Maha Shivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated annually in honour of the god Shiva . Shivaratri is great festival of convergence of Shiva and Shakti. It is a major festival in Hinduism, but one that is solemn and marks a remembrance of “overcoming darkness and ignorance” in life and the world. Chaturdashi Tithi during Krishna Paksha in month of Magha is known as Maha Shivaratri according to South Indian calendar.
However according to North Indian calendar Masik Shivaratri in month of Phalguna is known as Maha Shivaratri. In both calendars it is naming convention of lunar month which differs. However both, North Indians and South Indians, celebrate Maha Shivaratri on same day.
Devotees offer water, milk, dhatura, bhaang, akwan flowers to Shiva’s idol or Shivalinga and worship the Hindu God of destruction. Shiva is considered the ideal husband and unmarried girls and women pray for a husband like him.On Maha Shivaratri, married women pray for the well being of their husbands, unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva, considered as the ideal husband.
North Indians celebrate the day as the wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Temples are decorated with flowers and devotees take out a procession in the name of Bhole ki baraat or Shiva’s baraat procession in the evening.
Another popular belief associates Maha Shivaratri with the legend of Lord Shiva drinking poison to save the universe. During the churning of sagar manthan, gods and demons discovered several objects and one of them was a poison pot. Lord Shiva drank the poison to save the universe from its effects. Gods danced in order to protect Shiva from the harmful effect of the poison and keep him awake for a night. The poison eventually didn’t harm Shiva, but turned his neck blue. This was when he got the name Neelkantha. Since then, the night is celebrated as Maha Shivratri.
One day before Shivaratri Vratam, most likely on Trayodashi, devotees should eat only one time. On Shivaratri day, after finishing morning rituals devotees should take Sankalp to observe full day fast on Shivaratri and to take food next day. During Sankalp devotees pledge for self-determination throughout the fasting period and seek blessing of Lord Shiva to finish the fast without any interference. Hindu fasts are strict and people pledge for self-determination and seek God blessing before starting them to finish them successfully.
On Shivaratri day devotees should take second bath in the evening before doing Shiva Puja or visiting temple. Shiva Puja should be done during night and devotees should break the fast next day after taking bath. Devotees should break the fast between sunrise and before the end of Chaturdashi Tithi to get maximum benefit of the Vrat. According to one contradictory opinion devotees should break the fast only when Chaturdashi Tithi gets over. But it is believed that both Shiva Puja and Parana breaking the fast should be done within Chaturdashi Tithi.