaratri isn’t just a blatantly joyous festival for feasting. Rather, it beholds the idea of self-reflection and personal growth by leaving behind everything that hinders our success.
The devotees around the world celebrate this auspicious day as per the customs and traditions dictated in the region. Here are a few ways devotees celebrate Maha Shivaratri:
- They practice night-long fasting and observe a vigil contemplating spirituality.
- They visit Shiva temples and holy rivers to offer their worship to the Lord.
- The devotees meditate on several ethics, chant mantras, sing songs, and listen to Lord Shiva’s stories.
- They participate in Rudra Puja or Mahashivratri Puja to honor Lord Shiva.
- People worship Shiva Lingam by offering Bel Patra (leaves of the bel tree), milk, sandalwood paste, white color flowers, and Dhaturo (a type of intoxicating plant).
- The devotees often donate food and clothes to the poor and needy at the end of the Maha Shivratri puja.
Things You Can Do During Maha Shivaratri in Nepal
Maha Shivaratri is largely celebrated in different parts of Nepal, especially by people following Hinduism. As one of the holiest Hindu shrines, Pashupatinath Temple is flooded with devotees and Sadhus from all over Nepal and India.
Here's a list of things you, as a tourist, can do to celebrate Maha Shivaratri in Pashupatinath Temple:
1. Observe the Shivaratri Vrat
Fasting is known to detoxify the human body and reduce the restlessness of the mind. If you’re looking to experience the spiritual aspect of Maha Shivaratri, you should consider observing a one-day fast.
Most devotees observe the Shivaratri Vrat (or the Shivaratri Fast) to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva and boost the solemnity of their vows.
On the night of Maha Shivaratri, the position of the constellations is considered significantly auspicious for meditation. Hence, you can try staying awake all night and meditating on Shivaratri.
For people who can not meditate all year long, this is the perfect day in the calendar year to practice it.
3. Attend Sandhya Aarati
Sandhya Aarati is an auspicious ritual held at the banks of the Bagmati River on the eastern side of Pashupatinath Temple. Truthfully, three temple priests conduct this sacred ritual every evening.
However, the aura of this ritual on Maha Shivaratri is out of the world. Hundreds of people gather around the podium to observe the ceremony. The ritual is performed by chanting mantras, singing hymns, lighting oil lamps, and playing classical music.
You can take a walk around the temple and attend this auspicious ceremony to experience absolute bliss.
4. Witness the Sadhus
On the eve of Maha Shivaratri, thousands of sadhus and babas congregate in the area of the Pashupatinath temple. If you take a walk around the temple, you are likely to witness these sadhus and baba with their ash-smeared faces and matted dreadlocks, smoking cigarettes mixed with marijuana.
In some areas around the temple, you can also witness the highly respected Naga Babas (The Naked Sadhus). Naga Babas are by far the most intriguing type of Shaivite sadhus. These sadhus take vows of celibacy and live in the frigid temperatures in the Himalayas without cover. These sadhus only care about the bare necessities of life. Hence, they strip down to their flesh and pay homage to Lord Shiva.
Tips to Improve Your Maha Shivaratri Experience
- Bring small bills when you walk around the Pashupatinath Temple. Since there are loads of colorful markets around the temple premises, you may want to buy a thing or two. In such cases, having small notes can come really handy.
- If you’re traveling in a group, watch out for your friends every once in a while. There will be a massive crowd around the Pashupatinath area. Thus, it is quite easy to get lost. If you lose any of your friends, you can contact the nearest police and announce his/her name through speakers.
- Also, pay great attention to your belongings, including your wallet, mobile phone, or camera.
- If you want to take photographs of Sadhus, make sure to ask for their permission. Some of these ‘holy men’ may demand a small amount of money for the photos. To clear out the confusion, ask for their permission, negotiate the price, and hand over the money before you take the picture.
- Wear comfortable boots or shoes while walking around the temple. Avoid sandals or slippers as the route can often be overcrowded.
- Do not buy or smoke 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.