Mahashivaratri is the most important festival for millions of devotees of Lord Shiva who offer special prayers to the lord of destruction on this day. It has a lot of significance in Hindu mythology. Mahashivaratri, the night of the worship of Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna (Feb / March).
It is celebrated to give reverence to Shiva. The important features of this religious function are fasting for 24hours and meditating through the night.
There are many legends regarding this festival: On this day, Shiva was married to Parvati. So Shiva devotees celebrate Mahashivaratri as the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati. During Mahashivaratri, Shiva Tandava (Dance of Lord Shiva) is performed which symbolises union of Nature and Divine. Natraja holds fire in one hand which represents the fire element and his open hair represents the air element.
It is said that 'abhishek', which is performed during the Puja of Lord Shiva on the day of Shivratri, destroys thousands and millions of sins and our bodies and minds become pure and we get ready for salvation.
At night the celebration reaches its peak. Devotees stay in temple premises throughout the night and perform Keertans. After every three hours, the Shiva Linga is worshipped by the temple priest and chanting of the mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya' and ringing of temple bells creates a religious and devotional atmosphere all around. Then on the next morning, the devotees break their fast by having 'prasad'.
It is also believed that on Shivratri, Lord Shiva became 'Neelkantham' or the blue-throated by swallowing a deadly poison that came up during the churning of 'Kshir Sagar' or the milky ocean. The poison was so deadly that even a drop in His stomach, which represents the universe, would have annihilated the entire world. Hence, He held it in His neck, which turned blue due to the effect of poison. Shivratri is, therefore, also a day of thanksgiving to the Lord for protecting us from annihilation.