Sunset Monday, March 4th to Tuesday, March 5th
This year, The “Night of Shiva” is celebrated on the day before the new moon in March, when the moon is furthest from Earth, a time to worship God the Absolute. An all-night puja begins at sunset (dark of the moon) and continues with chanting in praise of Lord Shiva until the dawn. During the puja there are five periods of worship, each followed by prasad.
Aum Namah ShivayaShivaya Namah Aum
Maha Shivaratri at the Ashram
Maha Shivaratri, the “Great Night of Shiva,” is the annual lunar holiday in honor of Lord Shiva. On this dark of the moon night, the veil between the mundane and Divine Reality is very thin, and spiritual practices performed during this period are magnified innumerable times. Shiva devotees throughout India and around the world venerate Lord Shiva with a day of fasting and by making offerings to the Shiva Lingam, the ancient phallic symbol that embodies Him. Traditional oblations of flowers and bael tree leaves are offered, and milk, ghee, honey, yogurt and water are poured over the Shiva Lingam. Throughout the night, worshippers sing devotional songs and chant the great mantra Om Namah Shivaya.
At the Taos Ashram, we have a 30-year Shivaratri tradition of honoring the many facets of Shiva with an all-night puja that brings our attention to the colors that symbolize His primary attributes. From sunset until dawn, we move through five rounds of worship – meditating, singing and reciting mantras – while performing Abhisheka, or pouring libations, over the Shiva Lingam.
In the first round of the puja, the pujaris dress in white and offer a pure white stream of sweet oblations to the Shiva Lingam.
We honor the pure, Sattvic, qualities of Lord Shiva, and of our Innermost Self. This is the purity of fresh-fallen snow, a newborn child, of Baby Shiva Himself. At the end of each round, the empowered Amrit Prasad that has poured over the Lingam is shared with devotees, imbuing them with Lord Shiva’s grace and blessings.
The second round of the puja adorns the union of Shiva/Shakti with libations colored red with sensuous fruits and berries.
We move from purity and innocence into action and creation. The Divine Consort of Lord Shiva, Mother of the Universe, Ma Durga, Ma Kali is invoked to sit with Her Beloved as One!
Next is the yellow round to venerate Lord Shiva as the Supreme Ascetic, inspiring us to go deep into our own spiritual practice.
The pujaris wear austere yellow and bathe the Lingam in turmeric-colored milk and yogurt. After the yellow round, a divine dish of yellow curried samosas is offered to Baba, Hanuman, Ma and Lord Shiva. Then, some time after midnight, a full Prasad meal is enjoyed by all.
Black is the color of the transformation and renewal that comes with the inevitable destruction of all things.
The black round is an opportunity to relinquish our attachments, and anything that no longer serves our highest aspirations, into the fire for Lord Shiva to devour. Shiva now manifests, entranced in His primal Tandava dance, stomping His feet to the rhythm of death and rebirth. As the black round ends, the puja is complete.
After the pujas, after the dance, after the singing, nothing remains. Lord Shiva prevails beyond color, form and attributes as Pure Awareness, as Divine Mystery. In the final round of the night, there is no action, no puja. It is a timeless opportunity to sit in the eternal void of Lord Shiva’s lap and surrender.
This years’ Maha Shivaratri celebration begins at sunset on March 4th and continues throughout the night. If you have visited the Taos Ashram at festival time, you know that our tradition, our love and our devotion, is often expressed through music. Like all of the festivals we celebrate, Shivaratri always elicits the most ecstatic devotional singing.
Om Namaha Shivaya!
Gurudatt Sharma was a close devotee of Maharaj-ji. There are various stories of how Baba used to put Gurudatt-Ji into Samadhi in his presence.
Krishna Das shares this experience in his book “Chants of a Lifetime”:
“One day we were sitting with Maharaj-ji in Brindavan. A number of Westerners had recently come from meditation courses. One of them was sitting up very straight with his eyes closed. Maharaj-ji looked at me and told me to ask him what he was doing. I did, and without opening his eyes, he answered, “I’m meditating.” I said, “Maharaj-ji, he says that he’s meditating.”
“Oh? Ask him if he wants to see real meditation.”
When I asked the guy if he wanted to see real meditation, he opened his eyes and said yes. Maharaj-ji called over one of this close devotees, Gurudatt Sharma, and told him to sit down and meditate. Gurudatt, a family man, sat down and crossed his legs and closed his eyes. Maharaj-ji told me to tell the Westerner to come over and touch Gurudatt. He gently touched him, but Maharaj-ji said, “No, no. Push him.” He did, but Gurudatt was stiff and solid as a mountain. He didn’t move at all. Then Maharaj-ji told this guy to cover Gurudatt’s mouth and hold his nose closed, which he did. It was obvious that Gurudatt wasn’t breathing. Maharaj-ji looked at the Westerner and said, “That’s meditation.”
Then he asked me and another Westerner to pick Gurudatt up and carry him to one of the nearby rooms and put him on the bed, which we did, and then we went back to sit with Maharaj-ji. After a few minutes, Maharaj-ji got up and went into the room where Gurudatt was, closing the door behind him. In about 15 minutes, the two of them came out together, arm in arm, leaning on each other like two drunkards, drunk on bliss. Maharaj-ji settled himself back down on the takhat, and Gurudatt sat below him on the ground. Maharaj-ji looked at the Westerner again and asked, “Do you understand?”
The Westerner said no. Maharaj-ji said, “You want to see it again?” Without waiting for an answer he ordered Gurudatt to meditate again. And Gurudatt went back into meditation. Again, after a few minutes, Maharaj-ji had us carry Gurudatt into the room. I don’t know about the other Westerner, but I was very affected by this demonstration and was going to find out from Gurudatt how to meditate that way myself.
The next day, Maharaj-ji gave me my chance. He asked me to drive Gurudatt to a nearby town on some business. While we were driving, I asked him if he’d practiced meditation before. I wanted to know how to do what he did. He didn’t reply, so I figured that he wasn’t going to answer me. After a few minutes, however, he began to speak quietly. He said, “When I first came to Maharaj-ji, he showed me so much love and affection that some of the older devotees were shocked. He was always holding my hand and caressing me and looking at me with great love. It got to the point where one day one of the devotees asked Maharaj-ji, “What is it about this guy? How come you show him so much affection? I have been with you much longer and you don’t show me that kind of love.’ Maharaj-ji didn’t respond, so the devotee kept badgering him.
“Finally Maharaj-ji said, “Okay, you want to know, I’ll tell you. But I am only going to say it once.” The devotee said, “So say it.” It was only the three of us sitting in that room. Just as Maharaj-ji began to speak, someone came to the door and called this devotee. He turned his head to see who was calling him; by the time he turned back, Maharaj-ji had finished speaking. He said, “Maharaj-ji, what did you say? I didn’t hear you.” But Maharaj-ji would not repeat himself.”
Gurudatt looked at me for a second and continued. “Maharaj-ji said, “Not just this life, not just the life before, but life after life we have been together. That’s why this happens.”
We drove the rest of the way in silence.”
In the summer of 1998, Baba’s two tireless devotees, JR and Radha, brought Gurudatt to visit the Taos Ashram. It was a magical time for everyone as Gurudatt Ji like a flower emanating the sweet nectar of Maharaj-ji attracted all of the devotee bees around him. Hanuman Das shares some impressions from that time:
“I remember that not long before Gurudatt’s visit, Siddhi Ma had told me that we should do the whole aarti in Taos instead of just singing Jaya Jagdeesh Hare. She suggested that if the full prayers to Devi and Shiva were too much to learn for the Taos devotees then we could omit them, but that we should be sure to include the prayers to Hanuman and the Vinaya Chaleesa. I started singing the longer prayers but no one knew them and it wasn’t really catching on. When Gurudatt came, he put the prayers in the current order and helped everyone learn to sing them.
Gurudatt loved the ashram in Taos. He said many times that the devotion that people showed here was so much more poignant than what he felt from the devotees in India. He also commented many times on how he appreciated that here in Taos there wasn’t a hindrance to people doing seva when they wanted to. There were no restrictions or rules against doing seva and you didn’t have to be anyone special or get special permission to do it.
When he was here we cooked special food for him. In India he would only eat his wife’s cooking or the food cooked by Brahmins in the ashram. I was very touched that he would eat the food that we prepared even though it was against the strict rules that he normally followed. I did most of the cooking. I remember that he had to have chapatis with every meal and his tea had to be very hot-so hot that it would burn your lips!
He loved our temple room. He liked how it was so intimate and homey feeling. He would say that it was comfortable to sit here and you didn’t want to get up and leave like you did on the cold marble of the Indian temples. He would have satsang and tell Maharaj-ji stories. He liked going on outings with various people.
Once during his visit I was talking to him about some problem which was happening at the ashram and he said, “As long as you are doing Maharaj-ji’s seva, all opinions will fall away.” “Just mine, or everybody’s?” “First yours and then everyone else’s will follow,” he replied. Siddhi Ma said almost the same thing to me. When I would tell her about things of course I would always tell the stories from my perspective. She would say, “Have no opinion and then there is no ‘other’” or “Stop having opinions and just do Baba’s seva.”
Once Gurudatt said to me, “Nothing that we do can be done except by Maharaj-ji’s grace.”
Over the years of meeting Gurudatt Ji in India I appreciated his graceful presence and his innate dignity. He always had a pleasant look on his face and a very straight back. It often felt like his consciousness was somewhere else on another plane and that it would return when he would speak or interact. He was unique in that he was a great devotee of both Maharaj-ji and of Siddhi Ma and also a very close friend of Dharmanarayan (Maharaj-ji’s son). When different factions and allegiances developed among Maharaj-ji’s devotees after Maharaj-ji’s passing, Gurudatt always gracefully maneuvered between the groups and remained a friend to all.”
Mira shares some memories from his visit to Taos:
“It was a wonderful and beautiful visit. He carried a lot of Maharaj-ji and everyone got a lot from being around him. His presence was very sweet. The main thing that he did was to sing the aarti songs with us and after he left we continued that tradition. He taught us how to sing the songs the way they do in Vrindavan and Kainchi. He was very sincere and loving. It impacted the ashram very positively. It stepped up our whole devotional practice. He was like an older brother who could impart wisdom and experiences of being with Maharaj-ji with us. When he was here everyone just wanted to be around him and we would gather around him in the Dharmsala and listen to stories of Maharaj-ji.”
JR “Jai Ram” Ransom and his wife Radha divided their time between Taos and India, spending a significant amount of time at Maharaj-ji’s Vrindavan Ashram. While there, they loved to sit in satsang with the old devotees of Maharaj-ji and hear their stories. These are some of the words which Gurudatt Ji shared with Jai Ram about his experiences with Maharaj-ji:
“Maharaj-ji was very much in motion. Before the ashrams were built He traveled very much. And when He stayed in houses He would frequently change the room in which He resided. And even when He stayed in the same room He would often change His position where He stayed (and slept) in the room.”
Maharaj-ji and Gurudatt Sharma were in Bhumiadhar and they were staying at the ashram there. A group of local Ma’s were in the habit of doing aarti to Maharaj-ji at the ashram each day.
But today Maharaj-ji was not at the ashram. He was with Gurudatt a couple of kilometers away sitting by the side of the road.
After a while, the Ma’s heard about Baba-ji’s location and came and wanted to do aarti to Baba-ji right there by the side of the road. He would not allow this and sent them away again and again. Maharaj-ji said it wasn’t right that they would be doing aarti in this fashion right there on the road. Still they came back again…, and again. Gurudatt told Maharaj-ji that he didn’t think that these Ma’s were going to go away until they had done aarti to Him, as was their practice. Maharaj-ji relented and the Ma’s were very happy. They had no matches to light the bati for the aarti lamp. They asked Gurudatt, who replied that he did not smoke, so he had no matches. What could be done? Finally Maharaj-ji took the bati in His hand, held His hand high in the air and in thirty second or so the bati was aflame. Thus these Ma’s were able to do aarti to Maharaj-ji.
Maharaj-ji was riding in the back seat of the car. Gurudatt was riding beside Him. There was a driver in the front and also another man. Sharma-ji is a very proper Brahman. He always does his practice in silence. However, this time he suddenly began to sing “Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram” very loudly with his voice. Maharaj-ji immediately yelled at him saying “Do your practice in silence.” Gurudatt claimed that Maharaj-ji had caused him to sing like that so that He could give instruction to the passenger in the front of the car. Thus Maharaj-ji was able to instruct this man through a little drama.
Maharaj-ji did not do miracles for show. He did miracles always as a matter of course. Maharaj-ji was traveling with four men. They were going to a house where they expected perhaps three people to be waiting. Two of the men bought eight oranges which they carried to the home. When they all got there, it was discovered that twelve persons were waiting at the house. When the oranges were distributed, everyone received an orange. Only the two men who bought the oranges knew of Maharaj-ji’s miracle and He would not let them say anything.
Maharaj-ji told Gurudatt: “Even if you have lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of people as supporters, as followers, and as attendents always at your command, you must personally attend to:
Khati* (kay-tee) – cultivation,
Pati* (pa-tee) – writing letters,
Binti* (bin-tee)(or vin-tee) – worship,
Ghorey Katang* – The tying of the saddle on the back of the horse.”
Dharma incorporates all good things into itself. It protects you only if you protect it. Not religious – Dharma is more than that. Dharma incorporates all of the good things an individual must do for himself and others. To do good for others is the best of dharma. To inflict (pain or injury) on others is the most heinous act against dharma
Ahar* – food,
Nitra* – sleep,
Bhaya* – fear,
Methun* – Sex.
These are all common to both human beings and beasts.
Only dharma separates human beings from animals.
Regarding satsang and regarding ashram management:
“Integration – cooperation in all things is good.
Disintegration – with no cooperation things fall apart.
Without integration, you don’t deserve the Guru’s grace.”
Maharaj-ji jaoed (sent away) many people. VIPs would come and get their ladhus and they would want to remain with Maharaj-ji. But Maharaj-ji would snap His fingers and point for them to go. If they hesitated for even one second, He repeated the command in a stronger way. This happened even with VVVVIPs. Maharaj-ji didn’t care if you were rich or famous.
Maharaj-ji was living in a forest in Bihar. There was a report among the local people that Maharaj-ji had a lot of guns and ammunition there. When the police went there to investigate, they found only big bundles of sticks.
If you came to Maharaj-ji with an objective, He would not accept you. But if you were innocent and open and loving, He took you right in.
If you invited Maharaj-ji to come to your home He might come, but not in His usual form. A man invited Maharaj-ji to a big party and Maharaj-ji did not attend. When the man saw Maharaj-ji again he said, “Maharaj-ji, why did you not come to my party?” Maharaj-ji said, “I did. I came as the dog. Why did you chase me away and turn me out of your home?” Then the man remembered that, on the night of the party, a dog had entered the yard and he had angrily chased it away with a stick. You never know what form Maharaj-ji will take when He visits you.
A man was having the darshan of Maharaj-ji. Maharaj-ji gave this man a very big case of puris. Something like thirty six puris in that package. The man was trying to refuse so much prasad because he was traveling by train and with his other baggage it would be very difficult. Still, Maharaj-ji persisted and the man took the puris. Riding on the train the man felt the train begin to slow a little and at the same time he began to notice an elephant in the distance running toward the train. As the train continued to slow the elephant continued to run at the train. When the train finally stopped the elephant came directly to the window. The man fed all the puris to the elephant.
Gurudatt Sharma said he was walking across the back compound in Vrindaban. Maharaj-ji was sitting with another man. The man asked Maharaj-ji how long He’d known Gurudatt. Maharaj-ji said “Lifetimes.” The man said, “No. How can that be?” Maharaj-ji called Gurudatt over and asked him,”How long have we know each other?” Gurudatt replied, “Lifetimes,” although he didn’t actually intend to say that.
Here are two videos in Hindi in which Gurudatt-ji remembers Maharaj-ji:
Gurudatt Sharma, we remember you and salute you. May you continue your journey with Maharaj-ji, lifetime after lifetime….
Welcome Keshav! Matilda’s calf was born on Sunday, February 4th during the Sunday chanting of the Hanuman Chaleesa. Jai Gurudev! At 3 weeks old his favorite activities are playing and drinking milk. He also likes to go for walks and is learning to be led on a halter. He was born with lovely, shiny locks-prompting the name of Keshav, a name for Krishna meaning one with beautiful hair.