Kolkata: Maha Shivratri was celebrated in the eastern metropolis here Sunday with hymns, chants and fasts as Hindu devotees thronged temples and the banks of the holy Ganga to offer prayers to Lord Shiva.
One of the biggest festivals of the Hindus, Shivratri or night of Shiva, is marked as the god performing the "Tandava Nritya" or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction.
In Kolkata, devotees gathered at the banks of the river Ganga to carve out mini `Shivlings ` (or the symbolic form of Shiva) from the mud at the banks, for worship late at night.
The occasion, considered especially auspicious for women, saw them fasting throughout the day and thronging Shiva temples to offer leaves of woodapple tree (bel), wood apples, fruits and flowers and a lamp (diya).
They washed the `lings` in water and poured milk from a customary copper vessel.
Huge crowds were seen at venues where hymns and chantings in Sanskrit were attributed to the god amidst pealing of bells and cymbals.
The famous Shiva temple at Tarakeshwar, 57 km from the city, hosted thousands of bare-footed pilgrims in serpentine queues, holding copper vessels filled with water from the Ganga, eagerly awaiting their turn to bathe the granite `Shivling`.
The ghats or banks near the Ganga teemed with people participating in ritual bathing.
According to the Puranas, gods, goddesses and demons had come to Shiva for aid, when a pot of poison had emerged during the mythical churning of the ocean or Samudra Manthan.
In order to protect the world from destruction, Shiva drank the poison but held it in his throat, which turned blue. The deity was since been known as `Nilkantha` or the blue-throated one and Maha Shivratri marks his saving of the world.
It is celebrated on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna, according to the Hindu calendar.