Why do we celebrate Shivratri ?
Festival of Mahashivaratri is the most important festival for the millions of devotees of Lord Shiva. The festival has been accorded lot of significance in Hindu mythology. It says that a devotee who performs sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivratri is absolved of sins and attains moksha.
Importance and significance of Shivaratri in Hinduism
Festival of Mahashivaratri has tremendous significance in Hinduism. According to sacred scriptures, ritual worship of Lord Shiva on Shivratri festival that falls on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Phalgun pleases Lord Shiva the most. This fact is said to have been declared by Lord Shiva himself, when his consort Parvati asked him as to which ritual performed by his devotees pleases him the most.
Legends of Mahashivratri
There are various interesting legends related to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. According to one of the most popular legends, Shivaratri marks the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Some believe that it was on the auspicious night of Shivaratri that Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of the primal creation, preservation and destruction. Another popular Shivratri legend stated in Linga Purana states that it was on Shivaratri that Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Linga. Hence the day is considered to be extremely auspicious by Shiva devotees and they celebrate it as Mahashivaratri - the grand night of Shiva.
Apart from these important legends, it is said that the reunion of Lord Shiva and Parvati happened on the Shivratri day. Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati on the day. This legend is more popular in North India.
Another legend states that Lord Shiva performed the Taandava on this day.
Once a hunter set out for a hunt. He came near a pond, and for the purpose of hunting he climbed a "bel" tree (sacred to Shiva). Sitting on a branch he waited for game. But since the leaves obstructed his vision, he began to pluck a few leaves, which by chance fell on a Shiva Linga ("pindi"), which happened to be under that tree. Then a herd of deer came to drink water. The hunter took aim at a hind (female deer). But as she noticed the movement of the hunter, she cried out, "Please, wait a moment, before you shoot let me go home and meet my young ones for the last time. Afterwards you may take my life at your pleasure."
The hunter gave the hind permission to go home, and re-mained sitting on the tree waiting for her to return. Waiting the whole night he was forced to observe fast. On the Shiva Linga he had inadvertently offered the "bel" leaves. With his mouth he uttered the name of Shiva, thus he fulfilled the conditions needed for the observance of the Maha Shiva Ratra vow. So without knowing how, his heart was changed and he was filled with sentiments of mercy.
Before dawn the mother deer came back with the entire herd. "Now you may take my life at your pleasure," she said. Seeing the hind's honesty the hunter's heart was further softened, and he completely gave up his thought of killing the hind. Shankar was so pleased that immediately making all of them sit in a plane he took them to heaven. Both the hind and the hunter can be seen at night in the sky among the stars in the constellation of Orion ("Mrugshirsh nakshatra").