Maha Shivaratri is the most important festival for millions of devotees of Lord Shiva. The festival has been accorded a lot of significance in Hindu mythology. It is said that the sins of a devotee who observes the day with utmost sincerity and devotion is washed away and he attains moksha.
Maha Shivaratri, which literally means the ‘The Great Night of Shiva’ is celebrated in the dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha on the 13th day or the 14th night of Phalguna or Maagha month (that is February or March as per the English calendar). Devotees worship and offer sacrifices to Shivalingam as part of their prayers to the god.
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According to popular mythology, during Samudra Manthan, or when the gods and the demons churned the great ocean to obtain nectar out of it to become immortal, a pot of poison emerged out of the great waters first. The poison was so powerful that nobody even touched it. But Shiva agreed to get rid of the poison by consuming it. He carefully held the poison in his throat, which turned blue due to its effect. On Maha Shivaratri, devotees show their gratitude to the god for thus having saved the world.
According to another legend, this is the day when Shiva performed Tandava or the dance of creation, preservation and destruction. This is also believed to be the night when Shiva and Parvati got married.
On this day, devotees fast rigorously and chant shlokas and hymns praising the god to find absolution of sins. They traditionally offer milk, water, bel leaves (three leaves stalked in one) and fruits to the Shivalingam. Worshippers begin the day by a dip in the holy river of Ganga. They pray for redemption and yearn to attain moksha. Unmarried women devotees on this day pray to Parvati goddess for a good husband and married women pray for the well-being of their husbands and off-springs. Worshippers carry a pot full of the holy water to offer at the temples. Some also offer cow milk on the Shivalingam. “Shankerji ki Jai” and “Mahadevji ki Jai” are chanted continuously in the temples.
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Worshippers also holy ash on their forehead just like Shiva and wear Rudraksha garlands. Rudraksha tree is believed to have originated from the tears of Shiva. While many devotees observe rigorous fasting on this day, they eat fruits, sabudana kheer, ramdana and kattu halwa.