Hindus Honor the Destroyer During Maha Shivratri

by Susan Leem, associate producer + Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Images of ShivaIn preparation for the Maha Shivratri festival, an Indian girl touches up these in-demand statuettes of Lord Shiva at a roadside stall on the outskirts of Amritsar. (photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

Lord Shiva, one of the Trimurti in the Hindu trinity, is recognized today during the festival of Maha Shivratri. At this time, Hindus offer special prayers and fast to worship Lord Shiva, the Lord of Destruction. Lord Shiva’s devotees consider him to be the destroyer of the world, ego, and attachments. At temples devoted to Shiva, the devout pray and burn incense as offerings during a night-long vigil.

Incense offeringAs part of their prayers, Indian Hindu devotees offer incense sticks before an idol of Lord Shiva at the Shivala temple in Bangalore, India. (photo: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)

The Shiva Lingam

Shiva is often represented symbolically with a Shiva Lingam (photos below), an ancient phallic figure that is incorporated into the ritual of bathing as part of the Maha Shivratri celebrations. Subhamoy Das offers this helpful description:

The phallus symbol representing Shiva is called the lingam. It is usually made of granite, soapstone, quartz, marble or metal, and has a “yoni” or vagina as its base representing the union of organs. Devotees circumambulate the lingam and worship it throughout the night. It is bathed every three hours with the 5 sacred offerings of a cow, called the “panchagavya” — milk, sour milk, urine, butter, and dung. Then the five foods of immortality — milk, clarified butter, curd, honey, and sugar — are placed before the lingam. Datura fruit and flower, though poisonous, are believed to be sacred to Shiva and thus offered to him.

For married blissNepalese Hindu women offer prayers to Shiva on the banks of the Shali River on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Hundreds of married and unmarried women in the Himalayan nation fast for the month leading up to Maha Shivratri with hopes of a prosperous life and conjugal happiness. (photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

ShivlingA Hindu priest scatters rose petals on the Shivling at the Shree Pshupatinath Mandir at Singarwa village on Mahashivratri. The Shree Pshupatinath Mandir at Singarwa, a replica of that in Nepal, is thronged by Nepalese Hindus across Gujarat state. (photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)

Shivling idolIndian Hindu devotees pray over the Shivling or idol of Lord Shiva at the Shivala Temple in Amritsar. (photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

ShivlinganIndian Hindu devotees perform rituals in front of a 12-foot tall Maha Shivlingam at the Bramha Kumaris Shanti Sarovar in Hyderabad. (photo: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

The next morning followers break their fast after the nightlong worship with a family feast.

Hindu holy manA sadhu (Hindu holy man) returns after offering prayers to Lord Shiva in Kathmandu. (photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

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