The room is white, its walls and floors smooth marble. In one corner sits a quiet saint, a devoted man who dedicates his life to serve Siva and help thousands. In front of him is a small table with countless precious utensils of gleaming silver and a tray of flowers; on his right, a statue of Adi Guruji, the founder of his lineage; on his left, three priests chant. The sound of prayers and mantras is melodious, full; it reverberates in the small room. A few guests attend his private worship. The sun has not yet risen.
Meticulously, purposefully, Sri Shivarathri Desikendra Swami offers diminutive flowers to his far-removed predecessor. Though his hands are large and his fingers long, he is remarkably adroit, arranging the offerings around the murti with perfection. Monks of all ages come and go continuously, helping him light camphor, fill lamps with ghee or dispose of empty trays. Not a word is spoken. A magician, or maybe a king, swami waves his fingers subtly, moves his eyes slightly, and what he needs appears out of thin air from the hands of his well-trained disciples. No flower petal stays on the floor, no spilled drop goes unnoticed. The room is still white.
After what could have been a long time had his guests not been entranced by the puja, after having expressed his gratitude to his guru, the swami turns his attention fully to God. From a large silver pendant hanging from his neck he produces a round, black Sivalingam, the form of formless God. It is a sight to behold, a personal artifact rarely exposed to those of another tradition.
With evident joy, he handles the stone as his personal temple, as his personal treasure, as God. He pours water on it using a silver container. Then, drawing from a tray with dozens of minuscule kumbhas filled with myriad substances, he pours liquids on the stone, one by one, rinsing it, anointing the artifact with vibhuti between each ablution. The chanting has never stopped; but every so often the priests voices lose enthusiasm and luster. Swami uses his strong, loud voice, awakening the priests from their feebleness by leading the chanting with unequivocal resolve.
Holding the murti on his left hand, he uses the right one for offerings. He sometimes hides his right hand under a simple cloth with elaborate mystical symbols, twisting his fingers in mudras which should not to be seen, for they are rahasya˝ˇa secret.
Some of the monks come and prostrate during the abhishekam. They, too, open the sacred capsules over their chests, revealing more Sivalingams, and sit in a circle around their guru. They hands, outstretched, reach under swami’s hand, one above the other, forming a pillar of adoration. Water that is poured over swami’s personal Sivalingam drips down, bathing in succession the all of their lingams with water many times blessed. The monks take turns, allowing others to also come and receive the grace. Swami holds his Sivalingam on his hand for a long time as his shishyas come and go, his seemingly untiring arm steady. With his fingers he holds a specially shaped silver kumbha with an orifice at the bottom, from which water slowly bathes the stone.
Monks finally bring him a silver lotus flower with a hole in the center, which he uses around the lingam to make his hand a tray for flowers. His palm still touches the stone, in intimate contact with divinity. Everyone in the room chants the 108 names of Siva with enraptured devotion. The guru invites his monks and his guests to also offer flowers to the altar that is his hand.
Seated close together, swami and the Hawaii mathavasis wave burning camphor and flaming ghee in circles. At the highest point of the ceremony, blessings seem to feel the air like infinite inner light. God is in all, all is God.
The sun has risen. The day may begin for the head of Suttur Mutt.