The date celebrates several myths surrounding Lord Shiva, a God often depicted smoking weed and blue in colour after drinking a pot of poison. Lord Shiva, seen as the source of both good and evil, is the third God in the Hindu triumvirate.
While Lord Brahma is believed to have created the universe and Lord Vishnu preserves it, Lord Shiva’s role is to destroy it so it can be recreated. Here is everything you need to know about Maha Shivaratri.
When is Maha Shivaratri?
The festival is celebrated once a year during the Hindu lunar month of Phagun. The festival is held on the Chaturdashi of Krishna Pasha – the 14th day of the waning of the moon.
On the Gregorian calendar that date falls on 13 February 2018.
What is the story behind Maha Shivaratri?
Firstly, Maha Shivaratri is seen as the wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva’s marriage to the Goddess Parvati. Temples are decorated with flowers to mark this and unmarried women and girls pray for their future husbands to be like Lord Shiva, who is widely considered to be the perfect partner.
Another legend celebrated today is that during the great mythical churning of the ocean – known as Samudra Manthan, and conducted by gods and demons so that nectar could be obtained to make them immortal – a pot of poison emerged.
This poison was so potent that nobody was prepared to even touch it – it had the potential to burn the whole world. The only one who could get rid of the poison was Lord Shiva, who agreed to consume it. The poison was so deadly, that if any had entered Lord Shiva’s stomach – which represents the universe – the world would have been destroyed. He held it in his throat, which then turned dark blue as the poison took effect, and became known as Neelkanth.
Maha Shivaratri is a day where Hindus acknowledge their thanks to Lord Shiva for protecting the world from this poison.
How do people honour the festival?
In India, major temples are attended during Maha Shivaratri, and the Mandi fair is a particularly famous celebration, held for seven days. There are many Shiva followers in central India, with the festival celebrated enthusiastically across the country. In Nepal, there are various music and dance performances throughout the night, and holy rituals are performed.
Married women pray for their husbands’ well-being, and unmarried women pray they will have a husband like Shiva. In Indo-Caribbean communities, Hindus spend the night in temple, offering jhalls (an offering of milk and curd, flowers, sugarcane and sweets) to Lord Shiva.
What is eaten at the celebration?
It is traditional to fast during Maha Shivaratri, and many eat simple foods that are easily digested, such as milk, yogurt, fruit, almonds, peanuts, cashews and honey. Some people go on a diet of fruits and milk, while others don’t take in anything for the entire festival.