Maha Shivaratri, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is celebrated on 14th of every Lunar calendar month, but with unusual pomp and splendor in the late winter, usually mid-February, before the arrival of spring and is referred to as Mahashivaratri or the Great night of Lord Shiva. Adhered as the spiritually most significant festival of the annual Hindu calendar by the ardent followers of the dharma, on this moonless February night, Lord Shiva is said to have conquered all his enemies. Though a particular year in the history cannot be ascribed as the origin-date of the auspicious festival, nevertheless, through a journey back in the time of Legendary tales, we will speculate about the roots of the festival, the origin of Maha Shivaratri.
Sumandra Manthan and The Neelakantha
The scriptures of the Hindu dharma, mainly the Puranas have many a tales about the inception of the festival, but of all, the one that is utterly fascinating is of the Samudra Manthan or the churning of the ocean, from where the Amrita, the drink of immortality was derived. The churning of the Ocean of Milk was an elaborate process, Mount Mandara was used as the churning rod, and Vasuki, the king of serpents, who abides on Shiva’s neck, became the churning rope. The demons and the gods painstakingly pulled back and forth on the snake’s body alternately, causing the mountain to rotate, which in turn churned the ocean.
In the due process of churning, before the Amrita could be obtained, a number of things were released from the ocean. One of the many was the lethal poison known as Halahala, which as some tales have it, was so implacable it could destroy all of the creation. This terrified the gods, who approached the revered Shiva, who then consumed the poison in an act to protect the universe. The Upadhi or title Neelakantha was attributed to Lord Shiva after this incident as his throat turned blue from swallowing the poison. Shivaratri is the very celebration of this event by which Shiva saved the world.
The Union of Shiva and Parvati
The other legend that surrounds the inception is the marriage of Shiva and Shakti, or Sati, as also referred to in the scriptures. The story tells us how Lord Shiva got married a second time to Shakti, his divine consort, reborn as Parvati.
The story goes on to tell us, how Sati immolated herself in a Yagna fire, organized by Daksha, her very own father. Lord Shiva, who was struck by profound grief and whose fury knew no bounds after the incident, carrying the body of Sati, began to perform Rudra Tandava or the dance of destruction and wiped out the kingdom of Daksha. Shiva’s Tandava had the power to destroy the entire universe and even the Gods were terrified. In order bring Lord Shiva to his senses, Vishnu severed Sati′s body into 12 pieces and threw them on Earth. It is said that wherever the pieces of Shakti’s body fell, there emerged a Shakti Peetha emerged including the Kamaroopa Kamakhya in Assam and the Vindhyavasini in UP.
Lord Shiva took to rigorous penance and retired to the Himalayas. In the meantime, Goddess Sati was reborn as Parvati in the family of God Himalaya. She too performed a penance to break Shiva’s meditation and win his attention, and when none of it worked, as it is said, she sought the help of Kamadeva – the God of Love and Passion who summoned Parvati to dance in front of Shiva. When Parvati danced, Kaamadeva shot his arrow of passion at Shiva breaking his penance.
Through her devotion and persuasion by sages devas, Parvati was finally able to lure Shiva into marriage and away from asceticism. Their marriage was solemnized a day before Amavasya in the month of Phalgun. This day of the union of God Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year as the Maha Shivaratri.