Today, 13th February is the festival of Maha Shivaratri. Maha Shivaratri or Shivaratri festival is celebrated according to the Telugu lunar calendar on Chaturdashi night (the night before the New Moon) during Krishna/Bahula Paksham of Palguna Masam. Maha Shivaratri means the Great night of Shiva. Maha Shivaratri is a very important festival celebrated throughout the length and breadth of the country with great devotion. This is the day on which Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati. And it is on Shivaratri night that Lord Shiva performed Thandavam dance (Shiva Thandavam). Performing Abhishekam and offering prayers on this day is considered very significant in seeking the blessings of Lord Shiva. In the morning devotees bathe in a holy river if possible, fast the whole day, visit a Shiva Temple and perform pooja and after sunset they consume some fruit and milk. Then the whole night they keep awake. To keep awake they may listen to religious discourses, stories, doing bhajana, watching religious movies that are telecast by almost all Telugu TV channels, playing some indoor games and Anthakshari etc.
Hindu mythology also tells us of how some persons not knowing of Maha Shivaratri inadvertently performed Shiva pooja on this day and attained God’s blessings and Moksham. A very ancient King, Chitrabhanu was performing Maha Shivaratri with great fervor and when asked about his devotion he narrated the reasons as follows. He had knowledge of his previous birth. He was then a hunter, solely living by killing birds and animals. The day before a New Moon he could not get hold of any food till very late. As it became very dark by then he could not go home. He climbed a tree to rest there. Then accidentally the water container he was carrying started leaking and got emptied. Feeling thirsty, hungry and thinking of his family’s plight that night he could not go to sleep. Out of frustration he began to pluck the leaves of the tree and drop them down. Unknown to him the water from his canister leaked on to the Shiva Lingam below the tree which was as if he had performed the Abhishekam. And the leaves he dropped down fell on the Lingam as an offering. The leaves of this tree called Bilwa patram are considered a very important offering to Lord Shiva. And that night happened to be Maha Shivaratri. As a result he attained Moksham in that life and went to heaven.
Another popular and similar narration is that of Baktha Kannappa. Kannappa was also a hunter. From a non-believer he becomes a believer on Maha Shivaratri day after inadvertently performing pooja from the top of a Bilwa tree to the Shiva Lingam below. Unlike the King’s version he gets on top of the tree that night afraid of his wife’s scolding for not bringing home any food. He begins to perform pooja in his crude way. Later one day when he cannot get hold of any fruit or animal, he prays before the Shiva Lingam asking God to help him in his hunt and that he would offer some of the food he gets to God. He then finds and kills a wild boar. He cooks some of it and offers it to God. A little later he finds that one eye of the Shiva Lingam has become red and is shedding tears. Thinking that God is in pain after accepting his offering he pulls out his eye and replaces it on the Shiva Lingam. Then the other eye of the Shiva Lingam also becomes red and sheds tears. Then he pulls out that eye also from the Shiva Lingam and marking the empty socket with his foot he pulls out his other eye and places it in the Shiva Lingam. Lord Shiva is pleased with his devotion and concern for him and appears before him. And to enable Kannappa to see him God blesses him with eyes and asks him to seek any favor. Baktha kannappa seeks to be with God in heaven. I picked up this story from the Telugu movie called Baktha Kannappa.