Mahashivaratri or the ‘The Night of Shiva’ is celebrated with devotion and religious dedication in honor of Lord Shiva. This festival is one of the immortal festivals of Hindu Trinity. Shivaratri falls on the night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun on 14th moonless, which corresponds to the month of March according to English Calendar. During the Celebration, the festival of Shivaratri devotees scrutinize day and night fast and perform various rituals to worship the Lord Shiva’s Lingam to appease Lord Shiva.
There are various interesting stories related to the celebration of the festival of Maha Shivaratri. According to one of the most popular stories by legends is Shivaratri is celebrated to remember the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. According to another believe it was on the propitious night of Shivaratri when Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, known as the dance of the original creation, preservation, and destruction. Another very popular Shivratri belief is on this day stated in Linga Purana states that it was the night of Shivaratri that Lord Shiva demonstrated himself in the form of a Linga named as Shiva Linga. So, the day and night are considered to be very much auspicious by Shiva devotees & followers. They celebrate it as Mahashivaratri as the grand and great night of Shiva.
There are a lot of stories in Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, and other Puranas to explain the glory of Mahashivratri. One of them is as follows:-
In a very small village, there was a lady. She was very poor and living his life by selling handmade wooden baskets in the village. She used to visit satsanga to find peace and stability in life. One day when she was in Satsanga, the speaker was talking about Yagya mahatma. So, the speaker said that to get the Punya of every Yagya is very costly. The lady thought that she is very poor, how can she get the Punya of Yagyas, it is for rich people. The spokesman further said that if anyone is not capable of doing Yagyas then he/she should do Rishi Seva (Service) to get equivalent Punya.
The lady then thought and went into the jungle to find a rishi. He found a rishi and started doing his Seva. She washed rishi’s house, clothes, made food for him on daily basis and made him her Guru (Teacher). She also saw him doing Pooja and try to learn from him. One day Rishi asked her why you are doing all these things, then she told him everything about satsanga. Rishi advised him that besides serving him she should do Mahashivratri Pooja. By this, she will be capable of earning Punya equivalent to one hundred Ashwamegha Yagyas.
She came back to her village and started waiting for Mahashivratri. When Mahashivratri came she kept fast and did Shiv linga’s pooja four times (Four Prahara’s), two times in the night and two times in the day with water and Bilava Patra. Next thoughts came to her mind that “Did I got Punya equivalent to one hundred Ashwamegha yagyas? How can I confirm that?”
She kept walking and thinking, suddenly she heard a voice of drums. It was a message from the King of the state. Then she goes closer and tries to listen to the message. The message was that “The king’s son is very much ill, and he can only be well with the Punyas of five Ashwamegha Yagyas. The one who can donate the Punya of five Ashwamegha Yagyas to King’s son immediately report to the Palace.”
The lady listened to the announcement and thought that this best time to test that if she has the Punya of one hundred Ashwamegha Yagyas or not. While thinking this she started walking towards the palace. When she arrived at the entrance gate, the guards stopped her and asked her where she is going. She answered that she can donate king’s son Punya of five ashwamegha Yagyas. Guards started laughing and told her to go back. There was another guard who was seeing the whole incident quietly and decided to inform the King and Queen about the lady. After information King and queen decided to let her in.
The lady entered the palace, first she greets the King and the queen then she saw their ill son. King asked her that how she can donate his son the punyas of five Ashwamegha Yagyas. The lady said that please keep the faith and let me try once. The lady took a resolution in her heart while holding King’s son’s hand that “I am going to donate Punyas of five Ashwamegha Yagyas from my Punyas of one Hundred Ashwamegha Yagyas.”
In few seconds King’s son opened his eyes, got up and started looking towards his father and mother. King and queen got surprised. They told their son to touch the feet of the lady because of whom he got well. The king told his treasurer to bring gold for the lady.
The lady thought for a moment and said, king, that she didn’t need gold. King asked him that “you can ask for anything because she is the saver of his son.” She refused to take anything, King again insisted her to take something. Then she told the king that she needs a promise from all three of them.
King then agreed from her and promises her to keep the promise. The lady asked for the promise that “In the next Mahashivratri please do Shiva Linga’s pooja. You will get the Punya of one hundred Ashwamegha’s Yagyas. I also did the same that’s why I was able to help your son.”
With this story, we can learn the glory of Mahashivratri or the Divine night of Lord Shiva. This is said that if someone worships Shiva Linga even by mistake, Lord Shiva bless him/her as well.
Various traditions and rituals related to the festival of Shivaratri are followed by the worshippers of Lord Shiva. Devotees scrutinize hard fast in honor of Lord Shiva, though many go on a diet of fruits and milk. Some people kept Nirjala Vrat which means they do not consume even a drop of water. Devotees believe that truthful worship of Lord Shiva on the day of Shivaratri discharges a person from his / her sins and liberates him/her from the cycle of birth and death (Moksha). Shivaratri is considered especially fortunate for women as well. On this day married women pray for the good health and wealth of their husbands and unmarried women worship for a husband like Lord Shiva, who is contemplated as the ideal husband.
To celebrate the Mahashivratri festival, devotees wake up early in the morning and take a ritual bath, if possible in the holy river Ganga. After wearing fresh clothes worshipers visit the Shiva temple to give a sacred bath to the Shiva Lingam with milk, honey, water, curd etc.
On Shivaratri, veneration of Lord Shiva continues through all day and night. Every three hours which is considered as Urahara change priests perform ritual pooja of Shiva lingam amidst the chanting of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ during the whole ritual and ringing of temple bells. In the night jaagran is also pragmatic in Shiva temples where a large number of devotees spends the night in the temple.