Our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda states in Hindu Fasts & Festivals, "When creation had been completed, Siva and Parvati had been living on the top of Kailas. Parvati asked; "O venerable Lord, which of the many rituals observed in "Thy honour doth please Thee most?" Lord Siva replied: "The thirteenth night of the new moon, Krishna Paksha, in the month of Phalguna (February-March) is known as Sivaratri, is My most favourable Tithi. My devotee gives Me greater happiness by mere fasting than by ceremonial baths, and offerings of flowers, sweets, incense, etc."
Destruction and creation are two mutually supporting forces necessary to ensure survival and evolution. Lord Shiva is recognised as the Destroyer or Dissolver in the Hindu Trinity. Who better to assist us in this battle to free ourselves from the cycles of life and death than Lord Shiva Himself and on this most auspicious "the great night of Shiva"! Mahasivaratri is observed in honour of Lord Shiva and commemorates the day Shiva was married to Parvati.
In Pujya Swamiji's audio message, Pujya Swamiji read the account of an American lady, Sharon Brown, whose amazing experience exemplified the power of the Om Namasivaya Mantra. When she was informed that she had plastic-anaemia, a disease that attacks the bone marrow, she sought Divine help and was advised by a devotee of Swami Muktananda to chant the Om Namasivaya Mantra. On simply hearing the Mantra even once, Sharon Brown experienced extraordinary exhilaration. The Mantra and the world appeared as one. At one point she felt that was cancer came to her as a blessing so as to bring her into contact with the Mantra. Through the chanting of the Om Namasivaya Mantra, she experienced great peace during the illness as well during the operation that was performed on her.
In the reading on from Lord Siva and His Lilas by our Divine Master we heard, "Devotion to the Lord dawns in the heart of a man who has done virtuous actions in his previous births without expectation of fruits and egoism or the idea of agency. Devotion leads to knowledge of the Self (Jnana) and through Jnana, he attains Moksha or the final emancipation.
In this Age, Nama-Smarana or singing the hymns is the easiest, quickest, safest and surest way to reach God and attain Immortality and perennial joy. The Name of Lord Siva has the power of burning the sins, Samskaras and Vasanas and bestowing eternal bliss and everlasting peace on those who repeat the Name of the Lord. Our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda assures us, "He who utters the Names of Siva during Mahasivaratri, with perfect devotion and concentration, is freed from all sins. He reaches the abode of Shiva and lives there happily. He is liberated from the wheel of births and deaths".
A reading of Ode to Arunachala was part of our Mahasivaratri programme. Ramnath Narayanswamy wrote the following explanation on the significance of this inspiring Ode. "The Akshara Mana Malai is an inspired poetical composition by Sri Ramana Maharishi. The verses gushed out of the sage like a cloudburst. When the girivalam was over, all the 108 verses were completed. It is an exceptional outpouring of devotion for the Lord of Arunachala (Lord Siva) in which the Maharishi assumes the role of a lover (seeker) seeking her beloved (the Supreme Being). One of its most evocative verses celebrates the death of the ego:
I came to you with the intention of making you mine. But instead it was you who consumed me."You swallowed my ego. You consumed my individuality and absorbed me into yourself.Now there is peace. He who came to feast on you became a feast for you. The eater and the eaten have merged into one.There is no duality any longer.I have lost my individuality, my ego, and my body consciousness and have attained inseparable eternal union with the Self. I have no further desires"
A profound message indeed: One can only enjoy true and lasting peace when one's individuality, ego and body conscconsciousness is destroyed.
Extracts from Sivananda's Gospel of Divine Life reinforced the power of chanting the Mantra. The Master was instructing some devotees,
"The Panchakshara Mantra‒Om Nama Sivaya‒is the greatest. Oh! What else do you need? When once you have initiation of the Panchakshara, you need not run after any other saint for initiation."
"Swamiji, we only longed to get that assurance from a great Maharishi like you."
"Go on repeating it. The Lord will bestow all prosperity on you. All your troubles and difficulties will vanish."
"We are greatly blessed to have such blessings from Swamiji."
"Do a lot of Japa of this great Mantra. Do not think that this or that Mantra is superior to the Panchakshara, for the purpose of getting this or that object. For everything the Panchakshara alone will do. It is the remedy for all ills. Mantra Japa is not like curry or soup. Brinjal soup is tastier than lady's finger curry!" All had a hearty laugh over this humorous remark.
Let us now turn to some of the famous Saiva Acharyas, who have blessed us with their supreme wisdom and also inspired us with their matchless devotion. Their lives are a continual source of inspiration for us. Appar was a great saint of Tamil Nadu. He lived at the time of Sambandhar, another glorious saint of South India. They both loved each other dearly. When Appar was serving in a temple near Tiruvarur, gold and diamonds appeared at his feet. He regarded them as stones and threw them away. On another occasion, celestial damsels appeared before him and tempted him in a variety of ways, but he remained unmoved in his meditation.
The famous sixty-three Nayanmar saints of South India were ardent devotees of Lord Siva. Some of them lived during the time of Appar and Sambandhar. They served devotees of Lord Siva and practised absolute surrender to the Lord. They were quite ignorant of high philosophy. They cleaned the temples, prepared flower garlands, lighted the temple lamps, and served His devotees. Such was the great devotion of Kannappa Nayanar that he plucked out his own eye for the sake of the Lord. Among the Nayanmars there was a potter, a washerman, a fisherman and a weaver. They observed no caste distinctions. They readily had meals with Bhaktas of all castes. Their worship of the Lord was so great, so sincere, and so filled with devotion, that they often broke what we would call normal rules.
Our deep gratitude to the following guest artists for their divine outpourings and creative dance presentations: Kumari Roanna Bala, Smt Vijayluxmi Balakrishna, Sri Hemani Maharaj, Sri Solly Pillay & troupe and Smt Archana & troupe.
We conclude this report by summing up the purpose of this great night and an assurance from Lord Siva Himself, "The two great natural forces that afflict man are Rajas (the quality of passionate activity), and Tamas (that of inertia). The Sivaratri Vrata aims at the perfect control of these two. The entire day is spent at the feet of the Lord. Continuous worship of the Lord necessitates the devotee's constant presence in the place of worship. Motion is controlled. Evils like lust, anger and jealousy, born of Rajas, are ignored and subdued. The devotee observes vigil throughout the night and thus conquers Tamas also. Constant control is exercised over the mind. Every three hours a round of worship of the Siva Lingam is conducted. Sivaratri is a perfect Vrata. Lord Siva assured Parvati as follows: "There is no ritual, O Parvati, which can compare with this simple routine in sanctity".