Alluring Shivaratri Spectacle of Yesteryears

by Ms. Janet Bock Bicker

I was born in Los Angeles, California on November 24, 1941. My father was an immigrant from a timber producing region of Northern Sweden, where he was a founding member of a men’s choir. Music was his great love. Although I never learned to speak his native language, I did develop an ear for 'foreign' sounds that later helped me learn to sing bhajans in Telugu and Sanskrit. My mother’s family were also immigrants, and they farmed in the state of Nebraska. Both sides of the family belonged to the Lutheran Church, and although my parents mainly attended church on the holidays, they took my younger brother and me to Sunday school every week. I inherited my father’s love of music and, after beginning piano lessons before my fifth birthday, I went on to eventually earn a Bachelor’s degree in piano performance from the University of California at Santa Barbara. While at college, I also studied voice and participated in choirs, plays, operas and musical comedies. The summer before my Senior year I was part of a group of sixteen students selected to travel for two months to Japan, Korea, Okinawa and Taiwan to entertain American military troops and local college students.

The trip had many elements I later began to recognize as part of a karmic path to my later focus on Ahimsa (non-violence). The flight across the Pacific coincided with an atmospheric test firing of Starfish Prime, one of the largest hydrogen bombs ever detonated by the United States; I found myself the overnight guest of a lovely family in the Japanese city of Hiroshima, site of the World War II atomic bomb explosion which destroyed the city and many of its people; in Korea I stood at the southern boundary of the Demilitarised Zone between North and South and, unbeknownst to me at the time, our group performed at a military base just miles away from the place where my older half-brother had been killed during a battle in the Korean War.

After graduation I was offered a job with an American university which provided college courses for American military stationed in Europe, the middle east, North Africa, and both East and West Pakistan. For two and a half years I worked as an assistant for logistics in offices in Heidelberg, Germany. I traveled by military train to Berlin, and through the Berlin Wall at Check Point Charlie to East Berlin. Driving alone in my little green Volkswagen, I visited Sweden, France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and, in one three week trip, I drove through Communist Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to Turkey and Greece.

  A book inspired by a discourse by Bhagawan in the year 1978, on the
years Jesus spent in India

Upon returning to Southern California, I discovered the wonders of the Vedanta Temple bookstore and became absorbed in accounts of the life of Ramakrishna and the writings of Swami Vivekananda. I found a job at Liberty Records and, after eighteen months, met Richard Bock who was producing records of Pandit Ravi Shankar (Sitar maestro). Our common interest in things Indian led us to a lecture given by Indra Devi where she told of her experiences and showed black and white newsreel films of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. (You can read about her first experience HERE) I had one photo and a few borrowed books from Markell and Bob Raymer, who had just returned from travels in Africa as part of Baba’s party. Richard joined Indra Devi in India for Baba’s forty-third birthday in November 1968, and returned with eight millimeter film and the recordings of Baba which became the LP entitled, 'Sathya Sai Baba Chants the Bhajans'. We joined with Indra Devi to start the SAI Foundation in 1969 and opened the Sathya Sai Baba Center of Hollywood in October that year.

My desire for Baba’s darshan intensified until I chose to stop waiting for others and go on my own. The following article describes my experience of the two days of Shivaratri, 1970, during my month-long stay with Bhagawan. After I returned, Richard and I married and went on to make extended trips and more films about Baba, such as, His Life is His Message, Celebration, Aura of Divinity, The Universal Teacher (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3), The Endless Stream, until Richard passed away in 1988. The Shivaratri account was later published in 'The Jesus Mystery, Of Lost Years and Unknown Travels', which Bhagawan inspired and blessed, about the years in Jesus’ life between the ages of twelve and thirty, which are not spoken of in the Bible.

Baba has continued to guide my life, through graduate school for a Master’s Degree in psychology, and through my twenty-five year marriage to Dennis Bicker, my partner in the creation of the SAI Foundation film, audio and photographic archive which now resides at Prasanthi Nilayam.

Baba once answered a question about how He knew so much about the questioner with the words, “I know things about you which you do not know, yet”. (from Prasanthi, N. Kasturi, p. 71, 1985) My experience has been that not only does Baba know things about us we do not know, yet, but He inspires us to face the events in our lives and, when we do that, He leads us onward towards their deepest meanings.

My final physical darshan of Bhagawan occurred when Dennis and I made our 'gratitude pilgrimage' in Nov. of 2010, just months before his Mahasamadhi. The power of His glance was as strong and life-enhancing in 2010 as it was the first time in 1970.


Excerpt from the book, 'The Jesus Mystery', pp. 176-180, by Janet Bock, Aura Books, Los Angeles, CA. 1980.

Towards the end of my first week people began arriving for the festival called Maha Shivaratri, one of the major holy days of the year. It is held all over India on the day of the new moon between February and March. The dark of the moon is important because the moon is recognized as the presiding deity of the mind and, when it is full, the mind is rampant, hence the Western use of the word lunatic. When the reflected light from the moon is reduced to a slender arc the mind is calm and worldly tendencies can be more easily overcome through spiritual practices. Each year this day and night are set aside for meditation, fasting and singing the name of God.

shivaratri janet bock

At Prasanthi Nilayam, in Sai Baba’s presence, Shivaratri takes on added meaning. For many years a unique ceremony has taken place called the Lingodbhava, at which time Baba brings forth the one or more lingams materialized inside His body. These lingams have appeared as elliptically-shaped stones of varying clarity and colour, sometimes as much as three or four inches in length. They symbolize the manifestation of the un-manifest, that moment when the infinite becomes finite in the form recognized as the seed or egg out of which new life, in this case new spiritual life, is born.

Bhagawan at Dharmakshetra, Mumbai, with Richard and Janet Bock

During an afternoon visit with Balbir she told me of the Shivaratri festival two years earlier when Baba gave the lingam to her stepdaughter, Her Highness, Maharani Prithivi Bir Kaur of Jind, whom she was expecting to arrive at any time. Several things struck me about Prithivi when we met, her name in Sanskrit meaning earth or world, primarily her great vitality expressed through an impish wit, a pair of dark flashing eyes and a beautiful smile. It seems strange even now to think that someone like myself from a working class family in Southern California could have much in common with someone raised as royalty in an exotic Eastern land, but soon we were talking and laughing, sharing past joys and sorrows like a pair of reunited college roommates.

The first function of the festival day was the ceremonial flag-raising from the top of the mandir, followed by the Vibhuti Abhishekam in the rectangular pavilion with open sides called the auditorium. I had responded to a call for volunteers to help with the festival crowds, and after two days of chopping vegetables in the canteen and sweeping the grounds with a short handled broom, I was now positioned in the auditorium on the ladies’ side of the centre aisle, about ten rows from the front with instructions to see the crowds did not push forward.

(Left) Early morning Shivaratri Darshan followed by flag raising (right) with flower petals dropping as the flag unfurls

The auditorium filled up for the morning ceremony and still more people came. I saw Prithivi on the outside and signalled for her to join me. She managed to pass through the crowd and I inched over to give her the seat on the aisle. The bhajan leaders began to sing. All eyes held to the spot where Baba was to enter. It was then my emotional catch-basin began to overflow. The part of my mind which was viewing the symbolism and pageantry, and trying to keep a rational perspective, came face-to-face with something much more powerful. I suddenly felt as well as saw the overwhelming outpouring of silent spiritual energy generated between Baba and the immense crowd.

He appeared in the distance, walking slowly to the centre aisle, than back to the far end of the pavilion, all the while turning from side to side, hands raised in blessing. Tears began to flow and try as I might they would not be stopped. The best I could manage was to pull the end of my sari up over my head and wipe my eyes with the end of it.

sathya sai baba giving darshan shivaratri dai janet bock article radiosai

Baba approached, His glance sweeping the crowds. Next to me, Prithivi was hoping for some special recognition and I thought I would at least be there to see it. I gave my eyes one last swipe with the sari and looked up as He stepped past us, His glance taking in the vast numbers. Then, before I knew what happened, His head turned and, for an instant His eyes riveted mine with a look of undiluted power. As I felt the charge my emotion was transmuted into calm. Prithivi, turning to me with a look of mock indignation, laughingly whispered, “You gave me your seat and you got my look.”

But there was no time to wonder or comment. Baba had reached the centre of the stage and was standing next to a silver statue of Sai Baba of Shirdi. One of the pundits was holding a basin of water and Baba had rolled up both of His sleeves to the elbow and begun ceremonially bathing the statue before wiping it dry.

Ceremonial bathing of the silver image of Sai Baba of Shirdi

Prithivi had prepared me for the possibility Baba might manifest some talisman to place on the statue as He had done before. She had come prepared with a small pair of binoculars and was watching His every move. At what seemed to be a lull she handed them to me for a quick look. As I raised them to my eyes Baba’s hand began to move and as the statue came into focus I clearly saw manifest in the space between the thumb and forefinger of His empty right hand a small gold setting of eight deep red stones, surrounding a ninth stone in the centre. As soon as it appeared Baba pressed it against the forehead of the statue, where it remained. I immediately returned the binoculars.

janet bock shivaratri vibhuti abhishekham  
Bhagawan manifests vibuthi from the previously empty vessel  

Now Mr. Kasturi appeared holding an urn about eighteen inches tall. This was to be the Vibhuti Abhishekam, the ceremonial bathing of the statue with ash to symbolize the ultimate state of all physical matter.

The empty urn was upturned over the statue. Nothing happened. Then Baba inserted His right hand into it and Vibhuti began to flow and flow and flow. The ash first covered the statue, then the base it rested on, and finally was even streaming into the audience; the lucky ones in front hurriedly collecting it, while the rest of us inhaled its fragrance.

When, after several more minutes, the soft, sweet-smelling ash seemed to be everywhere and Baba’s arms and robe were white with it, He raised His right hand to the audience, smiled and disappeared through the back curtain. When the audience realized He had gone, there was a wave-like motion rising and pressing toward the stage, with all of us carried in its wake.

Throughout the ashram a sense of gathering prevailed, like the mainspring of some enormous timepiece, the universe itself perhaps. Buses had arrived in the night and whole villages had walked for miles. Shivaratri is also a day for silence and fasting, so instead of the midday meal we rested and waited for the birth of the lingam.

The evening function was to take place outdoors before a raised octagonal platform called the Shanti Vedika, beautifully painted with scenes from the Bhagavad Gita. It began with speeches by devotees. Then Baba spoke about the unifying aspect of God at the core of each atom in the universe. He spoke also of the elimination of the ego. He said:

The elimination of the identification with body and its needs, satisfiable through the senses, is the main point of life. For you get the joy when these needs are fulfilled; grief when they are not, anger when something comes in the way, pride when you win over that opposition.

lingam sathya sai baba shivaratri janet bock radiosai

Bhagawan with various Shivaratri lingams

To eliminate the ego, strengthen the belief that all objects belong to God, and that you are holding them on trust. This would prevent pride, it is also the truth. Then, when you lose a thing you would not grieve. God gave, God took away. Of course, you hear almost all.

Talking in this strain and advising this reaction. But very few follow that advice themselves. This is the sin of all sins: saying one thing and acting quite the opposite, denying in practice what you assert as precept.


After the speech was concluded Baba began to sing. A few minutes later He coughed, then sat down. The bhajans leaders took up the chant. He sipped water from a cup, occasionally wiping His brow. The spasms Baba was feeling were now visible as His throat constricted again and again. Then, as He held a white handkerchief in His outstretched hands we all saw a stream of light emerge from His mouth. He caught it and held it up. It was the lingam. Opalescent, smooth, lit from within, alive with the essence as well as the symbolism of Divinity.

Bhagawan distributes vibuthi on the ladies side

After the birth of the lingam devotees maintained an all-night vigil of bhajan singing. At dawn Baba appeared for darshan and later in the morning He returned to distribute the ash from the Vibhuti Abhishekam which had been wrapped in small folded squares of paper by volunteers. Hour after hour He walked through the curving rows of devotees seated in front of the prayer hall and everywhere the ground was flat. I watched on and off during those hours. The immense numbers of people no longer impressed me, what moved me was Baba, giving, hand to hand, to the thousands who sat in silence. The sleeves of His robe were rolled up to His elbows, perspiration was causing the fabric to cling to His chest and back, as He moved relentlessly through the crowd. I had heard Him say, “I am your servant.” Now I saw this was true.

- Janet Bock Bicker