Happy Maha Shivaratri Greetings to all !
Maha Shivaratri is a momentous occasion for most of the Hindus in South Africa. It favours a deep fervour to their religious feelings in as much as for long twelve hours in each phase of day and night, devotees not only keep vigil in the night but also follow fasting to ritualistic performances.
Our Ramakrishna Centre observes Maha Shivaratri from 6 pm to next 6 am. The period is divided into four sessions of three hours each. And each session has puja, pouring of milk, curd, ghee, honey in respective four sessions, pasting of chandan, offering of vilva leaves, garlanding of flowers etc, arati, discourses, a combination of bhajan and kirtan. After attending initial puja at HQ, I spent my first session at Phoenix sub-centre where more than 400 devotees had assembled. A large number of devotees had to be accommodated in the adjoining covered space where CCTV had been installed for that occasion. The topic of my Talk was ‘Shiva-shakti’. The second session was at HQ where the theme of my Talk was on Maheshwara and the Monk, comparing the salient features between Lord Shiva and Swami Vivekananda.
Third session was at our Chatsworth sub-centre where I took up the panchakshara mantra (Five-letter mantra) of Shiva, “Om namah shivaaya” for discussion. This was based on the stotram composed by the great Adishankaracharya. And in the fourth session I was at Asherville Sri Sarada Devi Ashram where I spoke about Master and Shiva. Back at HQ at 5 am and witnessed the havan ceremony where devotees performed the yajna.
Devotee Pravesh took me by his car to all these places hopping from one to another in quick succession so that everywhere I was present timously. And the day being spent on fasting and thinking of Lord Shiva, the night spent again in speaking about Him and His glory. Indeed a very soul-fulfilling experience!
Swami Vivekananda’s famous address at the pilgrim town Rameshwaram came to my mind when on this Maha Shivaratri holy night I started recollecting my memorable experience in one of the jyotirlinga spots. In that Address, Swamiji clearly spells out the intimate connection of Seva (service) to Shiva.
This is the gist of all worship — to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Shiva in him, without thinking of his caste, or creed, or race, or anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.
Let me narrate how a poor woman in one place of pilgrimage, illiterate yet knew what is real worship of Shiva.
When I went for darshan of the famous jyotirlinga at Bhimashankar in Maharashtra state some years ago, from the bus I could see the distant black clouds hovering the hills. Walking from the bus stand to the temple through the small vendors’ shops and watching the selling of all and sundry items of worship and interest to pilgrims was, as enchanting as drenching in the drizzle.
It was noon by the time I reached the holy temple. After darshan, when I was sitting at the entrance in utter quietness, I saw a lady coming towards me. She briskly asked me, “baba, have you had your meal?” I replied in the negative. Undoubtedly I was indeed hungry but had no inclination to go to the roadside eateries. She then asked me to accompany her to her home which, as she showed, was up in the hills. I was, obviously hesitant – should I go or not? Was it proper to go with an unknown woman? and what dangers might be lurking? – as is known well that the places of pilgrimage do have the usual human perils too.
Yet, finally I decided to go as I felt Master is with me and was confident that no evil shall befall. Reaching her home, in that biting cold and amidst the rains, I found her child playing with her little brother. It was easy for me to establish rapport with those children. Within half an hour the lady served me hot rotis with alu sabji. Did I feel it was nectar like? Yes, the love and affection that beamed in her face while feeding me cannot be forgotten.
After food, she raised some questions about some puranic tales. My answers seemed to be satisfying to her. In my narration, I drew some of the similes spoken by Sri Ramakrishna to her attention and she ran inside her kitchen and brought a small photo of Thakur with great joy! I felt that Master only brought me to her home as He knows where to feed His son!
And taking leave of her and thanking profusely for her cordial, hearty hospitality, I offered a few Rupees that I had. The unlettered village woman’s face turned sour and she quipped angrily whether I am paying the charges for the meal that she supplied. She scolded me saying, was it not that she served me thinking that Lord Shiva had come to her home as atithi (honoured guest)? It was quite difficult to convince her of the necessity to have that amount. Finally when I said that she should spend the money on her children’s dress for the ensuing Diwali, she hesitantly relented.
Poor indeed but with what a rich heart; ever ready to serve a sadhu signifying that Rural India is such that it cannot see a monk in ochre robe go unfed. India is not a punya bhumi (blessed land) merely on poetical terms…