Maha Shivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated annually in honour of the god Shiva. It is a festival in Hinduism, but one that is solemn and marks a remembrance of overcoming darkness and ignorance in life. The ardent devotees keep awake all night, others visit one of the Shiva temples or go on pilgrimage to Jyotirlingams. This is an ancient Hindu festival whose origin date is unknown, in Kashmir Shaivism, the festival is called Har-ratri or phonetically simpler Haerath or Herath by Shiva faithfuls of the Kashmir region. Maha Shivaratri is a festival dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Unlike most Hindu festivals which are celebrated during the day, the Maha Shivaratri is celebrated at night, the celebration includes maintaining a jaagaran, an all-night vigil and prayers, because Shaiva Hindus mark this night as overcoming darkness and ignorance in ones life and the world through Shiva. Offerings of fruits, leaves, sweets and milk to Shiva are made, some perform all-day fasting with vedic or tantrik worship of Shiva, in Shiva temples, Om Namah Shivaya, the sacred mantra of Shiva, is chanted through the day. Maha Shivaratri is celebrated over three or ten days based on the Hindu luni-solar calendar, every lunar month, there is a Shivaratri. The main festival is called Maha Shivaratri, or great Shivaratri, according to the Gregorian calendar, the day falls in either February or March. According to Jones and Ryan, the festival may have originated around the 5th century CE, the Maha Shivaratri is mentioned in several Puranas, particularly the Skanda Purana, Linga Purana and Padma Purana. These medieval era Shaiva texts present different mythologies associated with this festival, different legends describe the significance of Maha Shivaratri. According to one legend in the Shaivism tradition, this is the night when Shiva performs the dance of creation, preservation and destruction. The chanting of hymns, the reading of Shiva scriptures and the chorus of devotees joins this cosmic dance, according to another legend, this is the night when Shiva and Parvati got married. The significance of dance tradition to this festival has historical roots, the Maha Shivaratri has served as a historic confluence of artists for annual dance festivals at major Hindu temples such as at Konark, Khajuraho, Pattadakal, Modhera and Chidambaram. The major Jyotirlinga Shiva temples of India, such as in Varanasi and they serve also as sites for fairs and special events. The Mandi fair is famous as a venue for Maha Shivaratri celebrations. It is believed that all gods and goddesses of the area, said to more than 200. Maha Shivaratri is the most important festival in Kashmir Shaivism, found in north Himalayan region of the Indian subcontinent and it is celebrated as the anniversary of the marriage of Shiva and Parvati
Meditating Shiva with lingam on Maha-Shivaratri
Many legends explain the significance of Maha Shivaratri, one being it is the night of Shiva's dance.