New Delhi: Hundreds of thousands of devotees across the country celebrated Maha Shivratri Tuesday with zeal and religious fervour by observing fast and offering prayers.
The festival is celebrated to mark the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Devotees stay awake all night, singing hymns and prayers, to seek Lord Shiva's blessings.
Temples witnessed long queues of devotees since early morning to offer prayers, flowers and fruits.
East Delhi based Mahi Mittal, who has been observing Maha Shivratri for the last five years, told IANS, "I am in the queue since 6 in the morning. I knew the queue will be long so I came early to offer my prayers."
Brijesh Chaturvedi, a civil service aspirant, said this is the first time he has kept a fast for Lord Shiva.
"As my friends told me that the queue in the popular Shiva temples in Delhi will be crowded, so I went to a temple near my home and prayed at 6.30 a.m. today. I will only eat fruits. I feel good after offering prayers."
Among some of the prominent Lord Shiva temples in the national capital are the 800-year-old Gauri Shankar temple and the Sri Shiv Mandir. Both the temples witnessed long queues from 4 a.m.
Sheila Mehrotra, a devotee, said that every year on Maha Shivratri, her day begins a little earlier than usual as she observes a fast on the occasion.
"I do not even remember for how long I have been keeping a fast on Shivratri. I read the 'Shiv Chalisa' and offer milk, Bel leaves and flowers to the Shivling," said 57-year-old Mehrotra.
"It marks the day Shiv and Parvati got married. Women fast to ensure a good life for their husbands, and young girls observe a fast in the hope of a good life partner, much like Shiva himself," Mehrotra added.
The festival falls on the 13th or 14th day of the Hindu month of 'Phalgun' (February-March).
Guwahati-based Abantika Borthakur, a political science lecturer at Guwahati University, said that all through the day devotees keep a fast and chant the sacred mantras.
"As part of Maha Shivratri devotees keep fast, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya', make offerings of flowers and incense to the Lord amidst ringing of temple bells," Borthakur told IANS over the phone while she along with her husband were on their way to the nearby Lord Shiva temple.
Mumbai-based Priyakshi Kakodhar, who works with a fashion store, said, "I visited the temple in the morning and was dressed traditionally. I also give a litre of milk to the needy on this day every year."
As part of the festival many devotees take bhang, considered to be Lord Shiva's prasad. Temples are lit up and decorated and functions are hosted in the evening.
Suchi Raina, a Kashmiri Pandit, told IANS that Kashmiris celebrate Maha Shivratri a day earlier.
"The way we celebrate Maha Shivratri is completely different from others. We offer food and flowers to the brass and copper deities whom we refer to Lord Shiva and his family. These utensils are only used for this festivity," she said.
Raina, who started observing fast on Maha Shivratri from last year, said she did not have in-depth knowledge about Lord Shiva earlier, and that several books on Lord Shiva drew her towards the celebration.
"This is the prime reason for me to keep the fast," Raina said.
Agrees Naresh Lakhani from Valsad in Gujarat. He will not be observing a fast, but will actively participate in the programmes dedicated to Lord Shiva.