Maha Shivratri is an auspicious Hindu festival that is dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva. The celebration falls on the 13<sup>th night and 14<sup>th day of the Hindu calendar month of Phalguna or Maagh every year and in 2016 it is being observed on the evening of 7 March.

Many Hindus believe that those who worship Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Maha Shivratri would be cleansed of all their sins, making it one of the most important festivals for the Hindu religion. Maha Shivratri is also said to be the day when Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati got married, bringing together two of the greatest forces in the universe, with Lord Shiva being known as the 'destroyer' of the Universe, paving the way for beneficial change.

IBTimes UK rounds up everything you need to know about the religious festival of Maha Shivratri.

Who is Lord Shiva?

He is one of three Hindu gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the universe, making him an extremely significant and important God in Hinduism. Lord Shiva's role was to destroy the universe in order to recreate it, with the destruction being viewed by Hindus as a positive and constructive thing that paves the way for ridding the world of imperfections.

As destroyer of the universe, Lord Shiva was known to have an untamed behaviour. He was only calmed by his wife Goddess Parvati, who would bring balance to his life and turn him into a lover. This is the reason why the day of their union is celebrated so widely among Hindus.

Lord Shiva is also believed to be the God of Yoga and is often portrayed in a yoga position.

What is the significance of the day for women?

Maha Shivratri is also an extremely significant day for Hindu women, who perform a hunger fast during the day to appease Lord Shiva's wife, Goddess Parvati. Parvati is the mother goddess in Hinduism and represents the goddess of love, fertility and devotion. Parvati is believed to be the goddess that blesses women with marital bliss and long and prosperous married life.She is also thought to represent divine strength and her relationship with Lord Shiva is one of equality, with Parvati always represented by the God's side.

What are the prayer ceremonies associated with Maha Shivratri?

Lord Shiva is often represented by the Shiva ling, a statue that represents the power of Shiva and his masculinity. Hindus believe that the Shiva ling represents the seed of the universe and on Maha Shivratri the Shiva ling is bathed in water, milk and honey as it is worshipped. Beautiful flowers are also placed around the statue.

The famous prayer ceremony conducted on this day is the Maha Rudra Abhishek, which is performed to gain the blessing of Lord Shiva. The puja is said to worship Lord Shiva in his "rudra" form, or "benevolent" form. It is said that the Maha Rudra Abhishek is hailed by all Vedic scriptures as one of the greatest pujas to perform in order to remove all evil and attain prosperity. Believers say that when you pray to Lord Shiva every negative form of energy that surrounds you is transformed into peace and joy.