The Maha Rudra Yagya
This time of year is linked particularly to Shiva because his night; Shivaratri takes place at the end of the winter season. It signifies the end (destruction) of Winter to pave the way for the growth of Spring when light, warmth, and green replaces winter's cold grey darkness. The Maharudra Yagya is particularly powerful and effective at this time of year.
This yagya is called Maha Rudra because of its grand scale. It requires 11 priests to chant a particularly long and powerful section of the Yajur Veda called Rudram, 11 times each day for 11 days. Rudram praises Shiva in all 11 of his various forms. (You can listen to Rudram by clicking here)
Each chanting of Rudram takes about 30 minutes while offerings of 11 different ingredients (milk, ghee, coconut water, sandalwood paste, vibhuti, rose water, Panchamritam, orange juice, lemon juice, yogurt and honey) are poured over the Shiva lingam. For the last recitation of Rudram each day, the homa fire is lit and the recitation is made while ghee and samhit are offered into the sacrificial fire. Finally, at the end of each day, another mantra hymn from Yajur Veda, called Chamakam, is recited. Chamakam is a request to Shiva to grant us every material and spiritual desire. (You can listen to Chamakam by clicking here)
In this yagya 11 priests are chanting Rudram 11 times for a total of 121 recitations each day. Since this yagya is repeated for 11 days, it brings the total number of recitations 1,331 plus 11 recitations of Chamakam. Is this significant? Yes, because all Vedic mantras used in traditional rituals rely on repetition for their power. The more repetitions of a mantra the greater the effect.
This yagya will be performed in Kanchipuram a town about 1 hour south of Madras famous for its many temples and for the of the Shankaracharya Mutt. Within the city there are over 1,000 Shiva lingams (temples) all of which are given at least a small puja on Shivaratri. It is also one of 5 special sites for Shiva each dedicated to one of the 5 elements. This place is special for the earth element. Kanchipuram is also sacred for the divine mother in the form of Kamakshi Devi; one of the 50 fundamental shakti temples in India.