Maha Shivaratri through the Lens of a Young Adult
Maha Shivaratri is widely considered to be one of the most prominent Hindu festivals celebrated annually in honour of Lord Shiva. He is the Hindu Triad's "God of Destruction." When discussing Shiva's cosmic responsibilities, the word "Destruction" might give the wrong impression. Destruction in relation to Shiva's cosmic duty might be misleading. In fact Lord Shiva vanquishes malevolent presences like those representing death, ignorance, and wickedness. Also it is the destruction created by Lord Shiva that allows for positive recreation.
Swami said ‘Shivaratri’ stands for ‘auspicious night.’ How is it auspicious? It is auspicious when you spend your time in the auspicious way singing the glory of the God. He said, “devotees are expected to stay awake by chanting the sacred name of Shiva. Keeping awake in any other way is purposeless...”
(Ref: Divine Discourse 25 February 1988)
Elaborating on how & why Mind can be put on scared track, Swami elaborated, “Maha Shivaratri is a very auspicious day for all. It is the fourteenth day of the Lunar fortnight, when the Moon is waning and the Sun is in the sign of Aquarius. However, the festival is related to the Moon rather than the Sun. Unlike other nights, this particular night is the night of consecration, of dedication, of illumination. The mind is intimately associated with the Moon. Chandra, the deity of the Moon, is the presiding deity of the mind. He loses one sixteenth of his brilliance every day after the full moon day and continues waning until, on this night, he is left with just one sixteenth of his power. The waned Moon may be taken to stand for the mind with all its wild fancies and waywardness reduced after it has been conquered by spiritual discipline. On this night, there is just a minute part more to be conquered, and that can be done by keeping vigil and dwelling on the glory of God The vigil that is prescribed is symbolic of the eternal vigil one has to observe, while the rite of fasting is symbolic of divesting the senses of the pleasures for which they crave. The night-long devotional singing is significant of the lifelong consciousness of the Divine Presence that everyone should cultivate. The rites and vows laid down for Sivarathri being absent on other nights of the year, the observance on this day comes as a reminder that they are useful.” (Ref: Divine Discourse, 7 March 1978)
Revealing this truth during HIS Divine Discourse 6 Jul 1963, HE made the proclamation that HE is Shiva Shakti Swarupa' (embodiment of Shiva & Shakti).
It was Swami's recommendation that devotees spend the night of Maha Shivaratri meditating and/or contemplating on the Lord to sanctify each and every moment of the celebration. And as always, the universal tool that Swami has blessed all of us with, is that of Namasankirtan (Singing Glory of Lord) ) Because of this the Maha Shivaratri festival is celebrated at Prasanthi Nilayam and in many Sai Centres across the Globe with an offering that is sung continuously throughout the night. Bhajans (Devotional singing) often used for this occasion.
As a Young Adult navigating the modern world, Maha Shivaratri presents an opportunity for me to to set aside those 12 hours and devote them to 'Naamsmarana' (remembrance of God). While staying awake for that extended period of time once seemed daunting, similar to Akhanda Bhajans (24 hours of continuous Devotional Singing), I found that it spiritually recharged me in a unique way. While my love for Swami is what motivates me to attend Shivaratri celebrations within my region, it is the vibrations created through group singing that keeps me going.
Swami said “Singing the name by a group of people can help the process of liberation not only for the members of the group. It will benefit those who listen and even those beyond the circle of listeners; the whole world can benefit from the vibrations”.
(Ref: Divine Discource, 26 January 1982)
Even in my own experience, I have found this to be a resounding truth. The vibrations of the collective voices echo those resonating from the heart.
I would like to end this article with a quote from Swami’s discourse, “The day when man is able to experience the divine state of being-awareness-bliss (sath-chith-ananda) is really the holy day of Sivarathri. Till then, man is in perpetual darkness. Until a fruit ripens on a tree, its juice is not sweet. When the fruit is fully ripe, it drops from the tree. Attachment to the tree is gone. Likewise, when a man achieves spiritual maturity, he acquires detachment (vairagya) automatically. Man has to endeavour to reach this level of maturity by spiritual practices that transform his consciousness. Turn your minds toward the Divine. Repetition of the Lord’s names has been prescribed as a spiritual discipline to turn your mind away from the things of the world. If you devote the whole of this night to thoughts about the Lord, your minds will be transformed, even if you are not able to reach the highest state of “Over- Mind”. Ever bearing in mind the triple characteristics of the Divine --Truth, Wisdom, Eternal Brahman (Sathyam, Jnanam, Anantham Brahman)-- strive to achieve the supreme goal of Man.”
(Ref: Divine Discourse 16 Feb 1988)
I hope that this article motivates all to partake in Maha Shivaratri celebrations within our respective communities. I recall Swami's words, “Bhajans (Devotional singing) is the process of singing that originates in the heart, not from the lips or the tongue. It is the expression of the joyous thrill that wells up from the heart when the Glory of God is remembered. No attention is paid to the blame or praise that others may give. It does not seek the admiration or the appreciation of the listeners."
I have high hopes that by the time we go from these festivities, we will feel even more energised, unified, and connected to our cherished Swami who is our beloved lord Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
Om Sri Sai Ram.