Musings From Prashanthi Nilayam
WHAT SHOULD WE LEARN FROM LINGODBHAVAM?
By Prof. G Venkataraman
This is the text of the Radio talk by Prof. G. Venkataraman, broadcast after the Sivarathri festival 2006, which has some very significant reflections on what Lingodbhavam means.
Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam. Normally, you would have heard in this time slot, a talk by me on the life of Shirdi Baba. Today I interrupt that serial to share some of my thoughts with you, concerning some memorable moments we witnessed during Sivarathri celebrations last week. As you are aware, this year, Sivarathri, or Maha Sivarathri to be more precise, fell on Sunday, February 26.
The Divine Sivarathri Schedule
As per Prashanti Nilayam traditions, typically, this is how Sivarathri is observed. On the morning of Sivarathri, Swami’s boys sing songs; after that, there is Bhajan and Swami retires. In the afternoon, everyone assembles in the Divine presence for a Discourse, which would then be followed by all-night Bhajan singing.
This all-night Bhajan singing is a phenomenon in itself and merits a talk on its own but I shall skip that. On the following morning, some time after dawn, Swami comes back to the Hall, listens to Bhajans for a while and then gives one more Discourse to bring the observance of Sivarathri austerities to an end. After that, there is Prasadam distribution, which too is an event in itself. This, so to say, is the standard script for a non-Lingodhbhavam year, and this was the way it was for many years until Swami revived the Lingodhbhavam a few years ago.
Last Year, No Lingodbhavam
Last year, it was announced well in advance that there would be no Lingodhbhavam, and, as was to be expected, this resulted in a sharp decline in the crowds attending the function. By the way, although it was announced last year that there would be no Lingodhbhavam, what actually happened was that after Swami finished the Discourse in the evening and sat down to listen to the Bhajans, suddenly there were strong symptoms that a Lingam might emerge. However, Swami summoned His car and went away; ultimately, there was no Lingodhbahavam, at least in public.
This year too, the crowds were much smaller; probably because everyone expected that there would be no Lingodhbhavam, and Sunday evening passed off without any Lingam emerging from Swami. In a sense, many were glad because you know Swami has to undergo enormous physical stress and strain, while making the Lingam come from within Him. Devotees told one another, “Ah, this year, Swami has mercifully spared Himself the torture He has to undergo while bringing the Lingam out.”
The Morning Heralds A Great Event
Came Monday morning and Swami came out at around 6.45 and sat in His chair. Bhajans were going on as usual. Meanwhile, a big group of Swami’s boys got busy bringing in fresh hot Prasadam from the Canteen in huge vessels and placing them in the Sai Kulwant Hall for distribution after the conclusion of the proceedings. I noticed though that they were doing things somewhat differently to the routine they usually followed. I knew, however, that this must be on the explicit instructions from Swami; in all such things, it is Swami who is truly the Manager; He decides even minute details, and nothing can ever happen unless He personally orders it.
OK, all this is fine but this is not what I wish to talk about. There we were, all of us waiting for Swami to start on His morning Discourse, when I saw a few boys rushing into Swami’s Interview room. In itself, this is nothing unusual. Swami often gives instructions and Swami’s boys are so agile and alert, that they dash to implement the instructions. A minute later, I saw these boys go back to where Swami was seated, with flasks, towels and tumblers in their hands. The moment I saw this, my antenna went up; I said to myself, “Looks like Swami is going to bring out a Lingam.” And it was not just me; the whole of Sai Kulwant Hall suddenly woke up from its drowsiness, coming at the tail end of an all-night vigil, singing Bhajans. Something that not normally does not happen in the morning session, was about to happen.
After last year, everyone assumed that for the second time in the history of this Avatar, Lingodbhavam would come to a stop. What I mean is that way back, Swami used to bring out Lingams regularly but then put a stop to it for years and years. And then most unexpectedly, it became a star attraction so to speak. While everyone was thrilled to see this spectacular phenomenon, devotees also realised that Swami went through much physical pain and suffering before the Lingam emerged. Thus, many even prayed that Swami should spare Himself this agony and stop the Lingodhbhavam. That’s exactly what happened last year and this year too, till Monday morning, that seemed to be the case.
When it became clear that there would be a Lingodhbhavam, the huge audience snapped to attention, while the singing of Bhajans picked up in vigour and tempo. Everyone waited with bated breath, while Swami started drinking glasses and glasses of water, as He normally does just before the Lingam emerges.
The Agony of the Birth of the Lingam
A big group of boys was seated behind Swami, pouring out water from flasks into silver tumblers. Two boys kneeling on either side of Swami, were tensely focussing on Swami, ready to support Him by holding Him. One of them would place the tumblers in front of Swami and offer the water to Swami whenever He signalled, which was every fifteen or twenty seconds.
Swami would take the silver tumbler from this boy, and drink the water. He would then hand the empty tumbler, which this boy would pick up and hand over to the crew behind and position the next tumbler in readiness for offering to Swami.
Swami was evidently feeling very hot, and coolers were placed on either side to blow cold air. After drinking water, Swami would wipe His face. And so, kerchief after kerchief was offered. Frequently, Swami would use a small hand towel to wipe His face and mouth. Any number of towels were passed on. Meanwhile, some of the boys sitting behind would run to Swami’s Interview room to fill the flasks, bring more kerchiefs and more hand towels.
In a sense, all this was not new; we had seen this for many years now, except last year of course. But what was unusual this time was the very long time it took for the Lingam to come out.
Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour, forty-five minutes, and still the Lingam would not emerge. By now, almost everyone was absolutely shattered and silently prayed, “Oh Swami! Please, let this agony end this very minute.” But Swami’s suffering continued.
Impassioned Bhajan Singing
Meanwhile, the Bhajan singing went almost haywire. Normally, when the Lingam is expected, the team of singers, boys from Swami’s Colleges in Brindavan and Puttaparthi and girls from the Anantapur College for Women, would take turns and sing fast, powerful, and inspiring Bhajans on Lord Siva. This time too it started off like that; but when Swami’s suffering became prolonged, the singers could no longer maintain the traditional drill and rhythm; instead, they cried out in their own way, perhaps coaxing the Lingam to emerge and bring Swami’s suffering to an end. Here is a sample of those extra-ordinary moments.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO [547 KB]
I hope that gave you an idea of how things were. Meanwhile, Swami’s body continued to suffer so much, that everyone seated everywhere could see it plainly. It seemed like an epic story in which a frail human body embodying the Incarnation of God was struggling to rise to the enormous demands of a mighty Divine Power within, to bring forth the ultimate symbol of Creation. Finally, about one hour after Swami started showing the symptoms of yet another Lingodhbhavam, the much-awaited Lingam appeared ever so suddenly. It was about 8.15 A.M. Listen now to the sounds of that historical moment.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO [110 KB]
Lingodhbhavam Demonstrates Divine Creation
I would now like
to digress and reflect for some moments on the significance of Lingodhbhavam
itself. People come from far and wide to witness the extra-ordinarily Divine
event and feel thrilled by it, but what exactly does that event signify? That is
what I would now like to dwell upon.
Briefly, when Swami brings out a Lingam from within, He is reminding us, among many other things, that behind Creation, there is a Creator. If there is a painting, then there must have been a painter who painted the picture. If there is a child, then there must have been a mother who gave birth to that child. Everyone accepts these facts without any dispute whatsoever, including the so-called rationalists and atheists. But when it comes to the Universe itself, say God created it and see how many feathers you ruffle.
It is not just that some people feel offended by the reference to God; the more important point is that their vehement denial of God has done much harm to Society. What we call good thoughts, good acts etc., spring basically from God. Goodness is the representation of Divinity at the human level. Swami as Krishna, Shirdi Baba and in His present Incarnation has made very clear, that goodness springs from Godliness. Where there is Love there is God. Without God, there simply cannot be any Love and without Pure Love, there just cannot be any sacrifice, and without sacrifice, there cannot be any goodness.
A very large number of people are good by nature, and silently they do a lot of good to Society. Without the sacrifice of these people, without the compassion shown by these people, without the selfless service done by this people, without the sense of duty exhibited by these people, Society would come to a stop. All these virtues are the manifestation of Divinity within.
So, the first point about the Lingodhbhavam is that it is a powerful reminder to us of the basic fact that behind Creation there is a Creator, and that Creator is God. These days, there is a lot of talk about the DNA test. Where heredity is concerned, everyone knows that the child must have the genes of the mother and the father. In the same way, if every atom in the Universe has come from God, should not every atom and all things built from atoms have “Divine genes” if I may say so?
This exactly is what Swami tells us often. He says: “Everything in the Universe is Divine, and there is nothing other than God.” Swami has said this to us not once, not twice, but any number of times. And yet, why do we fail to take notice of it? Because we are so obsessed with the outer form of everything in the Universe. This is all the result of a terrible disease called body-consciousness. In its most virulent form, this disease makes everyone see just the outside, but not what is hidden within.
The Disease of Body-Consciousness
Let me give a few examples, starting with the Sun. Today, thanks to our knowledge of Science we say, “The Sun is but a gas cloud that is burning. Deep inside, it burns elements like hydrogen via thermonuclear reactions. And the energy produced in these reactions is what comes out to us as solar radiation.” Yes, all this is true of course. But how come all this is happening? The modern scientist would just shrug and say, “Oh that? It is all Nature.” This kind of reaction may not be harmful but then one thing leads to another, and it is really dangerous to ignore the Omnipresence of God.
Let us take violence; if people saw God in others, would anyone raise a sword to strike another person? Remember those famous stories about animals and Shirdi Baba? How Baba taught one woman that He came as a dog and she rained blows on Him? And how He told another woman that He came as a pig and she fed Him most kindly? Yes, as the Vedas proclaim, God is in everything, from the atom to the galaxies. And, as Swami often reminds us by quoting a powerful line from one of Saint Tyagaraja’s song, which says that God is in the ant and in the Cosmos as well.
What I am driving at is that Lingodhbhavam is NOT a spectacle. But most unfortunately, that is what most of us tend to reduce it to, by clamouring more for the photos and videos of that event, rather than pondering about the deeper implications and the message that Swami is sending to us.
Let Us Contemplate…
Let us take a minute off to reflect on why Swami undergoes so much suffering to bring out the Lingam. Is it merely to thrill us? Is it merely for showing the Lingam to everybody by going round? Indeed, why does He, after going through so much physical pain, take extra trouble to go round, holding up the newly-created, brilliantly shining Lingam for all of us to see?
The suffering of the Divine body that we saw this year was something quite unusual and exceptional. In fact, Swami mentioned to a few devotees even on the previous day that He was beginning to experience pain inside. So it was not just the painful struggle we witnessed on Monday morning. Unknown to the world, the birth pangs of Creation, if I might call it that, had commenced 24 hours earlier.
The Golden Splendoured Lingam
We all say that Swami brought out a Golden Lingam. Yes that is true but for a moment just reflect on this fact. Can anyone have so much gold inside? The answer is no. Then wherefrom does the gold needed to form the Lingam inside Swami come? It comes from the five elements that form Swami’s body as well as ours. In our bodies, those five elements cannot specially combine to form gold. However, they do inside Swami’s body, as the result of Divine Leela.
Next, the gold that forms inside thus must aggregate, become liquid, acquire the shape of a Lingam, solidify, and then only emerge. It is all very much like a baby growing in the womb, starting from a single cell. I am sure you are aware that gold is a solid at room temperature. If it has to exist as a liquid, and that is what happens at start during the Lingodhbhavam, then it must be a very high temperature, something like 600 degrees. Now at that temperature, the stomach of ordinary mortals would simply burn away and turn into ashes. But such is the control exercised by the Divine that the inner organs of the Avatar, do not get destroyed, though they experience excruciating pain. By the way, it is to counter the enormous burning sensation within that Swami drank so much water. Frankly, I have never seen any one consume so much water. But then, there was a reason for it in this case.
The Sacred Message of Lingodhbhavam
In short, I personally believe that through the Lingodhbhavam, Swami is sending us many subtle signals. The first of these is that we must see God everywhere so that we do not disturb Society and harm Nature, both of which, each in its own way, are an aspect of God. When an individual fails to see God in Society, it then becomes very easy for that individual to slide into actions that harm, injure and even have the capacity to destroy Society.
People do not realise that corruption harms Society; promoting permissive behaviour harms Society; unfair competition harms Society; creating unwanted desires in the name of expanding the market harms Society; promoting junk food harms Society; treating education as a business harms Society; marketing weapons harms Society; peddling pornography harms Society – the list is almost endless. Why do people do all this? Because they are dominated by greed, by the quest for power, by the urge to dominate, etc. If, as Swami says, people see God in Society, would they dare to do such things?
In earlier years, I have many times seen big groups of Sai devotees from various States in India come to Prashanti Nilayam to invite Swami to their town or city. Swami would call the group for an Interview and the devotees would walk in with big smiles, hoping to persuade Swami to accept their invitation. After about half an hour or so, the door of the Interview room would open and out would come these people, everyone of them with a long face. Why? Because Swami had ticked them off. What for? For not having unity.
This has happened many times. The point is that why should there be such a marked absence of unity among Sai devotees, when Swami keeps hammering the message of unity all the time? If we saw Swami in each other, could there be such disunity as to make Swami refuse the prayer to visit? Mind you, I am not trying to preach or pontificate. I am just trying to say that we must take seriously Swami’s advice that we must see God in every entity in Creation, as we go through life.
Important Lessons to Practise
One might ask what exactly does this mean? Many years ago, when I was giving a talk to a group of devotees, I said something similar; I said we must see Swami in all. A devotee who was a businessman objected to my remark and said, “Listen, you obviously have no idea what business is. I do padanamaskar to Swami. I offer whatever I can to Swami free. Surely, you do not expect me to fall at the feet of everyone I am trying to make a business deal with, do you? And do you expect me to give away free, various things to my customer, things that I am trying to sell?” There was a lot of laughter and everybody was wondering how I was going to respond.
I simply said, “You know what Swami’s name is? Sathya. All I ask is that a businessman must deal with his customer in a truthful manner, with integrity and not try to take the customer for a ride, that is all. I am not asking you to do padanamaskar or give away things free. I am just asking for honesty. Is that asking for too much?”
The point about all this is that seeing God in others does not mean we abandon normal worldly code of conduct. What it means is that no one should hate others; if one hates others, it is tantamount to hating God. No one should hurt others wantonly, especially with malicious intent. We would not hurt God, would we? In the same way, we should not hurt others because God resides in all. The long and short of it is that seeing God in every entity means recognising that God is the core all entities, animate and inanimate.
From Society, let me for a moment, turn my attention to Nature. If man saw God in Nature, he would not recklessly cut down trees. If man saw God in Nature, he would not mercilessly hunt whales. If man saw God in Nature, he would not shamelessly pollute air and water. If man saw God in Nature, he would not so thoughtlessly harm the ecosystem created by God for the good of all living beings. The list goes on.
What I am trying to get at is that the Lingodhbhavam is really a profound lesson, teaching us the following:
You would remember that this year, the theme of the World Conference held at the time of the 80 th Birthday was: UNITY, PURITY and DIVINITY. In simple terms this means: first we must feel one with all beings not only on earth but in the entire Cosmos. Next, we must strive to be internally pure, meaning we must keep a long distance from our eternal enemies, you know the usual fellows, Kama, Krodha etc. And when we achieve this sense of oneness with everything and are also pure, then we can become united with God and enjoy bliss forever. I do not know whether you would agree with me, but according to me, these are the lessons, subtle lessons I should perhaps say, that Swami is teaching us through the Divine and extra-ordinary phenomenon of Lingodhbhavam.
Mankind has not seen this before and I am not sure mankind would see it subsequent to the Sri Sathya Sai Avatar. We who are privileged to witness it, must seek a higher meaning in it, rather than see it simply as a rare and spectacular event. Just think of the one hour of long agony that Swami went through.
Being Divine Swami could easily have made the Lingam come out in jiffy; but He did not. Why? Because He wants us to know that anything good and beautiful cannot be created without pain and sacrifice. All babies are beautiful. But just recall how much pain the mother has to go through for giving birth to the baby. It is those lessons that Swami is recalling and reiterating.
I wonder how many of us realise that sacrifice and purity go together. Some of you may recall the famous story of Siva swallowing poison. The essence of that story is that when people get together for doing anything collectively, there are bound to be a lot of bad vibrations generated in the beginning by the evil lurking within humans. If any good is to be achieved, then those bad vibrations must be quelled, and that can be done only with sacrifice. Since in the story concerning Siva, He makes a big sacrifice, He is also known as Tyagaraja or the King of Sacrifice.
Back to Sivarathri Morning
Let me now get on with the rest of the story of that unforgettable Monday morning. The moment the Lingam emerged, Swami’s face instantly brightened. He then put the Lingam on a silver plate and called for the moving chair that is actually a seat in His small Toyota car.
Swami sat on that chair and went round Sai Kulwant Hall holding up the Golden Lingam in His right hand, to let devotees see the Lingam from close quarters. In fact, He went round many times giving Ananda to all.
Swami Blesses the Orphans and Their Carers
We thought that after this Swami would signal for Aarathi and Prasaadam distribution. But that was not the case. He went to the place near where the boys of the Primary School sit and whispered something. Soon, a red Hyundai car [kept in readiness] was brought there, and Swami graciously blessed Mr. Paramahamsa, by presenting him the car. It must be added that Mr. and Mrs Paramahamsa live in the Ashram and have been serving Swami for many, many years, particularly by taking care of destitute children and mothers who have been given protection by Swami for nearly a decade. In fact, Swami has built an entire village to accommodate the destitute mothers and their children. Swami spoke highly of this devoted couple.
After Mr. and Mrs. Paramahamsa were honoured, they signalled to the children they are taking care of to come near Swami. What followed then was truly memorable. Swami became overwhelmed with Love as He distributed sweets to these erstwhile village kids. Swami spoke to them softly. We could not hear what He said since there was no mike but we could make out from the reactions of those standing near Swami that He was very happy the way these children had shaped after coming under His protection. Mr. Anil Kumar then very kindly gave the huge gathering some background to the whole episode. Just listen to what Anil Kumar said -
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO
After that, the former destitute children expressed their gratitude to Swami in many ways, including by singing a song or two. Here is one of them.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO
This song is set in folk song style, making it abundantly clear that these boys are really from the villages.
A couple of boys also made speeches in which they not only expressed their deepest gratitude to Swami, but also promised to spend their lives with Swami, serving Him in every possible way.
Looking at it all, I felt that through this impromptu function honouring Mr. Paramahamsa, Swami gave an opportunity to the vast gathering in Sai Kulwant Hall, how one must reach out to the forlorn, shower love and compassion on them, and bring cheer into their lives. This is one very effective way of being in resonance with Society and therefore also with our Creator.
Swami’s entire life is a saga of Love and Compassion. But this Sivarathri, He gave a new meaning to both these words, by first undergoing tremendous physical suffering to highlight the crucial role of sacrifice. The result of that personal suffering of His was the emergence of the Lingam, which taught us that without Creator, there cannot be any Creation.
Next, having come into this world with the human form, itself a great blessing of the Lord, we must use the opportunity to serve Society with Love and Compassion. Here again, Swami gave us an example by reminding us of the children He had taken under His wing, bringing hope to their lives.
Altogether, it was a memorable Monday morning, with a wide shade of experiences from the utterly sublime to the very practical. I was deeply touched by it, and I felt absolutely electrified by the extra-ordinary message that Swami sent through His suffering, of which we saw just one hour. I then resolved that I must share my feelings so that you can get at least some idea of the great Divine drama that we witnessed. That is why I am interrupting the normal schedule of the talks on Shirdi Baba to tell you something about what I saw.
In conclusion, I would like to quote a comment I overheard while returning to my room at the end of the proceedings. Two young ladies were walking by, talking to each other. They spoke in Tamil, which is my mother tongue. One girl said to the other, “Did we really have to witness all this horrendous suffering?” Indeed, and so, let us all pray that Bhagavan will not tax His physical body from now on, and give us the Buddhi (intelligence) to absorb and practice the profound lesson He has taught us this year, after much physical suffering.
Thank you and Jai Sai Ram.