Shivaratri, an Introduction
Shivaratri is an important festival, considered to be highly auspicious for the worship of Lord Shiva. It is Shiva ratri, that is, the Night of Shiva and is meant for praying to the Lord. Shivaratri is actually a monthly occurrence, which takes place on every 13th or 14th night of the dark fortnight of Krishna Paksha, which also happens to be the night before Amavasya, the New Moon day. The greatest of such monthly Shivaratri is known as Maha Shivaratri, a day considered to be extremely sacred for the worship of Lord Shiva. This falls in the Hindu month of Phalguna or the Tamil month of Masi (February–March).
Mythological importance of Maha Shivaratri
Many are the ancient legends that make a mention about Maha Shivaratri. Whereas, Linga Purana, Skanda Purana and Padma Purana speak in detail about the occasion, they give different accounts about its importance. While some regard this as the night when the Lord performed Shiva Thandava, his cosmic dance, a few others hold this as the occasion when the divine couple Shiva and Parvati got married.
However, the most popular legend on Maha Shivaratri speaks about the great feat that Shiva performed on this day. Once, the Devas and Asuras churned the great ocean for getting Amrut, the elixir of immortality. However, what emerged first was the deadly poison Halahala, which had the potential of destroying the entire universe. While everyone panicked and started running for cover, Shiva stepped in immediately, simply consumed the lethal concoction and thus, protected the world from total annihilation. However, at the instance of his consort Parvati, the poison stopped at his throat itself, which thus became blue and hence, Shiva came to be known as Neelkanth, the blue-throated Lord. The grateful beings hailed the Lord and started observing Maha Shivaratri as an expression of their intense gratitude to their great savior.
Significance of Maha Shivaratri
The greatest significance of Maha Shivaratri lies in the belief that this occasion has the efficacy of wiping out all the accumulated sins of an individual. This, Lord Shiva himself is said to have declared categorically to his consort Parvati, when she wanted to know what was the worship that pleased him to the greatest level. It is hence, firmly believed by the devotees that observing austerities on Maha Shivaratri and offering worship to the Lord with devotion can absolve the devotees of all sins and bestow them with Moksha, the ultimate state of liberation.
Maha Shivaratri Worship
Observing Vrat (fasting) forms a very important aspect of Shivaratri worship. Many people observe complete fasts during the day and also in the night of Shivaratri, remain awake right through, and spend all their time in meditating, reading, singing and hearing about the glories of Shiva. While people offer worship to the Lord at home, a very large number of people flock to Shiva temples, especially during Shivaratri night and offer prayers to him. Shiva is believed to be very fond of Abishekam or hydration ceremony and grand rituals are held in the temples in the night when sacred baths are given to Shiva Lingas with materials like milk, coconut water, honey, water etc. amidst the chanting of sacred hymns.
This occasion holds immense significance for women too, who perform austerities and do worship seeking the blessings of Goddess Parvati. It is believed that, while married women will be bestowed with a long and blissful married life, the unmarried will be blessed with good husbands who are as virtuous as Shiva himself.