The Eternal Festival

Mahashivaratri at Pashupatinath Temple

Shiva - The Mystic Night

The Eternal Festival

This narrative was written in the seventies by Dadaji and explores one of the most important festivals in the calendar for sadhus, the great night of Shiva.

"Every week throughout the year, one day is sacred to the Lord Shiva, but once a year a day is set aside as Mahashivaratri - the Great Festival of Shiva. It is a moveable festival, kept on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of the lunar month of Phalguna.

Once celebrated on a vast scale throughout India, it now only sees peak performance at two places, separated by a considerable distance as well as a border. The best celebration to be witnessed is at the Pashupatinath (Lord of Animal Life) Temple at Kathmandu, Nepal.

The other is celebrated on the Teleti, the sacred area at the base of Mount Girnar in Saurashtra. Because politics have tended to separate Nepal and India, this has encouraged Girnar to develop more and more.

The great cluster of seven peaks which suddenly push themselves up from the extensive flat area below makes them a unique sight from a distance. The journey to their peaks displays an even more wonderful sight. Two Europeans who wrote much about India during the days of British rule, described Girnar as "Not only the most wonderful sight in India, but in the whole world."

A few days before Mahashivaratri, a vast number of sadhus make their way to the secret spot and crowd the many ashrams on the Teleti for the great midnight scene. It is here that one can see a large number of naked saints, the very epitomes of the Nivritti Marga or Path of Renunciation which they have chosen. The Naga sect come here in vast numbers and this is one time and place where practically all sects meet in concord. Nudity is here held in highest regard. Even sadhus who wear langotis or small loin cloths, drop the curtain on this occasion; let the microcosm be as the macrocosm.

In those happy blissful carefree days of ancient India, long before the Vedic Aryans came to disturb the verdant scene, the Lord Shiva reigned supreme with his consort, not only throughout the whole great sub-continent of Jambudvipa, but in many distant places of the world. It was here on this soil of India that men and women developed what was probably the earliest true religion, culture and way of life. We know from unquestionable proof that this Shiva-Shakti culture was flourishing more than five thousand years ago (7000 BC) and can rightfully conjecture that it must have had a history which began much earlier. Traces of this very ancient cult can be found in every religion which has appeared on the earth. Even today, in this ultra-modern age and miraculously escaping Christian suppression or destruction, there are still a vast number of the Phallic-Pashupati cults still existing in Europe.

There is considerable opinion that the indigenous people of India prior to the Aryan immigration were a dark-skinned people. If this is so it is certainly strange that their God and Goddess were both described in countless texts as white-skinned. The Dakshinamurti Upanishad, probably itself a text rewritten from older oral traditions, describes Shiva as "The Lord sitting cross legged whose hair is matted and adorned with the shining crescent moon, whose body is white as milk and who has three eyes." Here we have a description similar to the figures of the Mohenjadaro and Harappa seals. This is also the prototype of the yogi and the contemplative, but although a relative symbol and form, it was also, to these early Indian Pagans, the living manifestation of the real Shiva as Absolute whom Indus Valley inscriptions describe as "The Supreme Being who exists by itself." These concepts still exist today.

To make relative comparisons, for clarity, Shiva assumes different values according to the disciple. Shiva is not a name but a quality and means Auspicious or the Auspicious One. To a few, Shiva is Paramatman, Brahman, the Absolute, but many more prefer to see Shiva as a personal God given to compassion for his worshippers, and the dispenser of both spiritual and material blessings. Related to the Absolute concept is Shiva as Yoganath, the Lord of Yoga, wherein he becomes teacher, path and goal. As such he is the Adi Guru or Highest Guru of sannyasins who have renounced the world to attain the Absolute.

In the vast pantheon of Indian gods, great and small, Shiva possesses a mixture of the weird and wonderful and even brings a strange equipoise and harmony to fantastic patterns and symbols.

Modern artists now dress Shiva in leopard skins and coloured clothes to make the Absolute respectable. Most go so far as to hang a sacred Brahmin thread on a God who flourished in India thousands of years before a single Brahmin entered! Let us thank Shiva that Shiva can stand all this and more. The texts which describe Shiva cannot be modernised or overwashed with Christian respectability so easily. Let us examine one of them.

Among the many priceless gems in the Bhagavatam, there are many cases where the non-Vedic or Tantric deities have been changed into the name of the Vaishnava God Vishnu. In many stories this was too easy, but some texts are so detailed in their relationship with Shiva that a change was not possible. One such story tells of the Sage Kasyapa who married Diti, one of Daksha's daughters, and therefore the sister of Sati, the wife of Shiva. It would appear that Kasyapa gave too much attention to his strict disciplines and performance of sacrifices. Diti would be neglected no longer and went to her husband and demanded he perform the ancient ritual which gave women children.

Kasyapa saw the justice of the demand and promised to give her satisfaction in the love duel, but that moment was not suitable and she must wait a little for complete darkness. This was in accord with the ancient traditional beliefs that Shiva roamed the earth at the three sacred periods of sunrise, noon and sunset. It would be inauspicious if the Lord spied two people copulating at the time when they should be engaged in the rituals of worship. Kasyapa explains in a wonderful passage, which throws much light on both Shiva and his qualities, as well as aspects of life which did not meet with his approval.

"This is the sunset hour, when the Lord Shiva, riding on Nandi, the sacred bull, moves about the world with his retinue. He, the Lord Shankara, sees all with his three eyes. There is none like him in the whole universe and He has no equal. Those who wish to break through the veil of ignorance emulate His divine qualities. He who is the goal of the righteous, is seen in that wild appearance which He has seen fit to adopt, to teach the path of Self realization.

"Miserable creatures adorn the body with rich dresses and costume although it is only fit to be food for dogs. Thus adorned and embellished with flowers and cosmetics, they mistake the body to be the real Self. Seeing Shiva completely naked, smeared with ashes, wearing a necklace of skulls and having matter hair thick with dust, they laugh at Reality -- Supreme Shiva -- not understanding that His purpose is to teach them the useless nature of the body and treat it indifferently. Shiva spurns the wealth and power which pitiful human beings expect as a reward for religious devotion and piety. He alone is the cause of the universe and Maya (delusion) is His slave. He is the Absolute, Perfect Being and His ways are inscrutable."

The pre-Aryan people had the intelligence to realise that if you projected the Absolute as a male figure, it could be represented as a female figure also. People must have found creation more easily understood in terms of cosmic copulation, a male and female principle bringing things into being, as a yang-yin of Chinese thought. This was easily understood for it was the natural process of their own lives. They did not think of the plausibility of cosmic weavers and tailors and so God and Goddess were both naked. They could not suspect that anything created by the Divine was dirty or improper, but rather saw the most fitting symbols of the God and Goddess in terms of penis and womb (lingam and yoni; the yoni is the womb and not the external female sexual organ). They saw the whole universe as a great womb in which worlds were born and came to being.

When we muse on the vast world of philosophies, ideas and dreams, sacred as well as insane, social, political and scientific, we see the struggle of men to think and not build up ghosts which only vanish in the dust. One day, perhaps, mankind will find that the oldest was really the ultimate and in his search for immortality he must return to where he started.

Now we can see that a Divine Guru, not only teaches us in terms of a doctrine of practical instructions, but by the way he lives. Thus millions of Indians have seen the manifest form of Shiva as their guide on the path.

One of the early traditions and one of the world's most ancient, is Shiva in the form of Dakshinamurti - the South-Facing Guru. In this form, seated on a low platform, with one leg hanging down in front, he communicated the Sanatana Dharma or Eternal Wisdom to the four Kumaras who appeared early in creation. The Guru spoke no words but taught them by the transmission of mind-to-mind, thus giving us an early example of what was to become a popular concept in Zen. Its purpose was to show that man can realise the Absolute when the human mind is in complete equipoise with the Cosmic Mind.

There is a Hindu scripture called The Thousand Names of Shiva. Dakshinamurti is one of them. Actually none of them are really names in the sense that we generally use the word. They are all rather qualities or descriptions. They are spread throughout India as names of temples or sacred places. One of the oldest Upanishads refers to Shiva as Kalagni-Rudra (Rudra the Lord of Fire and Time). Rudra has many meanings and could by Ruddy or the Howler. Shiva as Rudra managed to work his way into the most sacred of the Aryan Vedas, the Rig-Veda, though the references are not too flattering. But that is of no matter. Enemies will often, if not always, describe us more accurately than will our friends. When Daksha crossed swords with Shiva, his son-in-law, we get a much franker description of Shiva than might come from a respectable devotee. This description is not only one which could also be applied to the greater saints of India but might have real meaning to the dropout of today. Here we quote briefly. The full story must come later.

Standing in the centre of the vast assembly of gods and men, Daksha pointed his bony, ghee-soaked finger at Shiva, his son-in-law, and uttered this terrible denunciation:

"Loo-ook at Him. A disgrace to this assembly and one who brings discredit to the Gods. Is he not the laziest and most nonproductive one who refuses to work or undertake duties? By him the righteous path of Veda is tarnished. He has married my daughter in the presence of Agni, Brahmins and relatives, yet is devoid of the respect he should show as my son-in-law. He does not think of himself as my son and when he sees me he does not salute me or inquire about my welfare. Instead, he remains silent and closes his eyes like a monkey.

"Loo-ook at him! He has no modesty or sense of shame and comes here, just as he walks about, completely naked and smeared with the ashes he has taken from cremation grounds. His associates are lunatics, drunkards and madmen. His very retinue are really ghosts, devils and spirits. Lord indeed! he is only the lord of lazy servants who deny proper service and responsibility to their masters. His decorations are evil creatures and the necklace of human bones pollutes this place. His matted hair is dusted with impurities from the cremation ground where he likes to reside. Shiva! No, not Shiva -- Auspicious -- but Inauspicious! I weep to think that I was tricked into giving my daughter Sati to him in marriage. From henceforth, we will get no share in sacrifices performed by me."

Shiva did not rate high in Daksha's popularity list, but Daksha should be seen and understood as the symbol of the Vedic Brahmin ritualist who wanted to present the Aryan purity and its religion, in spite of the great merger which was taking place to bring about the fusion of Vedic and Tantric cultures into one all-embracing way of life. While Daksha denounced, Shiva remained silent.

Let us return to the Teleti of Girnar, the Lord of Mountains. Sadhus throng the ashrams and roads. Some have erected little hits of sticks and leaves by the roadsides. The climax takes place at midnight when the sadhus take their bath and assemble to offer praise to the Lord Shiva. It is the end of winter and still cool but they endure all in the ecstasy of naked submission to the Absolute as Shiva.

The great concord of saints is not without its spectacles. Some of the sadhus have taken vows never for a period of so many years to lie or sit on the ground, even to sleep. They stand with their arms resting on a flat piece of wood fixed on a pole, and this becomes their only support to rest or sleep. By the side of the road, a tall sadhu leans against a tree eating fruit. He is completely naked and his only possession, a trisula or three-pointed spear, as high as himself, rests against one shoulder.

Further along the road is another naked sadhu putting on a spectacular show. He stands with his legs apart, sufficient to permit huge stones or rocks which have been tied to his penis, to swing free. The weight of the rocks must be enormous and the sadhu has no competitors. Nothing to do with true spiritual life, but helpful in encouraging donations. Some of these types stand on the points of nails fixed in small blocks of wood. The performance starts with a challenge that he will stand on these uncomfortable supports and remain completely immobile until ten rupees have been donated. Usually he has an accomplice standing by and if things go on too long he gives a signal and his friend terminates the painful performance by promptly donating the remainder of the money. Mahashivaratri is the cake and the showmanship is the icing sugar which makes the festival more palatable.

Midnight on Mahashivaratri is no less bewitching than midnight festivals in other lands. As the sadhus go to take their bath and manoeuvre their way into the pool, from the vast concord of naked bodies we hear the great mantra of the Lord:

"Hara Hara Mahadeva Shiva-Shambhu Kashi Vishvanatha Ganga!" (Hara is the Great God, Shiva called Shambhu, Lord of the World, residing at Kashi on the Ganges!)

Banares, now called Varanasi - the original name corrupted to Banares - also has its great celebrations of this festival.

Within the boundary of Varanasi is an area called Kashi which for millennia has been regarded as the seat and city of Shiva-Kashinath. Today it is the one great city of the world where you will see the most religion and the least spirituality. But in spite of this defect, it draws like a magnet and has a peculiar and mystic fascination of its own. It is, perhaps, the most concentrated and visible aspect of modern Hinduism that can be seen today. It has more sacred bathing ghats than any other city and they stretch unending along the bank of the Ganges.

Kashi has the long-standing tradition that if you die there, irrespective of what evil might have been done, you will go directly to heaven. Hundreds, in old age, still go there for this purpose. Great numbers of old Brahmins go to Kashi and become initiated as Dandi Swamis - the Swamis who carry the staff. There they wear the ochre robe and pass their days in prayer and gossip, to await that great moment when they will be carried to the burning ground and wake up in heaven.

Only a Brahmin can be initiated as a Dandi Swami, and this is the only qualification. They are not sannyasins, but take to a stage in life called vanaprastha, something akin to a hermit, but one still observing prayer and ritual. In the past, it was India's answer to the old age pension. Most beg their food from the house of a Brahmin. Some institutions have also been set up to give meals and people donate money to the sect to purchase the wood for their ultimate disposal.

Women vanaprasthas are now very rare and generally cared for by families, but the life is actually open to women just as much as men, though they do not take initiation. The Dandi Swamis acknowledge Shiva as the Supreme Lord, but as individuals their concepts are very relative. The vanaprastha stage of life is not sectarian and can be assumed by any man or woman of any caste and they can continue the worship of deities of their own choice.

A lovely story is told which demonstrates the traditions of Kashi and the eternal Ganges. Parvati, the Consort of Shiva, was playing the role of a woman more than a Goddess and rebuking Shiva for his readiness to grant boons and blessings too easily. She added her final feminine thrust to say that if Shiva was in dire trouble, nobody would try to help him.

Shiva took up the challenge and said they would arrange a text. He would lie on the ground and pretend he was dead. The Goddess would then pose as a distraught window. She would then tell anyone who passed that the God of Kashi had granted her a special boon and if any stranger who was pure in heart touched the body, her husband would come to life again and she would be rescued from widowhood.

Many came by but most hurried on because Hindus had been taught that it was inauspicious to touch a dead body and in this way they would lose their chance to go to heaven. As the hours passed, the test brought no success. Suddenly a man came along looking the very picture of dejection and misery. He stopped to listen to Parvati's plea but sadly turned away and said: "Good lady, your devotion to your husband should be honoured, but I am unworthy to fulfil the task. I have wanted the world too much and it has only brought me misery. My life has been too evil for me to be able to serve you in this way."

Hanging his head, he turned to move on. Then, suddenly, he turned back. "Wait, good lady, there is a way."
The man rushed down to the Ganges and plunged in the water. Hurrying back, he laid his wet hands on Shiva's head. Shiva stirred and sat up, but before he could speak, the man rushed down to the river and immersed himself a second time. Shiva laughed, but the Goddess put her questions.

"Why, good man, did you first refuse but touched my husband after bathing in the river?" The man laughed and replied: "Should it not be known by all that any person who bathes in the Ganges at Kashi washes off all taint of evil and becomes pure?" "But," asked the Goddess, "why the second bath, if you had been made pure?"

"Did I not touch your husband's corpse and is that not a new impurity?"

This time, Parvati laughed with Shiva and the man suddenly realised who they were and threw himself at their feet.

Shiva said: "For this day's work, in which your faith and sincerity excelled all other men, I will grant you a boon. Ask for whatever you wish."

"Be careful," said the Goddess.

The man looked at the face of Shiva. "What boon can I ask, when I am weary of the world, but the boon of your grace which will grant me strength and confidence to tread your path to liberation? Grant me this."

Shiva held up his hand, making the mudra of granting boons, and said: "So shall it be and when you have cast off the last body you will shine as an immortal among the stars."

Later, Parvati said to Shiva: "I never seem to be able to get the better of you." Shiva turned to her and whispered: "You should take a bath in the Ganges."

Mankind has gone a long way, up and down, down and up and now mostly down. Ancient values, tempered in the forge of time, are being rejected for new untried ideas. Happiness in worldly life is still the only real criterion by which mankind can measure its life. Progress is not always found with the latest innovations, concepts or ideas, and mankind may soon have to learn that ancient Pagan ways of life and values have still the most to offer. There is still some gem of real wonder in that old Pagan life where men learned not only how to live but also how to die. Those who can see Shiva and Shakti as undifferentiated union have no need to think of "Gay Liberation" or "Women's Liberation" or any concepts to establish sex equality. What Nature made, Nature will preserve.

India has taught us the balance of life and the true pulsating rhythm by which all things are accomplished. It is the most earnest and serious way of life the world has ever known, yet does not have real meaning until we can lampoon it and learn to laugh with it. This way of life, thronged with cheats and hypocrites, contained the greatest man who ever lived. The path which is over covered with the most rubbish and superstitions, carries on its crest the highest wisdom of the Absolute. When you enter the stream, think of the goal on the other shore and do not waste words or tears lamenting on the water which is going past.

A word of warning, human creatures! If you love your world and its frustrations, its empty promises, tears and anguish, its war, shattering noise and disasters, its passions, pathos, pillories and pilfering, its weary ways of unending toil and trouble, its devil dance which leads you to the grave, then Beware and turn your eyes away from the Lord of Yoga; flee from this Shiva and His Shakti, lest your delusions are destroyed and you are led to liberation."

Mahashivaratri at Pashupatinath Temple

For more than a week before and after Mahashivaratri, the area around Pashupatinath Temple is transformed into a mammoth fair of sorts, with food stalls, pavement markets and clusters of temporary shelters where life-styles and human activities of a mind-boggling variety can be witnessed. Colorful costumes of the many different ethnic and tribal pilgrims from India sporting intriguing headgear, ranging from turbans to towels around the scalp; long flowing dresses, pantaloons and loin cloths, along with the women's colorful sarees, all form a fascinating contrast to the many Sadhu-Babas and Yogis in their birthday suits. People fill the roads - holy men, some half clad, some covered in ash but entirely nude; pilgrims in their distinct and colorful tribal costumes; vendors selling practically everything from vermilion powder, Rudraksha beads, monkey nuts, to Coca Cola and snacks. Foreign tourists also form part of this vast collection of humanity.

During Shivaratri, the temple of Pashupatinath, dedicated to Lord Shiva, becomes all spruced up in anticipation of the arrival of Sadhus, Yogis and other holy men as well as the hundreds of thousands of devout Hindu pilgrims. All devout Hindus believe that a visit to the holy Pashupatinath temple will absolve them of all past sins and the preference to make this pilgrimage during the time of Shivaratri, and assure them of a good human birth in their next life.

Hindu sadhus burn cowdung cakes to perform some holy rituals in the revered Pashupati area in Kathmandu. Hundreds of devotees from different parts of Nepal and India have been coming to the area to celebrate Maha Shivaratri festival that falls on February 23rd.

On the day of Mahashivaratri, people gather on the hillside across the river from the Pashupatinath temple as well as around the vicinity of the temple complex in groups around campfires and in makeshift shelters, singing Bhajans, reciting Sanskrit verses, discussing various religious topics while maintaining a fast and a vigil in anticipation of the religious ceremonies. Marijuana smoking mendicants, many with long matted tresses, dot the area, serene and trance-like, emulating Lord Shiva himself, in their consumption of the sacred herb, either by smoking it in clay chillum pipes, or by eating bhang.

At midnight Shivaratri festival officially begins with the priests inside the main temple making offerings of the auspicious Pancha Amrit to the Lingam of Lord Shiva. All day and throughout the night, devotees in an almost never-ending stream, file through the gates of the main temple to sprinkle milk, flowers, coins and rice offerings on the Lingam of Lord Shiva to be followed by a ritualistic bath in the river every few hours as dictated by the rituals.

At about six o'clock in the morning priests start the recitation of sacred texts which can be heard for miles around being amplified through loud-speakers strategically spread all over the Pashupatinath temple complex. This chanting of prayers continues till mid-day followed by the singing of Bhajans. The mammoth turnout of pilgrims is such, that devotees and believers are still involved in the elaborate religious activities many days after the actual night of fasting. As is inevitable after a period of fasting, there is the ritual partaking of food and sweetmeats following the festivities of Shivaratri. Naturally there are vast numbers of food-stalls selling many varieties of food and sweets.

For the devout Hindus who come from far away to experience the Shivaratri festivities and take a dip in the holy waters of the Bagmati river, it is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For non-Hindus, Shivaratri offers a fascinating insight into a very important religious event as well an opportunity to see diverse cultures, peoples and costumes with the most gawked at and photographed being the Hindu holy men - the Sadhus and Yogis, smeared in ash, their foreheads striated with many different and intriguing designs under many different types of hair-do. Completely naked ascetics, with rings in their genitals roam through the crowds, mindless of the stares and glances and to the intense cold of the Himalayan winter, having mastered their minds to withstand the heat, cold and inhibition of all types.
[William Forbes]

Shiva - The Mystic Night

We conceive God as glory, as creativity and as austerity. Vishnu is glory and magnificence, Brahma is creativity force, and Shiva is austerity and renunciation. You might have heard it said that God is the embodiment of six attributes of which renunciation is one. You will be wondering how God can renounce things. He is not a Sannyasin. He is not an ascetic like a Vairagin or a Sadhu. What is He going to renounce? How do you conceive Shiva as an austere Yogin or a renunciate? What does He renounce? The all-pervading Almighty, what has He to give or abandon? Here is the secret of what renunciation is! It is not renunciation of anything, because there is nothing outside Him; renunciation does not mean abandonment of object. If that had been the definition of renunciation, that cannot apply to God. God does not renounce or abandon any object, because all objects are a part of His Cosmic Body. Then how do you represent God as an embodiment of Vairagya (dispassion)? Bhagavan, who is endowed with 'Bhaga' or glories of a sixfold nature, is also embodiment of Vairagya. Do you identify Him with a Sannyasin, possessing nothing? No, never. God is the possessor of all things. Then, how can you call Him a renunciate, a Sannyasin or a Vairagin? The secret behind the concept or the consciousness of Vairagya, renunciation is here, in the identification of this attribute with God. It is only when we interpret things in terms of God that things become clear. Otherwise, we get confused. We cannot know what goodness is, we cannot know what evil is, we cannot know what virtue is, unless we refer all these values of life to the concept of God in His Perfection. The only standard of reference for us in all matters of life's values, is the existence of God. So, the concept of renunciation, which has been very much misused, also gets rectified, clarified and purified when it is understood with reference to the existence of God whose special manifestation, in this context, is known as Lord Shiva.

God does not renounce anything. Then, in that case what is renunciation in this context? It is the freedom from the consciousness of externality. This is called Vairagya. How can you abandon things? All things are there in front of you, like trees in a forest or stones in the jungle. There is nothing like abandonment of things, because they are internally related to you. Nobody can renounce anything, because everything in this world is connected to everything else. Then what is Vairagya? Vairagya is not renunciation of any object; it is impossible. Everything clings to you. But the idea that things are outside you, makes you get attached to them. This false attachment is Raga, and its absence is Viraga. The condition of Vi-raga is Vairagya. As God has no consciousness of externality, because everything is embodied in Him, there cannot be a greater renunciate than God. And in as much as this Consciousness of God is the highest form of Wisdom, He is the repository of Jnana.

In Hinduism, Lord Shiva is represented as an aspect of God, the Almighty. He presents before us the ideal of supreme renunciation born of Divine Realisation – not born of frustration, not born of an escapist attitude, not born of defeatism, but born of an insight into the nature of things, a clear understanding of the nature of life and the wisdom of existence in its completeness. This is the source of Vairagya, or renunciation. You do not want anything, not because you cannot get things, but because you have realised the interconnectedness of things and the unity of all purpose in consciousness. All desires get hushed, sublimated and boiled down to the divine Being only when this realisation comes. God does not possess things. Possession is a relationship of one thing with another thing. But, God is super-relative. That is why we call Him the Absolute – He is not relative. Anything that is related to something else comes under the category of relative. God is not related to anything else, because He is All-comprehensive. And, thus, in His all-comprehensive Absoluteness, which is height of wisdom conceivable, there is also the concomitant character of freedom from the consciousness of externality, and therefore, as a corollary, freedom from attachment to anything. Thus Lord Shiva is the height of austerity, Master Yogin, portrayed as seated in a lotus pose, as the king of all ascetics; not that He has the desire for self-control, but He is what self-control is itself. He does not practise self-control. Self-control itself is symbolised in the personality of Lord Shiva. Such a wondrous concept of a glorious majestic picture of the Almighty, as Lord Shiva, is before us for adoration during Mahashivaratri.

We observe fast during the day and vigil during the night. The idea is that we control the senses, which represent the outgoing tendency of our mind, symbolised in fasting, and we also control the Tamasic inert condition of sleep to which we are subject every day. When these two tendencies in us are overcome, we transcend the conscious and the unconscious levels of our personality and reach the superconscious level. While the waking condition is the conscious level, sleep is the unconscious level. Both are obstacles to God-realisation. We are shifted from one condition to another. We are shunted, as it were, from waking to sleep and from sleep to waking, every day. But the super-conscious is not known to us. The symbology of fast and vigil on Shivaratri is significant of self-control; Rajas and Tamas are subdued, and God is glorified. The glorification of God and the control of the senses mean one and the same thing, because it is only in God-consciousness that all senses can be controlled. When you see God, the senses melt like butter melting before fire. They cannot exist anymore. All the ornaments become the solid mass of gold when they are heated to the boiling point. Likewise, in the furnace of God-consciousness, the sense-energies melt into a continuum of universality.

In the famous Rudra-Adhyaya or the Satarudriya of the Yajur Veda, we have a majestic, universalised description of Lord Shiva, a chant which we are accustomed to every day in the temple. Only those who know what Sanskrit is, what the Vedas are and what worship is, can appreciate what this Satarudriya chant also is. It is one of the most powerful prayers ever conceived by the human mind. It is filled with a threefold meaning. According to the culture of India, everything is threefold – objective, subjective and universal. Everything in the world, from the smallest to the biggest, has an objective character, a subjective character and an universal character. Objectively you are something, subjectively you are another thing and universally you are a third thing. It all depends upon the point of view from which you interpret a particular thing, person or object. When you objectively interpret a thing, it looks like one thing; when you subjectively analyse it, it is another thing; and from the universal point of view, it is a third something altogether.

Likewise, this Mantra, the Satarudriya of the Yajurveda, a hymn to Lord Shiva, has an objective meaning, a subjective meaning and a divine, supreme, supra-mental, universal meaning. Objectively, it is a prayer for the control of the forces of nature. Subjectively, it is a prayer for self-control and the rousing of the spiritual consciousness. Universally, it is a surge of the soul towards God ¬realisation. It has an Adhiyajnika, Adhibhautika, Adhidaivika and Adhyatmika meaning, as we usually put it. It has a tremendous meaning. The Vedas, the Mantras of the Vedas, are filled with such threefold or fourfold meaning. Hence it is difficult to understand the full meaning of any Mantra of the Veda. "Ananta vai vedah": Infinite is the meaning of the Vedas. The meaning of the Vedas is infinite. It has no end at all. It is mathematics; it is chemistry; it is physics; it is Ayurveda; it is psychology; it is metaphysics; it is philosophy; it is spirituality; it is meditation; it is love; it is ecstasy. You will find everything in every Mantra of the Veda. All depends upon how you look upon it, how you feel it. A person may be a father, he may be a brother, he may be a son, he may be a friend, but all the while he is one and the same person. Attitudes are different on account of the various relationships. So the Rudra Adhyaya before us is a majestic prayer for world peace, international peace, subjective peace, universal peace and God-consciousness.

It is difficult to chant this Veda Mantra called the Satarudriya, because it requires a training – as in music, for example. Everybody cannot sing. It requires tremendous training for years together. Likewise, the chanting of the Mantras of the Veda requires training for years together, and not for a few days only. Just as one who does not know how to sing will make a jarring noise and you will like to get up and go away rather than listen to it, so also when you chant the Mantra wrongly, the gods will get up and go away. They will not bear it any more. Hence, it requires training. But once it is properly learnt, it becomes a protection for you from catastrophes of every kind – physical, psychological and what not. So, those who know may chant it, recite it and take part in the recitation of it every day in the temple, at least during the worship on Mahashivaratri.

Those who cannot do this because it is difficult, can chant the Mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya', the Panchakshara Mantra of Lord Shiva with Om preceding it. It is a Kavacha, a kind of armour that you put on. This armour will protect you from danger of every kind. It will protect you and also all those whom you want to be protected. It will protect your family; it will protect your country; it will protect the whole world. It can cease wars and tensions of every kind, provided you offer the prayers wholeheartedly from the bottom of your heart. Collective prayer is very effective. If a hundred persons join together and pray, it will have a greater effect than one person praying. Of course, if that single person is very powerful, even one person's prayer is all right. But where personalities have their own weaknesses and foibles, it is better that people have congregational prayer. When all the minds are put together they form a great energy. It surges forth into God.

So, during this period preceding Shivaratri, prayer is to be offered to Lord Shiva as the Master of Yogin, as the incarnation of all virtues and powers, as a facet of the Almighty Lord. The glory of Lord Shiva is sung in the Shiva Purana, in the Yajur Veda Rudra Adhyaya, as I mentioned, and in the Mahabharata. You will be wonderstruck at the force with which Vyasa and other sages sing the glories of God – of Vishnu, of Narayana, of Shiva, of Devi in the various Puranas and epics – because these masterpieces have been written by those who had the vision of God. Only one who has the vision of God can express with a soulful force. Otherwise, it will be an empty sound without much significance and thought. So, chant the Mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya' as many times as possible every day, mentally or even verbally as is convenient, with self¬control – which means to say, without any thought of sense-object. If you chant the Mantra together with the thought of sense-objects, then there is divided devotion. It is like dividing the course of a river in two different directions so that the force of the waters gets lessened. Suppose you have five sense-objects, and towards all of them your senses are running, and you are thinking of God also at the same time – then energy is divided, concentration becomes weak and meditation is not successful. No meditation will become successful if the senses are active, because the senses oppose the effort at meditation. While meditation is the collective force of the mind concentrating itself on God-consciousness, the senses, when they are active, do the opposite of meditation and you become a tremendous extrovert. You are connected to the objects of sense rather than the universal concept which is God. God is unity, whereas sense objects are multiplicity. They are the opposite of what you are aiming at in your spiritual life.

With moderate behaviour in every manner in your spiritual life, you will attain success. As the Bhagavadgita beautifully puts it, "Moderate in your eating, moderate in your activity, moderate in your speech, moderate in your sleep" – form the golden mean, the via-media, the golden path. God is the harmony of all powers in the universe. Harmony means the middle course – neither this extreme nor that extreme. You cannot say whether it is or it is not. We do not know what it is. As Buddha said, "'Nothing is', is one extreme; 'everything is', is another extreme. God is in the middle. Truth is in the middle." So, the middle path is the best path, which is the path of austerity with understanding. This is the characteristic of the middle path. When there is understanding without austerity, it is useless. When there is austerity without understanding, that is also useless. There must be austerity with understanding and understanding with austerity, knowledge with self-control and self-control with knowledge; that is wisdom. Knowledge with self-control is called wisdom, whereas knowledge without self-control is mere dry intellectuality. That is of no use. And austerity without understanding is a kind of foolishness. It will have no proper result.

Lord Shiva is not merely an austere Being but also a repository of Knowledge. All worshippers of knowledge also worship Lord Shiva, as He is the God of all students, scholars and seekers of wisdom and knowledge. Thus, Mahashivaratri is a very blessed God-sent opportunity for us. So on this day, pray to Lord Shiva with all your heart, with all your soul, fully trusting on the might of God, wanting nothing from the objects of sense, and delighted within that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. God is bound to come. The powers of the cosmos are everywhere and they can be invoked at any time by us, provided we are strong enough in our will and in the method of invocation. We are blessed because we live in the Kingdom of God. We are blessed because we are seekers of Truth. We are blessed, thrice blessed, four-times, five-times blessed because we are seeking God who also seeks everything in this creation. God seeks the world and the world seeks God. This is the mystery of creation, the subtlety of the spiritual path and the glory of the meditative life. Jnana and Vairagya combined is Lord Shiva, who is worshipped on Mahashivaratri day.

Lord Shiva is easily pleased. He is called Asutosh. Asutosh means 'easily pleased'. He is not a difficult Person. You can quickly please Lord Shiva. If you call Him, He will come. Sometimes He is also called 'Bhole Baba' – a very simple, not complicated Person. He comes to help you, even unasked. He helped the Pandavas. The Pandava brothers were in war with the Kauravas in the Mahabharata battle, and Lord Shiva helped them without their knowing that the help was being offered. Lord Shiva helped the Pandavas invisibly – and why would He not help us? He helps all those who tread the righteous path. So let us tread the path of righteousness and be recipients of Divine Grace.

We may look at the whole thing from another angle of vision. The Sanskrit word 'Shivaratri' means 'the night of Shiva'. On this holy day we are to fast during the day and keep vigil during the night. You may be wondering why Shiva is connected with the night and not with the day – otherwise we could observe vigil during daytime and fast during the night. Instead of that, why has the whole thing been put topsy-turvy? Shiva being connected with night has a highly spiritual and mystical connotation. It is not that divinity as manifest in the form of Lord Shiva has any special connection with the period we call night. If you study deeply the Upanishads and such mystical texts of high spiritual significance, you will realise that the Supreme Being, the Absolute, is designated in its primordial condition as a Supreme Darkness due to excess of light. This adjective or qualification 'due to excess of light' must be added. It is darkness because of the excess of light. When you look at the sun directly for a few minutes and then look elsewhere, you will see only darkness. The sun has dazzled you to such an extent that all else appears as darkness. It is said in the Mahabharata that when Lord Sri Krishna showed the Cosmic Form in the court of the Kauravas, everything was dark, as it were. The intensity of the light was such that it looked like darkness to the eyes of man. In one of the famous creation-hymns of the Rigveda we have a similar reference made to the original condition of creation. There is the hymn of the Veda called the Nasadiya Sukta, wherein it is said, "Tama asit tamasa gudhamagre": Darkness there was; at first concealed in darkness. According to us, light is perception of objects, and therefore non-perception of objects is regarded by us as night, because knowledge or consciousness unrelated to the perceptual process is unknown to the human mind.

Generally, to know is to know an object; and if it is not to know an object, it is not to know anything at all. For example, take the state of deep sleep. Why do we fall asleep? Do you know the reason? What is the cause for our going to sleep every night? Where is the necessity? The necessity is psychological and, to some extent, highly metaphysical. The senses cannot always continue perceiving objects, because perception is a fatiguing process. The whole body, the whole nervous system, the entire psychological apparatus becomes active in the process of the perception of objects. And without our knowing what is happening, the senses get tired. They cannot go on contemplating things all twenty-four hours of the day. Why should they not be contemplating objects of sense throughout the day, all twenty-four hours of the day? The reason is that perception is an unnatural process from the point of view of consciousness as such. Perception of an object is the alienation of an aspect of our personality through the avenue of a particular sense in respect of its object. All this is difficult for many to grasp. This is a highly psychological secret. Consciousness is indivisible. This is a simple fact. Many of you would have heard about it. Consciousness is undivided; it is incapable of division into parts. So it cannot be cut into two sections – subject and object. On the basis of this fact there cannot be a division between the seer and the seen in the process of perception. To make this clear, let us see what happens in dream.

In dream we see objects like mountains, rivers, persons, etc. But they are not there. Things which are not there become visible in dream. Now, did the mountain you saw in dream exist? It did not. But did you see it? Yes, you saw it. How did you see, when it was not there? Is it possible to see a non-existent object? How can non-existent things be seen? It is contradictory statement to say that non-existent things can be seen. What do you see when things are not there? You will be wonderstruck! What happens in dream is that there is an alienation of the mind into the objects of perception; and the mind itself becomes the mountain there. There is tension created due to the separation of a part of the mind into the object and a part of it existing as the perceiving subject. That is why we are restless in dream. We cannot be happy. It is neither waking nor it is sleep. It is very difficult to be happy in this condition because a tense situation of consciousness is created. What happened in dream, the same happens to us in the waking condition also. Just as the mind in dream divided itself into two sections – the perceiving subject and the object that was seen – in the waking state also, it divides itself into the subject and object. It is like a divided personality. It is as if your own personality has been cut into two halves, of which one half is the 'seer' and the other half is the 'seen'. It is as if one part of your personality gazes at another part of your own personality. You are looking at your own self as if you are a different person. You are objectifying yourself; you alienate yourself. What can be more false and undesirable than this situation? It is a mental sickness.

Now you are able to understand this situation in dream on account of the comparison that you make between waking and dream. When you wake up, you do not see the dream objects, and then you begin to analyse the condition in which you were when you were dreaming. You say, when you are awake, that you are in a world of reality, whereas in dream you were in a world of unreality. How do you know that the world of dream was a world of unreality? It is merely because you compare it with the waking condition which you consider as real. How do you know that the world of waking is real? You cannot say anything about this, because there is nothing with which you can compare it, as you did in the case of the dream. If you can know another standard of reference, higher than the waking condition, you would have been able to make a judgement of it – whether the waking condition is real or unreal, good or bad and so on. When you are dreaming, you do not know that the objects are unreal. You consider them as real and you take it for granted. The comparison between the dream and the waking world is responsible for our judgement of the unreality of the dream world. But with what will you compare the waking world? There is at present nothing to compare it with, and therefore you are in a condition which is self-sufficient, self-complacent and incapable of rectification.

When you feel that you are perfectly right, nobody can teach you. Nobody can set you right, because you think that you are right. The question of teaching arises only when you feel that you are ignorant and you need teaching. The waking world is only an indication as to what could be happening or what is perhaps happening. You cannot know what is happening actually, unless you transcend this condition, which you have not done yet. But, by the conclusion that you can draw from an analysis of the dream condition, you can conclude to some extent that in the waking state also you are in a fool's paradise. What is the guarantee that you will not wake up again from this waking world, into something else? Just as in dream you did not know that you were dreaming, in this waking also you do not know that you are in a state similar to dream. You think that this world in waking is a hard fact and a solid reality, just as you believed the world of dream also to be real. To the senses an absence of perception is equal to darkness – the darkness that we experience in deep sleep.

Let us come back to the subject of Shivaratri, the night of Shiva. When you perceive an object, you call it waking. When you do not perceive it, it is darkness. Now in the waking condition – the so-called waking world – you see present before you a world of objects, as you are intelligent. In dream also there is a sort of intelligence. But in deep sleep there is no intelligence. What happens? The senses and the intellect withdraw themselves into their source. There is no perceptional activity, and so the absence of perception is equated to the presence of darkness. The cosmic Primeval condition of the creative will of God, before creation – a state appearing like darkness, or night – is what we call the condition of Shiva. It is very important to remember that the state of Shiva is the primordial condition of the creative will of God, where there is no externality of perception, there being nothing outside God; and so, for us, it is like darkness or night. It is Shiva's night – Shivaratri. For Him it is not night. It is all Light. Shiva is not sitting in darkness. The Creative Will of God is Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipresence – all combined. Sometimes we designate this condition as Isvara.

The Supreme Absolute, which is indeterminable, when it is associated with the Creative Will with a tendency to create the Cosmos, is Isvara in Vedantic parlance, and Shiva in Puranic terminology. This is the very precise condition described in the Nasadiya Sukta of the Veda as Tamas or darkness. This is, to repeat again, darkness due to the excess of the Light of the divine Absolute. If you look at God, what will you see? You will see nothing. The eyes cannot see Him because He is such dazzling light. When the frequency of light gets intensified to a very high level, light will not be seen by the eyes. When the frequency is lowered and comes down to the level of the structure of the retina of the eye, only then you can see light. There are various kinds of lights, various intensities or frequencies, and the higher frequencies are incapable of cognisance by the senses on account of their structural deformity. So if you see God, you will see nothing.

As a matter of fact, we are seeing God even now. But we are not able to recognise Him. The world that we see before us is God Himself. There is no such thing as the world. The world does not exist. It is only a name that we have given to the Supreme Being. Call the dog a bad name and then hang it. Who asked you to call it a world? Why do you give such a name? You yourself have given it a name and say, "Oh, this is the world!" You can call it by another name. You are free to give any name to it. Really there is no such thing as a world. It does not exist. The world is only a name that you give to a distortion created in the perception of your consciousness due to its isolation into the subject and the object.

To come back to the analogy of dream again, the mountain that you saw in dream was not a mountain; it was only consciousness. There was no mountain. But it looked like a hard something in front of you, against which you could hit your dream head. You see buildings in dream. It was consciousness that projected itself into the hard substance of bricks and buildings, mountains and rivers, persons and animals, etc., in dream. The world of dream does not exist. You know it very well, and yet it appears. What is it that appears? The consciousness itself projects itself outwardly, in space and time created by itself, and then you call it a world. Likewise, in the waking state also the Cosmic Consciousness has projected itself into this world. The world is Cosmic Consciousness. The Supreme Divinity Himself is revealed here in the form of this world. As the dream world is nothing but consciousness, the waking world also is nothing but consciousness, God. This is the essence of the whole matter. So you are seeing God. I am right in saying that. What you see in front of you is God only. It is not a building. There is no such thing as a building. But you call it a building due to an error of perception, due to ignorance and due to not being able to analyse the situation in which you are involved. We are caught up in a mess, in a paradox, in a confusion; and the confusion has entered us, entered into the bones, as it were, into the very fibre of our being and made us the fools that we are today. It is to awaken ourselves from this ignorance and to come to a state of that supreme blessedness of the recognition of God in this very world, that we practise Sadhana. The highest of Sadhanas is meditation on God.

On Shivaratri, therefore, you are supposed to contemplate God as the creator of the world, as the Supreme Being unknown to the Creative Will, in that primordial condition of non-objectivity which is the darkness of Shiva. In the Bhagavadgita there is a similar verse which has some sort of a resemblance to this situation. "Ya nisa sarvabhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami; yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisa pasyato muneh": That which is night to the ignorant, is day to the wise; and that which is day to the wise, is night to the ignorant. The ignorant feel the world as daylight and a brightly illumined objective something; and that does not exist for a wise person. The wise see God in all His effulgence; and that does not exist for the ignorant. While the wise see God, the ignorant do not see Him; and while the ignorant see the world, the wise do not see it. That is the meaning of this verse in the second chapter of the Gita. When we see sunlight, the owl does not see it. That is the difference. The owl cannot see the sun, but we can. So, we are owls, because we do not see the self-effulgent sun – the Pure Consciousness. And he who sees this sun – the Pure Consciousness, God – is the sage, the illumined adept in Yoga.

Shivaratri is a blessed occasion for all to practise self-restraint, self-control, contemplation, Svadhyaya, Japa and meditation, as much as possible within our capacity. We have the whole of the night at our disposal. We can do Japa or we can do the chanting of the Mantra, 'Om Namah Shivaya'. We can also meditate. It is a period of Sadhana. Functions like Mahashivaratri, Ramanavami, Janmashtami, Navaratri are not functions in the sense of festoons and celebrations for the satisfaction of the human mind. They are functions of the Spirit; they are celebrations of the Spirit. In as much as we are unable to think of God throughout the day, for all the 365 days of the year, such occasions are created so that at least periodically we may recall to our memory our original destiny, our Divine Abode. The glory of God is displayed before us in the form of these spiritual occasions.
[Swami Krishnananda]

More Mahashivaratri Information

2012 Big Temple Celebrations
Photo Gallery