How to perform Shivratri Puja

e will be celebrating our most auspicious ritual of Shivratri (Hayrath) on February 11, 2010. Like any other festival, celebration of this festival has two parts:

1. Social traditions such as cleaning house, washing clothes, sending greetings to near and dear one’s and sharing prashad after puja.

2. Performing puja called Vatakpuja. This is a special puja which involves lot of preparations and is unique among Hindus of Kashmir Valley.

I am sure all of you are already familiar with Part 1 above, so this article is focused on Part 2 above i.e. Vatakpuja .

Over a period of time, we have lost the true essence and meaning of our rituals. There have been many reasons for this transformation including:

    1. Five hundred years of Islamic tyranny, unleashed on our culture, has made focus only on survival. It became difficult for the knowledgeable few to guide the masses. So only rituals remained and meaning behind these important customs has gradually eroded.
    2. The liturgy is in Sanskrit and even the educated ones amongst us, these days cannot understand it. Merely mumbling some sholokas may make us feel satisfied but most of us are lost with nobody to guide us.
    3. The very few priests, who are left in our community, have shifted their focus of livelihood to other means of earning wealth.
    4. Our disbanding after 1990 migration has further increased the risk of extinction of our cultural inheritance.

Yet most of us somehow cling to last vestiges of our cultural inheritance. How can the modern parent guide their children when they themselves are either confused with the ritual or totally apathetic to the whole cultural inheritance? Like everything else we cling to it because it somehow makes us feel united.

Now, ask anybody around you who we worship on Shivratri? And why does our community perform this ritual on the eve of Shivratri rather than on the day of Shivratri itself, like rest of the Hindus?

Some well meaning individuals including our priests have brought out booklets and audio cassettes, CDs from time to time, giving liturgy and instructions for performance of rituals. They have not helped much for the simple reason that people find it hard to associate with the spirit of recitations which needs clear understanding of the recitation and perhaps a still deeper understanding of the thought behind these rituals. It seems we are standing on the shores of river Ganges watching out whether to go for a dip to get blessed or walk away simply with an asharwad from the panda who offers a quick way out for a small dakdhina. Do we really care about what we doing and why?

According to our Shaivism philosophy, the highest state a being can achieve is that of a Bhairwa. Bhairwas have been elevated almost to the status of Shiva himself where under they have three powers of Lord Shiva himself. These are:

1. Manifestation (shreshti)
2. Maintenance (stehthi)
3. Withdrawal (samhara)
Lord Shiva has only two more additional powers than a Bhairwa:

4. Concealment (vilaya) – making Himself invisible for the acts and
5. Divine grace (anugraha) - granting boons

So far we know of eight beings that have elevated themselves to the Bhirwa status. We have eight temples dedicated to them, mostly around Srinagar city. Vataknath Bhairwa is one of these Bhairwas, who is extensively worshiped on Shivratri eve. The Shivlinga that we find by the side of Ragnya Bhagwati in Tulamula is actually Bhuteshvar Bhairwa.Vijnan Bhairwa tantra is one of the famous Kashmir Tantra

In the ritualistic worship besides Lord Shiva, His consort Parvati and Shiv ganas (4 Lord Shiva’s close attendants) are symbolized by pots(earthen or metallic). Vataknath Bhairwa is represented by a linga called Sonpatloo as well as open mouthed bowl to receive traditional food (Veg or non-veg ) cooked specially for this puja. As per tradition in all important pujas, Kalash is established as a witness to the puja . Kalash is identified as Varuna deva (water god) and is represented by a pot with water. Walnuts are placed in all the pots as a prashad, except the pot meant for Vataknath. All the pots are decorated with flowers and are seated in a definite order.

Like picture and statues of our Gods and Goddesses, these items are there for symbolism and to help most of us of lesser minds to reach the divine.

Every puja has three stages of performance:

i) Purva Bhaga (Doop deep puja – Initial Part)

It includes mantras and actions which are necessary for undertaking performance of a karma for creating an ambience of the presence of gods. It is essential part of all pujas and remains unchanged in all pujas. As per Kashmiri tradition it is called Doop-deep puja which has 15 steps to be performed in a definite order.

ii) Pradhana bhaga (Main Part)

It represents the main purpose of ritual that is going to be performed and hence the key deities are worshiped. Depending on the availability of time, the worship has many structures. Shodashopapchara has 16 steps, a shorter version called Dashoapchara has 10 steps and yet a still shorter version called Panchapchara has 5 steps only.

iii) Uttara Bhaga (Kshma Yachna – Last Part)

This is the concluding part which is an act of thanking deities for having come to receive oblations with a request to leave for their places of abode. Prayers are also made to deities to grant us peace and other wishes .The left over’s of offerings are distributed as Prashad (Naveed) . The recitation is more or less the same for all pujas.

Our culture has a special place for our ancestors. In order to complete our prayers, we are required to offer special prayers called tarpan (water oblation) for our ancestors. The pious ones offer tarpan daily. Even deities and reshis also receive tarpan.

Some families have the tradition of performing Vishvadeva Bali which involves establishment of agnipot (fire pot) with burning fire to receive propitiatory oblations made to certain deities, tutelary gods, household divinities, spirits including ancestors, with rice cakes and cooked food etc.

For Shivratri Puja manual, please visit the following link of Samarpan Public Charitable Trust (Regd ), a non-profit organization:

 Shivratri Puja manual (580kb pdf. file)

(To get "Socio-Cultural and Religious Traditions of Kashmiri Pandits," literally a cultural treasure for Kashmiri Pandits, a book by  this author,  please visit )

* Mr. Piyaray Raina was born in Srinagar, Kashmir in 1936. He is Geologist by profession. He received initiation into spiritual fold at an early age. His spouse Krishna is a retired educator. His son Dijjotam is based in Atlanta and his daughter Jyoti is based in London. He is the author of “Socio Religious and Cultural Traditions of Kashmiri Pandits”. He writes regularly for various community magazines.
Mr. Raina is based in Atlanta and Gurgaon. He is the President of Samarpan Public Charitable Trust (Regd) which is engaged in various social, cultural and educational activities. He is also promoter of Crystal Children’s Centre ( preschool and activity centre for kids in Gurgaon.
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Thank you Shehjar and thank you Piyaray Lal Ji for this timely article.
Added By Sham Gurtoo
We are very thankful to all the team members and must appreciate the efforts on making it possible to breeze this exceptional information Globally.
Added By Sheetal Zadoo
This write-up needs revision by a scholarly person, well versed in the Agamic Puja of Kashmir.
Added By Chaman Lal Raina
This article is a good attempt but had an ample provision for further explanation.
Added By vinod razdan
so many questions that i had about MAHASHIVRATRI ,why we do what we do,finally stand answered.thank you indeed.Looking forward to more.
Added By neelu raina
Thanks a lot for such efforts and appreciate making it possible to bridge the gap between yesterday and present scenario.Please add more and more in order to cover our heritage of at least 50 years out of 500 years loss
Added By chand ji raina
This article though informative lacks the details of the steps and rituals to perform Shivaratri puja. I guess most of us are here to know the nuances of the puja
Added By Surya C
Thanks a lot. Can something for birthday puja be done on similar format.
Added By OmPrakash Wali
VERY GOOD WORK book is written with due care for beginners
Added By girija kaul