Maha Shivaratri – A Hindu Festival to Celebrate God Shiva!
Maha Shivaratri is a life changing festival that is celebrated all in the honor of Shiva!
Welcome to Maha Shivaratri
Welcome to Kathmandu, Nepal, home to the largest festival of Shiva- Maha Shivaratri. This holy festival is usually held in March or April of each year, with thousands flocking to the Himalayas to celebrate this amazing day.
For those of you that aren’t familiar, Shiva is the Hindu lord of creation, preservation, and destruction. On Maha Shivaratri, Lord Shiva is honored through worship and penance.
Experiencing Maha Shivartri
Each year in Nepal, the faithful and veteran attendees make their annual journey to the Maha Shivaratri. This festival is a celebration, spiritual gathering, and a time to find a deeper connection with others, with Shiva and with Hinduism.
The Maha Shivaratri festival was born out of a desire to celebrate Lord Shiva and have people gathering in the name of this Hindu God. For a few days, thousands gather to celebrate Maha Shivaratri one of Hinduism’s very sacred festivals. Though this festival lasts between one and three days, there is a lot of preparation and celebration that happens several days before the event itself.
This festival is truly dedicated to the community and offers meals for those that are in need or anyone looking for camaraderie. Throughout the festival preparation, the holy book is read for two days while performances with music, dancing, drumming and other activities take place throughout the event. The festival of Maha Shivaratri use of color, lights, decoration and showcases and amazing procession of drummers, dancers, and worshippers.
The Temples and the Sacrifices
Leading up to the festival, people will ornately decorate the temples, or places for prayer, with lights, flags, and flowers. Flags and decorations are found all around the buildings and businesses in the area. Colorful decorations also line the streets and the temples, as a way to visually unite the country and the celebration.
During the week before Maha Shivaratri, the procession begins, led by the Panj Pyaras, or “the five beloved ones”. When the day of Maha Shivaratri finally arrives, temples open at 3 am to allow worshippers to begin their worship during the early hours of the day. Hymns and poems are recited and sung as sacrifices of food and drink are made outside on the temple streets.
A Full Moon and Bright Lights
Throughout all the goings on at Maha Shivaratri Festival, be sure to fully take in all of your surroundings. The timing of the festival coincides just right with the full moon every year. This beautiful night paired with the glowing candles, the bright Temple of Shiva- Pashupatinath, and the beautiful decorations are all some of the best sights you will ever see!
Many that are not religious do travel to this festival just to get a look at this beautiful festival. Do bring a good camera and get amazing shots but remember that it is so much more important to be in the moment rather than trying to capture the moment.
Sadhua and Anaga Babas
When you arrive to celebrate Maha Shivaratri, you will see the honorable Sādhus praying and wandering through the crowds. The Sādhus are monks that roam around the streets and temple areas carrying and waving tridents.
In addition to the Sādhus, you will see the Anaga Babas, or holy men that gave given up earthly desires and material needs. The Anaga Baba sit by fires meditating- their lives consists of ascetic yoga and the offerings of other Hindus who bring them food and coins. In return for the offerings and good karma, these men place ash and white paint to mark the followers.
Celebrating Maha Shivaratri Festival
Maha Shivaratri is totally about celebrating Shiva’s birth, life, and legacy. Do yourself a favor and read up about Shiva’s life and the rest of Hinduism as well. Many that attend this festival are Hindi, but some do come to learn more about Shiva, and Hinduism itself.
While the Maha Shivaratri Festival is indeed a religious holiday, the festival is rich with tradition, history and culture as traditional worship songs, chants, and dances play a huge part of the event. Do your best to be respectful if you are just visiting.
You do not have to believe in Hinduism to join in on the celebration and you do not need to be religious at all, you just need to have respect and courtesy for those that do, but try to fully understand the importance of all the cultural and traditional activities that take place during this event.Take some time to immerse yourself in the beliefs and understanding of Hinduism before coming to Maha Shivaratri. Doing a fair amount of research before hand will save you from asking disrespectful or ignorant questions while people are trying to worship.
The Pashupatinath Temple
The sacred Pashupatinath Temple is really one of the most sacred temples of Shiva and is one of the most holy sites in Nepal and the Hindu religion. Thousands of people visit this 2,000 year old temple on a daily basis to worship and pray. During Maha Shivaratri, the temple is a sight to see as it is illuminated by the giant full moon and lit with lights and beautiful decorations. Be sure to visit the temple during your stay but be mindful of those that are praying. Take pictures, but be respectful.
The Temple’s history is deeply embedded in the history of Nepal as well as the religion itself. The temple has stood for several thousands of years and continues to remain a very important part of Hindu culture. There are many stories to read involving this temple, take some time to research them before your visit.
Preparing for the Festival
When it comes to getting ready for Maha Shivaratri, there isn’t THAT much that you need to prepare for. The key to having an all around uplifting, life changing, and spiritually awakening trip is to pack light.
Check the weather to see how cold the Himalayas gets during its Winter nights to help you determine what to take for clothing and warmth. Remember that you will be outside the majority of the time so wear light, comfortable clothing that you can move freely in. Remember that all attendees are there to get to know themselves and each other better so don’t focus that much on your outward appearance.
Do keep in mind that you should try to dress modestly, whatever you do choose to wear. Take a look through some of the suggested attire to wear in India and look at pictures of past Maha Shivaratris. Wearing inappropriate clothing to a very holy festival is something you definitely do not want to do. Stay away from skimpy attire and anything that calls too much attention to yourself.
Getting to and Lodging at Maha Shivaratri Festival
While most of the attendees of Maha Shivaratri live in the area, several do fly in for the event. Make sure your country allows you to fly in to India during November, you don’t want to prepare for an adventure that you can’t take! Do be sure to have a current passport as well as it takes months to get a new one.
When it comes to accommodations, many people choose to stay nearby for the entire three days at Maha Shivaratri. If you are staying for the whole celebration, you will find it beneficial to try to find lodging as close as possible. You may be up for well over 22 hours, so make it easier on yourself by finding a hotel within walking distance. Try shopping around for the best deals and take a look at Air BnB as well for a different, and possibly more authentic, lodging experience.
Tickets and Pricing
As Maha Shivaratri grows bigger with every year, so do the crowds at this annual event. Do your best to purchase tickets a few months in advance as they almost always sell out quickly. In addition to festival pricing, book your flights in advance as well as with a few extra days before or after the festival just to rest. Maha Shivaratri is a non-stop celebration, so you don’t want to step off the plane hitting the ground running. In between flying, jet lag and celebrating, you are in store for one incredible journey.
Try getting in contact with a travel agent to get the inside scoop on Maha Shivaratri. The more you know about this event, the more you’ll get to see! Having a travel agent with inside tips can save you from making mistakes that most tourists make.
So whether this is your first time to Maha Shivaratri or you’re a veteran attendee, do your best to make it out to Nepal this winter!
Visit information about festivals section to explore a full list of festivals happening around the world yearly!