History of Mahashivratri
First Legend behind Mahashivratri
On this day, Lord Shiva got married to Goddess Parvati. Lord Shiva went into meditation after the death of Sati. Sati reincarnated as Parvati to become Lord Shiva’s consort. On the 13th/14th day of the night in the Phalguna month, Mahashivratri marks Shiva and Parvati’s union.
Second Legend behind Mahashivratri
A different story from the Puranas indicates a very different tale. Once the other two triads of the Hindu gods, Vishnu & Brahma, were engaged in a fight to decide who was higher than the two. The war became so severe that it was appropriate for other gods to come to Shiva for aid.
Shiva turned himself into a massive column of fire to make them realise how puny their strength was and stood between Brahma & Vishnu. They both tried to find every end of the fire to assert their prowess, but it was so enormous that neither was successful.
Shiva first manifested himself in the Linga form on the 14th day of the dark half of the month of Phalguna, and so this day is celebrated as Mahashivratri.
Third Legend behind Mahashivratri
Goddess Parvati once pleaded with Lord Shiva to save the world from death, according to another theory. On the condition that its people worship him with devotion and zeal, Lord Shiva decided to rescue the earth.
That is how it came to be recognised as Maha Shivratri that day. Flowers often are believed to bloom precisely the day after Maha Shivratri, hinting at the earth’s fertility
How is Mahashivratri Celebrated?
Devotees raise a three-tiered platform around a fire. ‘Swargaloka‘ (heaven) represents the top plank, the middle one ‘Antarikshaloka‘ (space) and the bottom one ‘Bhuloka‘ (earth). On the ‘Swargaloka’ plank symbolising 11 manifestations of ‘Rudra’ or destructive Rudra, held on ‘Kalash’.
These Kalash’s are decorated at the top of the structure, depicting the head of Shiva, with Belpatra (Aegle marmelos) and mango leaves and coconut. The uncut coconut shank symbolises his twisted hair, and the three spots on the fruit are the three eyes of Shiva.
Devotees wake up before sunrise on Mahashivratri and take a ceremonial bath, preferably in the holy river Ganga. Devotees then wear new clothes and pay a visit to the nearest temple of Shiva and do Jalabhishek on Shivling with six different dravyas including milk, yogurt, honey, ghee, sugar, and water.
After that, devotees give Shivling to Akshat, Abir, Gulal, etc. They also sell a white flower and a lotus flower. The trumpets of Devil (Datura ka Phool) and Bilwa Leaf (Belpatra) are essential; some devotees even give the Shiv ling 108, 1108 Belpatra.
To cool the hot-tempered God, a few Bilwa leaves presented on top of the Shivalinga. Devotees who send the Shivlinga with devotion a trifoliate Belpatra, Lord Shiva blesses him/her with whatever the individual wants.
To mark their devotion to their beloved God, people observe the Mahashivratri Vrat. Mahashivratri Vrat is optional; it is recommended not to hold the fasts for pregnant women, girls, sick people and elderly. Some prefer the ‘Nirjala Vrat‘, i.e. where people eat no water or food during the day.
Legend speaks of Mahashivaratri as the night when Shiva dances as creation, preservation, and destruction. This cosmic dance is accompanied by the singing of hymns and the reading of Shiva scriptures by devotees.
Mahashivaratri marks annual dance festivals at major Hindu temples in Konark, Khajuraho, Pattadakal, Modhera and Chidambaram.
Nataraja, the supreme dance deity, is another form of Lord Shiva as well. The dance forms of Lord Shiva, Tandava and Lasya, are performed in various forms in respect of God by classical dancers.