Maha Shivrathri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna. It falls on a moonless February night, when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction. Shivrathri is the night when He is said to have performed the Tandava Nritya or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. The festival is observed for one day and one night only .On this day people observe fast and offer prayers to Lord Shiva. All the Shiva Temples are fully decorated and there are hordes of devotees queuing up to get darshan of Lord & offer their obeisance's at the feet of Lord Shiva on this special day.
Maha is the Big One, Shiv means auspiciousness, and Ratri means night; this is a day when we awake to the most auspicious truth within our self. Night stands for darkness i.e. ignorance, in which all beings sleep & then dream. Shiva is the Supreme Consciousness that illuminates the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Offering the threefold bilva leaves to the Shivalinga heralds the return to a level of consciousness beyond the three states, which is the fourth state, turiya. The dawning of that state is consonant with the awakening of the individual.
According to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for help, he in order to protect the world, drank the deadly poison, but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as 'Nilkantha'. Shivrathri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world. Devotees strongly believe that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the auspicious day of Shivarathri, absolves a person of sins and liberates him from the cycle of birth and death.
When both Vishnu and Brahma were egoist, in order to crush the egoism, Lord Shiva manifested in the pillar of fire (Anala and Skanda) and whose beginning and end could not be seen. So, Vishnu took the Varaha Avatar while Brahma sat on Swan and went up. Vishnu went to Pathala Loka. Both of them could not see the head and the tail of the manifesto. Just then Brahma saw just a leaf fall on the manifesto and it got crushed. Both returned and met Lord Shiva while Vishnu accepted his defeat where Brahma did not. So Lord Shiva cursed Brahma that there would not be any devotees for Brahma and then they would not worship Him. After that He too surrendered. This Manifesto of Lord Shiva is effluent Linga is the Jyothilinga of Lord Shiva.
Another story is, some say it's the Re-Union of Shiva and Parvathi. King Daksha insulted Shiva on Sati’s marriage. So Sati jumped into Homam and ended her life. On knowing that Shiva became ferocious and unleashed his fury at the death of his wife, by performing the violent dance “Rudra Thandava”. He wiped off Dahsha’s Kingdom and returned to the Himalayas. Lord Brahma and Vishnu along the Deva’s approached Lord Shiva saying that that they are afraid of that World would come to an end. After that by the Lord Shiva’s blessings Sati came out of the fire in the name of Parvathi.. Shiva-Parvathi got married and this re-union is called Maha Shivrathri.
One more legend of Shivrathri is a poor hunter named Suswara who went for hunting got some handful of prey, but by greedy, he went further into the dense forest and lost way to home Afraid of the wild animals he climbed upon the tree and spent the whole night. But by the smell of prey he had in his sack animals were roaming under the tree on that night. In fear of his life he plugged the leave and thrown into the ground. Unknown to Suswara, there was a Shivalinga at the foot of the tree; and so, although he was unaware of it, by dropping the sacred bilva leaves, Suswara was making a sacred offering to the Shivalinga. That night happened to be Shivarathri. So the hunter had unknowingly kept a nightlong vigil and worshipped Shiva.
All through the day the devotees keep severe fast, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya", make offerings of flowers and incense to the Lord amidst ringing of temple bells. They maintain long vigils during the night, keeping awake to listen to stories, hymns and songs. The fast is broken only the next morning, after the nightlong worship. In Kashmir, the festival has been held for 15 days. The 13th day is observed as a day of fast followed by a family feast.
On Shivarathri, worship of Lord Shiva continues all through the day and night. Every three hours priests perform abishekam for Lord Shiva with milk, curd, honey, sandal powder, amidst the chanting of “Om Namah Shivaya’ and devotional Songs. Nightlong vigil or jaagran is also observed in Shiva temples where large numbers of devotees spend the night singing hymns and devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. Shiva is the Supreme Consciousness that illuminates the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Offering the threefold bilva leaves to the Shivalinga heralds the return to a level of consciousness beyond the three states, which is the fourth state, turiya. The dawning of that state is consonant with the awakening of the individual.
But generally it is believed that anyone who utters the name of Shiva during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins. He or she reaches the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
Use this day to bring to your mind the infinite ways your life has been blessed. In our obsession with thinking of what all I don’t have, we fail to see the infinite ways in which we are so positively blessed. The fact that you can read right now is a great blessing, ask someone who cannot see.
Feel truly blessed & gratified and express your thanks & devotion at the feet of the Lord by chanting the mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ as many times as you can.