NEW DELHI: Millions of Hindus thronged temples across the country Monday to celebrate Mahashivaratri, with some shrines receiving as many as one hundred thousand devouts.
It is the first time after 11 years that the festival has fallen on a Monday, a day when devouts normally offer prayers to Lord Shiva.
From the crack of dawn, huge crowds visited temples big and small all over the country. The biggest and better known Shiv temples naturally attracted more people.
"This year's Mahashivaratri has its own significance as it falls on a Monday," a priest at Delhi's famed Birla Mandir said.
There were mammoth crowds at the 12 Jyotrilinga temples spread acorss the country including in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Over one lakh devotees visited the 11th century ancient Lingaraj temple at Bhubaneswar.
In Bangalore, an equal number of devotees from 60 countries participated in the festivities organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living.
In Tamil Nadu, devotion was at its peak in the famous Shiva temples of Madurai, Thiruvannamalai, Chidambaram and Thanjavur.
Shiva temples in West Bengal also drew a mass of devotees who bathed the Shivalingams with water and offered coconuts as well as flowers.
Those flocking to temples included a large number who observed fast during the day. Unmarried women prayed for husbands.
Some poured water and a concoction of milk, rose water and honey on the Shivalingams.
"On Mahashivaratri unmarried women observe fast from dawn to dusk and pray to Lord Shiva to give them a good spouse," Shivani Khanna, 20, told IANS.
Vendors did brisk business in many parts of the country selling milk, bhaang (hemp) and bel leaves. In many houses, special sweets were cooked on the occasion.
According to the Hindu calendar, Mahashivaratri is celebrated a day or two before the new moon in the month of Phalgun (February-March).
In Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva, one of the holy trinity along with Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma, is known to have married Parvati on this day.
The week-long celebrations of the festival in Mandi in Himachal Pradesh, popularly known as Chhoti Kashi, would begin when they end in the rest of the country.