- The 14th day of the dark half of every lunar month (when the Moon is waning) is called Shivaratri (Shiva night). The Shivaratri of the month of Magha (February–March) is designated as Mahashivaratri (Great Shiva night) and is cel-ebrated with a festival.Several stories in the Skanda, Lingam, and Padma Puranas describe this festival, and the power associated with it. Once, it is said a hunter unknowingly fasted, watched over, and bathed a Shiva LINGAM all night, not knowing it was the Mahashivaratri time. For this simple deed he was rewarded by being taken directly to the abode of Shiva.Mahashivaratri is the one major Hindu cel-ebration that is not accompanied by revelry and gaiety. It is a solemn event that emphasizes restraint; devotees make vows such as forgive-ness, truth telling, and noninjury to beings, which must be honored for the full 24 hours. Fasting and staying awake all night to worship Shiva are also important aspects of this observance. One spends the night reciting the MANTRA of SHIVA—om namah shivaya—and praying for forgiveness. If the rites are performed faithfully one is rewarded with worldly success and the heavenly realm of Shiva.The festival and its vows probably originated around the fifth century C.E. In mythological terms the Mahashivaratri observance is often attributed to an episode that occurred on that day: when Shiva manifested himself as the fiery lingam (jyotir lingam), BRAHMA set off on his swan vehicle to find the lingam’s top, and Vishnu set out in the form of a boar to root for its bottom. Neither of the two divinities was successful, thus proving that Shiva was supreme. In another story, Mahashivaratri was the day when Shiva, in order to save the world from destruction, drank the ter-rible poison that emerged when the MILK OCEAN was churned by the gods and demons to produce the nectar of immortality.Further reading: Swami Harshananda, Hindu Festivals and Sacred Days (Bangalore: Ramakrishna Math, 1994); Nath Sharma, Festivals of India (New Delhi: Abhinav, 1978); Guy Welbon and Glenn Yocum, eds., Religious Festivals in South India and Sri Lanka (Delhi: Manohar, 1982).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.