On this day, the great night of the
Lord Shiva, devotees stay awake throughout the night
offering prayers to Lord Shiva. They offer special food
made from the fruits of the season, root vegetables
and coconut to the Lord. Special celebrations are held
in some of the major Shiva temples at Varanasi, Kalahasti
(Andhra Pradesh) and Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu).
This is an important day for the devotees of Shiva,
who stay awake throughout the night, praying to him.
In all major centers of Shiva worship, Shivratri, also
called Maha Shivratri, is a grand occasion. From the
very early morning, Shiva temples are filled with devotees,
mostly women, who come to perform the traditional worship
of the Shivalinga.
||All through the day, devotees abstain
from eating food and break their fast only the next
morning, after the nightlong worship. The day is
considered especially auspicious for women. Married
women pray for the well being of their husbands
and sons, while unmarried women pray for a husband
like Shiva, who is considered the ideal husband.
Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva are sung with great
fervor and devotion. People repeat the Panchakshara
Mantra, Om Namah Shivaya. It is believed that one who
utters the name of Shiva during Shivratri with proper
devotion is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode
of Shiva and lives happily there. He is liberated from
the cycle of birth and death. Many pilgrims flock to
the places where there are Shiva temples.
Shiva being an ascetic god, Maha Shivratri is very
popular with ascetics. Thandai, a drink made with cannabis,
almonds, and milk, is essentially drunk by the devout.
This is so because cannabis is said to have been very
dear to Shiva. The Puranas contain many stories and
legends describing the origin of this festival.
According to one, during the Samudra Manthan, a pot
of poison emerged from the ocean. This terrified the
gods and demons as the poison was capable of destroying
the entire world, and they ran to Shiva for help. To
protect the world from its evil effects, Shiva drank
the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead
of swallowing it. Because of it, his throat turned blue,
and he was given the name Nilkantha, the blue-throated
one. Shivratri is the celebration of this event by which
Shiva saved the world.