calendar icon Fri, February 21, 2020

One of the most revered festivals in India, Maha Shivratri is dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva. Maha Shivratri means the great night of Lord Shiva and is celebrated annually towards the end of winters, generally in February.

How is it celebrated?
On the day of Maha Shivratri, people fast the whole day and night. Almost all temples dedicated to Lord Shiva see a huge congregation of devotees from the early hours of the morning. Pujas are performed before the lingam (idol), after which people take a bath in the holy water of the Ganga river. Devotees also being a pot full of Ganga water that they offer to the lingam. According to the Shiva Purana, there are six steps to the Maha Shivratri puja. The first is taking bath in Ganga, followed by the bathing of the lingam in the Ganga water, and then with milk and honey. After this, vermilion paste is applied to the lingam and fruits and flowers are offered to the idol. The ritual of lighting a diya near the idol is a symbolic gesture for achieving more knowledge. Afterwards, betel leaves are offered to the lingam. Devotees also apply holy ash to their foreheads. This represents cleanliness, penance and spiritual knowledge. They also wear garlands made of the seeds of Rudraksha tree.

Festivities in Varanasi
Varanasi is considered the city of Lord Shiva, so Maha Shivaratri – the great night of Lord Shiva's wedding - is a very important festival here. Maha Shivaratri falls on the 14th day of the dark fortnight of the Phalgun month (February/March), according to the Hindu calendar. All the Shiva temples of Varanasi are beautifully decorated for the occasion and a marriage procession of Lord Shiva is taken out starting from Mahamrityunjaya Temple in Daranagar to the Vishwanath Temple. A big fair is held on the occasion. On this day, devotees visit Shiva temples to offer prayers and the worship can continue well into the night. People offer flowers, coconut, bhang, dhatura, fruits etc., to shivlings and idols.

 Myths and Legends
The origin of the festival has an interesting history. Legend has it that both gods and demons were once churning the ocean of milk to get amrita (water of immortality). While doing so, they came across a deadly poison which exploded into fumes that threatened to envelop the whole universe. The gods then went to Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu for help, but they couldn't do anything. At last, they went to Lord Shiva to ask for help, who swallowed the poison in order to save the universe. This left a deep blue mark on his throat. A popular belief celebrates this incident at the festival.