Maha Shivratri or Maha Sivaratri or Shivaratri or Sivaratri (Night of Shiva or "Great Night of Shiva") is a festival celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day in the Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the month of Maagha (as per Shalivahana or Gujarati Vikrama) or Phalguna (as per Vikrama) in the Hindu Calendar (that is, the night before and day of the new moon). The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael (Bilva) leaves to the Lord Shiva, all day fasting and an all night long vigil. Cannabis is traditionally used as an offering for Lord Shiva and his followers.
Per scriptural and discipleship traditions, the penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach the goal more swiftly and avoid rebirth.
Shiva's Favourite Day
After creation was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 13th night of the new moon, during the month of Maagha, is his most favourite day. Parvati repeated these words to her friends, from whom the word spread over all creation.
The Story Of King Chitrabhanu
In the Shanti Parva (chapter) of the Mahabharata epic, Bhishma, whilst resting on the bed of arrows and discoursing on Dharma (righteousness), refers to the observance of Maha Shivaratri by King Chitrabhanu. The story goes as follows:
Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa (India), was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king.
The lord asked the king the purpose of his observing the fast. King Chitrabhanu explained that he had a gift of remembering the incidents of his past birth, and in his previous life he had been a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His only livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. The day before the new moon, while roaming through forests in search of animals, he saw a deer, but before his arrow flew he noticed the deer's family and their sadness at its impending death. So he let it live. He had still not caught anything when he was overtaken by nightfall and climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a Bael tree. His canteen leaked water, so he was both hungry and thirsty. These two torments kept him awake throughout the night, thinking of his poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously waiting for his return. To pass away the time he engaged himself in plucking the Bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.
The next day he returned home and bought some food for himself and his family. The moment he was about to break his fast a stranger came to him, begging for food. He served the food first to stranger and then had his own.
At the time of his death, he saw two messengers of Lord Shiva, sent to conduct his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. He learnt then for the first time of the great merit he had earned by unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri. The messengers told him that there had been a Lingam (a symbol for the worship of Shiva) at the bottom of the tree. The leaves he dropped had fallen on the Lingam, in imitation of its ritual worship. The water from his leaky canteen had washed the Lingam (also a ritual action), and he had fasted all day and all night. Thus, he unconsciously had worshipped the Lord.
As the conclusion of the tale the King said that he had lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages and now he was reborn as Chitrabhanu.
This story is also told in the Garuda Purana.
Way of observing shivaratri
Getting up early in the morning one meditates on the Infinitely Auspicious, ornated with thousands of splendid garlands, Who is in the form of the holy symbol of shiva(maha lingam). Bathing and staying clean the worship of Lord shiva in the form of shiva li.ngam is done in the four jamas of the night (four equal time intervals of the night). (Note that the linga worship is explicitly mentioned for this vratam as this is the time the God out of Its grace for the benefit of pashus appeared in a formless-form that is a symbol (lingam) from Its true nature of formlessness.)
Shivalaya Ottam In Kanayakumari
The south most corner of India is the Kanyakumari District - a very scenic place with fertile lands surrounded by mountains and ocean. This was part of the erstwhile thiruvidhangur state. The capitol of this state was padhmanabhapuram / kalkuLam. Around this town there are twelve nice abodes of Lord shiva inviting the devotees to worship the Lord Who is adorned by the nature - Moon, river & snakes, in this inspiring natural surroundings.
The devotees take up a run during the shiva ratri every year. In this they worship in all the twelve temples covering a distance of 50 miles in a day. They complete the run in the Everlasting Lord's suchindhram. They run holding a palm-leaf fan in their hand. They observe fast for a week before the day of the run. During the fasting period they eat tender coconut, tender palmyra during the day and tulsi and water in the night. Many of them chant govindha gopala while running.
There is an interesting story that is being told about this run, which is also called chaliya Ottam. according to this story the pAndava prince bhima wanted to get the milk of purushamrigam who was meditating Lord Shiva. When bhima approached him for the milk, he got disturbed and tries to catch bhima. The freigtened bhima drops a rudrAxa beed on the earth. It becomes a shiva lingam. vyagrapada maharishi being a devout yogi of Lord shiva, looses himself in the worship of the Mind-stealing Lord, leaving behind bhima. Again bhima tried to approach him for milk singing gopala govinda. Disturbed again the sage angrily catches him. The story repeats. This happens for twelve times and in the last time bhima puts his one leg in the place of the sage. His brother yudhishthira was called as the jury. In spite of bhima being his brother, he told the right justice that bhima was at fault. Impressed vyagrapadar gives off the milk bhima wanted. The truth of this story is difficult to be confirmed. It could be more a folklore. But very likely that these temples are worshipped by the great saint vyagrapadha, which is evident from the names of various places over here.
The twelve temples are:
6. Pannip pagam