Maha Shivratri that literally means the 'Night of Lord Shiva' is a prominent Hindu festival celebrated with enormous zeal and enthusiasm in various parts of the country.The festival is generally celebrated on the month of Phalguna or Maagh (February or March) according to the Hindu Lunar Calendar. On this auspicious day, people in large numbers, throng to temples and offer prayers to please the Lord. It is also believed that the Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati married on this day. Many people also observe a fast on this day and offer sweets, flowers, milk and bael leaves on Shiva Linga.
There are many stories attributed to the celebration of Maha Shivratri festival, but the popular one is when the Lord Shiva, saved the world from destruction by drinking the poison. According to the Puranas, once the Gods and demons decided to churn the ocean and distribute the things among themselves that emerged from it. When the ocean was churned (Samudra Manthan), a pot full of poison that could have destroyed the earth emerged. The Gods sought the help of Lord Shiva to protect the world. To save the mankind, Lord Shiva swallowed the poison. The poison was so deadly that the throat of the Lord turned blue, since then he is also popularly known by the name 'Nilkantha'.
On the day of Shivratri, people keep fast, sing devotional songs and recite his popular tales. The temples are beautifully decorated with lights and flowers. People believe that fasting on this auspicious day will bring good luck and prosperity into their lives. The roar of the devotees shouting 'Shivji ki Jai' and 'Om Namah Shivaya' turn the whole atmosphere truly pious and religious.
Shivratri is an important festival for the Hindu women also.Many married and unmarried women worship Goddess Parvati who is also known by the name 'Gaura' for the blissful married life or to get good husbands. One can therefore see a lot of women performing all the rituals of the festival religiously seeking the blessing of the Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati for the peaceful and happy life.
One of the main aspects of the festival is smoking marijuana as the devotees believe that the Lord Shiva very much like it. There is also a tradition of drinking Thandai (kind of drink prepared from bhang and milk).
The festival is celebrated with extreme enthusiasm in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is considered as an age-old tradition to take a holy bath in the Shiv Sagar Tank nestled in Khajuraho. There is a beautiful Shiva temple near the tank where the people worship the Lord. In the Bundelkhand region of the state, people in large numbers visit Matangeshwar Temple to pay homage to the almighty. One of the main highlights of the temple is that here the celebrations of the festival are carried out for 10 days.
On the day of Shivratri, devotees of the Lord Shiva observe fast all day. People follow the tradition of making the four idols of the Lord with the help of sand bought from the pious Ganga River. The Shivlings are then worshipped in four different period of time. In the first time, one of the Shivlings is bathed with milk, in the second time, the Shivling is immersed with curd, in the third time, the ling is bathed with ghee and fourth with honey. Next day, in the morning, the devotees, pray to the Lord, feed food to the Brahmin people and break their fast.
In the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Maha Shivratri festival is celebrated for the period of three weeks or 21 days. People celebrate the festival in a very unique manner. Two pots signifying Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati are filled with water and walnuts. On the third day, the walnuts are taken out from the pot and distributed among the family members in the form of 'Prasad'. On the last day of Shivratri, there is a traditionto distribute gifts among family members.