Shivratri Rituals In Kashmir
Friday, the 13th of this month marks the eve of this year’s Maha Shivratri, one of the greatest festivals when Hindus venerate their Lord Shiva to bring luck in their lives. Water, milk, dhatura, bhaang and flowers are offered to the Shivlinga while some fast on this eve. People sing hymns and praises in the name ofLord Shiva and decorate temples with lights and decorations, where night long prayers are offered with huge religious fervor.
History of Mahashivratri
According to Hindu Mythology, there are a few legend associated with the celebration of MahaShivratri according to the Puranas, which describe the origin of this festival. Let’s take a look at some of these.
During the Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from an ocean, leading to the destruction of the earth. Seeing this, the other Gods got terrified and approached Lord Shiva for help. Shiva agreed, and to protect the world from its effects, he drank the deadly poison. This made his throat blue and hence he was given the name Neelkanth.
Another legend has it that once Brahma and Vishnu got into a fight and to stop the fight Lord Shiva appeared between them as fire. The woods decided to find its end. So Lord Brahma went upwards and Vishnu went towards the earth. Brahma found a Ketaki flower and got it as a witness of reaching the top end. Lord Shiva got angry and punished Brahma for telling a lie. This day was the 14th of the month and since Shiva first appeared in the form of a Linga, the day is considered auspicious. Worshipping Shiva on this day is believed to bring peace and prosperity.
Worshipping all night on Shivratri
A legend explains the reason behind worshipping Shiva on the night of Mahashivratri. Once a poor devotee of LordShiva was walking by the forest late at night and he heard the growls of wild animals. Terrified he climbed a bel apple tree and to keep himself awake, he started plucking leaves of the tree and throwing them down, not knowing that the leaves were falling on a Shiv Linga. Impressed by this all night prayer and devotion of the old man, Shiva appeared and rewarded him tremendously.
HERATH: Celebrating Shivratri in Kashmir
In Kashmir, Herath is celebrated with the grand ritual of Vatuka Pooza which means worshipping Shiva. In the pooza, there are three acts playing concurrently. Act one is the re-enactment of the marriage ceremony of Shiva and Parvati. Act two enacts the return of Parvati to her parents’ home. Act three is an attempt to identify oneself which is represented by a large nott filled with walnuts and water. The water removes the shell (ignorance) and the inside kernel (truth) appears.
From the first to the sixth day of the celebration, Kashmiri Pandits clean their house and start getting materials for the Pooja. From the seventh to ninth day, they offer prayers to the presiding deity of the valley – goddess Sharika. The tenth day is the day of Lakshmi, and Pandits send a felicitation card to their mother in law. On the eleventh day, people feast with fish according to family traditions. On the twelfth day, a brief Puja is performed which reaches a point where rice cakes and walnuts are relished.
The main day, i.e, 13th of this month, is the main day of the Puja, where the devotees celebrate the marriage between Shiva and Parvati who come to stay in the homes. The eldest male of the family fasts which he breaks in the evening with some sweets or kheer garnished with raisins,almonds etc.
In the rich and beautiful traditions of Kashmir, Kashmiri Pandits used to gift their newly wed daughters a Kangri on the eve of Shivratri, which used to be full of smaller gifts.