New Delhi: People were in a pious mood as they celebrated Mahashivratri and devotees across the country thronged temples to offer prayers to Lord Shiva.

Long queues of pilgrims were seen outside Shiva temples, including 12 Jyotilingams, Har-Ki-Pauri and Daksha Prajapti temples.

Lakhs of devotees took a holy dip in the River Ganga in Haridwar and offered prayers. Hindus also observed fasts, not only in India but across the world, including Hindu nation, Nepal.

The festival celebrates the marriage of Lord Shiva to the Goddess Parvati and holds immense importance in the Hindu religion.

Thousands of devotees thronged the banks of River Periyar in Kerala to offer prayers for their ancestors on the occasion. Many people offered 'Tharpanam' (offerings to the ancestors) after a dip in the river.

Security arrangements were in place in and around the temples as well as bathing ghats in view of a huge rush of pilgrims.

Temples were beautifully decorated and devotees offered milk and ‘Gangajal’ to the Jyotilingams. Traditional marriage processions of Lord Shiva were taken out in several cities.

Jyotirlingam is a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva where the lord is worshipped in the form of a Jyotirlingam or "Lingam of Light".

There are said to be 12 Jyotirlingam shrines in India. It is believed that a person who has attained a certain degree of spirituality sees these lingas as columns of fire piercing through the earth.

There are 12 famous Jyotirlingams where Lord Shiva appeared in the form of light (Jyothi) lingam. These have been worshipped from time immemorial.

 Somnath Temple, Gujarat
The Sparsa Linga of Somnath is described as a bright sun, the size of an egg, lodged underground. The Mahabharata also refers to the Prabhasa Kshetra and the legend of the moon worshipping Shiva.

Mallikarjun Temple in Andhra Pradesh
Lord Shiva took the form of Jyotirlingam and resided on that mountain by the name of Mallikarjuna. Mallika means Parvati, while Arjuna is another name of Shiva. In this way both Shiva and Parvati came to reside in this lingam. It is said that by merely seeing the tip of mountain one is emancipated from all his sins and worries. The person becomes free from the vicious cycle of life and death.

Mahakaleshwara Temple in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh
According to another popular legend related to Mahakal Temple, a demon by name, Dushana tormented the residents of Avanti. Shiva appeared from the ground and vanquished the demon. Then, upon the request of the inhabitants of Avanti, Shiva took up a permanent abode here as Mahakaleshwara Jyotirlingam.

Omkareshwar Temple, Madhya Pradesh
Another popular legend says that once upon a time Vidhya Parvat practiced severe penance and worshipped Parthivarchana along with Lord Omkareshwar for nearly six months. As a result Lord Shiva was pleased and blessed him with the desire boon. On the sincere request of all the gods and the sages Lord Shiva made two parts of the lings. One half being Omkareshwara and the other Amaleshwara or Amareshwar.

Vaidyanath Temple in Deogarh, Bihar
Devotees of Lord Shiva believe that by sincere worship of Vaijnath Jyotirlingam a person is relieved of all worries and miseries in life. It is also said that by worshipping in the shrine a person attains Moksha and all types of happiness. As a tradition, devotees carry ‘Kanwars’ on their shoulders and complete their travel here.

Bhimashankar Temple near Pune, Maharashtra
Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of the Bhimashankar Jyotirlingam. It is believed that the sweat that poured forth from Lord Shiva’s body after the battle formed the Bhimarathi River.

Rameshwaram Temple, Tamil Nadu
It is said that Hanuman was entrusted with the task of bringing an image of Viswanathar from Banaras. Anticipating delay in Hanuman's return from Benares, Rama offered worship to a Shivalingam at a pre-chosen auspicious moment. This lingam is referred to as Ramalingam and the town is known as Rameswaram.

Nageshwar Temple in Dwarka, Gujarat
This Jyotirlingam manifestation of Shiva is worshipped as Nageswara. Two other sites in India, one near Audhgram near Purna in Andhra Pradesh and another near Almora in Uttar Pradesh also enshrine temples to Nageswara Jyotirlingam. According to the Shiv Purana, anyone who ever with devotion reads the birth and greatness of this Jyotirlingam shall beget all material happiness and divine status in the end.

Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi
Some also believe that the Lord resides here and is the giver of liberation and happiness. The one who prays and worships Vishweshwar with devotion attains all his desires and one who incessantly recites his name attains all siddhis and finally gets liberated.

Trimbakeshwar Temple in Nasik, Maharashtra
According to Shiv Purana, it is because of the earnest request of Godavari, Gautam Rishi and other gods that Lord Shiva agreed to reside here and assumed the famous name Trimbakeshwar. Interestingly, locals refer to the river here as Ganga and not as Godavari. All the heavenly Gods promised to come down to Nasik, once in twelve years, when Jupiter resides in the zodiac sign of Leo.

Kedarnath Temple, Uttrakhand
Legend goes that Nara and Narayana - two incarnations of Vishnu performed severe penance in Badrikashraya of Bharat Khand, in front of a Shivalingam fashioned out of earth. Pleased with their devotion, Lord Shiva appeared in front of them and said that they may ask for a boon. Nar and Narayan requested Shiva to take up a permanent abode as a Jyotirlingam at Kedarnath so that all people who worship Shiva shall be freed from their miseries.

Grishneshwar Temple in Daulatabad, Maharashtra
Lord Shiva manifested himself in the form of a Jyotirlingam and assumed the name Ghushmeshwar and the lake was named as Shivalaya thereafter.

(JPN)