Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam - Importance and Significance

A day of celebration or mourning?

The 24th of April every year is significant for those who love or revere Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It is on this day in 2011 that He 'died'. The quotes for that word are because someone who embodied eternal values of Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Love and Non Violence can never 'die'. He continues to live on in the hearts of people who hold Him dear. However, the Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam, as the day is called, often brings pangs of pain and tears of lamentation for many because they miss their Swami in their midst.
Strangely, this anniversary of His ‘passing’ has been termed a 'Mahotsavam' which translates into 'great festival'. Why this irony? Isn't it sprinkling salt on a wound by terming a day of mourning as a day of celebration? What is one expected to do on such a day and how should one celebrate it?
In 2012, exactly one year after that earth-shattering day, I got ready and prepared myself for the solemn ceremony at Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi.

Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam experience of 2012

Waking up early in the morning, I got dressed in the traditional white shirt and white trousers after a bath. It was already 7:00 am and I had to hurry to mandir. As I served some Semiya (Indian vermicelli) for myself, my mother called out,
“Have you kept breakfast for Swami?”
It had become a practice at home to offer food and water to Swami's photograph in the altar in an attempt to feel His presence at home. So, I took the special silver plate and served vermicelli on to it. As I placed it at the altar, I noticed the silver tumbler there had water from the previous day. I took the consecrated water, poured it into my glass and filled the tumbler with fresh water for Swami. That was when a thought crossed my mind.
When people invited Swami to visit their homes, Swami would often say,
“You want me to be at your home but you do not give me food and water!"
That was His way of reminding people that His was a constant and unseen presence in every home. Desperately hoping to feel that in my home, I told Him in my head,
“Swami, keeping food and water for you is a maintenance job. It is noticed only when it is not done! There is no appreciation if food is kept daily, but if it is missed, You complain!”
I smiled to myself as I said this. Since Puttaparthi summer temperatures get searing, I added half a glass of chilled water, placed the silver tumbler at the altar and said,
“There, cool water for a hot day.”
I then gobbled breakfast and soon, the four of us, my mother, my father, Pooja and I, left for the mandir. The other three planned to have breakfast after the morning programme in the mandir.

Being part of the Radiosai team, the official media coverage unit for the mandir in the Ashram, it was also my professional duty to cover the day’s proceedings. The governor of Andhra Pradesh, Sri E.S.L.Narsimhan was the chief guest for the day which had a ‘Guru Vandana’ music programme by the students and the release of a book titled ‘The Miracle of Pure Love’ authored by Prof.G.Venkatraman scheduled.

The students’ music programme brought copious tears in my eyes. They were singing all of Swami’s favorite songs and there were beautiful visuals of Him on the TVs and giant screens. Seeing it was such nostalgia that one wished to keep one’s eyes fixed only on the screen and forget everything else. But sadly, I could not do that for I was manning a camera! Those beautiful 30 minutes were followed by the book release and then the governor’s speech. His speech took everyone by a storm almost.
He simply discarded the speech paper which had been prepared and spoke straight from the heart. He made it clear that he had not come as the governor but as ‘an admirer of Swami’. He said, “I am ashamed that whole governments are not able to do for the people what a single individual did. Swami is such a positive force that He gave a fantastic meaning even for vices. He said that one must have Kama (desire) for service, Krodha (anger) if one is not able to serve and Lobha (greed) to serve more and Matsarya (jealousy) towards those who are able to serve more!
Shedding tears he recalled how Swami cured someone very dear to him with just one statement, “Don’t worry! Nothing will happen.” And as the governor choked, the ruthless press photographers clicked away, firing flashes into him.
“I am sorry I am getting emotional” the man apologised, “I simply cannot help it.”
I was in tears. I was thinking that Swami is a real silent worker. Without the slightest announcement or advertisement He was transforming and changing lives everywhere. And I missed Him!

I missed Him with all my being. My heart pined and ached for Him. Ah Swami! How much I desire to see you...
And then, the governor said, “Swami should not be seen! He should be experienced!”

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The importance of loyalty to the Guru

Sathyam Shivam Sundaram! Truth Auspiciousness Beauty! 

The vacuum of the Omnipresence compared to the Presence

What happened on the 24th of April, 2011 when Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba left the physical frame is inexplicable for anyone who considered Him as Guru or God, Master or Mentor, parent or pal. All devotees were heart-struck at this act of their Swami. And the question that arose in all was,
“What next now?”

The Bharatiya scriptures have always accorded a very special place for the Guru. It is said that the mother points out the father to the child. The father points out the Guru and the Guru points out the Lord.

The term ‘Guru’ is loosely translated as the ‘preceptor’ for want of a better word just as the term ‘Bharatiya’ is often loosely translated as ‘Indian’ for want of a better word. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba says that the term ‘Bharatiya’ is made up of two Sanskrit roots - Bha meaning God and Rathi meaning lover. A person who has love for God is a Bharatiya and the land in which such people reside is Bharat. Since India has been the birthplace of many religions, prophets, men of God and the incarnations of the Lord, it is referred to as Bharat. Thus, when Swami refers to the glorious Bharatiyas in His discourses, He is referring to the people who love God and not exactly to those that reside in the geographical boundaries of India.

In similar vein, Baba says that Guru is made up of two Sanskrit roots - Gu which stands for Gunateeta (beyond attributes) and Ru which stands for Rupavarjita (beyond form). A famous Sanskrit verse says,
“Acharya Devo Bhava” which translates into, “The Guru is God”, because the Guru shows the way to God. In this scenario, one can only imagine the good fortune of having the Lord Himself come as one’s Guru as I strongly believe happened with the advent of Bhagawan Baba.

But having a Master / Lord / Guru in human form has a big disadvantage too as I learned on that fateful day in April. The physical human frame is temporary in its nature and has to go one day even when it is occupied by the Supreme Being. And when that happens, the devotees and followers are totally at a loss as to what to do. The form that they love and adore has departed and they are drowned in sorrow.

And while some decided to wait for Him to take up the promised form as Prema Sai Baba, some decided to seek Him within. Some, in their desperation, began to seek Him in other Gurus, in other objects of faith (like the house of some particular devotee which is ‘specially blessed’ with manifestations of Grace like vibhuti) or in the company of people through whom they believed their Swami 'talks’.

The special blessing and a very significant lesson

I am honestly not waiting for Prema Sai. I am trying to connect with Swami in the form that my heart loves and longs for. This divine hide and seek is a game and I shall not change whom I am seeking simply because He has managed to hide well! My heart races back to an episode during the Ashadi Ekadasi celebrations in 2009, the 4th of July to be precise.

The children of the Bal Vikas programme from Mumbai had put up a drama on the life of a saint, Gajanan Maharaj. Swami was very happy with their performance and as the drama concluded, He decided to move down the stage and grant them group photos with Him. I was seated on the stage, behind Swami, from where I was photographing the drama. As He was wheeled down the stage, He looked at me and said something.

I could not make out what He was saying and so I went close to Him. He was pointing to something behind me. I turned and saw that He was pointing to a cutout which had been placed on the stage. It was a large wooden frame on which there was a collage of all the saints from the land of Maharashtra. The frame had been placed on the main stage as part of the Ashadi Ekadasi decorations.

As He pointed to the frame, Swami asked me,
“Are you sitting along with your Gurus?”

The collage of the various 'Gurus' which had been placed on the stage for Ashadi Ekadasi. 
I turned around, saw the wooden frame with the many masters painted on it and smiled.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Ugadi 2018 Divine Omnipresence of Sathya Sai at Prasanthi Nilayam

The Samvatsara with the name Vilambi arrived on the 18th of March 2018, marking the beginning of a new year in the 60-year cycle. The festival of Ugadi was celebrated by the people of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka as the people of Maharashtra celebrated Gudi Padwa and the Parsi people prepared to celebrate Navroz. In Prasanthi Nilayam, the abode of highest peace of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba at Puttaparthi, Ugadi is celebrated with great fervour and tradition every year in accordance with the precedent set by Swami Himself. This year was no different. However, it was also quite different in the sense that Bhagawan chose to show His loving omnipresence in a unique manner.

That revelation of His Presence started on note of apparent failure!

The beautifully decorated Sai Sannidhi at Prasanthi Nilayam on the Ugadi day in 2018.
When the discourse went into mute mode...

The morning dawned with the myriad hues and colours of the Ugadi decorations unfolded as the curtains of the Sai Sannidhi were drawn open. The customary Panchanga Shravanam, listening to the annual forecast based on the Panchanga, was delivered by Brahmasri Kuppa Siva Subramanya Avadhani Garu of Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams. The most anticipated part of the proceedings however was reserved for the last. The customary prayer to bless the gathering with His Divine Discourse was made and, as always, the Radiosai team played an appropriate discourse clip that had been prepared almost a fortnight before. It was an audio clip and as Swami and the translator spoke, the text of the message was projected onto the giant screens as well.

A few sentences into the discourse, ‘failure’ struck! The audio suddenly went off and there was absolute silence in the Sai Kulwant Hall. However, the display of the text of the discourse progressed. A few people ran up and down frantically trying to fix the situation as the silence in the hall continued beyond a minute. What had happened was a terrible mistake.

Whenever there is a programme scheduled in Sai Kulwant hall (other than the daily Veda chanting and Bhajans), the systems in the hall are always run on generator power. This is to ensure that the programme goes on smoothly without even the 15-seconds no-power time that is necessary for the generators to kick in. Even on the programme days, to minimize fuel consumption, the generator is put on after the Veda chanting, just before the programme begins. A mix-up or miscommunication had occured because of which the generator-guy had assumed that the programme is beginning at 9 am and had promptly switched the load from raw power to the generator! That had resulted in a downtime when there was no power available for Sai Kulwant Hall. In the meanwhile, the projectors that run on UPS continued to work. Thus, this strange situation cropped up wherein it felt as if the discourse had been ‘muted’.

However, before the blame-game could begin, Swami revealed His masterplan and there were goosebumps instead of annoyance!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

101 reasons why you are my best friend

These were the contents of a huge greeting card that I gave the best friend of my life! That is a lovely story in itself and you can read it at:

And here goes the 101 reasons why I tell my best friend that He is my best friend!

1. I can't spell friendship without you
2. You’re the most beautiful flower in the garden of my life.
3. You can easily tell a lie for my convenience.
4. You understand when I’m too busy.
5. You know me better than my siblings.
6. You don't necessarily support my decisions.
7. You go an extra mile when I need help.
8. You tolerate my bad moods and still speak to me when you are in one of your own such one.
9. At others expense, you make a great laughing partner.
10. You walk in when others walk out.
11. I can speak my heart out to you.
12. You openly discuss a disastrous date/crush.
13. You fall for the same junk as I do.
14. You help me to choose the right thing for my heartthrob.
15. I can throw my tantrums on you.
16. I can rely on you to post my letters.
17. I know I needn't look my best when you’re around
18. I can discuss my creepy fantasies with you.
19. You motivate me to exercise.
20. You’ve got sense of humor.
21. You hand me your handkerchief when I’ve conveniently forgotten mine

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Where to find Sri Sathya Sai Baba?

The life-changing day

The 24th of April, 2011, changed life for millions of people around the globe. It was the day when Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba took Mahasamadhi ( For those considered as Spiritual Masters, the term 'death' is never used for they are beyond birth and death. The term Mahasamadhi literally means 'Great Samadhi'. 'Samadhi' refers to the realized conscious departure from the physical frame.) Needless to say, it was an earth-shattering event for me. I seemed lost and the world seemed to come to a standstill. Considering everything in life as temporary and transient, I had held on to my God and Master. But now, He Himself was gone! What was I to hold on to now?
The earliest unveiled form of the Mahasamadhi structure of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. 
I had always delighted in my work at Radiosai, spreading Swami's message of love and selfless service. But now, I was not able to do any of my work. I was known as a person who kept cracking jokes and making people laugh. There is nothing that satisfies me more than to know that I have been the reason for someone's laughter, someone's joy. Now, I no longer felt the need to make people laugh and happy - how could I when I myself was poverty-stricken in that respect? There were no smiles on my face nor was there any joy left in my heart. The pain was so much when I saw my Master lying in state for the 'funeral' that I did not even have the guts to go again to the Sai Kulwant hall where the mortal remains of beloved Swami had been buried.

The days passed agonizingly slowly. I don't remember much about those days except the fact that I just kept breathing on when I wanted to actually let go of everything and allow my breath to travel with Swami's. However, I remember one incident that Swami seemed to have especially planned to kick me out of my stupid stupor and kick-start my life again. 

An impulse that overruled a decision

It had been just a couple of months since I had been engaged to Pooja. It now became clear that Swami would not be present for my wedding. In fact, I realized that He would not be there for any of my life-events from now on. I wasn't ready to accept that. In an attempt to forget the Mahasamadhi, I decided that I would not go anymore to the Sai Kulwant Hall, the temple where I had spent hours daily for more than a decade! Later in the day, when I mentioned this to my fiancĂ©e, she did not seem surprised but she told me that Swami would miss me if I did not go there. 
"I don't think so Pooja. I will meet Swami daily in my workplace for, thankfully by His grace, my work involves seeing Him, hearing Him and writing about Him."
"Your wish. It is your journey to Him. I can only pray and pray hard for you... Pray for me too okay?"
I realized that, lost in my sorrow, I had forgotten that it was equally sorrowful for Pooja too to have lost her Swami.
"Yes! Absolutely. I shall pray for you. Let us pray for each other..."

Monday, 29 January 2018

Power of the Gayatri Mantra is beyond imagination

The beautiful Panchamukhi Gayatri idol installed in Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi. 

Gaayantham Thraayathe Ithi Gayatri

The Gayatri mantra is considered as one of the most powerful, all-encompassing and comprehensive mantras. Commonly, it is said,

Sarva Roga Nivaarini Gayatri (Gayatri Mantra is the reliever of diseases),

Sarva Duhkha Parivaarini Gayatri (Gayatri Mantra wards off all misery),

Sarva Vaancha Phalasri Gayatri (Gayatri Mantra is the fulfiller of all desires).

Those apart, the mantra also ensures that bad thoughts do not arise in one’s mind. It filters thoughts to allow only good and noble ones. It also increases one’s focus and concentration abilities. 

The Gayatri Mantra was discovered by Sage Viswamitra. It was the same Sage Viswamitra who initiated Sri Rama. It is a Universal Mantra and can be chanted by anyone, irrespective of religion, nationality, gender, caste, creed or race. In fact, as Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Swami) puts it, this mantra can be chanted at any place and any time. 

There are innumerable instances, public and private, where Swami has dilated on the power and potency of the Gayatri Mantra. One thing He always says is,

“Gaayantham Thraayathe Ithi Gayatri. (Gayatri is that which protects and redeems the chanter of the mantra.)”

Though I have heard and read this multiple times, the enormity of that statement hit me when I read an incident from the book, “Avatar’s Prescription” by Dr. M. Vijai Kumar (MD, DA). This book is a collection of experiences of this venerable doctor who has done free medical service for over four decades. It is the story of his association with Swami and the guidance he has received from his Guru and God. It is on page 109 of the book that he reveals this incident which makes our jaw drop in awe about the power of the Gayatri Mantra. 

Bhagawan Baba chanting the Gayatri mantra. Play 
it as you read the article. You will get the merit of
hearing the Gayatri Mantra a few times atleast! :)

The accident in 1985 that could have a different ending

In the year 1985, Dr. Vijai Kumar and several others were with Swami in an interview. Swami was speaking to all the assembled people. However, He seemed to evince lot of interest in talking with a six year old girl seated on her mother’s lap. The girl was asking Swami many questions in rapid succession and Swami was answering all of them with great patience and love. After a while, Swami gifted her with a photograph of Himself. Now, the girl wanted to know whether to put the picture in a big frame and hang it on the wall or put it in a small table-top frame.

“Put it in a small table-top frame...” Swami answered.
“Swami, where should I keep it? Should I keep it in my bedroom or in the living room?”
“Dear one, keep it on the window sill in your house - the one where there is direct sunlight. Then you can view it from your study table and well as from the living room,” Swami revealed in His omniscience.

The conversation went on and soon, the child seemed to be the sole focus for Bhagawan. All the while, the mother was sobbing silently but uncontrollably. Swami allowed her to cry. Everyone in the interview room were amazed at this unique interaction and were wondering why the mother was crying.

As if to appease everyone’s curiosity, Swami informed them in a very soft voice that the girl’s father had traveled on board “Air India Kanishka”.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Jnana and Dhyana also need Bhakti - Ram Mohan's life experience_Part 3

The magazine of God, for God, with God

It was almost instantly that Ram Mohan decided to make everything he did as an expression of his love to Swami. In 1984, he encouraged the students to produce a hostel magazine as an offering to Bhagawan on His Birthday on 23rd November. A number of hand-written articles, hand-drawn sketches and original poems landed up in his room in the weeks leading to the birthday. With the permission of the Controller of Examinations, Prof. Nanjundiah, Ram Mohan got multiple copies made from the University cyclostyle machine. Then, getting all the pages bound, Ram Mohan offered the magazine to Swami for His birthday.

Swami placed the bulky book on His lap and leafed through all its contents. He was visibly happy and He blessed the effort. From then on, there was no looking back for Ram Mohan. He ensured that a copy of the magazine which was released for every major festival - Guru Poornima, Krishna Janmashtami, Dusshera, Christmas etc. - made its way to Bhagawan. After that, a copy of the magazine was also delivered to each and every room in the hostel for the students to read. Swami would go through the magazine and send His feedback on different articles, poems, sketches and paintings. Even when Swami had suffered a fall and a fracture, He went through the magazine, sending feedback via the editor of the Sanathana Sarathi, Sri V.K.Narasimhan. Swami conveyed to Ram Mohan,
“Why has the boy drawn Garuda’s nose so long? Tell him to shorten it...”

Ram Mohan offering the initial version of the hostel magazine, Sai Chandana, to his Swami in the Mandir portico. 
Years later, in 1989, Swami Himself christened the magazine as ‘Chandana’. The next issue onwards, the magazine carried the name ‘Sai Chandana’ in bold letters on the front. Ram Mohan could not think of Chandana without the ‘Sai’ coming first! Thus, not only did Ram Mohan make the hostel magazine a vehicle for his devotion, he made it the carrier of all the students’ love too. In the later years, the magazine grew in size and significance and had multiple editors. Even then, when Swami referred to it, He always fondly remembered Ram Mohan. In fact, going through the 60th Birthday issue, Swami looked at Ram Mohan and told him,
“I know that you only have written all the articles in here.”
That thrilled the devoted heart.

{This is the concluding part of the 3-part story of Ram Mohan. To ensure you get the best of the story, read this part only after reading the first two parts at the links below:
1. How to get devotion and increase it? - Life experience of Ram Mohan Rao - Part 1
2. The easiest way to increase devotion to God - Life experience of Ram Mohan Rao - Part 2 }

Sai Chandana became a passion and obsession with Ram Mohan. He fervently worked for it with the feeling that this magazine of God should record the heartbeats of His students. The contributions were from students as young as 12 years of age right up till the research scholars in their mid twenties. Ram Mohan considered Sai Chandana as a legacy of the present to the future, a gift and treasure trove of Divine Love.

The lines of dedication from the first issue of the hostel magazine (that Swami named as Chandana) says it all.
When the revered Sri Gandikota Subrahmanya Sastry passed away, a list of names was taken to Swami to name his substitute on the board of reviewers of the Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust alongside Prof. Anil Kumar, Sri Ramana Rao and Sri Prahlad. It was possibly as a reward for his purity, patience and perseverance that Swami selected Ram Mohan as a member of the book-review board.

When God waits for the devotee

This attitude of doing everything as an offering to Swami began to pervade Ram Mohan’s ‘translator-abilities’ too. In the 1990s, Swami brought Prof. Anil Kumar from the Brindavan campus of the SSSIHL to its Prasanthi Nilayam campus. That was when Ram Mohan’s opportunities as a translator declined drastically as Prof. Anil Kumar took over that divine task. However, that did not sadden Ram Mohan or dampen his enthusiasm for Swami’s voice and words. He would sit in his spot behind the Ganesha idol in the Mandir portico, recording Bhagawan’s discourse on tape, in his diary and his heart. Then, he would transcribe the entire discourse in his beautiful Telugu handwriting after which, he would add his comments and appreciation of the different points made by Swami in the discourse. Having done that, he would make copies of his work and send the originals to Swami in a sealed envelope!