Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna .Shivratri (Sanskrit 'ratri' = night) is the night when he is said to have performed the Tandava Nritya or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. The festival is observed for one day and one night only. According to the Shiva Purana, the Maha Shivratri worship must incorporate six items: the ceremonial offer of cooling bael leaves to the 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.
Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva are sung with great fervor and devotion during the night of mahashivratri. People repeat the Panchakshara Mantra, Om Namah Shivaya on the eve of mahashivratri festivals. It is believed that one who utters the name of Shiva during Maha Shivratri with proper devotion is freed from all sins. Shiva being an ascetic god, Maha Shivratri festival is very popular with ascetics. Thandai, a drink made with cannabis, almonds, and milk, is essentially drunk by the devout. This is so because cannabis is said to have been very dear to Shiva.
History and Origin of shivaratriThere are so many stories behind the history and origin of Mahashivrathri.Once Goddess Parvathi on the day of Shivrathri which we observe now, worshipped Lord Shiva with great devotion for the lives existing in the world like gold dust in a lump of wax during that long period of pralaya (deluge) night. Goddess Parvathi also requested Lord Shiva that he should shower his blessings on all those jivas who worship him with all their soul and body with great devotion just like her should be blessed and their wishes should be granted. Thus this night which is fixed for the worship of Lord Shiva by Parvathi was called as Maha-Sivaratri.
According to legends and puranas there is also another story behind the origin of Mahashivarathri.During the Samudra Manthan or the churning of the ocean there emerged a pot full of poison from the ocean. Since it was very poisonous and it had the power to destroy the whole world, it scared even the gods and the demons. So they all ran to Lord Shiva for rescue and to prevent the world from this deadly poison. Lord Shiva, as a savoiur took the pot of poison and drank but he kept it in his throat instead of swallowing it and his throat became blue. It is believed that this event is celebrated as Mahashvarathri and only after this Lord Shiva was also referred by the name 'Nilkantha', the blue-throated one.
Maha Shivratri Traditions, Customs and ActivitiesMost of the Hindus and all the devotees of Lord Shiva consider this day very sacred and they fast for the whole day by only drinking milk and eating fruits. However few people stay away from even drinking milk and eating fruits. On this day they thank the almighty, Lord Shiva for all the blessings they have showered on the human beings in the whole of the universe. This is the day for the people to express their gratitude by performing pujas and rituals and they also continuously chant mantras through out the night without sleeping. They also sing hymns dedicated on him and meditate the whole night.
There are special midnight pujas held in the temples and the devotees visit the shrines and spend the whole night in front of the idols/images of Lord Shiva. To mark the Shivratri festival, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath, preferably in river Ganga. After wearing fresh new clothes devotees visit the nearest Shiva temple to give ritual bath to the Shiva Lingum with milk, honey, water etc. Rathayatras, processions done with images carried by chariots, are organized through the streets.Also it is considered doing charities and seas on this day is supposed to be very good.
Legends of ShivratriAccording to a legend in Ramayana, once King Bhagirath left his kingdom to intercede for the rescue of the souls of his intimates. He offered forfeit to Lord Brahma for several years, asking Ganga to come on earth from heaven. The reason was that he wanted Ganga to wash the ashes of his intimates and free them from curse so that they can visit heaven. Lord Brahma asked him to pray to Lord Shiva, as he was the only one who could hold her fall. The wish was finally granted and Ganga came down and was stored by Lord Shiva in his tangled hair. This legend thereby makes people to offer water to Shiva lingam on Maha Shivratri.
Another legend according to Shiva purana states that when there was a fight between Lord Vishnu and Brahma so as to who is superior, Lord Shiva had to interfere to conclude that it is all going to be of vain. So in order to teach them a lesson Lord Shiva set a blaze of fire between them and asked them to find where it ends and as we all know there is no way to find where the light ends. But both of them decided to find an end and so Brahma as swan went up and Vishnu as Varaha went into the earth. On his way up Brahma came across Ketaki flower and asked her where was she coming from, for which she replied as from the peak of fire.
Since Brahma could not find the fire end he went back to Lord Shiva with this Ketaki flower as a proof from the fire end. Lord Shiva got angry on Brahma for telling a lie and told him that no one would worship him and Ketaki flower will also not be used for any rituals. This day was the fourteenth day of the Phalgun month when Lord Shiva was visible in form of Shiva lingam and therefore it is celebrated as Maha Shivratri.
There are other legends which say that it was on the day of Mahasivrathri Lord Shiva and Parvati got wedded. Others say that it is on the night of Shivarathri Lord Shiva performed the ' Tandava', the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction. There are other stories which unfolds it is on the day of Shivarathri Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga.
Shivaratri Celebrations across the GlobeShivaratri celebrations starts with the sunrise on Mahashivratri and goes throughout the night with full of devotion and religious fervor. This is the day for the people to express their gratitude by performing pujas and rituals and they also continuously chant mantras through out the night without sleeping. They also sing hymns dedicated on him and meditate the whole night. There are special midnight pujas held in the temples and the devotees visit the shrines and spend the whole night in front of the idols/images of Lord Shiva. It is strongly believed that on performance of pujas on this day to Lord Shiva will help us to come out from all our sins and to liberate from the cycle of birth and death.
The people generally have a ritual bath in the nearby river and visit a Shiva temple in vicinity to perform traditional puja items like milk, water, bel leaves, fruits, incense stick, oil lamp etc.People keep chanting the mantra, 'Om Namah Shivaya' through out the night and with the ringing of the temple bells, makes the atmosphere religious and devotional. In most part of the world this festival is more eagerly waited and celebrated by women because they consider Goddess Parvati as the giver of a prosperous married life. There are legends and folk tales which says that cannabis is very favourite to Lord Shiva and so on the day of Mahashivrathri devotees take a drink made with cannabis, almonds and milk.
Mahashivaratri in IndiaMahashivaratri is celebrated in different ways in various parts of the country. Though it is observed in different parts of the country it is celebrated with great reverence especially in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. The Mahakaleshwar temple is fully decorated and the shivlingam here is worshipped with great fervor by conducting all religious rites and rituals. Another place where major celebration for Shivratri takes place is in the Matangeshwar temple at Khajuraho which is said to have the biggest Shivlingam in India. In Andhra Pradesh, pilgrims throng the Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam.
The Mahashivaratri is also celebrated with great zest and joy in Kashmir for the majority of the Kashmiri pandits living here are followers of Lord Shiva. In Kashmir it is celebrated for fifteen days where the 13th day celebration is called as Herath for they believe it is the day when Lord Shiv and Parvati got married. In West Bengal it is more of the women who take part in the celebration of this festival and especially young girls who fast and stay awake throughout the night chanting hymns and mantras so that they are blessed with good and virtuous husbands. Also the river Sangam in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh is filled with devotees who take a dip at the confluence of the three sacred rivers - Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati so that they are out of their sins. Thus it is equally celebrated with great devotion in also other parts of the country like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Nepal.