Yesterday was Maha Shivratri. Maha Shivratri is a very auspicious festival for Hindus. Translated, Maha Shivratri means the Great Night of Lord Shiva. Lets take a step back … In Hinduism, the Trinity comprises of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Lord Brahma is the Creator of all that is created.Lord Vishnu is the Sustainer, He keeps the creation in motion and sustains it. Lord Shiva is the Destroyer, who dissolves this creation at the end of its cycle. Now, this is sometimes difficult to grasp for someone not intimately familiar with Hindu philosophy.
In Hindu philosophy, destruction isnt necessarily a bad thing. Destruction paves the way for the creation of something new. Destruction enables creation to keep going. An example of this is how bushfires help the environment. So destruction is a part of life, as is death. Of course, at the more subtle level, Lord Shiva, designated as the King of Yogis (the path of Yoga is to transcend the ego, and unite with God) is the Lord of Destruction of this material delusion, of the ego, and therefore, He helps the devotee to transcend the ego, and reach to God.
In Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva is called Ashutosh … He who is pleased with little. A little devotion, small actions of the devotee please The Lord immensely. This is where one of the legends for Maha Shivratri comes. Therefore, when a hunter took refuge on top of a tree, which happened to be the Bel tree (the leaves of this tree are considered especially dear to Lord Shiva), and his water-container leaked, and the water fell, and to pass the time, he took to plucking the leaves of the tree and dropping them on the ground, and there was a Shiva Linga (the symbol for the worship of Lord Shiva) below the tree, on which the water and the leaves fell (and these constitute the ritual worship of Lord Shiva), The Lord was extremely pleased.
According to another legend, it is on this day, after the churning of the ocean of milk, when both nectar and poison were created, Lord Shiva drank the poison. He held the poison in His throat, which caused His throat to become blue, thus giving Him the name Neelkanth (The Blue-Throated One).
This is also the day on which the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati was solemnized.
According to another legend, one day, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma were debating their own powers. They asked Lord Shiva to intervene, and to tell who of the two Lords was more powerful. To solve the problem, Lord Shiva appeared in the form of a flaming Linga, and asked both Lord Vishna and Lord Brahma to locate the end of the linga. Lord Brahma took the form of a swam and went upwards, while Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar and went downwards. Neither could find the end of the flaming linga, because this represented The Lord Himself, who is Infinite. Lord Brahma, however, got a Ketaki flower to falsely say that he had seen the end of the flaming pillar, enabling Him to claim superiority. At this point, Lord Shiva emerged from the flaming pillar, to tell the two Lords about the Truth. At this point, Lord Shiva told Lord Brahma that for telling a lie, He would not be worshipped, which explains why there are very few Temples to Lord Brahma.
Another legend has to do with the advent of the Ganga on Earth. When King Sagar, the king of Ayodhya, did the Ashwamedha Yagya for the 100th time, giving him full superiority of earth, Lord Indra, the king of Heaven, hid his horse, which was the symbol of King Sagar’s superiority, in Kapila Muni’s ashrama. As the princes of Ayodhya reached Kapila Muni’s ashrama in search of the horse, they mistook the Muni to be the one who took the horse, and attacked Him. Kapila Muni burnt all the princes to ashes. One of King Sagar’s grandsons, Bhagirath performed penance for the deliverance of his uncles, which could be achieved by bringing the Ganga on earth, to wash the ashes of the princes. However, the impact of the advent of the Ganga on the earth could not be withstodd by this world, and so, Lord Shiva agreed to catch the river as She descended to the earth. Thus, Lord Shiva is also called Gangadhar, the holder of the Ganga!
Based on all these legends is celebrated the festival of Maha Shivratri!