Saturday, 28 February 2015

Always have a direct connection to God - Nikhil Koushik learns his lessons from Baba _Part 1

Nikhil's grandmother and grandfather with
Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. 
Nikhil Kaushik descended from a very illustrious family. He grew as a branch on a family tree that had been nurtured and fertilised by classical Carnatic music. From a tender age of four, even as he began learning the English alphabet, he learned the notes of classical music. Since he had been endowed with a pretty good voice, Nikhil had no doubts that he was born to be a singer.

Apart from music, Nikhil Kaushik had been blessed with another, more valuable heritage. And that was the devotion towards Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba which his family had adopted for three generations before him. Both these inheritances - music and love for Swami - gelled well with each other and Nikhil found himself progressing as a singer in the Bal Vikas classes which he attended. He was a singer in every Samithi, Sai Center and programme that he was part of. He even sang in the presence of his Swami at Prasanthi Nilayam during the All-India BalVikas Conference in 2005.

It is therefore understandable that when he got admission in MBA at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in June 2005, he had no doubts that he would be singing as Swami’s student too! One of the first things he did on joining the hostel was to approach a teacher to inform that he would like to sing bhajans for Swami as soon as He arrived from Brindavan, Bengaluru. That was when he received the first of many shocks.

A frank and ruthless assessment

Nikhil found out that there was a procedure to be followed before he could be permitted to wear the badge of ‘Mandir singer’ and sing bhajans in the presence of Bhagawan Baba. It was a 3-step process.
  1. All the aspirants had to sing a couple of bhajans before the bhajan-group in-charges(teachers and senior singers) who would assess whether the singer was good enough to begin right away or needed practice.
  2. Once the in-charges were convinced, the singer would have to personally seek permission from Swami to sing in His presence.
  3. When he actually sang in Swami’s presence, the singer should not receive any negative feedback or signs from Swami.
Only when the three steps had been crossed, could a singer join the ranks of the Mandir singers.

Nikhil sang a very complex bhajan for the test. His idea was to bowl over the in-charges with his singing prowess. The feedback that he received at the end of the session shocked him to say the least.
“Your singing is pronouncedly Carnatic while you are attempting a Hindustani-style bhajan. Also, your pronunciation of Hindi and Sanskrit is very accented. The way you are ending each line of the bhajan is quite loud and abrupt. Practice hard for a few weeks and we shall see then... Next...”

Practice for a few more WEEKS!! Nikhil had tried to get the main in-charge bowled over but he had himself got stumped! He wondered whether the feedback given to him had been about someone else’s singing. He had been present when the others had sung and he felt that he was easily better than any other aspirant there. He had not come as an aspirant because he had no doubts about singing on the very day Swami arrived to Puttaparthi. But things were so different now. He who had never experienced failure before, had been subjected to a crushing judgement like this. For a neutral witness, it was evident that his ego was hurt but Nikhil saw it in a different light. He felt that it was a denial of something that was his, as a matter of right!

A peek into Nikhil’s glorious family tree will easily explain why Nikhil felt that it was his right to sing in Swami’s presence as His student.

The mighty family tree with deep roots

Nikhil’s great-grandfather, Sri Seshagiri Rao was the first ever priest of Swami’s mandir. How he became that is a fascinating tale in itself. Briefly, this is what happened.

Seshagiri Rao was a reluctant visitor to Puttaparthi way back in 1943. He came as a mere escort for his excited daughters, vowing not to even glance at the 'sixteen year old, non-brahmin, school dropout.'
He had told his daughters,
“I am a worshipper of the great Lord Shiva. I am not going to defile myself by indulging in such blasphemy.”

But a glance was all it took – one look at the young Baba and he fell into a dead faint. He lay in that unconscious state for two whole days, nursed by Baba Himself. And when he finally opened his eyes to the relief of his daughters he said to them,
“You both can return now, but without me!”

The man who would not step into Puttaparthi was saying he was not going to leave for ever! He made up his mind to even quit his job from Puttaparthi. But what brought about this change. He shared his revealing experience thus:
“When I walked into that compound, and I saw the young boy sitting on the rock, in His face, I had the vision of Lord Shiva. On His head, I saw the moon, and on His forehead, I saw the third eye! This is the Lord Shiva I have been worshipping for the past fifty years. And now that I have seen Him, why would I leave Him? I shall not.”

Prof. N Kasturi in Baba’s biography, “Sathyam Shivam Sundaram”,  narrates many thrilling experiences of Sri Seshagiri Rao including the one of his resurrection at the hands of Swami.

Smt. Sundaramma walking beside an animated Swami, holding the Poorna Kumbham.
If that was amazing, the stories of Nikhil’s grandmother are equally fascinating.
It was sometime in 1944 probably. On the banks of the river Chitravathi, a teenaged Swami asked a devotee, Lokanatha Mudaliar, how frequently he visited Tirupathi, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara.
“Twice every month Swami...” was the reply.
“If Lord Venkateshwara Himself comes to your house, will you still go there?”
“Er... I guess... I would not...”
Even as he was completing his statement, Swami pulled out from the sands, an idol of Lord Vishnu. Then, plunging His hand into the sands, He pulled out an idol of Goddess Lakshmi too. While the Vishnu idol was gifted to Lokanatha Mudaliar, the Lakshmi idol was gifted to Sundaramma, Nikhil’s grandmother.

A few weeks after the materialization of the idols, Swami said that He would conduct their marriage, the Vishnu Lakshmi Kalyanam (which is a popular ritual). Thus, Sundaramma got the opportunity to act as the mother of the ‘bride-to-be’. In fact, when she arrived to Parthi, Swami called others and said, “Look, Lakshmi’s people have come. The bridal party has arrived.”

Sundaramma was not in a good mood because her own Mangalsutra (the necklace worn by women as a symbol of their wedding) had fallen off at Penukonda. She remained in that sullen mood throughout the proceedings of the Divine Wedding. Just before the final ceremony, Swami whispered to Sundaramma,
“I have done all this for your sake. Why don’t you realize this?”
So saying, He materialized a Mangalasutra for the Goddess Lakshmi. Imagine Sundaramma’s thrill when she discovered that it was her own Mangalsutra!
“After the wedding, taking the Mangalasutra from Lakshmi and wear it yourself”, Swami told her as she bowed in awe at His feet.

Sundaramma was a permanent fixture in the old mandir and she was one of the first official singers for Swami. She was one among the few privileged singers to sing for the inauguration of the first mandir. She also spearheaded the singing efforts during the first ever Akhanda bhajans held at Bangalore.

Even Nikhil’s mother and his aunt (Smt Sucharita Chandrashekar) have had several experiences with Swami. All their experiences have been chronicled in a book called, “Sri Sathya Sai Madhura Smrithi”.

Pride pricked; dream destroyed

Coming from such an illustrious and blessed family background is a blessing no doubt, but it can also be a source of immense pressure -  pressure to earn an equally illustrious name for oneself. Nikhil Koushik wanted to join the ranks of his illustrious ancestors when it came to serving Swami and winning His grace. But today, his efforts had been thwarted by a Bhajan in-charge!

Nevertheless, in order to “satisfy the idiosyncrasies” of the in-charge, Dr. Sailesh Srivastava, Nikhil bided his time and waited for a couple of weeks to pass. He hoped that in two weeks, the in-charge would have improved in his ability to judge his singing. He chose a bhajan that was not complex. He felt that a simpler bhajan would make it simple for the in-charge to judge. The judgement was no different from the first one,
“Try not to open your mouth so much. It looks like you have not practiced or incorporated anything that I had told you last time. Why don’t you spend some time with some senior singers here? It might help. Practice more and we shall see later.”
“Who are these student singers to teach me?” Nikhil wondered, “I have come from a family of supremely gifted singers. And now, I am to learn from some students?”

Swami arrived to Puttaparthi on the 18th of June. Needless to say, Nikhil Koushik was not among the singers who sang in His presence. As each bhajan was sung, Nikhil felt a fire burn within him. He was very jealous of the ‘lesser’ singers whom Swami had permitted to sing in His presence. Seeing the singers getting permission from Swami, he decided that he too would go ahead and seek His permission. Why did he have to get thwarted by an in-charge?

Nikhil wrote a letter seeking permission and wanted to hand it over to Swami. During a darshan session, as he got up to give the letter to Swami, Swami told him to sit. That was too much for him to take and he boldly told Swami,
“Swami, I am Sundaramma’s grandson...”
Naaku Telusu (I know)”, Swami replied casually without granting him permission to sing.

Nikhil decided to take matters in his own hands and directly ask Swami before clearing the first stage!

Nikhil was crestfallen. His revelation had not created the impact that he had thought it would on Swami. Of course Swami knew who he was. But that didn’t seem to matter as far as his singing chances went. And that demoralised Nikhil. He was a mental mess and did not know how to get out of it. He hit a low in his life and nothing seemed capable of getting him out of it. He even lost the motivation to go to mandir because, that was a place where his ego, jealousy and depression would come to the fore. Little did he know that the Lord’s presence does that to each and every one of us. It sucks out all our negatives from our innermost recesses because it is only when a vessel is emptied of its poisons can it be filled with sweet Amritha (nectar).

Resurrecting dream of hope

It was at the nadir of his dejection that Nikhil prayed to Swami for solace and succour. He said,
“Swami, why is that only I, from my entire family, is being singled out for this kind of a treatment? I am going to be here only for two years (MBA). Will I not get a taste of what my family has enjoyed for decades? Please answer me. Don’t ignore me...”

That night, Swami visited Nikhil in his dream. It was a short one but was full of meaning and insight. Swami came to Nikhil and spoke just two sentences. He said,
Sundaramma vaallu entha sadhana chesaaro neeku telusa? Nuvvu emi chesaavu?
(“Do you know how much sadhana Sundaramma and her team have done? What have you done?”)

All of us are well aware that dreams of Swami are true beyond doubt, always. The next morning, Nikhil got up with clear understanding - GOD’S GRACE IS NOT HEREDITARY. It comes with individual sadhana alone and each person has his/her own unique connection with Swami. There was no need to make use of connections and mediums - within the family or without!

He understood that was the exact reason why Swami had given him a cold and casual response when he had told Him that he was Sundaramma’s grandson. It did not matter whom he was connected to. If he did sadhana he would get connected to his God. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t. It was as simple as that. There was no way to get connected by using other people or their names as intermediaries.

“Be clear, the rest will follow”, Swami says. With the clarity emerging from the dream, Nikhil knew what he had to do. With grateful anticipation, he decided to make his next move.

To be concluded in Part 2 which is at the link below:

Always have a direct connection to God - Nikhil Koushik learns his lessons from Baba _Part 1

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Surrender (Let Thy Will and not My Will be done, MY Swamy) has two elements..i.e., IF it is good for me it will happen, WHEN it is good for me it will happen.

    Desire is the "IF" element and Desperation for Desire is the "When" element. There is nothing wrong in desiring anything- "I want to successfully climb Mount Everest and feel Top of the world....I want to be a Bhajan Singer" etc there could be any desire...the 'IF' element will be invariably be satisfied if the world will benefit from it, directly or indirectly through us. The 'When' element is where Surrender most often defeats us. When we become desperate for the desire, we want the desire to be fulfilled 'now'.

    Saburi is the key to fulfillment of any desire. Someone said "Infinite patience produces immediate effect" . When we are detached and dispassionate about the desire itself AND ALSO about when the desire needs to be fulfilled, that is the moment, I believe, the object of desire is thrown at our lap by Swamy as a ripened fruit for us to enjoy. The highest enjoyment of any object comes from detachment and dispassion of that object of desire.....and therefore, I believe, Swamy, in his infinite benevolence for our own benefit, delays the same so that we are not 'denied' its highest enjoyment

  3. Wonderful narration and experience. Inner connect with the lord is the only connect and one neednot run after any person/thing/place to experience the sweetness of love of such a loving God . He is always watching us and is aware of our every thought word and deed.


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