The festival of Shivaratri celebrates the union of Shiva and Shakti. The Chaturdashi tithi during the Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of every month is known as Shivaratri and the one which falls in the Hindu month of Magha as per the Amavasyant school and Phalgun as per the Purnimant school is known as Maha Shivaratri.
As per Hindu beliefs, it was at midnight on Maha Shivaratri that Bhagwan Shiva manifested as a Linga. Once an argument broke out between Bhagwan Vishnu and Bhagwan Brahma as to who was the superior among them. When they were thus arguing, Bhagwan Mahadev manifested as a huge pillar of fire and both were to identify the beginning and end of the pillar.
Brahmadev mounted His swan to look for the top while Bhagwan Sri Hari Vishnu assumed the form of a boar to look for the bottom end. They searched for a long time with no success. Bhagwan Vishnu accepted defeat but Brahmadev would not do so. Further, He asked a Ketaki flower to testify on His behalf and lied that He had discovered the topmost point of the pillar.
The day this event is said to have taken place (Phalgun Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi) is celebrated as Maha Shivaratri. It is customary to worship Shiva Linga on this day. Hindu scriptures provide references of Shivaratri Vrat being performed by Devis Lakshmi, Indrani, Saraswati, Gayatri, Savitri, Sita, Parvati, and Rati.
But this is not the only Puranic legend connected to Maha Shivaratri. One of the stories narrates how Bhagwan Shiva saved the world. During the process of Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean), the Halahala poison that emerged threatened to destroy the world.
Devas prayed to Mahadev to save the world from the deadly poison. Acceding to their request and for the larger good of humanity, Bhagwan Shiva consumed the deadly Halahala. It was, however, prevented from going down His throat by Devi Parvati and thus Mahadev’s throat turned blue owing to the effects of the poison. Mahadev is therefore also known as Neelkant (one with the blue throat). Shivaratri celebrates this event when the world was saved by the grace of Mahadev.
The story of a hunter who stayed up all night albeit unknowingly is a popular one associated with Maha Shivaratri. It so happened that once a hunter was out in the forest hunting. Since it was late at night he climbed up a tree for shelter. To ensure that he doesn’t fall asleep, the hunter kept plucking and dropping leaves from the tree.
Unknown to him, he was dropping those leaves on a Shiva Linga below while chanting the name of Bhagwan Shiva due to the cold. The tree that he happened to climb was that of bilva. Since it was the night of Maha Shivaratri, the hunter earned merit even though he had not done the pooja consciously. In essence, this story highlights the fact that Mahadev blesses devotees for even their unknowingly performed deeds.
It also said that it was on the day of Maha Shivaratri that Bhagwan Shiva wedded Devi Shakti who had taken rebirth as Parvati, the daughter of Himalaya. It is, therefore, observed as a day of union between Shiva and Shakti. Additionally, Maha Shivaratri is also associated with Mahadev’s Tandav (cosmic dance). Bhagwan Shiva is said to perform Tandav on this day.
Whatever be the legend associated with Maha Shivaratri, it is a day to submit ourselves with bhakti (devotion) to Mahadev. It is a day to observe fast and stay awake all night (Jagran) praying to He who runs the universe, the supreme being Mahadev.
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