Whose Abhishekam are we watching on Mahasivaratri—it is of Trinity only……
(Compilation for a discourse by N.R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, USA, February 2014)
Mahasivaratri is a great festival that announces the end of cold winter according to Tamils. According to Vedic scholars the popular Pedestal Siva lingam that you see in temples is actually Vyakta-Avyakta form of TRINITY. This form of consecrated Lingam has Pedestal base known as Brahma Bhaga (part), Pedestal middle portion (yoni or female component) known as Vishnu bhaaga, which are normally not noticed in worship as the focus is on the decorated Linga above the pedestal (Antya Bhaga). They also reveal Shrishti (creation) sthiti (maintenance) and Laya (dissolution) and in that order. Devotees focus on the top portion known as Linga (male component) of visible half Linga part (of the ellipsoid) in worship in all Siva temples, thinking they are praying to Siva only with their sectarian outlook.
We may be wondering why Vishnu is associated with feminine aspect of Linga. In Vishnu Sahasranama we can find many names of Vishnu in feminine gender. In Puranas he took the bewitching Mohini Avatar and married Siva. Ayyappan was the result of this union and addressed as Hariharaaatmaja. Siva is sometimes portrayed as Ardhanareeswara but not as a female entity altogether. Vishnusahasranama also has many names in neuter gender. Thus Vishnu ideally represented as Brahman who is always addressed in common gender as Tadekam or that One. That is why in his name as Narayana Vishnu is identified as Parabrahman. If we think deep Lingodbhava Moorti is a column of fire or Jyoti and that represents Saguna Brahman as fire column or bright white column. We learn from the Puranas that when the deadly poison Haalaahala or Kaalakoota came floating during the churning of the Ocean of Milk, Siva saved the disaster by swallowing the poison to become Neelakantha. There is a story behind this incidence. When the Devas requested Siva to save the world, Siva told Ganesha who was nearby, “Listen, Ahamkaraa (ego) is influencing the world. The spirit of time has made the qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas”. Hardly were these words were spoken, when Sakti manifested herself in Siva, who immediately entered into Sakti and came out as a Linga. Ganesha, an eye witness to these miracles found Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and other divinities in the Linga and also beheld the Linga and Sakti without any change of identity and also as powerful as before. The whole universe was seen merged in it—Lingamoorti. It is most enigmatic that the Linga was seen immersed in Prakriti and Prakriti was completely permeated with Linga—Sakti and Linga were found intertwined mutually and this is the origin of Lingodbhava-moorti whom you worship on Sivaratri night. In reality who we are worshiping on this night is Trinity and their domain and that is Saguna Brahman as revealed to Lord Ganesha. That is the Abhishekam you witness on Pedestal Lingams which is the Vyakta-avyakta form of Saguna Brahman and not Siva alone as is generally thought to be.
Vaastu Mandla or the charged atmosphere in the temple is the imaging of the cosmos which is achieved by the presence of 32 divinities who are planets, stars and guardians of directions who are accommodated on the perimeter of Vaastumandala with various other deities subsidiary to the main deity who is the central shrine who occupies Brahmasthaana., the place of realization of Supreme Brahman. This is the place assigned to Brahma, the Lord of creation in the Vedic tradition. In Puranic tradition this position is assigned to the major Hindu Gods, Vishnu and Siva, making Brahma subordinate and pushing to the northern wall of the sanctum. But the concept of Trinity worship continues in Hindu Tradition. Siva manifests as Linga (Vyakta-avyakta form) while Vishnu manifests himself in his divine forms and his incarnations (avatars). Both these are the Universal Brahman in their sectarian systems of beliefs and worships while the other Vedic deities remain as subordinates in their positions as pada-devatas. Therefore the worship in reality is directed to Trinity or Saguna Brahman only and so the Abhishekam we witness is for the Trinity. That is the reason why orthodox people do not prostrate with Saashtaanga Namaskaram in the Vaastumandala to avoid pointing their feet within charged atmosphere against any subordinate deity and do only Atmapradakshinam (going round self).
Siva devotees rush to Amarnath on the holy Sraavana Poornima day in August to worship Siva thinking again that it is the most sacred and pure form of Siva Linga associating it with snow-clad Kailasa. As you know Siva icons are always seen with white face (Siva, the white skinned) unlike Vishnu who is dark faced (Vishnu, the blue skinned). Amarnath is situated at a height of 12730 feet in the Himalayas 87 miles from Srinagar. The cave of Amarnath lies up a narrow gorge in the Liddar valley. The sacred river Amaraavati flows at the root of the cave in whose waters a few very devout, sturdy and strong take a dip. Inside the cave is the six foot Lingam of ice resting on a platform of ice.
Normally on Mahasivaratri night individuals perform Abhishekam on a miniature Linga which is just an oval shaped icon. That many Siva devotees feel is exclusively Siva. On Sivaratri night Hindus are worshiping the Lingodbhava Moorti only which according to Puranas contained the whole Universe under the control of Trinity Brahmaa, Vishnu and Siva as witnessed by Lord Ganesha. Similarly many think the ice formed Lingam in Amarnath, which suddenly comes and reaches its peak on Sraavana Purnima disappears on following New Moon day defeating scientific facts as a divine miracle. This clearly indicates Saguna Brahaman appears as white and disappears as Nirguna Brahman. White reflects all light that is gives out everything to the world like Brahman. If you think deep these are Jyotis and represent Saguna Brahman as fire column or bright white column. As you all know there is also Crystal Linga being worshiped which is colorless or transparent. When a red flower is placed on it the whole Linga appears red. This is an example to explain how Nirguna Brahman appears as Saguna Brahman to us to bestow his benevolence. Nirguna Brahman is silent and invisible observer who keeps watch on us.
Among the miniature Siva-Lingas, normally occurring, Narmadesvara Siva-Linga like Salagrama is considered to be the holiest that can only be found in Narmada River bed that flows through Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and then into Arabian Ocean. It has been said that these Lingams were created millions of years ago when a meteorite collided with the earth at a place that is now the source of the Narmada River. The Narmadesvara Linga has red marking on them representing crypto crystalline quartz, the meteorite material. These unique materials’ blending from earth and space has excellent density and rhythmic vibration that brings positive energy and fertility in a house where it is being daily worshiped. Such lingams are considered very sacred for individual abhishekam on Mahasivaratri night. Being a self- revealing natural Linga these Lingas are Lingas of Trinity only associated with their strength components—that is Brahmaa, Vishnu and Siva associated with their Sakti components Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Parvati.
These Lingas also lead us living on earth to heaven. Siva temples are seen with red and white stripes on the outermost walls about which we have talked about in detail. As we all know Siva is worshiped as five elements in five ancient temples of the South. Living on Earth we worship Trinity as Prithvee Linga and going to Amarnath we get the feeling we are looking to heaven and worshipping Trinity as Aakaasa Linga which is also Udbhava Moorti (natural phenomenon) and not hand sculpted one. When we enter the temple after seeing the red and white stripes we get the feeling we are leaving the Earth (represented by red stripes) and proceeding towards heaven (represented by white stripes) climbing steps to reach sanctum during our temple visit. Here again the focus is on Trinity and not Siva of Sectarian feeling.
This natural phenomenon of drops of water shaping like a Linga in Amarnath is remarkable. Amazingly it dwindles in size till on the New Moon Day when the outline of the base of the Lingam alone remains on the pedestal. It is on the Full Moon Day in the month of Sravana (august) the Linga is at its maximum and crowds attending also the maximum. It cannot be said to be a stalagmite, for in that freezing atmosphere the stalagmite must increase in size and not get reduced and vanish except the platform. Science has no explanation! Vedanta has an explanation. Saguna Brahmman who was with us for a while has gone back to his invisible and silent form as Nirguna Brahman.
Siva and Vishnu complement each other—Vishnu, the custodian of Sattva Guna is dark outside and white inside while Siva custodian of Tamo-guna is white outside and dark inside. Brahma is their inseparable companion as there can be no temple without a niche for Brahma in the northern wall of the sanctums in all temples. All our worships in reality we meditate on Nirguna Brahman through the manifestation of Saguna Brahman in Trinity form in all temples. Siva and Vishnu complement each other and are not separable. In Vishnu Sahasranama Siva glorifies Rama in the sloka “Sri Rama Rama Rameti” while in Rameswaram, the most sacred spot Rama worshiped Siva as Rameswara Linga. Hindus often name their children with a combination of Vishnu and Siva names such as Sivarama or Sivarama Krishna or Venkatasubramniyan or Ganeshram. A section of Hindus are not averse to worship of Vishnu and Siva together though Aaagmas are sectarian in outlook based on which worship takes place. Thus any worship to Siva goes to Vishnu and any worship to Vishnu goes to Siva and in both cases Brahma cannot be forgotten for the first worship in any temple worship must go to Brahmaa. So it is logical and apt that on this night we are worshiping Trinity or Saguna Brahman directed to Nirguna Brahman ultimately. This form of worship of three-in-one is very prominent in Smarta Sampradaaya of Hindu Tradition which you all know. This has come down as a tradition based on the Panchaayatana worship promoted by Sankara at a time when (the five deities included are Siva, Vishnu, Sakti, Ganesa and Soorya; Skanda is represented by Siva as his intelligence) Hinduism was threatened by Buddhism and Hindus were quarreling among themselves with narrow sectarian compartmentalized outlook.
Generally Smartas worship the Supreme in one of six forms: Ganesha, Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, Surya and Skanda. The credit goes to Sankara who established Shanmata and is popularly known as Shanmata Sthaapaka (one who established six traditions). Smartas are the true followers of Sankara in this regard. Because they accept all the major Hindu Gods, they are known as liberal or nonsectarian. They follow a philosophical, meditative path, emphasizing man's oneness with God through understanding. It is not as overtly sectarian as either Vashnavism or Saivism and is based on the recognition that Brahman (God) is the highest principle in the universe and pervades all of existence. I think this is the most suitable method of worship for Hindu Americans as they are drawn from different traditions but go to one Hindu Complex on all festival days. The Sringeri Sharada monastery founded by Adi Sankara is the center of Smarta Tradition.
It is a common sight to see In American Hindu Temples, Hindus drawn from different traditions coming together to worship on Vaikuntha Ekadasi Day (earmarked for Vaishnavites) as well as Mahasivaratri Night (ear marked for Saivites), forced by a strange situation and circumstances. Of course worships conclude with Mantra Pushpa which is directed to elements of nature glorified as Supreme Principal or Brahman which majority do not comprehend being in Sanskrit language and the popular Bhajan prayer Om Jaya Jagadeesa Hare addressed to Universal Person and Antaryamin (Inner-controller) in all of us in Hindi language which majority of South Indians do not understand. Devotees only know it is the end of the prayer and the lunch or dinner time has come. In fact Hindus overseas are following Smarta sampradya which is popular among a small enlightened group in India. These are the people who are pioneers in promoting the concept of Siva‑Vishnu temples in India. Forced by circumstances Hindu Americans have settled down to the concept of Temple complexes finding a sanctum for every conceivable deity in the complex. But worships are conducted by Sectarian trained priests—Saiva Aaagama, Vaishnava Aaagama or Sakta Aagaama. So the whole worship looks like sectarian oriented and looks bewildering to those who are not accustomed to that particular sectarian worship in progress like Thiruvaadippooram or Holi. So majority looks like watching the fun without knowing what is going on. It is therefore necessary to lead the crowd with Universal Oneness approach in such a complex audience and to bring home that the worship is focused on Trinity or Saguna Brahman to contemplate on Supreme Principal or Brahman. It is also necessary to understand Hindu crowd overseas is drawn from top ten percent of the intelligent and not from majority illiterate or minimum literacy crowd like in India.
Yet another factor is forced by circumstances and immigration regulations we are fortunate to have highly trained priests in Sectarian Aaagama worship. They are not Vedic scholars or spiritual heads. In India situation is deplorable. But for a handful of priests in reputed temples majority of priests are drawn of family traditions who often do not go undergo Aaagma certification. I know personally many priests who do not know Sanskrit at all, and who have not received much school education but mechanically chant mantras and slokas often wrongly whom the crowds blindly follow. Neither the priests nor the crowd know the meaning of any of the mantras or slokas or procedures. With everyday temples coming up in every nook and corner of the city the demand for priests though a low paid job is very demanding, only criterion being they look for a priest born in Brahmin priest family for Siva and Vishnu Temples. They have made compromises in some Devi temples like Mariamman or Kali where priests are from non-Brahmin families. But here often animal sacrifice is practiced. Many a time, ill-educated and ill trained priests also exploit the sentiments of the devotees to get rich. There is no sanctity in their professional practice. Fortunately we have good material in our imported priests who can reorient themselves to the present day needs of the religiously inclined Hindu Americans. But many of them are not spiritually or philosophically inclined. They soon realize this is a land of opportunities and try to explore and exploit the situation. They are also not interested in bringing up their children in the family tradition of priests as this is not much rewarding and this makes us constantly to be on the lookout for attracting talented priests but not necessarily devoted. We are lucky if we have one dedicated! Hence the tradition continues mostly as in India.
Hindu temple priests in India are salaried workers, hired by the temple authorities to perform ritualistic worship. They are not to be confused with Swamis (all renouncing Sanyasins) who do not work for money. Priests are family men who are adept in ritualistic worship. Traditionally they come from Brahmin or priestly class. This pattern is adopted by the temple authorities in America also. Therefore though American Hindu priests are very knowledgeable unlike average priests in India, they are not spared to explain things to the devotees and explain the Veda mantras or procedures they adopt or allowed to teach Vedas. So the tradition continue as in India though warranted other way for Hindu Americans who are drawn from different traditions who often interact with the major religion of the land and are also influenced by it by the unavoidable inter-caste and inter-racial marriages to correct the situation and keep them in the Hindu-fold. We would not be wrong if we conclude that Hindu priesthood is gradually losing its sanctity and has become a profession for existence or exploitation whom devotees follow as a religious formality and part of Hindu way of living. Ramanuja during his life concentrated on this issue and streamlined worship in 108 Vaishnava Divyakshetras or divine spots in India appointing priests who were devoted and well versed in temple worship. The present conditions again warrant and look for such a holy person to correct the situation. Present day Holy men are confined to their own sectarian Maths or monasteries while temples are controlled by Endowment Boards with interference from government employees in India. In American Temples we do not have such interference and can make the temple more spirituality oriented with Universal Oneness appealing to Hindus of all traditions. This can start calling our temples as Trinity temples and not named after one deity of choice of the founding fathers the way they are planned and also carry the worship in that direction within Saastric injunctions. The temple in Livermore in California calls itself as Siva--Vishnu temple but unfortunately it has to depend on sectarian trained priests from India in directing the worship. It is worth evolving a common traditional practice in our celebration of festivals and rituals focusing on those that suit all in temples and lead the people more towards spiritualism while adopting chosen religious holidays of the alien country of adoption that fits into Hindu Philosophy and Saastras, which I have touched upon in many of my discourses often.
1. Swami Bhaskarananda, The Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
2. Ananta Rangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Bengaluru, India
3. Srinivasan N.R., Concluding Veda Mantra for Contemplation at the end of Worship, Hindu Reflections: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>
4. Srinvasan N.R., Why outermost walls of South Indian Temples are painted with white and Red Stripes? Hindu Reflections: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>
5. Champakalakshmi&Kris, The Hindu Temples, Rolli Books, New Delhi, India
5. Champakalakshmi&Kris, The Hindu Temples, Rolli Books, New Delhi, India
[This is a prepared lecture compiled from above references and others for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville and to benefit those who are not able to attend the same in person. You are free to download and use it for your reading and reference as well as circulate to others to spread the wisdom of Vedas and Hindu values which good act will be appreciated.]