The legend of marriage of Shiva and Shakti is one the most important legends related to the festival of Mahashivaratri. The story tells us how Lord Shiva got married a second time to Shakti, his divine consort. According to legend of Shiva and Shakti, the day Lord Shiva got married to Parvati is celebrated as Shivaratri - the Night of Lord Shiva.
Legend goes that once Lord Shiva and his wife Sati or Shakti were
returning from sage Agastyas ashram after listening to Ram Katha
or story of Ram. On their way through a forest, Shiva saw Lord Rama
searching for his wife Sita who had been kidnapped by Ravana, the King
of Lanka. Lord Shiva bowed his head in reverence to Lord Rama. Sati was
surprised by Lord Shivas behavior and inquired why he was paying
obeisance to a mere mortal. Shiva informed Sati that Rama was an
incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Sati, however, was not satisfied with the
reply and Lord asked her to go and verify the truth for herself.
Using her power to change forms, Sati took the form of Sita appeared
before Rama. Lord Rama immediately recognized the true identity of the
Goddess and asked, "Devi, why are you alone, where's Shiva?"
At this, Sati realized the truth about Lord Ram. But, Sita was like a
mother to Lord Shiva and since Sati took the form of Sita her status had
changed. From that time, Shiva detached himself from her as a wife. Sati
was sad with the change of attitude of Lord Shiva but she stayed on at
Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva.
Later, Satis father Daksha organised a yagna, but did not
invite Sati or Shiva as he had an altercation with Shiva in the court of
Brahma. But, Sati who wanted to attend the Yagna, went even though Lord
Shiva did not appreciate the idea. To hre great anguish, Daksha ignored
her presence and did not even offer Prasad for Shiva. Sati felt
humiliated and was struck with profound grief. She jumped into the yagna
fire and immolated herself.
Lord Shiva became extremely furious when he heard the news of Satis
immolation. Carrying the body of Sati, Shiva began to perform Rudra
Tandava or the dance of destruction and wiped out the kingdom of
Daksha. Everybody was terrified as Shivas Tandava had the power to
destroy the entire universe. In order to calm Lord Shiva, Vishnu severed
Sati's body into 12 pieces and threw them on earth. It is said that
wherever the pieces of Shaktis body fell, there emerged a Shakti
Peetha, including the Kamaroopa Kamakhya in Assam and the
Vindhyavasini in UP.
Lord Siva was now alone undertook rigorous penance and retired to the
Himalayas. Sati took a re-birth as Parvati in the family of God
Himalaya. She performed penance to break Shivas meditation and win
his attention. It is said that Parvati, who found it hard to break Shivas
meditation seeked help of Kamadeva - the God of Love and
Passion. Kaamadeva asked Parvati to dance in front of Shiva. When
Parvati danced, Kaamadeva shot his arrow of passion at Shiva breaking
his penance. Shiva became extremely infuriated and opening his third eye
that reduced Kaamadeva to ashes. It was only after Kamadevas wife
Ratis pleading that Lord Shiva agreed to revive Kaamadeva.
Later, Parvati undertook severe penance to win over Shiva. Through her
devotion and persuasion by sages devas, Parvati, also known as Uma,
was finally able to lure Shiva into marriage and away from asceticism.
Their marriage was solemnized a day before Amavasya in the month of
Phalgun. This day of union of God Shiva and Parvati is celebrated as
Mahashivratri every year.
Another Version of the Legend
According to another version of the legend, Goddess Parvati performed
tapas and prayers on the auspicious moonless night of Shivaratri to ward
off any evil that may befall her husband. Since then, womenfolk began
the custom of praying for the well being of their husbands and sons on
Shivaratri day. Unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva, who is
considered to be the ideal husband.