MONDAY, MARCH 7: Millions of Hindus worldwide chant, worship and fast for Lord Shiva before heading into a nighttime vigil of devotion, for the auspicious Hindu holiday of Maha Shivaratri. (Dates vary by region.) A member of the divine Hindu Trinity, Lord Shiva is associated with a multitude of legends and is held in regard as the ideal husband. Hindu tradition tells that Lord Shiva generates, sustains and dispels the universe in infinite cycles, and that on this holy day, the deity performed the Tandava—the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction. Maha Shivaratri is the principal festival for Lord Shiva.
THE LEGENDS OF LORD SHIVA
As Maha Shivaratri is celebrated across India, Nepal, Trinidad, Tobago and other parts of the world, legend tells that Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, were married on this day. Many married women pray for their own husbands today, and single women pray that they will find a husband like Lord Shiva. Another legend tells that Lord Shiva manifested in the form of a Linga on Maha Shivaratri, and thus the day is considered especially auspicious.
RITUALS: MEDITATION AND MILK BATHS
On most holy days, Hindus practice yoga and meditation, and on the night of Maha Shivaratri, many devotees meditate or sing devotional songs throughout the night. During much of the day, temples are visited and holy ash from sacred fires is worn on the foreheads of Shiva devotees. Statues of Lord Shiva are bathed in milk, honey and water, and bilva, or bael, leaves are offered to the supreme deity.