Maha Shivratri or Shivratri is an important Hindu festival that is celebrated every year to pay homage to Lord Shiva. Translated in English, Mahashivratri means ‘the great night of Lord Shiva’. The exact date on which this festival is celebrated varies slightly according to the traditions that are being followed.

Shivratri is celebrated during the waning phase of the moon, either on the 13th night of the Hindu month of Maagh or the 14th night of the month of Phalguna. Devotees believe that by worshipping Lord Shiva on this day, they will be purged of their sins and will attain salvation.

Legends of Shivratri

There are many legends and stories associated with Shivratri. One account relates the events that occured during the Samudra Manthan (the churning of the ocean). The Gods and demons took part in this event to obtain nectar that would grant them immortality.

During this event, a pot of poison came up and Shiva offered to drink it so that the universe would be spared of its poisonous effects. When Goddess Parvati came to know that Lord Shiva had just drunk from the pot, she managed to tie his neck and prevent the poison from spreading throughout his body. However, his face turned blue and henceforth he was known as Neelkantha.

Another story relates how Goddess Parvati once asked Lord Shiva what devotional practices pleased him the most. At this time, he had mentioned that the devotions and rituals which his devotees conducted on the 14th night of Phalguna pleased him a lot. As this became known, these devotions were carried on with greater enthusiasm.

There are other stories relating to this day which includes it being the anniversary of the marriage between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and that Lord Shiva performed the Tandav Nritya (a dance) on this day.

Celebrations and Devotion on Shivratri

On Shivratri, devotees wake up early in the morning and take a dip in the holy Ganges. Then they change into clean clothes and visit a shivlinga (the idol representing Lord Shiva) to offer prayers. The shivlinga is bathed in milk or water. Bael (also known as as bail, beel or shree phal) leaves are also offered along with garlands, flowers and fruits.

While women pray for the good health and prosperity of their husbands and families, unmarried women pray to Lord Shiva for a good husband just like him. They circle the shivlinga three or seven times as they chant prayers. Lamps are lit and incense sticks are burnt. Some devotees wear a rosary made of rudraksha seeds as they chant the name of the Lord.

Devotees observe a day-long fast on this day as they seek penance for all their sins and ask the Lord to bless them. Many of them break their fast only on the next day. Devotional songs are sung during the day and night-long vigils also take place. Lord Shiva is offered food (prasad) which the devotees eat on the next day. Holy verses recounting the heroic deeds of this Lord are chanted. Many devotees chant ‘Om namah Shivaya’ (Hail Lord Shiva) during this religious festival.

Last updated on 24 February 2014