Austerities by way of day/night fasts and devotion on Maha Shiva Ratri falling on Krishna Paksha or the Dark fortnight of Phalguna Month is considered as extremely fruitful. In the early morning of Shivarati Day, a devotee should take a vow to observe the day/night fast and perform Archanna, Abhisheka, Japa with ‘shodasopacharas’ or Sixteen Services like Gandha-Pushpa-Dhupa-Deepa- Naivedyas every three hours followed by ‘Jagarana’ till next morning. Next morning, the devotee should perform Punah-Puja and Bhojan to Brahmnas along with dakshina. It is stated that obeservance of Shiva Ratri Fast- Puja-Jagaran even by mistake, let alone proper and systematic worship, would lead to enormous fruits.
In this connection, Suta Muni described in Shiva Purana an episode to Sages at Naimisharanya as follows: There was a poor hunter named Gurudruha who got extremely hungry along with his family members on a full day and that night happened to be Shiva Ratri. He entered a forest on the eve of Shivaratri and waited for any animal as a prey to satisfy the hunger of the family; he waited near a waterbody over a ‘Bilwa Vriksha’ or a bel tree under which there was a Shiva Linga as a coincidence. Having waited for three hours ( first Prahara) in the night, he was lucky to sight a female deer along its kids approaching the waterbody to quench their thirst. He pulled out his bow and a arrow ready to aim at the mother deer and by a twist of fate the branch of the bel tree on which he sat moved, some leaves of the branch showered on the ShivaLinga and some water in a vessel carried by him spilt down on the Linga, thus performing the first Prahara Puja! The deer which was very sensitive even to small sounds of leaves and water falling from the tree noticed that thd hunter was ready to kill it. The animal made a sincere and convincing request to the hunter that if he allowed it desired to leave the deer kids to their father and definitely return back to be killed by him. The hunter agreed very reluctantly and let the animals leave. The second Prahara was closing but there was no trace of the animal. But the sister of the earlier deer approached the pond along with her kids and the earlier happenings repeated viz.the hunter pulled out his bow and arrow, the bel tree leaves as also the water drops from the hunter’s vessel fell on the Shiva Linga and the sister of the earlier deer made a similar request and the hunter let the animal leave as in the case of the earlier deer thus accomplishing the next the worship of the Shiva Linga. As the third Prahara was closing, the husband of the original deer came in search of his wife and the kids and the happenings of the previous Prahara repeated again. During the Fourth Prahara, all the animals arrived viz. the original deer, her sister and the respective husbands. But the psychology was the hunter was transformed as the animals displayed their truthfulness and high sincerity, spared all the animals and performed sincere worship to the Shiva Linga with Bilwa leaves and water from the pond. Luckily for him he sighted a few fruits from a banana tree nearby with which he performed ‘Naivedya’ and served the Prashad to his wife and children. He repented for his evil deeds as even animals displayed virtue and sincerity. Bhagana Shiva revealed himself and blessed him that in his next birth he would be a Nishad again during Shri Rama’s incarnation of Vishnu and attain Vaikuntha there after!