Shivaratri is one of the most celebrated festivals of India. This auspicious occasion is celebrated on the moonless 14th night of the month of Phalgun (February or March) each year. Devotees on this day observe fast and stay up all night to perform the ritual worship of the holy Shiva Lingam. The Mahashivaratri night witnesses devotees offering fruits and flowers and conveying their heartfelt prayers to Lord Shiva, who was believed to have performed the ‘Tandava’, on this very night. This year in 2010, Shivaratri or the ‘Night of Shiva’ falls on 12th of February which is a Friday.
There are many interesting legends associated with this beautiful festival of Maha Shivaratri. As one of the most popular of these legendary tales goes, this was the day when Lord Shiva and Parvati tied the sacred knot. Some also believe that on this sacred night, the Lord performed the dance of primal creation, preservation and destruction which is known as ‘Tandava’. The Linga Purana states that on this night of Shivaratri, the Lord manifested himself in the form of Linga. Shivaratri is celebrated all over the country and each region has adopted its own special ways of appeasing Lord Shiva. It is believed that if the Lord is worshipped with all sincerity on this auspicious day then they will attain Moksha, or liberty from the cycle of life.
This festival has great importance for women. Unmarried women on this day, offer prayers to the Lord to get a husband like him. In Hindu religion, Lord Shiva is looked upon as the ideal husband. Married women pray to the lord for the well being of their husbands. Devotees on this day wake up early in the morning to take a ritual bath ideally in the holy Ganges. Then they dress up in their new clothes and pay a visit to the nearest Shiva temple. Then the Shiva Lingum is bathed in full devotion with honey, milk, ghee, yogurt and water with the constant chanting of “Om Namah Shivaya” and the chiming of temple bells.
Following this holy bath, the Shiva Linga is applied vermilion paste. The bilwa leaves (Aegle marmelos) hold a special place and meaning in this festival, as it is believed to calm the hot tempered Lord. The Linga is then decorated with garlands and flowers. Fruits and incense sticks are offered to the deity. The night long vigil or “jaagran” is popularly observed in temples and homes. It is only on the next morning that the day and night long fast is broken by distributing the deity’s ‘prasad’ to everyone. Lord Shiva is regarded as an ascetic God and cannabis is believed to have been very dear to him. So, on this day the ascetics prepare a drink called ‘Thandai’ which is made with cannabis (bhang), milk and almonds.