Thousands of devotees observed a fast and stood in snaking queues early on Friday to offer prayers at the famed Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar on the occasion of Mahashivaratri.
They thronged the 11th century temple early morning soon after special rituals began at about 3.30 am to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva, police inspector Alok Kumar Jena said.
Celebrated in honour of Hindu god Shiva, one of the holy trinity along with Vishnu and Brahma, Mahashivratri is celebrated on the 13th or 14th day of the waning moon in the month Phalgun (February-March) by the Indian calendar. Hindu mythology says Shiva married Parvati on this day. The devout believe that worshipping Shiva on this day brings happiness and prosperity.
The queue of devotees standing outside the Lingaraj temple stretched to over two kilometres at around 8 a.m., an eyewitness said.
"I have been queuing since 3 am thinking that I would offer prayers early. When I came here, thousands of others were already waiting here," said Sujata Mishra, a devotee.
The temple authorities have also planned to launch a website dedicated to the Lingaraj temple, officials said.
Police made elaborate security arrangements around the temple for the mega religious celebration. Over 1,500 police personnel were deployed and vehicular movement was restricted in certain routes leading to the temple, Jena said.
A large number of devotees flocked to Shiva temples in other parts of the state as well.
Huge crowds were seen in Shiva temples like Chandrasekhar temple in Dhenkanal district, Dhabaleswar temple of Cuttack, Vedavyas of Sundergarh, Gupteswar temple of Koraput, Mukteswar in Ganjam, Akhandalmani of Bhadrak and Sriloknath temple in Puri.
Buses were also running to full capacity on these routes.
Apart from day and night fasting, 'bel' leaves are offered to Shiva on this auspicious day. The main celebrations take place at night when devotees pray the night long.
The devout usually break their fast after the 'Mahadipa' (a huge candle) is lit on the temple spire.