Maha Shivratri- Kashi’s Most Celebrated Wedding

Maha Shivratri or the great night of Shiv is Kashi’s most celebrated night of the year. It is celebrated on the moonless night of the new moon during the Phalgun Maas as per the North Indian Hindu calendar while the same day is considered to fall in Maagh Maas Krishna Paksha as per South Indian Hindu calendar. Though the fourteenth of every lunisolar month of the Hindu calendar is a Shivratri, the one that occurs in late Winter and before the arrival of Summer (February/March) has the most spiritual significance.

Naga Sadhus taking out a procession on Shivratri in Varanasi
Naga Sadhus taking out a procession on Shivratri in Varanasi (Picture by Priyanshu Singh)

The Significance of Maha Shivratri

There are various prevailing legends related to this festival. The most significant of all is that the festival marks the wedding of Shiv and Parvati. On this day, two devotees are dressed as Shiv and Parvati, whom the whole crowd follows dancing.

It’s not just a one-day celebration but all the other wedding customs by Kashi Vishwanath temple are also performed with grandeur with a chain of events. The main participation is by the Mahant Family of the temple who host ceremonies such as Tilak on Basant Panchami, Haldi – one day prior to Mahashivratri, marriage on Maha Shivratri & Gauna on Rang Bhari Ekadashi. All the rituals are performed on a silver idol of Lord Shiva with five heads & Parvati beside him.

The Mahant Family has two ceremonial idols of Kashi Vishwanath, one is used for Mahashivratri and another one is used on Rang Bhari Ekadashi. Finally, the Mahant performs Kanyadaan after the wedding. Along with all the customs, there is a different kind of Shringar being performed on this occasion which culminates with the Jhoola Shringar of the Lord.

Shiv and Parvati in procession on Shivratri in Varanasi
Shiv and Parvati (Picture by Priyanshu Singh)

It is marked as one of the darkest nights of the year. It is also believed that Shiv performed his famous Anand Tandav Nritya or a dance-drama of creation, preservation, and destruction on the eve of Maha Shivratri.

A child dressed as Goddess Kali on Maha Shivratri in Varanasi
A child dressed as Goddess Kali (Picture by Priyanshu Singh)

Another legend is related to Samudra Manthan or the churning of the ocean. Samudra Manthan was an elongated process. All types of herbs were put into the ocean and many great entities were produced from the ocean that got divided into Devas(Gods) and Asuras(Demons).

During this process, a pot of poison was also produced along with other things. Neither of them was ready to accept the poison as it was calamitous. Hence, Lord Vishnu approached Lord Shiv for protection. Shiv swallowed the poison and stored it in his neck to prevent it from going into his stomach. Thus, it stayed in his throat making it appear bluish in color, after which he came to be known as the “Neelkanth”. Shiv was advised to stay awake for the whole night as a part of therapy.

Thus, Gods kept a vigil on him and kept him awake by amusing him with dances and music. Since then, this night is celebrated as Maha Shivratri and Shiv’s devotees fast, keep vigil, sing, and dance the whole night.

A devotee dressed up as shiv in procession
A devotee dressed up as shiv (picture by Priyanshu Singh)

Shiv Baraat in Varanasi

Devotees dancing in the Shivratri procession
Devotees dancing in the Shivratri procession (Picture by Priyanshu Singh)

The most remarkable thing to witness in Kashi is Shiv Baraat. The whole of Varanasi comes together to be a part of this procession. It is basically re-enacting the wedding ceremony of Shiv and Parvati. Right from the morning, you will get glimpses of Jhankis or Tableau. Hundreds of saffron-clothed sadhus and Naga saints join the procession.

The morning procession starts from the Tilbhandeshwar temple and ends in the Gauri Kedareshwar temple, where the idols of Shiv and Parvati are installed a day before the big event. While the evening procession starts from Mrityunjay Mahadev Temple in Daranagar and wraps up in Godaulia.

This is one of the few places in India where people dance in processions after drinking bhang (a sweet drink made of milk and a type of cannabis). Mangala Aarti is performed from 3 am to 4 am after which devotees are allowed continuous darshan. Since devotees are awake throughout the night, no Shayan aarti is held on that day and the rest of the aartis are performed at 10 am, 12 am, 2 pm & 3 pm.

Another big event Panchkroshi Yatra is also performed on this day in which hundreds of devotees walk for almost 80 kilometers barefoot.

Maha Shivratri 2025 Date – Varanasi

This year, Maha Shivratri is going to be held on 26th February 2025. If you ever get a chance, witness this unparalleled experience at least once in your life!

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