Introduction: The holy Hindu festival ‘Maha Shivaratri’ is the day dedicated to lord Shiva in the reverence of whom numerous devotees keep fasting while offering the blossoms of their devotion to the deity ‘Shiva’ who is popularly known as the ‘destroyer’ as well. The ambience echoed with the chant of the hymn ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ evokes reverence while purifying the heart of devotees.  People pay severe penance for getting blessed with the boon of prosperity and meeting eternity at the end of their life.

Etymology: ‘Shiva’ is the name of pious deity and ‘Ratri’ stands for night. Altogether, the word ‘Shivaratri’ connotes ‘Great night of Lord Shiva’.

Occurrence: Dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the Hindu month ‘Maagha’ as per Shalivahana or Gujarati Vikrama or Phalguna (Vikrama samvat)

Testimonial Scripture: Garuda Purana

Legends:

  • The scripted narration of scripture goes that Neelkantha alias deity ‘Shiva’ pout his life son stake after gulping poison that was drawn out of the churning of the ocean, i.e. ‘Samudra-Manthan’. The churning was done for bringing out priceless ‘elixir’ (Amrit) from the womb of the ocean in order to equip the Devtas with supernatural power of remaining immortal that would assign them additional power claiming an edge over Asuras (devils). Divine power ‘Shiva’ stored that poison at his throat due to affect of which his neck turned blue in appearance. Thus, he became famous as ‘Neelkantha’ in the entire world for insuring safety of his family (universe).
  • Another legend says that king Hitrabhahu of Ikshvaku lineage began fasting along with his wife on the day of Maha Shivaratri. On being asked about the significance of the day by the sage Ashtavakra, he used to be a hunter ‘Suswara’ in his past life in Varanasi. He used to be a master of extraordinary progression power that enables to peep into the future. A prior day to the new moon, he was on his hunting expedition, he saw a deer and as he stretched his arrow towards it for shooting as the sadness housed in his heart since he foresaw the irreparable damage to deer’s family. So, he forgave it and kept on seeking another prey. The night began to fall but he did not hunt any creature. Hence, he took shelter over the tree under which a ‘lingam’ was placed.  But being ignorant of this fact, he kept on plucking and throwing quince leaves on the ground for passing his night and his canteen was leaking too while dropping water on to the same. But unconsciously, they were being showered on the lingam (an iconic idol of lord Shiva) and thereby, he worshipped lord Shiva on this specific day of Shivaratri unknowingly. In the meanwhile, the hunter was lost in the world worries thinking that his poor family would be starving as he himself was and their eyes would be stagnant onto the door waiting eagerly for his return. The very next day, he rushed to his family after buying food for them. Son sooner he was about to eat, a beggar knocked at his door urging to have some food since he was hungry too. He pacified the beggar’s thirst and hunger first and then, had himself contented with food.

When the end of his life came, two convoys of deity Shiva came to take him away with them to the abode of lord Shiva. On being asked about such a pity of the deity, he was narrated the entire account of ritualistic worshipping, however unknowingly, that made him eligible to live with the almighty. In his next birth, he was blessed to lead the luxurious and lavished life of King as ‘Hitrabhanu’.

The foretold account was told to Parvati (consort of Lord Shiva) when he was asked about the vitality of ‘Maha Shivaratri’.

Religious Rituals: The serpentine queue of devotees wearing beautiful cloths after taking bathe appears outside the temples where they offer water and milk to lord Shiva. Afterward, they anoint the lingam or idol of Shiva with sandalwood paste and offer flowers, quince leaves, dhatura, betel leaves, green berries, guava and other fruits with lightening of earthen lamp and incense sticks. The thronging devotees at Ganga Ghat, especially at the Shiva Sagartank, Khajurao and jyotirlingam, worship lord Shiva having taken bathe in the sacred water of the river Ganga while chanting the mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. The ambience nearby temples echoes with the ringing sound of bells and blowing of conches.

The three lines called tripundra (three horizontal lines on the lingam) symbolize spiritual knowledge, purity and penance (via meditation or Yoga) those altogether signify lord Shiva.

Rosary garland (a necklace made of Rudraksha seeds) is supposed to be an ideal thing for worshipping on this day. People worship lord Shiva using turmeric powder, sandalwood, betel and quince leaves, dhatura and fruits. After keeping fasting the entire day, they pass the night while remaining awake and the next morning, they offer ‘Malida’ (prepared from jaggery or sugar and poori).