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What is Shivaratri?

by Pawan Mishra

[This is a transcript of talk given on 4 March 2019 at the 2019 Sangha Gathering at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama.]

Is there anyone who does not know anything about Shiva? So I will calibrate my introduction in that manner. Anyone here who does not know about Shiva at all, anyone? No.

My goal in this brief conversation that we will have, my goal is to arrive at a shared understanding of Shiva, so we understand something together and some commonality in that understanding. That would be my goal. Otherwise different people might have different understanding, might have read on the net, must have attended seminars. I am so overwhelmed to be sitting here and talking on this subject because on this seat have adorned many scholars on Shiva who really have academic and scholastic knowledge on the subject. I don’t have that.

So let us begin to create a common understanding, not from what is already written and said. There is enough on that, isn’t it, fat books on Shiva, if you go to a library or to a bookshop. Let us begin from the beginning, from ourselves, from our understanding of what it could be and see what happens.

So Shiva, I have said I don’t know about, and when I asked does anyone know about Shiva, I had flat faces so everybody has just about heard the name Shiva, I don’t know how much anybody knows about that and Shivaratri is a progression to that.

While I was walking back from the dining hall just today in the evening, getting quickly ready to come here wearing my white kurta pyjama, I stumbled on this. Do you recognise this? Someone said, yes, Shiva. Already. One person recognises it as Shiva. Another linga. Who told you this, by the way, Sir, that this is a Shiva-linga? If somebody didn’t tell you that what else would you think this is? Stone. Simple thing, stone. No confusion about it. We have a shared understanding that this is a stone. Anything else you know about it? Reply: it has no form. No, it has a form, some form, you can’t call it a geometrical form exactly, but ok fine, we can say irregular form. This we can say. Anything else? It has a volume and a weight. It has colour, texture. Anything else? It is lifeless and has minerals.

Dixit uncle [Dr. Prakash Dixit] is a geologist. If this were to reach you, uncle, what is knowable about it? It has come down from Himalayas, it is part of a mountain you can say, and if it goes into a hand of a geologist, what will be known, uncle? In this room we have information. What you said: it is a stone, there is a property of hardness, and it can even be defined, hardness of 7 to 7.5. I am just scribbling. And it is quartz. If you were just to expand quartz you don’t know what you will end up with just the quart bit, and if you were to just sit with Dixit uncle he can spend at least two days talking about this rock. Just that much of information is there.

Anybody who is a chemist in the room, who has done chemistry? So now there is a chemical composition about it.

Anybody from the physics stream? Sir, if this were to reach you what else would you see in it?  Not Volcanic and metamorphic. It has gone through pressure and high temperature, hundreds of degrees at which we evaporate but this stone survived it and is still in this form. Memory of temperature could be in this possibly. Are you with me? I will take it off from you, and I will probably try to answer and you please correct me. A physicist can see into this molecule. Can we say that? You can shoot rays through it, so who said it is solid and hard? Only with relation to your finger it is hard, relative to the x-ray, it is nothing; it can go through it or at least some part of it. We can see in it molecules, and through molecules we can see atoms, through atoms we can see sub-atomic particles in it, electrons, protons, neutrons, not only that, quarks, mesons, gluons. Not only that, they are moving at some amount of speed. There is movement. You feel it is solid, still, static, but there is movement in it. Can you see all of this now beginning to happen in it? Not only that, physicists will say that the atomic space is 99.9999% empty space, so what we are seeing here is 99.9999% empty space. This looks like that.

If you project it the other way round, if there was an astrophysicist here? Is there one here? Somebody from astronomy? If there would be an astrophysicist here and he looks at this rock, he will say, wow, it was formed from earth, certainly it is coming from a sun, it is coming from some star, it is holding the memory of the big bang, so called, the beginning of time and space. This holds the memory. So it belongs to the galaxy, so what I am holding here right now is not just a piece of pebble I stumbled on. It is a rock, there is womb, this thing which I am holding is much beyond what I can see or comprehend individually. All of us know it so it has come to our domain of knowledge. Now we all know that this is what it is. This is known to us. Can we say here therefore that about this rock there is something known? Can we therefore say that the opposite is also true? There is something about it that we don’t know. Isn’t there? Even in spite of everyone here, something is also unknown about it.

Out of the unknown, if there were more experts than this, something more could get out of the unknown and could get into the known. Can we agree to this? That out of the unknown more experts, more knowledge, possibly something is already known, but me it is unknown. Can we say something? When we talk of layers of reality, something is known, something is unknown. Out of layers of known, there is something which is knowable. But then there is something possibly which is unknowable. It is possible that there is something about this rock which is unknowable; it will therefore never get into the stage of getting known. Possible, isn’t it? Certain facts about this.

What we are talking about, what I am trying to drive towards is our own understanding of a piece of stone itself has a layer as a tip of the iceberg, most of it is unknown. Part of it is unknowable, maybe. How much part is knowable, how much part is not knowable? There might still be an area which is still unknowable, in spite of all our advancements.

So I want to draw just your awareness to this fact that there is anything, it could be Shiva, it could be anything that we give a name, we give a mechanism, a storey and a structure, becomes somehow known, but there is a huge part of it which is unknown and this is called the residue. The residue of knowing is the unknown. Some part we know, other parts we don’t know. That is called residue. How much is this residue we do not know?

We are trying to know more till our ego drops. So this residue in Sanskrit is called shesh.

You know about Shivaratri. The most popular story about it is that on this night Shiva married his beloved, they came together, they became one, and therefore this night is celebrated like that. There is another story you might find it interesting and maybe it helps our understanding of tonight. Today also if you have been in the dining room and you did the mantras before dinner, one of the lines says, Shiva is our father, Parvati is our mother and they are getting married tonight. So it is their wedding anniversary. Who amongst us keeps awake all through the night on the wedding anniversary of our parents? Give me a break. I only know Shiva is the father, Parvati is the mother, it is their wedding anniversary, why must I keep awake all through the night, I must also go to sleep. So once what happened, it is so said, it is in Kena Upanishad, the story.

It says that Indra, the king of divine beings, had just won a battle, and he had invited all his generals and all the gods, and they were having a party. It happened to be the same night as this. They were just having a party. So during the party Indra happened to look outside.  He was having a drink, soma maybe. Outside he saw something, as if there was a cloud, as if there was somebody. He didn’t realise who is this, what is this. I can’t recognise him, so he just walked up to Agni, fire god. He says, ‘Agni, today we were with Agni putting all our offerings into it. He is the most intelligent of all of them.’ He said, ‘Agni, listen, can you see this thing outside? Can you go and check it for me? Can you check him out?’ So Agni just slips out of the party, goes to that shady configuration of light or whatever. As it approaches, Agni says, ‘Who are you?’ There comes a voice from there, like the fire on the Mount, which spoke to Moses; it was somewhat like that. It was a lit up light, fiery, shimmery, and in a heavy voice it says, ‘But who are you?’  So Agni says, ‘You don’t know, I am Agni.’  It said, ‘What do you mean by Agni? What do you do?’  ‘You don’t know that?  I am Agni, fire, I can burn anything.’  So that light says, ‘Really?’ ‘Of course that is my property, I am Agni. I can burn anything.’ So he says, ‘OK. There is grass lying on the ground. Burn it.’ Agni said this and he blew, but the grass would not burn. Agni put more power into it, and the grass remained the same, cool, green, not even shrivelling, even a little bit. It stayed there. Agni got very hassled, embarrassed, and he just came back and stood in the corner. Indra again found him out. ‘What happened?’ he asked. Agni said, ‘Don’t ask me. Just forget about it.’

So Indra got more curious, and he sent Vayu, the wind god. ‘Vayu, can you just check him out? That thing is standing out there, and it is disturbing me. What is it which is standing there?’ Vayu goes out, ‘Who are you?’ ‘Who are you?’ comes a heavy voice from it. ‘I am wind.’ ‘What do you mean you are wind? What do you do?’ ‘I can blow off anything in the world.’ ‘Oh, really?’ ‘Yes, you doubt it?’ ‘Yes. Why don’t you try blowing this piece of grass on the ground?’ Wind started blowing, and there was a hurricane but that blade of grass was just lying there clean, green, peaceful. This story is much longer.

So Indra finally comes out. When Indra comes out suddenly the whole ball of fire collapses into the form of a Goddess and says ‘By him whom you saw fire burns, the wind blows, water wets, and you win the battles’ and she vanished, and this night is a celebration of that hymn.

In the same night, Indra did not stop, so he chased, or he pursued that light, and it is said in a connected story that Vishnu, the sustainer of this universe, and Brahma, the creator, both had an argument about Shiva. Who is this? Who is this light? Who came in front of Gods and confused them? Who? Who? Who? Kena? Kena? By whom, who is he? That is the Upanishad, Kena Upanishad.

So Shiva manifested himself as an elliptical entity, an elliptical ball of energy, and Brahma went to measure him towards the upper side and Vishnu went to measure him towards the lower side of the elliptical entity, if you can imagine an infinite space. Vishnu came back after sometime and said, ‘I could not find the end of this’ and just stood there bowed down. Brahma came back and said, ‘I found the end of it.’ He was lying and therefore in the Indian storytelling narrative, Brahma is not worshipped because he lied one time. He was frustrated going up and up. This whole elliptical entity is worshipped as elliptical stone, elliptical anything, metal, crystal, is worshipped as Shiva-linga. The symbol of Shiva. Linga.

Please understand, people normally translate it as phallus, a male reproductive organ, so this is Shiva’s phallus. This translation is wrong, I cannot say totally but maybe, because in this level of knowing and not knowing according to me and my understanding it is wrong.

The right translation for linga is ‘linium gamyati iti lingum’. That in which everything dissolves.

It doesn’t get destroyed. Do you understand? When you take a glass of water, and you put sugar in it, will you say sugar has been destroyed? No. Shiva is not a destroyer. It is only a medium. So if you put sugar in a glass of water the whole water becomes sweet. It is dissolved. So that in which any entity can dissolve or dissolves, or the whole of the universe dissolves is Shiva. And that Shiva is immeasurable. It is not measurable.

To give you a little understanding of how it is immeasurable, you know such a simple object, can you see what is it? What can you say, this is, circle, so simple. But if you were to measure the circumference of the circle, how long is it? Can anyone say is it possible? Should it be possible? It is so simple, isn’t it? It should be able to be measured. What you do, you take the diameter, it is called ‘r’ or ‘d’, so 2 pi r, twice the radius or diameter multiplied by pie. How simple. That is the circumference of the circle. But does that really measure the circle? Did you do maths? Does it measure the circle? We always thought that it measures the circle. What is the result of pi? You know what pi is? It is 22 divided by 7 which is 3.14………until infinity.

We have had IBMs computer compute the value of pi for hours and days and days, not computed up to millions of points after point. So it is said that the measurer, here the measurer is diameter, with reference to the diameter when you measure the circle when a measurer will attempt to measure the circle you cannot measure it to an infinitesimal level, it is immeasurable. But if I operate from this level of knowing that the circle is immeasurable, that is the measure of that circle.

The fact that we don’t know all about Shiva, we know something about Shiva, something is knowable, but we don’t know and a lot might be not knowable at all. Once you know this, that there is a lot not knowable, you are talking of Shiva. Therefore in a shiva-linga, so much is exposed, and this is all below the ground.

When you will see here only so much is exposed, that is the knowable, the known, the manifested, and all of unmanifested reality, truth is below. Put together they become Shiva. So when you put them together, when you put these two together, you come to the fact that you say, I know so much about Shiva, there is a lot that I don’t know about Shiva, that is the remainder, if I put the remainder together, known and unknown, Shiva becomes ashesha, without remainder and that is the part of our mantra.

Saumyā saumyātarāśeṣā saumyebhyas tvati sundarī
parāparāṇāṁ paramā tvameva parameshavrī

Remember there are two hook words in it, and the hook word is bhyas tvati (you) tvameva (you). Who is saying this to the Goddess? Not you, not a human being. Why can a human being not be saying this? Because what is being said is you are the highest, higher than the highest, known, unknown, whatever, all of that is being said, I can get into the details. But how can you talk about this if you do not already know this?

There is a difference between truth and fact. Are you with me? We say to our beloved, you are the most beautiful in the world. Is it a lie? No, it is the truth. It is the truth for that person, in the context for him it may be the truth, but factually his beloved may not be the most beautiful, may be even the opposite.

Here someone is saying this to somebody, the Goddess, you are beautiful, and the woman is not smiling, you are more beautiful than all the other beautiful women, she is still not smiling, saumye bhyastwati sundari, all the others who are not even beautiful and all the beautiful put together, you are more beautiful that everything put together. Saumya means gorgeous. Saumya does not only mean lunar cool.

Swami Veda has said that, but here I have the presence of teachers here. Saumya comes from the word soma, intoxicant. You are so gorgeous, enticing, intoxicating, beautiful. Everything that you can think of in terms of beauty, music love, more than that. Even that doesn’t bring a smile on her face so he says, para paranam all that is here, all that is there and even beyond there, and Swamiji says, he uses the word ashesha, remainderless, and something that I don’t know, even out of that you are the most beautiful. Isn’t it?

What a comparison. Who will be saying that ‘ashesha’ himself? He is saying this. Shiva is saying this to his most gorgeous beloved, you are that, but when he is saying you, then who is saying you ‘I’. Without you there is no ‘I’ and that ‘I’, the undefined, unlimited ‘I’, not the I that ends up at the end of our nose, not that I. The short form of infinity, that I is saying this to that.

This is just to give you a very brief sharing on how we can approach Shiva from our level of non-knowing, and we can practice this in our daily life. In our conversations, we talk to a person; we know something about a person, but there is a lot that we don’t know. We have to speak to a person from the concept of ashesha. I see you. I know your gender, I can sense that you are somewhere from the Far East or somewhere there. More than that I don’t know, but she knows more about me, but more than that she doesn’t know. Somebody I know more, but more than that I don’t know. But that which I don’t know could be all of the iceberg, and what I know could be only the tip, so I must recognise that when I make opinions and judgements about people. Isn’t it so? Whatever this was, this is not a whole complete introduction to conclusion, just to leave us all with an idea.

Question [inaudible].

[Pawan replied] Ah, we are going to do a beautiful water abhisheka (water offering). So we are going to put water on crystal. It is altogether a long subject to say why it is done and that. May be if I get 2 to 3 minutes there I will explain it there.

Just to give a brief explanation, imagine, so today we were talking about a stone. If you are talking about a crystal again, uncle will say it is something which has much higher memory.  A quartz crystal is highly organised; they have great memory in it, and this crystal not only has geological memory, it also has mantra memory, because it has been here for almost 13 years and all kinds of intentions have been poured on it for grace, for blessings – it holds that memory. So look at the crystal shiva-linga in this concept, that this is the whole ashesha Shiva, and it is being held by Paraparanam, the Goddess. So you see the Goddess has the yoni which holds the Shiva, ashesha, the whole of it. Part you see, part you may never see, nobody might see, that stone might never be taken out of that, isn’t it? So to that whole, water represents our collective mind and that mind will be poured on it as an offering, as a collective offering. I would only refer here to Professor Masero Emoto’s experiment on water. Has anybody heard about Professor Emoto’s experiment with water? Many in the room have heard about it. Google and see. So what will a collective chant do to the water molecules? How will they interact with the memory of the crystal shiva-linga? It is not a stone. It is a lingam, alive, with a certain memory, certain consciousness that we don’t know. We don’t know who is congealed in that stone. If there are any questions, I will answer.

It is the largest crystal shiva-linga, certainly in my life, and in all of North India. I haven’t seen such a large crystal. So at a very physical level, spending time sitting by that could itself bring you into status, into the resonant frequency that this crystal is embedded with, but you have to allow yourself - even in front of a mirror you take five minutes at least isn’t it, to comb your hair and so on - at least in front of crystal five minutes, ten minutes to sit in silence to allow yourself to be through inductive mechanisms get into the resonance of the presence that is congealed, that is hiding in that crystal.

Now I would therefore conclude for the moment. I am again grateful for being here, but now I have something to share with you. I was sharing this in the morning that a book has gotten written through me. Who can write a book? So that book has flowed out of me. It is called the Hanuman Chaalisa, and it is a commentary on that book.

The uniqueness in that is that Hanuman Chaalisa is a hymn. It is a song to the monkey god, but that monkey god is Shiva himself. It is a song to that. It is a very simple song written 500 years ago, and it is sung by most people. Most Hindus who are worshipping Hanuman who are worshipping even Shiva, they sing this song. So what I did was I did a commentary which is very detailed but the translation of this hymn, I did it as a song itself in English, so people who don’t understand Hindi, can understand what is being said in it as a song. Today I wish to present that in front of you. The song part will not be sung, but I will plainly recite it for the moment, but it was great fortune that Pravin Singh was here; he is going to be one of the singers who are recording the track for the CD, which is coming out with the book, so Pravin Sing, he is my brother and most dear friends. He happened to be in Rishikesh, and even more fortunate we have Ashish Kukretiji here with his younger brother Ashutosh Kukretiji. Ashish ji is another gem. He is accomplished vocalist. Hindustani vocalist. And I am an unaccomplished poetry reader, so we three will present only a little part of that for you to enjoy, because ultimately it is our father’s and mother’s wedding anniversary there should be some song and dance with that.

I would take two minutes to prepare the stage, please bear with me. Namaste.

[Reply to a question] You can perceive the Shiva-linga in every form that you see, every form that energy takes including if you go to that extent, even the shape of an atom at an atomic level will be some kind of an elliptical shape like an egg shape, and all the time to be aware of the fact that there are some things that we know and some things we don’t know and mostly we react from our point of knowledge and information, but to incorporate that there should be something that we don’t know that will dampen our sharp reactions and make us saumyā as the mantra says to become cool, when you recognise the Shiva, the ashesha shiva. There is something else, and you cool down, you don’t react, you are not sharp.

Enjoyed some singing with music and poetry.

[Photo taken by Jay Prakash Bahuguna.]



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