Monday, 24 August 2015

A recruit in God's army - the 1965 Upanayana story_ PART 2

Start the day with God

Balu had woken up early in the morning. It was probably the earliest time in his life he was rising. His brother’s watch showed 15 minutes to 4:00 am. Many others had woken up too. The darshan grounds which doubled up as accommodation quarters to all the devotees seemed to already be buzzing with activity. Even the few who were sleeping were woken up by the Nadaswaram that began to play at 4:00 am.

As the holy notes of music filled the air, a volunteer came rushing to the troupe that was playing the instruments.
“Stop it immediately!” he told them with desperation, “The loud sound is sure to disturb Swami...”
The next instant, the music had stopped and and the members of the troupe lent their ear to the volunteer’s explanations. That was when the magic happened.

Balu felt a hush descending on the entire gathering. It was Swami in all His pristine morning glory and He had come to the eastern end of the mandir balcony. He bent over the parapet and signalled to the Nadaswaram troupe to continue playing. The volunteer became red in the face with embarrassment no doubt, but he was happy that his ‘action of concern’ had actually elicited a beautiful, early-morning darshan of the Lord of the Universe!

A traditional Yajna kunda in which the holy fire or Homa is performed.

At 8 a.m. the preliminary ceremonies begin inside the Mandir. The sacrificial fire was lit and the Homa was performed. This is a ceremony of purification—­to make the participants conscious of the sanctity of what they are to do. The invocation to Agni is essential in all such ceremonies. Agni stands for illumination and wisdom—burning out the dross and purifying the spirit. The mandir was soon filled with the solemn chants of Vedic mantras recited by the Pundits, many of whom had specially come to take part in the cere­mony and help the brahmacharis to receive the sacred Brahmopadesha (initiation into Brahman/Supreme One).

{This is the second part of the narrative. To completely and truly enjoy this part, it is recommended that you read the first part before reading ahead. The first part is here:

A recruit in God's army - the 1965 Upanayana story_ PART 1 }

Fill the day with God

At 8:45 am the brahmacharis came out of the Mandir and formed a procession party. The music of the nada­swaram filled the atmosphere again. The familiar, beloved, resplendent figure of Swami, with an enchanting smile playing on His lips, walked with quiet dignity to lead the procession. All the Vatus filed from the bhajan hall into a large shed that stood in the place of where the Poornachandra Auditorium stands today. Balu was accompanied by his father. He saw that it was the same with all the other Vatus too - it was either the the father or a senior male family member with them. Thousands had already gather­ed to witness the unique ceremony. The dais looked magnificent with its Sesha Shayana Narayana curtain and Swami’s chair in front of it. Each Vatu-father pair was seated in front of a little yajna-kunda which was constructed with bricks and stone. There was a priest present for each pair.

The beauty and grandeur of seeing Swami in front of the Sesha Shayana Narayana curtain on the dais in
the shed that stood in place of the Poornachandra Auditorium.

The boys and their fathers, guardians and the pundits took their appo­inted places in a series of rows—on the ground. Before each brahmachari was lit the sacrificial fire in which chips and scrapings of sandalwood were placed, filling the whole place with fragrance. It was a magnificent sight to see so many boys, now on the threshold of a new life, affirming the ceaseless validity of Dharma as their ancestors did on the banks of India's sacred rivers.

The father Subbarao was impressed. In most of the mass ceremonies there would be one chief officiating priest. He would speak over the microphone and everyone would follow his instructions. What was happening here was not a mass-ceremony in that sense; it was 450 individual ceremonies! Even before he could get over his sense of wonder, his senses and mind were struck numb with the sight before him - Swami arriving to sit on His chair!

Balu began to chant the incantations as pronounced and guided by his personal priest. As the ceremony began, Swami got up from the chair and began to move around the entire shed, like some examination supervisor. Being ‘super-wiser’ than any of the priests present there, He guided them through the ceremonies and spent a couple of hours with the Vatus. It was a boon from the highest heavens for Balu. On one hand he was getting initiated into spiritual life; on the other, he was participating in the largest and grandest ceremony of his life. Once the ceremony was completed, the Gayatri Upadesha (initiation into Gayatri Mantra) was done.

The culmina­tion of this solemn ceremony was reached when every boy received the sacred upadesha from his father or guardian and the whole auditorium reverberated with the accents of the Gayatri led by the Vedasamrat (Title meaning Emperor of Vedas) Brahmasri Kamava­dhanulu in his characteristically solemn and clear tone. It was a uniquely sacred moment as hundreds of brahmacharis chanted the Gayatri. Swami stood on the dais watching and listening. Three scholars viz. Ghandikota Subramanya Sastry, Jonnalagadda Sathyanarayana Murthy and Sri Ramsaran K. Venkatanarasayya spoke eloquently on the significance of the ceremonies that were being performed. Then came the "bhiksha".

Swami asked for the mike to be brought as He had an announcement to make. What He said that day would remain forever etched in Balu’s heart. Swami said (gist given here),
“Now is the time for the Vatus to seek bhiksha (alms) from their mother. However, since there are some Vatus here who have lost their earthly mother, I have decided on one thing. Nobody should feel bad and so, I shall stand as the Mother and give the first bhiksha to all the boys.”
The announcement was met with applause and, as always, Swami had shown sensitivity and concern like no human possibly can.

The 1 Re note which Swami gifted Balu. He wrote down the mantra
that Swami whispered in his ear on it. (That episode follows later in
the story.)
Along with the bhiksha of rice and jaggery, Swami gave each and every Vatu the copper vessel with spoon (Panch patra and Udharane) and a 1 Rupee note. The discourse that He delivered that day was one ceaseless flow - without any translator. In sweet and melodious Telugu, Swami called all the assembled Vatus as the special “recruits of My army”! Those who wish to know more about this ceremony and rite can read Swami’s discourse on that day. The way Swami concluded his discourse made Balu feel so blessed. Swami said,

“For the revival of Sanaathana Dharma (Eternal Religion) these boys will be efficient instruments. They will replenish the glory of Bhaarathavarsha. They are today recruited into My army. I am achieving the re-establishment of Dharma, the restoration of the Vedhas, and it is with that in view that I am initiating in My Presence every year boys from all parts of India. This samskaara is fast losing its significance; the recital of the Gaayathri and the performance of the Sandhya rite are both being neglected; so, they have to be restored to their pristine glory. This is an important step. Until you see the Akshara (the Unchanging), you must practise the kshara (the changing), which helps you to transcend it. When once you are able to pronounce 'cat', you can give up reading the word as 'c-a-t'. The Gaayathri will help you to reach the Akshara; practise it, three times a day, in the Sandhya rite. The Deha-maatha (the mother who bore the body), the Loka-maatha (the Mother who sustains the Universe) and the Gaayathri-maatha (the Mother who saves you from bondage and ignorance) - all three deserve your devotion and worship.”

Spend the day with God

After the discourse, an announcement was made that all the Vatus with their families should have the specially arranged feast in the canteen.
{There was only one canteen those days. The ashram too was totally different. None of the residential buildings existed. Sai Geeta’s shed stood where the Yajur Mandiram currently stands. Only a handful of homes bordered the Nilayam. Most of the day was spent in sitting in the darshan grounds with Swami as the focus. Darshan too was different. There were no people thrusting letters towards Swami. Whatever people wanted to ask, they would do so directly. If they wished for a detailed discussion, they prayed for an interview (and got it more often than not!)}

Balu sat beside his eldest brother Nagaraj and enjoyed the sumptuous feast.
“Have a quick nap after your lunch”, his brother advised, “you will have to assemble in Swami’s presence at 4:00 pm in the bhajan hall! You will be performing your first Sandya rite in His presence.”

A small 3 inches x 2 inches photograph
gifted to Balu by Swami on the
occasion of his Upanayana.
As he had said, all the Vatus gathered in the bhajan hall. Within half an hour, Swami walked in. Instead of sitting on the chair, He sat on the platform on which the chair had been placed. He asked the priests to begin. The priests in the front tutored and demonstrated to the Vatus how to do the Sandhya rite. Then came another magical moment for Balu - the Mantropadesha or granting of a mystic chant. Traditionally, this is done behind a veil, in utmost secrecy in the embrace of the Guru. The most magnificent blessing for each of the boys today was that their Mantropadesha would be done by Swami Himself!

A white cloth was used to create a mini curtain of secrecy within which Swami sat. One by one, the Vatus walked into the curtain, received the mantra from Swami and walked out of it. It was with great excitement and joy that Balu walked towards Swami when his turn came. He entered the curtain and beheld Swami smiling at him. He felt such fulfillment and peace that he knew he was face to face with the goal of his life. His Lord gently embraced him and put His lips close to his right ear. The divine whisper then said,
“Om Sri Sai Ram Jai Ram.”

End the day with God

Balu did not want to leave that embrace ever in his life. He looked into Swami’s eyes and Swami looked deep into his. Balu knew that being in the embrace of the mantra that his Swami had given was equivalent to being in His embrace. He made a strong resolve to hold on and utilise that mantra throughout his life.

“But dad”, I asked him, “are you sure you want me to share this mantra that Swami gave you as a great secret? Will it not lose its potency for you?”
“What are you saying”, he retorted immediately, “don’t you know the inspiring story of the great Ramanujacharya? That same inspiration guides me to share it too...”
Thus, am blogging about this experience and also sharing the mantra!

After the whole ceremony that evening, the boys were advised to pour the water in their copper vessels at the roots of the Tulasi (holy Basil) plants growing behind the mandir.
“Do you all know where the Tulasi plants are?” Swami asked all the boys.
“I know Swami”, said an excited Balu, “I shall show the way...”
Swami smiled at the boy’s enthusiasm and excitement.

The day was nearing its close. Swami had not given any interviews that day. It was as if He had decided to dedicate the entire day for the Upanayana. For the evening bhajans also, the Vatus were given privileged seating in the portico of the mandir. Balu sang all the bhajans with vigour and vitality. An hour passed like ten minutes! Swami received Aarthi and left. The day was complete and so was Balu’s joy.

When the photographer got photographed! Balu cherishes this picture with Swami.
It is symbolic of his life since the Upanayana - where it is only him and Swami
in the frame and, that too, Swami is the centre!
A new life

While it is evident that Balu was initiated into the Gayatri mantra on the 25th of February, 1965, that day holds significance far greater than that alone. Something touched him in the deepest inner recesses of his heart and he felt that Swami was his God for life (and lifetimes). Though the traditional ‘family-deity’ for Balu resides as Balaji in the Biligiriranga Hills, he has never been there as of 2018 - fifty three years after the Upanayana ceremony. But he himself resides in Puttaparthi, the abode of Supreme Peace of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The focus and direction of his life definitely changed on that day and that, in turn, gave new focus and direction to the lives of his future wife and children too! In that sense, it turned out to be the second birth not only for him but his future generations as well.

As his son who has benefited entirely from his focus and devotion to Bhagawan Baba, I can only be grateful to Swami for making my father an instrument to bring me to His lotus feet. The only prayer that springs in my heart is:

Dear Swami, all of us may not enjoy the privilege of being initiated into the Gayatri by You. But please ensure that all of us win this privilege of being initiated into Your love and grace forever and ever. May we treasure and cherish you in our hearts from where, as Mirabai sang, You can never be unseated, robbed or lost!

A nice video I found on YouTube that gives an idea of how Puttaparthi 
and Prasanthi Nilayam were in 1965.

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  1. Your father and you and your family's future generations are supremely blessed indeed. Thanks for sharing the blessing with all via this beautiful story.

  2. Every experience u share is so enriching. Whatever may be the work I'm doing, I stop n read your article as soon as I see it! Thank you so much for blogging regularly. It keeps us connected to Swami and assures us again and again that He is showering His love on us.

    1. Thank you for your words of love. I felt so happy reading them. They also encourage me to write more and more.

      May our love for Swami grow stronger every passing moment.

  3. Sairam Aravind, inspiring narrative of those unforgettable memories in your life, thanks a lot for sharing. On a parallel note all this in a year when I was posted - at my first Air Force Base - after completion of ab initio training in Jalahalli West, and experiencing action for the first time in my life Indo Pak war, triggered my memories of those days. Best wishes and Love.

  4. I am grateful to Swami to bing you in our lives and see a subtle link between you and Rev Kasturiji. Looks as if you have been chosen by Swani to carry on his task. I am grateful to Swami to have blessed me with first meeting Kasturiji and now you. More when we meet again. With love and gratitude. BU

    1. I am overwhelmed by your comparison... It is just Swami's love and grace.... We shall meet when you come next to Parthi.


  5. Thanks dear. goosebumps as I read this. Swamy saved us from the floods and is still sending us help through several hands. Jai Sai Ram


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