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Every year we celebrate Maha Shiva Ratri Festival and every time one question roaming in my mind and that is "Why"?

  • Why do we celebrate this festival?

Every Festival have its meaning but I don't know very much about this festival.

  • What is story behind this festival?
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Mahashivratri is the day, Lord Shiva was married to Godess Parvathi. Maha Shivaratri is celebrated on the Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi of Hindu calendar month Maagha as per Amavasya-ant month calculation.

It is said that the benefits of powerful ancient Sanskrit mantras such as Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra increase greatly on this night.

The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael leaves to Shiva, all-day fasting and an all-night-vigil (jagaran). All through the day, devotees chant "Om Namah Shivaya", the sacred mantra of Shiva. Penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach life's highest good steadily and swiftly.

Source Wiki : Mahashivratri.

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Mahashivaratri (Great night of Lord Shiva) is the night when Lord Shiva appeared as Linga to stop conflict of Vishnu and Brahma. Chapter 7 and 8 of Vidyeswara Samhita of Shiva Mahapurana describes this conflict in detail.

Chapter 9 Vidyeswara Samhita of Shiva Mahapurana describes origin and significance of Maha Shivaratri in detail.

Nandiswara says

तुष्टोऽहमद्य वां वत्सौ पूजायाऽस्मिन्महादिने॥ ९॥

Lord Šiva, who always increases devotion, then said to Brahma and Visnu delightfully, "Let both of your remain happy.” Siva again said, "O Sons, this is the great day and I am happy with your worship for me.

दिनमेतत्ततः पुण्यं भविष्यति महत्तरम्।
शिवरात्रिरिति ख्याता तिथिरेषा मम प्रिया।। १० ।।

Since then, the day is considered to be most auspicious and yields merit. This is the date dear to lord Siva and is well known by the name of Sivarātri.

Further Shiva says,

यत्पुन: स्तम्भरूपेण स्वाविरासमहं पुरा।
कालो मार्गशीर्षे तु स्यादार्द्राऋक्षमर्भकौ।। १५ ।।

O boys, I had earlier appeared in the form of a pillar, it was the month of Margasirsa and the constellation was Ardra.

आर्द्रायां मार्गशीर्षे तु यः पश्येन्मामुमासखम्।
मद्वेरमपि वा लिङ्गं स गुहादपि मे प्रियः।। १६ ।।

In the month of Margasirsa, during Ardra constellation, whosoever has an audience with me (Umāpati) or the one who adores my image or Siva-linga, he becomes dearer to me than Karttikeya even.

अलं दर्शनमात्रेण फलं तस्मिन्दिने शुभे।
अभ्यर्चनं चेदधिकं फलं वाचामगोचरम्॥१७॥

On that auspicious day, one achieves sufficient of merit even by looking at me, but in case lord Siva is appropriately worshipped during that day then the reward for the same is beyond the description from the speech.

रणरङ्गतलेऽमुष्मिन्यदहं लिङ्गवष्र्मणा।
जृम्भितो लिङ्गवत्तस्माल्लिङ्गस्थानमिदं भवेत्॥ १८॥

In this battle ground of both of you, I had appeared in linga therefore the place will be known as Linga-sthana.

अनाद्यन्तमिदं स्तम्भमणुमात्रं भविष्यति। दर्शनार्थं हि जगतां पूजनार्थं हि पुत्रकौ॥ १९॥

O Sons, this is without beginning or the end. This is a huge pillar, but for the sake of the human beings, it would become smaller.

This place is known as AruNaachala, which is also called as Tiruvannamalai.

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Partial Answer:

We celebrate Shiv Ratri because Lord Shiva himself recommended for sake of grace. Although he recommended even Shivratri which falls every month, he laid importance of Maha Shiva Ratri specially.Note that this is one of the Do's among the 5 do's of Shaiva or Shiva devotees (Pancha Dharma). From Shiv Rahasya.

Fasting. The abstaining from taking food once every month on the dark night that comes before the Moonless Day and the First Crescent of the Moon, is known as Shiva Ratri Upavasa or Fasting on the Holy Night of Shiva. But that Fast (Upavasana) which is observed before the Moonless Night (Amavasya) in the Month of Magha (February - March, see Commentary), is known as Maha Shiva Ratri or the Great Fast of Shiva. It is the most excellent of all Fasts. I bestow all kinds of Blessings upon those who observe My Fast with devotion and remain watchful on that Holy Night. For he who watches for the dawn of the First Moon, watches for the Dawning of My Light Eternal and his name shall be established in the Abode of the Awakened Ones. By the earnest practice of this Watchful Fast My devotee is cleansed of sins and his Soul grows ever brighter even as the New Moon grows in brightness every day. 11.46

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In addition to the stories, there is also deep spiritual significance behind Maha Shivaratri. It is said that this is when Shiva Tattva comes down and touches the Earth:

According to the Shiva Purana (ancient texts praising the divine through divine stories), when Parvati asked Shiva, what pleases him the most, He is supposed to have replied, 'The 14th night of the new moon of the month of Phalgun is my favorite day. It is known as Shivaratri’.

Celebrating the Peace Within is Shivaratri

Mahashivaratri is the day when the Shiva Tattva touches the earth. The consciousness, the aura or the ethereal world which is always ten inches above the material ground, touches the earth element on the day of Mahashivaratri. It is the wedding of the material with the spiritual.

Shiva is the soul (of everything) – there is no difference between the soul and Shiva. Your true nature is Shiva, and Shiva is peace, infinity, beauty and the non-dual one. Ratri means 'to take refuge'. Shivaratri is taking refuge in Shiva. Ratri (which translates as night) is that which gives you rest, or peace.

Three types of peace are needed: 1. Material peace. 2. Mental peace and 3. Peace in the soul

If there is disturbance around you, you cannot sit and stay peaceful. You need peace in your environment. You also need peace in the body and mind, and you need peace in the soul. You may have peace in the atmosphere, you may enjoy good health, and you may have peace in the mind to a certain extent, but if the soul is restless, nothing can bring you comfort. So that peace is also essential.

Only in the presence of all the three types of peace can there be complete peace. Without one, the other is incomplete. Shivaratri is taking refuge in the divine consciousness which brings peace and solace to all layers of consciousness. So resting in the Shiva Tattva is Shivaratri.

When the mind, intellect and ego rests in the divine that is the real rest, and the deepest rest. This is why it is very useful for people to meditate on this day.

A Day for Meditation

Shivaratri is like a new year for a saadhak (seeker). It is considered as an auspicious day for spiritual growth and material attainment.

The night on this day, when the constellations are in some particular position, is very auspicious for meditation. And so it is very useful for people to keep awake and meditate on Shivaratri.

In ancient times, people used to say, 'Okay, if you cannot do every day, at least one day in a year, on Shivratri day. Do meditation and keep awake'. Wake the Divinity that is deep within you - this is the message. The Divinity is within you, let it wake up!

A Day For Fasting

Not eating too much, eating light and doing more meditation on this day helps in fulfillment of desires - this is the ancient belief. Like a sponge in water (a rasagulla in syrup), when mind and body is resting in the Shiva Tattva, small wishes get fulfilled effortlessly.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen on any other day. At any time when your heart is open and your mind is calm, prayers do get answered.

People usually eat very light, some fruits or something and fast. I don’t recommend you fast without anything. Take some fruits or some light easily digestible food and spend the day awake and meditate at night. You don’t need to do meditation all night, just for some time.

A Day For Chanting Sacred Hymns

Shivratri day is celebrated with Rudrabhishekam (singing of the ancient Vedic mantras which is accompanied with a ceremony of washing the Shiva Linga with milk, curd, honey, rose water, etc).

Do you know, when we chant the Vedic mantras, these mantras bring a big change in the environment. It brings purity in the environment. sattva is increased, bad karmas are destroyed and nature celebrates. That is why this Rudrabhishekam has been performed for many thousands of years for the well-being of all. 'Let there be timely rain, let there be a good harvest. Let there be health, wealth, wisdom, and liberation', with these prayers it is performed.

To strengthen one’s connection to the Divine, Rudrabhishekam is performed.

Excerpts from an article by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: https://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/17184919/.../understandingshiva.pdf

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Once Lord Brahma's son Prajapati Daksha gave a curse to Lord Chandra that his body will destroy. Chandra's wives Rohini and Revati were very worried and his parents Sage Atri and Anusurya were also worried. Lord Chandra's body started to destroy. Lord Shiva was very angry and he took his incarnation Rudra. Lord Vishnu told Daksha to make a new planet in the place of Planet Moon. Daksha told Sati to bring some soil from Saraswati River. Goddess Lakshmi was transformed into Sati and took some soil and went to Daksha's palace. Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma were transformed into sages and gave Sati a Shiva Linga and also told her to hold the Shiva Linga. They worshipped Sati and the Shiva Linga. Then Lord Shiva became calm. Lord Narad told Sati how to rescue Lord Chandra from her father's curse. Narad took Sati to a sage and the sage gave her Maha Mrityunjay Mantra. Sati took the Shiva Linga and went to the place where Lord Chandra's body was destroying. With Sati all the devotees of Lord Shiva went to rescue Lord Chandra. Daksha was making a new planet in the place of Planet Moon. Sati and all the devotees of Lord Shiva were chanting Maha Mrityunjay Mantra. Lord Shiva came to met with his followers and also rescued Lord Chandra. Before some days Daksha gave a curse to Shiva that people will not worship him. In that day when Shiva rescued Chandra,he was also free from Daksha's curse. After that people able to worship Lord Shiva. Lord Chandra was thankful to Shiva because Shiva rescued him. After that Shiva's all devotees worshipped him. Lord Shiva took the Planet Moon in his head. Daksha's new planet had destroyed. Vishnu and Brahma were named Shiva Somnath because he had Moon in his head and Lord Chandra's another name was Som that's why Shiva was named Somnath by Vishnu and Brahma. After that day when Shiva was named Somnath by Brahma and Vishnu,people were also started to celebrate Maha Shivratri Festival.

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    Welcome to Hinduism.SE! You should improve the formatting of your answer, and you should cite sources. – Keshav Srinivasan Apr 10 '15 at 6:15

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