over India, Mahashivratri occurs on the 14th night
of the new moon during the dark half of the month of
Phalguna. On a moonless night in February every year,
occurs the night of Shiva, the destroyer. This is the
night when He is said to have performed the Tandava
or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and
Devotees of Shiva fast during the day and maintain a
long vigil during the night. In temples all across the
country, bells ring, sacred texts are chanted and traditional
offerings of leaves and milk are made to the Shiv lingam,
the phallic symbol of the god. There is a legend behind
Shiva's phallic form. It is believed that once Brahma
and Vishnu, the two pillars of the holy Trinity were
having an argument as to who was supreme. Brahma declared
himself to be the Creator of all and thus more revered.
Vishnu claimed that since he was the Creator and the
Destroyer, he commanded more respect. At that moment
a huge lingam ablaze with flames appeared from nowhere.
Both the gods were so overwhelmed by its constantly
increasing size, that they forgot their quarrel and
decided to determine its size. Vishnu took the form
of a boar and went to the netherworld while Brahma in
the form of a swan ascended to the skies. Neither could
ascertain the size. Just then, Shiva appeared out of
the lingam and proclaimed that he was the progenitor
of both of them. He was the Creator, Preserver and the
Destroyer. He demanded that thereafter he be worshipped
in his phallic form, the lingam.
On the day of Shivratri, the lingam is bathed with the
five sacred offerings of a cow, called the panchagavya
- milk, sour milk, urine, butter and dung. Thereafter
the five foods of immortality - milk, clarified butter,
curd, honey and sugar - are placed before the lingam.
Dhatura and jati, though poisonous fruits, are believed
to be sacred to Shiva and thus offered at his temple.
Eleven is considered to be the sacred number of the
Lord. Devotees keep a fast (vrat) on Shivratri and observe
strict rules, for vardan (boon).
Special celebrations are held at important Shiva temples
at Chidambaram, Kalahasi, Khajuraho and Varanasi. Worship
of Shiva is to release the worshipper from the cycle
of birth and rebirth. In Kashmir, the festival is held
for 15 days; the thirteenth day is observed as Herath,
a day of fast followed by a family feast.