New Delhi: It was an early start to the day Wednesday for Shiva devotees in the capital, who celebrated Mahashivratri with ritual bathing and prayers.
People also thronged temples during the day, with many waiting in long queues, to offer prayers and pour milk on the Shivalingams (idols representing Lord Shiva).
"Mahashivratri is celebrated through the night with chanting and prayers. I got up at four in the morning and went to the nearby Shiva temple to offer prayers. I also prepared special sweets for the occasion," said Radha Misra, a homemaker.
The festival is accorded much significance in the Hindu culture. "While women and young girls observe a daylong fast, it is also believed that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on this day absolves one of all sins," said Pawan, a student of St. Stephens College here.
It is said that Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati on Mahashivratri.
Devotees also take out processions to celebrate this holy marriage. A symbolic marriage of Shiva and Parvati is carried out by the priests in the Shiva temples in the evening.
"Another story linked to this day is that Lord Shiva is said to have performed Tandava -- the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction," a priest of a north Delhi Shiva temple said.
People offer milk, bilva patra (Bel leaves), Gangajal (Ganga river water), flowers and sweets to Shivalingams on this day.
Among many gods assigned importance in the Hindu religion, Shiva holds a special place for his role in both creation and destruction. "We believe that Lord Shiva blesses all his devotees if they worship him sincerely," said a devotee.