Maha Shivaratri is one of the most auspicious festivals of Hindus. It is celebrated with great enthusiasm and fervour all over the country. Maha Shivratri falls on 13th night/ 14th day of Krishna paksha (waning moon) in the month of Maagha, according to the Hindu calendar.
The Hindu calendar is based on lunar movements in contrary to the modern solar calendar. In modern calendar, the day roughly falls anywhere between February and March. Shiva means kalyana or well-being. He balances the nature by acting as a God of destruction. He completes the trinity.
Irrespective of the belief and abundant stories behind the day, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated in a uniform mode not only in India but also in the adjoining country Nepal. There are various tales that try to explain the commencement of the festival. Significant among those are:
In Garuda Purana, story of Chitrabhanu is cited. Chitrabhanu was the ruler of Ikshvaku dynasty. He had a special power of remembering things about his previous birth. While in conversation with sage Ashtavakra the king told that he was a hunter in previous life. He was forced to spend a night over tree top. Lack of food and water made his condition pathetic and he kept plucking the tree leaves and throwing them on ground so as to keep his mind engaged. The tree happened to be of the Bael and he was unknowingly throwing the leaves over Shiva Lingam. This is one of the rituals of Shiva Pujan. By default he had followed all the rituals of Shiva Pujan on the night that happened to be of Maha Shivaratri. Lord Shiva was pleased and awarded him the best of the mortal world by making him King of a huge dynasty.
The other references are during the Samudra Manthan, Shiva gulped the poison and all the Gods performed dance and sang hymns to keep him awake. This was also a way to keep a vigil on him.
This day is also celebrated as the wedding day of lord Shiva and Parvati. There is also another belief that this was the day when the effulgent Shiva Lingams appeared on the earth in the form of Jyotir Lingam.
Shiva devotees observe fast throughout the day and night and take only fruits and water. They perform various rituals by doing rurdrabhishek and elaborative pujan and pour water over the Shiva Lingam in the wee morning hours. Leaves of Bael tree are also offered. Devotees sing religious songs and recite mantras during the day time. Meditation is carried out as the night falls. International Mandi Shivratri fair is held every year in Himachal Pradesh to celebrate the day.
There are various interpretations of the word ‘Shiva’. But its primary meaning is auspiciousness. It is also believed that on this day the planetary alignment is such that it infuses high energy in the inhabitants of earth. Meditation and observing introvert behaviour on this day is thus a direction to properly channelize the energy.
Human mind is far vast and beyond the limits of mortals’ understandings. When the conscious existence of mind is halted, it leads to realisation of more intricate element- the atma/ soul. There have been various festivals described in Hindu Mythology. This is a way of giving directions to mortals to indulge their minds in spiritual activities and experience the power of the self and the unknown.