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MahaShivratri, a major festival in Hinduism, marks a remembrance of ‘overcoming darkness and ignorance’ in life and world. Unlike most Hindu festivals which are celebrated during the day with expression of cultural revelry, the Maha Shivratri is celebrated with an all-night vigil at Shiva temples and has significance in both the Shavaism and Yogic tradition.


In the Shavaism tradition, this is the night when Lord Shiva performs the heavenly dance of creation,
preservation and destruction and the devotees also worship through dance while chanting hymns and
reading of Shiva’s scriptures. In Yogic tradition this is regarded as the brightest night of the soul,
when the Adiyogi attains the state of nirvana or Shoonya. However, the most commonly accepted
significance of MahaShivratri remains the sacred union of Shiv with Shakti leading on to their
transformation into the household names of Shankar and Parvati.

Although the fourteenth day of every lunar month or the day before the new moon is known as Shivaratri, the one that occurs in February- March, Mahashivratri, is of the most spiritual significance. The festival is celebrated across the whole length and breadth of country with enthusiasm and fervour as per the zonal, tribal and racial beliefs and tradition. Among KashmiriPandits, MahaShivratri is considered as the crown of all festivals and is called ‘Haerath” in Kashmiri,a word derived from the Sanskrit word “Hararatri” the “Night of Hara” or “Harishrat” the “Night of Delight”. Another version is that it has been derived from a Persian word “Hairat”- meaning “Utter
Surprise or Shock”. It is stated that Kashmiri Hindus had a tradition of carving Linga with snow on
Shivaratri and during Pathan rule, Jabar Khan- the then governor of Kashmir, ordered that instead of
Feb/Mar the festival should be observed in the month of June/July (HAR in Kashmir), the season of
hot summer unlikely to have a snowfall. The Kashmiri Hindus obeyed his orders and celebrated the
festival in HAR (June/July). The forced alteration of date brought innumerable curses upon the valley
and there was an untimely snowfall in hot summer. The Pathans expressed Hairat- Utter surprise at
this and since then Shivratri came to be known as Heyrath.

Apart from the difference in nomenclature, the Kashmiri Pandits also celebrate it differently from Hindus of the rest of the country. The Pandits not only celebrate MahaShivratri one day earlier on trayodashi or the thirteenth of the dark half of the month of phalguna in contrast to the rest of the country (who celebrate on chaturdashi or the fourteenth) but also celebrate it as Bhairavotsava with different rituals. As per Bhairavotsava, the linga appeared at pradoshakala or the dusk of early night as a blazing column of fire without any beginning or ending and dazzled Vatuka Bhairava and Rama (or Ramana) Bhairava. Both were later blessed that they would be
worshipped by human beings. As both the Vatuka And Rama Bhairava emerged from a pitcher full of
water, the prayer begins with an auspicious ceremony of “Vatuk Barun” in Kashmiri, which means
filling the pitcher of water representing the Vatuka Bhairava with walnuts and worshipping it along
with Shiva, Parvati, Kumara, Ganesha, their Ganas or attendant deities etc. The soaked walnuts are
later distributed as Naivedya/ Prasada.

For Kashmiri Pandits the celebration spans over a period of 23 days starting from 1 st day of the Krishna Paksha of Phalguna ( Lunar Month) to Ashtami ( 8th day) of Shukla Paksha. The 1 st week is utilised in cleansing the whole house and the household things. On the 7th day (Hurya Saptami), materials used in Puja such as earthenware, walnuts, grass (for making Ari) etc. are collected and devotional prayers are performed on 8 th (Hurya Ashtami). On 9 th and 10 th day the daughter in laws visit their parent’s home and return back to their in-laws house along with some auspicious items like Kangri, Salt, Bread Leaves and cash. Bhairavas are specially worshipped on 11th and 12th day and Wagur, a pot filled with water is installed at a place reserved for Puja. The 13th day Trayodashi (Herath Truvah) is the main time for worship of Lord Shiva and is called Vatuk Puja, an
elaborate worship lasting for hours after a daylong fast. The 14 th day is called ‘Salaam’ and is a day
full of fun, feast and enjoyment where the relatives, friends and neighbours greet each other and
children are given a gift of cash which is called Herath Kharach. Every evening brief prayers are
offered by the head of the family till Amavasi (Dunya Mawas), when on that day, the ladies of the
house carry Vatuk vessels to the river bank in morning and empty all water content there. All
functions of this festival come to an end on the 8th day of Shukla Paksha.

However, after migration and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits to different places three decades ago, a marked dilution in rituals have occurred as also the traditions have changed due to the influence of locality where Kashmiri Pandit families are residing in exile. The flavour of MahaShivratri might have changed ever since leaving Kashmir, but the essence remains the same. It is easy to forget, but always difficult to remember and while we had an unexpected snowfall in the 18th century on Shivratri, we are still hopeful that the weather will change one day and we may be able to please our Lord Shiva (Vatuk Raja) with the walnuts from Kashmir only. Let this night not just be a night of wakefulness, let this night be a night of awakening for all of us.

Dr. Pawan Suri

Director & Chief Cardiologist
Global Hospital
Jalandhar, Punjab

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