Mahashivratri as the name indicates is the night of Lord Shiva and the most important day dedicated to Siva. Sivaratri is observed on the night before Amavasi or no moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun (February – March) as per traditional calendar followed in
North India. The corresponding month in other regions is Magh month.
Unlike other festivals associated with Hinduism, Mahashivratri is a night dedicated largely to prayers and not to celebrations. Of course, when Lord Shiva is worshipped there is bliss all around but that bliss is of Brahman realization or self realization
The popular belief is that Lord Shiva, the formless Brahman, appeared in a form on Mahashivratri day. On the Sivaratri night Lord Shiva is worshipped in a special form of Linga called ‘Lingodabhavamurti.’ It is a lingam in the form of fire which has neither a beginning nor an end. It must be noted here that ‘linga’ means ‘sign.’ And it is merely an attempt to capture the formless or Brahman.
The importance of Shivaratri is closely associated with ‘amavasi’ (the no moon night or full dark night)). Amavasi symbolically represents Kaliyuga. Lord Shiva appeared just before the beginning of Kaliyuga to rid the world of evil and ignorance, which is symbolically represented through Amavasi. Therefore Mahashivratri is celebrated to get rid of evil and ignorance.
Hindus fast on the day and keep vigil at night. Devotees avoid sleeping on the day as it is believed that Shiva appeared at night in the form of Lingodabhavamurti. Special pujas and rituals are held on the day at Lord Shiva temples. Thousands of devotees arrive at Shiva temples from early hours of the day and spend the entire day at the temple.
There are numerous legends and stories associated with Shivratri, which is mainly found the Puranas associated with Shiva. The most important is that of the appearance of Shiva.
Other important stories include that of Tandava, the consummation of poison during the churning of ocean (Samudramanthan), hunter accidentally dropping the leaves of bilva, the loss of importance of Ketki flower, which is now only offered during Shivratri.
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