What Is Maha Shivratri? Pictures of Hindus Celebrating

Maha Shivratri, a Hindu holiday that honors Shiva, the god of darkness and destruction, will be celebrated on Tuesday. Devout Hindus and Shiva devotees typically spend one night each month reflecting on Shiva, a night known as Shivratri. But Maha Shivratri, or the great night of Shiva, is a special event celebrated once a year.

The holiday usually falls in February or March, depending on the lunar calendar.

917308204 Indian artists dressed as Lord Shiva (left) and goddess Durga (center) apply makeup before performing a religious function on the eve of the Maha Shivratri festival at a temple in Amritsar, India, on February 12. Hindus mark the Maha Shivratri festival by offering special prayers and fasting to worship Lord Shiva, the lord of destruction. NARINDER NANU/Getty Images

To celebrate, some Hindus visit temples dedicated to Shiva, known as Jyotirlinga Shiva temples. The most popular of India’s Jyotirlinga are in Varanasi, in the Uttar Pradesh region, and in Somnath, in Gujarat, where people make annual pilgrimages to celebrate Maha Shivratri. Shiva devotees who cannot travel spend the day chanting and meditating, practicing yoga or fasting.

917286344 Indian artists dressed as Lord Shiva take selfie pictures during a religious function on the eve of the Maha Shivratri festival at a temple in Amritsar, India, in February 12. ARINDER NANU/Getty Images

The Shiva Purana, one of the sacred Sanskrit texts that focus on Shiva and the goddess Parvati, claims that people who eat only fruit on Maha Shivratri will retain the spiritual benefits of Shiva worship the whole year round. Chanting the “Om Namah Shivaya” mantra is also believed to bring the Shiva devotee to a heightened level of spiritual awareness.

917182118 Indian Hindu devotees perform rituals over a lingam representing Lord Shiva at a temple on the eve of the Maha Shivratri festival in Amritsar, India, on February 12. NARINDER NANU/Getty Images

There are several legends that explain Maha Shivratri’s meaning and significance for Hindus. According to one, Maha Shivratri marks the day Shiva drank negativity and took it into his own body to protect the world. Shiva is often depicted as the destroyer of negativity, evil, ignorance and even death. Creation is only made possible with destruction, and so Shiva is needed to clear the way for creativity.

911268772 Indian Jangam monks rest after singing religious songs ahead of the Maha Shivratri festival in Jalandhar, India, on January 28. SHAMMI MEHRA/Getty Images

Another legend claims that Maha Shivratri is the night when Shiva performs the heavenly dance of creation.

Other stories claim that Maha Shivratri is the night when Shiva married Parvati, the goddess of love and devotion.

Shiva is the third god of the Hindu triad, following Brahma and Vishnu. Brahma is the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva is the destroyer.

917424366 A Hindu sadhu (holy man) smears colored paste onto his face at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, on February 12, on the eve of the Hindu festival Maha Shivaratri. Hindus mark the Maha Shivratri festival by offering prayers and fasting. PRAKASH MATHEMA/Getty Images

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