From genesis to cultural significance: Everything you need to know about Mahashivaratri

As the marriage between Shiva and Parvati was solemnized in the month of Falgun, the day of their union began to be celebrated as a special day of Mahashivaratri every year by the devotees of the Lord.

Photo: Nimesh Jung Rai

Birendra Madai

  • Read Time 5 min.

Today is Mahashivaratri. As in the past, Hindu devotees from around the country and our neighboring nation India have arrived in the valley and gathered at the sacred temple of Pashupatinath for the annual celebration of the god of destruction–Shiva.

Mahashivratri is one of the most significant among the sacred festivals of Hindu people who form a majority of the population in our nation. Literally, Mahashivaratri translates to ‘the greatest night of Lord Shiva’, which is the most energetically and splendidly celebrated festival in Nepal. 

Actually, the day before the new moon of every month is regarded as Shivaratri, according to Hindu Dharmashastra, which makes a total of twelve Shivaratris in a single calendar year. Among them, the particular Shivaratri that falls on the new moon day of eleventh month of the lunar calendar, Falgun, is widely cherished as Mahashivaratri, or the greatest night of lord Shiva.

The festival is celebrated in the grace, remembrance and commemoration of the grand marriage anniversary of the god of destruction, Shiva, with the goddess of fertility, love and beauty, Parvati. 

There are various legends surrounding the initiation of the celebration of Mahashivaratri. Among them, I find the holy story of love between Lord Shiva and Parvati as the most divine, convincing and interesting one.

Divine love  

Daksha Prajapati was the son of Brahma, the creator of the earth. After he self-imposed a rigorous penance upon himself asking for Sati to be reincarnated as his beloved daughter, the god granted him with the boon. When Sati was born to him and his wife Prasuti, she instantly became the apple of his eye despite the fact that he had other daughters, too. 

For Brahma, the creation of the world was not sufficient in itself. A set of codes of conduct was significant to ensure that law and order were mandatorily paid heed as a major portion of human society. Brahma empowered Daksha with inordinate powers to set the codes and curb indiscipline from the human race. Soon Daksha’s words transformed as equivalent to law and as a consequence a sense of arrogance and ego developed within him. He began to self-proclaim himself to be falling in the same category as that of the Tridevs.

Daksha deeply despised Shiva from the core of his heart as Shiva was an ultimate free spirit, the Yogi, who had no interest in the codes and conducts set in place by Daksha. Shiva was the strongest and the wisest on the earth and was acquainted with the scholarly knowledge of all spiritual texts. He had the mastery of weapons and knew all the casts of arts from dance to sculpture. 

Most of the time he resided in the snow-capped mountains of Kailash completely submerged into the beauty of meditation and came around rarely only when his staunchest devotees wanted boons and were in trouble.

It is believed that any person can get over their past sins or wrong deeds committed out of ignorance or misunderstanding by offering prayers to Lord Shiva on the day of Mahashivaratri. 

When Sati heard tales about lord Shiva, he became her all-consuming passion and destination for life. However, when her father heard this, he was infuriated and left no stones unturned to prevent Sati from marrying Shiva–even by trying to blackmail her. When he realized that Sati would no longer listen to him, he immediately held a Swayamvar for his daughter where he did not invite Shiva. To make things worse, Daksha installed Shiva’s statue beside the entrance to the palace as a doorkeeper. When it was time for Sati to choose the bridegroom, she ignored all the well-known, reputed and powerful princes and put her wedding garland around the neck of the doorkeeper’s statue. Lord Shiva then manifested himself and married her. 

Daksha’s fury saw no bounds. He quickly came up with an idea to humiliate Lord Shiva. Right away he ordered for the grandest Yagya in the palace. He deliberately did not invite Sati and Shiva to the ceremony. When Sati went to the event in order to mend the relationship of her two men whom she loved dearly, her hopes of facilitating a respite between her father and her husband were dashed. Her father kept insulting and humiliating her beloved husband and in those anguished moments, she could not tolerate any more and thus decided to self-immolate in the Yagya fire. 

Sati becomes Parvati 

Sati was later reborn as Parvati to the King of the Himalayas Himavat and his wife Menavati. From early life, Parvati had realized that her ultimate passion in life was to tie a nuptial knot with Lord Shiva.

The entire universe was desperately waiting for her union with Shiva, all the Rishis of that time including Devarishi Narad comforted her.

She had been blessed with uncontested and unparalleled beauty and possessed all human magnificence for an ideal wife; all she had to do was to present a proposal before the Lord.

After the demise of Sati, Shiva had been continuously meditating for millennia in Kailash Parvat. Despite Parvati’s tremendous efforts, she was not able to gain the attention of Lord Shiva. Although she suffered the wounds of hurt and insult from Shiva’s rejections and ignorance on multiple occasions, Parvati resolved that no matter what it takes, she will attain the love of Shiva.

With the advice of Narad–that no God ever turns his back on Bhakti (devotion)–Parvati began to meditate. She meditated for thousands of years by standing on hot coal and then in the cold snow of the Himalayas by standing on only one leg. When she finally developed her own power, then only Shiva felt her presence and got awakened from his long seated meditation.

Parvati was finally able to win the heart of Lord Shiva and their love finally changed into marriage over time ultimately taking him away from the world of asceticism. 

According to Hindu mythology, Hindu gods, goddesses, animals and even demons escorted Shiva and Parvati on the night of the marriage.

As their marriage was solemnized in the month of Falgun, the day of union of Lord Shiva and Parvati was celebrated as a special day of Mahashivaratri thereafter every year by the devotees of the Lord. 

According to another popular belief, the world was facing heavy destruction. So, Goddess Parvati pleaded Lord Shiva to save the earth from its demolition which Shiva agreed to by placing a condition–the people of the earth would have to worship him with love, passion and dedication in return. From that day onwards–the night when Shiv saved the mother earth and the entire human race–Mahashivaratri was celebrated and cherished every year.

 Significance of Mahashivaratri 

Mahashivratri is equally significant for all people, be it a person leading a family life or the ambitious people running after their destinations of life. People who live in a family situation celebrate the festival as the wedding anniversary and the victory of love over hatred and any other ill forces of the universe.

On this auspicious occasion, wives take a fast for the long and healthy life of their beloved husbands. Those people who are occupied with their dreams and worldly ambitions see this day as the day when Shiva conquered all his enemies. 

Likewise, humanity submerged in the Yogic tradition worship Shiva as the Adi Guru, the first Guru from whom the science of Yoga originated. It is also widely believed that sitting still by making the spines vertical and staying awake throughout the night brings leaps of energy into the worshiper’s body. In recent days this claim has also been backed by scientific evidence.

Among all the Hindus throughout the globe, Mahashivaratri is a solemn festival that marks the memento of ‘overcoming darkness and ignorance in life.’ People widely believe that on this auspicious night any person can get over their past sins or wrong deeds committed out of ignorance or misunderstanding and can make a start in their life by offering prayers to Lord Shiva. 

Let’s mark this occasion to pay respect to Lord Shiva and Parvati, who are considered to be the epitome of love and power and togetherness, to wish well for each other and to pray for the wellbeing of humanity.

Birendra Madai is a BA LLB student at Nepal Law Campus .