February 12, 2010 – Holy Shivarathri in Prasanthi

His devotees consider Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba as the Shiva-Shakti avatar (the embodiment of Lord Shiva and Mother Shakti). So it is no surprise that Shivarathri sees an influx of devotees in huge numbers to Prasanthi Nilayam. The resources and energies of the volunteers at Prasanthi Nilayam are tested to the last sinew and there are devotees everywhere.

The corridors of all the residential complexes too are filled to the brim and people spread sheets wherever they find a little space and spend time there. Long serpentine lines to enter the hallowed precincts of the Mandir are a common feature and people endure standing for 3-4 hours on the end with a smile.

Screens are erected and televisions placed at strategic positions to enable the devotees a good glimpse of their Sai Shiva. The Poorna Chandra auditorium becomes a theater with a giant screen where the marvel of technology brings the live happenings at the Sai Kulwant Hall.

The Shivarathri (literally translated as the night of Shiva) morning saw the Rudram being chanted with added fervour followed by bhajans. The Saishwara lingam that had been blessed with pranaprathistapana at the divine hands during the Athi Rudra Mahayajna in 2007 adorned the front area of the marbled blocks. Aarthi was taken at 9:40 a.m.

In the evening, Swami arrived at 5:20 p.m. He was dressed in a beautiful maroon robe and gasps escaped the lips of those thrilled devotees the moment He made His appearance. Before heading to the Sai Kulwant Hall, He moved into the Poorna Chandra auditorium. The hall was full and everyone seemed crazed with joy at the mere sight of Swami. They raised their arms as if grabbing and applying the love and grace that was exuding from Him. Swami took a gentle round on the stage.

dashan

Reaching the eastern end, He asked a photographer there, "Are there steps to go down?" The ramp to go down was at the western end and Swami expressed the desire to go down! Ah! The excitement of the devotees there should be seen to be believed. Swami was smiling, raising His hand in blessings and benediction. Reaching the centre, He moved through the path. People were shouting, "Sairam! Sairam!" and almost jumping in joy. When it looked people’s enthusiasm might make it difficult to manage them, Swami turned around.


As He ascended the stage, the photographer told Him that all that was happening live in Sai Kulwant Hall would be relayed to the auditorium. The lights were turned off and Swami saw the larger than life image of the Saishwara lingam on the screen. He appeared moved at this and then blessing the devotees assembled for one last time, He moved out of the auditorium into the hall.

The Veda chanting was on and the nadaswaram and panchavadyam by the students began to perform. Swami moved through the ladies side. He was on the special throne chair and was clearly seen by all as it has good height. Completing the round through the gents and students, Swami arrived at the centre. He had a look at the lingam that had been installed there facing the east.

Then He moved on. The warden of the Anantapur campus of the University sought Swami’s permission for the girls too to lead the bhajans during the night long vigil that was to follow. Swami nodded. The tiny tots from the Primary school had prepared a plethora of cards for Swami for the occasion of Shivarathri. Swami looked through all of them and then arrived at the portico.

There He lit the candle on a huge cake specially prepared for the occasion. Cutting the cake, He moved through the portico and arrived on the stage. He sat listening to the Veda chants for about 15 minutes. He then asked for the stotrams to begin.

The next 45 minutes, one felt as if Kailasa had travelled south to meet its Lord! Beginning with the Lingashatakam, the students sang the song Prabhum Prananatham. Many more stotrams and songs followed. They were so enthralling and hearing them and seeing Swami was such a profound spiritual experience. The song, Mahaprana Deepam raised the rhythmic energy levels in the entire hall and all those who could not sing along began to enthusiastically clap.


songs

The song "Om Namah Shivaya" rendered in Hindustani style with all the variations and in depth knowledge of the raaga was a treat to the ears. This was followed by a Carnatic song. It was so impressive that Swami called the two singers to stage.

He told them to sing another song in the "thillana" style. They obliged and pleased Swami and also the thousands who had gathered. As they concluded, Swami told the students to begin bhajans.

And thus the bhajans began. It was almost 6:50 p.m. The boys and girls began to sing alternatively. Swami sat in His seat and it was such a wonderful darshan. The night arrived and truly Shivarathri was on at Prashanti Nilayam. Swami drank a glassful of water or two.

Everyone sat up alert as this was one of those signals which precede the lingodbhavam. The signals ended with that, thankfully, as devotees experience so much pain seeing their beloved Swami in pain during the lingodbhavam. The bhajans continued. After a while, Swami moved to the interview room.

Coming out, He continued to sit for the bhajans. After a few minutes, He asked for aarthi. Some people attempted to tell Him that bhajans would be on for the whole of the night. Swami nodded and called Prof. Anil Kumar. He had it announced that there would be bhajans the whole night and aarthi would be taken at 7 a.m.

the next day. Then, looking at the priest, He asked him again to do the aarthi. The priest was very hesistant but one more look from Swami and some forceful prodding had him waving the camphor. Swami called one of the teachers of the music group and said, "After aarthi, do not chant the Shanti mantra. Restart the bhajans instead."

That was done to the word and bhajans went on. After a couple of them, Swami told the Carnatic pair to sing the next bhajan. As they started to sing, Swami began to move towards Yajur Mandir. It was almost 8:15 p.m. when He retired.

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