For Shiva devotees across the capital, Monday started early. With a ritual bathing of Shivalingams and prayers, the devotees geared up for the festival of Maha Shivaratri. Unmarried women fasted on the occasion and prayed to Lord Shiva for a good husband.
"It's a ritual. On Maha Shivaratri, unmarried women observe fast from dawn to dusk and pray to Lord Shiva to give them a good spouse," Shivani Khanna, 20, told IANS.
"On Maha Shivaratri, offerings of milk, bhaang (hemp leaves) and Bel leaves are made at temples. I also prepared special sweets for the occasion," said Nisha Verma, a housewife who had come early in the morning to pray at a south Delhi temple.
"We pour water and a concoction of milk, rose water and honey on the Shivalingam while offering our prayers, four times during the day," she added.
Bathing of the Shivalingam and the different offerings are said to have their unique meanings.
"Smearing Sindoor and bathing the lingam with milk signifies sanitisation of the soul, offering of fruits represent a long life and fulfilment of desires while lighting of a lamp signifies achievement of knowledge," Verma told IANS.
People thronged temples across the city to offer prayers and pour milk on the Shivalingams.
Maha Shivaratri, which is celebrated in honour of Lord Shiva, falls on the 13th or 14th day of the month of Phalgun (February-March).
It is said that Maha Shivaratri is celebrated to commemorate the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati.
Devotees also take out processions to celebrate this holy marriage. A symbolic marriage of Shiva and Parvati is carried out by the priests in the Shiva temples in the evening.
"The festival is accorded much significance in the Hindu culture. While women and young girls observe a day-long fast, it is also believed that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on this day absolves one of all sins," said Rajan Pandit, a BPO employee and an ardent Shiva devotee.
Among the gods assigned importance in the Hindu religion, Shiva holds a special place for his role in both creation and destruction.
Lord Shiva is the most powerful of all the deities. He is the samharak (ultimate destroyer) of srishti (creation) and on Maha Shivaratri, he fulfils everyone's wishes, said a devotee.