Mahashivaratri, celebrated in February, is about worshiping Lord Shiva, whose appeal is strong and persistent in equal measure among all sections of the society. Most Hindu festivals are celebrated during daytime but Shivaratri is all about keeping a night-long vigil as it’s believed that Lord Shiva saved the universe from darkness and ignorance.
The 14th day of every month (Krishna Chaturdasi) is called Shivaratri, but the one in the month of Magha is called Mahashivaratri as it is considered to be the greatest of all. On this day, Lord Shiva drank poison (haalahala) produced by the churning of the ocean of milk and, by doing so, saved the universe.
Also on this day, he married Goddesses Parvathi and performed Shiva Tandava Nritya, which is recorded in the Natyashastra.
The main themes of this festival are ahimsa, satya, compassion and forgiveness. Following these principles, as also fasting and jagrana (keeping vigil in the night) are the main features of this festival.
On this day, the Linga, which signifies Lord Shiva, is bathed in panchamrutha (a mixture of milk, curds, ghee, sugar and honey) and worshipped amidst vedic hymns (chanting of rudra mantra), bael leaves (bhilwapatre) and flowers. The next morning, the fast is broken.
The festival is observed by practicing Ahimsa, Satya, Compassion, Forgiveness and absence of jealousy. A day long (sunrise to sunrise) fast and “Jaagran” (all night vigil) are other features of Maha Shivaratri.
On this day, devotees perform rudrahoma (rudrayaga) at temples and homes. People prepare delicious food items as naivedya to Lord Shiva. By worshipping the Lord, one can attain peace and prosperity, for he forgives the sins we commit in our life.
On Shivaratri, Lord Shiva drank poison (haalahala) produced by the churning of the ocean of milk and, by doing so, saved the universe.