The Indian festival Shubh Mahashivratri is a puja ceremony that translates as "auspicious night of Shiva." This festival is celebrated to honor the beloved Lord Shiva, one of Hinduism’s most important gods.
The Importance of Shubh Mahashivratri
Shubh Mahashivratri happens just once each year, on February 24th. This is the date that marks Shiva’s sacred marriage to his beloved feminine counterpart, Parvati. Millions of Shiva/Parvati devotees around the world celebrate this union.
This night is especially fortuitous because it’s believed to be the night when Lord Shiva danced the Tandava, a sacred dance that symbolizes the three phases and essences of this ever-changing material world: creation, preservation and destruction. As such, Shubh MahaShivrartri is one of the most important nights on the Hindu calendar.
During the celebration you’ll hear Shiva and Parvati devotees chanting Shiva’s mantra. Chanting a god’s particular mantra is believed to invoke him or her into presence. Shiva’s mantra is Om Namah Shivayah, and during Shubh Mahashivratri, it is repeated hundreds of times by devotees. (Learn more about the Om Nama Shivaya Mantra.)
Many Hindus believe that by chanting Shiva’s mantra with utter concentration, devotion and open-hearted love, you’ll be admonished of all your sins. Serious Shiva devotees actually fast completely during the celebration while others limit their intake to fruits and fried poori. These worshippers do so in hopes that they’ll be liberated from samskara, the endless cycle of death and rebirth.
The Celebration of Shubh Mahashivratri
The Shubh Mahashivratri celebration usually takes place in temples that are devoted solely to Lord Shiva. There are many of these temples all around India, and the temples light up with ritual butter lamps on this sacred night. In celebrating the convergence of Shiva and Parvati, you’re also paying homage to the merging of Shiva and Shakti. It’s one and the same, the divine masculine uniting with the divine feminine. Devotees pay homage to the sacred union of Shiva and Shakti in what’s known as Shivaratri puja. (Read about Shiva and Shakti.)
The Shivaratri puja consists of fasting or abstaining from everything except fruits, fruit juices and milk. Strict devotees often stop drinking water as well. Shiva worshippers often offer up a drink known as prasad. It’s a sweet beverage that’s mixed with something called bhang, a common edible offering to Lord Shiva, and it’s made from the cannabis plant. Devotees also take baths infused with black sesame seeds as another aspect of performing Shivaratri puja. The bathing ritual is seen as a way of cleansing the body and soul. Some even bathe in the Ganges River as an extra powerful way of cleansing the soul. The bathing ritual is also done the day after Shubh Mahashivratri as a way of breaking the fast and ending Shivratri puja.
The air of devotion and faith that surrounds the days leading up to Shubh Mahashivratri is intense and exciting. The sense of sacred that fills the air is one of the many unique facets of Hindu life and spiritual tradition. In India, there are many rituals and celebrations that honor the sacred essence of our worldly and otherworldly reality. If we choose to explore these ancient traditions and celebrations, this spiritual fervor can enhance our modern yoga practice.
Shubh Mahashivratri in the West and Worldwide
If Shiva or Parvati are two of your favorite gods or goddesses, you might consider taking part in the Shubh Mahashivratri. As yoga becomes increasingly popular in the West, you’ll see more of these Hindu rituals make their way into our Western ones.
If you’re a female yogi, Shubh Mahashivratri is an especially auspicious holiday. Throughout the world, Shubh Mahashivratri happens to be an important ritual for women; it's usually the time where single women, who are interested in marriage, pray to Lord Shiva for a husband that displays the unconditional love Shiva shows Parvati. Perhaps, the intimate relationship between women and Shiva is the reason more women typically devote themselves to Lord Shiva, as opposed to men. Shubh Mahashivratri is not only important to singleton women, married women also use this time to practice puja in exchange for the good health of their husbands, sons and the men in their lives.
Both grace and fervor infuse the rituals and celebrations surrounding this auspicious time. The more you learn about Shubh Mahashivratri, and the more you learn about all Hindu festivals, the more you’re likely to want to partake. Incorperating these sacred practices will enrich both your personal life, and your yoga practice. So, here’s to a life of celebration and sacred traditions! (Learn about Hinduism's Most Popular Deities.)