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Hindus in Birmingham and across the world are getting ready for the festival of Maha Shivaratri.

It's a major event in the calendar.

But what exactly does it mean?

What is Maha Shivaratri and what does it celebrate?

Shivaratri - sometimes written Shivratri - means Night of Shiva. This is a day in honour of the god Shiva and is held on the 13th or 14th day of every month.

But once a year, there is a Maha Shivaratri - or Great Night of Shiva - on the new moon day in Maagha, the 11th month in the Hindu calendar. This usually falls in February or March, before the arrival of spring.

In 2017, the date of the Maha Shivaratri is Friday, February 24.

What are the origins of this festival?

It was on this day that Shiva is said to have saved the world from destruction on condition that people worshipped him with great enthusiasm.

Another legend says that Shiva simply named this as his favourite day when asked by the goddess Parvati.

A third story says that a hunter was unable to find any game and so decided to wait in a wood apple tree. He threw down leaves in the hope of attracting deer but was unaware there was a sacred worshipping place to Shiva beneath the tree.

The god himself appeared and blessed the hunter with wisdom for his patience. From that day, the man stopped eating meat.

So what happens at Maha Shivaratri?
This is a major Hindu festival about overcoming darkness and ignorance in life and the world.

Unlike most other festivals in Hinduism, the Maha Shivaratri is held at night and is a solemn occasion rather than a time of revelry.

The focus is on fasting, prayers, poems, meditation and reflection and also includes an all-night vigil at temples, which are adorned with lights and colourful decorations.

This is a time to focus on restraint, forgiveness, repentance, honesty and kindness.

Offerings are made to Shiva of wood apple leaves, fruit, cold water, flowers, sugarcane, sweets and milk, while some worshippers fast all day and night and others do meditative yoga.

Fasting is believed to bring good luck to those who do it.

In temples dedicated to the deity, a sacred mantra is chanted.

Some devotees go on a pilgrimage to one of the 12 traditional shrines to Shiva - known as Jyotirlingams - located across India.

Some of the biggest Maha Shivaratri celebrations are in the Indian city of Ujjain, where large processions are held and people gather at the Mahakaleshwar Temple, one of the 12 shrines to Shiva.


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