Mahashivratri: Two Nights of Wakefulness
Sailesh and his wife were planning a comfortable week in the ashram to witness the Mahashivratri celebrations. Responding to a call from the Regional Coordinator, he signed up for volunteering for a few days prior to the event. Read below how this small plunge led him to experience an undeniable presence of Grace.
Since I did the Inner Engineering program, I had visited the Isha Yoga Center many times, but somehow had never made it to a Mahashivratri celebration. “But watching it on TV at home or celebrating at a local center is not the same,” I often heard Isha meditators in Mumbai say – and this year was going to be an extra-special Mahashivratri! I was tempted to experience the nightlong celebration on the ground.
From Witness to Volunteer
When Sadhguru first opened this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in the Consecration of the Yogeshwar Linga and the unveiling of the 112-ft face of Adiyogi this year, it seemed impossible to resist. My wife and I eagerly signed up as soon as registration opened. To enhance my experience further, I also decided to get initiated in the powerful 40-day Shivanga Sadhana that culminated with a pilgrimage to the Seventh Hill – a magical energy space at the peak of the Velliangiri Hills, also known as Kailash of the South.
My wife and I were looking forward to a comfortable week in the ashram as participants, as witnesses of a spectacular event. But about 15 days before our departure date, the Regional Coordinator called me requesting if I could be in the ashram a few days earlier to volunteer for the Mahashivratri preparations. Immediately, I rescheduled my tickets to Coimbatore, thinking, “Why miss an opportunity to volunteer at a mega event!” Little did I know what I had signed up for!
Seventh Hill Trek – To Do or Not to Do?
Upon my arrival at the ashram, I excitedly plunged into activity for my first big event at the ashram and what would turn out to be one of the biggest events in the history of Isha! While the time I went to sleep every day varied between midnight or later, my wake-up time was fixed at 4:00 AM – I had to complete all my practices, attend Guru Pooja and be ready for activity by 7:30 AM.
As we approached Mahashivratri, I was becoming anxious about taking a break from the activity to go on the pilgrimage to Seventh Hill. “It’s a tough trek, and you may not be in a condition to do much after you return,” said some of my fellow volunteers. “It’s better you drop the trek, there is so much needed to be done here.” I appreciated their concern, but I was deeply touched by the experience of doing Shivanga Sadhana, and I really wished to end it in the most powerful way possible.
Power of the Mantra
Barefoot, guided only by a small torch, we started the trek at 1:30 AM, on Wednesday, February 22. Presuming it would get me out of breath, I did not chant "Aum Namah Shivaya" as was instructed by Sadhguru. But soon, the never ending steps up seven mountains appeared strenuous. Looking around, I noticed a strange sight – my fellow Shivangas, chanting loudly at the top of their lungs, were effortlessly taking strides up the mountain! Reluctantly, I joined in the chanting.
After some time, I realized it was the mantra that was giving us energy at each step, and the courage to go up a path in darkness where we could not see beyond the next step. And I started chanting with even more intensity. All the while, the power of the mantra engulfed me and gave me an inexplicable warmth, counteracting the chilly winds that penetrated the thin cloth I wore to cover my bare upper body.
As we ascended up 4000 ft and reached the summit of Seventh Hill by 5:45 AM, I was simply overwhelmed – tears of joy just poured down my cheeks – “I had made it through 42 days of vrata and a nightlong climb up the Velliangiri mountains to culminate it.”
After visiting the ancient temple at the summit, we visited a wholly unique space – Sadhguru Sri Brahma’s Spot. Nothing could top the magic of watching the sunrise from the top of the mountain and feeling the warmth of the early morning sun on our skin!
Painful Descent and Instant Recharge
Around 7:45 AM, we headed back down the mountain. As we made our descent, the words of veteran Shivangas filled my mind, giving me a little pause – “the way down is way more difficult…” But my logical mind was unwilling to accept it. It was a humbling experience to realize how wrong I was – as my feet grew sore and blistered, every step was agony… I felt each pebble as a personal torment. The ground grew hotter as the day progressed, and trekking became excruciatingly painful. This time I kept up the chant without fail as a support and I reached down around 12:30 PM – an hour more than what it took to make the ascent!
After a quick shower, lunch, and a visit to Dhyanalinga, I was instantly recharged. Feeling fresh (and hopefully looking fresh as well!) as if I’d just had a good night’s sleep, I reached the Mahashivratri grounds at 3:00 PM, ready for action. I got back late at night for a few hours of sleep before heading back to the venue the next morning, the big day of Mahashivratri and the consecration of Adiyogi. Moving around and setting up chairs under the scorching sun, I was surprised at how I never felt any fatigue from an arduous trek or lack of sleep.
And I stayed up for the entire night of Mahashivratri. I spent most of the night on my feet. Hearing the Prime Minister speak to a crowd which went on as far as the eye could see, all in front of the glorious face of Adiyogi, I felt blessed to have had the opportunity to witness the magical celebration and to be a small part of making Sadhguru's vision for this extraordinary event happen.
I had slept only 4 hours in the last 76 hours with two nights of wakefulness, but I was fully energized. It defies all logic, but the only explanation I have is a word I don’t understand, cannot articulate, but have often experienced – "Grace".
Sailesh Venkatesan lives in Mumbai and is the Managing Director of Mead Johnson.
Editor’s Note: An initiation into the 40-day Shivanga Sadhana takes places every Purnima (full moon day). The initiation takes place at the Isha Yoga Center and various towns and cities in India and around the world. For registration and other info, visit shivanga.org.