Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - I have no life without Sai (experiences of S.Ravikumar) Part 1

S.Ravikumar with Swami in Kodaikanal, 1992

Singing a qawwali like never before

Ravikumar sat in the bhajan hall at Prasanthi Nilayam. This was a place that was so dear to him for it held in its bosom a million of his most cherished memories - his memories with his God and Guide, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba or Swami as Ravi refers to Him. The ten avatars of Lord Vishnu seemed to look down at him from their mini altars on the northern and southern walls of the hall with the same benign attention as they had done so for the past 25 years or so. The main altar at the western end of the hall was decked and resplendent as always and the two Babas, Shirdi and Parthi, stood in calm poise in their silver-framed, life-sized portraits. The whole hall was silent as the harmonium churned out the introductory notes for the special song that he was about to sing.

A song becomes ‘special’ because of several reasons. Either the lyrics are unforgettable or the tune touches deep within one’s very soul; either it has magical memories associated with it or it has the ability to clear one’s mind completely, rendering it almost thoughtless. The song that Ravi was about to sing had all the above reasons to be called special. And yet, none of the above reasons were what made it truly special for him. The actual reason why the song was (and is) so special for him was because whenever he had sung the song, he had done so at the personal behest of his Swami! A subtle flick of His finger, a gentle nod of His head, a knowing smile from His lips or even that direct gaze of His eyes - any one or a combination of these served to indicate to Ravi that his Swami wanted him to sing that special song.

And today, it was another occasion where he prepared himself to sing that song. But Ravi was not happy! He was feeling a severe vacuum within himself. As sorrow enveloped his entire being but tears refused to flow down his cheeks because the eyes seemed numbed by shock. After nearly three and a half decades of singing bhajans and songs for his Swami, he never had thought that he would be singing on such an occasion. And that too, the special song! It seemed so unreal. He was singing ‘Swami’s song’ without any of the usual  indications from Him. But how could He give an indication? He was lying peacefully in the ice-cold casket in the very same bhajan hall which He tread energetically for decades!

The Mahasamadhi of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba had numbed Ravikumar into a state of near thoughtlessness like it had done to millions around the globe. The one whom he had considered as all, apparently was no more. But Ravi had got His indication. It had arrived very mysteriously as Ravi battled between the simultaneous experience of a longing loneliness and a serene solitude.It had arrived as a whisper from deep within, a whisper from eternity. And he had decided to sing the song before the supine form of his Swami.

Mohabbat Ki Kami Dil Mein
Agar Ehsaas Hota Hain
Zara Jhanko To Paaoge
Ki Sai Paas Hota Hain.”

Listen to Ravikumar's soulful rendering of the qawwali

Those were the lines that served as a slow prelude to the actual qawwali that he was about to sing. He had sung this qawwali at least five hundred times before. But the meaning of the first two lines of the prelude had never hit him so hard as they did today for they spelt,
“Whenever you feel a lack of love (an emptiness) in your heart, (don’t despair), just look within you and you will find Sai there.”

If anybody (other than Swami) could 'patent' this qawwali, it had to be Ravikumar because, believe it or not, 'almost nobody' other than him has sung it in the physical presence of Swami. It was as if this qawwali and Ravi were meant to be together like a word and its meaning. And today, for the first time, Ravi was able to gauge the depth of meaning in the qawwali.

Suddenly, the next two lines seemed to flow out of him with renewed energy,
O Karishma Ye Usi Ka Hain
Ki Duniya Khoobsurat Lagti Hain.”
“It is indeed the miracle (of Love) of Sai that the whole world feels so beautiful!”

The emptiness of Ravi’s heart slowly began to fill with Swami’s love and he sang on.

With Swami, one's heart and hands are always filled! (At Kodaikanal, 1992)
Swami’s “unexpected” entry

It was in the summer of 1978, when Ravi was a 7-year old, that his father decided to send him to Swami’s new primary school at Ooty. The letter inviting little Ravi for the entrance examination had reached their family home in Madikeri (Coorg). Mistaking this to be a confirmation of admission, his father had taken him out of his previous school and got his luggage packed for the hostel life in the Sri Sathya Sai School at Ooty.

Ravi’s doting mother was not at all comfortable with sending her son to a hostel. It was not as if his father was any pleased to be away from him. He felt that being in Swami’s school was the best thing that could happen to his son. The mother, however, had allowed her heart to rule over her head and was probably secretly hoping that her son is not admitted at Ooty! The family got into the Ambassador car and started the 250 km journey to Ooty. Along with them was a family friend, a staunch devotee of Baba. Enroute, they were driving through the Mudumalai bio reserve, when they saw a red color Mercedez Benz in front. Through a gap between the window curtains of Benz car, Ravi’s father espied on the orange-robed, curly-haired figure in the back seat. Realizing that this was Swami’s car, he told their driver to follow it as closely as possible, without allowing any other vehicles to come in between them!

Swami’s car took a little detour in the Mudumalai reserve and the Ambassador car followed Him to the forest lodge He drove up to. They alighted from the car and stood outside the lodge. Soon, Swami walked out and spoke to the family friend. He enquired into his well-being and the reason for his presence. On getting to know that they were enroute to the Ooty school, He said,
“I too am going there - to inaugurate the school!”
Then, He asked Ravi's father where they were coming from. The question was in Kannada and so the reply too was given in that tongue,
"From Madikeri, Swami... in Coorg."
Swami nodded. He then told them that food would be arranged for them before going back in.

Ravi’s mother whispered to his father,
“Swami is supposed to know everything. And yet He asked about our plan? He knows we are Tamil-speaking. And yet, He addresses us in Kannada?”
The father replied,
"We also speak Kannada right? How does it matter what language Swami speaks to us in?"
Soon, a hearty meal was brought to all those who were sitting outside the lodge. The only people there were the occupants of the Ambassador car. What good fortune indeed!
After their lunch was done, the family waited for Swami to leave. Not knowing the precise location of Nandanavanam where the school was located, Ravi’s father thought it best to follow the Lord’s car - a great idea indeed. (A wonderful idea for life too because, often, we are not aware of our destination. If we just follow the Lord, we can reach surely and safely!)

Nandanavanam, Ooty, in 1978. This is a picture taken by Ravi's father as he sat in the darshan lines.
Swami walked out after a few minutes. Coming straight to Ravi’s mother, Swami asked,
“Saaptacha?” (“Have you had your food?” in Tamil!)
She nodded as she exchanged a meaningful glance with her husband. Ravi was enjoying this journey which had included a nice picnic. It only got better as they drove on towards the school along the beautiful, winding mountainous road. When Ravi went in to write the entrance exam for admission into 3rd grade, his father realized the mistake he had made by getting Ravi’s transfer certificate from the previous school - Ravi was actually not assured of a seat in Swami’s school. That however, made Ravi’s mother happy for there was actually a chance for her to take back the apple of her eye home.

It was destiny that Ravi cleared the entrance exam and was selected to join 3rd grade. All the selected children gathered in Swami’s presence. Ravi had no idea that it was going to be a defining day of his life - the day when Swami would choose him as His singer! It happened so simply. From the chair, Swami looked at Ravi who was wearing a woolen skull cap to shield himself from the cold.
“Ay monkey cap!” Swami called out.
Ravi looked behind him and to his sides.
“I am calling you only”, said Swami pointing to him.
The little boy stood up in his place in the Ooty bhajan hall.
“Sing a bhajan.”
Taken aback at this request, Ravikumar sang the first-ever bhajan of his life in the Divine Presence. Closing his eyes, he sang in his shrill boyish voice,
“Bolo Narayana Jai Jai Vitthala.”

The parents were filled with joy. Ravi was also happy. The school would be beginning the next day and he was liking this place. That night he slept like a baby. However, there were two people crying in his room - his father and mother. Though they both hid their tears from the other, they were finding it hard to return to Madikeri without their beloved little son. The next morning, something amazing happened during the darshan before their departure. Swami walked up to the mother and, in Tamil, assured her,
“Don’t worry. I shall take good care of your son.”
She knew that Swami was aware of her tears the previous night and thus felt a surge of relief in her heart. Imagine her thrill when, after darshan, the father came up to her and confided that Swami had told him also the exact same thing during the darshan! It was only then that they got to know about each other’s tears the previous night. And it was then that they realized that Swami would love their little Ravi like a mother and a father!

The addiction called God

Ravikumar continued the qawwali with a smile acknowledging the beautiful memory,
Jab Se Dekha Tujhko Sai Mere
Darash Ke Pyase Naina Saanjh Savere.”
(“From the moment when I set my eyes on you Sai, they constantly thirst to have your darshan day and night.”)

Swami gifted little Ravi with a memorable Polaroid picture in
the Ooty school days.
From that day in 1978, that was what even the little Ravi realized. The school was super-fun when Swami was there. The children’s dormitory door was just beyond Swami’s and many were the occasions when they had stormed out of their dormitory in their night pyjamas to join Him for breakfast! Swami would be the indulgent mother, allowing her little ones to join in the dining session. He would serve them sometimes and always talk and interact with them. His presence was definitely an addiction, something that Ravi realized during the times when Swami was not at Ooty. It was at such times that he would miss his parents and home. So, though it was not exactly as if his eyes thirsted for Swami’s darshan, his heart definitely rejoiced when He was there. And the reason for that was very simple - Ravi was addicted to Swami and he had pledged the most special corner of his heart to Him.

Ravi did not know either of these ‘famous’ quotes when he pledged his heart to Swami. But with God, it is not as if you must ‘know’ everything to achieve Him - a sincere intent will suffice. Ravi’s sincerity won him a permanent special corner in Swami’s heart. And in the bhajan hall too!

I remember an unforgettable episode that happened one evening in the bhajan hall. Those were the days when, out of the blue, Swami would walk in to the bhajan hall, much before bhajans. At that time, all the front places reserved for singers used to be occupied in a hurry by the students who would rush in to get as close to Him as possible. Of course, after the interaction and before the bhajans, Swami would go back into the interview room and the bhajan group boys would occupy their places in front. Ravi would complete his work at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences (he serves as a manager in Radiology there) and arrive just in time for the bhajans. So, naturally, he would miss most of these pre-bhajan sessions with Swami.

One day, when Swami entered the bhajan hall, I rushed and got myself a seat in the 4th line from Him. Swami, before beginning to speak, looked at the corner where Ravi would sit every day during bhajans. There was another student seated there - a student desirous of getting some physical proximity and interaction with Swami. He got what he desired but in a manner that nobody expected. Swami called him and said,
“Ay boy! That is Ravi’s place. Don’t sit there.”
Immediately the boy moved back and the space was left vacant!

I realized one truth that day - If I reserve a place for Swami in my life, Swami reserves a place for me in His life too! I narrated this episode to Ravi bhaiya (elder brother) and he just smiled and shrugged it off saying,
“That is Swami’s love. He is the only one who can have a special corner in His heart for each and every one!”

The first few lines of the qawwali become so easy to understand when one experiences the Divine and boundless love that Swami has.
“Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye
Chain Na Aaye Mohe Chain Na Aaye.”
(I just cannot live without Sai.Without Him, I am constantly restless, without peace.)
Singing those lines, Ravi could not help but recollect that moment of intense restlessness when Swami had calmed him, granting him the boons of fearlessness and peace.

continued in Part 2 at:

Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - I have no life without Sai (experiences of S.Ravikumar) Part 2

You could also enjoy these stories of Swami's other singers:

For all readers:
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  1. "A wonderful idea for life too because, often, we are not aware of our destination. If we just follow the Lord, we can reach surely and safely!" - Amazing lines with a very deep meaning, thank you Brothers....

  2. Cannot wait to read more about this supremely blessed soul!

  3. What a voice! he has got, it is surely HIS voice. His singing is truly an example of " MUSIC TOUCHES THE SOUL ". Truly blessed.

  4. .. to be continued...
    When?? :(

  5. Thanks for this. Shared within my groups...
    Looking forward to future editions...

  6. Touching experience.Our dear SAI MAA.

  7. Thank you! Such tears of joy you bring by sharing this. Bless you!

  8. Thank you. What tears of joy you bring by sharing this! Bless you.

  9. at the end of second paragraph I was already in tears...

  10. "If I reserve a place for Swami in my life, Swami reserves a place for me in His life too!" What you said is absolutely true...

  11. Truly blesse. ye sari story maine aapki maa se suni hai.

  12. I have had both the honour and privilege of being there when Ravi sang this song for Swami and even though I didn't understand the meaning, the emotions felt by everyone including myself was great. I even managed to record it on my little handheld recorder. Thank you so very much Ravi, I never thought that one day I would read about the special story associated between the singer and The Lord. It was the devotion and love that gripped us. Thank you Aravind for this.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings... What you say is true - though we may not understand the words, the devotion is perceived; that is the language of the heart...

    2. My apologies Aravind I did understand the meaning of some of the words but not enough to understand the complete meaning . Sentences like wherever you look , and go into my Mandir Sai (jab se dekko tughe) what does sange aur saveray mean? I used to watch you boys every evening for 3 weeks interacting with Swami and all the love pouring forth and wished we ladies were as lucky. No envy, no jealousy just simple longing. There is another view for you!! How Ravi, you boys and Swami increased the longing for HIM in ordinary devotee's heart. Know that Swami's students earned a great deal of love and respect from many people.

    3. Saanjh Savere means "Evening and Morning"... :)

      What you speak of is "positive envy"... aka pining.... Wonderful... Thank you

  13. I am not a Sai devotee, but this song is bringing tears of joy to me and a sense of shame that I have not believed in Him all these years. I was so close to Puttaparthi when Swami was there, but never visited Him. I really wish I got to see Him once. :((


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