There are three occasions a year when Lord Shiva is worshipped and glorified the most. One is Shravan in June-July, another is Masik Shivratri (monthly) and one is Mahashivratri in February-March.
These three festivals are exclusively dedicated to Lord Shiva and millions across the Indian subcontinent celebrate it.
Shravan is the month of observing fast to purify one’s self. Purification means purging the body of negatives, ignorance and tendency to fall down from higher consciousness through the control over one’s senses. ‘Shravan’ in Sanskrit means ‘hearing’.
It is the month of hearing and reciting the stories/legends of Lord Shiva given in the scriptures.
Shivratri and Mahashivratri are associated with glorification of Shiva through prescribed rituals such as Shiva Abhishek and Shiv Pujas that happens after the sunset until the next morning.
The only difference is Shivratri happens every month called as Masik (monthly) Shivratri and Mahashivratri happens once in a year.
Of all these three festivals, Mahashivratri holds a special significance and is the most celebrated one. It is celebrated at night while other Hindu festivals happen during the day. This is what makes Mahashivratri culturally, ritually and spiritually distinct festivals.
Why at night? It is because the night of Mahashivratri is highly vibrant with comic energy with various planetary positions being auspicious.
Any spiritual activity performed on this day tends to bring favourable results. It is because when Lord Shiva who is in charge of tamo guna (the mode of ignorance), the negative or demonic influences are reduced. As a result, one tends to feel energized and spiritual.
Throughout the night, people do Jagran (night vigil), offer sacred items to Shivling and sing Bhajans or devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva.
There are others who do meditation and introspection. Meditation is the best way to gain control over your mind. When the mind and the senses are brought under complete control, one tends to experience spiritual bliss.
Stories behind Mahashivratri: There are several stories centring around the Mahashivratri festival. According to one Puranic legend, Lord Shiva married Shakti (Goddess Parvati) on this day.
The ceremony was attended to and celebrated by all the gods of their respective abodes. It is the night when Lord Shiva performs His cosmic dance called Tandava.
Whenever there is a need to destroy conflicting elements in the cosmos or neutralize the cosmic imbalance, Lord Shiva performs the Tandava.
The principal deities Lord Brahma and Vishnu recited with a great joy Shiva’s glory after He drank the deadly poison halahala that emerged from the Mandara Mountain during Samudra Manthan (Churning of the Milk Ocean).
Although His divine wife Shakti stopped the poison from going down His throat, it stayed therein turning His throat blue.
Post this event, Lord Shiva was glorified as Neel Kantha, the Blue-throated one. One more legend is that of King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty.
He was in his previous birth a hunter who while taking rest on a Bilva true unknowingly dropped those Bilva leaves and water from his flask strapped around his waist onto a Lingam that was there right below the same tree.
Seeing him offer Bilva leaves and water this way, Lord Shiva was pleased and blessed him to live in His abode and reappear as the king of the Ikshvaku Dynasty.
Significance of Performing Shiva Puja on Mahashivratri
One of the essential spiritual activities to do on this day is Shiva Puja which includes offering sacred items such as Bael leaves, holy waters, fruit juices etc.
Devotees stay on fast for the whole day including a Jagran. People chant the Maha Mantra of Shiva “Om Namah Shivaye”!
In the Shiva Purana it is mentioned by Shiva Himself that He is most pleased with anyone performing the Rudra Abhishek – offering of water, milk, honey, Bael leaves on Mahashivratri.In a deeper sense, Shiva is associated with our soul and this puja is meant for purifying the soul.
- Vermilion applied on Shivlinga represents our moral virtues.
- Fruits are associated with longevity and fulfilment of desires.
- Incense sticks denote wealth and opulence.
- Diya or oil lamps represent the removal of darkness through the attainment of real knowledge of the material world, the spiritual world and one’s true identity.
- Tripundra (three horizontal stripes) applied on the forehead enhances your spiritual side.