Mahashivratri is one of the grandest festivals celebrated in India. Every year, devotees throng at temples to pay their respects to Lord Shiv or Bholanath. Based on knowledge from the Bhagavatam and Ramcharitmanas, people generally celebrate this festival in honor of the wedding of Lord Shiv to Mother Parvati.
Mother Parvati, in her previous life, was Sati. She was married to Lord Shiv as well. In this life, in one of her divine leelas, she tested Lord Ram by taking on the form of Mother Sita. However, Lord Ram instantly recognized her as Mother Parvati and paid his respects to her as a mother. Ashamed, Sati went back to Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiv, where He disowned her.
Sad and in tears, Sati went back to her parent’s house. Using the immense power of her austerities, she created a fire and reduced her body to ashes. In her next life, she was born as Parvati, daughter of the Himalayas (Himvan and Maina Devi). At a young age, she left home to do penance to attain Lord Shiv as her husband.
When Lord Ram learned of this incident, He pleaded to Lord Shiv, “In Her last life, You had disowned Your wife Sati. Hearing this, She discarded Her physical form and has been reborn as the daughter of Himvan and Maina Devi. She is currently doing penance to attain You as Her Husband. When the marriage proposal comes, please accept it.” Shankarji replied, “O Lord, the entire world comes to You to ask for things. Here You are asking me for something! I will certainly follow Your instructions.”
Soon thereafter, the nine yogeshvars went to test Parvati. She told them, “I don’t care what Shiv looks like or who His devotees are or what qualities He possess. I will marry no one else but Him or else I will remain unmarried for endless lifetimes.” When the marriage proposal reached Him, Lord Shiv accepted the proposal. The wedding between Lord Shiv and Mother Parvati occurred in the month of Falgun, on the evening of Chaturdashi or the Krishna Paksh. And it is this wedding that is celebrated with great pomp and grandeur annually in India.
Watch this clip by Swami Mukundananda where he shares another story behind the celebration of this festival. This version is more popular in South India.