Monday, 7 December 2015

Delhi-Simla Memories- Part 14 - Inaugurations galore at Shimla

Phaneendra aka Phani poses with Anand Vilas
Beautiful night lights

As darkness descended over our first night at Shimla, we were all resting in our rooms. One of the guys came rushing in and said,
“You must see the lights that have come on. It is a magnificent sight...”
It was truly awesome to see the mandir with all lights and decorations. Devotees were still moving about in the darshan grounds. Some of them were taking pictures. We too joined them, unable to resist the temptation to take some photos along with the building. Several solo and group photos later we retired into our rooms for rest. There were gift packages for us, placed on each of our beds. Each package contained a shawl, a muffler and a Himachali cap - traditional ‘warming’ gifts that made us so happy. We decided that we would wear these in Swami’s presence sometime. With joy in our hearts, we went to bed, reminiscing the wonderful events of the day.

The mandir in Shimla looks heavenly at night and it has representations of all the major religions on it.

A morning well begun
The 16th of April, 2010 would turn to be a historic day for the devotees at Shimla. Their Lord, who was visiting them after three decades, was to inaugurate the Ganesha temple, the school and the hostel. But at that point in time, we were all not aware of this.  We woke up in the morning comfortably. Though it was the peak of summer, we could still feel the cool morning air. In fact, we were thankful that there were no fans running in the rooms.
In a matter of an hour, we were all ready and dressed. A wonderfully sublime aroma wafted in the air. I walked out of the room and saw the happy faces of Phani and a few others as they were relishing the breakfast. Mouth watering, I too went out to nourish my Vaishvanara. It was amazing how the people so far up in North India had managed to conjure up so many items from a South Indian cuisine!(The cuisines in North and South India are very different in the masala used and ways of preparation.) We all devoured from our plates (and occasionally from the neighbouring ones too to get a ‘taste sample’ of another dish!). Breakfast plates in hand, everyone seemed to rush for gallery seats in the rooms from where one could admire the beautiful mountains. Ah! What an Alpine experience it was!
Shri Virbhadra Singh {the then Union Minister for Steel and currently Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh 
(as of December 2015)} brings his entire family for blessings.
After the breakfast, we moved up the slope to the mandir. It was huffing and puffing work for us to manoeuvre the slope and moreover, I was carrying the camera backpack! It was with admiration that I kept looking at the volunteers from Shimla as they pranced up and down the slope with ease. At times I even felt envious of them.
“The mountain air is thin. The oxygen levels are low compared to that of South India where I stay. These people have got used to it, their lungs have developed better and thus they perform better than me.” That was the consolatory thought for me and I was pretty convinced with my logic.

{This is the 14th part of an ongoing series. You can read the previous part at this link:
Or you can read from the beginning of the serial where each part is linked to the next. The link to Part 1 is here:

We soon reached the mandir and it was here that we came to know that Swami would be on an inauguration spree in the morning. As soon as Swami arrived down from the lift to the hall at about 10:55 am, there was Sri Virbhadra Singh with his family. He bowed to Swami and his kid too took namaskar. Swami blessed them and then arrived at the parapeted balcony overlooking the devotees seated in the hall below. It was the first time that I was looking up at the roof which was filled with the Dasha Avatar figurines. Swami sat for hardly two minutes and then moved out from behind.
A sweeping view of the entire prayer hall covering the ground and first floors. 
Sitting in the car, Swami began the travel downhill where a Ganesha temple awaited inauguration at His divine hands. CG and I quickly got into the security jeep behind and it was a moving sight to see the devotees’ adoration for Him. They were lined all along the road and they seemed to be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the Parthi security procedures of the two layered rope-wielding volunteers of the sides of the car. It reminded me of what Swami used to say in the bygone days - “A day will come when you will pine to see and touch the hem of my robe!”
Those days seemed to have arrived.
The Shimla gopikas of Sai Krishna are almost entranced by His darshan.
A meeting between Shiva and Ganesha
A five minute drive took us to the Ganesha temple where a crowd had gathered. A group of ladies sat just beside the temple and they broke out into joyous sounds as Swami alighted from the car. The volunteers literally formed a wall and indeed there were tears as the devotees pleaded, “Hato! Swami ko dekhne Do!” (Move out! Let us see Swami!) Observing them, I felt that this should be the treatment meted out to anyone who comes between the devotee and the Lord! Swami was a silent witness. He seemed to just be observing all that was going on. The ‘wall-and-tears’ moved out of the way. Descending from the car, Swami moved to the entrance of the temple where He gently tugged a ribbon to formally inaugurate it. He entered the temple and sat facing the marble idol of Ganesha.

The temple was a very small one. Inside, there was a priest who was chanting mantras with a heavy North-Indian accent. It felt funny for me but I thought that this was how the North Indians would feel when they heard us South Indians chanting! Swami was in the temple for  hardly a minute. He blessed the offerings to Ganesha and granting an Abhayahastha to the priest, moved out of the temple. Once again the ladies assembled there were thrilled with His darshan. As I turned and looked towards them, I could see tears in almost all their eyes. They were drinking deep into the beautiful form in front of them and I was lost in admiration at their love and devotion.
The one tear that I managed to capture. There was not a single dry eye actually.
My reverie was quickly broken as I had to hurry to my car which was waiting for launch behind Swami. I rushed and sat in the front seat and we began the uphill climb. It definitely became an uphill task for Dario and the security guards. I could see them huffing and puffing and they seemed to have no energy to ward away the eager devotees. The devotees on the other hand, being natives of the hills and holding extra reserves of energy due to their devotion, seemed to have no difficulty running with and keeping up with Swami’s Porte car.
Arrival at the school building.
The school building is blessed
By 11:15am, we were at the massive school building. I rushed into the compound and climbed on to the slide there to get a better view of Swami’s car entering the premises. The building stood handsome in pink, cream and light blue - Swami’s pet colours. A green carpet had been laid out for Swami’s car to move on and as I glanced up the building, I saw the name - Anand Vilas, Sri Sathya Sai School. Swami got out of the car and there was a ramp leading to the entrance of the school. Here there were two children holding articles of worship and the scissors which Swami would use to cut the ribbon. They seemed very tense and stood transfixed almost like statues in their spots.
A golden scissors to cut the ribbon and inaugurate the school building.
Both sides of the ramp were lined with people and they all craned their bodies in an attempt to be as close as possible to Him. Swami came to the ribbon and taking the golden scissors in His hand, inaugurated the school building. Swami moved in and He was taken to the Principal’s office. Swami took a round in the room. It had been barely furnished and it was clear that Swami had been brought into the room only to sanctify it.
The priest kept walking in front, dropping petals along the path. Apart from the school building, several children and
staff members got blessed with close darshan and namaskar.
“What next?” Satyajit seemed to ask.
Mr.Shyam Sunder said that there are labs by the side. Swami was then taken to the Chemistry lab. It was in a bare skeletal level of completion and naturally invoked righteous anger from Satyajit.
"Please do not take Swami to places which are still under construction", he requested.
Swami was then taken out of the building. All the while, the priest from the Ganesha temple was chanting some mantras. He had made his way to the school also and was keen on sticking by Swami’s side always. At the temple, I had felt sympathetic for him and had made way and tried to clear the path for him. But seeing that he was barging in the front everywhere, my sympathy slowly evaporated.
"Maybe he has been told to keep chanting mantras in front of Swami, wherever He goes", I reasoned in his favour.  
In the Principal's office.

A sweet hostel inauguration

Swami got into the car and began to move further uphill towards the mandir. He was going to formally inaugurate even the hostel that we were had been put up in! Swami’s car moved towards the hostel as Dario came and joined us in the security car. He was tired with the running. Swami came out of the car and the crowd was almost suffocating there. Yet, there were smiles everywhere because their Lord was in their midst. Swami pulled at the ribbon at the entrance and inside cut a cake. Even as this was on, we heard faint strains of the song, “O Maa” which slowly grew louder in volume. Swami moved to the corridor and from there, we could see children seated two floors below. Since this hostel was on the slope of a hill, what looked like the ground floor from the entrance became the second floor entrance actually. There were two floors below, constructed on the slope of the hill.
The hostel block was in use already as we were all accommodated there. Still, Swami agreed to and performed a
formal inauguration for the same. 
The railings along the corridor blocked Swami’s view of the children and so at a particular point, it had been cut to provide Swami with a mini balcony sort of vantage point. Swami looked at the children below as they continued to sing the different stanzas from the song - “Tu kitni achchi hain”. CG and I rushed to the opposite side of Swami in the corridor and took photos and video. Swami saw us from across too and I felt happy. After enjoying their singing, Swami began to move out. The time was 11:40am as Swami reached Anand Vilas.

"There is someone above to love me..." The children serenade to their Swami... 

An interesting episode took place as Swami neared the entrance of the mandir. There is a high wall that bounds the rising road and separates it from the mandir area. A man in kurta and half coat stood on the road and was looking down as Swami exited the car. He seemed to have a lot of burdens on him and he conveyed the same through the profuse tears he was shedding, looking at Swami. Swami took a vibhuti packet and giving it to a volunteer nearby, told him to hand it over to the weeping man. In an instant, the tears of pain were transmuted into tears of gratitude and all of us marveled at this silent conversation between Lord and His devotee.
The overwhelmed devotee after receiving the gift of grace.

Swami moved into the bhajan hall and up the altar that was in the front. A minute later, He said that He would go out where hundreds awaited Him, sitting in the afternoon sun. Granting them the joy of his darshan, Swami received Aarthi outside. He blessed the prasadam to be distributed and as He moved through the bhajan hall, He was tossing vibhuti packets to a few devotees. Everyone wanted a packet now and they rose up stretching out their hands. Swami reached the lift and moved up towards the dining hall. All of us took the steps on the other side and rushed up. Lunch was silent and quick. Everyone seemed a bit tired from the hectic morning and CG and I did not do any further shooting too. Swami completed lunch and retired to His room.
All of us also retired to our rooms, a bit tired but very happy. We came to know that we would be leaving the next day morning, back to Delhi. The prospects of wasting an entire day in journeying to Delhi was discouraging. But that was the decision that had been arrived upon by the elders and there was nothing much we could do about it. We lay on our beds for a lovely siesta.
Akhand bhajan singing seemed to go on in the darshan grounds throughout the day till Swami retired at night. I couldn't help but marvel at the love and sincerity of the devotees. Though there was officially no programme, they kept the bhajan singing on of their own accord! They had come to spend the whole day at Anand Vilas and they would not be taking any rest-breaks. Instead of feeling guilty at my own resting, I expressed gratitude to Swami for all the wonderful opportunities He was bestowing on us to learn true love and devotion from these Shimla folk.
A sea of colours awaited Him even in the hot sun - a photographer's delight!
A statement with great meaning

By 4:00pm we were all seated in the interview room and waiting for Swami. At about 4:30pm, Swami had arrived to the dining hall. We sat in silence and ate in silence too. While eating with Swami, the noise levels are always low and the only time anybody speaks is if Swami starts a conversation.  But if Swami eats silently, everyone does the same. After the tiffin session today, Swami called the AIP and Satyajit and began to instruct them about a music programme by the students. Swami told all of us to immediately go down and start singing. Swami called Lu sir and also mentioned specifically,
“Get ready for the programme. Let the Veena also play!”
I wondered what that meant. There was no Veena player in the group. The closest I could think of was CG and his sitar. Later, I found out that Swami had indeed referred to him and CG narrated a sweet story. That could possibly wait for the next part.  

to be continued in Part 15 at the link below

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  1. Who is the brother(in white and glasses) beside Swami is the third photo (captioned: The Chief Minister brings his entire family for blessings.
    )? (name?)

    1. As I have stated before, please don't ask questions anonymously. Identify yourself and I shall surely answer.


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Why did Krishna wear only peacock feather? Were other birds not equally loved by Him? Why did He choose to play the flute and discriminate against other musical instruments?

      Guess the answer becomes clear. There is no need for ado over nothing.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Sai Ram Aravind: “A day will come when you will pine to see and touch the hem of my robe!” By 1992 during a non celebration period the tokens given out on the ladies side were well into the 50's if not more and that's during the quiet times! I don't like very large crowds so i didn't return after. My favourite picture is 'a sea of Colours' which to me looks like 'a sea of angels'. It's truly beautiful . Loving Sai Ram, chandan aunty.

    1. Sairam aunty... It was mesmerising to behold that sea of colours/sea of angels! :) As you rightly said, it had become difficult to touch the hem of His robes much before itself.

      Glad that you enjoyed this part...

  4. Sai Ram.Arvindji. It is about third photo(caption: Chief Minister brings his entire family). He is Shri Virbhadra Singh(the then Union Minister for Steel). At that time Sh. Prem Kumar Dhumal was the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh). However, presently Sh. Virbhadra Singh is the Chief Minister of the State of Himachal Pradesh.One more huble request is whenever, you will upload the pictures of the Dining Hall, Kindly upload more photoes. As many of us were in the Dining Hall and we didn't have excess to these unimaginable beautiful photographs. Thanks. Sai Ram.

    1. Thank you for that vital factual correction brother. As for the dining hall pictures, please send me your email id as a comment and I shall mail across all the pics that I have. (Don't worry, I will not publish your comment and affect the privacy of your email id). :)

      Also, thank you for sharing the letter that Bhagawan had sent to Simla devotees...

  5. SaiRam Brother Aravind. As we read your description of this Divine trip, we are able to experience it ourselves. Wonderfully described and amazing writing skills brother. Thanks a ton. Good Luck to you and your family.


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