Maha Shivratri - Friday 24th February
Shivratri: Maha Vad Chaudash
Shiva is one element of the holy triumvirate along with Brahma and Vishnu. Brahma creates, Vishnu sustains while Shiva destroys the universe. All three remain constant as long as the cosmos exists. In that sense, Shivratri is not his birthday as such. The legend has it that the great Asp Shesha, on whose head the universe is held steady, felt lonely on his own. Therefore, Visnu and Shiva agreed to give him company in turn for six months each. When Shivji stays with Shesha for six months, the underground water turns warmer than the surface water. It is on Shivratri i.e. Maha Vad Chaudash that Shiva comes back to earth from netherworld. Hindus undertake special veneration to welcome Him back among them.
Almighty Lord Swaminarayan considered Shiva as a prime devotee of Bhagwan Narayan very highly and has mentioned him at five places in Shikshapatri. He has considered five deities: Vishnu, Siva, Ganapati, Parvati and the Sun reverent. In 47th verse, He asks us to consider Shiva as reverent as Bhagwan Narayan Himself, therefore, He asks us in verse 79 to observe a day of fast on Shivratri, just as we do on birth anniversaries of Bhagwan Ram, Krishna and Swaminarayan. Verse 23 says that we must undertake Darshan of Shivji reverently when we come across his temple. Finally, He (in verse 149) asks all His devotees to undertake veneration of Shiva in the holy month of Shravan.
As described in many scriptures in Vaasudev Mahatmya, the Devtas and demons churned the ocean to retrieve Laxmi. Before Laxmiji emerging from beneath the ocean, indeed, the first thing to emerge from the ocean was very potent poison. Before the poison can destroy the world, Shiva gulped down the poison at behest of Bhagwan. He held poison in his throat and as a result, his throat turned blue. He became famous as Nilkanth.
King Bhagirath undertook great austerity in order to bring Ganga Devi on earth to redeem his sixty thousand ancestors. Pleased with his efforts, Ganga agreed to come to earth. However, there was a major problem. Who could hold the torrential power of her water cascading from heaven? Shivji agreed to hold her torrent and release at a slower pace for Ganga to stream slowly. Therefore, Ganga is shown emerging from Siva's hair. Similarly the Moon rest on his head as Shiva had saved the Moon from the curse of extinction. As a prime devotee of Bhagwan Narayan, he is an epitome of Vairagya. Instead of building a magnificent palace, he chose to live in crematorium; instead of adorning himself with gold ornaments, he chose snakes as armlets and necklace and instead of wearing luxurious robes, he sprinkled ash on his body and chose clothes made from the bark of trees.