The Significance of Mahashivratri :
There are several stories which are associated with this special grand night
of Lord Shiva:
1. Samudra Manthan Story:
During Samudra Manthan by the gods and demons, a highly toxic poison came
out of the ocean. As per the advice of Lord Vishnu, gods approached Lord
Shiva and prayed him to protect life by consuming this poison. Pleased with
their prayers, out of compassion for living beings, Lord Shiva drank this
poison and held it in his throat by binding it with a snake. The throat
became blue due to the poison (Thus Lord Shiva is also know as Neelakantha)
and Shiva remained unharmed. The wise men advised gods to keep Lord Shiva
awake during the night. To keep him awake, the gods took turn performing
various dances and playing music. A vigil was thus kept by the gods in
contemplation of Shiva. As the day broke out, Shiva, pleased with their
devotion blessed them all, and also said that whosoever worshipped &
contemplated on him on this day shall be blessed with the fulfillment of his
or her wishes. Since then, on this day and night - devotees fast, keep
vigil, sing glories of Lord and meditate.
2. Manifestation of Lord Shiv as a
Jyotirlinga on this day:
On this day manifested the great & also the first ever effulgent (Jyotirmaya)
form (Anala-skanda or a pillar of fire) of Lord Shiva in front of Lord
Vishnu & Brahmaji.
The story goes that once both Vishnuji & Brahmaji, got infected by ego. The
result was an clash between both these gods. In order to show their
respective superiority they decided to fight it out. Lord Shiva decided to
intervene so as to make them realise that there is something more to life
than the powers of an embodied beings. He manifested in the form of a huge
pillar of fire (Anala-skanda) whose beginning and end could not be seen.
Vishnuji & Brahmaji decided to check what this strange thing was. While
Vishnuji, in the form of varaha (boar) went down towards patal-loka to see
the end of this pillar, Brahmaji sitting on his swan went up. Even after
years of travel they could not see the beginning or the end of this
manifestation. Brahmaji saw a leaf falling off, and thought it fell down
from the top of pillar of fire, and returned satisfied that he had seen the
starting point. They came back, while Lord Vishnu accepted that he could not
see the end, Brahmaji said that he had seen, which was a lie. Lord Shiva
cursed Brahmaji that no will ever worship him. Then he too surrendered. This
manifestation of Lord Shiva in the form of the first effulgent linga was on
this special day of Mahashivratri, and thus all devotees pray to the
effulgent linga (jyotirlinga) of Lord Shiva.
3. Day of Reunion of Shiva & Parvati:
King Daksha, opposed Sati's marriage with Shiva. At a yagna (holy sacrifice)
the king ignored Shiva’s presence and thereby insulted the latter publicly.
Sati was so angered by this that she jumped into the sacrificial fire and
ended her life. Lord Shiva unleashed his fury at the death of his wife by
performing the violent dance, Tandava. He wiped out Daksha’s kingdom,
undertook rigorous penance and retired to the Himalayas. The Gods, who
feared that the severity of Shiva’s penance might bring an end to the world,
revived Sati in the new avatar of Parvati. Shiva-Parvati married and this
reunion is celebrated on Maha Shivaratri.
4. Story of Chitrabhanu:
In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma, whilst resting on the bed
of arrows and discoursing on Dharma, 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, was observing a fast with his wife, it being the
day of Mahashivratri. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of
The sage asked, "O king! why are you observing a fast today?"
King Chitrabhanu explained why. He had the gift of remembering the incidents
of his previous birth.
The king said to the sage: "In my past birth I was a hunter in Varanasi. My
name was Suswara. My livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. One
day I was roaming the forests in search of animals. I was overtaken by the
darkness of night. Unable to return home, I climbed a tree for shelter. It
happened to be a bel tree. I had shot a deer that day but I had no time to
take it home. I bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree. As I was
tormented by hunger and thirst, I kept awake throughout the night. I shed
profuse tears when I thought of my poor wife and children who were starving
and anxiously awaiting my return. To pass away the time that night I engaged
myself in plucking the bel leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.
"The day dawned. I returned home and sold the deer. I bought some food for
myself and for my family. I was about to break my fast when a stranger came
to me, begging for food. I served him first and then took my food.
"At the time of death, I saw two messengers of Lord Shiva. They were sent
down to conduct my soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. I learnt then for the
first time of the great merit I had earned by the unconscious worship of
Lord Shiva during the night of Shivratri. They told me that there was a
Lingam at the bottom of the tree. The leaves I dropped fell on the Lingam.
My tears which I had shed out of pure sorrow for my family fell onto the
Lingam and washed it. And I had fasted all day and all night. Thus did I
unconsciously worship the Lord.
"I lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages. I
am now reborn as Chitrabhanu." I have now realized about the infinite love &
compassion of Lord Shiva. Even unconscious acts of goodness are blessed in
such a way, then what to talk of our conscious acts of expressing our love,
respect and reverence for Lord Shiva. He is indeed Ashutosh, one who gets
pleased very soon. Lord Shiva is indeed an embodiment of infinite love, love
& compassion, that is why he is so easy to please. He showers us with his
blessings at every moment of our lives, may we all devote this day of
Mahashivratri to express our gratitude unto his feet. It is a very
5. Story of Lubdhak:
Another legend. There once lived a tribal named Lubdhak, who was a devotee
of Shiva. It was his usual practice to go into the forest to collect
firewood. One day he wandered deeper than usual and night fell before he
could come out. It was the night before the no moon night and the thin
crescent moon offered no light. He was not able to find his way in the dark
and soon got lost. A hungry tiger smelt him out and with a loud roar made
his intentions clear. Lubdhak knew he could not outrun the tiger and so he
climbed up a bel tree. In order to keep awake so that he would not fall down
in his sleep he began to pluck the leaves from the bel tree and drop them
one by one, each time chanting “Om Namah Shivaya”, which means I bow down to
Shiva. In this manner, he passed the night. Until dawn, he had dropped a
thousand bel leaves. When he descended the tree in the morning, he saw a
lingam, which he had missed in the dark. Unknowingly he had been dropping
leaves on the lingam. This was the 14th night of the waxing moon of the
month of Phalgun and came to be celebrated at Mahashivratri.
6. Spiritual Significance:
Maha is the Big One, Shiv means auspiciousness, and Ratri means night; this
is a day when we awake to the most auspicious truth within ourself. Night
stands for darkness i.e. ignorance, in which all beings sleep & then dream.
Our present transmigratory existence and limited individuality is nothing
but a big dream. Freedom is never by some unique or scintillating
experiences in this dreamy realm of existence, but only by waking up to that
which is not a product of mind. That which is not a product of mind is the
Self, the Atma. Mandukya Upanishad calls that non-relative truth of Self as
Shiva. That is referred to as the fourth state of the Self, the Turiya. It
is the most auspicious one, knowing which one truly wakes up and gets 'as
though' liberated. One who knows the Atma as Brahman alone is a liberated
The other three states apart from the Turiya are the waking, dream and the
deep sleep states - when we turn extrovert and try to get experiences from
the things around, revel in our imaginary worlds, or just switch off and
rest, respectively. The fact that the special sadhana of this day has been
kept for night implies that we need to simulate deep sleep, i.e. no flights
of mind as in waking or dream states. Turn away from all experiences,
physical or mental and just become quiet. No responsibilities, no desires,
no burden to achieve anything, no roles to play, no regrets, no aspirations
- just as in deep sleep but all consciously. When all relative roles and
their corresponding thoughts are kept aside and the mind is quiet, then that
which remains is that which is not a product of our minds - the Shiv tattva,
the turiya, the auspicious one. Let us awake to that and realize it to be
our real Self, thereafter, let this free and awakened mind respond to any
situation around, there will be just the fragrance of auspiciousness in
everything. That will be the real celebration of Mahashivrati.
How to Celebrate?
The devotees of Lord Shiva should preferably do the following things on this
1. Observe fast on this day, taking only fruits & milk.
2. Perform elaborate puja of Lord Shiva, and perform Rudrabhisheka. Chant
various hymns & bhajan of Lord Shiva.
3. Use this day to bring to your mind the infinite ways your life has been
blessed. In our obsession with thinking on what all I dont have we fail to
see the infinite ways in which we are so positively blessed. The fact that
you can read right now is a great blessing, ask someone who cannot see. Feel
truly blessed & gratified and express your thanks & devotion at the feet of
Lord by chanting the mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ as many times as you
4. Practice Dhyana for longer periods than the usual routine. Be one with
your loving God, and revel in utter fulfillment.
5. Remain more introvert on this day contemplating about the truths of life.
6. Go for darshan of Lord Shiva where he is properly & regularly worshipped.
7. Try to get darshan & satsang of some learned Mahatmas. Offer sewa at
Ashrams & Temples.