I will share a few thoughts from what Swami said about Mahasivarathri. According to our scriptures, every month Sivarathri falls on the 14th day of the Krishnapaksha (waning moon). Once a year, we observe Mahasivarathri on the same 14th day of the waning moon, in the month of Magha (February–March), which is the most auspicious of all Sivarathri nights. Maha means great and Mahasivarathri is the great Sivarathri night.

Picture of Sai Shiva given to Sri Gandikota Subramanya Sastri

The moon is the presiding deity of the mind. It represents the mind, which is least effective during the time of Mahasivarathri. This is considered to be the most auspicious time for spiritual seekers. “Manayeva manushyanam karanam bandha mukshayoh” (mind is the cause for both bondage and liberation of man). So, once the mind is controlled and turned towards God, one is free and liberated. But if the mind is turned towards the world, one remains in bondage. Mahasivarathri is an auspicious time when, Swami says, it is easy for a seeker to practice and control the mind and the senses. For spiritual seekers, Swami advises three things: (1) bend the body, that is do service, (2) mend the senses, that is control the senses, and (3) end the mind (manolaya).

Lord Shiva is also called Manohara, which means beautiful as per common belief, but Manohara also means one who takes away the mind. We should try to understand the inner meaning of Divine names.

Sathya Sai Baba is Shiva

Swami is Sai Shiva and in His infinite compassion Swami revealed the truth during a discourse on 6th July 1963 by stating that He is Shiva Shakti Swarupa. From Swami’s biography, we learn of a devotee named Mr. Sheshagiri Rao, who was one of the priests of the Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir after it was built in 1950. He was a very orthodox ‘Saivite’ Brahmin, of the belief that only Lord Shiva is the supreme God. He did not believe in Swami’s Divinity and thought that Swami was just a holy man. On one occasion, Mr. Rao’s family requested him to accompany them to Puttaparthi. Since there were only ladies in the group, he agreed to go as an escort for them.

As soon as Mr. Seshagiri Rao laid his eyes on Swami in Puttaparthi, he saw Lord Shiva in place of Swami’s form, adorned with snakes. He lost consciousness and was in bliss for three days. This is one of the recorded events where Swami granted the vision of Lord Shiva to His devotees. Another incident relates to Sri Gandikota Subramanya Sastri, the one who composed the Sai Gayathri – chanted all over the world. Once he asked Swami, “Who are you?” Swami replied, “Do you want to see my real form”? Then, Swami showed him a picture in which He gave darshan as Lord Shiva.

In 2005, we held an International Medical Conference in Prasanthi Nilayam. Approximately 1,000 medical professionals had gathered and Dr Venkat Sadanand, while giving a talk, prayed to Swami to reveal His real form, and ended his speech. Swami then called Dr Sadanand and told him, “I am Shiva” and asked him, “Do you want to see my real form?”. Then, He materialised a gold chain with a sphatika lingam and said “This is My real form.”

Lingam materialised by Sathya Sai Baba for Dr. Venkat Sadanand

Inner Meaning of the Divine Names

Mahasivarathri is also the day when Lord Sai Shiva brought out lingams and so we call Him Lingodbhava and Lingeshwara. This is the day when Lord Shiva performed the Tandava dance, or cosmic dance. Hence, He is also called Nataraja, “King of Dancers”. Anyone who is interested in dance and music should visit Chidambaram, where the idol of Lord Shiva can be observed as Nataraja.

Whenever we sing various bhajans, we should try to know the inner meaning of the bhajans so that we can enjoy them and have Divine feelings. Shiva also means “Mangalam” which is auspiciousness. We normally say ‘Sri’ as a prefix before chanting the Lord’s name. ‘Sri’ also means ‘Mangalam’. We say Sri Rama for Rama and Sri Krishna for Krishna. But for Lord Shiva we don’t say “Sri Shiva” because Shiva Himself is auspiciousness. We also say “Sadashiva” which means the one who is always auspicious. We call Him “Sambashiva” which means Divine mother and father. We call Him “Ishwara” which means the Lord. “Maheshwara” means the Supreme Lord. He is known as “Bholanath” meaning the one who is easily pleased. When we offer just a Bilva leaf and water, Lord Shiva is happy and this is why He is also called “Ashutosh” (easily pleased). When we chant His name and sing His bhajans, He is pleased and gives us Jnana. Hence Maheshwara is known as Jnanadeva, the one who gives Jnana (supreme knowledge) easily.

The Bilva leaf which we offer to Lord Shiva is very special because it is “Trifoliate” (has three parts). The three parts of the leaf signify the three Kalas (times), that is past, present and future, as well as the three Gunas (attributes), namely sathva (pure and Divine), rajas (active) and tamas (static and inertia). This also represents the three Lokas, namely Bhur (lower world), Bhuvah (earth) and Suvah (heaven), and the three states, Jagrata (waking), Swapna (dreaming), and Susupti (deep sleep), the three bodies, Sthula (gross body), Sukshma (subtle body), and Karana (causal body). Another representation is the triune nature of Divinity, Brahma (creator), Vishnu (protector) and Maheshwara (destroyer). So, everything is represented symbolically by these Bilva leaves which are offered to Lord Shiva so that we may go beyond the three Kalas, Gunas, Lokas, States, and Bodies. Therefore, by singing bhajans all night during this auspicious time of Mahasivarathri, we can easily conquer the mind and experience Divine bliss.

Message of Sri Rudram

Swami explains the word “Sivarathri” as composed of ‘Si’, ‘Va’, and ‘Rathri.’ By numbers, “Si” denotes 5, “Va” denotes 4 and “Ra” denotes 2, which add up to 11. This corresponds to the 11 Rudras which are represented by 11 anuvakas (verses) of Namakam and Chamakam which we chant. Who are these Rudras? Rudras are entities that make us weep. Swami says that we cry from birth to death due to many mental and physical afflictions. These Rudras represent the five jnanendriyas (organs of perception), the five karmendriyas (organs of action) and the manas (mind). When the mind becomes pure, we shall experience Sath, Chith and Ananda i.e., Existence, Knowledge and Bliss. If we focus on these three, i.e., Sath, Chit, and Ananda, instead of the 11 Rudras, then we will be blissful. Therefore, we should focus on Sathchidananda, so that the same jnanendriyas, karmendriyas and manas can be enlightened. This is the inner significance of Mahasivarathri. The main message of Sri Rudram is to see Divinity in everything, everywhere, forever. This is very well expounded with examples to see divinity in plants, trees, forests, rivers, lakes, oceans, clouds, waves, foam, stones, hills, mountains, horses, dogs, saints, thieves, hunters, soldiers, carpenters, goldsmiths, and others. Then we experience the scriptural message, “Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma” (Everything is Brahman).

Sathya Sai Baba with Jyoti Lingam, 1974

Unity in Diversity

Swami also gives us lessons from the family of Lord Shiva. The Divine family is called “Adi Kutumbam” that is, the First Family. Ganesha, Subramanyam, Shakti and Lord Shiva are all worshipped by devotees. Lord Shiva has water on the top of the head as Ganga and fire in the middle of His forehead as third eye. But water and fire do not go together. His vehicle is the bull, while the vehicle of his consort Parvathi is the lion. Lion and bull do not go together. He has snakes around his neck whereas Lord Subramanyam’s vehicle is the peacock and Lord Ganesha’s vehicle is the mouse. All these vehicles represent animals that are enemies of each other. Still, there is harmony in the family. Swami says this as an example of harmony in the family between husband, wife, children, and brothers and sisters – in spite of their differences. Members of a family may have different opinions, yet there should be harmony in the family, as in the example of Lord Shiva’s family.

As discussed earlier, Lord Shiva is easily pleased with Bilva leaves, and He brings out the lingam on this auspicious day of Mahasivarathri. What is special about the lingam? God has two aspects, one is Nirguna and Nirakara (formless and attributeless) and the other is Saguna and Sakara (with form and attributes). When God assumes form and attributes, He comes to us as Sathya Sai, Rama, Krishna and Jesus. We see His glorious form which is beautiful. He is the most compassionate and we enjoy all His Divine attributes. But God is also Nirguna and Nirakara. He is beyond names, forms, attributes, space and causation. Then, how do we experience God who is Nirguna and Nirakara?

Significance of the Worship of the Lingam

Whenever we chant OM, it is a verbal symbolism for the attributeless, formless, Brahman. OM is Pranava Mantra and is a verbal form of Nirakara Brahman. Similarly, the lingam represents the visual form of the Nirguna, Nirakara Brahman. The definition of lingam is “Liyate Gamyate ithi Lingaha”. Liyathe means that in which everything merges, and Gamyate means that towards which everything is going. All our lives are destined to go towards the lingam. There is no beginning and no end to the lingam.

Our dear Swami brought out certain lingams to shower His grace and blessings on mankind during Mahasivarathri. These lingams are in the form of stones, crystals, metals and various elements. Swami gave our family the first lingam in the 1980’s, which is a marble lingam. This is made of stone and Swami showed the moon in this lingam. The moon is the presiding deity of the mind. “Chandrama Manaso Jatah” are the exact spoken words of Swami, who directed us to worship this lingam to gain control of the mind. Subsequently, Swami gave our family a Sphatika (crystal) lingam and said that worshipping this lingam would purify our hearts.

Someshwara Lingam materialised by Sathya Sai Baba for Chellamma Adivi Reddy

In His infinite grace a few days after Mahasivarathri 2004, Swami gave our family the Hiranyagarbha Lingam which emerged from His mouth. We can see His teeth marks and the dent on this lingam.

He told us to worship this lingam and share the water with whoever needs it, as it is very powerful and auspicious. He then called us for an interview and told us that this is the Someshwara Lingam, given on Somavara (Monday), which is special for the worship of Someshwara (Shiva).

When I was meditating on this lingam, suddenly a mantra came to my head, as shown below:

Someshwaraya Vidmahe, Suvarnalingaya Dhimahi, Tannoh Sai Prachodayat”.  When I chanted this mantra to Swami, He said that the third line is not “Tannoh Sai Prachodayat” but “Tannoh Sarvah Prachodayat.”

Many Gayathri mantras are composed by rishis like Vishwamitra. Here, Swami himself composed this mantra which I shared above. Swami says that when we chant His name or sing bhajans during Mahasivarathri and spend the whole night immersed in Divine thoughts, He is pleased, since He is Asutosh and Bholanath, the one who is easily pleased. He is our supreme God and I pray to Swami that we may spend the whole night thinking about Him and enjoying His grace.

All three Lingams materialised by Sathya Sai Baba for Dr. Reddy's family

Includes Excerpts from talks given by Dr. Narendranath Reddy on March 7, 2016 and February 2018 at Sathya Sai Center of Arcadia, USA