It is generally agreed upon that one cannot find things accurately in the darkness of the night and that it is also during the nights that most wrong or sinful acts take place. Simply put, ‘night’ symbolizes ignorance, sin and vice.
From a spiritual point of view, the copper and iron ages are referred to as the night of the world cycle. MahaShivratri falls on the darkest of nights symbolizing the height of ignorance and impurity that befalls the world at the end of the cycle. The incarnation of the Supreme Father, the Supreme Soul Shiv in this world, therefore, also occurs at this time, just a few years before the end of the Iron Age. This is why it is observed that there is more devotion offered to Shiva than any other God. Shri Narayan and Shri Ram are both deities worshipped during the day since they were born during the Golden Age and Silver Age respectively which are considered to be the day of the world cycle. In the temples too, these deities are ceremoniously sung to sleep at night and then ‘woken’ in the morning. But in the case of the Supreme Soul, Shiv, devotees themselves stay awake all night in His remembrance.
Not knowing the true significance of this ritual, people say that Shiv represents destruction and vice and therefore Shivratri is celebrated during the night. This of course could not be further from the truth for in reality, Shiv is the destroyer of vice. His very name ‘Shiv’ means ‘Benefactor’! He is also referred to as ‘Papkateswar’ meaning Absolver of Sins or as ‘Mukteswar’, the Bestower of Liberation.
The true reason of celebrating Shivratri at night is that the Benevolent Lord Shiv comes at the end of the world cycle, at the darkest moment of the night and liberates human souls from the darkness of ignorance, sorrow and impurity. This is why in some Shiv temples, a bull and a Lion and a Peacock and a Snake are shown together signifying that Shiv is the destroyer of vice, violence and hatred.