Varanasi is dotted with a large number of temples. Maha Shivratri in Varanasi is celebrated in honor of Lord Shiva, the presiding deity in most of these temples. This festival is particularly popular with women who pray to the lord to be blessed with a husband like him. In Indian mythology, Shiva is an ascetic god which is why ascetics also participate whole heartedly in the worshipping and merry making.
History of the Maha Shivratri in Varanasi
According to legend, Lord Shiva is the savior of our world. A pot of poison emerged from the depths of the ocean. This frightened the gods because this venom would harm the whole world. Shiva drank the poison to protect the whole world but he adroitly held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This gave him the name of Nilkantha or blue throated. The festival is celebrated to mark this occasion.
Description of the Maha Shivratri in Varanasi
The traditional form of Shiva Shivalinga is worshipped in the temples. Devotees of Lord Shiva flock the temples to offer their prayers. The Shivalinga is worshipped every three hours with milk, curd and honey. Bael leaves and flowers adorn the lingam.
All day long they observe fast. They engage themselves in the preparation of various sweet dishes made out of coconut to offer to the lord. They remain awake the whole night through to serve the offerings and implore the lord to shower his blessings upon them. Even at night they abstain from taking any food. They break their fast only next morning.
Religious hymns are sung with feelings of great warmth and intensity. The ardor and devotion of the aficionados are great. They repeatedly utter the Panchakshara Mantra – Om Nama Shivay. The belief is that they will be liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth and attain true salvation if they chant this mantra.
There is a special drink which is prepared on the occasion of Maha Shivratri. Popularly known as Thandai, it is a mixture of milk, almonds and cannabis. It is believed that Lord Shiva is particularly fond of Cannabis. The drink is particularly refreshing after the long period of fast.
Time for celebrating the Maha Shivratri in Varanasi
The Maha Shivratri in Varanasi generally falls in the 13th or 14th day of the Hindu month of Phalgun (February – March).