23 Feb 2015

Shivaratri: A first time experience.

My First Shivaratri, February 17-18, 2015

A few days ago, I had the enormous good fortune of attending Shivaratri at Shree Peetha Nilaya. Visiting here from the USA, and only meeting Swami for the first time a few months ago, everything is pretty new to me. I thought Shivaratri would just be a simple event; it turned out to be an all-night, unforgettable experience.

Now, I have to admit, I've always been kinda scared of the image of Shiva, but then again, all I knew was that he was dark blue, wore snakes around his neck, sat there, unmoving, on an animal skin, and destroyed stuff. A pretty limited understanding, to be sure. Strangely enough, my spiritual name is Gauri (wife to Shiva) and my husband's spiritual name is Shankar (the benevolent aspect of Shiva). So this event had the potential to hold a lot of personal insights, even though my own knowledge about it was embarrassingly little.

Feeling like I was responsible for finding out more about our namesakes, and thanks to the wisdom given by several residents of SPN, I decided to get some basic knowledge of the event, and not wait for Swami to explain everything for me. (Apparently he is known to say things like "...but I told you this last time, so I won't repeat myself..." and I didn't want to miss out on some vital info.) So, I referred to Swami's Just Love 3 book to help me understand what all the fuss was about. Several chapters are devoted to Shivaratri there and Swami explains in detail the meaning and significance of each phase of the celebration.

I learned that Shivaratri is a day devoted to honoring the deity responsible for transformation. Most people think of Shiva as the Destroyer (in the trinity of Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva or Creator/Maintainer/Destroyer), but I learned that there is a secret that he holds: he is not responsible for just an "ending" but is the only one that makes possible a new beginning. He is responsible for transformation, and because of that, he is kind, generous, and always giving.

I also learned that the whole point was to devote the day to remembering and thinking of Shiva and to allow this special process to affect a transformation in ourselves. It was all about surrendering the mind and dissolving the ego.

The event would go throughout the night, until well after the sun came up the next morning, and to get the greatest benefit, we were to remain awake and attend all five offerings to the Shiva Lingam, held at 5am, 6 pm, 9pm, midnight, and 3 am. And if you couldn't, no worries, you would get the benefit according to how many offerings you COULD attend. (Since during my entire visit here, I hadn't been able to stay up past 10, I figured I'd have no chance. But again, a resident reassured me: "Swami will help you," she said. I assumed this meant a constant supply of coffee and doughnuts or something. Little did I know...)

The day began early. Really, really early. 3:30 am for me at least, in order to get ready for the first yagna ceremony at 5:00 am.

Through the day there was an anticipation of what was to come that evening. Beginning at 6 pm, the entire proceedings were interesting and insightful: nearly constant singing Shiva's name and praise; hours of puja, yagna and abhishekam ceremonies; seeing Swami come in and guide the proceedings and lead the singing; eating prasad after every offering; moving in and out of the Big Temple in waves of devotees from around the world; and most importantly, as we offered to the Shiva Lingam at the front of the room, consciously offering our ego and limited mind to Shiva himself, and asking for purification of our limitations.

As the night went on, I felt as if I was getting more and more...well, "flexible" is the only word that comes to mind. I felt less tied to responding to things going on around me in the same way I always had, and was more aware of new options. I was also very conscious of my judgments about other people, and noticed how those judgments actually felt like poison inside me. (Is it a coincidence that Shiva himself drank poison to save the world?) Fortunately, the rhythm of prayers, singing bhajans, and offering it all up to Shiva seemed to have a cleansing effect that went deeper and deeper each time.

The SPN residents and the guests doing seva did a wonderful job. How did all that prasad seem to keep coming throughout the night? How did everything get reset and ready for the next ceremony so quickly? How was everything so clean despite hundreds of people moving throughout the building all night? Behind the scenes, the residents worked, happily serving the Divine in its earthly process, and generously staying in the back of the room so the guests could get the best seats. (I was totally impressed and truly grateful, but you cannot give a compliment to anyone here without them immediately referring it back to Swami's grace.)

When the day had dawned, I had made it. And now that I think of it, it was easy. So that's what they meant about Swami would help me! Naturally and effortlessly the energy flowed through the night, and allowed the best possible outcome. I felt lighter and different. As if something had shifted, but was so deep that there was no evidence on the surface....not yet, at least...but still, something about me felt new.

Shankar and I went to bed at 7:30 AM with morning light streaming in the windows, and an entirely new appreciation of Shiva in our hearts. Thank you Shree Peetha Nilaya, and of course, endless gratitude to our beloved Guruji.

- Gauri
Visiting devotee from the USA

19 Feb 2015

Maha Shivaratri with Sri Swami Vishwananda – offering the mind at the Feet of the Lord

The Celebrations of Maha Shivaratri at Shree Peetha Nilaya took place for 24 hours from dawn of Tuesday, the 17th of February until the dawn of Wednesday, the 18th of February. It included the first prayer performed on Tuesday morning, and the Char Pahar, which are the most important prayers - the four abishekams done during the great night of Lord Shiva. The first pahar started at 18:00 hours and the others followed approximately every three hours at 21:00, 24:00 and 3:00.

The first prayer started with Guru puja, Guru Paduka abishekam, Kalash puja and homa.

Guru Arati
Kalash puja
Offering honey to the yagna
Offering a coconut to the yagna
Arati at the end of the yagna

The main part of the five prayers is an abishekam performed on a special Shiva Lingam, blessed by Mahavatar Babaji and named Mrityum Bageshwar (The Lord which is above death), after one of the famous twelve Jyotir Lingams placed at Maha kaal Temple, in Ujjain, India. (JL 3, p. 200).

Throughout the night, while the abishekam was being performed, bhajans and songs were sung in particular different versions of the mantra OM Namah Shivaya, and praises to Lord Shiva, namely Shrī Shivarāmāshtaka Stotram, Shiva Panchakshara Stotram, Rudra Ashtakam, Chidananda Rupa Shivoham Shivoham. The Sri Rudram and Sri Rudra Laghunyasa were also chanted, and at the end of each pahar everybody has sung the Lingāshtakam.   

Shiva Lingam blessed and named Mrityum Bageshwar by Mahavatar Babaji 
At the end of each abishekam, Sri Swami Vishwananda placed bilva leaves on the top of Shiva Lingam
At the end of each abishekam, everybody had the opportunity to offer a bilva leaf and water to the Shiva Lingam
At the end of each pahar, Prasad was distributed

At the end of the first pahar, Sri Swami Vishwananda reminded us shortly of the meaning of celebrating Shivaratri:

“I wish you all an auspicious Shivaratri. I will not repeat myself like every year. You know what Shiva stands for – the destruction of the pride and the ego. And on this particular day, by His Grace, in the form of Rudra He destroys the mind, the ignorance inside of you, so that your heart can take over and rise to the Feet of Lord Narayana. That's why we stay throughout the night praising His Name chanting OM Namah Shivaya, Shivaya Namah OM. Like this the mind is cleansed,  transformed and becomes an offering to the Feet of the Lord. As the Lord offers Himself completely, in this Shivaratri offer your mind! In the mind there are so many unwanted things. So offer it to Lord Shiva. He destroys all the negativity, so He shall destroy all the pride and ego inside of you. As you are cleaning Him, bathing Him, He is also cleaning you of the inner impurities, the tendency of past lives which act very much on the mind."

"Nandi (the bull, Lord Shiva's vehicle) has chosen the right way. What does he do? He is in front of the Lord Shankara with his mind focused on Him. Like that your mind has also to be focused on the Lord! Your mind has also to be focused on the Feet of the Guru! Then you become like Nandi. Not as an animal. That is past. Finished! That tendency of animal quality is long gone from you. You have gone through all this and you got an human birth. As the shastras say, the human birth is the greatest gift which God has given you. Do you want to waste it? It's your choice. But if God has called you on the spiritual path, due to the good punya from past lives cleanse your mind, cleanse your pride, cleanse you ego. Get rid of these things. Be free from that and He will reveal Himself to you. The Lord is ready to give Himself. But are you ready to give yourself? Don't just say, ‘yes’, ‘yes’. No. The ‘yes’ has to be from deep within your heart, from deep within your soul itself. Then, as He brought you on the spiritual path - due to your punya; like that He will take care of everything for you!"

Shiva Arati

The Shivaratri celebrations ended with a special blessing of Sri Swami Vishwananda: He chanted a prayer in Sanskrit while everybody was bowing down, and at the end everybody received an handful of blessed vibhuti directly from His hands.

His last words of the night to everybody present were:
“May the blessing of Lord Shiva and Parvati be on you always. May your mind be purified! May your heart be purified! May your soul be purified! May you attain the goal of life which is the Feet of the Lord!"

15 Feb 2015

In Divine Love with Sri Swami Vishwananda every day becomes Valentine's day

On the 14th February, throughout the day, Sri Swami Vishwananda showered us all with the sweetness of His Love. Through Twitter He sent Valentine's day greetings and several messages reminding us that our essence is Love and we should always love, at all times.

In the evening, more than 500 people were graced with an individual Darshan of Sri Swami Vishwananda. 

At the beginning of the Darshan, He gave a short talk about the difference between human love and Divine Love (please see below the highlights of this talk and respective Youtube video)

Highlights of Sri Swami Vishwananda talk

“It's nice to spread love. But, it's sad that people do it just for one day. It would be lovely if Valentine's day would be every day. That's what Srimati Radharani and Krishna remind us, no? That there is no time, there is no place to love. Love is eternal. Love is what is deep inside of you. It's not outside of you.”

“In Hinduism we have two different words for love: ‘pyar’ and ‘prem’. ‘Pyar’ is the love which is bound by emotion, the love which you understand with the mind and people long for. Then you have another love inside of you which is called ‘prem’. ‘Prem’ is a sublimification of ‘pyar’. When ‘pyar’ becomes intense, not in the outside, but the inside, it is transformed into ‘prem’. When we address our love to God we never say ‘pyar’, we always say ‘prem’, because it is our soul that loves God. This is the supreme state of Love and that's what we express towards the Divine. When we talk about unconditional Love, this is ‘prem’, because this Love only knows how to give, it's always giving and doesn't expect anything. And this is who you are in reality - ‘prem’, premaswarupa. You are an embodiment of this Divine Love, an embodiment of a parcel of God. You should never forget about that!”

“The most important thing on the spiritual path and in life itself is to realise the deepness of this Love. And once this Love is there, there will be no way back; it's always forward. This is how the saints love God. They didn't expect anything from Him. Today people are celebrating St. Valentine, no? Do you know how was his life? He gave his life for a brother and a sister, not for a couple as people nowadays think. No! For a brother and sister! He gave his life for them. Like that, you see in the life of many saints that love is transformed into sacrifice, love is transformed into bliss, where one forgets about oneself and thinks of the beloved. And this is our eternal relationship with God.”

“Once you realise this Love everything becomes automatic, everything takes its place by itself. Same, when you eat you don't need something extra to digest your food. What happens? The food gets digested by itself, no? Same thing, when Love awakes from deep within your heart there is no technique, there is no mantra for it. It needs only the willingness from your side, the willingness to say, “Yes, I truly want it!” Then the way is traced and everything is guided for that Love to grow more and more, where every day becomes Valentine's day.”

Vishnu Pathi

Yesterday, (Friday, February 13th) was the celebration of Vishnu Pathi. At Shree Peetha Nilaya, an impromptu yagna was conducted by our beloved GuruSri Swami Vishwananda. 

As per tradition, three yagna kunds were offered to simultaneously, accompanied by the chanting of the Sri Suktam, Purusha Sukatam and Vishnu Sahasranam. One yagna was dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi. The second was to the God of wealth, Kubera. And the third was dedicated to Narayana, the Supreme Brahman.

11 Feb 2015

Register for Shivaratri at Shree Peetha Nilaya

Register now for Maha Shivaratri with Sri Swami Vishwananda at Shree Peetha Nilaya.

Maha Shivaratri is less than one week away!

Shivaratri, happening this year on Tuesday February 17, is the great night of Lord Shiva, associated with various legends marking that auspicious night. It is associated with the incident when Shiva swallowed the dangerous halahala poison which emerged from the churning of the ocean to save the world.

By his yogic powers, Shiva could arrest the poison in his throat. Due to the effect of the poison his neck turned blue which lead to his name Neela Kantha or The Blue Throated One.

Shivaratri is also the day when Shiva married Parvati.

On the auspicious day, an all-night vigil is held for Lord Shiva, accompanied by a strict fast in dedication to the Lord. All the traditional rituals are performed, including offering of bilva leaves and abhishekam to the Shiva Lingam. In addition kirtan is performed throughout the night, allowing devotes to take part in the “tandav” or “dance of destruction” with the Lord, symbolising the destruction of the Ego.

Shivaratri with Sri Swami Vishwananda at Shree Peetha Nilaya

The day of Shivaratri will be a long and exciting one.

We will start the ceremonies at 5:00 in the morning on the 17th February in the temple and do kalash puja, abhishekam and a small yagna.

In the night from 17th to the 18th February there will be the ceremonies that commence in the evening with 4 abhishekams taking place at 18:00, 21:00, 24:00 hrs on the 17th February and 03:00 in the morning on the 18th February. Throughout the night, devotees will be able to offer water and bilva leaves to the Shiva Lingam.

We expect the final ceremony and celebrations to finish around 05:00 hrs in the morning.

Register now for Shivaratri with Sri Swami Vishwananda at Shree Peetha Nilaya!

We expect many people to attend, so registration is extremely important for us to accomodate our guests properly.

(If you have already registered, you do not need to re-register).

We look forward to seeing you at the ashram celebrating Mahadev with Sri Swami Vishwananda!

4 Feb 2015

Apply for Bhakti Seva Program in SPN from Feb–Aug 2015

We're looking ahead to the year 2015, and if the growth of Swami's mission recently are any indication, we guess that it will be a busy one for the Shree Peetha Nilaya.

Would you like to stay for a while at the ashram with the Bhakti Seva Program?

If you are interested to come and do seva with us in Shree Peetha Nilaya for a longer period (min 2 weeks, max 4 weeks) then apply for one of the following periods by:...

writing an email to: seva (at) bhaktimarga (dot) org or,...

ask Ambika for further information at the seva coordination desk in the ashram.

On these dates you find below, the seva program starts and ends. For this you have to arrive at least one day before and leave one day after.


14.02.15 – 21.02.15
29.02.15 – 03.04.15 (until Easter)
12.05.15 – 23.05.15
25.05.15 – 05.06.15
29.06.15 – 31.07.15 (1 month)
01.08.15 – 30.08.15 (1 month)
after Krishna Janmastami for 2 weeks:
01.10. - 10.10.15
after Navaratri till the 7

House keeping (cleaning rooms & public areas in SPN):

10.02.15 – 21.02.15
30.03.15 – 06.04.15

March/April (not during event!) for 2 weeks window cleaning in guest rooms
01.05.15 – 08.05.15
08.06.15 – 18.06.15

whole July till middle of August 2015


You can apply for the whole year from the end of March till end of November 2015.
We need many helpers in our vegetable & flower garden!


The kitchen is monthly looking for people to join the team to help us with cutting vegetables, cleaning and cooking for our large family.

The next dates are:


If you are interested to come and do seva with us in Shree Peetha Nilaya for a longer period (min 2 weeks, max 4 weeks) then apply for one of the following periods writing an email to:
seva (at) bhaktimarga (dot) org
or ask Ambika for further information at the seva coordination desk in the ashram.

We look forward to seeing you at the ashram!