The festival of Shivratri is celebrated in honor of Lord Shiva on the thirteenth or fourteenth day during the month of February or March. Devotees of Lord Shiva observe a fast on this day and open their fast early in the morning after worshiping Shiva the whole night. Maha Shivratri thereby means the "big night of Lord Shiva"
There are several rituals that are followed by people on the occasion of Shivratri.
- People wake up early in the morning on the day of Maha Shivratri and after taking bath they wear new clothes.
- Visit to temples is made by the devotees to worship Lord Shiva by giving bath to Shiva lingam and making offerings of milk, rose water, bael leaves, fruits and honey.
- While giving bath to Shiva lingam people recite Shiv chalisa and aarti. “Om Namah Shivaya” is the line that people recite several times.
- It is believed that offerings of bael leaves are made to the lingam because Goddess Lakshmi exists in them or to cool the hot temperament God.
It is said that the six items offered to the Shiva lingam have their own meaning such as:
- Sanitization of the soul is represented by giving a bath to the Shiva lingam with rose water, milk, honey and bael leaves.
- After giving bath to Shiv lingam the vermilion paste applied to it is symbolic of a good feature.
- Offering of fruits made to the Shiv lingam stands for long life and fulfillment of desires.
- Burning of incense sticks produces prosperity.
- Achievement of knowledge is represented by the lighting of the lamp.
- Offering of piper betel leaves means contentment.
- The devotees of Lord Shiva do not sleep the whole night of Shivratri festival and remember Lord Shiva by reciting Shiv chalisa, aarti and prayers.
- The fast is opened in the morning by having prasad presented to Lord Shiva.
- Women observe the fast of Maha Shivratri with lot of excitement, as it is believed that married women observe this fast for the well being of their husband and family.
- The unmarried young girls observe this fast of Maha Shivratri to get a husband like Lord Shiva.