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.

He closed his eyes and began to sing the song with which he had won Swami’s heart in the school hostel - Pibare Rama Rasam. The song was the same and the effect too was the same. Swami seemed very happy with the song and singing. Swami did not speak to Ashwath after that. There was no need. All that had to be conveyed had been conveyed. Ashwath was delirious with joy. He had definitely experienced the love and grace of Swami physically. But this inner connect was far more joyous and blessed than the physical connect - it was that stage of prayer where neither the devotee nor the Lord speaks and yet both understand each other! He could not sleep that night. He kept replaying that magical moment of inner connect with Swami and kept praying that the connect remain forever.
Bhagawan Baba playing the cymbals as a student sings during a Trayee session. 
Yearning to learn and learning to yearn

It appeared as though the Universe wanted Ashwath to understand the importance and power of practice. Even as he continued to practice singing, he got another lesson from Sunam Gyamtso, an alumnus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning and a bhajan composer/singer himself.
“Practice is very important Ashwath. And it is not just for improving. It is necessary to just remain at the level one is at also. See, it is like brushing one’s teeth. Practice is more of a maintenance activity. It will lead to improvement and may result in perfection but first of all, it is necessary for even simple maintenance.”

Ashwath knew that in less than a year’s time, he would be at the Prasanthi Nilayam campus, pursuing MSc in Biosciences. More importantly, it would be a chance to reunite with the Prasanthi Bhajan Group and possibly get a chance to sing regularly before Swami. So, he put in more efforts even as he got more opportunities at Brindavan.

For instance, there was a Kavi Sammelana (Poets’ Meet) for the students in Trayee Brindavan in the Divine Presence. Ashwath sought the help of his Sanskrit teacher, Sri Venkatesha Rao, for a poem in Sanskrit. Then, he added his own tune to the lyrics and sang it in Swami’s presence. Again, Swami seemed pleased. The next opportunity came when he became the voice of Swami Vivekananda for a drama that was presented in Sai Kulwant Hall in Puttaparthi, as part of the Sports and Cultural Meet. It was a new challenge because dialogue-delivery and the singing were done live. (Pre-recording came into existence for later dramas). Ashwath was singing the song, “Chalo Man Jaaye Ghar Ye Apne” for Vivekananda. The hours of practice showed because Swami was clearly impressed with his singing. In fact, after the drama, Swami asked him in admiration,
Intha Nerchukunnava?” [Have you learned so much (already)?].

Ashwath was indeed yearning to learn even as Brindavan made him learn to yearn for Swami. It was this Ashwath seasoned by learning and yearning that arrived to Prasanthi Nilayam to pursue further education at the Lotus Feet in 2005.

Another penance

It was when Ashwath returned to Prasanthi Nilayam that Swami gave him a new challenge to work on. On several occasions when he sang bhajans and songs that demanded a large pitch range, Swami would frown upon him and say,
“Double voice.”
At first, Ashwath didn’t understand what Swami was saying. But as that comment became frequent, he understood that he sounded different when he sang in a high pitch compared to his voice in the low pitch. This difference would become evident in those times when he had to transition from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch (or vice versa) in the same line of the bhajan/song.

Ashwath was unhappy that he wasn’t able to please his Swami. So he went back to the two solutions that he knew, the two Ps of prayer and practice. It was Sailesh sir who came to his rescue again,
“If you wish to gain stability in your voice, you should practice Aumkaaram. This is what Swami has recommended to so many people. Sing Aum slowly and repeatedly, focusing on each syllable. Harmonise your breath as you do it.”

That was it! From the next day onwards, Ashwath would rise early in the morning, much before the sun rose. In the Brahmamuhurtam hours (from 4 am) he would sit with a harmonium in the music room and practice with the Aumkaaram. The Aum became his best friend and teacher. Little did he realize then that this practice, apart from aiding his singing, was going to be a pillar of strength in his spiritual journey as well. Swami recommends that all spiritual activity be done between 4 and 8 in the morning and the evening for the best results. Ashwath was anway assured of spiritual activity in the evening everyday in the Mandir. Now, the morning hours too had been filled with spiritual activity!

... for God knows far more than Google can ever know! :)
Over weeks, months and years, Ashwath’s voice stability increased manifold and we will see that as the story unfolds. However, he never gave up practicing in the morning. When Swami gives an advice, it is for life unless He changes or cancels it later. Swami obviously knew each and every little effort that the lad was making. Though He did not directly indicate it, He showed him His omniscience in other ways.

An instance of omniscience

It was one day in March 2006 that Swami, entering the bhajan hall, called Ashwath from among the singers seated there.

“Where place are you from?”
“Swami, from Coimbatore...”
“Which place in Coimbatore?”
“Swami, Sai Baba Colony.”
“Ah! Your house is near my house only!” said a smiling Swami.

Ashwath also smiled for he stayed very close to a temple of Shirdi Sai Baba after which the area had got its name!
“Your house is near my house only...” Swami repeated.
Ashwath smiled and nodded. Swami repeated that statement again and Ashwath nodded again.
Then Swami told him something very casually that surprised him.

“You shifted to this house on June 13th.”

This was something about which Ashwath had no idea. So he simply nodded. That night, when he called up his parents, he asked whether they remembered when they had shifted to the house. After some discussion, his mother said,
“We entered this house early in the morning, 1 am on June 13th.”
Ashwath sat in a daze.
“Hello...hello Ashwatha...”
He quickly gathered himself and narrated to his thrilled parents what had happened in the Bhajan Hall that day. The parents were also thrilled for it was indeed that very day that they had moved into the house, having come to the state of Tamil Nadu from Kerala, their home-state!

The fruit of penance

It was a day when the legendary singer from the Telugu and Kannada movie industry, Smt. P Susheela. She is an ardent devotee of Swami and is very humble in spite of being conferred titles like Gandharva Gayaki (celestial singer) and Gaana Kokila (singing nightingale). She was seated in the front in the Bhajan Hall and Swami was seated on the chair. He beckoned to Ashwath and then asked Smt. Susheela,
“Do you know who this boy is?”
She naturally had no idea.
“He is P Leela’s son... He sings very well.”
Ashwath was simply taken aback. P Leela was another legendary singer who had passed away just a few weeks before in October. She was also a devotee of Bhagawan Baba, having sung in His presence several times. Swami continued looking at Ashwath,
“Looking at your face, I am reminded of Leela...”
What Swami said next was almost a tribute to the intense practice he was doing,
“Both Leela and Susheela sing high pitch songs beautifully. You should also sing in a high pitch.”

The same Swami who had told him that he was exhibiting “double voice” was now telling him to sing high pitched songs. Ashwath felt humbled.
“Swami, I need your blessings.”
Swami smiled and nodded. His blessings would always be on those that are sincere and hardworking. Swami then asked him to sing a song. Ashwath sang the classical Karya Karana Swaroopane.

Swami turned to Smt. Susheela and asked her what she thought of his singing. She was all praises and that seemed to please Swami.
Manchi Kantham (good voice). This boy sings nicely. He has been with me since he was a child. He is a student of my primary school.”

Ashwath first sought Swami to offer his music; he then offered his music seeking Swami. It was a small but
very important transition... (Ashwath with Swami in Kodaikanal)
Ashwath’s joy knew no bounds. It is a great joy to be a student in the Sri Sathya Sai Primary School. Though he had not got that joy, he had won the greater joy of being a student in Sri Sathya Sai’s Primary School!

Slowly, Ashwath was rising among the ranks of singers. He became a regular and would sing bhajans everyday. That in itself was such a blessing because he was singing only once in two weeks when he began singing in the bhajan group in Grade XI. In spite of this, Ashwath never skipped practice. In fact, he began to practice more and more. Singing was the tool that had taken him to his Lord. He would use it to be with Him always.

to be concluded in Part 3 which is at the link below:

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  1. Beautiful and Inspiring one Ashwath..Brother-your writing all the more adds to it-use of Sri Sathya Sai Primary School &Sri Sathya Sai’s Primary School is brilliant.. eagerly waiting for the next

  2. SaiRam Aravind, please accept my regards. Very beautiful and inspiring article. It gives so much strength to continue walking the path to Swami even if I fall sometimes due to certain situations. It was extremely encouraging to read about significance of "practice" and "human efforts". Thank you very very much for writing and sharing this beautiful story of an inspiring devotee Ashwath Narayan. I will be waiting eagerly to read the Part 3 on Tuesday. Even if away, I start imagining the scenes from Brindavan and Prasanti Nilayam campus through your stories and relish them. Thank you!

  3. Sairam Aravind........excellent....waiting for next part.....lesson to learn - practice practice practice and yearn yearn yearn for SWAMI.....

  4. Sairam. I am very much blessed by SWAMY to read such spiritual experiences of SWAMY'S students. Thank you Sairam Brother/ my son.


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