Today is a national holiday in Sri Lanka for the Tamil Hindu minority. Maha Shivaratri, also spelt Mahasivaratri, is a day of religious observance for Hindus all over the world. Shivaratri is celebrated on the night before New Moon in the month Phalguna (also spelt Falgun), which is the 12th month in the Hindu luni-solar calendar. Sri Lankan Hindus visit their temples (Kovils) to receive blessings from their priests, devotees offer fruits and flowers and bel leaves on Shiva Lingams.The festival of Maha Shivaratri is also marked by fasting and keeping a night long vigil. Most ceremonies involving prayers and hymns take place at night.
Maha Shivaratri marks several events of Shiva mythology:
It is believed to be the night when Lord Shiva performed the cosmic creation dance, Tandava, which is of utmost importance for Tamils in particular.
Maha Shivaratri is also believed to be the day on which Lord Shiva married his consort Parvati.
Another story said to have happened on Mahashivaratri is the appearance of Lord Shiva as the burning pillar, Anala Skanda, which settled a dispute between Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma.
Furthermore, Maha Shivaratri is connected to an important episode of Vishnuite mythology, Shiva played an important role during the Churning of the Milk Ocean, which is the story about Vishnu’s second Avatar Kurma, the cosmic turtle. In this legend, the cosmic snake Vasuki allowed the gods and demons to use him as their churning rope, binding him to Mount Mandara, in order to extract Amrita, the ambrosia of immortality. During the Churning of the Milk Ocean (Samudra Manthan), it happened that Vasuki spit toxic poison, which threatened to destroy the created world of beings. Lord Vishnu advised the gods to seek protection from Lord Shiva. Shiva drank the poison, but Parvati tied his throat to prevent him from swallowing it. This is why Shiva’s throat got its blue colour. The other gods were advised to keep Lord Shiva awake during the night to avoid the poison harming him. This is why music is played all night long.
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