The Maha Shivaratri festival, also popularly known as ‘Shivaratri’ (spelt as Sivaratri, Shivaratri, Sivarathri, and Shivarathri) or ‘Great Night of Shiva’, marks the convergence of Shiva and Shakti.
Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on the Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi of Hindu calendar month Maagha as per Amavasya-ant month calculation.
Very early morning, Shiva temples are flocked by devotees, young and old, who come to perform the traditional Shivalinga worship (puja) and hence hope for favours from the God. Devotees bathe at sunrise, preferably in the Ganga, or any other holy water source (like the Shiv Sagartank at Khajurao). This is a rite of purification, which is an important part of all Hindu festivals. Wearing clean clothing after the holy bath, worshippers carry pots of water to the temple to bathe the Shivalinga. Women and men both offer prayers to the Sun, Vishnu and Shiva. The temple reverberates with the sound of bells and shouts of « Shankerji ki Jai » meaning ‘Hail Shiva’. Devotees circulate the lingam three or seven times, and then pour water over it. Some also pour milk over it.
According to the Shiva Purana, the Mahashivaratri worship must incorporate six items:
Bathing the Shiva Linga with water, milk and honey. Woodapple or bel leaves are added to, which represents purification of the soul;
Vermilion paste is applied to the Shiva Linga after bathing it. This represents virtue;
Offering of fruits, which is conducive to longevity and gratification of desires;
Burning incense, yielding wealth;
The lighting of the lamp which is conducive to the attainment of knowledge;
And betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures.