I have no personal belief in any monotheistic or dogmatic religion, despite being Christened and attending a Church of England school until I was 18, I am, however, respectful of everyone’s religious choices, all bar any form of extremism or proselytism, which has no place in today’s society. I am, however very spiritual, with an interest in Buddhist, Hindu and Pagan beliefs, arising predominantly from my love of nature, Yoga and humanistic traditions.
In every luni-solar month of the Hindu calendar, there is a Shivratri on the 13th night and 14th day – the biggest celebration is of the Hindu god Shiva comes once a year, in late winter – either in February or March, before spring arrives. Maha Shivaratri means ‘the great night of Shiva’, and will be celebrated this year on 24th February. There are many mythical stories behind Maha Shivaratri…..
The legend of Neelkantha – during the great mythical churning of the ocean – known as Samudra Manthan, and conducted by gods and demons so that nectar could be obtained to make them immortal – a pot of poison emerged.
This poison was so potent that nobody was prepared to even touch it – it had the potential to burn the whole world & destroy the universe. The only one who could get rid of the poison was Lord Shiva, who agreed to consume it, changing the colour of his neck to blue. For this reason, Lord Shiva is also called Neelkanth, where ‘Neela’ means blue and ‘Kantha’ means neck or throat. Lord Shiva was advised to stay awake during the night to stop the poison from entering his stomach, which would have resulted in certain death and so, the gods performed various dances and played music to stop him from sleeping. Shivratri is the celebration of Lord Shiva saving the world from the deadly poison.
Legend of Shiva Linga – The legend of Shiva Linga is also deeply related to Maha Shivratri. According to the story, Brahma and Vishnu searched hard to discover the Aadi (beginning) and the Antha (end) of Lord Shiva. It has been believed that on the 14th day in the dark fortnight of the month of Phalguna, Shiva first manifested himself in the form of a Linga. Since then, the day is considered to be extremely auspicious and is celebrated as Maha Shivratri – the grand night of Shiva. To celebrate this occasion, devotees of Lord Shiva keeps fast during the day and worship the Lord throughout the night. It is said that worshipping Lord Shiva on Shivratri bestows one with happiness and prosperity.
Legend of Ganga – The legend of Ganga is another popular legend which is related to Shivratri. Ganga’s descent from the heavens to the earth has been narrated in the Hindu mythological epic of Ramayana. This legend explains the popular custom of giving bath to Shiv Linga on Shivratri festival. According to this legend, Lord Shiva held out his thick matted hair to catch the river ganga, as she descended from heaven. The meandering through Shiva’s lock softened Ganga’s journey to the earth and the holy waters washed away the ashes of Bhagirath’ ancestors. The Ganga, thus, became an attribute of Shiva and therefore Shiva is also known as Gangadhara. Believing in this legend, Shiva is given a bath with gangajal and devotees take a dip in the holy water of river Ganga, on Shivratri.