A Unique and Symbolic Mahasivaratri at Chinmaya Prabha

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Photos: Rajesh Thatte, Jayesh Mistry and Nilesh Shah

By Vinod Sharma & Padmashree Rao

HOUSTON: Lord Siva, the ideal of auspiciousness, was invoked at Chinmaya Prabha and Sri Saumyakasi Sivalaya in a weeklong Mahasivaratri celebration that began on March 6 and culminated on March 13. Befitting the holiest time of worship of the great three-eyed Lord, the celebrations were highlighted by three events – a unique Rudra puja performed exclusively by over 700 Bala Vihar children; a sacred and traditional Sivaratri when thousands participated in Ksirabhisekam, ritualistic worship, and Vedic chanting; and a reverential Maha Mrtyunjaya Homam offered by a multitude of devotees for the health and spiritual prosperity of the world at large.

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The priest, Sri Ganesh, Sri Radhuram,  Sri Harish  and Sri Chandrasekhar performed the abhisekam in complete harmony with his chanting of the Rudram.

On March 6, the many adorably sincere children of Chinmaya Bala Vihar were the unforgettable leaders who flagged off this year’s Sivaratri celebration. The enthusiastic and eager young devotees from kindergarten through 12th grade individually performed the intricately nuanced rituals of the Rudram Puja following flawlessly the seemingly complex  Sanskrit Vedic chants that were described in a concise narrative.  The students were guided step by step in offering the symbolic sixteen-step pujas for Lord Ganesa and Lord Siva with Shobha Ravishankar giving appropriate references to the meaning behind each action. A thoughtfully designed Power Point presentation creatively interwove the ancient and majestic verses and conveyed to impressionable minds the powerful purpose of puja.

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Acarya Gaurang Nanavaty performing the Ksirabhiseka to the Utsava Linga. All the devotees had an opportunity to offer abhisekam with milk to the Utsava Linga.

Sri Ganeshji, the priest of Sri Saumyakasi Sivalaya, then continued to energize the elaborate puja with his powerful chanting of the ancient Rudram. Immersed in the sacred vibrations of the Rudram, parents and adults witnessed children perform abhisekam to beautifully majestic Sivalingas made with great love and devotion by sincere teachers, room parents, and many Chinmaya mission volunteers. As each class of children sat around their special Sivalingas and made garlands and wrote “Om Namah Sivaya” on the bilva leaves in revered silence, it was an entrancing sight to behold. When all those hundreds of young voices chanted “Om Namah Sivaya” 108 times at the end of the Rudra puja, it was as though the entire Chinmaya Prabha was uplifted to a realm beyond words.

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The enthusiastic and eager young devotees from kindergarten through 12th grade individually performed the intricately nuanced rituals of the Rudram Puja.

Watching the young generation involve themselves with such sincere purity in the puja that spanned over an hour, it felt as if the hundreds of Balavihar students had been magically transported to a gurukula in ancient India to perform the sacred rituals in their presence of their gurus and elders. With the support of Acarya Gaurang Nanavaty, Acarya Darshana Nanavaty’s love, care and vision for her Balavihar students was actualized by her inspired team of dedicated teachers and sevakas who used artistry and technology to inspire spirituality.

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With that spirited beginning, an endless and steady stream of devotees began arriving at the Sri Saumyakasi Sivalaya temple to celebrate Mahasivaratri on March 7. Visitors numbered in the thousands from the rich and diverse mosaic of the Indian American community in Houston as evidenced by the array of Indian languages heard in the soft conversations that wafted in the evening breeze.

Arriving families were respectfully ushered into the temple courtyard where they formed long lines. As the evening advanced, the lines grew longer and the skies grew darker with storm clouds.  From a distance, the canopies installed outside the temple with their peaks looked like the distant Himalayan ranges on a stormy night. The stronger the wind gusts got, the more vibrantly the row of orange flags fluttered. Ensconced within this scene, the Sivalaya stood out like the veritable Kailas, resplendent with lights that outlined the temple and illuminated by the flood lights that surrounded the courtyard and temple.

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Maha Mrtyunjaya Homam offered by a multitude of devotees for the health and spiritual prosperity of the world at large.

The continuous melodious chanting of ‘Om Namah Sivaya’ instilled a contemplative hue on the premises. When devotees reached the Tapovan room, they performed ksirabisekam (milk offering) to the Sivalinga kept there, bowed to portrait of Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda, and prayed to the pratima of Lord Ganesa.  Thus, with minds purified, devotees made their way up the steps to Sri Saumyakasi Sivalaya for darsana of the meditative Lord Siva. There, Sri Ganeshji and a team of other priests led the Ekadasa Rudrabhisekams, chanting the sacred Hindu verses in a spiritual symphony and immersing the entire environs in the holy glow of spirituality.  With the dedicated efforts of a sincere team of volunteers, it was as if the Sri Saumyakasi temple and all present were transported in time and space into a Mahasivaratri puja in ancient India. The auspicious abhisekams were followed by melodious bhajanas that concluded with an arati.

As the midnight hour approached, all became quiet for an hour of meditation. The lights were turned down, and deep silence permeated the surroundings like the stillness of calm waters. It was time for all thoughts to cease, for stillness and peace to connect the soul to Siva in that matchless experience in the Sivalaya on Mahasivaratri.

To extend Sivaratri worship into a heartfelt prayer for the maximum happiness for all, the culminating event of Mahamrtyunjaya Homam was performed in the Chinmaya Smrti hall of Chinmaya Prabha on March 13. Once again, hundreds of devotees congregated to pray for the well-being of the world, chanting the great Mahamrtyunjaya mantra a significant 108 times during the ceremony. The selfless prayer sanctified the atmosphere; as this year’s Sivaratri celebrations concluded, it felt like everyone was encircled in the great graceful presence of Lord Siva.

For more information on Chinmaya Mission Houston, Sri Saumyakasi Sivalaya  and its activities visit www.chinmayahouston.org, www.saumyakasi.org or call temple 281 568 1690 or Jay Deshmukh 832 541 0059 or Bharati Sutaria 281-933-0233