Maha Shivaraathri Spiritual Significance









MANY stories are told in the Shaasthras, to explain the origin and significance of the Mahaashivaraathri Festival. Bhaarath, the name for this land used from ancient times, means 'the land of those who have rathi (Love) towards Bha (Light or Bhagavaan). So, for the people of this land, all days are sacred; every moment is precious. The Ganga is holy from source to sea, but, yet there are some places on its banks, associated with some sage or temple, the confluence of a tributary, or a historical incident, which are revered more by generations. Such places are Hardwar, Vaaraanasi, Prayaag, Rishikesh. Similarly, among all the days of the year, some are marked out as holier, when a special effort is made by aspirants to contact the Source and the Sea, the Reality behind all this passing show. Some moments, as that during which the Linga (Shiva representation in egg-shaped stone) emerges from the Avathaar (divine incarnation), are held to be specially significant for the individuals witnessing it and for the world which isthereby blessed.


Some ascribe the holiness of the Day to the fact of its being the Birthday of Shiva, as if Shiva has birth and death, like any mortal. The story that it commemorates the salvation attained by a hunter who sat on a bilva tree on the look-out for animals to kill, and without any intention to worship, unknowingly dropped some of its leaves on a Linga that lay beneath, does not make clear why this Day is specially sacred. Another story is that this is the Day on which Shiva danced the Thaandava (Cosmic dance) in the ecstasy of His Innate Nature, with all the Gods and Sages sharing and witnessing that Cosmic Consummation. When He consumed the Haalahala poison that emerged from the churning of ocean and that threatened to destroy the Universe, the heat of the fumes was well-nigh unbearable, even for Him. So, Ganga flowed uninterruptedly on His matted locks; but, that gave Him only partial relief. The Moon was placed on the head. That was of great help. Then, Shiva danced the Thaandava with all the Gods and Sages. All this they say, happened on the same day and so, Shivaraathri, was held in commemoration of this occasion.


Aim of all saadhana is to eliminate the mind


We have not only the Mahaashivaraathri once a year, we have a Shivaraathri every month, dedicated to the worship of Shiva. And, why is the Raathri (the Night), so important? The night is dominated by the Moon. The Moon has 16 kalas (fractions of divine glory), and each day or rather night, during the dark fortnight, one fraction is reduced, until the entire Moon is annihilated on New Moon night. From then on, each night, a fraction is added, until the Moon is full circle on Full Moon Night. The Chandra (Moon) is the presiding deity of the mind; the mind waxes and wanes, like the Moon. Chandramaa-manaso jaathah--Out of the manas of the Purusha (Supreme Being), the Moon was born.


It must be remembered that the chief aim of all saadhana (spiritual striving) is to eliminate the mind, to become A-manaska. Then only can maayaa (illusion) be rent asunder and the Reality revealed. During the dark fortnight of the month, saadhana has to be done to eliminate each day a fraction of the mind, for, every day, a fraction of the Moon too is being taken out of cognisance. On the night of Chathurdhasi, the 14th day, the night of Shiva, only a fraction remains. If some special effort is made that night, through more intensive and vigilant saadhana, like puuja or japam or dhyaana (ritual worship, one-pointed repetition & holy names, and meditation), success is ensured. Shiva alone has to be meditated upon that night without the mind straying towards thoughts of sleep or food. This has to be done every month; once a year, on Mahaa-Shivaraathri a special spurt of spiritual activity is recommended, so that what is shavam (corpse) can become Shivam (God), by the perpetual awareness of its Divine Indweller.


This is the purpose of Shivaraathri and so it is foolish and even harmful deceit to imagine that "keeping awake" is the essential thing in its observance. People try to escape sleep on this night by playing cards, attending non-stop cinema shows or watching plays or dramas. That is not the saadhana which should be intensified on Shivaraathri. That is a travesty of the vow of 'sleeplessness.' It vulgarises you and encourages evil and sloth, wickedness and hypocrisy.


On Shivaraathri, the mind must become laya (reduced into nothing). Lingam means that in which this Jagath attains laya---leeyathe; that into which this Jagath goes---gamyathe. Examine the Linga; the three gunas (primordial qualities) are represented by the three-tiered Peetha (platform); the Lingam above symbolises the goal of life. Lingam means "a symbol", the symbol of creation, the result of the activity of the three gunas and of the Brahman (Supreme Reality) which permeates and gives it meaning and value.


When you worship the Lingam, you should do so with faith in this symbolic significance. Every word, every Form used in the Shaasthras has a symbolic meaning, which gives it value. The word "prapancha" which you use so freely to indicate this "created world" means, "that which is composed of the panchabhuuthaas---the five elements of earth, fire, water, wind and ether." Take the word 'hrudhayam' used for "the heart". It means hrudhi (in the heart) ayam (He). That is to say, it means not the organ that pumps blood to all parts or the body, but the seat of God, the altar where Shiva is installed, the niche where the lamp of jnaana is lit. Again, Shiva does not ride on an animal called in human language, a "bull!" The bull is only a symbol of Dharma standing on the four legs of Sathya, Dharma, Shaanthi and Prema.


Lingam is the symbolic form of the Godhead


Lingam means simply "the sign," "the symbol"; it is just a mark, which indicates merging (laya); that is to say, the passing away of the mind and all mental agitations and all mental pictures, which means, this objective world. Shivaraathri is the day on which the Moon, the presiding deity of the mind, is as near laya as possible and so, just a little extra effort that day leads to full success: the saadhaka can thereby achieve complete Manonaashana (destruction of the mind).


The realisation is that everything is subsumed in the Lingam (the symbol of the Formless).


The three eyes of Shiva are the eyes which reveal the Past, Present and the Future. Shiva alone has all three. The elephant skin which forms His cloak is just a symbol for the elemental bestial primitive traits which His Grace destroys; He makes them powerless and harmless; in fact, he tears them to pieces, skins them so to say, and makes them ineffective. His four Faces symbolise Shaantham, Roudhram, Mangalam and Uthsaaham (Peace, Fierceness, Auspiciousness, Determination). In this way, realise while worshipping the Lingam, the inner sense of the many attributes of Shiva. Meditate thus on Shiva this day, so that you may get rid of the last lingering vestiges of delusion.


Just as Om is the verbal symbol of God, the Lingam is the symbolic form of the Godhead. It is just a form. Everything is maayaa (delusion) and to grasp it, you must deal with maayaa. Otherwise you cannot realise the Maayaa Shakthi (Deluding Power). God is as immanent in the Universe as life is immanent in the egg. The chicken is in every part of the egg; so too, God is in every part of the world. I prefer the description Sarvaantharyaami (inner ruler of all) to the description, Sarvabhuutha antharaathma (Inmost soul of all beings). All are in this Hall, each one has no Hall in him, is it not? In the same way, all are in Him; which is better than saying, He is in all. It is Maayaa which binds and limits man; all saadhana is to conquer maayaa. A bit of iron will sink in water but if beaten and made hollow, it will float. So beat the mind and make it hollow. Then it will float on the sea of samsaara (worldly life). Above all, have viveka and do not be led into taking any false step.


The manifestation of the Linga is a part of My Nature. These Pandiths (scholars of spirituality) explain it as reminiscent of an epochal event in the past when Shiva challenged Brahma and Vishnu to gauge the height and depth of the Linga Form He assumed. They failed and had to accept defeat. But, the Linga emerges, as a result of prayer and Grace. You have to recognise in this event a glimpse of Divinity, a sign of infinite Grace. Just as Om is the sound symbol of God, the Linga is the Form symbol or the visible symbol of God, the most meaningful, the simplest and the least endowed with the appendages of attributes. Lingam means, that in which this jagath (world of change) attains laya (mergence or dissolution), Leeyathe. All Forms merge in the Formless at last. Shiva is the Principle of the Destruction of all Names and Forms, of all entities and individuals. So, the Linga is the simplest sign of emergence and mergence.


People ask, "Why does Swaami produce the Lingam (Formless Form of God) from within himself on this day?" But, let Me tell you, it is impossible for you to understand the attributes of the Divine and to measure its potentialities, or, to gauge the significance of the manifestation of Divinity. It is agamya (unreachable) and agochara (un-understandable, mysterious). Therefore, in order to bear witness to the fact that the Divinity is amidst you, it becomes necessary to express this attribute. Or else, the atmosphere of hatred, greed, cruelty, violence and irreverence will overwhelm the good, the humble and the pious.


The Linga is just a symbol, a sign, an illustration, of the beginningless, the endless, the limitless- --for it has no limbs, no face, no feet, no front or back, no beginning or end. Its shape is like the picture one imagines the Niraakaara (Formless) to be. As a matter of fact, linga means--- leeyathe (that in which all forms and names merge) and gamyathe (that towards which all names and forms are proceeding, to attain fulfilment). It is the fittest symbol of the All-pervasive, the All-knowing, the All-powerful. Everything is subsumed in it; everything starts from it; from the Lingam arises Jangam (Universe), from the Jangam arises sangam (association, attachment, activity) and as a result of the sangam, one realises the lingam (attributeless Aathma). Thus, the circle is completed--from the beginningless to the Beginningless. This is the lesson that Lingobdhavam (emergence of the Linga) teaches. The lingashareera (the physical body) that is inhabited by the Aathma is but a vesture worn for this particular sojourn! Many a vesture has this soul worn, though its reality is eternal!


The Shiva in all


Shivoham, Shivoham---was the exclamation that rose from the souls that knew the Truth in a flash of illumination, after long years of cleansing the mind through the process of thapas (penance). I am Shiva; Shiva am I---Though denoted by many names and recognised in many forms, the Divine Principle is One, without a second. It is Shivam and it is latent in each being, including man. Holy days are to be spent in the contemplation of this Truth and in special exercises to make oneself fully conscious of one's Divinity. God is the seed, which has expressed itself as all this. But, this fact, so deeply implanted in the hearts of every Indian for centuries, has been overlaid by veils of doubt and man has lost the courage and the energy that the faith had given him so long. This was the very core of Indian culture, but, children of India have neglected and very nearly lost this precious heritage. The fascination for Western fashions of thought weakened the belief in one's religion; that led to the giving up of the disciplines which shaped one's daily life; this in turn led to deterioration in moral standards; this has bred misery, disunity, hatred and disgrace. It is time to open one's eyes to the tragedy and retrace the steps.



Shiva is eternally auspicious


Shiva is known also as Eeshwara, the 'repository of all the resources essential for Prosperity. The most important resource is Jnaana (Spiritual Wisdom). Three kinds of Jnaana are demarcated: Jeevaprajna (concerning the individualised Divine), Eeshwaraprajna (concerning the Cosmic- Manifestation of the Divine) and the Aathmaprajna (Concerning the Universal Absolute of which the individual is the temporary-particular). This is also mentioned in some other texts as Delta-prajna, Jeeva-prajna and Aathma- prajna, but, the meaning of the words is the same as in the other list. Eeshwara confers the Aishwarya of Jnaana. He is also known as Shankara, and sages have experienced Shiva as conferring Sam or auspiciousness of all kinds, Happiness in all ways. Shiva is eternally auspicious; He does not come embodied in other forms, with other names, as often as Vishnu. So, He is not described as Shri Shiva or Shri Shankara or Shri Eeshwara. Shri is inherent in His very Person and so it is superfluous to add Shri to His Name.


When you realise Shivoham (I am Shiva), then, you have all the happiness, all the auspiciousness that there is. Shiva is not to be sought on the peak of a distant range of mountains, or in some other special place. You must have heard that sin and merit are inherent in the acts that men do; so too, Shiva is inherent in every thought, word and deed, for He is the Energy, the Power, the Intelligence that is behind each of them. All energy, power and intelligence are in you; you need not search for them outside yourselves.


God who is manifesting as time, space and causation is in you; why then do you feel weak and helpless? Man is tossed about by his ambitions and the craving to fulfil them. But, he must first know where he stands and where he should decide to reach. Now, his efforts are wanton and wasteful. He is an expert in mathematics, but, unable to do a small sum in arithmetic. He has mastered algebra, but unable to measure the area of his home. He knows botany, with all its Latin names; but, ask him about the uses to which the common thulasi plant and its leaves can be put; he has no answer. He has mastered all the physical exercises taught to him; but, he is helpless when asked to sit in Padhmaasana. He can talk loud and long on Moksha and of its being the final goal; but, he does not know that he 'is already free; he imagines himself as bound and.behaves as such.


Do not get too bound with, or give up, the world


Attachments to illusory objects bind him. When the illusory nature of the objects is revealed, the attachment falls off and he is free. These attachments persuade him to tarnish the acts of worship also; for, he prays to God for granting him trivial boons. Pray to God for God; do not use Truth to achieve Untruth. Have the inner vision, not the outer. Do not be attracted by the objective world; concentrate on the subjective world. You do not scatter seeds on the surface; you plant them deep enough for the roots to get a foothold.


Do not dig the seeds into the soil too deep. Follow the middle path. Do not tighten the strings of the violin or veena too much; nor leave them loose. Do not get too bound with the world; do not also give it up.


The Shivam night


Embodiments of Love! This day is reckoned holy all over this land. It is named Mahaa-Shivaraathri. 'Raathri' means 'darkness-filled'. Of every twenty-four hours, we are experiencing this half the time. But this night is Shiva Night, the Night of Shiva, the Night that grants Mangala--- the boon of blessedness. And, the Mangala is Mahaa, great, unlimited. Mahaa or limitless blessedness can be conferred only by the Divine Source; it cannot be acquired from worldlyachievements and triumphs. It is dependent on the Immutable Triad, on Sathyam, Shivam, Sundaram.


It assumes all forms, this Shantham!

It assumes all names, this Shivam!

It is Sath-Chith-Aaanandh, this Only One!

It is Sath yam-Shivam-Sundaram!



The Shivaraathri Festival, as celebrated here, is an example for you. You might ask, "Swaami has often declared that all days are holy days, that there is no special rite or ritual that has to be observed on any single day; but, Swaami Himself is pouting vibhuuthi (holy ash) on the Idol and calling it abhisheka (anointing the idol); is this right?" Swaami is doing so, to teach you a lesson.



When desire is destroyed, Love reigns supreme


The Vibhuuthi Abhisheka has a potent inner meaning which Swaami wants you to grasp. The Vibhuuthi is the most precious object, in the truly spiritual sense. You know that Shiva burnt the God of Desire or Kaama, called Manmatha (for he agitates the mind and confounds the confusion already existing there) into a heap of ashes. Shiva adorned Himself with that ash, and thus He shone in His Glory, as the Conqueror of Desire. When Kaama was destroyed, Prema (Love) reigned supreme. When there is no desire to warp the mind, Love could be true and full.


What greater offering can you give God to glorify Him than the ash signifying your triumph over tantalising Desire? Ash is the ultimate condition of things; it cannot undergo any further change. The Abhisheka with Vibhuuthi is done to inspire you to give up desire and offer Shiva the ashes of its destruction as the most valuable of all the articles you have earned. Ash cannot fade as flowers do in a day or two; it does not dry and disappear or get soiled and unpotable as water does; it will not lose colour as leaves do, in a few hours; it does not rot as fruits do in a few days.Ash is ash for ever and ever. So, burn your viles, your vices, your bad habits; worship Shiva, rendering yourselves pure in thought and word and deed.


Shiva is the source of Bliss


Shiva is worshipped with the three-leaved bilva, for, He is immanent in the three worlds, in the three phases of Time, in the three attributes of Nature. He removes the three types of grief; He has no basis outside Him; He is the source of Bliss; He is the embodiment of the sweetness and efficacy of Nectar. Since every being is Shiva- Swaruupa (of the nature of Shiva)---for without Shiva, it is mere 'shava' (corpse)---man has to live up to that Divine status. Scholars and Pandiths who propagate Dharma (right action) in our country are doing great disservice, for, they cast doubts on the very majesty of Godhead. Swaami



Live in the constant presence of Shiva



Every form conceived in the Shaasthras and scriptures has a deep significance. Shiva does not ride an animal called in human language, a bull. The bull is the symbol of Stability standing on four legs, Sathya, Dharma, Shaanthi and Prema (Truth, Virtue, Peace and Love). Shiva is described as having three eyes, eyes that see the Past, the Present and the Future. The elephant skin which forms His cloak is a symbol of the bestial primitive traits which His Grace destroys. In fact, He tears them to pieces, skin them, and they become totally ineffective. His Four Faces symbolise Shantham (Equanimity), Roudhram (Terror), Mangalam (Grace) and Uthsaaham (elevating energy).


While adoring the Lingam on this Lingodhbhava Day, you must contemplate on these truths of Shiva that the Linga represents. It is not this night alone that you should spend in the thought of Shiva; your whole life must be lived in the constant presence of the Lord.


Endeavour: that is the main thing; that is the inescapable consummation for all mortals. Even those who deny God will have to tread the pilgrim road, melting their hearts out in tears of travail. If you make the slightest effort to move along the Path of your own liberation, the Lord will help you a hundred-fold. That is the hope that Mahaashivaraathri conveys to you. Man is called so, because he has the skill to do manana ; manana means inner meditation on the meaning and significance of what one has heard. But, you have not yet emerged out of the stage of Shraoanam (listening) ! All the joy you crave for is in you. But, like a man who has vast riches in the iron chest, but, who has no idea where the key is, you suffer. Hear properly the instructions, dwell upon them in the silence of meditation, practise what has been made clear therein; then, you can secure the key, open the chest and be rich in Joy.


Visualise Shiva as the inner power of all


You have given up even the little saadhana that Shivaraathri demands. In olden times, people will not put even a drop of water on their tongues, this day. Now, that rigour is gone. They used to keep vigil at night, the entire night, without a wink of sleep, repeating Om Namasshivaaya without intermission. Now, the name Shiva, is on no one's tongue. But, those who deny God are only denying themselves and their glory. All have Love in them, in some form or other, towards some one or other or their work or goal. That Love is God, a spark of the God in them. They have Aanandha (bliss) however small or temporary and that is another spark of the Divine. They have inner peace, detachment, discrimination, sympathy, the spirit of service. These are Divine in the mirror of their minds.


Resolve, on this Holy Shivaraathri, in the Presence of Shiva Sai, to visualise 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 which 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 nearer and closer, until the feeling of separateness will fade away---and the Soham will be transformed into OM, the Pranava, the Primal Sound, the Fundamental Formula for God. That OM is the Swaswaruupa---the Reality behind this "relative reality."


Shivaraathri is an auspicious night


Man is endowed with infinite potencies. All that you experience by way of seeing, hearing and the like are reflections of the inner being. The significance of this experience has to be properly understood. For instance, today is Shivaraathri day. You experience the night every day. These are ordinary nights. They are nights of darkness. But Shivaraathri is an auspicious night. How is it auspicious? There are sixteen aspects for the mind. The moon is the presiding deity for the mind. Of the sixteen phases of the moon, today in the fourteenth day of Maargasheersha month, fifteen of the phases are absent. On this day it is possible to get full control of one's mental faculties. Hence it is considered an auspicious day.


The night of goodness and Godliness


The Shivarathri, the Rathri (night) of Shivam (Goodness, Godliness, Good Fortune). It is an auspicious Night because the mind can be made to lose its hold on man by devoting the night to prayer. The Moon is the presiding deity of the mind, according to the scriptures. The mind is kindred to the Moon as the Eyes are to the Sun. Shivarathri is prescribed for the fourteenth night of the dark half of the month, the night previous to the New Moon when the Moon suffers from total blackout. The Moon and the mind which it rules over are drastically reduced every month on the fourteenth night. When that night is devoted to vigilant adoration of God, the remnant of the wayward mind is overcome and victory ensured. This month's Shivarathri is holier than the rest and so, it is called Mahashivarathri.


With firm faith and a cleansed heart, the night should be spent in glorifying God. No moment should be wasted in other thoughts. Time flees fast. Like a block of ice, it melts soon and flows away; like water held in a leaky pot, it disappears drop by drop. The time allotted for one's life ticks off quite soon, and the span ends sometime somehow. So, be vigilant. Be warned. Be alert and aware. Seek the shelter of the Lord and transform every moment into a sacred celebration.


Auspiciousness consists in diverting the mind towards God. This calls for getting rid of the inherited animal tendencies in man. This is the occasion to recognise the omnipresence of the Divine in all beings and in all objects. It follows that whomsoever you adore or condemn, you are adoring or condemning God. You must follow the injunction: Help ever, hurt never. Every human being has sacred qualities, based on his Shivathvam (Divine essence). Hence man should realise his inherent divinity, though his body is made up of the five elements. Thereby humanness is transformed into divinity. The human birth is intended for the pursuit of Dharma. Dharma implies harmony in thought, word and deed. When every person realises his essential divine nature, the entire world will be transformed. The body and the mind are mere instruments. Man's reality is the Aathma (Self). Man should use the instruments given to him to perform his duties well and realise his oneness with God.



References :


Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 1 Chapter 19   Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 2 Chapter 31

Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 3 Chapter 7     Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 4 Chapter 4

Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 5 Chapter 8     Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 7 Chapter 6

Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 11 Chapter 13  Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 12 Chapter 27

Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 15 Chapter 38  Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 20 Chapter 5

Sri Sathya Sai Speaks Volume 29 Chapter 5