Myths and Legends
The Shiv Puran relates a story of Maha
Shivaratri's glory. The most popular story associated to MahaShivaratri goes
A hunter was roaming in the jungle
on the bank on the Kolidum River. He was chasing after a deer when he heard
the growl of a tiger. He ran as fast as he could and climbed up a tree nearby.
The tiger stood at the foot of the tree, and did not leave. All through the
night, the hunter had to stay up in the tree. Afraid that he would fall if
he fell asleep, he gently plucked one leaf after another from the tree and
threw it down.
At the foot of the tree was a Shiva
Linga (an image of Lord Shiva). Without realizing it, the hunter, who was
sitting on a vilva tree, threw the leaves down at the Linga. The tiger left
in at sunrise. The hunter looked down, and found that the tiger was gone,
and in its place stood Lord Shiva. The hunter prostrated in front of Shiva
and received mukti-the release from the cycle of birth and death.
The popular story of the union of Shiva
and his consort, Parvati:
King Daksha, opposed Sati's marriage
with Shiva. At a yagnya (holy sacrifice) the king ignored Shiva’s presence
and thereby insulted the latter publicly. Sati was so angered by this that
she jumped into the sacrificial fire and ended her life. Lord Shiva unleashed
his fury at the death of his wife by performing the violent dance, Taandav.
He wiped out Daksha’s kingdom, undertook rigorous penance and retired
to the Himalayas. The Gods, who feared that the severity of Shiva’s
penance might bring an end to the world, revived Sati in the new avatar of
Parvati. Shiva-Parvati married and this reunion is celebrated on Maha Shivratri.
There's another popular myth/legend.
This story illustrates the greatness of observing the ritual of Shivaratri.
Today it is said that whoever fasts all through the night and worships Lord
Shiva will attain heavenly bliss:
In ancient times, a Bheel (forest inhabitant)
named Gurudruha trudged through a forest to hunt deer. At night, without having
sighted a single animal, he unknowingly climbed a bili tree on the banks of
a lake. Later at night, a doe arrived to drink water. Gurudruha aimed his
bow and arrow at her. While aiming, he unknowingly dropped some bili leaves
and his drinking water below on a Shivaling. The deer then requested him to
allow her to entrust her fawns to her husband, after which she would return.
After much haggling he agreed. While awaiting her return, he stayed awake
by aimlessly plucking leaves and dropping them below. Again they fell on the
Shivaling. Thus he unknowingly performed its puja while remaining awake all
night. Finally the doe returned with her family, She informed him that along
with her, he'd have to kill her family too. As he aimed, some more leaves
fluttered down on the Shivaling. The collective punya (spiritual merit) accrued
from the puja performed unknowingly, eradicated all his sins. This purified
his heart. Repenting his flawed life of sin, he set the deer free. As he sat
repenting, Lord Shiv manifested in front of him and granted a boon, "You
shall be born in a town known as Shrungver, as a man named Gruha. Lord Vishnu
will grace your home as Lord Rama and redeem you". Lord Shiva also blessed
the deer which attained a better destiny. The Garud and Skand Puranas cite
similar versions, about a king named Sundersenak and an evil hunter named
MahaShivaratri is celebrated at night,
which falls on the 13th or the 14th night of the new moon during Krishna
Paksha (dark quarter of the moon) in the Hindu month of Phalgun,
when Lord Shiv manifested as Shivalinga (Shivalingam). There have been numerous
stories extolling the glory of Mahadeva (Lord Shiva) in the Puranas. He has
been worshipped in Bhaarat (India) since ancient times.
Archaeologists have discovered his meditative-postured
moorti (idol) in Mohenjo-daro. Initially his moorti was worshipped.
Later this was replaced by the Shivalinga, symbolically representing the flame
(jyoti) of the fire, and not as a phallic symbol, as has been persistently
and ignominiously misrepresented by non-Hindu writers since colonial times.
The Shvetaashvatara Upanishad (1-13) refers to Shivalinga upasana-worship.
Two other significant events occurred
on MahaShivaratri; the onset of Dwaapara Yuga (yuga = set
of a few million Hindu years) and the manifestation of the Dwaadash Swayambhu Jyotirlingam (12 self-born phalluses of fire) of Bhaarata (India).