The auspicious festival of Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with devotion and religious fervor all over India and even beyond. Though fasting and worship of Shiva Linga with a ritual bath remain the common feature of Shivaratri celebrations at all places, minor variations due to regional difference can be observed in some states.
Please read on to know more about regional celebrations of Shivratri. You will be surprised to know, about the various interesting traditions and customs of Shivratri Festival and the zeal with which devotee of Lord Shiva follow them.
Festival of Shivaratri is observed with extreme enthusiasm in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Devotees throng the various important Shiva temples in the state mainly Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam. Devotees also observe fast and chant mantras in honor of Lord Shiva to mark the auspicious festival.
In the North-Eastern state of Assam, the hub of Shivratri celebrations is at the Umananda Temple, situated on the Peacock Island in the middle of Brahamaputra river in Guwahati, the capital of Assam. Thousands of Shiva devotees from all over the country pay a visit to the temple on the occasion of Shivaratri. Sibsagar, the capital of the erstwhile Ahom kings, is the other major centre of Mahashivaratri celebrations in Assam.
The Temple of Bhutnath at Mandi in Himachal Pradesh is said to host the biggest Shivaratri Puja in the country. Every year on Shivratri Festival, the Governor of the state leads a Shobha Yatra at a function inaugurated by the Chief Minister. The royal family of Mandi started the tradition some 500 years ago. An eight-day-long fair is also organized which witness the participation of artists from India and even beyond.
Hindus of Kashmir observe Shivaratri with utmost zeal and devotion. Here, Shivratri is celebrated for three weeks or 21 days, beginning on the first day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna (locally known as hur ukdoh) and end on the 8th day of the bright half of Phalguna. Kashmiri Brahmins perform Shivaratri puja on the 13th day of the dark half of Phalguna Krishna Paksha to mark Lord Shiva′s wedding with Uma, the beautiful daughter of the Himalayas. In keeping with their hospitable nature, Kashimiri Brahmins offer even non-vegetarian food in puja to entertain Bhairavas who are said to form the major part of Shiva′s baaraat.
Shivratri puja in Jammu and Kashmir is performed in a very distinctive way. Two pots (called kalash), depicting Shiva and Parvati are filled with walnuts soaked in water. These walnuts are taken out only on the third day which usually falls on the no moon day or amavasya. On the third day this walnut which is wet is distributed to all friends and neighbours as prasad. On the chaturdashi (14th day after full moon) there is the real feasting when the families invite each other for dinners.
In Kashmir, Shivaratri is also called Hayrath, which is the corrupt form of ‘hairat’, a Persian word meaning ′utter surprise′. The term was coined during the Pathan occupation of the valley. Besides, Shivaratri puja is better known as Vatuk Puja in Kashimir where Vatuk means, collection or an assemblage of different objects. The name has been given because the main puja on Shivaratri day involves collection of a large number of articles. The name could also be traced to the term Vatuk Dev, Lord Shiva′s celibate form. People in Kashmir also worship Vatuk Bhairav, said to be Shiva′s most trusted dwarpal (gatekeeper). This is done in a bid to seek his favor for an audience with the Lord. On Hayrath day the children are given money as a gift called "herat kharch". Interestingly it is not only children who receive gifts, for even husbands give gifts to their wife and the elder brother gives to younger brother. On the next day there is also a tradition to play the game of "harr" which is played with the help of sea shells.
Festival of Maha Shivaratri is observed with pomp and enthusiasm in the southern state of Karnataka. A grand Sri Shidlingappa′s fair is observed to mark the auspicious occasion. Deity is taken to the river in a palanquin accompanied by drummers (Dollu and Majalu) from several neighboring and is then worshipped. Linagayats, people of the Shiva cult, worship Linga on Shivaratri. Following a tradition, married women wear a linga made of silver or gold on their body. In southern Karnataka, children make believe that they are kings and dole out punishments to all and sundry. This particular tradition is based on the mythological legend related with Shivaratri that narrates the story of Shiva punishing Brahma for lying about measuring the length of Linga.
Shivaratri is celebrated with religious fervor in the state of Madhya Pradesh. As a tradition, people in Madhya Pradesh take a holy dip in Sagar tank in Khajuraho. The place houses a beautiful Shiva temple.
Bundelkhand Region, which has a stronghold of Shaivites hosts the biggest Shivaratri celebrations in the state. A large number of Lord Shiva devotees flock the Matangeshwar Temple and worship throughout the night. Highpoint of the Shivaratri celebrations at the Matangeshwar Temple is the 10-day-long fair that witness the participation of traders, peddlers and gypsies from other parts of the state. Display of traditional fare and a variety of handicrafts besides the rural circus show, magic shows, folk theatre, and merry-go-rounds add to the excitement.
Festival of Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with devotion and enthusiasm in the state of Orissa. Major centres of Shivaratri celebrations in the state are Lingaraj Temple and Hakateswar Temple Atri. Shiva temples located at Mahendragiri, Gupteswar, Kapilas, Bhubaneswar and Khiching also draw a large of pilgrims from across the state.
Shivaratri celebration at Lokanath Temple, Puri is also quite popular. According to a legend popular in Orissa, long ago, Puri was a center of Shiva worship. The story goes, Lord Ramachandra himself installed the Lingam in the Lokanath Temple. This lingam is kept submerged, in a vat of water. It can only be seen on Pankodhar Ekadasi, before Shivaratri, when the water is removed from the vat. On that day, thousands of devotees come for a darshan.West Bengal
In the state of West Bengal the festival of Maha Shivaratri is performed with great devotion and enthusiasm. On a Shivaratri day, devotees in West Bengal fast through out the day. Following the tradition, they also make four Shivlings made of clay of the holy river Ganga. These Shivlings are later offered in puja in four "prahars" (a meassure of time equal to 3 hours) of the night. In the first prahar one of the shivalings is bathed in milk. In the second period it is bathed with curd, in the third with ghee and in the fourth with honey. The devotees also stay awake the all - through the Shivaratri night. The following morning, they pray, listen to religious discourses, feed the Brahmins, offer them dakshina (alms) and finally break their fast with prasad.
At some places in West Bengal, Mahashivratri celebrations are confined to the Shiva temples. Women visit the temple carrying a copper vessel containing milk and water. They also carry with them leaves of woodapple tree, a wood apple, fruits and flowers and a lamp. As a tradition followed in many places, devotees bathe Shiva Linga with water mixed with milk. Puja is performed and fruits and flowers are offered. After Puja they return home to break their fast with fruits.
At the temple of Tarakeshwar, 57 km from Kolkata, bare-footed pilgrims carry containers filled with the sacred water of river Ganga to pour over the stone image of the Lord and decorate the granite Lingum with garlands and flowers, as a mark of their devotion.Shivaratri Celebrations around the World
Shivaratri is celebrated by Hindus located anywhere in the world. However, celebrations are marked in countries where there is a significant Hindu population.Mauritius
In Mauritius, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated in a big way for over three days. A large number of island′s Hindu population makes a pilgrimage to the holy volcanic lake, Grand Bassin and make food sacrifices and stockpile vessels of the holy water.Nepal
Shivaratri is a much-anticipated festival in the Hindu kingdom of Nepal. Thousands of pilgrims and holy men from all over Southeast Asia flock Nepal weeks before the festival to worship at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. This Lord Shiva temple is considered as one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus. To mark the festival of Mahashivaratri, devotees fast through out the day. They also take a holy bath or dip in the river on a Shivaratri morning and visit the temple to worship.