New Delhi: Millions of Hindu devotees across the country and the world celebrated Mahashivratri with ritual bathing, fasting and prayers.
People thronged temples in thousands 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 in Delhi.
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 Delhi`s St Stephens College.
According to the Hindu calendar, Mahashivratri is celebrated a day or two before the new moon in the month of Phalgun (February-March). Hindu mythology says Shiva, one of the holy trinity along with Vishnu and Brahma, married Parvati on this day.
Devotees also take out processions to celebrate the holy marriage. A symbolic marriage of Shiva and Parvati was performed by 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 offered milk, bilva patra (Bel leaves), Gangajal (Ganga river water), flowers and sweets to Shivalingams.
Among many gods in the Hindu religion, Shiva holds a special place for his role in both creation and destruction.
More than a lakh devotees visited the 11th century Lingaraj temple in Orissa capital Bhubaneshwar, assistant commissioner of police Pranadhan Mohapatra said.
A long queue of about a kilometre was formed in front of the temple by around 11.00 am as devotees thronged to have a glance of the deity, he said.
More than 50,000 devotees, including women, visited the Akhandalamani temple at Aradi in Bhadrak district of Orissa, officials said.
Similarly, a large number of devotees were seen at the Loknath temple in Puri, about 56 km from state capital Bhubaneshwar, in Huma in the western district of Sambalpur and Vedvyas in Sundergarh district.
Devotees keep daylong fasts and offer prayers. Many unmarried girls also fast and pray on this occasion in the belief that it helps them get good husbands.
A large number of devotees thronged temples across Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow to offer milk, honey, sandalwood paste and leaves of wood apple to `shivlings` (symbolic idols of Lord Shiva).
"It is said that Shiva showers all his blessings on people who remember him on this day with an honest and true heart," said Somnath Dwivedi, head priest of the Shiva Temple on Gokhale Marg in Lucknow.
Devotees started lining up at the Mankameshwar Temple in Daliganj and the Buddhshwar Temple on Mohan Road in Lucknow since 5.00 am.
`Shiv baraats` (marriage processions of Lord Shiva) were also taken out in different parts of the state. Wearing colourful clothes and `ghungroos`, devotees attended the festivities amidst beating of drums and blowing of conch shells.
In Agra city, Shiv baraats were accompanied with people dressed up as ghosts and demons.
In Karnataka`s Banglore city, hundreds of men, women and youth stood in queues to witness special poojas like `rudrabhisheka` (pouring of water, milk, honey, curd and ghee on Shivlinga).
A 65-feet Shiva idol in east Bangalore and a 122-feet statue at the picturesque beach at Murudeshwar in Uttara Kannada, about 480 km from Bangalore, drew large number of devotees.
In Andhra Pradesh, thousands queued up at the famous Srikalahasti temple near Tirupati in Chittoor district to participate in the rituals. Thousands of devotes from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have also descended at Srikalahasti.
Large-scale celebrations were also on at Mallikarjuna Swamy temple at Srisailam. The devotees, who fast during the day, will take part in special rituals `rahu ketu` at night.
Thousands thronged Keesergutta temple near Hyderabad and other temples in Telangana as many devotees from the region could not travel to Srikalahasti or Srisailam due to rail blockade by pro-Telangana groups Tuesday.
In Madhya Pradesh`s Ujjain town, festival was celebrated in Mahakaal temple, who is considered a reincarnation of Lord Shiva. Mahashivratri was also observed with fervour across the state including in Ujjain, Khajuraho, Indore, Saagar and state capital Bhopal.
The major event on this day in Kerala is at the Shiva temple on the banks of Periyar river at Aluva near Kochi.
"More than a lakh devotees turn up on the sand banks and the main ritual is offerings for the dead. People take bath in the river and remain awake the whole night. It is a great experience to be part of the celebrations," said Manjula Nair, a resident of Thiruvananthapuram.
In neighbouring Nepal, a predominantly Hindu country, the centre of attraction was Pashupatinath, the 7th century pagoda shrine housed in a complex containing over 400 other temples, big and small.
Crowds also spilled into the Jaleshwor temple in Mahottari in southern Nepal, Halesi Mahadev temple in Khotang in eastern Nepal and the Shiva temple in Dang in southwest Nepal, believed to have been visited by the five Pandava brothers in the epic Mahabharat.
Pashupatinath resembled a carnival site with pennants fluttering in the breeze, twinkling lights and hordes of sadhus with their faces and bodies smeared with white ash over which were painted various symbols in vivid red and yellow.