Maha Shivarathri Festival
Maha Shivaratri means "The Night of Shiva". This festival is celebrated in honor of Lord Shiva. Maha Shivaratri is celebrated throughout India by those belonging to Hindu Religion. This festival is particularly popular in Uttar Pradesh. Maha Shivratri falls every year on the 13th night/14th day in the Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the month of Maagha or Phalguna in the Hindu Calender which falls on the night before the day of the new moon. Most of the ceremonies take place during the night. On this day, fasting and night vigil (jaagaran) are observed. Some Hindus observe a strict fast on the day by even avoiding water (nirjala vrat). The Shiva Lingam is worshipped throughout the night. Mantras and Hymns to please Lord Shiva are chanted. It includes the shiva panchakshari mantra "Om Namah Shivaya" , "Shiva Mahimna Stotra" of Pushpadanta and Ravana's "Shiva Tandava Stotra" are sung with great devotion. In North India and Nepal people consume Bhang on this day. Most of the Shiva Temples expecially the 12 Jyotirlinga Temples of Bhagwan Shankar are crowded by devotees on this day.
It is believed that who utters the names of Shiva during Shivratri with utmost devotion is freed from all sins and liberated from the wheel of births and deaths. The Symbol of Lord Shiva, is the Shiva Lingam, it is a form to represent the formless and it is worshiped with great splendour during Maha Shivaratri. During Maha Shivaratri day the Shivalinga is washed with holy water after which the Ekadasha Rudrabishekam is performed. The ingredients used are milk, honey, ghee, curds, coconut water, sugar, flowers and bael leaves. On this day three horizontal stripes of holy ash applied to the forehead by worshippers of Lord Shiva representing the three eyes of shiva symbolizing spiritual knowledge, purity and penance. This day is also considered an auspicious day for wearing Rudraksha Beads, Lord Shivas holy bead and gift to the mankind.
There is a legend associated with the Maha Shivarathri. Once Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma argued over who is the strongest and supreme of all. Lord Shiva challenged both of them and appeared as a flaming Linga and challenged them to measure the gigantic Linga. Neither Lord Vishnu nor Brahma could measure the Shivlinga. Then Lord Shiva came out of the Linga and declared himself the most powerful. After that he manifested himself as "Shivalinga" to make the mankind aware of the presence of Eternal Time. It is also believed that it is on the day of Maha Shivrathri that the Shiva-Parvati marriage took place. This night also marks the night when Lord Shiva danced the 'Tandav', the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction.