What is Shivratri?
The word Shivratri is composed of two separate words Shiv and Ratri. The word Ratri in Hindi means the night and Shiva is a Hindu god who is believed as the destroyer of the world, thus Shivratri means the night of Shiva. It is amongst the most important Hindu festivals that occurs on the fourteenth of the lunar month Phalguna; dark half 27th February. This, according to followers of Shiva, is the most sacred of all their festivals. The ceremony is said to have been enjoined by Shiva himself, who declared to his wife Uma that the fourteenth of Phalguna if observed in honor of him, would be a destruction of the consequences of all sin.
Disputes about the Exact Date of Shivratri
There is some difference with respect to the day on which this festival is observed; according to some authorities it is held on the fourteenth of the darkness of Magha, according to others on the fourteenth of that of Phalguna. Another difference which is less easily adjusted, is that of date; some considering the festival as properly beginning of the thirteenth instead of the fourteenth; which appears to be the case in the South India. There are some complicated disputes regarding the beginning of hours of this festival.(2)
Shivaratri is celebrated on the 6th night of the dark Phalgun (Feb. or March) every year. On this day, devotees observe fast and keep vigil all night. Mahashivaratri marks the night when Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’. It is also believed that on this day Shiva was married to Parvati. On this day, Shiva devotees offer fruits, flowers and bel leaves on Shiva Linga.
Hindus believe that an element of Bholenath resides in every Shivling 24 hours during Maha Shivaratri. Some Hindus believe that the night of Maha Shivaratri is of great importance, because, the moon sits at the head of Shiva. Also, the moon in the night of the end of Phalgun is almost completely diminishes, vengeful powers increase and affect the mind of the person and govern it and lure to the sin. Through the worship of Shiva, the effects of the vengeful powers are defeated.(3)
The Worship of Linga during Shivratri
The three essential observances are; fasting during the whole Tithi, or lunar day, and holding a vigil and worshiping the Linga during the night and various kinds of rituals are presented to the Linga, also the Linga is bathed with honey with prayers.
Brahmans are entertained and presents are gifted to them by the master of the house and the family holds a feast for them. Those modes of adoration which are at all times addressed to the different forms of Shiva especially to the Linga.
At the Shivratri worship, the Linga may be crowned with a chaplet of Ketaki flowers, but only on this occasion.
Some Hindu priests have instructed the devotees in following words: “On the occasion of Shivaratri, one should give up the bed before the sunrise and should take a bathe in the early morning, and should go to a Shiva temple and worship the Linga.(3)
Although the reputed sanctity of the Shivratri, is evidently of secretarial and comparatively modern, as well as merely local institution, and consequently offers no points of analogy to the practices of antiquity.
What are the Preferred Rituals of Shivratri?
It is noted on the occasion of Shivratri that a large amount of expensive food substances are wasted under the name of worship and ritual offerings to Shiv Linga in all parts of the Indian subcontinent.
Dtura, berry fruit, leaves of Bel tree, milk, honey, ghee, curd and water are offered to Shiv Ling. Lamps and incense sticks are lit and the word “Om Namaha Shivaya” are recited.(4)
Waste of Thousands of Liters Milk in Shivratri
As well as, thousands of liters of pure milk, are squandered on this occasion, a newspaper says in this regard:
“On the occasion of Shivaratri, thousands of liters of milk as a ritual offering are wasted and thrown into the drains every year.”(5)
The Islamic Festivals
When we compare we find that the nature of Shivratri is quite different from the nature of the Islamic festivals in most respects: the belief, practice and methods of celebration. In Islam, there are two basic festivals; `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha. `Eid Al-Fitr is associated with the fasting of the sacred month of Ramadhan, and `Eid al-Adha is associated with the sacrificial animal and pilgrimage. `Eid al-Fitr falls on the first day of the month of Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar after the end of the blessed month of Ramadhan wherein all eligible Muslims observe the worship of fasting.
`Eid al-Adha falls each year on the tenth day of the month of Dhul–Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. The two Festivals are agreed upon between all Muslims without any dispute.
There is another weekly gathering when Muslims assembled for the Friday prayer. The Jumu`ah prayer is followed by a sermon that includes some religious instructions.
The Characteristics of the Islamic Festivals
The Islamic festivals are associated with some remarkable events and auspicious and pure acts of worship. It has been reported that when the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) arrived in Al-Medinah during two days in which they were celebrating. The Prophet asked: “What are these two days?” They answered: “We would celebrate these two days during the time of ignorance.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Verily, Allah has replaced these two days with two better days: the day of sacrifices (`Eid Al-Adha) and the day of breaking fast (`Eid Al-Fitr).” (Abu Dawud).
The Muslims were ordered to celebrate their festivals, associating them with worship, prayer, charity, visiting nears and dears and many other good acts that achieve the spiritual, religious and social sublime goals.
The expression of pleasure during the festivals is a meritorious and recommended action which has been permitted by Allah (Glory be to Him) for His slaves as it is a sort of revival and refreshment for the body and soul. Celebration or festivity under Islamic moral values and in the line with the Islamic rulings is not prohibited.
Islamic festivals are characterized with prayers and chanting glorifying words to Allah. All Muslims, men, women and children share this happiness. The prayer is conducted in the congregation, whether in mosques or open fields.
Glorification and exaltation to Allah with devotion is a special kind of worship during the both festivals. Allah (Glory be to Him) says regarding Jumu`ah prayer:
O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave the trade. That is better for you, if you only knew. (Al-Jumu`ah 62:10)
And Allah (Glory be to Him) says regarding the festival of Al-Fitr:
For you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful. (Al-Baqarah 1:185)
Moreover, Allah (Glory be to Him) says regarding the festival of Al-Addha:
So pray to your Lord and sacrifice [to Him alone]. (Al-Kawthar 108:2)
We note in the above mentioned three verses of the Glorious Qur’an that Allah the Almighty has made the festivals and the days of pleasure combined with the remembrance of Allah and glorifying Him. Islam does not permit any kind of behavioral deviance, unethical acts or any activity that may harm others. Islamic festivals are based on the purity in all aspects; faith, action, celebration and showing joy and pleasure. But the celebration must be within the limits of the legal and Islamic provisions. No dance, no shamelessness, no wine, no fires, no crackers and no waste of useful things is allowed in Islam, neither in festivals nor in any other occasions.
Do you not agree with me that the purity of Islamic festivals, their elevation, their loftiness and their sanctity indicate that these festivals are not an invention of the human mind? If they would have been invented by the human thought there would have been many serious errors in the rules, methods and forms of the expression of the joy and pleasure during the festivals. However, everyone can note in the Hindu celebrations that the expression of joy and happiness in Hinduism is based on some wrong beliefs and wrong ways. Hindus believe in the divinity of a stone carved in the form of a penis. Does your mind accept the belief that God appears in the shape of a penis? This word is regarded as some kind of abuse in the Indian society, if you do not accept this word for yourself, how do you accept it for your god? This is not but a serious religious and intellectual mistake. Why Hindu women pour milk on the linga ? Is it not an apparent obscenity, and an insult to the Hindu women?
Furthermore, thousands of liters of milk and Ghee are spelt on the Linga by Hindu women in every temple of the country every year that flow into the sewers while hundreds of thousands of babies and infants of poor and needy Indian nation suffer from the lack of milk? I think that a simple mind can conclude with full conviction that such festivals which include such immorality and evil cannot be a divinely prescribed worship. Perhaps, the devil misled some Hindu monks and ascetics during the ancient times and tempted them to invent these evils.
On the contrary, a common man who does not follow the customs of parents and grandparents and ancestors can conclude that Islamic festivals with their purity and cleanliness, are not man-made, they are not but the pure revelation from Allah to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
I would like to advise Hindu brothers and sisters to follow their own minds. They should listen to the voice of the conscience and follow what is better for the mind, conscience and society. They can find their logic and wisdom in Islam, which is a complete way and a comprehensive system of life, including festivals, weddings and celebrations.
(1) John Murdoch, Hindu and Muhammadan Festivals, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi 1991, p.28
(2) http://www.amarujala.com/news/spirituality/religion-festivals/importance-of-shivratri-night/(Last accessed on 5-3-2014).
(3) http://religion.bhaskar.com/article/JYO-JN-jyts-know-the-measure-for-shivratri-26-feb-2014-4532342-NOR.html. (Last accessed on 4-3-2014).
(4) https://sites.google.com/site/festivalsoffamily/home/maha-sivaratri. (Last accessed on 5-3-2014).