What is so special about Mahashivarathri? Once upon a time, long, long ago, the Gods, Brahma and Narayana as the story goes, were extremely jealous of each other and argued loud that each was superior to the other. They had come to the stage of a trial of arms, when between them a brilliant Lingam of Light appeared! They were stunned by the splendor, and they decided among themselves that He among them is superior to the other, who is able first to see the beginning below or the end above of that magnificent Lingam. Brahma rode on His Hamsa [swan] and flew above; He could not see the crown of the Lingam however high He rose. Vishnu took the form of Varaha [boar] and dug into the nether regions but could not delve into the base of that Lingam. When they returned to earth, a Voice from the Lingam asked them whether they had succeeded in their quest. Brahma uttered a lie and declared He had seen the crown! Narayana was about to concede victory to Brahma, when the Voice intercepted Him and Siva manifested Himself from the Lingam, with the full Divine Equipped Form described as “Hiranyabaahave, hiranya varnaaya, hiranya roopaaya” in the scriptures. He punished Brahma for the audacity and the falsehood. He authorized Vishnu to correct wrong and promote right. The Lingam that manifested on this occasion is known as Jyothirlingam and altogether 12 such have appeared according to tradition. What can be achieved through Sadhana on Mahashivarathri night? The Moon has 16 kalas (fractions of Divine Glory), and each day or rather night, during the dark fortnight, one fraction is reduced, until the entire Moon is annihilated on New Moon night. From then on, each night, a fraction is added, until the Moon is full circle on Full Moon Night. The Chandra (Moon) is the presiding deity of the mind, the mind waxes and wanes, like the Moon. Chandramaa-manaso jaathah - Out of the manas of the Purusha (Supreme Being), the Moon was born. It must be remembered that the chief aim of all sadhana (spiritual striving) is to eliminate the mind, to become a-manaska. Then only can Maya (illusion) be cut as under, and the Reality revealed. During the dark fortnight of the month, sadhana must be done to eliminate each day a fraction of the mind, for, every day, a fraction of the Moon too is being taken out of cognizance. On the night of Chathurdasi, the 14th day, the night of Shiva, only a fraction remains. If some special effort is made that night, through more intensive and vigilant sadhana, like puja or japam or dhyaana (ritual worship, one-pointed repetition and holy names, and meditation), success is ensured. Shiva alone must be meditated upon that night without the mind straying towards thoughts of sleep or food. This must be done every month; once a year, on Mahaa-Shivaraatri, a special spurt of spiritual activity is recommended, so that what is shavam (corpse) can become Shivam (God), by the perpetual awareness of its Divine. A short story on Maha Shivarathri about a devotee’s blind love for God. Among the great devotees of Lord Shiva, the one that is embedded deep in the heart of many Indians (especially from the South) is the story of Kannappa. The story is a legend which is often heard from the grandparents as a bedtime story in the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. Kannappa, while on his daily hunt, came across a temple of Lord Shiva. Entering the temple, he experienced a strange peace and tranquil. A serene bliss emanated from within and radiated throughout his being as he stood with his eyes transfixed on the lingam. The merit of his past lives and the prodding from his destiny had sprouted in him an unquenchable love for Lord Shiva. Many had visited this temple before him, and many did so after him too. But Kannappa was among those rare few who got surcharged with divine love. From that day onwards, Kannappa became a regular at the temple. Lord Shiva in the form of that lingam became his companion and confidante. Every night, once he finished his hunt, he would arrive at the temple and offer Lord Shiva a part of the spoils. Thus, he would place meat in the holy sanctum sanctorum. The day which turned out to be a life-changing one for Kannappa, proved to be a life-changing one for the temple priest too. For, from that day on, whenever he arrived at the temple in the morning he would find it defiled with meat, blood and wine. Cursing the sinner who was indulging in such activity, he would clean the temple, take a bath, bring flowers for worship, offer naivedyam of fruits and then leave. Come evening and night, Kannappa would enter the temple and begin the worship. He wished to bathe the lingam but had no means of carrying the water. So, he would bring a mouthful of water from the nearby River Swarnamukhi and pour it on the lingam. Then he would make his offerings of meat, blood, and wine. This went on for several days and nights. Meanwhile, in Mount Kailas, Goddess Parvati asks her Lord Shiva, “Lord! During the day you are worshipped by the priest and at night by this hunter, who is the one dearer to you? Who is the one who loves you more?” This question brought a smile on Lord Shiva’s countenance, and he replied, “You can see it for yourself, Devi!” One morning, as the priest went about his sincere worship of the lingam and bewildered cursing for the perpetrator of the defiling, something wondrous happened. The lingam sprouted eyes and they opened! Seeing this, the priest was thrilled beyond imagination. “Oh Lord! I have your darshan daily, but it is indeed a privilege that You have opened Your eyes to see me. Blessed indeed am I! Blessed indeed am I!” Even as his thrilled body broke into a dance, something horrifying happened. The left eye of the lingam began to bleed. Starting as a trickle, the bleeding became very profuse. The whole eye seemed damaged. The priest was horrified. All his joy evaporated, and he was convinced that this was an ill-omen. He felt that this happened because of the sinner who was defiling the temple every night. Instantly, he ran out of the temple and away from the forest with a promise never to step into the temple again. At nightfall, Kannappa came into the temple. The same sequence of events followed. But when Kannappa noticed the bleeding eye, he was overcome with severe pains of empathy. “Lord! You are so alone here. Who will nurse You? Let me stay with You and nurse You back to health.” Saying so, he went into the forest and fetched some medicinal herbs to apply to the bleeding eye. All his efforts were to no avail as the bleeding continued relentlessly. In what could be considered as great bravery, supreme devotion and a primitive transplant surgery, Kannappa plucked his one eye out with one of his arrows and placed it in the spot of the bleeding eye of the Shiva lingam. This stopped the bleeding in that eye of the lingam and Kannappa was very happy. His joy was short-lived as, soon after, the second eye too began to bleed! This suddenly complicated matters for Kannappa. No! It was not because he was hesitant to give up his other eye. It was because he thought that if he were to pluck his other eye too, he would become blind to exactly know the spot where he must place his own second eye over the bleeding second eye of the lingam! And so, he placed his big toe on the bleeding eye as a marker and was about to plunge the arrow to gouge his second eye too. At this point, Lord Shiva appears and stops him from blinding himself. Kannappa was made wholesome in body, mind and spirit. From that day onwards, he has been worshipped as a Nayanmar saint.