Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year to honor Lord Shiva both in India and in Nepal, the main homelands of Hinduism. The term literally translates to “great night of Shiva,” and according to the Hindu calendar, the event is celebrated on the new moon day in the month of Maagha, which falls in February or March.
In Hindu culture, Shiva is the god of death and destruction and is worshiped all over the world. In order to mark the occasion, people are dressing up as Shiva and his wife, Parvati.
There are various mythological legends associated with this day. According to a popular legend, a hunter could not find any animal to hunt in the forest and he waited patiently on the branch of a Woodapple tree, throwing leaves to the ground. It is believed that Shiva Lingam was beneath the tree and, pleased with the Woodapple tree, he blessed the hunter with wisdom. From that day on, the hunter stopped eating meat.
Another legend says this day is the favorite day of Lord Shiva, and that’s why people are worshiping the god with great enthusiasm on Maha Shivratri.
It is also said that Maha Shivarati marks the day of his wedding to the goddess Parvati, as well as the day he first performed the Tavata, his cosmic dance.
According to Daily Mail, worshipers use to gather on the night of Shivratri and sing hymns and praises in the name of Lord Shiva. They decorate the Hindu temples across the country with lights and colorful decorations and offer prayers to Shiva Lingam all night long.
People also bring tribute to gods, in the form of bowls of fruit, cold water, milk and Woodapple leaves, and spend their days chanting mantras. They dress in colorful robes, which are known to be favored by the gods of the Hindu pantheon.
Apart from the colorful processions, the key elements of the festival are: making offerings to Lord Shiva, fasting for a full day and participating in a night-long vigil which takes place on the eve of the festival.
The celebrations are led by Sadhu, who are considered to be holy men, as they dedicate their lives to serving the Hindu gods. However, many ordinary Indian and Nepalese people take part in the proceedings, dressed up in colorful saffron robes and with their faces painted with representations of sacred images or symbols.
In the evening, a grand procession starts from Kadapra Kainikkara Temple. It includes several decorated floats, richly decorated elephants and folk art forms, and attracts thousands of devotees and tourists. The procession is an expression of popular fascination for sound and color.