Mahashivaratri Festival or the ‘The Night of Shiva’ is celebrated with devotion and religious fervor in honor of Lord Shiva, one of the deities of Hindu Trinity. Shivaratri falls on the moonless 14th night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun, which corresponds to the month of February - March in English Calendar. Celebrating the festival of Shivaratri devotees observe day and night fast and perform ritual worship of Shiva Lingam to appease Lord Shiva.
Legends of Mahashivratri
There are various interesting legends related to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. According to one of the most popular legends, Shivaratri marks the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Some believe that it was on the auspicious night of Shivaratri that Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction. Another popular Shivratri legend stated in Linga Purana states that it was on Shivaratri that Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga. Hence the day is considered to be extremely auspicious by Shiva devotees and they celebrate it as Mahashivaratri - the grand night of Shiva.
Traditions and Customs of Shivaratri
Various traditions and customs related to Shivaratri Festival are dutifully followed by the worshippers of Lord Shiva. Devotees observe strict fast in honor of Shiva, though many go on a diet of fruits and milk some do not consume even a drop of water. Devotees strongly believe that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivaratri, absolves a person of sins and liberates him from the cycle of birth and death. Shivaratri is considered especially auspicious for women. While married women pray for the well being of their husbands unmarried women pray for a husband like Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband.
To mark the Shivratri festival, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath, preferably in river Ganga. After wearing fresh new clothes devotees visit the nearest Shiva temple to give ritual bath to the Shiva Lingum with milk, honey, water etc.
On Shivaratri, worship of Lord Shiva continues all through the day and night. Every three hours priests perform ritual pooja of Shivalingam by bathing it with milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water amidst the chanting of “Om Namah Shivaya’ and ringing of temple bells. Nightlong vigil or jaagran is also observed in Shiva temples where large number of devotees spend the night singing hymns and devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. It is only on the following morning that devotee break their fast by partaking prasad offered to the deity.
India is bestowed with the bliss of festivity. A major segment of the population here depends on agriculture. As a result, most of the festivals are also related to the agricultural activities of the people. These festivals are celebrated with different names and rituals in almost all the parts of India. Pongal is one of such highly revered festivals celebrated in Tamil Nadu to mark the harvesting of crops by farmers. Held in the middle of January, it is the time when the people get ready to thank God, Earth and their Cattle for the wonderful harvest and celebrate the occasion with joyous festivities and rituals.
The four-day Harvest festival is celebrated all over the state in January. The festival begins on the last day of the Tamil month with Bhogi Pongal followed by Surya
Pongal on the next day. It is on this day that Chakkara Pongal, a delicacy of harvest rice cooked with jaggery, ghee and cashew nuts is offered to the Sun God. The third day, Mattu Pongal is dedicated to the Cattle when cows are bathed and adomed with colorful beads and flowers. Jallikattu, the bullfight is held on the last day known as Kannum Pongal.
First day !
The first day of the festival is called Bhogi. On Bhogi all people clean out their homes from all corners, and collect all unwanted goods. In the evening, people will light bonfires and burn what can be burnt.
Second day !
The second day of the festival, Surya Pongal, is the day on which the celebrations actually begins, is the first day of the Tamil month Thai. On this day, Surya, the sun God is worshipped and women will wake early on this day to create elaborate kolum on the grounds in front of their doorway or home. Kolums are created with colored rice flour placed on the ground carefully by using one's hand.
Third day !
The third day is called Maatu Pongal, maatu meaning cattle. This day is devoted to paying homage to cattle. Cows and Bulls are decorated with paint and bells and people pray to them.
Fourth day !
The fourth day is termed as Kaanum Pongal. On this day, people travel to see other family members.
Tamil New Year Festival
The Saiva Hindu Astronomical Significance of the Tamil New Year
The Earth travels in an eliptical path around the Sun through 360 degrees (Paakai in Tamil), and the time period for one such complete travel around the Sun (Suriyan in Tamil) is called an Year (Aandu in Tamil).
The circumferance of the eliptical path traced by the Earth (Ulaham in Tamil) having the Sun as the central point - are divided into twelve arcs, and the angular segments traced by each arc measuring 30 degress is called a House (Veedu in Tamil or Rasi in Sanskrit). Thus the earth passes through twelve Houses in an year.
In actual fact, it is the Earth which enters each Houses at any given time. But for us who live on the Earth it appears as if the Sun is moving (relative Motion), and we very loosely say that the "Sun travels through the twelve Houses".
The twelve Houses are named as,
(1) Meda Veedu or Rasi
(2) Idapa Veedu or Rasi
(3) Mithuna Veedu or Rasi
(4) Kataka Veedu or Rasi
(5) Singa Veedu or Rasi
(6) Kanni Veedu or Rasi
(7) Thula Veedu or Rasi
(8) Virutchika Veedu or Rasi
(9) Thanu Veedu or Rasi
(10) Makara Veedu or Rasi
(11) Kumba Veedu or Rasi
(12) Meena Veedu or Rasi
The Sun (that appears to be moving) in to Meda Veedu or Rasi, is taken as the starting point of it's next complete cycle throught the twelve Veeduhal.
The period of travel of the Sun in each Veedu or Rasi is known as a "Thingal"- a Month (also known as Matham in Tamil and Masa in Sanskrit). Hence for the Sun to travel through the twelve Veedus or Rasis to complete one cycle, it takes twelve Thingals which is known as an "Aandu" - a Year (also known as Varudam in Tamil and Varusha in Sanskrit).
The time the Sun enters the "Meda Veedu" or Rasi was traditionally taken as the starting point of the New Year by the Tamils.
Also the "positioning" (Niyathi) of the twenty seven "Meengal" (Natchaththirams) in these twelve Veeduhal too has been traditionally counted from "Acchuvini" the first Meen in the Meda Veedu, and ends up in "Revathi" as the last Meen in the Meena Veedu.
The fact that the Meda Veedu commences with the first of the twenty seven Meens namely the Acchuvini in "position" (Niyathi), too confirms that from the early days Tamils reckoned the starting point of a year cycle with the Meda Veedu.
The one who calculates the astronomical settings and movements of the Earth, Sun, and other Planets in respect of the 12 Veedus or Rasis is known as the "Sothidar" (Saaththriyaar - in Jaffna). But in ancient times in Tamil Nadu they were known as the "Kaalak Kanithar"
(2) The Tamil Seasonal Significance of the Tamil New Year
The Tamils have divided an Aandu in to six seasons based on the climatic conditions in Tamil Nadu. They are namely the,
Ilavenil Kaalam : mild sunny period : Chithirai, Vahasi - Thingal
: mid April to mid June
Muthuvenil Kaalam : intense sunny period : Aani, Aadi - Thingal
: mid June to mid August
Kaar Kaalam : cloudy rainy Period : Aavani, Purataasi - Thingal
: mid August to mid October
Kuthir Kaalam - cold period : Iyppassi, Kaarthihai - Thingal
: mid October to mid December
Munpani Kaalam - early misty period (evening dew): Maarkali, Thai - Thingal
: mid December to mid February
Pinpani Kaalam - late misty period (morning dew): Maasi, Panguni - Thingal
: mid February to mid April
The beginning of the Ilavenil Kaalam of the Tamils coincides with the beginning of the Sun moving into the Meda Veedu or Rasi, which falls in mid April, and is the time of commencement of the Tamil month of Chitirai.
The dawn of the month of Chithirai is the dawn of the Ilavenil Kaalam, a period of mild sun with much light and less humid wind known to be very soothing and refreshing and was known as "Thentral Kaatru" to Tamils.
This might be the very reason the Tamil Saiva Saint of Tamil Nadu namely the Thirunaavukkarsu Nayanaar of the mid seventh century, equated the pleasure of being at the feet of God Siva - is as good as the "blowing Thentral Kaatru during the extended Ilavenil Kaalam", showing the great delight the Tamils had during the Ilavenil Kaalam.
"Maasil veenaiyum maalai mathiyamum
veesu thentralum veengu Ilavenilum
moosu vandari poikaiyum pontrathe
Eesan enthai inai adi nilale"
Hence it is clear the Tamils selected the dawn of the Tamil New Year with the beginning of the "Ilavenil Kaalam", being also the time the Sun just enters the "Meda Veedu" and was referred to as the "Puthiya Aandu Pirappu" or "Varuda Pirappu", and the starting month of the New Year was called as the "Chithirai Thingal" or Matham.
(3) The Tamil (Saiva or Hindu ???) Cyclic System of Years
The Tamils also considered an average life cycle of a human-being as 60 years, and reckoned a "Cyclic System of Years" based on same provided with different names for each year falling within this cycle. The Year Cycle repeats itself in every 60 years. The names of the sixty years of this cycle are as follows.
(1) Pirapava Aandu
(2) Vipava Aandu
(3) Sukla Aandu
(4) Piramothuutha Aandu
(5) Pirasotpaththi Aandu
(6) Aangeerasa Aandu
(7) Srimuha Aandu
(8) Pava Aandu
(9) Yuva Aandu
(10) Thaathu Aandu
(11) Eeswara Aandu
(12) Vehuthaaniya Aandu
(13) Piramaathi Aandu
(14) Vikrama Aandu
(15) Visha Aandu
(16) Chitirabaanu Aandu
(17) Subaanu Aandu
(18) Thaarana Andu
(19) Paarththipa Aandu
(20) Viya Aandu
(21) Sarvasiththu Aandu
(22) Sarvathaari Aandu
(23) Virothi Aandu
(24) Vikruthi Aandu
(25) Kara Aandu
(26) Nanthana Aandu
(27) Vijaya Aandu
(28) Jaya Aandu
(29) Manmatha Aandu
(30) Thunmuki Aandu
(31) Hovilambi Aandu
(32) Vilambi Aandu
(33) Vikaari Aandu
(34) Saarvari Aandu
(35) Pilava Aandu
(36) Subakiruthu Aandu
(37) Sobakiruthu Aandu
(38) Kurothi Aandu
(39) Visuvaasuva Aandu
(40) Paraapava Aandu
(41) Pilavanga Aandu
(42) Keelaka Aandu
(43) Soumiya Aandu
(44) Saathaarana Aandu
(45) Virothikiruthu Aandu
(46) Parithaapi Aandu
(47) Piramaatheesa Aandu
(48) Aanantha Aandu
(49) Raatchasa Aandu
(50) Nala Aandu
(51) Pingala Aandu
(52) Kaalayukthi Aandu
(53) Siththaarththi Aandu
(54) Rouththri Aandu
(55) Thunmathi Aandu
(56) Thunththupi Aandu
(57) Ruthrothkaari Aandu
(58) Rakthaatchi Aandu
(59) Kurothana Aandu
(60) Atsaya Aandu
According to the above Cyclic System of Years, the Tamil New Year the "Virothi Aandu" dawns on the first day of the Chiththirai Thingal, which is the mid of April 2009.