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Mahashivratri � Significance of this festival

Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival celebrated by devotees of Lord Shiva. It is celebrated every year on 13th night/14th day of the Maagha or Phalguna month. Devotees offer Bilva leaves to Lord Shiva, do fasting and stay awake the whole night by chanting Panchakshara mantra dedicated to Lord "Om Namah Shivaya". 


Married/unmarried women fast and perform Shiva Puja with sincerity to impress Goddess Parvati, who bestows marital bliss and long & prosperous married life. Unmarried women also pray for a husband like Lord Shiva who is considered as the ideal husband.
Why Do We Celebrate Maha Shivratri?
Significance of Mahashivrati is believed to be the following reasons:
1.  It is said that when the whole world was facing destruction, Goddess Parvati worshipped her husband Shiva to save it. She prayed for long period of pralaya (deluge) night. Her prayer was accepted and she named it as Maha-Sivaratri, or the great night of Shiva, since Pralaya is brought about by Him. 
2. Other version relates that Lord Shiva married to Godess Parvati on this day again. 
3. It is also said that God Sadashiv appeared in the form of Lingodbhav Moorti at midnight on this day, ie., Maha Shivratri. This is the reason why the devotees stay awake all night and do Shiv pooja at midnight. 
4. During Samudra Manthan, the asuras (demons) and the gods joined hands to churn out amrit (nectar) from the depths of the ocean using a mountain as a churn-dash and a snake as a rope. Amongst many things that came out of the ocean was a pot of poison (Halahala), which was so potent that it had the power to destroy the whole Universe. Lord Vishnu asked the ‘devas’ and ‘asuras’ to approach Lord Shiva and request to save the world  and Lord Shiva agreed and drank the poison. And the condition was for this poison to have no effect, Lord Shiva should not sleep and hence the ‘devas’ and ‘asuras’ kept praying the whole night. Lord Shiva was pleased with the devotion and he said that whoever worships him on this day their wished will be fulfilled. 
The other version to this story is where Goddess Parvati stops the poison from spreading by holding Shiva’s neck and the poison gets stuck in the neck of Lord Shiva and so he is call “Nelakanta”.
5. There was a hunter who was a great devotee of lord Shiva. Once while he was hunting he got trapped in the forest at night and was trapped with animals surrounding him. In order to save himself, he climbed Bilva tree near and started worrying about his wife and children, and started crying. And to stay awake he started plucking the Bilva leavesa and chanted ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ – the Panchakshari Mantra. His tears and the leaves unknowingly was falling on Shivaliga. He returned home safely, and while having food a beggar came asking for food, and he fed him. Later, during his death, he came to know that the beggar was none other than Lord Shiva. The hunter was reborn as King Chitra Bhanu recalled his previous births, and discussed the importance of Shivaratri with Sage Ashtavakra.
It is said that this story is mentioned in the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata by Bhismha while he was on the bed of arrows (18-day Great War in the Mahabharata) and that is how the world came to know the importance of Mahashivaratri.
By Madhu Mishrra
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