Maha Shivratri or Shivaratri (Night of Shiva) is an Hindu festival celebrated every year on the 14th day in the Krishna Paksha of the month Phalguna in the Hindu Calendar. The most significant practices on this day are offerings of Bheel (Bilva) leaves to the Lord Shiva, fasting and all night long vigil.
There are many stories associated with Shivaratri and its origins.
During the samudra manthan by the gods and demons, haalaa-hala, a poison came out of the ocean. It was so toxic, that it effects would have wiped out the entire creation. At this juncture, as per the advice of Vishnu, gods approached Mahadev 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 doctors advised gods to keep Lord Shiva awake during the night as part of the therapy. To amuse Shiva and 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. Since then, on this day and night - devotees fast, keep vigil, sing glories of Lord and meditate.
After creation was complete, Parvati asked Shiva of which rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 14th night of the new moon, during the month of Phalgun, is my most favourite day. It is known as Shivaratri. Parvati repeated these words to her friends, from whom the word spread over all creation.
Once upon a time, a hunter worshipped Lord Shiva unknowingly on Shivaratri. He did this by dropping bheel leaves on a shiva linga at the base of a bheel tree from its branches where he was hiding and fasting all night. For this he was forgiven of all his sins. This forms the basis behind the offerings of bheel to the Lord on Shivaratri.
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