Shivaratri is on the dark night before every new moon. Shiva, a high-ranking demigod in Hindu mythology and yoga, wears a moon on his head because of his role in the story associated with the waning and waxing of the moon. He was unable to dismiss a curse that Chandra, the moon god, will fade, but he was able to make him wax again, and so the cycle.
Among all the twelve Shivaratri nights in a calendar year, the one in February-March is known as Maha Shivaratri – the great Shiva night – and it is widely celebrated by Hindus and yogis worldwide.
The Puranas contain many stories to describe the origin of Maha Shivaratri, including the marriage of Shiva with Parvati, and the one how Parvati performed a successful tapasya (sacrifice) and prayer for the protection of her husband on that moonless night.
One of the stories related to Maha Shivaratri is that of the churning of the Ocean of Milk. Both devas (gods) and asuras (demons) were churning the Ocean of Milk to obtain amrita (water of immortal life) but a poison that threatened the entire universe emerged from the ocean instead. To protect the universe, Shiva drank this poison and held it in his throat, which turned blue. Hence he was given the name Neelkanth, the blue throated one.
Shiva’s ability to transform the poison and thus change the fate of the universe is a profound teaching. When challenges present themselves in life, we can digest and transform them into something that is not harmful or violent in any way. It is the ability to absorb negativity without spilling it out, and give out only service.
Maha Shivaratri is a night to align with the energy and qualities of Shiva. Among all the twelve Shivaratri nights, Maha Shivaratri is the most auspicious.
Another story associated with Shivaratri is that of a hunter who inadvertently made an offering of leaves from the Bilva tree on that night, thus earning the protection from a lion. It highlights the auspiciousness of serving Shiva on this night.