Royal bath in the holy waters of Ganga on the occasion of Mahashivratri, Varanasi

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Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva. It is also known as padmarajarathri. Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva. It is celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day of the Maagha month of the Hindu calendar. Celebrated in the dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha(waning moon) of the month of Maagha according to the Shalivahana or Gujarati Vikrama or Phalguna according to the Vikrama era.The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael or Bilva/Vilvam leaves to Lord Shiva, all-day fasting and an all-night-long vigil. All through the day the devotees, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra dedicated to Lord "Om Namah Shivaya". In accordance with scriptural and discipleship traditions, penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach life's summum bonum steadily and swiftly. Since Varanasi is considered the city of Lord Shiva, Mahashivaratri festival holds immense importance here. Mahashivaratri (the great night of Shiva) falls on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna (February/March) and is dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva. Mahashivaratri festival is purely religious in nature and observed by all Hindus. On the occasion of Mahashivaratri, all Shiva temples of Varanasi are tastefully decorated. On the day Of Mahashivaratri, a marriage procession of Lord Shiva is taken out starting from Mahamrityunjaya Temple, Daranagar to Kashi Vishwanath Temple. In Varanasi, people visit nearby temples of Shiva and offer prayers in large numbers. The prayers and worship continue late into the night. On Mahashivaratri, devotees offer milk, Bhang, Dhatura, flowers, coconut, fruits etc to Shiva statues and Shiva Lingams and sing bhajans in honor of Shiva. They also recite shlokas (verses) from scriptures, offer prayers in the morning and evening and many devotees observe fasting throughout the day. On the day of Mahashivaratri, the main center of religious activity and worship at Varanasi is the Kashi Vishvanath temple, where devotees throng in large numbers to offer prayers to the residing deity of Varanasi, Lord Shiva. Varanasi, or Benaras, (also known as Kashi) is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Varanasi`s Prominence in Hindu mythology is virtually unrevealed. Mark Twain, the English author and literature, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Benaras, once wrote: "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together" . According to the 'Vamana Purana', the Varuna and the Assi rivers originated from the body of the primordial Person at the beginning of time itself. The tract of land lying between them is believed to be 'Varanasi', the holiest of all pilgrimages. The word 'Kashi' originated from the word 'Kas' which means to shine. Steeped in tradition and mythological legacy, Kashi is the 'original groun
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