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The Mahashivaraatri Festival

Mahashivaraatri festival in Nepal

Among the pantheon of the trinity Gods in Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) Lord Shiva is a major God. He is depicted as a fierce figure with a garland of a Cobra around his neck, wearing tiger skin around his lower body, carrying a trident and damaru. Also known as the God of Gods (Mahadev), goes by several other names like Bholenath, Shankar, Rudra, Bhairava, Nataraja, and many others. He is normally depicted meditating in the Kailash Mountain with his other half, Goddess Parvati. His role in the trinity pantheon is described to be of destruction, only to create a new creation.

 The day before every new moon each month of the Hindu Lunar calendar is dedicated to Lord Shiva as Shiva Ratri (the Night of Shiva), however, during the months of February and March, the day before the new moon is known as an auspicious day of Maha Shivaratri, where Maha refers to great. The word Shiva has a significant meaning to it, where “Shi” refers to “the Auspicious one “whereas “Va” refers to “That which is not”, referring to the dark space where all of the matter and non-matter of the universe exists. Thus he is also known as Maha Kaala, where Kaala refers to darkness and time altogether.

History of Mahashivaraatri

The festival has its roots in ancient times as suggested by the Skanda Purana, Padma Purana, and Linga Purana estimated to be written as early as 700 to 1000 BCE. However, the exact date of the origin of the festival is unknown.  According to the Nepali folklore Goddess, Parvati took fasting and worshipped Lord Shiva, with great reverence in order to fulfill her wish of being his wife.

It is said to be the night when her wish was fulfilled as he took her as his wife. However, there are many versions of the story according to different sects and regions. Among these, another famous legend is that this is the night when Nataraja (King of Dance) performed a cosmic dance for the destruction, creation, and preservation of existence. Thus, people can be singing hymns and dance on this auspicious day.

In the Yogic culture, however, Shiva is referred to as Adiyogi (the first Yogi) and the first master of Yogic sciences. It is unknown where he came from, and what he is, but he is known to be the source of Yoga. He is believed to have mastered all the possible ways for Humans, to reach their ultimate self and reach the point beyond liberation or Nirvana. His teachings include his 114 ways of reaching the divine self, whereas Lord Gautam Buddha is known just for one way. His teachings have been followed by great Yogic Masters like Sunira , Matsyendranath, Patanjali, and Gorakhnath and transferred to the reach of the rest of mankind.

Rituals and Celebration 

Hindus all over the world celebrate this festival with great reverence, especially in the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed Pashupatinath in Kathmandu and other temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. The deity is worshipped by chanting Om Namah Shivaya all night long without sleeping which is also called Jaagaran, which is supposed to help one gain victory over darkness and ignorance.

 Devotees offer milk, sweets, leaves of stone apple, and cannabis as offering to the supreme lord as they are believed to be dear to him. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims including ascetics visit the auspicious Pashupatinath Temple, at this event. Besides worshipping Mahadev, devotees perform rigorous dance on the hymns dedicated to the lord.

Shiva the “Stoner” God

It might make the rest of the world after knowing that an intoxicant plant like Cannabis can be associated with a God. Also known as Somnath, where “Som” refers to intoxicants:  Lord Shiva is often depicted smoking a joint on a chillum, and as a popular belief people tend to follow the trend. He is supposed to have consumed even deadly poison and venom of the cobra, thus turning his throat blue.

It is believed that smoking cannabis on this day helps one to reach near to the Lord himself, thus a Hindu is supposed to consume this plant at least once during the Mahashivaraatri festival. Several ascetic Sadhus can be seen in the Pashupatinath temple smoking the stuff, where the general public can join them.  However, for those who do not smoke, there are several other edibles including sweets, porridge, or milk infused with cannabis.

Lingaa “The form”