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Maha Shivaratri – commonly referred to as Shivaratri, Sivarathri, and Shivaratri – literally means the night of Shiva, and is celebrated on the 13th night/14th day of the Maagha or Phalguna month of the Hindu calendar every year. Even though there are a number of legends pertaining to this auspicious occasion, there is just one motive behind the festival – pleasing the all powerful Lord Shiva.
Marriage of Shiva and Parvati
According to the first legend, after Shiva’s wife Sati immolated herself, she was reborn as Parvati. Parvati tried hard to break Shiva’s meditation and win his attention - who had entered into the mode of penance since the incident. It is said that Parvati sought the help of Kamadeva - the God of Love and Passion – who asked her to dance in front of Shiva. While she was dancing, Kaamadeva shot his arrow of passion at Shiva, but this infuriated Shiva all the more.
Later, Parvati undertook severe penance to win over Shiva and was finally able to lure him into marriage through her devotion. Their marriage was sanctified a day before Amavasya in the month of Phalgun. This day of union of God Shiva and Parvati is celebrated as Mahashivratri every year.
Another version of the same legend says that Parvati performed prayers on the auspicious moonless night of Shivaratri to ward off any evil that may befall her husband. Since then, women began the custom of praying for the well being of their husbands and sons on Shivaratri. Unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva - the ideal husband.
The legend of ‘Samudra Manthan’ refers to the battle between the devas and the asuras, when a pot of poison emerged out of the ocean. On the request of the gods, Shiva drank the poison, but it was so potent that it changed the colour of his neck to blue. Shiva was advised to stay awake all night and to help him, the gods performed various dances for him. Pleased with their devotion, Shiva blessed all of them and, hence, Shivaratri is the celebration the world being saved by Shiva.
Another legend around this auspicious occasion is that of the Shiva Linga. According to the story, Brahma and Vishnu searched hard to find the beginning and end of Lord Shiva. To help Brahma and Vishnu in their quest, Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga on the 14th day in the dark fortnight of the month of Phalguna. Since then, the day is considered to be extremely auspicious and is celebrated as Maha Shivaratri.
Descent of Ganga
Last but not the least is the legend of Ganga. This legend explains the popular custom of bathing the Shiv Linga on Shivaratri. According to this legend, Shiva held out his thick hair to help Ganga as she descended from heaven. Winding through Shiva’s locks softened Ganga’s journey to the earth, thereby making Ganga an essential part of Shiva.
The festival is celebrated with a lot of fervour among Shiva’s ardent devotees, who start flocking temples in the wee hours of the morning to seek Shiva’s blessings.
This year Maha Shivaratri falls on March 17.