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Maha Shivratri, if you translate it, means ‘Great night of Lord Shiva’, is one of the most popular Hindu festivals in India. Maha Shivratri is usually celebrated on the new moon day in the month of Phalguna or Maagh (February or March) as per the Hindu Lunar Calendar. On the auspicious occasion of Maha Shivratri, people in huge numbers visit temples to offer their prayers to please Lord Shiva. As the story goes, Lord Shiva had married Parvati on this day. Many people observe fast on Maha Shivratri and offer sweets, milk, flowers, and bael leaves on Shiva Linga.
There are many stories that go around behind the celebration of Maha Shivratri but the most popular among them is, Lord Shiva drank poison on this day to save the world from destruction. As per the Puranas, once the Gods and demons decided to distribute things that emerged from the ocean among themselves. When the Gods and demons were churning the ocean (Samudra Manthan), they come across a pot which was full of poison which could have destroyed the entire world. The Gods decided to seek the intervention of Lord Shiva in order to save the world from being destroyed. Lord Shiva drank that poison and the poison was so deadly that the throat of Lord Shiva turned blue and because of this very reason He is popularly known as ‘Nilakantha’.
Shivratri is a critically important festival for the Hindu women also. Married and unmarried women in a huge number worship Goddess Parvati on this day. Goddess Parvati is also known as ‘Gaura’ and women worship Her on this day for blissful married lives or to get good husbands. On the occasion of Maha Shivratri, one can, therefore, see many women, both married and unmarried, performing the rituals of the festival and they seek the blessings of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati for a blissful life.
On the occasion of Maha Shivratri, people observe fasting, sing devotional songs, and recall the popular tales of Lord Shiva. On the occasion of Maha Shivratri, people decorate the temple with lights and flowers. It is a common perception among people that if they observe fasting on this auspicious day, it will bring them good luck and their lives will become prosperous. One can hear the loud chantings of ‘Bum Bum Bhole’ and ‘Shivji Ki Jai’ all around the temples on this occasion and this adds further energy and excitement to it.
One of the main attraction of the festival is people smoke Marijuana and the devotees believe that Lord Shiva likes it immensely. Many people also drink Thandai on this day and Thandai is a drink made by mixing bhang and milk.
The festival of Shivratri is celebrated with great interest and energy in the state of Madhya Pradesh. People have over the years adopted a tradition of taking a holy bath in the Shiv Sagar tank nestled in Khajuraho. People worship Lord Shiva in a beautiful temple there. People from various states visit Matangeshwar Temple in Bundelkhand region in Madhya Pradesh to pay homage to Lord Shiva on the occasion of Shivratri. The most striking part of the celebration of Shivratri here is that the festival of Shivratri goes on being celebrated for a period of 10 days.
On the auspicious occasion of Shivratri, people in West Bengal keep fasting for the entire day. There is the tradition of making four idols of Lord Shiva with the sand taken out from the pious river, Ganga. The Shivlings or the Shiva idols are worshiped during four different periods of time. First, they worship the Shivling with milk. Then they immerse the Shivling into curd. On the third day, the Shivling is bathed with ghee and on the fourth day, it is bathed with honey. In the morning on the next day, devotees in huge numbers visit the temple, feed the brahmin people and break their fast. Mahashivratri is a festival that people celebrate with a lot of joy and devotion. And festivals like this one brings all the families, friends and relatives together. It is also celebrated differently in different other parts of the country.
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