Maha Shivratri - What Foods Are Okay To Have
Image Credit: Sabudana | Image Credit:

Did you know there was a Shivaratri each month? Yup. The day before the new moon each month is called Shivratri. The one we are celebrating now is the biggest such Shivratri of the year, and therefore it is called Maha Shivratri! An integral part of the Shaivism branch of Hinduism, its origin is believed to predate recorded history, although some prominent Indologists place its beginning in the 5th century BCE.

Maha Shivaratri is mentioned in several puranas, like the Skanda Purana, Linga Purana, and Padma Purana. There are many legends associated with why Shivaratri is celebrated. Some people believe this is the day when Shiva performs the Tandava – the heavenly dance of creation, preservation, and destruction. Another legend has it that this is the day Shiva and Parvati got married. Whatever the underlying reason for why people celebrate the festival, it has also been a day of confluence for artists and performers because of the association with Nataraja’s tandava nritya. All account of this, all-night cultural and dance fairs happen in certain temples of the country on account of this. Chidambaram and Khajuraho are two prime examples. That said, Maha Shivaratri is quite unlike other Indian festivals, where the focus is usually on revelry and celebration. Maha Shivaratri has a more austere and solemn tone to it, with fasting, introspective jaagran (keeping vigil all night), chanting, and meditation being the focus of the day.

The festival also comes with a strict set of dos and don'ts, especially as they relate to food. Here is a list of foods that you can consume during Shivaratri, as allowed by traditional practices.

1.    Potato – regular or sweet variety

Potato anything is kosher during Shivaratri, as long as the potato dishes do not contain onion, garlic, ginger, or turmeric. Usage of sendra lavana, sendha namak, or rock salt is allowed during the vrat. Just because onion, garlic is disallowed, it doesn’t mean you cannot make your vrat food tasty. There are several delicious options you can incorporate, like potato wafers, aloo khichdi, sweet potato khichdi, aloo tikki, aloo pakoda, sweet potato rabdi, sweet potato halwa... the list is literally endless. Who said vrat food has to be boring? 

2.    Sabudana

Basically, cereals are disallowed. But sabudana, or tapioca pearls, being the processed foodstuff that it is, is very much part of the Shivaratri menu, and do we ever have a variety of sabudana stuff or what! As if you need any excuse to devour it, the vrat is in fact an excellent reason to gorge on some sabudana khichdi, sabudana kheer, and piping hot sabudana vadas!

3.    Milk and milk-based items

Milk is a special item in the celebration of Maha Shivaratri. In some temples, there are all-night abhisheks that happen with milk on a shivling idol. It is also believed that Lord Shiva is also very fond of milk. So, several types of kheer and milk beverages are all the rage during Shivratri celebrations and vrats. There are yummy recipes available for pedas, Sandesh-es, several kinds of kheer, malai barfi, cashewnut and coconut halwa, shrikhand, lassi, dahi vada, and thandai, all of which can be made at home and consumed during Shivaratri. All perfectly allowed.

4.    Fritters and deep-fried snacks

It’s not just sabudana vadas or aloo pakodas that are allowed during the vrat. As long as you can ensure that taboo spices are not used, you can go ahead and enjoy several kinds of fritters, like raw banana vadas, kand aloo pakodas, kadhi pakodas, and kuttu ki vrat pakodi, among others. You can use sendha namak for seasoning. As for spices, cumin or cumin powder, black pepper powder, green cardamom, cinnamon, ajwain, and black peppercorn are all allowed.

5.    Fruits, dry fruits, and desserts made using them

Many people who observe "phalaahaar," where phala = fruit and aahaar = food, take only fruit during the course of the day. Many people also practice "nirjala vrat," which means they don't even drink water during the vrat. For such people, fruits, dry fruits, and desserts centered around fruits are allowed. For those not following either of these two strict forms of diet, the options are endless. Fruit-based milkshakes, desserts, halwas... oh my.

There are some very strict no-noes’ as far as food items are concerned. Rice, wheat or wheat flour, dals, sprouts, green vegetables like peas, bhindi, beans, ginger, turmeric, and, of course, onions and garlic are completely anathema. To say nothing of non-vegetarian food. These aside, go ahead and savor all these other foods. We don’t have to be boring, even if we are keeping vrats.