The festival of Mahashivaratri is dedicated to honor Lord Shiva as this night is especially sacred to Lord Shiva. Shivaratri, – literally meaning the night of Shiva – is celebrated, through out India, on the moonless night of the month of Phalguna (or February). . It is celebrated annually as a great event from time immemorial. This festival symbolizes the wedding day of Lord Shiva to Goddess Parvati. It is also said that this night Shiva Performed the Tandava or the dance of creation, preservation and destruction.
There are many stories and legends in Purans, describing the origin of this festival… According one story, during the Samundra Manthan (Churning of Ocean), a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. Gods and Demons were terrified by this, as the poison was capable of destroying the entire word. At a result, they all ran to Lord Shiva for his help. Shiva, the Bhole – the big hearted drank the deadly poison in order to protect the world, but held the poison in his throat. This led him to be known as Nilkantha.
It is also believed that once Brahma and Vishnu, the other two pillars of the Holy Trinity, had an argument as to who was supreme among them. Declaring himself to be the Creator and the Destroyer, Brahma claimed to command more respect. At that moment, a huge linga ablaze with flames appeared from nowhere. Linga’s constant increasing size overwhelmed both, Brahma and Vishnu, to the extent that they forgot their quarrel and decided to determine the size of linga. However, when neither of them could ascertain the size, at that moment Lord Shiva appeared out of the linga and proclaimed that he was the progenitor of both of them. He was the Creator, Preserver and the Destroyer. He then demanded that thereafter, he be worshiped in his phallic form, the Linga; It represents the space in which the universe creates and exterminates itself again and again. To some, it also represents the creative principle of life.
The word Shiva means “Auspicious One” and Lord Shiva is venerated as the source of all that is good and auspicious, and as the primordial source of all creation, Shiva who is unmanifest – arupa or without form, chose to manifest Himself on this night as an effulgent pillar of light, without beginning or end. This light represents the primal, cosmic energy that is the source of all creation. From this light emanated Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Protector or preserver, and Rudra, the Destroyer that causes the final dissolution of all created things back into the unmanifest.
While this is the abstract concept of the unmanifest, which is difficult to comprehend, Shiva also takes the shape as the Linga or cosmic egg and this is the abstract and concrete symbol that is usually worshiped in all Shiva Temples. He is also worshipped in various human and divine forms like Nataraja, Chandrasekhara etc. In South Indian temples, the Linga form is worshipped with the name, Ramanatha, the Linga that Lord Rama worshipped at Rameswaram, on Rama’s return after killing the Rakshasa King Ravana. It is also an expiatory act, as Ravana was great devotee of Shiva and a great Vedic scholar. Rameswaram, like Kashi in North India, is one of the twelve famous Jyotirlingas in India. The link to Jyoti or the effulgent light is significant.
Lord Shiva is especially fond of Abhishekam, or the ceremonial and continuous pouring of Holy water on the Lingam. On Shivaratri night, this ritual is repeated four times, along with the continuous chanting of Shree Rudra. This chant figures the center of all the Vedas and has, within its own center, the esoteric five letter panchakshara mantra “Aum Namahshivaya.” This sonorous and majestic prayer, chanted together by large groups of priests and devotees is extremely impressive to hear and is believed to do a lot good to the world at large by the special vibration that it creates.
Shiva, austere in form. Is worshipped with the simplest of offering: the holy ash, the Ultimate residue. The Bilva (Billi) Leaf; the Erukku flower; the lowly fig and plain water. Besides the Vedas, Puranas like the Shiva Purana, etc the Saiva Agamas and several Works in various Indian languages proclaim greatness of Shiva. There is also evidence Of Shiva worship from ancient times in countries outside India also.
Shivratri is also special, as even a little worship of Shiva on that day brings profound results. The Puranas have several stories of unlettered folks and even sinners having attained instant salvation on this Shivaratri night by even unconscious acts of throwing a Leaf or flower or a drop of water on a Shiva Lingam.
The Shiva Gayatri salutes Lord Shiva as the ultimate being who can stimulate our highest faculties even as the Sun stimulates all life and energy in the universe.