Maha Shivaratri - Why is this annual festival popular among the Hindus?

Among the Hindu festivals Maha Shivaratri, dedicated to one of the Trinity gods Lord Shiva is an important annual festival  celebrated across Indian to honor the almighty. An embodiment of Pascha boothas - five essential natural elements that living things need to sustain lives on this earth, one of  his role being the destroyer and transformer within the Trimurti.

Maha Shivaratri, an auspicious Hindu festival  dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva falls on  the 13th night/14th day of the 11 Hindu month of Phalguna or Magha every year. Lord Shiva is one among the three primary gods in the Hindu pantheon and is entrusted with the work of destruction and protection. It is celebrated not only in India but also in many parts of the world where Hindus live.

What are the reasons behind in  celebrating Maha Shivaratri?
Hindu festivals are celebrated for some valid and logical reasons and some have moral and philosophical overtones. As far as Maha Shivaratri is concerned, it is believed, its origin is 5th century. There is no dearth of mythological stories as to the celebration of this festival.; the fundamental belief is Shiva is formless and endless.  He is omnipresent and omnipotent.

On the day of Maha Shivaratri at midnight  the formless God appeared in the form of “Lingodbhav Moorti”. The whole night  the devotees offer continuous prayer to the lord. The reason why they  stay awake  to keep an eye on the lord is once the god  swallowed the poisonous scum (Kalakootam) emerged from the celestial ocean that was churned by the Assuras on one side and Devas on the other side. The deadly poison was  issued out of the giant snake Vasuki that was used for churning the ocean. The poison was a threat to the Devas. So, God Shiva held the poison in his throat (to avoid slipping it into his stomach) to save the people from death. Further, the lord also saved the earth from  destruction that might have been caused by the Assuras - demons. The Lord's throat turned blue due  the poison held  there. Hence, Shiva is often referred to as Neelakandan (blue-colored throat), a common name among the Shaivites of Tamil Nadu. The Shiva devotees keep vigil at night and offer prayers to the Lord to prevent him from dozing off as the poison might have sedative effects on him and it might get into his stomach.

Saddened by the separation of Shiva and Sakthi, the news of Shiva's reunion was a joyous celebration for his devotees. So, Shivaratri marks the reunion/wedding of Shiva and Parvati.   Particularly  married women consider Mahashivaratri as an auspicious night for them and engage in prayer to get blessed with long happy  married life, while unmarried girls pray to god to be blessed with an  ideal husband who would give them life-long security and happy peaceful family life. 

With respect to offerings  to the lord during Mahashivaratri, Shiv Purana mentions the following items:

Anointing or bathing of the Shiva Linga preferably with  holy water, milk, a mix of sandal paste and water, and honey. As common in all Shiva shines,  Bilva leaves or garlands of bilva are offered to the lord.  Flower decoration with Vermilion mark is done after bathing.
Rudra Abhishekam is also done in some places. Devotees doing this simple offering will be blessed with longevity and peaceful life, beside salvation. Different kinds of fruits are also made as offerings. It will be good if devotees living near  rivers like Krishna, Godavari, Ganga, Cauvery, etc., can bathe in the river water and visit the nearby temples
There are five kinds of Shivaratri: 

Nithya Shivaratri: Every month falls on Krishna Paksha or Sukla Paksha Chaturthasi. Devotees can celebrate Nithya Shivaratri continuously 24 times (twice a month) in a year.
Paksha Shivaratri: It falls in the Tamil moth of Thai -Krishna paksha  Prathamai, first 13 days. You have to eat only once for 13 days and on the 14th day, you have do fasting (upavaasam) the whole day. (Note: from health point of view it is good).
 Maatha Shivaratri: It comes in every month. Chitra month (Apr-May) : Krishna Paksha  Ashtami. Vaikasi month (May-June) : Suklapaksha Ashtami. Aani (June-July) month: Sukla Paksh Chathurthi. Aadi month (July-Aug): Krishna paksha Panchami. Avani month (Aug-Sept.): Sukla Paksh Astnami. Puratasi month (Sept.-Oct): Sukla Paksha Thridasi. Iypaasi month (Oct-Nov): Sukla paksha Dwadasi. Karthikai month (Nov-Dec): Sukla paksha Sapthami. Margazhi month (Dec. Jan); Sulka paksha Chathurthi. Thai month (Jan-Feb); Sukla Paksha Thiruthi. Maasi month (Feb-Mar): Krishna Paksha Chathurthi. Panguni month (Mar-Apr.): Sulka paksha Thiruthi.
Big Temple and Mt Arunachala on MahashivaraDev Gogoi's Photography Blog

Yoga Shivaratri:  It falls on Somavara day - Monday if Ammavasai last the whole of day and night. Yoga Shivaratri puja is good for the family and for the business endeavors, etc.
Maha Shivaratri: Most of the Shivaratris fall on Chathuthasi, viz. before Amavasya or Purnima (full moon day). Chathurthi falls on the 14th day. According to Sastras Chsthurthi day is an auspicious day for the worship of Shiva. 

Maha Shivsratri is an auspicious occasion for the devout Hindus to receive  Lord Shiva’s blessings and to reduce the burden of inevitable  ''karma'' which humans can not avoid, but can subdue its tll effects on them.  The belief has been that   the energies of Lord Shiva are most accessible on this night. It is also a day and night of fasting, meditations, during which devotees worship Lord Shiva and meditate on ethics and virtues such as honesty, non-injury to others, charity and forgiveness focusing on spiritual prowess and mental strength. It provides an opportunity to  overcome  darkness and ignorance" in life and tread the path of righteousness in our life. The festival is the time to purify body, mind and soul and hope for fresh beginnings.

Ardent devotees stay awake throughout this night ad engage in meditation and prayers.  Across India Hindus never fail to  visit the near-by Shiva temple or go on a pilgrimage to the Jyotirlingams. 

This year 2024, Maha Shiratri is celebrated on March 8th,on a grand scale at many famous Shiva temples.  The following  are the specific timings for various significant rituals:

Chaturdashi Tithi begins at: 09:57 pm on 8 March 2024

Chaturdashi Tithiends at:06:17 pm on 9 March 2024

Nishita Kaal Puja: 2:07 am to 12:56 am on 9 March 2024

Shivaratri Parana: 06:37 am to 03:29 am

Maha Shivratri 2024: Mythological History