Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri is celebrated throughout the country.  This day is vry popular with the devotees of Lord Siva.  It falls on the 14th day of the dark half of “Margasirsa’ (February to March).  The name means “the night of Shiva”.  The ceremonies take place chiefly at night.  This is a festival observed in honour of Lord Shiva.
It is believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvathi.  On this festival people worship “Shiva – the Destroyer”.  It is also believed that on this night Lord Shiva danced the ‘Tandav’.
In Andhra Pradesh, pilgrims throng the Sri Kalahasteshwara Temple at Kalahasti and the Bharamarambha Alikarjunaswamy Temple at Srisailam.

About The Lord

Shiva – the word meaning auspicious – is one of the Hindu Trinity, comprising of Lord Brahma, the Creator, Lord Vishnu, the Preserver and Lord Shiva or Mahesh, the Destroyer and Re-Producer of life.  Shiva is known by many names like “Shankar”, “Mahesh”, “Bholenath”, “Neelakanth”,”Shambhu Kailasheswar”, Umanath”, “Nataraj” and many more names.
For many people, Shiva is “Paramatman”, “Brahman”, the absolute, but many more prefer the see Shiva as a personal God given to compassion for his worshippers, and the dispenser of both spiritual and material blessings. Related to the Absolute concept is Shiva as “Yoganath” meaning the Lord of Yoga, wherein he becomes the teacher, the path and the goal. ForSannyasis, who have renounced the world to attain the Absolute, he is the Adi Guru or the highest Guru.
He is the most sought after deity amongst the Hindus and they pray to him as the god of immense large-heartedness who, they believe, grants all their wishes.  Around Him are woven many interesting stories that reveal His magnanimous heart.  These stories and legends also enrich the Indian culture and art.
Time is invisible and formless.  Therefore, Mahakal Shiva, as per the Vedas, manifested himself as “Lingum” was the fourth day of the dark night in the month of ‘Magha’ i.e February – March.  With Dussehra, Diwali, Janam Ashtami, Maha Shivaratri have been celebrated from time immemorial.

The story of King Chitrabhanu

In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma was resting on the bed of arrows. He was discoursing on Dharma.  He was referring to the observance of Maha Shivaratri by King Chitrabhanu.  The story goes as follows.  Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa.  He was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day og Maha Shivaratri.  The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the King.  The sage asked the King the purpose of his observing the fast.  King Chitrabhanu explained that he had the gift of remembering the incidents of his previous birth.
The King said to the sage that in his previous birth, he was a hunter in Varanasi.  His name then was Suswara.  His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals.  One day he was roaming through forests in search of animals.  He was overtaken by the darkness of night.  Unable to return home, he climbed a tree for shelter.
It happened to be a Bhel tree.  He had ensnared and killed a deer that day.  He had no time to take it home.  He bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree.  As hunger and thirst tormented him, he was kept awake throughout the night.  He shed profuse tears when he thought of his wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return.  To pass away the time that nigh he engaged himself in plucking the Bhel leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.
The next day he returned home.  He sold the deer.  With the money he got, he bought some food for himself and his family.  The moment he was about to break his fast a stranger came to him, begging for food.  He served the food first to stranger.  He ate only after the stranger had his food.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva.  They were sent down to conduct his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva.  He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by the unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri.  The messengers told him that there was a Lingum placed at the bottom of the tree.  The leaves he had dropped fell on the Lingum.  His tears, which had shed out of pure sorrow for his family, fell onto the Lingum.  They washed it.  He had fasted all day and all night.  Thus, without knowing he had worshipped the Lord.
As the conclusion of the tale King said that he lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages.  Now he was reborn as Chitrabhanu.

The Festivity

This is the day for fasting.  Some devotees do not even take a drop of water. They keep vigil all night.  The Shiva Lingum is worshipped throughout the night.  It is washed every three hours with milk, crud honey, rose water, etc.  The chanting of the mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” continues. Offerings of Bhel leaves are made to the Lingum as Bhel leaves are considered very sacred.  It is said that Goddess Lakshmi resides in them.
Hymns in praise of Lord Shiva are sung with great devotion and fervour.  These are “Shiva Mahima Stotra” of Pushpadanta or Ravana’s “Shiva Tandava Stotra”.  People repeat the ‘ Panchakshara’ Mantra, “Om Namah Shivaya”.  During Shivratri, one who utters names of Shiva with perfect devotion and concentration is freed from all sins.  He reaches theabode of Shiva and lies there happily.  He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths. Many pilgrims go to the places where there are Shiva temples.