Mahashivratri is celebrated generally in the 11th month of the Hindu calendar which happens to fall usually either in February or March, just before the onset of the spring season every year. This day is even called the Great Night of Shiva.
The auspiciousness of this day lies in the fact that this day is believed to be the one on which Shiva rescued the world from destruction provided people would worship him with great pride and enthusiasm. This day, as per Hindu mythology, has been marked as a memorable day on which darkness and ignorance in the world was overcome. This day observes remembering the Lord through prayers, meditation, fasting and even doing yoga. The ultimate goal and primary focus on this day, while worshipping Shiva, should be to imbibe virtues and ethics of self-restraint, kindness, honesty, forgiveness to others and also to discover Shiva Himself.
Marked to be one of the most celebrated festivals of the Hindus, devotees on this day offer various ingredients like milk, curd, water, bhaang, datura, Akwan flowers and so on onto the Shivalinga. Being a perfect husband to Goddess Parvati, unmarried girls worship Shiva and pray for a life partner like Him.
In Hindu mythlogy, every day is considered special and holds a significance, backed by a legendary story, which may vary from region to region and community to community.
Hence the story behind worshipping Lord Shiva on Mahashivratri goes like this according to a legend in the Shiva Purana.
In an attempt to establish their superiority over the other, two of the traids of Hindu Gods, Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu once got into a fierce battle with each other. Th other Gods got horrified and hence requested Lord Shiva to intervene and solve the issue. So, Lord Shiva assumed the form of a huge column of fire in between the two Lords in order to make them understand the futility of their fight. Both Brahma and Vishnu decided to find the uppermost end of the column of fire. Where Vishnu assumed the form of a Varaha and went inside the earth, Lord Brahma disguised himself as a swan and headed upwards. Despite searching for more than thousands of miles, none could reach the end as light has no limit and is infinite.
When lord Brahma was heading upwards, he came across a Ketaki flower which, on enquiring as to where it had come from replied that it had been offered at the top of the fire column and hence Lord Brahma got it as a witness and ended his search. Lord Shiva got highly enraged and punished and cursed Brahma for lying, saying that no one would ever worship him. Thenceforth, Hindus do not offer prayers to Lord Brahma and there is only one temple in the whole of the Indian sub-continent which is dedicated to Lord Brahma- the Pushkar temple in Rajasthan. Lord Shiva even banned the Ketaki flower from being served as an offering to the Gods and Goddesses during worship. This day, on which Shiva assisted in pacifying the fight between the two Lords Brahma and Vishnu, is commemorated and celebrated in his honour as Mahashivratri to honour Him.
If I sum up, there are three specific reasons why Mahashivratri is celebrated.
First, on this day Lord Sadashiv appeared as ‘Lingodbhav Moorti’ exactly at the stroke of midnight. In his manifestation as Vishnu, the Lord reincarnated himself as Krishna in Gokul at midnight exactly after 180 days of Shivratri which is known as Janmashtami.
Second, Shivratri is also remembered and celebrated as a thanksgiving day for having protected the world from annihilation. It is on this day that the Lord was christened Neelkantham or the blue-throated one when he swallowed the deadly poison which had arisen while churning the ‘Kshir Sagar’ or the milky ocean. The poison was so deadly that even a single drop of it in his stomach, which represented the universe, would have annihilated the entire world. Hence, Lord Shiva held the poison in his throat which turned it blue due to its poisonous effect.
Third, Mahashivratri also marks the ritual wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati. Remember, Shiva with our Parvati is a pure saint, ‘Nirgun Brahman.’
Like any other HIndu festival, Mahashivratri has certain worship norms and puja paraphernalia which every Hindu should follow. One should fast for the whole day and night and even visit the Shiva temple both in the morning as well as at night. People who have access to the holy river Ganga should even bathe in its waters early in the morning before sunrise and wear clean washed clothes thereafter.
It is a general practise to offer a pot full of holy water on the Shivalingam on this day. While married women appease the Lord for bringing wellness to their husbands and sons, unmarried girls pray for a good life partner like the Lord Himself and unmarried boys pray for a beautiful wife and a successful and prosperous career.
There are four steps in which the Mahashivratri puja should be performed
One should take a bath in the holy Ganga river as doing so purifies the mind, body and soul of the worshipper.
After having purified himself, the devotee should offer the holy water of the river Ganga on the Shivlinga too and thereafter even bathe the Lingam with milk and honey and apply vermilion paste on it. This is representative of virtue. After, this fruits and flowers should be offered with hopes of a long life, peace and satisfaction.
A Diya should be lit in from of the Lord’s idol which is representative of achieving of knowledge while betel leaves should be offered which provides real satisfaction of desires
Three horizontal lines of the holy ash should be smeared by the devotee across his forehead after offering puja to the Lord. This represents cleanliness, penance and spiritual knowledge. It is even very pious to wear a Rudraksha Mala (garland) around one’s neck while worshipping the Lord.
Mahashivratri is a very popular Hindu celebration which centers around faith, belief and cultural presence. Even though the practices of worshipping the idol has evolved over the years, the root of it remains the same.