Sivaratri, or Mahasivratri, is one of the most auspicious occasions for members of the Hindu community. The day holds special significance for pious Hindus all over the world, especially devotees of Lord Shiva. Many of whom observe a strict day-long fast or Upvaas in honour of Lord Siva. The fast is broken only in the early morning of the next day, with the consumption of some traditional food items and drinks.
While virtually every Hindu festival comes with a sumptuous list of foods to feast on, during Mahasivaratri most Hindus fast. A spiritual practice found in almost all of the world’s religions, fasting calms the physical, mental and emotional energies, helping the devotee draw nearer to the ineffable Self within. While the most strict fast on nothing but water; others permit themselves fruits, milk or rice.
Many observe silence on this night, thinking of nothing but God. Silence, known in Sanskrit as mauna, quiets the demands of the mind and body, bringing forth spiritual clarity.
In Hinduism, God is not separate from creation. A virtuous life and certain techniques, such as yoga and ascetic practices, allow a person to remove the veil that makes us think of ourselves as separate from Him.
Who is Siva?
For hundreds of millions of Hindus Siva is the Supreme Being, the absolute One God who both transcends creation and pervades it—thus existing as our own innermost essence. Siva is the powerful Deity whose energetic dance creates, sustains and dissolves the universe in endless cycles. He is the master yogi delving into unfathomable mysteries, the supreme ascetic, the prime mystic, the Light behind all light, the Life within all life. Siva is often called Mahadeva, “Great Being of Light,” for He created other, lesser Gods such as Ganesha and Karttikeya. Although Siva is usually depicted as male, in reality God and the Gods are beyond gender and form, as depicted by His half-male, half-female form, Ardhanarishvara. Parvati, regarded as Siva’s consort in village Hinduism, is mystically understood as His manifest energy, inseparable from Him. The ancient Tirumantiram scripture says of Siva, “Himself creates. Himself preserves. Himself destroys. Himself conceals. Himself all of this He does and then grants liberation—Himself the all-pervading Lord.”
What happens on Maha Sivaratri?
Many Hindus perform an all-night vigil, plunging the soul into its own essence, led by Siva, the supreme yogi, who is both the guide and the goal of the search. Staying awake through the night is a sacrifice and a break from life’s normal routine, a time out of time to be with God within, to reach for the realisation of our true, immortal Self. Siva is known as Abhisheka Priya, “He who loves sacred ablutions,” and thus many temples and home shrines have water always dripping on the Sivalinga. On this special night, Sivalingas are bathed with special substances, sometimes several times. Mahasivaratri occurs on the night before the new moon in February/March.
Fasting on Sivarathri
Many devotees fast on Sivarathri. The fasting procedure will be continued through the night and they will not sleep during the night. Devotees will visit a Shiva temple during the day, and many stay all night. It is said that if a devotee observes a fast on Maha Shivratri, with sincerity, pure devotion and love, they will be blessed with the divine grace of Lord Shiva.
The Upvaas, or fasting, starts on Mahashivratri and ends on the next day which is called Amavasya.
People who want to fast on Mahashivaratri should take a bath early in the morning, with warm water and black sesame seeds. Sesame seeds takes the impurities away from your body. Wear new clothes which are laundered.
After taking bath devotees should take Sankalp or intention vow to observe a full day fast, breaking the fast on the next day. During Sankalp, the devotees pledge self-determination throughout the fasting period and seek blessing to finish the fast without any interference. Hindu fasts can be strict and people pledge for self-determination and seek God blessing before starting them to finish them successfully.
It is suggested to have only single meal a day before Mahasivaratri fasting. It is one of the common practices during fasting to make sure any undigested food is not left in the digestion system on the fasting day. As it is a long Upvaas which doesn’t end in half a day like other festivals, many people consume a special meal in the evening, known as phalar.
Devotees will take a second bath in the evening before visiting the temple.
They break the fast next day after taking a bath. They break the fast between sunrise and before the end of Chaturdashi Tithi to get the maximum benefit of the Vrat.
What Can Be Eaten During Fasting / Phalar
Some people who are very strong in belief and to follow the procedures seriously, they don’t take even a single drop of water. But others take some water and a little food. Others will eat fruits and water, perhaps juices, during the day and fast strictly during the night.
For those who will take some food, people prefer eating fruits and some grains, but there are foods that are best avoided. These include vegetables and spices such as wheat, rice, lentils, peas, beans, rajma, corn, chana, turmeric, sesame seeds and ground red chillies, although the list will vary from region to region. Some people avoid peanuts.
The only spices that can be used are red or green chillies, rock salt, pepper, lime and mango powder. Some people avoid chillies and substitute black pepper. Some suitable foods are:
- Non-cereal food such as boiled potatoes made into a curry without onion, garlic, ginger or turmeric, characterises a typical Shivaratri meal of the afternoon, also known as phalar in some communities.
- Sago Kitchari, upma, pakora and kuttu singahri ka puri are popular dishes.
- Sugar will provide energy, so sweet dishes like Sooji Halwa, Lauki ki Halwa, Almond Halwa and other Halwas are popular, as well as Thandai.
- Snacks include Aloo Tikki, Aloo Pakoda, Plaintain Vada, Singhada Flour Pakoda, Sweet Potato Chaat, Paneer and Aloo Chat (avoid spices, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric).
- Fruits and Milk
- Cashew Nut Barfi (Kaju Katli)
- Sago Kheer / Payasam
- Phool Makhana Kheer
- Vella Shakkaravalli Kizhangu (Sweet Potato Syrup)
- Pachi Pulusu (Raw Rasam)
- Aloo Kitchari
- Sago Kitchari
- Green Gram Fry
- Potato Pumpkin Pancakes
- Shivratri Raita
- Sweet Yam (Chakravelli)
- Buttermilk Kadhi with Singhada flour
- Roti made of kuttu flour or Singhada (water chestnut) flour.
- Sweet Potato Chaat
- Paneer and Aloo Chaat
- Sago Vada
- Potato & Kuttu Atta
- Plaintain Vada
- Aloo Tikki
- Porridge made out of saamak along with ingredients like bottlegourd and paneer
Prasadam Offerings for Sivaratri
- Plain rice and Yellow Curry made of gram flour
- Maha Neiveidhiyam (rice with toor dal with a dollop of ghee)
- Veggie Platter makes a wonderful Rasayana as a prasadam offering for Sivaratri.
- More prasadams from Chitra Amma
- Download more information about Sivaratri (and other Hindu Festivals) here.