Maha Shivaratri in Varanasi

by admin on March 2, 2013

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Shivratri In IndiaNeed a mystic vacation in mid March? Divinity merged with infinite rituals and legends of yore during the Maha Shivratri Festival in Varanasi makes it the best place to be. Located on the banks of the holy river Ganges, Varanasi is referred by some pilgrims as Kashi or Benares. Most pilgrims visit it during one of Hindu religion’s holiest festivals: Maha Shivratri which falls this year on March 10. Archaeologically, Varanasi is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, dating back to 11th -12th Century BCE.

Legend has it that this city was founded by Lord Shiva himself, who made it his residence. Thus, the jytorlingam present at the Kashi Viswanath Temple is considered the most sacred of the twelve jyotirlingams present all over India. The Hindu epic Mahabharata mentions that Varanasi was also the place that the Pandavas came to visit in order to do penance for fratricide and Brahmanahatya( killing of Brahmins) during the great Kurukshetra war. Their idea was to search for Lord Shiva and atone for their sins. Thus, this city is the place where pilgrims also come to repent for their sins and pray for moksha(salvation).

The day begins with an elaborate, colourful wedding procession of Lord Shiva, beginning from the Mahamrityunjaya Temple at Daranagar, winding its way to the Kashi Viswanath Temple. Deep reverence is espoused through chanting of shlokas, dancing and offerings of Prasad consisting of milk, bel leaves, fruits, flowers, bhang, and coconuts at all the temples along the way. The festivities continue till late night. One legend says that this was the day when Lord Shiva got married to his consort Parvati after she did severe penance to win him over. This is also the reason why womenfolk worship Lord Shiva; in order to pray for protection of their husband and sons; or find such a divine husband like him. Another legend says King Bhagirath also performed a penance to ask Lord Brahma for the souls of his ancestors who had inadvertently been burnt to ashes by sage Kapila Muni’s curse, to be released. Lord Brahma unleashed Ma Ganga to wash their ashes, but it took the might of Lord Shiva soften the impact of Ma Ganga’s fall through his matted dreadlocks. This manifestation of Lord Shiva is often referred to as Gangadhara.Shivratri In India

Mythological anecdotes speak of this day when Gods and demons churned the oceans to find amrit (the elixir of life). A deadly toxin soon engulfed the oceans threatening to envelope the universe. It was here that Lord Shiva intervened and drank up the poison, which got stuck in his throat and making it blue. This earned Lord Shiva the sobriquet of Neelkanth, meaning blue throat.

Another oft repeated legend speaks of a devout peasant called Lubdhaka, who went to the forest gather wood. After being lost in the dark forest, he climbed a tree to sleep on its branch. Afraid that he would fall off, he kept uttering the name of Lord Shiva and kept plucking the leaves of the bel tree. In the morning, he found that he had dropped the leaves on a Shivalingam, and was blessed by Lord Shiva. This explains why bel leaves found their way as prasad to him.

The Kashi Viswanath Temple was first believed to have been built in 1490, but razed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who built a mosque on it. It was later rebuilt in 1777, some distance away when Lord Shiva appeared in the dreams of Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar  of Indore. One ton of gold was also donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to plate its 15.5 meter tall spire. Inside the courtyard there are many shrines, though the main jytotirlingam is located deep inside a well called the Jnana Vapi or wisdom well.

There are countless temples and ghats in Varanasi for you take in the sights of magnificent Aartis or just pray to the heavens above. There’s the famed Benaresi silk works to engage you too.

You could go through the Holy Land tours or just hire an air conditioned car and go for a truly mystical experience with your family.

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