Though, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated all over India, it is the most popular in central, eastern and northern India. The name of this Hindu festival means the night of Shiva. Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on the 13th or 14th day of the dark half in the month of Phalgun in the Hindu calendar. The ceremonies of Maha Shivratri usually occur at night.
This festival takes place in the honor of Lord Shiva. It is more of a celebration to mark the marriage of Goddess Parvati to Lord Shiva. The night also recalls the night when the Tandav (the dance of destruction) was performed by Lord Shiva. In Andhra Pradesh, devotees of Lord Shiva swarm the Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti. They also gather at the Bharamarambha Malikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam.
About Lord Shiva
The Hindu Trinity comprises of the Creator – Lord Brahma, the Preserver Lord Vishnu and the Destroyer and Re-producer of life Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is also known by names like Bholenath, Shankar, Mahesh, Umanath, Nataraj and other names. For some devotees Shiva is the Absolute and for others he is the Lord of Yoga. For the Hindus, he is the most sought-after deity, when it comes to the granting of wishes.
To make mankind aware of the presence of Eternal Time, Lord Shiva manifested himself as Lingam on the fourth day of the dark night of Magha (month of February-March).
The Legend of King Chitrabhanu
King Chitrabhanu was a hunter in his previous birth. He made a living by killing and selling birds and animals. One night, he was trapped in the forest and was unable to return home. He climbed a bael tree and hung the dead deer he had killed that day onto the tree. He was hungry and thirsty, and at the same time weeping for his wife and children at home who were also starving and waiting for his return. In order to pass the time, he started plucking the bael leaves and dropping them on the ground.
He returned home the next day. He sold the deer and brought food for his family. As he was going to break his fast, he realized that a beggar had come begging for food. He served the food to the stranger and then started having his food.
During his death, two messengers of Shiva came to take his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. For the first time, he understood that he had earned the merit due to his unconscious worship of the Lord Shiva at the night of the Maha Shivaratri. He got to know that the leaves he dropped fell on the lingam and his tears washed the lingam. He unconsciously fasted all that day and night. This led to his unconscious worship of the Lord.
The King enjoyed the divine bliss at the Abode of the Lord for many ages and was reborn as Chitrabhanu.
The Celebration of Maha Shivratri
The devotees of Lord Shiva observe a fast on this day. The Shiva Lingam is worshipped by washing it with milk, curd, rosewater and honey all through the night. The chant of the mantra, Om Namah Shivaya also continues the entire night.
Offerings of bael leaves to the lingam are considered to be sacred as it is believed that the Goddess Lakshmi resides in them.
Hymns praising Lord Shiva are sung with great devotion and enthusiasm. It is a popular belief that whoever utters the name of Lord Shiva at Maha Shivaratri with devotion will be freed from his sins.