Aum Sri Sai Ram.
The festival of Maha Shivaratri is one of the most significant events in the Prasanthi Nilayam calendar. According to Hindu belief, the moon is the presiding deity of the mind, and the 16 phases of the moon represent the 16 aspects of the mind. On the Shivaratri day, which falls a day prior to the new moon, only a streak of the moon is visible. This is symbolic of the waning influence of the mind, when 15 aspects have already merged in the Self and only one aspect remains. Hence, on this day, it is easier to control the mind and direct it toward God. Therefore, the night is spent in contemplation and adoration of God, so that the vagaries of the mind can be totally subdued and transcended to attain realization of the Atman.
On 18 February, it was the good fortune of thousands of devotees of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba to spend this sacred night in contemplation of the Divine in His very Presence. Such was the eager anticipation of the devotees that they began to assemble in Sai Kulwant Hall as early as 10:30 AM, completely unmindful of hunger and sleep. Their yearning found fulfillment when our dear Lord arrived just after 3:00 PM, resplendent in a bright yellow robe. As He entered, the hall reverberated to the tunes of Nadaswaram and the Panchavadyam and also Vedic chanting by the students.
The programme commenced at 4:00 PM. Bhagawan blessed three speakers to address the assembly before delivering His Divine Discourse. First to speak was Sri Sanjay Mahalingam, a final-year student of the MBA course at the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. He was followed by Sri Sanjay Sahni, the Principal of the Brindavan Campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. The last speaker was Sri S.V. Giri, the Vice-Chancellor of the Institute. The learned speaker dwelt on the importance of Vedic chanting and the benefits of chanting and listening to the Vedic hymns.
Bhagawan then yielded to the prayers of His devotees and rose to deliver His Divine Discourse. He stressed the need to preserve our ancient culture because many of the traditions and beliefs of our ancestors have great inner significance. But, even as the vast gathering was drinking the sweet nectar of the Lord's message, Bhagawan's voice suddenly choked and He began to hiccup --the first signs that the Lingam was beginning to emerge!
Bhagawan then signalled the students to begin singing bhajans. As the singing proceeded with great fervour, Bhagawan seated Himself on the chair. Then began the painful process that is familiar to all devotees, as Bhagawan began to rub His chest and continually sip water as if to ease the passage of the Lingam from within His body. This continued for a few minutes and, just as it seemed that the devotees could not longer bear to see the agony, the Lingam emerged from His mouth, to the immense relief and joy of one and all. Bhagawan held up the golden-hued Hiranyagarbha Lingam for all to see.
Bhagawan then explained that He does not feel any strain when producing the Lingam, because He does this solely to give joy to all His devotees. He also said that this Lingam would give rise to many other Lingams later. Even as He said this, He began to hiccup again, and the anticipation of the assembly grew as they realized that another Lingam was on its way. As it was getting more and more agonizing to watch our Lord in pain, Bhagawan retired to the interview room. After a short while, to the great delight of devotees, it was announced that two more Lingams had manifested, and a few minutes later, Bhagawan Himself emerged, raising His Hands in benediction and reassurance.
Bhagawan declared that though it may apparently seem that His body undergoes suffering, He will never come to any harm. He declared that His body was for the sake of His devotees. He then exhorted the gathering to refresh themselves and then return to the mandir to spend the night in devotional singing. Before Bhagawan retired to His residence, He added that He would come again later that night.
The bhajans continued. Through the sacred night, groups of devotees from India and abroad had the good fortune of leading bhajans. At around 1:30 AM, to the great delight of all, Bhagawan arrived in the mandir (temple).He spent about an hour, seated on the dais, listening to the bhajans, while His fingers moved rhythmically with the beat.
The following morning, at around 7:15 AM, arathi was offered to Bhagawan, and the akhanda bhajan drew to a close. Bhagawan then blessed Sri B.N. Narasimhamurthy, Warden, Sri Sathya Sai Hostel at Brindavan, to address the gathering. The erudite speaker based his talk on the Kathopanishad, which narrates the episode where a young lad named Nachiketha receives the highest knowledge from the God of death, Yama himself.
Bhagawan then delivered His discourse, in which He exhorted devotees on the need to transcend body consciousness and develop detachment toward the world. He narrated an episode from the life of Adi Shankaracharya, which beautifully illustrates this teaching. Once when Shankaracharya was walking along with his disciples, he found his way blocked by a chandala (a person of lower caste and an untouchable). The master ordered the man to move out of his path so that they could proceed. The man then questioned Shankaracharya whether he was addressing the body or the Indweller of the body, the Atman. If he was referring to the body, he had no identification with it and was therefore not concerned with it. If it was for the Atman, the Atman is the same in all. Shankaracharya realized that this was no ordinary person and fell at his feet. Then Lord Shiva revealed Himself and said that He had come in the form of the chandala in order to teach him this great lesson.
After the discourse concluded, prasadam
was distributed to all the devotees. Swami watched on lovingly as all
the devotees partook of the prasadam and
only afterward did He go for His repast. Bhagawan then retired to His
Poornachandra residence. Thus concluded the holy festival of Maha Shivaratri
leaving everyone happy and blessed.