WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2 and THURSDAY, MARCH 3: Hindus spend the moonless night awake in joyful prayer as they observe the 24 hours known as Maha Shivaratri. (This year, some regions mark Maha Shivaratri on March 2, while others mark it on March 3. Read more details at Hindu-blog.) Of the three deities that make up the sacred Hindu Trinity, Lord Shiva—the deity worshipped on this holiday—is revered especially for his ability to rid the world of evil and ignorance. (Find more at Maha-Shivratri.org.)
Maha Shivaratri is dedicated to fasting, worship and remembrance of Lord Shiva’s complex role in the world: It’s believed that the planetary positions align tonight in such a way that energy is naturally created in human beings. Therefore, when Hindus stay awake tonight, it’s regarded as both spiritually and physically healthy. On another level of spiritual reflection, the moonless night represents ignorance, and Lord Shiva is believed to have appeared just before the beginning of “Kaliyuga,” or ignorance, to rid the world of it. (TajOnline has details.) If devotees realize the truth of Lord Shiva in all things tonight, they are able to attain Moksha—and end their cycle of death and rebirth.
Hindu communities are vibrant places of energy tonight, with dancers, artists and musicians performing throughout the night. The Shiva Lingam, or representation of Lord Shiva used for worship, is washed every three hours with milk, honey and sweet water; Bael leaves are offered to the deity, too. (Check out Wikipedia for more.) According to Hindu mythology, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which rituals pleased him most—and Shiva replied that the 13th night of the new moon is his favorite time. Legends abound concerning events that involve Lord Shiva on this day, and Hindus have been keeping this sacred day for Lord Shiva for centuries.
Prior to nightlong worship, Hindus take ritual baths and pay visits to temples during daylight hours. This year, the 7th century shrine of Pashupatinath—one of the largest temples of Lord Shiva in the world and revered by millions of Hindus—is the subject of international attention. Nepalese trust officials are attempting to sell tickets to Pashupatinath’s Maha Shivaratri rituals, and Hindus are objecting en masse. (The Times of India has a full article.) Activists argue that all Hindus hold the right to wait to offer worship; they also fear that wealthy, non-Hindu tourists may attend rituals while devotees are left without ability to enter. A writ has been filed in the Supreme Court that opposes temple management’s decisions.