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The Significance of Mahaa Shivaraathri

Among festival days, Mahaa Shivaraathri is of exceptional importance. Today God is in close proximity to man, but in fact the Divine is never far from anyone at any time. This means that everyone is Divine. But each one must strive to recognize this indwelling Divinity that is the eternal Reality. Most people waste their lives in the observance of external rituals and forms of worship. Together with external observances, people should also try to achieve internal purity. How long should one waste his life in external forms? All knowledge and skills are of superficial value and effect no internal change. At midnight on Shivaraathri, Divine vibrations are close to every human heart. At such a time, when people are engaged in holy tasks, they get suffused with the Divine vibrations.

The holy night of Mahaa Shivaraathri is thus intended to serve as a sacred opportunity for eradicating the evil tendencies within and turning the mind firmly towards God. At least on this auspicious day, people should concentrate their minds on God with purity and devotion. If at least on one night out of 365 days in a year, the senses are brought under control, then peace may be experienced and the quest for liberation may be initiated. When the entire night is dedicated to the chanting of the Lord's name, one's mind, speech and senses all get centred on God. This is itself a form of sense control. The control of the senses is itself a form of Thyaaga (sacrifice) which leads to Immortality. Sacrifice of wealth or possessions is no sacrifice at all. It is the sacrifice of the senses (the desires caused by them) which is the highest sacrifice.

At least on one day in a year all our thoughts and words should be centred on God. When this is done, people can realize the Supreme as described in the terms, Sathyam, Shivam, Sundharam. Socrates' disciple, Plato, used the terms, Truth, Goodness and Beauty to describe this state of Self-Realisation. In the experience of oneness with the Divine, there is Shaanthi (peace) Chith (Awareness) and Aanandha (Bliss).

Embodiments of the Divine Aathma! The whole of last night you were all immersed in the blissful vibrations in Prashaanthi Nilayam caused by the chanting of the Lord's name. You must see that the Nilayam in each of you is always filled with these divine vibrations. What is this Nilayam? It is your body, which enshrines the Aathma. There are these divine vibrations always in you. They constitute your Life-Force. The body is inert by itself. It is the divine vibrations that animate it. Both the body and the Vital Force derive their power from the energy radiating from the Aathma (the Indwelling Spirit). You are thus a composite of the body (material substance), the Life Force (vibrations) and the Aathma (Radiations). Seek God within you. This is true saadhana.

Bhagawan Baba, Excerpts from Divine Discourse in Poornachandra Auditorium, 11/3/94

Mahaa Shivraathri - the Great Night of the worship of Lord Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna ( the holy twelfth month in the lunar Hindu calendar). It falls on a moonless late February / early March night, when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of Dissolution. Shivaraathri (Sanskrit 'ratri' = night) is the night when, the Puranas (holy scriptures of the Hindus) say, Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Natya or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and dissolution. The festival is observed for one day and one night only. It is usual practise for devotees to keep vigil the whole night offering prayers and bhajans and engaging in sacred activities in the company of the good and holy people (Sathsang. It is important to note also our dear Bhagawan’s divine directions above: To strive and focus our minds on God with purity and devotion whilst engaged in this vigil.

According to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of deadliest of poisons (Haalahala) emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified as it could destroy the entire world. When they fervently prayed to Shiva for benediction and help, he in order to protect the world, drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as 'Neelakantha', the blue-throated one. Shivratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world. Bhagawan Baba exhorts us to take this ideal of Shiva and be eager to serve, to help, and to come to the rescue of others. For this, one must cultivate Sahana (Fortitude, Equanimity) and eschew the poison of impatience, anger, hatred and pride. Bhagawan explains that in hiding the ferocious poison behind the blue patch of His Throat, Lord Shiva demonstrates to humanity a lesson: Keep under restraint within you, the qualities and tendencies that are anti-social, the poisonous hatreds and competitive greeds. (Sathya Sai Speaks Vol.7 Chapter 8)

Shivaraathri is considered auspicious for all. Generally it is believed that anyone who utters the name of Shiva during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins. He or she reaches the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death. This is one reason why Bilva Archana (worship with the unique trifoliate leaf of the Bael or Wood apple tree) is done on Shivalinga (the formless symbol of Shiva) during Puja. The Bilva Ashtakam (an 8 stanza hymn) says, ‘Trijanma Paapa Samharam – Eka Bilva Shiva Arpanam’ – meaning, if you offer a single Bilva leaf with devotion to Lord Shiva, it has the potency to eradicate sins from 3 lifetimes. Apart from the recitation of Sri Rudram throughout the night during abhishekam on the Shivalinga, Bilvaarchana is also performed with great devotional fervour.

In a marvellously unified and dynamic composition expressing the rhythm and harmony of life, Lord Shiva is worshipped as Nataraja, The Lord of Dance, with four hands representing the cardinal directions ( also representing the 4 yogas or paths, 4 yugas or epochs, the 4 ashramas or stages of life and most importantly the 4 Vedas). He is shown in this Form as the one who triumphs over illusion and ignorance, thus assuring all beings of protection and freedom from ego and fear. This cosmic dance of Shiva is called 'Anandatandava', meaning the Dance of Bliss, symbolises the cosmic cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution, and the rhythms of illusion and salvation. It highlights for us all the very nature of the Divine Principle that is inherent in each one of us: Ananda or Supreme Bliss.

Resolve on this Holy Shivaraathri, in the Presence of Shiva Sai, to visualize the Shiva as the inner power of all. With each breath, you are even now, asserting Soham, ‘I am He’. Not only you, but every being that breathes, every being that lives, everything that exists! It is a fact you have ignored so long. Believe it from now on. When you watch your breath and meditate on that magnificent Truth, slowly, the I and the He (the Sah and the Aham) will draw closer and nearer, until the feeling of separateness will fade away- and the Soham will be transformed in to Om, the Pranava, the Primal Sound, the Fundamental Formula for God. That Om is Swaswaroopa – the Reality behind this ‘relative reality’. (Sathya sai Speaks Vol.9, chapter 3)

Dr.Vickneshwaren Krishnan
Chair Person Ilford Sai Centre
Region 3, SSSSO UK