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Devotees bathe at sunrise, preferably in the Ganges or any other holy water source (like the Shiva Sagar tank at Khajuraho).
They offer prayers to the sun, Vishnu and Shiva. This is a purificatory rite, an important part of all Hindu festivals. Wearing
a clean piece of clothing after the holy bath, worshippers carry pots of water to the temple to bathe the Shivalinga. The
temple reverberates with the sound of bells and shouts of 'Shankarji ki Jai' (Hail Shiva). Devotees walk around the linga
bathing it. The linga is bathed with milk, water, and honey. It is then anointed with sandalwood paste. People offer wood
apple or bael leaves and fruit, milk, sandalwood and jujube fruit (bér) to the linga. Shiva is believed to be very hot tempered,
and hence things that have a cooling effect are offered to him. People decorate the linga with flowers and garlands and offer
incense sticks and fruit. In bigger temples, there is almost a stampede as devotees seek favors from their beloved god. Many
also employ the services of a priest to perform special prayers.
According to the Shiva Purana, the Maha Shivratri worship must incorporate six items: the ceremonial offer of cooling
bael leaves to the hot-blooded deity, representing purification of the soul; the vermilion paste applied on the linga after
bathing it, representing virtue; food offering which is conducive to longevity and gratification of desires; incense, yielding
wealth; the lighting of the lamp which is conducive to the attainment of knowledge; and betel leaves marking satisfaction
with worldly pleasures. These six items, till today, form an indispensable part of Maha Shivratri, be it a simple ceremony
at home or grand temple worship. By offering water, hugging the linga, lighting the diya and incense, and ringing the temple
bells, devotees call into focus all their senses, making them acutely aware of themselves and the universe to which they belong.