The Master continued: "The devotee observes strict spiritual discipline in the day and worships Me in four different forms in the four successive Praharas, each made up of three hours of the night. The offering of a few Bilva leaves is more precious to Me than the precious jewels and flowers. He should bathe Me in milk at the first Prahara, in curd at the second, in clarified butter at the third, and in honey at the fourth and last Prahara. The next morning, he should feed the Brahmins first and break the fast after the performance of the prescribed ceremonies. There is no ritual, O Parvati, which can compare with this simple routine in sanctity".
Pujya Swami Sahajananda's audio message on the Power of Namasivaya (Parts 1 and 2) featured in both the First and Second Praharas. These were recordings of Pujya Swamiji's readings - the account of an American devotee, Sharon Brown, whose amazing experience exemplified the power of the Om Namah Sivaya Mantra. When she was informed that she had aplastic anaemia (a disease that attacks the bone marrow) she sought Divine help and was advised by a devotee of Swami Muktananda of New York to chant the Om Namah Sivaya 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 cancer came to her as a blessing so as to bring her into contact with the Mantra. Through the chanting of the Om Namah Sivaya Mantra, she experienced great peace and courage during the illness as well as during the operation that was performed on her.
The following readings from Sivananda's Gospel of Divine Life were also done: The Master's Worship, A Life-Giving Mantra, The Panchakshara and Siva and Vishnu. The First Prahara concluded with the divine chanting of the Siva Panchakshara Strotra, the Siva Arati, Mantra chanting and offerings.
A video on Markandeya, explanation and recitation of Arunachala verses, PowerPoint presentation: Lord Siva and His Worship – The Meaning of the Symbols, PowerPoint presentation: Reciting 108 Names of Lord Siva, and an audio recording of the play, Bhasmasur, added to the divine and spiritual ambience of the Second Prahara. In addition, the reading, Lord Siva's Assurance written by Sri Swami Sivananda, gave poignant insights into Lord Siva's assurances to ardent devotees. The Master writes: "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".
The Ode to Arunachala, an inspired poetical composition by Sri Ramana Maharishi, read and recited in this Prahara, is an exceptional outpouring of devotion for the Lord of Arunachala. The Prahara concluded with the Sivananda Arati, chanting and offerings.
The Third Prahara continued exalting the celestial attributes of Lord Shiva. Featuring prominently were the readings : Background to the Nayanar Saints, Kanappa Nayanar, and Living Presence of God. It is of note that some of the famous Saiva Acharyas, who have blessed us with their supreme wisdom and also inspired us with their matchless devotion, led lives that are a continual source of inspiration for us. The famous sixty-three Nayanar saints of South India were ardent devotees of Lord Siva. 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, lit the temple lamps, and served His devotees. To them the worship of Lord Siva's devotees was superior even to the worship of the Lord Himself.
The story, Living Presence of God by Sri Swami Sivananda aptly reveals the innocent, yet unconditional love of a devotee for the Lord. Excerpts that highlight this theme are:
"Ask for any boon, Puran. I am greatly pleased with your devotion."
"My Lord, kindly enlighten me first. I am perplexed. You did not deign to bless me when I devoutly worshipped you, when I repeated the Panchakshara Mantra for six months. But you suddenly chose to reveal yourself to me when I had discarded your image and given up your worship. What is this mystery of Thine?"
"My child, there is nothing mysterious in this. How could I reveal Myself when you treated Me as a mere image, as a mere piece of metal, to be worshipped and discarded at your sweet will and fancy? But when you looked upon My idol as a living Presence, when you began to plug the nostrils with cotton so that the incense may not enter them, this revealed that you recognised My living Presence in it. I could no more withhold Myself from you."
Speechless but enlightened, Puran bowed to Lord Siva and was immersed in His love. He could ask for no boon. In His love he found everything".
Other items in this Prahara included a track from the DVD Wisdom of Sivananda, a recorded play reading, Old Drum New Palace, as well as guest artistes, Kirtans and Bhajans. The third Prahara again concluded with chanting and offerings.
The Fourth and final Prahara featured a video: Mahasivaratri – Sri Ram Worships Lord Siva, a reading entitled Lord Siva and His Lilas, and readings from Sivananda's Gospel of Divine Life entitled, Advice to Woman and D.I.N (sic). The recital of the sacred Sri Hanuman Chalisa, performance by guest artistes, Kirtans and Bhajans also aptly added to the beauty and grandeur of the Prahara. The Fourth Prahara brought the Mahasivaratri celebrations to a spiritual end with the final chanting, offerings and Arati.
The observance of Mahasivaratri is indeed a great spiritual experience for all spiritual aspirants. Sri Swami Sivananda, in the article, The Significance and Observance of Mahasivaratri aptly captures the significance of this world-wide and ancient observance, and the implications for us – spiritual aspirants. He writes, "The formal worship consists of bathing the Lord. Lord Siva is considered to be the Form of Light (which the Siva Lingam represents). He is burning with the fire of austerity. He is therefore best propitiated with cool bathing. While bathing the Lingam the devotee prays: "O Lord! I will bathe Thee with water, milk, etc. Do Thou kindly bathe me with the milk of wisdom. Do Thou kindly wash me of all my sins, so that the fire of worldliness which is scorching me may be put out once and for all, so that I may be one with Thee—the One alone without a second".