Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Part 3 - Practice makes one perfect and attracts God's grace - Ashwath Narayan's experience with Sathya Sai

Familiarity should breed regularity

Along with daily bhajans, Ashwath was now required to regularly sing songs and Alaap bhajans (Bhajans that have a slow, solo vocal as an introduction). There were two Alaap bhajans in particular that Swami would command Ashwath to sing on several occasions, out of the blue. One was a bhajan that Swami referred to as Shlokam. It was a Rama bhajan that had an alaap, “Sri Raghavam Dasharatha Atmajam”. The other was a Sarva-Dharma bhajan which begins with the Alaap:

Allah Hu Akbar, Allahu Akbar
Awwal Allah Noor Upaya Qudrat Keh Sub Banday
Aik Noor Keh Sub Jag Upajiya Kaun Bhale Ko Mandhe

Looking back, Ashwath feels that there is a special reason why Swami made him sing that Alaap repeatedly. The meaning of that Alaap is so beautiful. If one is blessed with the awareness, conviction and experience of that meaning, one would have discovered the panacea for all problems. The meaning goes as follows:

God is Great. God created light of which all the beings were born,
And from this ONE light, the universe; so who is good and who is bad?

Familiarity often breeds neglect if not contempt. It requires extensive Sadhana and intensive efforts to value something even when it is available in abundance. This holds good for everything - food, water, health, relationships and even Swami’s proximity and grace. There was an episode which made Ashwath resolve that he would never take Swami for granted.

Probably one of the greatest honors for Ashwath was getting the opportunity to give music to and sing a song whose lyrics were written by Swami Himself to explain the Sri Sathya Sai Avatar.

{If you have arrived to this part directly, it is recommended that you read the first two parts before this finale. It will make for more enjoyable and suspenseful reading.

Swami seemed unhappy with the singers who accompanied him to Chennai for the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam in January 2007, Ashwath included. That unhappiness seemed to continue even after His return to Puttaparthi. One of those days, Swami entered the bhajan hall and spoke to the singers of the bhajan group. Apparently some devotee had passed comments on the quality of singing and Swami was not feeling good about it. He told it to the boys. Ashwath saw how much Swami cared about their reputations. Swami was emphasizing both - being good and appearing good. They prayed,
“Swami, if your grace is there, we will not get into such situations.”
“There is Grace. There is Grace in abundance. Out of all the people seated here, so few are in the bhajan hall. Out of them, only few of you are selected. You do not understand the value of grace... You are all fit to only eat grass...”

Friday, 26 August 2016

Part 2 - Practice makes one perfect and attracts God's grace - Ashwath Narayan's experience with Sathya Sai

Brindavan, the place where a student develops pining

The absence of the Sadguru or God in one’s life is indeed an unfortunate situation. However, if that absence comes after one has tasted the Grace of the Sadguru or God, it becomes a blessing. Then, it increases the pining in the heart for one’s Sadguru or God. The Brindavan campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning served as a fertile ground where the devotion of the students and teachers alike grew by pining for the physical form of Swami. Invariably, any student who graduated from XII grade would be sent to the Brindavan campus. Ashwath Narayan thus found himself as a student pursuing the Bachelors of Science degree for Biosciences at Brindavan. That was only the temporary pursuit - his ultimate goal was Swami.

If you have arrived here directly, you are requested to read this part after completing part 1 at the link below:

In an attempt to make up for Swami’s absence, many teachers in Brindavan hold Parayanam sessions. They narrate experiences with Swami to the students, feeding the flames of love for Swami. It was during one such Parayanam session with Sundareshan sir that Ashwath’s heart was set aflame with a desire. Sundareshan sir narrated the experiences of a bhajan singer, S.Ravikumar. The point that struck Ashwath deeply was the silent understanding between Ravikumar and Swami.
“Sometimes Swami indicates to Ravi to sing with a gentle eye-movement. That is enough for him to understand what Swami wants him to sing and when. Nobody else would have noticed but Ravi would have received the communication”, Sundareshan sir said.

'Ravi Bhaiya' or 'Ravi sir' has been an inspiration and role model for many generation of singers that included Ashwath also.
Ashwath knew Ravikumar. He was a legend among the bhajan singer and an icon who had shunned the possible glory that he could have achieved in the world in order to keep singing for Swami. Ashwath had also got the privilege of singing alongside him in the previous year at Brindavan. On that occasion Ashwath had himself sung the Kannada song, “Jagaddhodharana”. It was simply beautiful singing about the little Krishna in Brindavan.

Several days later, when Ashwath offered a rose to Swami before the Arati, Swami asked,
“Voice not good?”
Ashwath did not respond. He just sat at His feet.
Swami waved his palm, materialized vibhuti and gave it to him. Ashwath bowed and took padanamaskar. When he rose, Swami asked in Tamil,
“Sapdacha (Did you eat)?”
Ashwath understood and he put the entire vibhuti into his mouth. Swami then received Arati and left.

Even as he reminisced the day, a desire arose from the depths of Ashwath’s heart,
“How I wish to be able to receive communication from Swami like Ravikumar”, he thought.

As they say, “Do your best and God will do the rest”. Only the efforts rest in human realms but a lot can be done with efforts. Ashwath’s practice went in hand with his pining. The summer of 2004 came and with it, Swami arrived to Brindavan.  The students in Brindavan may get less number of days to interact with Swami but they get something very special - the Trayee Sessions. These were sessions with Swami inside His residence, Trayee Brindavan.

During one such Trayee Session, Ashwath had managed to sit in the front lines near the Jhoola on which Swami was seated. Swami was interacting with the students and teachers. Out of the blue, Ashwath felt Swami look at him from the corner of His eye. Ashwath straightened up and sat in all alertness. Then, it came! A very gentle eye-movement indicating to him to start. It was such a subtle movement that nobody noticed. But for Ashwath, it seemed as loud and clear as an oral order.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Part 1 - Practice makes one perfect and attracts God's grace - Ashwath Narayan's experience with Sathya Sai

Day: 1st November, 2009
Venue: The Brabourne Cricket stadium, Mumbai
Time: 6:10 pm

Thousands of people had gathered in the stadium to have a glimpse of their ‘Swami’ who was visiting Mumbai after a decade. Dharmakshetra, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s abode in Mumbai (at Andheri) had long ceased to have sufficient space to accommodate the thronging thousands who wished to have his darshan. Thus, the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organizations, Maharashtra, had organized different programmes at different large venues around Mumbai. In this way, everyone could get the opportunity of seeing Him once at least during the 2-day visit. The event at Brabourne stadium - a concert by Santoor maestro Rahul Sharma - was meant to be a grand finale before the curtains came down on the Mumbai visit.

Ashwath Narayan sat on the carpeted stadium lawns with the other members of the entourage which had accompanied Swami, first to Hadshi and from there to Mumbai. Almost all the members of the entourage were singers and musicians. They were naturally excited to be here. But it was not because of the prospects of hearing a maestro play the Santoor! It was because of an instruction that Swami had privately given them the day before.
“Get ready with songs. You will be performing tomorrow in the cricket stadium.”
They were possibly the only people other than Swami who knew that there would be no Santoor concert that day.

Bhagawan Baba arrived to the stadium and ascended the huge stage that had been erected. After the opening formalities, the announcement was made which simultaneously surprised and thrilled the audience - the evening programme would be by the students and staff from Puttaparthi. Ashwath stiffened and readied himself. He was scheduled to sing a complicated Carnatic song, Shiva Shankari.

As they had lined up in front of Swami to take padanamaskar before the programme, Swami exchanged a meaningful glance Ashwath.
“Ready”, he asked.
“Yes Swami. You must only sing through all of us...”
Swami seemed satisfied. The programme began with a couple of bhajans and an opening song by the magical Ravikumar. There was a happy applause. That was when Swami turned to Ashwath and gave a slight nod. The microphone was thus placed before him. Offering a mental prostration at Swami’s feet and closing his eyes, Ashwath began.

The initial Alaap itself muted the audience into spellbound admiration. Very soon, Ashwath was exploring the various highs and lows of the song which is set in Raag Darbari. The highlight of the song originally sung by the legendary Ghantasala, is a rapid-fire sequence of notes towards the end. This day, Ashwath managed to sing it sang it one and a half times faster than Ghantasala himself! He also sang it half a note higher than the legend and added many more gamaks (turnings), khadkas and murkis than the original singer!

{I consider myself very privileged to have been witness to the magic weaved that day by Ashwath Narayan. And in order to appease the curious reader’s hunger for that unforgettable rendering, I offer to you, that song for which I have placed a few photos that I shot that day as visuals. In the photos you can also see the maestro Rahul Sharma seated behind Swami’s chair.}

The Live audio recording with a collage of pictures from
that memorable day at Brabourne stadium.

In fact, when the song had been rendered, it took a few moments for people to wake up from their joyous stupor and offer a huge round of applause. Swami turned and looked at Ashwath. Was there a tear in the divine eyes? The face seemed puffed in joyous pride at what His boy had done. The hand went up a bit in silent blessing and benediction. Once again, His boy had become one with Him as he had allowed the magical notes to flow out through his voice.