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Maha Shivaratri

There is a legend about a time when the Asuras (demons) and the Gods joined hands to churn out Amrut (the nectar of life) from the depths of the ocean, using a mountain and a snake as a rope. Among the things that came out, was a pot of poison. This poison was so potent that it had the power to destroy the whole universe. When they realized what they had done, all the Gods and Demons ran in different directions to save themselves as none among them had the power to stop the spreading poison. On the request of the Gods, Lord Shiva went to the spot and drank the poison. Shocked, his wife Goddess Parvati tightened a noose over the neck of the Lord and managed to stop the poison from entering his body below the neck. However, the poison was so potent that it changed the colour of his face and neck to blue.

Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva. Devotees flock to shiv temples by the thousands and offer Bael or Bilva/Vilvam leaves to Lord Shiva. While some Hindus abstain from food for the whole day, others allow themselves one meal. People cluster around Shiva temples and after bathing, smear their bodies with holy ashes and keep reciting prayers to Lord Shiva. Extensive singing and dancing takes place to enable people to stay awake all night. Bhang (cannabis) is also consumed as part of the celebrations.

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