Maha Shivratri: February 12
Maha Shivratri is a religious observance for Hindus. It is also a public holiday in Sri Lanka.
Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival celebrated on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Maagha or Phalguna from the Hindu lunar calendar, one night and day before the new moon.
History of Maha Shivratri
Maha Shrivati is the grand night dedicated to worship Lord Shiva. There are different reasons why Lord Shiva is revered and adored by Hindus, and especially those who devote their lives to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva on this night is worshipped with gratitude due to the following story. During the Samudra Manthan, a period of fights between gods and demons, it happened that a toxic poison came out from the ocean, and everyone was scared of this.
Lord Vishnu advised all gods to seek protection from Lord Shiva. Shiva out of compassion drank the poison and kept it in his throat with a snake tied to it. Wise men advised the gods to keep Lord Shiva awake during the night to avoid the poison harming him, so to keep Shiva awake there dances and music played by the gods. Shiva was so happy with the devotion that promised that whoever contemplated him on this day would also be blessed as the gods were on that day.
Another story says that the Maha Shivrati has a different beginning. It is told that Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma once got very full of themselves that decided to try to show their superiority towards one another, ending in a fight. Lord Shiva stepped in the middle of them; he manifested himself as a pillar of fire, Anala-skanda, that had no beginning or end. Both Vishnu and Brahma tried to see what the pillar was all about. Vishnu in the form of varaha, or a boar, went down the pillar, and Brahma sitting in his swan went up the pillar.
Years passed and both did not find either beginning of end of the burning pillar. Brahma one day saw a leaf falling down and presumed that it had fallen from the top of the pillar, so he returned back convinced that the pillar had a beginning on the top, even though he did not see it. Vishnu accepted that the pillar had no bottom and also returned back.
As they met with Shiva, Vishnu told about his failure to see the bottom of the pillar. Brahma affirmed to have seen the top, which was a lie, just to appear superior to Vishnu. So Shiva was upset and cursed him, telling that Brahma would never be worshiped by any one. Brahma finally conceded that he was equal to Vishnu and had not seen any top or end to the pillar. So order was once again restored.
The appearance of Lord Shiva as the burning pillar was on the day of the Maha Shivratri. There are other stories related in the holy books of Hinduism about Lord Shiva that make this deity worth of praise and worship on this day.
Maha Shivratri Traditions, Customs and Activities
Devotees of Lord Shiva and Hindus in general, on the day of Maha Shivratri observe fast, only drinking milk and eating fruits, they perform the elaborate puja, or ritual of worship to Lord Shiva with chants and hymns dedicated to him. It is a day and night to feel blessed by Lord Shiva in so many ways, and to find ways to express gratitude for what Lord Shiva has done and blessed men with during their lives. Long periods of meditation are observed during this festival as mantras are repeated by the worshippers to help the meditation.
It is a festival to privilege reflection and introspection; many Hindus visit Lord Shiva’s darshans, or sacred images of the god, in its sanctuaries. Rathayatras, processions done with images carried by chariots, are organized through the streets where there is a Lord Shiva temple, so that all those who cannot enter in the temple can also adore the darshan on this day. Sewas, or acts of charity, are to be performed on this day to please Lord Shiva, and all the Mahatmas, or great Hindu spirits.