The auspicious Hindu festival of Mahashivratri (Great Night of Lord Shiva) will be celebrated on 10 March, 2013, by devotees of Lord Shiva across the world.
Lord Shiva is believed to be one of the deities of the Hindu trinity, which also includes Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu. Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is the destroyer.
Mahashivratri is an auspicious occasion for Shiva, lord of destruction. The festival is observed on the 14th night of the new moon during the Hindu lunar month of Phalguna. Hindu festivals are mostly celebrated in the day, but Shivratri is a special occasion celebrated during the night.
According to Hindu mythology, Shivratri is the night when Lord Shiva is said to have performed the cosmic dance (Tandav) of primal creation, preservation and destruction. Apart from this, the celebration of Mahashivratri is attributed to different tales of mythology.
One popular legend is that Lord Shiva turned himself in the form of a Lingam for the first time on this night. Shiva is worshipped in the form of Lingam with a yoni on which the lingam sits. Yoni is the symbol of goddess Shakti - female creative energy. The lingam and the Yoni represent the union of male and female organs and the totality of creation.
Another popular legend linked to Shivratri is the churning of the ocean of milk (samudra manthan). As per the Hindu myth, the gods and the demons spotted a pot of poison when they were churning out the ocean of milk to drink amrita and achieve immortality. When they rushed to Lord Shiva for help, he drank the deadly poison which he held in his throat without swallowing the drink and saved the world. The poison turned his throat blue, and since then Lord Shiva had been popularly known as "Nilkantha." It is said that Mahashivratri is celebrated to mark this event.
On the occasion of Shivratri, devotees observe fasts, recite mantras and slokas of Lord Shiva to stay awake throughout night. Special puja ceremonies take place in Shiva temples across the nation. Kailash Mountain in the Himalayas is believed to be the home of Lord Shiva.
The Lord of destruction is regarded as an ascetic god. Devotees drink Thandai, a drink made with bhang (cannabis) and milk on this special occasion. One of the highlights of this festival is that the sadhus (Hindu holy men) smoke intoxicating substances such as marijuana on this occasion, as they believe that Lord Shiva is fond of it.