Bound to Lord Siva for Life
How the small Srouta Saiva community of Andhra Pradesh sustains its ancient ways
(left) Sivasri Sadguru Dr. Kandukuri Sivananda Murthy Garu initiates a young Srouta Saiva lady into the sacred Panchakshara Mantra, whispering it in her right ear, and places a black stone Sivalingam into her hands; (above) The lingam is only five millimeters in height (the photo is much enlarged). The Lingadhari places this in a locket made of gold or silver, and then wears this around his or her the neck, as we see on Mudigonda Virabhadra Rao above. This is worn twenty-four hours a day for the remainder of one’s life.
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THE ARADHYA BRAHMINS OF ANDHRA PRADESH CLAIM that the Vedas, the Saiva Agamas and many other Hindu scriptures deem the practice of lingadhara—the wearing of a Sivalingam on one’s body and the daily worship of Lord Siva—to be the most exalted religious practice. They assure us that the faithful Lingadhari will absolutely attain moksa, liberation from rebirth. Calling themselves Srouta Saiva, or Vedic Saivites, they distinguish themselves from the modern-day reformist Lingayats and Virasaivites of Karnataka, (who also wear the Sivalingam). They honor the original Vedic caste system and a 3,000-year-old Sanskritic tradition, stemming from the prehistoric Pashupata worship of Lord Siva, which dates all the way back to the Rig Veda. Our report covers the Aradhyas’ high religious ceremonies during the holy month of Kartik and the annual lingadhara initiation, followed by interviews and a close-up look into the lives and hearts of these ardent votaries of Siva.
BY RAJIV MALIK, HYDERABAD
Kashi Vishveshwara Temple Rajagopuram with Ardhanarishwara (Half-Female Lord)
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THE ARADHYA BRAHMIN COMMUNITY OF ANDHRA PRADESH comprises just a few thousand families. Their small numbers are belied by their staunch adherence to their ancient traditions. These Saivite Hindus steadfastly follow the discipline of Lingadharana, the practice of wearing a Sivalingam every hour of every day, from the time of initiation until death—a practice ordained in the Vedas, according to documents they showed us. They claim that most of our beloved Hindu Gods and Goddesses, including Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati, were all Lingadharis, bearers of the Sivalingam. In the Mahabharata and Ramayana, those maharishis who wore the Sivalingam are the most revered of sages. If this practice is prescribed by scripture for ultimate liberation, one wonders why only some communities follow it.
Honoring Siva as Light
November 28, 2012, was Krittika Deepam, a festival of lights similar to Deepavali but with a more religious than social orientation. My hosts took me to the Kashi Vishveshwara Temple in Nagole, Hyderabad, one of the three main physical institutions under the Aradhyas’ umbrella organization, the Sri Saiva Maha Peetham (see www.srisaivamahapeetham.org). The temple was overflowing with Siva bhaktas. A traditional Vedic fire ceremony was in progress, with the chanting of mantras by Sivasri Dr. Attaluri Mrutyumjaya Sharma Garu and a team of half a dozen priests. Meanwhile, hundreds of elegantly and traditionally dressed women and girls of all ages were lighting lamps around the tall golden colored flagpole and throughout the temple. As darkness descended into night, the beauty and majesty of the lights unfolded in a completely breathtaking scene.
Ganarchana—Worship of a Lingadhari as Siva Himself
After the fire ceremony, the ganarchana of Sivasri Dr. Attaluri Mrutyumjaya Sharma Garu began. He is the community’s Upa Peethadhipati, or secondary religious leader and successor to the head. Seated on a beautifully decorated dais in the peetham hall adjacent to the temple, Dr. Sharma was worshiped as an embodiment of Lord Siva Himself in a lengthy, elaborate puja. Devotees say every Lingadhari is entitled to such a puja: as a wearer of the Sivalinga, each is an aradhya, one fit for worship. In practice, usually only elders serve in this role. It is as much an ordeal as an honor, since the aradhya must sit attentively for two hours. Afterwards Dr. Sharma exhorted the devotees to carry on their traditions and rituals with commitment and dedication.
Joyously Walking under Fire
The day culminated with another fire ceremony based on a story in which Lord Siva destroyed three cities where rakshas, demonic beings, were troubling the devas. Afterwards all the devas prayed to Lord Siva, lighting thousands of lamps to save Lord Siva from drushti dosha (the evil eye). The annual celebration commemorating this event is known as Jwala Thoranam. Outside the temple the devotees put up a line hung with hundreds of cotton strips. These were set alight, and the throngs of devotees walked under them. Everyone was filled with joy, and the day closed with prasadam for all served until late at night. It is believed that all mortal beings who participate in this celebration on the full moon day in the month of Krittika are also saved from the evil eye and blessed with victory in all their endeavors.
Holy Days of Krittika Deepam in Hyderabad
Vedic fire ceremony; lighting lamps; the kodimaram or flag-pole area of the temple surrounded with devotees making offerings.
Center of an Ancient Lineage
The next day we went back to the Saiva Peetham hall in Nagole for interviews. On the walls were pictures of a dozen past peethadhipatis stretching back 150 years. All were married men—Srouta Saivas consider married life to be a higher path than that of the celibate monk. Each of these family men was a great Sivayogi, and all are believed to have attained liberation.
Next we were off to the Sankaraaradhya Matham in the heart of Hyderabad. Hanumanth Rao, secretary of the Sri Saiva Mahapeetham, explained, “There are only three institutions related to our sampradaya. One is the Kashi Vishveshwara Temple in Nagole, established in 2006. We have another branch at Vijaywada, and the third is this one-acre Saiva Matham here in Kavadiguda. It is dedicated to the great Sivayogi Mudigonda Sankara Rajya. He established the Saiva Maha Peetham in 1909 and attained Lingaichha (mahasamadhi) in 1920. His disciples interred his remains under a traditional Sivalingam samadhi shrine here at Kavadiguda. We also have branches across the state of Andhra Pradesh which do not hold property.” For years maintenance of the math was blocked by legal cases with tenants who claimed ownership of rented areas. Recently the Saiva Maha Peetham regained control of the entire area and now have grand plans to renovate and rebuild the math.
Beside the Linga-samadhi shrine is a Hanuman temple with a Hanuman statue that has been here from ancient times. In the Srouta Saiva pantheon, Lord Hanuman has a special place. Shri Hanumantha Rao said, “We have Lord Hanuman in our Siva temple in Nagole Peetham and here in our math also. Hanuman Ji has the spark of Siva in himself. Anjani Devi, the mother of Hanuman, bore him by Siva’s grace. That is why we worship Lord Hanuman as a Saivite, even while Vaishnavites worship him as the devotee of Rama.”
Lingadharana Diksha, Initiation Day
At 7:30 am on December 2 the Saiva Maha Peetham in Nagole was buzzing with activity. The all-important day of Sambhavi Diksha, Lingadharana initiations, had arrived, one of several held annually. Each year about 150 devotees become Lingadharis.
The peetham was packed with the candidates, their relatives and all the organizing elders and priests. After officially registering, the candidates sat in the front rows. Most were young men and women; some were teenage boys. Peethadhipati Sivasri Sadguru Dr. Kandukuri Sivananda Murthy Garu, the reigning head of Srouta Saivism, arrived and took his seat at the front of the hall. Guided by the priests, the candidates performed the sankalpa (opening rituals) together. Priests sprinkled them all with holy ash and placed a small auspicious piece of dry cowdung on their heads. The priests had prepared an elaborate mandala of colored grains and kumbha pots on a platform. The Upa Peethadhipati blessed the tiny Sivalingas. The hall resounded with Sanskrit chanting and the air was full of sacred ash that now almost completely covered the candidates. The whole atmosphere was spiritually charged.
The candidates waited in a meditative mood until they were called. Each one in turn stepped behind a huge cloth which provided privacy as the Peethadhipati gave each candidate their Sivalinga and infused the Panchakshara Mantra, “Aum Namah Sivaya,” with instructions into the right ear. This sacred practice of diksha, initiation—the passage of the spiritual spark and responsibility from lineage holder to disciple—has carried Hinduism forward through the millennia. Two hours later, sixty new Lingadharis emerged, feeling blessed with the opportunity and the authority to worship Lord Siva daily.
Bathing of the feet of the Lingadhari
The Power of Aradhyas, Daily Puja
A most impressive theme was unfolding. Here is a community of men and women, young and old, even teenagers, who were committed to a 24-hour practice, the wearing of the Sivalingam for the rest of their lives with full faith that, if they perform their sadhana as prescribed, their freedom from reincarnation was guaranteed. Though all Hindus agree that the deepest purpose of human birth is moksha, liberation from reincarnation, today it is rare to find even a few Hindus, even among the devout, actually focused on this goal. But here is an entire community! Even in religious communities it is becoming increasingly rare to find the youth devoted to spiritual practice.
After the ceremony, I interviewed Peethadhipati Sivasri Sadguru Dr. Kandukuri Sivananda Murthy Garu. He answered all my questions with ease and humor. The most magical moment came when I probed who is entitled to have the Lingadharana Diksha. He told me anyone who is keen and willing to follow the discipline is entitled to receive this diksha, as the Vedas are for one and all—not only all of humanity, but even the animal kingdom.
Placing a rudraksha mala around my neck, he told me I had been given rudraksha diksha by him, which made me a part of the wonderful and chosen Srouta Saiva community. Feeling blessed, I blissfully started to dream of my own liberation from rebirth.
Worship of Siva in the Devotee and Averting the Evil Eye
Devotees perform Ganarchana, worship of a Lingadhari (here, Sivasri Dr. Attaluri Mrutyumjaya Sharma Garu) as Lord Siva himself; devotees set ablaze cotton strips hanging on a line, then joyously walk underneath the fire to avert the evil eye and invoke protection and grace