“The night of Shiva”, falling on the 13th or 14th day of the dark half of Phalgun (February – March), this festival honours Lord Shiva on the day he was married to Parvati.
It is said by Swami Sivananda, that “He who utters the Names of Shiva during Shivaratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths.”
Chanting the mantra OM Namah Shivya is a Kavacha, said by Swami Krishnananda in an address (full transcript available to read here http://www.dlshq.org/saints/krishnananda.htm) to be like armour to protect you, your family, your country, the whole world! “It can cease wars and tensions of every kind, provided you offer the prayers wholeheartedly from the bottom of your heart.”
Worshipping the Shiva Lingam by washing it every 3 hours with milk, curd, honey, rose water, etc; worshippers fast during the day and night to focus the mind and control the senses. Swami Krishnananda explains why:
“The idea is that we control the senses, which represent the out-going tendency of our mind, symbolised in fast, and we control also the Tamasic inert condition of sleep to which we are subject everyday. When these two tendencies in us are overcome, we transcend the conscious and the unconscious levels of our personality and reach the superconscious level. While, the waking condition is the conscious level, sleep is the unconscious level. Both are obstacles to God-realisation. We are shifted from one condition to another. We are shunted, as it were, from waking to sleep and from sleep to waking everyday. But the super-conscious is not known to us. The symbology of fast and vigil on Sivaratri is significant of self-control; Rajas and Tamas are subdued, and God is glorified. The glorification of God and the control of the senses mean one and the same thing. Because, it is only in God-Consciousness that all senses can be controlled. When you see God, the senses melt, like butter melting before fire. They cannot exist any more. All the ornaments become the solid mass of gold when they are heated to the boiling point. Likewise, in the furnace of God-consciousness, the sense-energies melt into a continuum of universality.
On Sivaratri, we can “contemplate God as the creator of the world, as the Supreme Being unknown to the Creative Will, in that primordial condition of non-objectivity which is the darkness of Siva.” As an opportunity to practice self-restraint, self-control, contemplation, Japa and meditation, it is a period of Sadhana, recalling to our memory “our original destiny, our Divine Abode”.
Swami Sivananda recites the Story of King Chitrabhanu on the night of Sivaratri and gives a commentary from the scriptures to explain it allegorically, click here to read in full http://www.dlshq.org/religions/shivaratri.htm