Nights of Inspiration

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Sivaratri

Sivaratri is a night on which many things have happened. According to the Shivapurana, the stories of Shiva, when the universe was created, it was not inhabited by any life form. Brahma and Vishnu saw this created universe and debated as to who was the first person, who was superior and senior?

It is a natural human behaviour. If two people meet anywhere in the world, the first impression is the age. Before you even speak, what you look for is the age. If somebody is elder, you speak in a certain manner. If somebody is younger, you speak in a different manner. The first awareness is, who is senior? Am I bigger, or is the other person bigger? Am I smaller, or the other person is smaller?

This became the debate, because Brahma and Vishnu were immortals. While they were having this debate about which one of them was the greater, a pillar of fire appeared between them. This pillar of fire appeared on top of the mountain Arunachalam.

That pillar of fire was so huge that Brahma and Vishnu, the two immortals, decided to find the beginning and the end of this pillar of fire. Brahma took the form of a swan and flew up. Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug down. For eons, they went searching, digging and flying, yet they could not find the beginning or the end of this pillar of fire.

When they were exhausted and tired, they met again in the centre place and while expressing their inability to find beginning or end, and wondering what this pillar of fire represented, they heard a sound.

That sound was the sound of Om. In the vibrations created by Om, they saw the image of Shiva. The first appearance of Shiva in the beginning of history happened on Sivaratri, the night when he emerged from the dark as a luminous pillar of fire, representing the vital force. Fire contains everything, heat and light. That was Shiva.

After Shiva appeared as the pillar of fire, the creation of life forms began. He was the catalyst for the creation of life forms in the universe where no life forms had previously existed. He became the first pranic power.

Shiva appeared twelve more times. His appearance coincided with the day of Sivaratri. Whenever he appeared these twelve times, he became the self-effulgent jyotirlinga, the twelve jyotirlingas. These twelve jyotirlingas represent the manifestation of Shiva at different times, in different ages, to fulfil one purpose of dharma. Whenever they appeared, that night was called Sivaratri.

The third incident of Sivaratri is the marriage of Shiva and Shakti, which is a paradox in itself. Shiva was a renunciate. He used to live in the smashan, cremation ground. His ornaments were snakes and scorpions and the animals that crawl in the cremation ground. His powder was the ash of the bodies burnt in the cremation ground. An introvert who has rejected the world, attachments and associations, suddenly marries a woman of great beauty, the Cosmic Mother, Parvati, and is united with her.

It is a big paradox in the history, the philosophy, or the tradition of Shiva. The same idea is reflected in kundalini yoga too. When kundalini rises to sahasrara and unites with Shiva, it is known as the marriage of Shiva and Shakti. Both become one and are united. Just as kundalini unites with Shiva in sahasrara, the cosmic principle of shakti unites with the cosmic principle of sentient consciousness in the night of Sivaratri.

This was the first Big Bang. When Shiva and Shakti came together, the explosion happened, the Big Bang. The marriage and union of Shiva and Shakti, is the cosmic Big Bang. In life, the spiritual force is the force of faith. The only thing that negates faith is doubt. In spirituality, there is always a conflict between doubt and faith. They always are at logger heads.

Disciples say that they have faith in their guru, they also say that they doubt the guru’. Disciples say, ‘I surrender myself to my guru’; and disciples also say, ‘Don’t tell my shortcomings to the guru, he will get angry with me. Hide my shortcomings from the guru’.

There is a play of doubt and faith, acceptance and non-acceptance. Due to this game which goes on continuously in ourselves, we are not able to connect with the true spirit of Shiva. This connection allows us to experience openness, clarity, creativity and shanti, peace. We are always doubting our faith, and consequently we are actually moving further away from that spiritual force of faith to which we should be moving.

On Sivaratri, you need to be aware of how to cultivate faith and remove doubts, and how to connect with the strength of this spiritual power and spiritual experience. The more faith increases, the closer you are to experiencing divinity, as it allows you to transcend your limitations.

If you read the story of the marriage of Shiva with Shakti, you will see that it is also a game that Shiva plays with Shakti, a game of doubt and faith. Shiva tries to create doubt in the mind of Shakti, but Shakti remains firm. She is ready to curse Shiva for creating doubt, for making the effort to create doubt in her mind. When you are totally identified with faith and are unshakable in that, then Shiva comes to you. The biggest obstacle in spiritual life is doubt, so make an effort to avoid it. The biggest strength of spiritual life is faith, so make an effort to protect it. That is the story of Sivaratri.

—7 March 2016, Ganga Darshan, Munger

Holika dahan

The night before Holi, the festival of friendship and colours, is the night of lighting a bonfire, known as Holika dahan, the burning of Holika. There is absolutely no connection, no relationship to the festival of colours.

The story of Holika dahan, the lighting of bonfire, goes back to remote antiquity. Prahlad, a pious son was born to a terrorist king Hiranyakashyap. Prahlad survived many attempts on his life which were made by the cronies of Hiranyakashyap, upon instructions from the king, his father. The reason was that Prahlad did not acknowledge the supremacy of his father as the ruler of the world, instead he acknowledged Narayana as the supreme ruler of the world.

Because of this ideological difference, the father gave the instruction, “Kill my son.” Various methods were adopted. The son was given poison, it did not affect him. The son was thrown from the mountain top, rolled down and remained unhurt. The son was thrown in front of a wild elephant to be trampled upon, nothing happened.

When these methods of assassination failed, the sister of the terrorist king whose name was Holika, said to Hiranyakashyap, “I will kill him. I have a boon. I have a fire-resistant cloth, woven in Brahma loka. If I wear that fire-resistant cloth, I can go into any fire and I will not burn. I will carry Prahlad and he won’t have the fire-resistant cloth, so he will burn.”

Hiranyakashyap agreed. They lit a big bonfire and Holika sat in the fire with her fire-resistant blanket and Prahlad on her lap. The boon became a curse, as it was not being used for the purpose it was intended. She burnt and died, and Prahlad remained safe. That incident happened on Holika dahan. The bonfire is lit and people celebrate and remember that event.

It is not the memory of a woman dying in a fire, screaming her heart out; it is not the memory of a boy coming out of the fire unscathed. If it was just a story, it would have been lost ages ago. However, even today after many thousands of years, after the passing of many ages and yugas, the memory of the story still lingers on, and people enact that moment by lighting the bonfire. Why?

What is the teaching of that event that took place so many thousands of years ago? Why is that moment still recognized today by lighting a bonfire?

You have to understand the nature of Prahlad. Prahlad lived a life of bhakti to Narayana, devotion to Narayana. You may think of devotion as worship, and that is where you do not see the secret which is kept in front of you, the open secret of bhakti.

In the Narada Bhakti Sutras, it is stated: Atatho bhakti jignasa – clarify the doubts on bhakti, explain what it is. The second sutra says: Param prema roopa – Bhakti is transcendental love. Bhakti is not ritual, not remembrance but transcendental love. That param prema roopa, the transcendental love, is the union of flames of spirit.

That was the state of Prahlad. His spirit was united with the transcendental spirit. He was living the ultimate param prema experience. For him nothing existed except Narayana. He was living that experience continuously, and therefore he was protected by the cosmic powers and forces. He survived all attempts to kill him.

The enactment of Holika dahan, the lighting of a bonfire, is to remember the idea of param prema roopa, the quality which made Prahlad survive. It is not to remember that Holika died, or that the boon became a curse, but to remember the quality of Prahlad’s bhakti.

It is the param prema roopa quality which protects everybody. It brings together, it closes the distance and unites the bhakta and Bhagavan, so that these two become an inseparable power.

—22 March 2016, Ganga Darshan, Munger