When creation had been completed, Siva and Parvati had been living on the top of Kailas. Parvati asked; "O venerable Lord, which of the many rituals observed in "Thy honour doth please Thee most?" Lord Siva replied: "The thirteenth night of the new moon, Krishna Paksha, in the month of Phalguna (February-March) is known as Sivaratri, is My most favourable Tithi. My devotee gives Me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths, and offerings of flowers, sweets, incense, etc.
"The devotee observes strict spiritual discipline in the day and worships Me in four different forms in the four successive Praharas, each made up of three hours of the night. The offering of a few Bilva leaves is more precious to Me than the precious jewels and flowers. He should bathe Me in milk at the first Prahara, in curd at the second, in clarified buffer at the third, and in honey at the fourth and last Prahara. The next morning, he should feed the Brahmins first and break the fast after the performance of the prescribed ceremonies. There is no ritual, O Parvati, which can compare with this simple routine in sanctity. Just hear, My Beloved, of an episode which will give you an idea of the glory and power of this ritual.
"Once upon a time, there lived in the town of Varanasi a hunter. He was returning from the forest one evening with the game birds he had killed. He felt tired and sat at the foot of a tree to take some rest. He was overpowered by sleep. When he woke up, it was all thick darkness of night. It was the night of Sivaratri but he did not know it. He climbed up the tree, tied his bundle of dead birds to a branch and sat up waiting for the dawn. The tree happened to be My favourite, the Bilva.
"There was a Linga under that tree. He plucked a few leaves dropped them down. The night-dew trickled down from his body. I was highly pleased with the involuntary little gifts of the hunter. The day dawned and the hunter returned to his house.
"In course of time, the hunter fell ill and gave up his last breath. The messengers of Yama arrived at his bedside to carry his soul to Yama. My messengers also went to the spot to take him to My abode. There was a severe fight between Yama's messengers and My messengers. The former were totally defeated. They reported the matter to their Lord. He presented himself in person at the portals of My abode. Nandi gave him an idea of the sanctity of Sivaratri and the love which I had for the hunter. Yama surrendered the hunter to Me and returned to his abode quickly.
"The hunter was able to enter My abode and ward off death by simple fasting and offering of a few Bilva leaves, however involuntary it might be, because it was the night of Sivaratri. Such is the solemnity and sacredness associated with the night!" Parvati was deeply impressed by the speech of Lord Siva on the sanctity and glory of the ritual. She repeated it to Her friends who in their turn passed it on to the ruling princes on earth. Thus the sanctity of Sivaratri was broadcast all over the world.