Siva is one of the three major deities of Hinduism, the other two being Vishnu and Sakti. 'Shiva' literally means 'auspicious'. The Vedic deity Rudra became popular in the Puranic age as the great god, Mahadeva (Siva). The cult of Siva is perhaps the most ancient monotheistic religion in the world. Saivism was once spread throughout the world.
Shiva is the great ideal of Jnana Yoga in Hinduism. He is the Lord of Yogis, who is ever in meditation for the good of the world. Siva is conceived as wearing matted locks and tiger's shn. He rides a bull called Nandi and carries a trident. Siva is worshipped always through stone-emblems called Sivalinga. In the Puranas, we find instances when Siva manifested Himself out of the Sivalinga before His devotees.
Kshudiram and Chandramani, the noble parents of Sri Ramakrishna, were equally devoted to Siva and Vishnu, though they were Vaishnavas. Kshudiram went on pilgrimages to Kasi and Rameswaram by foot. From Rameswaram, he bought a Sivalinga and worshipped it daily with vilva leaves.
In the months of February and March vilva trees shed their leaves, making the worship of Siva difficult. During that season, Kshudiram once went to Medinipur on foot to meet his nephew Ramchandra. He got up early in the morning and walked for five hours towards Medinipur when he saw that vilva trees on the way were already in leaf. He was so delighted that he gathered vilva leaves in a basket and walked back all the way to Kamarpukur. He reached home at about three in the afternoon, bathed, worshipped the Sivalinga with the vilva leaves and then only took his meal. He went to Medinipur the next day only.
Chandramani Devi was amazed to learn that Kshudiram had come back all that distance solely on account of his eagerness to worship Siva with the vilva leaves. Such was the devotion of Kshudiram to Siva that the Great God Himself chose to be born as his son. According to one famous story in the Siva Purana, Brahma and Vishnu once quarrelled, each claiming that He was the greatest deity. Then Siva appeared before them as a huge column of light. Brahama and Vishnu were not able to find the top or bottom of this light of Siva and realised that Siva was the greatest God. This manifestation of Siva in the form of divine light out of Sivalinga is called 'Lingodbhava Murthy'.
Remarkably, Sri Ramakrishna manifested himself in the world in exactly the same way as Lingodbhava Siva. A flood of divine light emerged out of Sivalinga at Kamarpukur and entered the body of Chandramani Devi, who thereafter fell unconscious when she was on the point of telling the black-smith woman Dhani about it. Dhani helped Chandramani to recover and was surprised to hear about her wonderful experience. Chandramani had the feeling that the light of Siva was in her womb and that she was pregnant. Thus the divine being Sri Ramakrishna was conceived and born as the Joyti or Light of Siva. Sri Ramakrishna's birth is the Lingodbhava manifestation of Siva in this age.
The same black-smith woman Dhani Kamarini assisted Chandramani Devi as mid-wife at the time of the birth of Sri Ramakrishna. The divine child was born at about 5 00 a.m., a few minutes before sunrise on February 18, 1836, three days after the Mahasivaratri, the night sacred to Siva. After doing the needful to Chandramani Devi, Dhani turned her attention to the new-born boby only to find that it had disappeared from the place where she had kept it ! In alarm Dhani took the lamp to look for the child and found that it had rolled down the ground covered with blood and slime into the nearly hollow fire place. The divine child was lying there without crying, with its little body covered with ashes like Siva ! Based on the sign of the zodiac under which the child was born, Kshudiram afterwards named it Sambhuchandra, which is one of the names of Siva.
Therefore it is no wonder that Dhani looked upon the child Gadadhar ever aftewards as divine being. She used to give sweets to Gadaadhar often. One day Dhani told the boy that she would consider herself blessed if at the time of his investiture with the sacred thread (Upanayana),he would accept alms from her and call her 'Mother'. Gadadhar was so touched by her affection that he promised to fulfil Dhani's desire to become his 'bhikshamata' (God-mother).
Ramkumar arranged for the sacred-thread ceremony of Gadadbar in his ninth year. When Gadadhar told Ramkumar of his earlier promise to Dhani, the latter objected saying that it was not proper for a Brahmin boy like Gadadhar to accept alms from a black-smith woman like Dhani Kamarini. But Gadadhar insisted on fulfilling his promise and Ramkumar had to yield. Putting trust in the boy's promise, the poor woman Dhani had collected and accumulated money and other things as best as she could and had been eagerly waiting for that happy event. Gadadhar put on the sacred- thread in accordance with scriptural injunctions and accepted 'Bhiksha' or alms from Dhani with a cheerful heart.
Lord Siva once dressed Himself up like a mendicant and begged alms from the wives of the sages of Tarukavana. Siva also received alms from the Divine Mother Annapurna at Kasi Siva in this mendicant aspect is called 'Bhikshadana.' Sri Ramakrishna at the time of his sacred-thread ceremony was like Bhikshadana-Siva and therefore it is no wonder that Dhani considered it a great blessing to become his Bhiksha-mata !
Gadadhar was once called upon to act as Siva on Sivaratri night in a dramatic performance at the house of Sitanath Pyre. The boy who was to act as Siva had fallen ill. Gadadhar's friends dressed him up as Siva, smearing his body with ashes, hanging Rudraksha beads around his neck, adorning his head with matted locks and a crescent moon, giving a trident for him to hold in his hand and so on. The young boy's mind soared into divine consciousness and he entered the stage with slow and measured steps.
Gadadhar then stood motionless on the stage and the audience felt that Siva Himself was standing before them. The young boy was totally lost in the great sublimity of Siva. The audience went into raptures. Some cried out the names of Hari, the women uttered the auspicious sound of 'ulu' and some blew conch shells. It was as if everyone had been transported to Kailasa, the celestial abode of Siva !
Gadadhar stood in the same posture for a long time with tears flowing down his cheeks; he neither spoke nor moved. Two or three elderly people went to the boy and saw that his hands and feet were insensitive and that he had no external consciousness. After some cornmotion, the play was stopped and Gadadhar was taken home by his friends. His divine ecstasy didn't come to an end that Sivaratri night, inspite of all efforts by others such as uttering the name of Siva into his ears. It is said that Gadadhar regained normal consciousness the next day after sunrise. Some say that he was in that ecstatic state continuously for three days.
The birthday of Sri Ramakrishna falls on the second lunar day, three days after the Sivaratri. If it was true that the young boy Gadadhar was continuously in samadhi for three days from that Sivaratri night, it means that he regained normal consciousness only on his own birthday, which is now celebrated by devotees as Sri Ramakrishna Jayanti. Thus Sri Ramakrishna's impersonation of Siva and his absorption for three days in Siva- consciousness at the age of nine directly links the holy Sivaratri with Sri Ramakrishna Jayanti. Thus Sri Ramakrishna was none other than Siva Incarnate, which fact was palpably felt by all the pious souls who were fortunate to witness his dramatic impersonation of Siva on that holy Sivaratri night.
Sri Ramakrishna does not appear to have engaged himself in any special sadhana with a view to realise Siva, though he performed sadhana to realise deities like Kali, Rama and Krishna. He seems to have realised Siva without any effort on his part at the age of nine on the Sivaratri day; like many other spiritua1 experiences of Sri Ramakrishna, his absorption in the mood of Siva also lasted for three days then.
Sri Ramakrishna also realised Siva as a corollary to his realisation of the Divine Mother Kali, since Siva and Sakti are inseparable; in fact, the deity Dakshineswar Kali worshipped by him stands on the prostrate image of Siva. Thakur's devotion to Siva and his knowledge that Siva resides in all beings seem natural and spontaneous like the manifestation of the 'Swayambhu Linga' of Siva, which is a self-sprung emblem of Siva with its roots going as far as Benares.
In the whole of India, there are twelve most holy Sivalingas known as Jyotir-Lingas, the manifestations of Siva in the form of emblems representing light. In the Dakshineswar temple also, twelve temples of Siva have been constructed in a row by Rani Rasmani, who perhaps had in mind the twelve Jyotirlingas. Sri Ramakrishna himself was a living Jyotirlinga of Siva as he was the embodiment of divine light which arose out of Jugi's Siva Temple of Kamarpukur. Thus it is no wonder that Thakur was much devoted to the twelve 'Jyotir Lingas' or Siva installed at Dakshineswar.
The 'Siva-Mahimna Stotra' composed by Pushpadanta is the most popular
hymn on Siva in North India. Sri Ramakirshna certainly knew it by heart.
One day he was reciting this hymn in one of the twelve Siva temples at
Dakshineswar when he came to the following verse:
"Asitagirisamam syat kaijalam sindhupatre Surataruvarasakha lekhani patramurvi; Likhati yadi grihitva Sarada sarvakalam Tadapi tava gunanamisa param na yati."
which means: "Oh Lord, if the blue mountian be the ink, the ocean the ink-pot, the biggest branch of the heavenly tree be the pen, the earth the writing leaf and taking these if Sarada, the goddess of learning, writes for eternity, even then the limit of Your virtues will not be reached."
Reciting the aforesaid verse, Sri Ramakrishna entered into an ecstatic mood and cried out again and again, "O Great God, how can I express your great glory?" All came running towards that spot hearing the cries of Thakur. Mathur Babu was in the temple at that time. Hearing the uproar, he also came and prevented others from removing Sri Ramakrishna forcibly from the Siva temple. Mathur had already formed a high opinion about Sri Ramakrishna by that time. When Thakur came down to normal consciousness and saw the crowd, he asked Mathur whether he had done anything wrong. Mathur saluted him and said, "No, Ba Ba (father), you were reciting a hymn: I stood here lest some one should disturb you unthinkingly." Thus Mathur Babu protected and served Thakur in all possible ways for fourteen years like Nandi who eternally serves Lord Siva. Truly Mathur Babu and Hriday were to Sri Ramakrishna, what Nandi and Bhringi are to Siva. At another time, Mathur Babu actually saw Sri Ramakrishna as Siva and Kali alternately, as Thakur was pacing up and down.
The verse from the Siva Mahimna Stotra which was recited again and again by Sri Ramakrishna is eminently applicable to his own life. Sri Ramakrishna himself is the Siva of this age, whose glories so many writers and poets are finding it difficult to express in words ! The words 'Sarada Sarvakalam' in the aforesaid hymn are very apt. The Goddess Sarada Herself was actually born as the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and was tirelessly repeating the glories of Ramakrishna-Siva 'Sarvakalam' (at all times); still the limit of his virtues could not be reached.
Sri Ramakrishna could not worship for long the twelve Sivalingas in the Dakshineswar temple which are called Yogeswar, Jatneswar, Jatileswar, Nakuleswar, Nakeswar, Nirjareswar, Nareswar, Nandiswar, Nageswar, Jagadiswar, Ja1eswar and Yajneswar. Among these twe1ve Sivas, Jagadiswar (literal1y, Lord of the world) seems to be especially important, as the real name of the Kali at the Dakshineswar temple is 'Sri Sri Jagadiswari Mahakali.' Sri Ramakrishna himself was Jagadiswar-Siva who actually realised that the Jagad (world) itself is Iswara (Siva). He said "One day while worshipping Siva I was about to "a bel- leaf on the head of the image, when it was revealed to me that this Virat, this Universe, itself is Siva. After thst my worship of Siva through the image came to an end." But he used to send his young disciples to the twelve Siva temples for meditation.
Siva is said to be in Bhava Samadhi during day time and in Nirvikalpa Samadhi at night. Sri Ramakrishna's time was also spent in various types of Samadhi. He ever dwelt in the state of Bhavamukha, which is the threshold state between samadhi and normal consciousness. Swami Sivananda has stated that whenever songs on Siva were sung in the presence of Sri Ramakrishna, he entered into ecstasies close to the Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Once songs on Siva were continuously sung and Thakur entered deep into Nirvikalpa. Thereafter he gave instructions that songs on Siva should be fo11owed by songs on tbe Divine Mother- so that his mind could corne down easily from Nirvikalpa Samadhi. During his Sadhana period, Sri Ramakrishna dwelt continuously in the non- dual plane of Nirvikalpa Samadhi for six months which is possible only for Avatars. Like Siva, Thakur was a past master of all types of Samadhi. Sri Ramakrishna was indeed the living image of Siva.
In the Aratrika hymn composed by Swami Vivekananda on Sri Rarnakrishna, Thakur is hailed as Siva and Hara and not as Vishnu. Hitherto it has been believed by Hindus that only Vishnu takes Avatars. Siva has been generally identified with the Absolute Brahman and thought to be birthless. But sages like Durvasa were regarded as parts of Siva in the Puranic age. Acharya Saokara is considered an incarnation of Dakshinamurti Siva. But he is not worshipped as an Avatara of Siva. The manifestation of Siva as Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna has thus added a new dimension to the Hindu concept of Avatar