English meaning of the festival
Maha Shivaratri means “great night of Shiva”.
How the date is decided annually
Shivaratri is celebrated on the 14th night of the dark half (Krishna Paksha) of the month of Palguna.
Significance of the festival to Hinduism
Lord Shiva is in charge of the destruction of Tamasic qualities. Since night is the image of Tamasic qualities we celebrate Shivarathri at night. In order to bring under control and tranquillise these Tamasic qualities we engage in fasting and prayer beforehand. Since we cannot achieve this on our own, we appease the Superintendent or Swami of these Tamasic qualities-Shiva. Hence Shivarathri is celebrated on the 14th night of Palguna in Krishna Paksha.
How to observe/practice
After the morning bath worship Surya, Shiva-Parvati and Luxmi Narayan and observe a fast during the day. At night, the devotees congregate at Temples to worship Lord Shiva during each of the four successive three hour periods. Each session must include singing of bhajans, kirtans, offering of Bilwa leaves, which has a stalk with three leaves and scriptural readings. At the end of each session there must aarti and concluding prayers.
Synonyms between major Indian languages
Hara-ratri (in Kashmir)