While most of the Hindu festivals involve feasting and rejoicing, Shivratri is about fasting and prayer, focusing one's attention on Lord Shiva. The Shiva temples are a buzz with people gathering for worship throughout the day, where special poojas are offered to the Lord from day break. People offer Bilva leaves to the Lord, which is considered auspicious.
Devotees spend the day reciting mantras and slokas of Lord Shiva. The more staunch ones observe a complete fast. Some people spend the night in the temple in vigil, witnessing the various forms of worship all through the night. The early next morning, after worshipping Lord Shiva, people make their way home. Some break their fast, while others offer home cooked food, strictly vegetarian and offer it to someone needy, invoking the Lord in him.
Sleep however is postponed to the night, to proceed only after having witnessed the first star in the evening.
Advanced seekers, spend most of their time in meditation.
While Mahashivratri is observed to procure desired boons from Lord Shiva, in its essence, it is observed for one's progress in spirituality.
Spending the day in prayer, meditation and fasting, conveys the truth to curb excessive of activities, which translates into the Rajasic mode of the mind or easily succumbing to sleep and lethargy, which translates into the Tamasic mode of the mind. Rather the Sattvic quality of the mind is enhanced and encouraged by indulging in prayer, fast and meditation.
Excessive activities creates hunger, which triggers excessive intake of food, which in turn causes dullness and lethargy.
Mahashivratri thus imparts the need to bring about a right balance in our lifestyle, in order to realise the highest truth of Self realisation, the ceassation of rebirth.
Inorder to realise one's self, which is the end of all spiritual endeavours, a pure mind that does not go out through the senses and become moving pictures of thought forms is imperative.
A pure mind can be achieved through a moderation in food, sleep and activities. Such a mind becomes the tool to achieve Self realisation, which is nothing but the mind in its pure original form.
Further more keeping vigil on Shivaratri also complijments the truth of a pure mind. For a seeker the purity of mind is to be achieved in time by being aware of his true nature, that he is different from his body and mind, and thereby be rooted in the self, just being a witness to the functions and activities of his body and mind.
Shivaratri, in its essence, beneath all the religious rituals, thus carries the truth of Self realisation. Lets hail the Lord on this day and seek His Grace to realise our true selves to be in bliss.