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Maha Shivaratri
The Day for Enlightenment

With the grace and blessings of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the Sri Sathya Sai International Organization (SSSIO) launched the magazine, ‘Sri Sathya Sai–The Eternal Companion,’ on the occasion of the sacred Maha Shivaratri in 2022. As we celebrate Maha Shivaratri this year in February, this month’s issue is dedicated to the importance and significance of the sacred festival.

Over the past year, we shared Swami’s story, teachings, and glory on these pages. We express our heartfelt gratitude to Him for how the SSSIO, founded and established by Him, has grown over the past 60 years, now serving in 114 countries.

We will continue to spread the glory of His love, message, and works and the spiritual transformation they are bringing in devotees worldwide.

Sathya Sai: The Embodiment of Shiva-Shakthi

We are blessed and fortunate to be the contemporaries of the Kaliyuga Avatar, Sri Sathya Sai, the embodiment of Shiva-Shakti. In His infinite love and compassion, Swami Himself revealed on July 6, 1963, on the occasion of Guru Poornima, that He is the very embodiment of Shiva and Shakti.

Even before this public revelation, Swami gave a glimpse that He was Shiva-Shakti, on November 25, 1958, which was published in the March 1959 Sanathana Sarathi. Swami, Himself, narrated the incident to the devotees in Puttaparthi as it happened. A little girl had seizures and died on the way back from Puttaparthi to their hometown. When the whole family was heartbroken and panicky, an old villager came to their rescue and restored the child’s life. When asked who he was, the old man said that He was Jodi Aadipalli Somappa, one of the epithets of Swami in the 108 names of adoration of Sathya Sai (Sathya Sai Ashtothara Shata Namavali). That means He’s the Shiva and Shakti combined.

When asked later at Prasanthi Nilayam why He chose that Name over all others, Baba said,

“I Am Somappa, Appa (Lord Shiva) and Sa Uma (Sa–along with; Uma–Goddess Parvathi, the consort of Lord Shiva) with Uma. The place of My Residence is Aadipalli, the primeval village, Kailasa (heavenly abode). It is Jodi (joined together) because it belongs to Sa & Uma ‘Shiva-Shakti’, the Twin, Nature (Prakrithi) and God (Purusha)."

This is, therefore, Baba’s most appropriate epithet, selected by Himself, for that profound miracle of grace. It reveals His Truth as ‘Shiva-Shakti.’ Even though He was physically in Puttaparthi at that time, Swami manifested Himself far away as an old villager to save this child, who grew up to become a renowned Carnatic music singer.

In this issue, we share how some longtime ardent devotes like Dr. Alreja, Professor Anil Kumar Kamaraju, and Sri Ghandikota Subramanya Shastri Garu experienced Swami as Shiva-Shakti. Having had this good fortune, let us celebrate the holy Maha Shivaratri the way Swami wants us to, by knowing the inner significance of the festival with complete dedication and love to the divine.

Significance of Maha Shivaratri

This is an important festival for all spiritual seekers. Shivaratri comes every month on the 14th day of the dark half of the month, called Krishna Paksha when the moon is waning. On the 14th day, only a thin sliver of the moon is seen, and it will be extinct the next day. This is called monthly Shivaratri or Masa Shivaratri. But Maha Shivaratri, or great Shivaratri, is celebrated once a year, during the dark half of the month Magha, which usually comes around February or March.

The important message is that the moon is the presiding deity of the mind, and the mind is responsible for our bondage and liberation. So, when we turn our minds toward the Lord, we become free, liberated, and happy. And when we turn our minds toward the world, we are bound, grief-stricken and depressed. That is why this night is significant when we can annihilate even traces of the mind. This is called manolaya–when the mind is dissolved, one will be with God. So, Maha Shivaratri is the best day for enlightenment.

This is also the day of Lingodbhavam (the emergence of Lingam). Lingam represents Lord Shiva as the formless aspect of the supreme Brahman. Regarding the significance of the Lingam, Swami says, “Lingam is that in which everything in the world merges and becomes one (Liyate Gamyate iti Lingah).”

Swami brought out Lingam on Maha Shivaratri day to reveal that He is the source of all names, forms, and beyond. There are many forms of Lingams, made of clay, sand, stone, crystal, Gold, and other metals. The five elements, Earth, water, fire, wind, and space are also Lingas. (Pancha Bhuta Lingams). The whole cosmos is a manifestation of Lingam (Brahmanda Linga), and Atma itself is considered a Lingam (Atma Lingam).

Spiritual Practices on Maha Shivaratri

Ardent devotees fast and hold vigils on this sacred day because when they are immersed in Divine love, singing His glories, thinking about Him, and remembering His stories, they spontaneously forget their hunger and sleep.

Worshiping Lingam with the Bilva leaf is an important ritual. The trifoliate Bilva leaf (Aegle marmelos) represents three aspects, namely the three gunas (attributes), satva (pure and Divine), rajas (active) and tamas (inertia); three periods of time, past, present, and future; three states, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep; and three bodies, gross, subtle, and causal. Thus we offer everything to Him so that we can go beyond the three states because God is beyond all these three states of existence.

When we worship the Lingam, we do abhishekam. We worship the Lingam by bathing it with water, milk, curds (yogurt), honey, clarified butter (ghee), and other sacred materials. This ritual has the symbolic significance of offering to God the five elements and our body, mind, soul, and everything.

Abhishekam is also done with Vibhuti, the holy ash. Vibhuti is the final form that cannot be changed. That is the ultimate state of all matter. So, we should remember that everything is ephemeral and transitory, and God alone is eternal and supreme. For devotees, Vibhuti is the panacea for all kinds of physical and mental ailments. It also bestows the highest boon, which is liberation itself.

Sri Rudram, which is very dear to Lord Shiva, is chanted at least during four time periods on the sacred night of Maha Shivaratri, about three hours apart. Sri Rudram is a master scripture in Yajurveda that integrates the paths of action (karma), devotion (bhakti), and knowledge (jnana). The most potent five-letter mantra, Om Namah Shivaya, is also contained in Sri Rudram, in the eighth anuvaka of Namakam.

In the beginning stages, we pray, “Lord, whatever is negative for me, convert it into good and positive.” Then, we come to the stage where we experience that God is everything. We experience Shivoham ('I am Shiva' or 'I am God'), and everything is permeated by Shiva (Sarvam Shiva Mayam)—this is the ultimate purpose of chanting Sri Rudram.

Lord Shiva: Embodiment of Love and Sacrifice

Lord Shiva is the embodiment of love, sacrifice, and service. According to the scriptures (Puranas), during the churning of the Ocean of Milk poison (Halahala) emerged in the beginning that could destroy all the worlds, humanity, and creation itself. In His infinite love and compassion, Lord Shiva drank the poison and kept it in his throat to protect the world. He placed the moon on His head to bless the world with coolness and put the holy river Ganges in His matted hair to give life-sustaining water to humanity. This action symbolizes

  1. His sacrifice by swallowing the poison to protect the world.
  2. His love by giving good things to people, like water and coolness.

This exemplifies His infinite Love and Sacrifice for all creation.

Shiva’s Family: Example of Unity in Diversity

Shiva’s family is called the first family of the universe (Adi Kutumbam). Each family member of Lord Shiva, His consort Mother Parvati, and two sons, Lord Ganesha and Lord Subramanya are worshiped by many spiritual seekers as chosen deities, considering each as the manifestation of the Supreme Godhead (Brahman). The special message from this family, as Swami explains, is unity in diversity.

Lord Shiva’s vehicle is Nandi, a bull, and Mother Parvati’s vehicle is a lion. The vehicles of Lord Ganesha and Lord Subramanya are the mouse and the peacock, respectively. These vehicles are inimical to each other by their very nature. But they all live in harmony. Lord Shiva is an example of harmony and unity in diversity. He has a third eye with fire, and on His head, He carries the water of Mother Ganga. Water and fire do not go together in nature, but He lives in harmony with them. This symbolizes the message of living in harmony; despite our differences, we should develop understanding and live in unity and peace.

Building a Temple for the Lord

God is touched by our love and emotions (Bhavapriya). External rituals or ostentatiousness (Bahyapriya) do not move Him. He looks at our hearts and how much love and readiness to sacrifice we have.

There was once a great devotee named Poosalar. He was born in the town of Thirunindravoor near Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India. He was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and served the devotees in every possible way. He wanted to build a grand temple for Lord Shiva but did not have the means since he was destitute. So, he gave up the idea of building a physical temple. Instead, he started building a temple in his very heart with his mind’s imagination. He carefully planned everything and built it step by step each day. It was a well-planned temple with attention to every detail.

First, he put up a foundation for Lord Shiva’s temple. Then brick by brick, he constructed the wall, the shrine, and the roof, just like building a regular temple. Over time, he created the temple in his heart and completed it in a few years with amazing authenticity. Meanwhile, the king of that area, a King of the Pallava dynasty, was also building a massive temple in Kancheepuram, in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. He finished constructing a beautiful temple and fixed an auspicious day for the consecration ceremony (Kumbabhishekam). He prayed to Lord Shiva, who appeared in the king’s dream, expressed His happiness, and congratulated him for building a lovely temple. However, the Lord asked the king to postpone the date of consecration as He had to be at the consecration of the temple built by Poosalar that very day.

The king postponed the date of consecration as directed by Lord Shiva and headed immediately to the town where Poosalar lived. He asked the local people the whereabouts of the temple, but got no answer. The king then met Poosalar and told him what had happened. Poosalar was happy that the Lord had responded and recognized his temple. He told the king all about building his temple and the consecration.

The king understood the difference between lavish and costly temples of brick-and-mortar built by the rich and the powerful and the temple created by a devotee with a heart filled with purity, love, and perseverance. Lord Shiva appeared on the day of the consecration of Poosalar’s temple. All were happy, and Poosalar reached the Lotus Feet of the Lord that day itself. The Lord made him one of the 63 Nayanar saints (saints whose chosen deity is Shiva). To fulfill the desire of Poosalar, the king also built a big temple with Shiva lingam at Thirunindravoor, named Hrudayaleswarar (Lord, the resident of the heart).

Since Poosalar kept Lord Shiva in his heart, worshipped Him, and built an imaginary temple, many people suffering from heart problems pray at this temple even today and get cured. Such is the power of love.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba gave His first message to humanity through His bhajan, ‘Manasa Bhajare Gurucharanam.’ He assured us that if we worship the feet of the guru in our hearts, He will take us across the ocean of samsara. Let us undertake spiritual practice (Sadhana), the inward path with intense and single-pointed devotion and dedication, and reach the goal of Self-Realization.

Samastha Loka Sukhino Bhavantu–‘May All The Worlds Be Happy.’

Jai Sai Ram.