Thousands of devotees early on Friday thronged temples dedicated to Lord Shiva across Orissa on the occasion of Shivratri.
Shivratri is celebrated on the 13th or 14th day of the dark half (Krishna Paksha) of Phalgun (February-March), according to the Hindu calendar. It is widely believed that Shiva, one of the holy trinity along with Vishnu and Brahma, married Parvati on this day.
While over 20,000 people, including women and children, offered prayers at the 11th century, 180-feet-high Lingaraj temple here, several thousands visited the Loknath temple in Puri, a state intelligence official said.
"More than 5,000 devotees are still queueing up," he added.
Daylong fasting and offerings of bael leaves are two significant practices on this day. Hymns in praise of Shiva are chanted throughout the night because it is believed that the one who does so with full devotion is freed of all sins.
A large number of devotees also thronged Shiva temples in Huma in the western district of Sambalpur, Vedvyas in Sundergarh district and temples in other cities and villages.
"The crowds will increase by night as many people observe a fast on this day and stay in the temples through the night to offer prayers to Shiva," the official noted.
Security has been tightened at most temples in Orissa to keep a check on the swelling crowds.
"We have deployed over 500 policemen at Lingaraj temple to maintain law and order. Security has also been beefed up near Shiva temples across the state," he said.