Maha Shivaratri is a unique spiritual festival when a sincere seeker can turn his or her mind inward with the least distracting effects of the mind at this auspicious time of the lunar cycle. By focusing on God at this time, through various spiritual practices such as meditation and singing holy songs (bhajans), one may move forward on the path toward Self-realization. Sri Sathya Sai Baba encouraged all devotees to understand the spiritual significance of all religious festivals and to sincerely engage in their own personal spiritual practice.
The following excerpts are from Chapter 4 of Howard Murphet’s book, Man of Miracles in which Mr. Murphet describes Sri Sathya Sai Baba manifesting His divine will in the form of mounds of holy ash (vibhuti) and subsequently creating a Shiva lingam.
In 1966 the Mahasivaratri Festival, generally known simply as Sivaratri, took place on February 18th. As I walked back from breakfast at the canteen that morning, I had to step carefully between groups of visitors camping on the ground. All the buildings were full, all the space under trees was occupied, and now people were making their temporary residences anywhere on the open ground: comfort is of no concern to the Indians on such occasions.
I joined the crowd standing in front of the Mandir, the big central building. Thousands were waiting for Sai Baba to show himself on the balcony and give his morning blessings. Presently the small red figure with the dome of black hair appeared. He lifted his arm in blessing, rather listlessly for him, I thought, and returned quickly to his room. I had the impression that he was not well. Then Dr. Sitaramiah, who had just come down from seeing him informed me that Baba's temperature was 104 degrees.
"I suppose it has something to do with the Siva lingam forming inside him. It's a great mystery," the doctor declared.
Baba, however, carried on throughout the day as if there was nothing the matter with him. I saw him walking around distributing packets of sacred ash to the crowds sitting on the ground waiting for it and waiting also for the chance of touching the edge of his robe. Then during the morning, the first of the day's two public miracles was performed. It took place in a large open-sided shed where thousands could sit on the floor packed close together in a manner achieved only by tinned sardines and Indian crowds. Fortunately, I was sitting near the stage among a bunch of photographers where a little more elbow room had been allowed. Here is my diary entry on what took place that morning:
"On the stage is a large silver statue of Sai Baba of Shirdi in his characteristic sitting posture. Mr. Kasturi takes up a small wooden urn, about a foot in height, and filled with vibhuti. This he holds above the head of the silver statue, and lets the ash pour over the figure until the urn is empty. He shakes it well to make sure that the last grains have fallen out, then continues to hold it above the statue with its open top downwards.
"Now Sai Baba thrusts his arm as far as the elbow into the vessel and makes a churning motion with his arm, as women did when making butter in the old days. Immediately the ash begins to flow again from the vessel and continues to do so in a copious stream until he takes his arm out. Then the flow of ash stops. Next, he puts his other arm in and twirls that around. The ash streams out over the statue again. This process goes on, Baba using alternate arms, ash pouring from the empty vessel while his hand is in it and stopping immediately he takes it out. Finally, Shirdi Sai is buried in a great mound of ash - much more than the vessel could possibly have held. Now the urn is placed on the floor: the miraculous, ceremonial ash bath is over.
'There is a joyous, elevated atmosphere all around; Mr. Kasturi's face is more radiant than ever, Baba's movements and manner are the acme of unselfconscious grace. It's all wonderful yet having watched him pull handfuls of ash out of the empty air I am not so greatly surprised to see him stir it in large quantities from an empty pot.'
But the big climax of the day was to come, and many people talked to me about it. They told me that every year one or more Siva lingams have materialised in Baba's body at this sacred period. He ejects the lingams through his mouth for all to observe. They are always hard, being made of crystal clear or colored stone and sometimes of metals like gold or silver.
Would thirty thousand people travel many arduous miles to see Sai Baba produce an ordinary stone from his interior - miraculous though it may be? I doubt it. But the stone expected that evening, the lingam, is not ordinary. It lies at the very heart of India's ancient spiritual culture.
It was about eight-thirty, powerful electric lights illuminating the group on the platform, when Sai Baba rose to his feet. First, he sang a sacred song in his sweet celestial voice that touches the heart. Then he began his discourse, speaking as always on such public occasions in the Telugu tongue. The thirty thousand or so people were as one, expectant and utterly silent, except when Baba told a funny story or made a joke. Then a ripple of laughter would pass over the star-lit field of faces. On the platform Mr. Kasturi was busy making notes of the address which would be published later, in both Telugu and English.
Sai Baba's eloquence had been flowing in a steady stream for some half-hour when suddenly his voice broke. He tried again but only a husky squeak came. Bhajan leaders among the devotees, knowing what was happening, immediately gave voice to a well-known holy song and then the great crowd joined in.
Baba sat down and drank from a flask of water. Several times he tried to sing, but it was impossible. Now he began to show signs of real pain. He twisted and turned, placed his hand on his chest, buried his head in his hands, plucked at his hair. Then he sipped some more water and tried to smile reassuringly at the crowd.
The singing continued fervently, as if to support and help Baba through this period of pain. Some men around me were weeping unashamedly and I myself felt a flow of tenderness towards the man suffering there before us. I could not grasp the full significance of the event that caused the agony, nor perhaps could most of the great crowd watching, but to understand a thing with the mind is one matter and to feel its meaning in the bones and blood is another. Inwardly I felt that I was sitting at the very heart of something profoundly significant to mankind.
But another cautious, rational part of me was not even convinced that a genuine miracle would indeed take place, let alone a spiritually important one. So, instead of blurring my eyes with the tears of sympathy, I kept them fixed on Baba's mouth; my whole attention was glued to that point so that I would not miss the exit of the lingam - if in fact it would come from there.
After about twenty minutes or so of watching Baba's mouth while he writhed and smiled and made attempts to sing, I was rewarded. I saw a flash of green light shoot from his mouth and with it an object which he caught in his hands, cupped below. Immediately he held the object high between his thumb and forefinger so that all could see it. A breath of profound joy passed through the crowd. It was a beautiful green lingam, and certainly much bigger than any ordinary man could bring up through his throat. Sai Baba placed it on the top of a large torch so that the light shone through its glowing emerald-like translucency. Then, leaving it there, he retired from the scene.
Siva is the God of yogis, the one who helps man to conquer his lower nature and rise above it into his true divine nature. To make this transition the mind must first be mastered. Mind is said to be somehow related to the moon, and it is believed that there is an astronomically favorable time when the moon is right for success in man's efforts to transcend his mind. It is at this most favorable time, in February, that the great Sivaratri is held. But at Prasanti Nilayam this lunar festival is doubly auspicious; not only are the celestial conditions correct, but the miraculously produced physical symbol of Siva is there before all eyes, a glowing focus for the supreme effort of meditation. It is interesting and appropriate to note here that in the Uttara Gita Lord Krishna says that lingam is from the word lina which means to unite. This is because the lingam makes possible the union of the lower self with the higher self and with God - with Jivatma and Paramatma.
If during Shivarathri one meditates on God, one can achieve nearness to the Divine. Supreme sacredness of Shivarathri consists in realizing oneness with the Divine through meditation on God.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba, 11 February, 1983
Lingam means, that in which this jagath (world of change) attains laya (mergence or dissolution), Leeyathe. All Forms merge in the Formless at last. Shiva is the Principle of the Destruction of all Names and Forms, of all entities and individuals. So, the Linga is the simplest sign of emergence and mergence.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba, February, 1969