Maha Shivaratri is one of Hinduism's most unique festivals. Unlike other festivals, this festival is celebrated at night. This festival is also very different from all other Hindu festivals because no special foods are made on this day. People usually eat normal meals during the day, and at sunset, begin a fast along with prayers to Lord Shiva. This ritual ends at sunrise the next day, with a feast to break the fast. Foods in this meal include foods made in the other festivals.
There is a story associated with Maha Shivaratri. It goes as follows.
A hunter was roaming in the jungle on the bank on the Kolidum River. He was chasing after a deer when he heard the growl of a tiger. He ran as fast as he could and climbed up a tree nearby. The tiger stood at the foot of the tree, and did not leave. All through the night, the hunter had to stay up in the tree. Afraid that he would fall if he fell asleep, he gently plucked one leaf after another from the tree and threw it down. At the foot of the tree was a Shiva Linga (an image of Lord Shiva). Without realizing it, the hunter, who was sitting on a vilva tree, threw the leaves down at the Linga. The tiger left in at sunrise. The hunter looked down, and found that the tiger was gone, and in its place stood Lord Shiva. The hunter prostrated in front of Shiva and received mukti-the release from the cycle of birth and death.
This story illustrates the greatness of observing the ritual of Shivaratri. Today it is said that whoever fasts all through the night and worships Lord Shiva will attain heavenly bliss.
Above: Lord Shiva in his meditating form.
Above: Lord Shiva in his classic Natarajar (dancing) form.