What is Maha Shivaratri?
Maha Shivaratri or ‘the great night of Shiva’ is celebrated in February or March, every year. It comes before spring. It is believed that Lord Shiva saved the world from destruction on this day. He had laid down a condition that people should worship him on this day with great fervor. It is a major Hindu festival that celebrates the destruction of darkness and ignorance.
How is Maha Shivaratri celebrated?
Devotees spend the day meditating on Shiva, fasting, doing yoga, etc. It is a day for reflection and contemplation of the divine. On Maha Shivaratri, devotees offer water, milk, dhatura, bhaang, akwan flowers to Shiva’s idol or Shiva Lingam. Shiva has the image of an ideal husband, and hence unmarried women pray to get a husband like him.
Legend behind Maha Shivaratri
The Shiva Purana says that Lord Brahma and Vishnu got into a fight about who was the greater among them. The battle became very intense, and they were about to use their deadly weapons, Maheshwar and Pashupati on each other. Finally, Shiva was forced to intervene. So he turned into a huge pillar of fire and stood between Brahma and Vishnu. Their weapons fell into the fire and were destroyed. Brahma and Vishnu were stunned and wanted to find where the end of the fire column was. Brahma became a swan and flew up while Vishnu took the form of a boar, Varaha, and dug deep into the earth.
Despite their attempts, neither Brahma nor Vishnu could find the end of the fire column. Vishnu conceded defeat, but Brahma’s ego did not allow him to do the same. While flying upwards, Brahma saw a Ketaki flower and asked her from where she had come. The flower replied that she had been present since the beginning of creation but had no idea where the pillar of fire originated. She also told Brahma to give up his search as it was futile. Brahma stopped his search and made the flower bear false witness and say that Brahma had discovered where the fire column began.
Shiva got angry and punished Brahma for lying. He also cursed him saying that henceforth, no one in the three worlds would offer prayers to him. Even now, most Hindus do not worship Brahma. Also, only one temple in Pushkar, Rajasthan, is dedicated to him. The Ketaki flower as well is not offered for worship in Shiva temples.
Seeing Shiva’s fury, Lord Vishnu asked him to forgive Brahma. Shiva was pleased and gave Vishnu the same status as himself. Then he opened his third eye, and Bhairava emerged from it. He asked Bhairava to kill Brahma, and he cut off Brahma’s fifth head. So Brahma has only four heads now. After this, Lord Vishnu and Brahma worshipped Shiva for the first time. Since then, Maha Shivaratri has been celebrated to honor Lord Shiva.