New Delhi: As the nation celebrates Maha Shivaratri on March 4, not many of us are aware of the significance of the Hindu festival.

Shivratri is not merely a day for worshipping Lord Shiva, but is a day of great significance according to the Puranas, with maximum details in the Skanda Purana, Linga Purana and Padma Purana.

Tantra, a branch of Hinduism distinct but not absolutely in contravention of the Vedas, holds that, at the stage to which Lord Shiva raised consciousness on this occasion, objective experience ceases to exist and the mind transcends time, space and causation. Tonight, Tantra says, is the brightest night of the soul, when the yogi attains the state of shoonya (nothingness), the post-samadhi stage.

Some people believe that on Shivratri, Lord Shiva drank the poison that emanated from the samudramanthan. Shiva drank the poison and stored it in his throat. However, the poison was so potent that it turned his neck blue. This is why Shiva is also called Neelakantha.

Others believe that the god performed the heavenly dance of creation, preservation and destruction. Devotees often sing hymns, read scriptures of Shiva and join the cosmic dance. Several important Hindu temples like Konark, Khajuraho, Pattadakal, Modhera and Chidambaram mark the day with dance festivals.

There is another sect of devotees who believe that on this very night, Shiva and Parvati got married. Devotees, especially in north India, decorate temples with flowers and take out a procession in the name of Bhole ki Baaraat.

Throughout the country, devotees celebrate this auspicious day in various ways. While some keep fast and chant prayers, others eulogise the ethics and virtues such as self-restraint, honesty, non-injury to others and forgiveness.

Not only in India, Shivratri is observed in other countries also. In Nepal, Maha Shivratri is a national holiday. It is celebrated with grandeur in temples, especially in the Pashupatinath temple and Shiva Shakti Peetham. On this auspicious day, while married women pray for the well-being of their husbands, the unmarried pray for a husband like Shiva.

In several Indo-Caribbean communities, Maha Shivratri is celebrated following rituals and giving an offering at temples. Hindus in Mauritius go on a pilgrimage to Ganga Talao, a crater-lake considered holy.