Specialty of Shivarathri as a student of Sri Sathya Sai
For a student in the educational institutions of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, festivals and celebrations across cultures, religions and nationalities gain significance because Swami, as He is affectionately called, emphasizes on the religion of love, the caste of humanity, the language of the heart and the omnipresent God, by whatever name you wish to call Him/Her. And based on his/her own inclinations and interests, different festivals fascinate different students who have passed out of the portals of His university. As a student, the most memorable festival and celebration for me was the MahaShivarathri.
Lord Shiva is one of the most important Gods in the Bharatiya culture and forms an integral part of the holy Trinity as the destroyer - Brahma (the creator) and Lord Vishnu (the sustainer) being the other two. As per the lunar calendar, the 13th night of the waning fortnight is considered as a special night for Lord Shiva - the Shivarathri (Rathri means night). The 13th night in the month of Maagha or Phalguna comes once a year and is considered as a special Sivarathri, the MahaShivarathri.
Massive and magnificent celebrations take place all over India, especially in the northern part of the country which is bordered by the mighty Himalayas. Apart from thousands of temples, the famous shrine, Kedarnath and the devotion-inspiring Mount Kailas with the Manasarovar Lake are located in these Himalayas. However, celebrations at Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi, which is the abode of Sri Sathya Sai, take on a slightly different flavour. The celebrations there are exactly as dictated by Swami who is widely considered to be a Shiva-Shakti Avatar.
Instead of delving into a prose on how the celebrations are different, I feel it would be a much better idea to actually relive one such special Shivarathri.
So here is the narrative of a Shivarathri that I can never forget my entire life. This was the Shivarathri of 2000 - March 4th. As always, Swami showered such a bounty that raises goosebumps on my entire being in gratitude and wonderment.
A little background before the story. I know that whenever I begin like this, there is a danger of the narrative getting very long, but well, that is my weakness. However, let me assure you all that the background will definitely add to the richness of the story. The background will arrive in two parts.
Background - Part 1
I had joined the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School in 1998. The first Shivarathri I witnessed in the divine presence was in the February of 1999. That year, Shivarathri happened to fall on the day that is globally chosen to celebrate Love - 14th February. In the morning, all of us students sang the songs and stotrams in His presence and Swami delivered His divine discourse in the evening. Swami spoke on a range of topics from how attachment leads to suffering, how love should be cultivated in one’s heart, how one should see only the good in others and never find faults and how one should make Swami as the ideal for all our activities in life. He however, concluded on a note that had not been heard for a long time till then. He said,
Embodiments of Love!
As pointed out by the Vice Chancellor in his speech, I used to bring out Atmalingams from this body on the occasion of Shivarathri in the earlier years. Lingodbhava (emergence of Linga from the stomach through the mouth) used to take place on every Shivarathri. To witness this sacred event, lakhs would gather in a small hall. Consequently, there used to be stampede resulting in injuries to devotees. Due to this, I discontinued Lingodbhava in public. There is a specific time for this. It may take place at any moment between 8 and 10 in the night. It takes place at the right time irrespective of the place I am in. It is bound to take place. It is natural on Shivarathri night. Those who are fortunate to witness this sacred Lingodbhava are freed from all sins. One must see how it emerges. But, some people may not be able to see this even if they are sitting close by. Witnessing the emergence of the Lingam is of utmost importance. Once it emerges, everyone will be able to see it and it has its own benefits. There are many such important aspects attached to this auspicious occasion. You will be immensely benefited if you keep awake and sing the glory of God at least on this night.
That was enough to charge me into full vigor and energy. As far as my memory goes, that is the only Shivarathri when I kept awake the whole night singing bhajans. The practice among the students in Parthi is a very unique one. They reserve their places with the sitting mats. However, once the place is vacant for more than an hour, it can be moved and taken possession of. So, the whole night, some students keep awake just to displace mats and wend their way to the front lines! I too was among such students. With every passing hour, I progressed ahead, displacing the mats that had been placed there for ‘reservation’. It was like the survival of the fittest. As students dropped off to sleep, we conquerers kept awake and surged ahead. By 4am, I had reached the first line! Victory!
Then, something totally unexpected happened. It was just past 5:45 am when there were signs of Swami coming for darshan. Needless to say, the atmosphere got supercharged with excitement. Swami came straight to the stage and even as He sat there, seemed to be in a sort of discomfort. In a few minutes, He was clutching His throat with two fingers and tears welled in my eyes, seeing Him in pain. Like the others around me, I began to sing the bhajans even more loudly. I felt that it was the only way of giving some comfort to Swami. Maybe I could scream so that my throat would hurt instead of His. The situation seemed to only get worse and Swami’s body began to quiver and quake, shiver and shake from the pain and effort. And yet, a sweet smile danced on His face.
I then remembered having heard about the Lingodbhava that Swami used to perform - first from my father and the discourse on the previous evening. I felt that Swami was about to perform the Lingodbhava! I looked around and nobody had a camera. Mine was just on my lap! But try as hard as I did, the tears in my eyes did not allow me to shoot! I just watched in awe and wonder as Swami performed the Lingodbhava. In one sudden spasm, Swami moved ahead and from His mouth emerged the golden globule - the Hiranyagarbha Linga. And as He picked the Linga and exhibited it, I guess I was the only photographer taking pictures. ( There was the video camera running however and video stills from the movie flooded the market later on.) In the discourse that followed, Swami said something very poignant.
The principle of Hiranyagarbha is spread all over the body. It assumes a form when I will it. Whoever has seen this Lingam at the time of its emergence till its complete journey outside will not have rebirth. One should see its form as It emerges. In order to sanctify your lives, such sacred manifestations have to be shown to you every now and then. Only then can you understand the divinity in humanity. This Lingam will not break even if it is dropped from a height with force. This is Amruthatwam (immortality). It is changeless. You cannot see such a manifestation anywhere else in the world. It is possible only with Divinity.
Needless to say, we were all thrilled. The blessing and bounty was so immense and tremendous. I felt overwhelmed that in my first year as His student itself I had been able to witness the Lingodbhava.
Background - Part 2
This part of the background is something that I am definitely not proud of. But the need for mentioning it is vital for the story and so I proceed. In the academic year 1999-2000, my XII grade, I got caught in an indiscipline problem. The result of that was me getting banned from participating in an sports and cultural events and competitions for the academic year. That did not hurt me as much as the other punishment that the warden awarded me - no permission slips to take camera to the mandir!
I felt as if my life support was plucked out. Taking pictures of Swami with the camera had become so much a part of my life that I could not think of sustaining without it. And as Shivarathri arrived, I felt that not being allowed to shoot would really become unbearable. I had been eagerly anticipating the Shivarathri with the intention of taking pictures of Lingodbhavam. And all those hopes were cruelly dashed. I felt cheated! My thinking was that nobody has the right to take someone away from Swami - whatever be his ‘crime’. I got angered. I was upset. But I was helpless too.
With this background, we now move on to the main story.
Complete confidence in Swami's act...
February 2000 was coming to an end and Shivarathri was approaching. I was wondering as to how I would be able to take pictures of the Lingodbhavam. I kept complaining internally to Swami that I wanted to take photos on Shivarathri. Finally, one day before the D day, I wrote a letter to Swami. I do not remember the details but here is the gist which I remember very well. It was this - Swami! You know how badly I wish to take the Lingodbhavam picture. Now, I am not being given a permission slip to get my camera. Please promise me that if you perform Lingodbhavam this year, I shall get a picture of the Lingam in your mouth.
Armed with this letter, I went and sat in the mandir. Swami came and accepted the letter from me. I was so thrilled and happy. I felt that Swami had given me a personal promise. Overnight, my attitude changed from, “I am the unluckiest guy in the hostel” to “Swami will perform Lingodbhavam only if I take camera to Mandir.” That is the kind of confidence that an assurance from Swami bestows!
The D-day dawned and I went to the warden’s office to request for the camera slip. I was not given permission and I went for the morning session in the mandir without my camera. We sang stotrams and songs in Swami’s presence and it was very uplifting. For the evening session, I hoped that I would get the permission slip though I had no idea as to how that could possibly happen.
“If you do not take your camera Aravind, remember that it means there will be no Lingodbhavam”, I told myself and felt pacified.
Thus, in the evening, I again went sincerely to the warden’s office with the determination to stand there till whatever time necessary. The warden ignored me and I continued to stand. All the students in the hostel had left for mandir and I was maybe the last one still in the hostel. I knew that the warden would now come on the rounds to ensure that all had left and would drive me out to mandir.
“He has no idea of the impact of his actions. By denying me a permission slip, he is denying the world of the phenomenon of Lingodbhavam” - the heights that the ego can ascend!
As warden re-entered the hostel, one of the teachers came back to him and said,
“Sir! Today our school boys are chanting Vedas. Please let Aravind take camera so that good photos can be taken when Swami blesses them.”
I could not believe my stroke of luck and the warden could not believe the predicament he had been put into. He was in no mood to let me off the ‘punishment’ that he had imposed on me. He found a midway solution. He signed a permission slip for me but said,
“This is valid only for today evening. Even if you plan to sit the whole night in the mandir for bhajans, make sure that your camera is returned to the hostel.”
I could sense the disappointment in the heart. The previous year, Swami had performed the Lingodbhava early the next morning. If that were to happen this year, I would not be able to take photos! But again I told myself that was not possible because if I did not have camera, then the event could simply not happen!
The unbelievable turn of events...
I reached the mandir with the camera. When some of my friends saw me, their jaws seemed to drop in amazement as to how I managed to get the camera. I simply smiled and moved to the second line and sat. In the meanwhile, warden arrived and told me, “You need not sit in the front. You have a zoom lens. Sit back and take pictures from there itself.” Thus it was that I landed in the 8th or 9th line with a sad face.
The evening proceedings went on fine. There was Veda chanting ( how can I forget that which was instrumental in getting me a camera slip!) followed by a couple of speeches after which Swami delivered His divine discourse. Then, the bhajans began which would go on throughout the night till the Aarthi the next day morning. Swami moved into the interview room. My mind was not at all on the bhajans. I was going on wondering as to how I would manage to retain my camera till next morning when Swami would do the Lingodbhavam. Even as I was furiously thinking thus, Swami arrived out of the interview room. Instead of moving towards His residence, He came to the dais and sat on the chair. This was something new. It was part of His uncertainty that all of us loved.
As Swami sat on the chair, all of us noticed that He seemed to get spasms in His stomach, chest and throat. I got excited - Swami was going to do the Lingodbhavam now! And I had my camera with me. I was so sure of getting a picture of Swami with the Lingam in His mouth. As Swami’s symptoms progressed, He requested all the photographers in the first two lines to put their cameras down as the flashes were very disturbing. At that instant, I realized why being shunted off the the 9th line was also His blessing. While everyone was made to put down the cameras, I was not told anything since I was so ‘far away’!
I knelt down and waited with bated breath for the moment. The spasms became more frequent and intense and my heart was thudding so loud and hard. I knew that the moment would arrive anytime soon. Amidst all that excitement and anticipation, a thought arose in my mind.
“Aravind remember what Swami said? Whoever has seen this Lingam at the time of its emergence till its complete journey outside will not have rebirth. One should see its form as It emerges. If you try to take a photo, there will be a moment when the shutter closes and you will be cut off from the Lingodbhavam. Is it worth sacrificing your liberation for the sake of a picture?”
This thought really disturbed me. And so I did something really crazy. I just focused on Swami and kept my camera to the side of my head. My idea was to simply shoot blind when the moment happened. Within a few minutes it happened. Swami did the Lingodbhavam and then even moved amidst the gathered thousands, displaying it for them to see. I shot blindly and since it was the age of film cameras, I had no idea as to whether ‘the moment’ had been captured.
It was only a week later, when the film rolls were developed by my father in Mumbai, that I got a confirmation of having captured the magical moment. Today, when I think about the probability of getting such an image in the circumstances I was in, I know it is impossible. What a gift Swami had given!
I have witnessed at least half a dozen Lingodbhavams. I have photographed them with cameras that shoot at 5,7 and 9 frames a second. But I have never managed a photo like that ever. I have also not seen another such photograph anywhere else, taken by anybody else. Of course, there have been video stills made from the films that were shot on those occasions - but no high resolution images. Naturally, for such images cannot be taken, they have to be given.
This, till date, remains my best Shivarathri ever.
I also realize that when it comes to Swami, photos are never 'taken' by the photographer but are always 'given' by the Lord.
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Vidya Mehra on February 11, 2015:
What is that time ...?...when swami come back....we all miss you swami...
Ahdilarum on November 16, 2014:
You shared a lovely and divine experience of Baba.
KokilaVaidyanathan on March 13, 2013:
Sairam Brother...really missed your sharing for last couple of days and wondered why...truly you have come back with a Big Bang!!! Reading your sharing it felt like being there witnessing the whole thing and even felt that Swami through you had blessed me from the cycle of birth and death ...beautiful... Sai Shiva is the almighty in our lives and we are fortunate see Him through you and your sharing!!
saisarannaga from Chennai in Tamilnadu, India. on March 10, 2013:
Sairam Aravind! Today being Mahasivarathri, i got the real Dharsan now! Hope let it be the last birth on earth!
VENUGOPAL on March 09, 2013:
Sairam Arvind, while seeing your experience I admired your implicit faith on Swami. You are more blessed by Him. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Archana on March 09, 2013:
"Maybe I could scream so that my throat would hurt instead of His" this sentence conveys your LOVE for Swami...!! Sai Bless
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on December 18, 2012:
@Steve108 - I have personally not heard anything about that though I know that with Swami, anything is completely possible.
steve108 on December 18, 2012:
sairam aravind, i remember shivaratri at puttaparthi in 2000, and i saw a blue flash of light emerge from swami's mouth just as the golden lingham came out, i wasn't sure if i was seeing things or if it may have been a camera flash reflecting off swami, but 2 years after i was again at prashanthi and i overheard an elderly man say he also saw a blue flash of light come from swami's mouth during 2000 shivaratri. Have you heard of such a thing? thanks for sharing your experiences, sairam.
Shantidevi from USA on August 22, 2012:
Thank you Aravind for your sharing your personal experience. Also, for the great photos. We are blessed through your stories. They make my heart sing.
Looking forward to your future posts. Sai Ram
Naveen Sharma on July 29, 2012:
I want to add here a bit. I was very much present on this day... and just want to tell u that I was a heavy smoker till this day. I used to smoke 2 packets a day. On the14th morning, while getting ready to come to ashram I smoked my last cigarette. It was probably 2.30am. I didn’t smoke the whole day as I fasted for Shivarathri. I sat the whole night and the next morning saw this lingodbhava. Luckily I was in line with swami and so had a very good glimpse of something like a very bright molten gold taking form of a Lingam. Since that day I never got the urge to smoke. It is now more than 13 years now....Sairam
VASU on July 27, 2012:
YES AM BLESSED BARRU TO GET YOUR MAILS!!!!!!!!!!!!
serene shroff on April 01, 2012:
wonderful sharing,such a nice article,took me back to gd old times,Tank you Arvind,Good luck!!
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on March 03, 2012:
@ Sarvajyoti Arora - It is all God's love that makes us blessed. You too are blessed my dear brother...
@ Poornima Srinath - Thank you... Feel so happy reading your comment.
@saisarannaga - Wow!I would love to read about your experience during Shivarathri 1966
@P Naik - Thanks for that information that makes the reading more complete and wholesome.
@Rajeshwar Singh Amar - Thank you for your constant inspiration and good words.
@ Shobha - That was a beautiful share
@ Everyone - Thank you so much for your loving comments. I am happy that am able to do a bit in sharing His stories...
Hareesh on February 25, 2012:
Sairam. Thanks for sharing this. Your narration was so good that, I could visualize the wonderful events through your eyes.
vaishnavi rao on February 23, 2012:
Sairam Anna! You are very lucky! No words at all! Spellbound!
shobha on February 22, 2012:
Fantastic pictures and beautiful narration. not having been fortunate enough to witness even one lingodbhava, this writeup is the closest that one could get to living those glorious moments in absentia!! Pain of not having witnessed it, with the feeling of awe and gratitude for having at least had the darshan , sparshan and sambhasan of this magnificient Lord. was the mix of thoughts and feelings on this auspicious Shivaratri seated in Kulwant hall this year.
Congratulations on your marriage. I remember swami telling one of his students when he got them married" till now, you were serving with two hands, now onwards you will serve with four". ( Two of the husband and two of the wife) so wishing you both great lives ahead in Sai Service. Incidently,just as you missed writing about swami , we were eagerly waiting to read your hubs on Swami , happy to have you posting again. Sairam,
Haritha Avula on February 21, 2012:
Nice write up..!Thanks for sharing.
vasu on February 21, 2012:
well narrated, your experience, moves me back to 2000 though I was present, i could not have enjoyed so much as
reading your experience - keep it UP baroooooooo
S.Sridhar on February 21, 2012:
This write-up will long last till HE comes backs as PremSai
Aarthi on February 20, 2012:
A wonderful gift from you to all of us readers for this holy Shivarathri this year! You are so blessed. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. We are also experiencing Swami's blessings through you.
Nikhil on February 20, 2012:
Sairam! That's the only word which can describe your experience and His love! So Arvind anna, No Rebirth eh? Enjoy!
Ashwin kumar on February 20, 2012:
Lovely memories...takes me back to Sivaratri 2000 too :) ... Might recollect it was not 8th but 11th class boys veda chanting; Vishy, anshuman, others and myself :)
P Naik on February 20, 2012:
Beautiful write-up and thanks for the glorious picture. I remember in 1977 Sivarathri, Swami took out the "Prithvi Linga" that symbolized the entire creation, it was dark, larger than normal and carried with it inside a glowing flame. Swami walked around and showed the lingam to everyone, while saying " no more births, nor more births.." and then He announced that he won't be materializing any more lingams in public because of the stampede in Poornachandra auditorium. That is until 1999 when he resumed it.
rajeshwar singh amar on February 20, 2012:
Welcome back Arvind! Beautiful article to restart your posts in face book.It is really wonderful.God has to bestow for such chances, one can not on his own achieve such marvel.You can post some of your marriage photos on face book. Lot of people who were not there for your marriage would benefit. All the best! Sairam!
Raj Chandan ram on February 20, 2012:
Excellent as always! Arvind Im sure u have some information about padnamaskar and it's signoficance! What has the Lord said about it?
shruti on February 20, 2012:
These shivrathri's are so vivid in my head!....
Xavier Nathan from Isle of Man on February 20, 2012:
What a wonderful story! I particularly liked the conversation between the split mind and how you were guided to right action regardless of the chattering monkey within. Thank you.
veerabomma srinivasa rao on February 20, 2012:
This is really wonderful experience aravind. Today being shivarathri we are all blessed to read and see the photo of lingodbhavam of swami through ur experience. Thank you very much and keep posting such important experiences of swami for the benefit of humanity.
Vardharajan AV on February 20, 2012:
Thanks Arvind for this thriller. As some one has written, when I read your posts, I feel as if I am experiencing that. This is surely a way of remembering our beloved Swami.
saisarannaga from Chennai in Tamilnadu, India. on February 20, 2012:
An apt article on the holy Mahasivarathri days. In fact, in one of my article today in a different forum, i was mentioning about the golden Lingotbhava during 2000. However i had a little doubt whether it was the year 2000 and now i got in confirmed. The only Lingotbhavam i have witnessed was during 1966 Mahasivarathri when Swami took a green (emerald) one. But i slept through the night and woke up in the morning to gulp the Prasadam given! Thank you for reviving those sweet memories! Your snap of emerging Linga is really mind boggling. I have not seen the photo anywhere. Thanks for sharing with all!
poornimasrinath from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA on February 20, 2012:
The days of your absence ...the days you did not write not only created void in you but also on me. Some how I connect to swami through your experiences. It is His blessing and writing thro' you which makes me completely re-live your experiences as though they are mine. Thank you Aravind. You have come back with a bang! :)
Sarvajyoti Arora on February 20, 2012:
Great story Aravind.Certainly it was HIS grace on u,dat u cud get da most historical shot dat shall b cherished 4 centuries.U r surely a blessed soul.May da Lord Sai inspire u always 2 share da treasure of HIS Divine Leelas wid humanity.Sairam.