The legend of Lubdhaka is deeply related to Mahashivaratri and explains the popular custom of all-night worship of Lord Shiva on the festival. As a tradition devotees recite the legend of Lubdhaka while they observe fast in worship of Lord Shiva on Mahashivaratri. And, it is only after observing an all night fast that devotees eat the prasad offered to Shiva.
There is yet another version of this legend, which is popular as the
legend of King Chitrabhanu. This legend has been narrated by Bhishma in
Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata and has been discussed later in this
Story of Lubdhaka
Story goes that Lubdhaka - a poor tribal man and a devout worshipper of
Lord Shiva once went into the deep forests to collect firewood. As the
darkness engulfed the jungle, Lubdhaka lost his way and could not find
his way home. He became extremely terrified as deep growls of animals
began to fill the jungle. Seeking protection till daybreak, Lubdhaka
climbed the nearest bel tree and sought safety and shelter in its
branches. Since Lubdhaka was perched on the branch of a tree he was
afraid that if he dozed he might fall off from the tree. To keep himself
awake all night, Lubdhaka decided to pluck one leaf from the bheel tree
and drop it while chanting the name of Shiva. By sunrise, the devout
tribal realized that he had dropped thousands of leaves on to a Shiva
Lingam, which he had not seen in the darkness. Lubdhakas all night
worship pleased Lord Shiva and by his divine grace tigers and other wild
animals went away. Thus, Lubdhaka not only survived but was also
rewarded with divine bliss.
According to Puranas, ever since that day, the story of the tribal
Lubdhaka has been recited every year on the night of Mahashivaratri.
This popular legend also form the basis of the popular custom of
offering bhel (Aegle marmelos) leaves to Lord Shiva on Shivaratri.
Different Version of the Legend - Story of King
Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, talks about the legend of King
Chitrabhanu observing the festival. The story, as told by Bhishma while
resting on the bed of arrows and discoursing on Dharma, says that once
King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty who ruled over the whole of
Jambudvipa was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha
Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king
and inquired the king about reasons for keeping a fast.
Answering the sages query, King Chitrabhanu who had the gift of
remembering the incidents from his previous birth said that in the past
birth he was a hunter in Varanasi and his name was Suswara. His
livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. One day while he was
roaming through the woods in search of animals, he was overtaken by the
darkness of the night. To seek shelter from wild animals, Suswarna
seeked shelter in the branches of nearest tree, which happened to a
bael. Suswarna has also shot a deer that day but had no time to take it
to home. So he bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree. Hunger
and thirst tormented Suswarna and kept him awake all night. Feeling sad
that his poor wife and children were starving and must be anxiously
waiting for his return, Suswarna began to shed profuse tears. To pass
away time, Suswarna engaged himself in plucking bael leaves and dropping
them down onto the ground.
Having passed the night thus, next morning, Suswarna sold the deer and
bought some food for himself and his family. But, the moment he was
about to break his fast, a stranger came to him begging for food.
Humbly, Suswarna served food to stranger first and then had his own.
Later, at the time of his death, Suswarna saw two messengers of Lord
Shiva who were sent down to conduct his soul to the abode of Lord Shiva.
It was then that Suswarna learnt for the great merit he had earned by
the unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri.
The divine messengers told Suswarna that there was a Lingam at the
bottom of the tree on which he spent the night. The leaves he dropped
therefore fell on the Lingam. While his tears, which he had shed out of
sorrow for his family, fell on the lingam and washed it. Besides, he had
observed a fast all day and all night. Thus, Suswarna had unconsciously
worshiped the Lord Shiva.
Concluding the story, the King said that he lived in the abode of the
Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages. Now, he has reborn as