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Maha Shivaratri

The Day of Lingodbhavam

Shivaratri (the night of Shiva) is an important festival for all spiritual seekers. It comes on every 14th day of the dark half of the lunar month when the moon is waning. On the 14th night, only a thin sliver of the moon is visible, and it disappears completely the next night. This is called the Maasa Shivaratri (monthly Shivaratri). The sacred Maha Shivaratri (the Great Shivaratri) is celebrated once a year on the 14th night of the dark half of the auspicious month of Magha, which usually comes around February or March. In the divine discourse of February 7, 1959 included in this issue, Swami beautifully explains the inner significance of Maha Shivaratri. There are many spiritual practices associated with this holy festival, including keeping an all night vigil, observing a fast, and chanting the Sri Rudram–Namakam and Chamakam–which glorifies Lord Shiva, adoring various divine attributes.

From childhood, I was drawn to Lord Shiva. Whenever I had a chance to sing, I would select bhajans that glorify Him. On several occasions, out of His infinite compassion, Swami gave me opportunities to sing Shiva bhajans in His presence and, on one occasion, even accompanied the bhajan by playing cymbals! I feel overwhelmed whenever I recall those blessed moments. So, it is not surprising that Maha Shivaratri holds a special place in my heart, and over the years, I made it a point to be with Swami and bask in His glory every Maha Shivaratri.

In December 1984, Swami called our family for an interview. During that interview, He waved His hand and created a unique oval greyish-white stone, a Linga. Holding it up, He looked around the room and asked, “Do you know what this is?” Watching the miracle, we all sat silently with bated breaths as He continued, showing the translucent side of the Lingam, and said, “This is the moon–Chandrama Manaso Jatah (The Moon is born from the Mind of the Supreme Brahman). By worshiping this, your mind will be under control. Swami graciously blessed me, and I reverentially received the precious Linga and began worshiping it ever since regularly with all sincerity. 

The Linga

It is fascinating to note that in temples, Lord Shiva is rarely worshiped in human form, unlike other divine forms such as Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Kartikeya, Goddess Durga, Goddess Saraswati, etc. Be it Somnath, Kedarnath, Srisailam, Rameswaram, or any other holy spot associated with Lord Shiva, He is always worshiped in the cosmic aspect, in the Linga form. The Linga does not have a head, arms, or legs. It is a form that represents the cosmic aspect of Lord Shiva. One cannot discern where the Linga begins and where it ends. It is symbolic of the Lord, who is infinite. There is even a scriptural story of its emergence that highlights this very aspect, describing how even Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma failed to locate the beginning and end of the Linga.

The Lingodbhava

During His Maha Shivaratri discourse in February 1969, Swami explains lingodbhava (emergence of Linga) in greater depth, saying,

Since thousands pray here, and elsewhere in lakhs and crores, the Linga is emanating from Me so that you may derive the bliss that pervades the world through Lingodbhava. The manifestation of the Linga is a part of My nature. These pandits (scholars) explain it as reminiscent of an epochal event in the past when Shiva challenged Brahma and Vishnu to gauge the height and depth of the Linga form that He assumed. They failed and had to accept defeat. But the Linga emerges as a result of prayer and My grace.

You have to recognize in this event a glimpse of divinity, a sign of infinite grace. Just as Om is the sound symbol of God, the Linga is the form symbol or the visible symbol of God, the most meaningful, the simplest, and the least endowed with the appendages of attributes. Linga means that in which this jagat (world of change) attains laya (mergence or dissolution), leeyathe. All forms merge in the formless, at last. Shiva is the principle of dissolution for all names and forms of all entities and individuals. So, the Linga is the simplest sign of emergence and mergence.

One of the most popular etymologies of the Linga is “leeyathe gamyate charahcaram idam sarvam yatra Linga iti abhidhiyate” which means “in which all movable and immovable (sentient and insentient) things merge and move toward is understood as the Linga.” Swami shortens this and says, “leeyathe gamyate iti Lingah,” which means Linga is that in which everything in the world merges and becomes one. So, all names and forms ultimately merge in the Linga.

Swami brings out the Linga on Maha Shivaratri day to reveal that He is the source of all names, forms, and beyond. There are many types of Lingas, made of clay, sand, stone, crystal, gold, silver, mercury, and other metals.

There are twelve jyotirlingas considered to be very special, as explained in the article ‘Saishwara and Someshwara,’ in this issue, with details on how Swami reenergized Somnath Linga, one of the jyotirlingas. The very name jyotirlinga means ‘the Linga which illumines.’ When we visit these temples with devotion and faith, the darkness of ignorance is removed, and we are illumined.

The five elements, earth, water, fire, wind, and space, are also considered as Lingas (Pancha Bhuta Lingas). There are five temples in South India that represent these Lingas. The ‘Prithvi (Earth) Linga’ is Ekambareshwar in the town of Kanchi, the ‘Aapa (Water) Linga’ is Jambukeshwara in the town of Thiruvanaikal, the ‘Agni (Fire) Linga’ is  Arunachaleshwara in the town of Tiruvannamalai, the ‘Vayu (Wind) Linga’ is Kalahasteeshwara in the town of Kalahasti, and the “Akasa (Space) Linga” is Chidambareshwara in the town of Chidambaram.

Every particle and every atom of the universe is verily a manifestation of Lord Shiva, as mentioned in the Rudram. The whole cosmos is a manifestation of Linga (Brahmanda Linga), and Atma (Self) itself is considered a Linga (Atma Linga). That is the ultimate experience one is assured when one worships the linga sincerely and chants the Rudram with devotion.

The Unexpected Bonus

In 1999, I arrived at Prasanthi Nilayam a few days before Maha Shivaratri. It wasn’t crowded like the Shivaratris of yore because Swami had discontinued doing Lingodbhavam (manifestation of Linga from the mouth) publicly in 1977.

That year, we were all in for a divine surprise. Devotees gathered from around the world and observed the sacred night-long vigil, singing bhajans and chanting the Rudram. Swami arrived in the morning and sat on the dais, enjoying the bhajans. To the astonishment of everyone, He blessed the gathering with Lingodbhavam, and the whole atmosphere in the hall became electrified. A thrill coursed through all of us who witnessed it. Adding to the magnificence of this unexpected episode, Swami mentioned in His discourse that those who had witnessed the emergence of the Shiva Linga from Him would be liberated and not have any more births! This proclamation was such an unexpected divine blessing because moksha comes only after attaining Jnana through intense Atma Vichara (Self-enquiry). 

Since then, I became even more committed to be with Swami every Maha Shivaratri. It was distressing to witness Swami going through a painful physical trauma during the Lingodbhava. However, when I expressed my concern to Swami, He said, “The mother suffers labor pains during delivery. Despite that, when the baby is born, the mother is full of joy. So, too, this has to happen, and after it happens, it gives great joy to Me and the devotees.

Hiranyagarbha Comes Home

The Linga is worshipped by ceremoniously bathing it with water, milk, curds, honey, ghee (clarified butter), turmeric, sandalwood paste, saffron, and many other materials which have a deep inner significance. This is called Abhishekam. Broadly, this represents the offering of the five elements along with our bodies, minds, and souls to the Lord. The Linga is also worshipped with vibhuti (sacred ash). In the early years, on Maha Shivaratri, Swami used to shower a silver idol of Shirdi Baba with heaps of vibhuti that He would produce miraculously by swirling His hand into an empty, upturned pot.

Another significant offering is that of the sacred trifoliate bilva leaves. They signify the offering of the three gunas (attributes), namely, satwa, rajas, and tamas (purity, passion, and sloth), across the three periods of time (past, present, and future), the three states (wakeful, dream, and deep sleep), and the three types of bodies (gross, subtle, and causal). The whole universe and our lives are in the realm of all these triads, and the offering of the bilva leaves is a prayer to take us beyond all of them to the supreme Parabrahman. The Linga is a representation of this supreme Parabrahman beyond name, form, attributes, time, and space.

Dr. Narendranath Reddy, Dr. Hymavathi Reddy, and Smt. Chellamma with Swami in the interview room in February 2004.

My parents were blessed and fortunate to live in the ashram for nearly two decades, and they were blessed with many interviews with Swami. During one interview, my mother, Smt. Chellamma, boldly appealed, “Swami, please bless us by gifting one of the Lingas that have emerged from You?” We were taken aback at her frankness and simplicity, but Swami obligingly responded saying that He would fulfill her desire. It was left at that, and we pretty much forgot about it.

A few years later, in 2004, Swami did the Lingodbhavam, which became a sacred feature of Maha Shivaratri by then. A couple of days after Maha Shivaratri, He called our family for an interview. My father was unable to join us. To avoid travel strain he stayed behind in the USA following Swami's directive. Swami surprised us by blessing us with the golden Hiranyagarbha Linga! Placing it in my hands, He said, “You wanted a Lingam, right? This is the one that emerged from Me on Maha Shivaratri day.

He continued, “This is Someshwara Lingam. You should perform Abhishekam daily to this Lingam.

I replied, “Swami, we do not know the Rudram, the most sacred chant for worshiping Lord Shiva…”

“Don’t worry about that,” He reassured us, “just chant ‘Om Sri Sai Ram’ or ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ and perform the Abhishekam. You are a doctor, and you will be seeing many patients in your practice. You may distribute the Linga Abhishekam water to anyone who may need it.”

While I am grateful to Swami for His simple solution regarding the chanting, I felt that He was just being a loving parent. Wanting to be a good child, I sincerely started learning the Sri Rudram and, by His grace, learned the entire Namakam and Chamakam (Sri Rudram) along with developing an understanding of its meaning and inner significance. Where there is a will, there is a way. This is also exemplified by the perseverance of our young adults who continue to embark on programs to learn the Sri Rudram. The experiences of the young adults described in a couple of reflections in this issue show their determination and will to participate in various activities of the Sri Sathya Sai International Organization.

Many amazing cures and astounding miracles have occurred (and continue to occur) in devotees who partake this Linga water. Even patients with dreaded conditions like cancer and stroke were healed! That is all due to the grace and omnipotence of Swami, expressed through the Linga, and the strong faith of the devotees. We continue to freely share the precious Linga water to anyone who requests it. Indeed, this shows the omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence of the Lord, which has been further highlighted in an article by Mr. Cosby Powell in this issue.

During His divine discourse on February 15, 1999, speaking about the Hiranyagarbha Linga, Swami said, “Hiranyagarbha Linga is present in everyone's hridaya (spiritual heart) and is on the right side of the body. The principle of Hiranyagarbha permeates My whole body. It assumes a form when I will it. Whoever has seen this Linga at the time of its emergence will not have rebirth. One should see its form as it emerges. In order to sanctify your lives, such sacred manifestations have to be shown to you every now and then. Only then can you understand the divinity in humanity.”

(Left to right) Crystal Linga, Stone Linga and Hiranyagarbha Linga.

Birth of the Someshwara Gayatri Mantra

One blessed day, as I was doing the sacred ritual worship of the Lingam in a prayerful and contemplative mood, I had a sudden flash of intuition. Without conscious effort, the words just flowed out of me,

Om Someshwaraya Vidmahe
Suvarna Lingaya Dheemahi
Tannah Sai Prachodayat

The way it emerged I felt quite sure that I wasn’t the author or even had any conscious thought about it. Knowing intuitively that it was something of great significance, I noted it down. On my very next visit to Puttaparthi, I shared with Baba the profound experience He granted me. I also showed Him the piece of paper with the Someshwara Gayatri Mantra written on it. Swami glanced at it and studied it. Then, He struck off the last line and, in its place, He wrote Tannah Sarva Prachodayat, replacing Tannah Sai Prachodayat. Swami is thus not only the unseen inspiration but also the direct, literal author or source of this mantra, which is:

Om Someshwaraya Vidmahe
Suvarna Lingaya Dheemahi
Tannah Sarva Prachodayat

Om–The primeval sound, representing the formless Divine without attributes and name.
Someshwaraya Vidmahe–We know You as the Lord of Soma (moon), who is the presiding deity of the mind.
Suvarna Lingaya Dheemahi–We meditate on that bright golden lingam, which represents the supreme Divine in which everything merges.
Tannah Sarva Prachodayat–May the Lord, who is everything, grant me the knowledge of the Supreme.

During a subsequent visit, we brought a card printed with this Gayatri Mantra in Sanskrit, Telugu, and English. Swami seemed pleased, and He even signed that card–With Love, Baba! So, the next time we came to see Him in December 2004, we got the mantra engraved on silver plates and offered them to Swami. Swami gently reprimanded me for ‘wasting money,’ but He was happy with the love with which we offered them. He even distributed them to a few students and some long-time devotees.

The Linga came from Him, the Gayatri came from Him, and He finally ‘authenticated’ it with His divine signature as well! What a precious blessing!

The Eternal Travel Companion

‘Shiva’ means auspiciousness, and ‘Ratri’ means night. ‘Shivaratri’ is the auspicious night. The prefix ‘Maha’ means ‘great,’ and Maha Shivaratri occurs once every year (on the Chaturdashi of the Magha month), while every month there is a Shivaratri (on the Chaturdashi night). However, Swami tells us that any night that becomes auspicious by thinking of God, chanting or singing His name, and doing His work is Shivaratri. Such are the practical and simple teachings of our Beloved Lord, Sai Shiva. In the same vein, Swami offered me a practical solution through the gift of a third Lingam.

In 2006, I was getting busier and busier with the activities of the Sri Sathya Sai International Organization at Swami’s behest. I had to travel extensively, which kept increasing. During an interview that year, Swami again pleasantly surprised me by creating a Sphatika (crystal) Linga, which is small in size and easy to carry. Swami gave it to me, saying, “You travel a lot. This is a travel Linga!”

So, whenever we travel as a family, we carry all three Lingas. But when I travel alone,
I carry the “travel Linga!” It is a constant ardent prayer in my heart that the Linga and Lord Sai Shiva travel with me on the ultimate journey of life.

With continuous and intense spiritual practices in the adoration of Lord Shiva, we will finally realize the Lingam is within us as Atma Linga, and we will experience Shivoham (“I am Shiva”). May Lord Sai bless us all on this holy Maha Shivaratri to pursue our spiritual practices with devotion, determination, and dedication.

Jai Sai Ram. 

Narendranath Reddy, M.D.