Maha Shivaratri in Nepal
Feb 17, 2022
Maha Shivaratri is a celebration honoring Lord Shiva, who embodies devastation. It is one of the most important festivals for Hindu followers or the devotees of the Hindu god Shiva from all over the world. Shivaratri is made up of two words: Shiva and Ratri, which signify "Lord Shiva" and "Night," respectively. Combined, Shivaratri literally means "Lord Shiva's Night”.
According to the Hindu Luni-solar calendar, Shivaratri is observed every month on the 13th night/14th day. And out of 12 Shivaratris’, Maha Shivaratri is the most important and cherished.
As the word “Maha” translates to “grand”, it is really the ‘grand night of Lord Shiva’ also known as a night of awakening. Celebrated in the late winter during Falguna month (February/March) of the Hindu calendar, this auspicious festival is also celebrated to honor the approaching of the spring season when trees start getting leaves, spring flowers start blooming and earth becomes very different.
The celebration of Maha Shivaratri in the year 2022 will take place on March 1.
History and Significance of Maha Shivaratri
Throughout history, various tales have described the significance of Maha Shivratri, with one of them claiming that Mahadev (Lord Shiva) performed his cosmic dance (Tandav Nach) of creation, preservation, and destruction on this night.
Maha Shivaratri, according to certain legends, is the night when Shiva saved the world from destruction. In search of the nectar of immortality, he ingested the poison that rose from the seafloor and save humanity and the gods from extinction.
Mahashivratri is also the night supposed to be the union of two powerful forces in the universe, Shiva and Goddess Shakti, which is one of the most important causes for celebration.
Another tradition claims that on this night, offering Lord Shiva's images can help a person overcome and let go of their sins, letting them reach Mount Kailash and attain ‘moksha’.
Whatever it is written in history, Maha Shivaratri is being celebrated for ages and is believed to be a serious celebration in Hindu culture that commemorates 'overcoming darkness and ignorance in life.'
How is Maha Shivaratri Festival Celebrated?
Maha Shivratri, unlike many Hindu holidays, is celebrated during the nighttime. This is a night of self-reflection to grow and let go of everything that is getting in the way of our achievement.
Maha Shivratri is observed by followers all around the world but celebrated in India, Nepal, Mauritius, and almost every Indian sub-continent with great pomp according to their local customs. Some people celebrate in the morning, while others hold pujas and Jagarans (rituals) in the evening. On this day, Hindus from all over the world may be seen flooding several Shiva temples where fairs and cultural programs are held.
The most common thing on Maha Shivratri among every place where it is celebrated is that the devotees fast for the entire day, eating only the next day after bathing. The fast is followed not just to obtain Lord Shiva's blessings, but also to put one's resolve such as self-control, honesty, and forgiveness to the test. They pray for moksha and offer milk to Shivalingam. Several worshippers stay up chanting mantras as “Om Namah Shivaya”, lighting sacred fires, singing Lord Shiva's praises, and keeping vigil to greet Lord Shiva’s arrival on Earth.
And, it is believed that people who perform puja, fast, and pray to Mahadev are also said to be blessed with good fortune.
Maha Shivaratri Festival celebration in Nepal
As more than half the population is Hindu followers in Nepal, Maha Shivaratri falls amongst one of the most important festivals in Nepal. Nepali Shiva worshippers flock to a neighboring shrine to offer their prayers while fasting religiously. And the most crowded venue on this day is Pashupatinath Temple.
Lord Shiva is most honored at Kathmandu's Pashupatinath Temple as the temple itself is dedicated to the God of destruction, Lord Shiva. In fact, Pashupatinath Temple is one of the four holiest temples in the world and it's a favorite spot to worship Shiva for the followers. Like Lord Shiva to humanity, Pashupatinath is revered as the protector and guardian of the Kathmandu Valley and Nepal.
Every day in the temple, Lord Shiva is worshipped and commemorated. However, on the grand occasion of Maha Shivaratri, not only the devotees from Nepal, but from all over the world especially from the countries such as India, Malaysia, and Singapore gather in Pashupatinath Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for the special prayers.
On this day, worshippers light oil lamps, and offer milk, honey, rice, and flowers to Lord Shiva, particularly "Dhaturo" (an intoxicating plant/marijuana) and green leaves known as "Belpatra." On this day, devotees in Nepal also fast and meditate, while lighting forests and bonfires at night and performing special prayers. People queue from early in the morning to see Shiva Linga at Pashupatinath. The line can stretch for kilometers, and worshippers (mostly women) stand for hours without food or water to perform Shiva puja. Women in Nepal fast and pray for a decent husband or a long and happy marriage.
Apart from Puja and Darshan, the colorful crowd, which includes thousands of Sadhus (holy men) from all across Nepal and India, would be another draw for visitors to the temple area during the time. Some people visit Pashupatinath on this day just to witness and learn about the many types of Sadhu Babas and their activities. Some Sadhus can be seen covered with ashes while others can be seen entirely nude.
Tourists could be intrigued by the ambiance of those naked sadhus with colorfully painted faces with long dreadlocks and tangled beards meditating, posing for photos, mingling with disciples, and getting high on local substances such as weed, marijuana & cannabis.
Any drug usage is banned in Nepal, but those sages are seen inhaling those substances because those so-called holy men believe that by ingesting marijuana, they may conquer all of life's obstacles and difficulties.
On this day, children can be seen collecting donations from passers-by by blocking the way with ropes and carrying the portraits of the Gods in preparation for a holy supper and bonfire in honor of the auspicious night.