Maha Shivratri is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in Hindu culture. Literally translated as "great night of Shiva," Maha Shivaratri venerates Lord Shiva as an important deity in Hindu religion. As ratri also means 'to take refuge’ and Shiva is considered to be the soul of everything, Shivratri is the night we take refuge in our spirit.
Shivratri falls on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Falgun. Hindu devotees worship Shiva with great care and devotion as they observe a day-and-night fast and give sacred baths to Shiva Linga with honey, milk, water, etc. As Maha Shivaratri is mainly related to the night, the devotees stay up all night and pray to Lord Shiva. Devotees observe 'Jaagrans' as night-long celebrations replete with prayer ceremonies and religious hymns.
There are many mythological legends associated with this day. According to a popular legend, Shivratri is celebrated as the day when Shiva saved the world from the pot of poison that emerged from the ocean during Samudra Manthan. If legends are to be believed, Lord Shiva drank the poison and stored it in his throat, making his throat turn blue (which is why he also came to be known as Neelkanth).
Another legend has it that Shivratri is celebrated as the day when Brahma and Vishnu got into a major tiff about their supremacy over each other and an angry Lord Shiva punished them by taking the form of a massive fire that spread across the length of the universe. Vishnu and Brahma then got into the race to find the end of the fire and prove their prowess. Brahma resorted to a lie, and angered Shiva greatly who cursed that no one would ever pray to him.
Hindus consider it extremely auspicious to worship Lord Shiva on a Shivaratri as it is believed that worship with devotion and sincerity absolves a devotee of past sins. They visit Shiva temples to perform puja with hopes of getting what they have prayed for. In Nepal, people visit several Shiva Temples including the famous Pashupatinath Temple, and bathe in the holy water of Bagmati, a symbol of purity, early in the morning before sunrise and then change into fresh clothes. Sadhu babas from different parts of Nepal and India also come to Pashupatinath to do religious activities.
Mahashivratri Festival is also considered to be an extremely significant festival for women. Married and unmarried women observe fast and perform Shiva Puja with sincerity to appease Goddess Parvati who is also regarded as ‘Gaura’ - one who bestows marital bliss and long and prosperous married life. Unmarried women also pray for a husband like Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband.