It is celebrated on the Krishna Paksha Trayodashi or Chaturdashi (13th or 14th day of waning phase) of the month Phalguna/Magh/Masi/Kumbham in Hindu calendar which usually befall on February or March. The day before the new moon of every month is considered Shivaratri, and Maha Shivaratri which befalls at this time of the year is the one with highest spiritual significance. On this night, it is believed that the northern hemisphere of Earth is positioned in a way that causes a natural upsurge of energies in us. Maha Shivaratri day is celebrated by Hindus all over the world with a variety of rituals. The day will observe a huge influx of devotees in all Shiva temples.
The most popular legend is that Maha Shivaratri is the day in which Shiva married Goddess Parvati. Another legend says Lord Shiva performed Tandava – the cosmic dance, on this night. Also, there is a story which associates the day to Samudra Manthan in which Shiva saved the world by consuming the emerged poison and arresting it in his throat through Yogic powers. The day in which Shiva manifested his great effulgent form – Jotirmaya or Jyotirlinga to Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma, is another story associated to Maha Shivaratri.
There is a different legend for the ascetics who consider Shiva as the Adi Guru from whom the divine knowledge originated. For them, Maha Shivaratri is the night of stillness on which Shiva became one with Mount Kailas.
Maha Shivaratri observances include poojas, abhisheka, fasting and staying awake at night with prayers and meditations. Devotees observe fast on the day before the Maha Shivaratri night. Some people have food only once while some follow a fruit and milk diet. Some ardent devotees even abstain from consuming water for the entire duration of the fast. People visit Shiva temples and chant the sacred mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. Some people perform the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra too. The devotees observing fast keep vigil all night, meditating or chanting prayers inside the temples.
- Bathing Shivalinga with water, milk, honey and bel leaves which symbolize purification of the soul
- Applying vermillion or kumkum which signifies virtue
- Offering fruits which signify longevity and gratification of desires
- Burning of incense symbolizing wealth;
- Lighting of lamps which signify the attainment of knowledge
- Betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures
On Maha Shivaratri day, the planetary positions evoke the spiritual energies and help a person rise to the spiritual level. The benefits of mantras such as Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra increases and the religious penances including Yoga and meditation gets more effective. Devotees who strictly observe fasting and other penances are believed to get Moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Maha Shivaratri Vrat or Fast is believed to be very powerful which helps a person to attain control over worldly pleasures and temptations. The material pleasures and temptations are forces that bother the humans a lot. By worshiping Lord Shiva and observing Maha Shivaratri fast for the entire night, one can have control over the negative thoughts like anger, lust, greed etc. Maha Shivaratri is the occasion in which nature pushes us towards the spiritual peak. The tradition of observing festival night-long and staying awake is to allow this flow of energy to pass through our spine.