Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The best gift a parent can seek for a child - Bhakti (devotion)

December 15, 2015

The day turned out to be a landmark one in this lifetime of mine. Poetically speaking, it was the day when a soul in the heavens above decided that Pooja (my wife) and I would be the appropriate beings as its parents in its earthly sojourn. Prosaically speaking, it was the day when I became father to a baby girl. But however prosaically you may state that, the experience is always poetic! I felt a thrill like never before and my first sounds were similar to the ones that the baby made -
The innocence, detachment and purity with which the baby seemed to look at everyone around reminded me so strongly of my dear Swami.  So, the first thing I felt like doing, even before carrying the baby or cuddling her, was to gently touch the lotus feet. Ah! How soft they were and so similar to Swami’s. It was indescribable divine joy.

The baby is the easiest and closest that anyone can come to experiencing the Divine. With a baby, you become like a baby!

As parents, you want to give your child the best things in life. But what is the best thing in life? Both Pooja and I felt that the greatest gift we had received from our parents (and grandparents too in Pooja’s case) was ‘Love For God’. Having love for Swami is the greatest treasure, a bounteous blessing and the most intelligent investment that a parent can gift a child. And so, ever since we had come to know about the baby, all of us at home had the same prayer,
“Swami, let this child be one that will love you with all it’s heart...”

What’s in a name? Everything

Even as the baby grew from a single cell into an embryo, we began discussions on the choice of a name. The name is a very important part of life. It will possibly be the most-heard word for the being and therefore, it is vital that it be something inspirational and aspirational. No wonder that all societies in the world spend considerable time and effort in naming a new-born.

Our plan was to make a list of boy and girl names and then choose the most appealing one. Though we started like that, somewhere along the line the plan got changed into me naming the baby if it was a girl and Pooja naming it if it was a boy. Thus I began focusing on girl names. My pick was “Vibhuti”. Having sought vibhuti, the holy ash from Swami all my student life, I felt it was a perfect name because, more than anything else, it symbolised Swami’s prasadam (a gift blessed by God).

I had this feeling that Pooja was carrying a boy. That is when I discovered that ‘Vibhuti’ is a unisex name! Irrespective of the gender of the baby, ‘Vibhuti’ could be used. One day, I asked Pooja,
“What do you think about the name ‘Vibhuti’?”
She was silent.
“You like it? Or you don’t like it?”
“See, Vibhuti is a unisex name...”
“Exactly my point! If we agree on it, then we needn’t search further...”

She wasn’t in conformity. She wanted a female name for a girl or a male name for a boy. Unisex names didn’t appeal to her.
“We have decided na that if its a girl it's your choice and it's my choice if it's a boy?”
I agreed though I was feeling defeated because of my gut feeling that we were going to have a boy. In that case, Pooja would win the naming rights. Pooja was smiling with a gleam of victory. Intuitively, she also felt that she was carrying a boy and knew that she had already won in the ‘naming choice’.

At 11:52 am on the 15th of December 2015, Pooja heard the doctor say with joy,
“It is a girl!”

The naming rights were mine! It was going to be Vibhuti after all.

Even as we brought the baby home, I began to call her Vibhuti. Pooja did not seem to like it but I felt that she would have to get used to it. Though it was my right, I tried to ‘butter’ Pooja into accepting the name.
“Let us give Swami a chance to give a name”, she protested.
“Why don’t you see this name itself as Swami’s gift? Vibhuti, after all, is a gift from Swami right?” After a week of hard efforts, she finally resigned and accepted my name choice. That was when Swami decided to step in.

It was the night of 21st December. As we lay on either side of the baby and were drifting off to sleep, I had a dream/vision/inspiration. I say it like that because I had not yet slept but I wasn’t wide awake either. In the dream/vision/inspiration, I was addressing my daughter by a name I had not even the slightest thought of - BHAKTI.

I sat up startled with inspiration. I saw the picture of Swami on the wall and He seemed to be smiling and blessing me.
“Pooja... Pooja! Bhakti...” I said
“What Pooja Bhakti?” she asked.
“The baby’s name... Let’s name her Bhakti.”
She seemed to fall in love with the name instantly. Though I loved the name Vibhuti I felt that Swami wanted her to be named Bhakti. It was part-joy part-disappointment for me.

We immediately took two pieces of paper and wrote ‘Bhakti’ on one and ‘Vibhuti’ on the other. When we showed the two pieces of paper to the baby, she chose ‘Vibhuti’.
“My daughter loves Vibhuti”, I said.
However, we placed the same two pieces of paper (folded of course), in front of Swami, prayed and picked one. This time it was ‘Bhakti’.
“Swami loves Bhakti”, I said.
“Whenever it is a choice between what our daughter loves and what Swami loves, it will be Swami’s choice”, we decided and called our daughter by her name for the first time in her life

It was only weeks later that I had a grateful realization. It happened when Bhakti was about 3 months old. She had just learned to smile and whenever she was brought in front of Swami’s picture, she would smile the most! All of us had prayed for a child that would love Swami. Giving the name ‘Bhakti’ which means ‘Love for God’ seemed to be Swami’s way of reassuring us!

It is our heartfelt wish that Bhakti grows up with Swami!
(these are pics of Smt. Sudha Raghnathan)
The next worry

Swami desires that we lead our life in gratitude. Pick among the thousands of things in life that we have to be grateful about. Express gratitude. Move on and pick another thing to be grateful about. Though I know this in theory, my practice is the opposite. I pick something to worry about. I worry about it no end. Then, Swami steps in and solves it in the most beautiful manner. I am grateful momentarily, but then, soon after, I pick another worry to occupy my mind and heart. This cycle goes on and on!

That happened in Bhakti’s case as well.
“Swami has assured us that our daughter will love Him. But then, she isn’t all that lucky. We were blessed with the knowledge of His Avatarhood and also enjoyed physical proximity to Him. Our baby however, has come a bit late. How unlucky to not be able to see Him and receive His blessings physically...Will Bhakti ever get to enjoy what we did?”

I had now picked a new worry to spend my time and energies on instead of on feeling gratitude for all that Swami had done! I am sure that this is a common feeling among many.  We may feel like this about others at times but, more importantly, many of us feel like this about our own selves. We feel that we were either late or had bad fate because of which we didn’t receive as much as we would have liked from Swami.

However imperfect we may be, God’s love is always perfect and pure. That is why He repeatedly picks us up when we fall and holds our hand when we stray from the path. This new worry of mine just became another instrument to make me aware of His love and grace.

The Divine Assurance

It was the morning of the 7th of June when Pooja told me about a dream she had in the early hours of the morning. Here it is in her own words:

“Swami had arrived home and was asking Aravind and Balu uncle about the arrangements being made for a Ganapati Homam. I am unable to contain myself and ask Swami about ‘Annaprasna’ for Bhakti - the ceremony where a baby is fed rice for the first time in life. Swami smiles and pats me saying that first the Homam had to be done after which He would do the Annaprasna. He cross checks the required items and says that nothing should be forgotten. Most importantly, He says that the whole ceremony should be completed before the sunrise.  Everyone assures Swami that everything will be done in time. Swami is happy and says ‘Manchidi’.”
When she narrated this dream, we decided to zero in on a date. I had a Samarpan Talk in Mumbai in a few days time. So, we thought of doing the ceremony on the first Thursday after my return from Mumbai. That date would be the 23rd of June, 2016.

We were about to witness the beauty of how things fall into place when we seek Swami’s blessings.

We were wondering about the priest when my father stepped in and said,
“I will be the priest. I have conducted this Ganapati Homam a few times and I feel that Swami wants me to do it.”
That was one problem solved. Then, I thought of doing an internet search for all things about the Annaprasna ceremony. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the Ganapati Homam was a major essential of that ceremony!

I also discovered that the Annaprasna ceremony was done on the 7th day of the 7th month for girls. Since Bhakti was born on the 15th December, the date would be 22nd June which was a Wednesday. But we had thought of doing it on 23rd which was a Thursday.
“The actual date doesn’t matter” was the combined opinion of everyone but I felt that this one point was discordant considering how smoothly everything else had fallen in place. I wanted a definite indication of the date and day.

Realization is rest and best

It happened a couple of days later. I am not referring to Swami’s grace but my realization of it. Swami’s grace is always on us - constantly and instantly when we need it. The realization of that grace however, may delude us till we are in the right frame of mind and right condition of heart. The realization came via an interesting puzzle surrounding Swami’s birthday that had got clarified.

Swami’s date of birth is the 23rd of November, 1926. It was the Karthika Somavara - the Monday in the Indian month of Karthika. However, when we see the English calendar for 23-11-1926, we see that it is a Tuesday. I used to wonder at this incongruence. How could it be a Monday when it is a Tuesday?

The English calendar changes the day (and date) in the middle of the night. The Indian calendar, however, starts a new day with the sunrise. Since Swami was born before sunrise on Tuesday, as per the Indian calendar, His birthday is Karthika Somavaram.  

I had goosebumps as I recollected that Swami had insisted on the ceremony being completed before sunrise. So, we could have the ceremony on the 23rd June, a Thursday, and yet be sure that it was being held on the 7th day of the 7th month! Who says you cannot have the cake and eat it too? With Swami, nothing is impossible.

When we get that realization, we will know that it is never too late to become aware of God. Bhakti is not late. She has come at the perfect time. And I know that Swami will bless her with His physical presence and grace when she needs it and is ready for it.

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  1. Thank you so much for this article. It comes in at the right time for my son's 6th birthday on the 28th.

    1. :)

      Very happy at this 'coincidence'.


    2. So beautifully narrated Aravind. I find your input so opportune even at my age. May Swami bless Bhakti.

    3. So beautifully narrated Aravind. I find your input so opportune even at my age. May Swami bless Bhakti.

  2. Sairam, very happy to see you and your daughter, I was searching for difference between Bhakti and Vibhuthi and its always Swami coming to rescue with his discourse in vahini of Bhagavad Gita which say Bhakti Yoga means the path of attaining union with the Lord through intense love of God. It is not loving God for any selfish benefit but it is single minded devotion to God and total surrender to God.and The Vibhuthi Yoga exemplifies how divinity is immanent in the creation. Every time i read your posts, I learn something new. God Bless you Brother.

  3. Sairam Aravind, highly valuable insights brought together with Splendid narration as well. Thanks again and look forward to more such write-ups on various topics around love and devotion for Swami.

  4. Wow... though I had heard the naming logic earlier from you, it was still wonderful reading it again as if I am reading for the first time... and yet another reassurance that Swami's timings are perfect always :-) on a side note...your picture along with your daughter and the million dollar smile is the best picture I have seen in the recent times... perfect click

  5. Sairam Aravind. Beautiful narrative triggered thoughts of Bhakti to Prahlada, so my feeling is that little Bhakti is immersed in SWAMI's thoughts at all times. And thanks for Bonus picture of yours with your little bundle of joy. Best wishes.

  6. Pleasure to read all that you write about our Swami... Thanks

  7. Sairam Aravind Anna. I am so pleased to read this. There were two things that were clarified for me through this article.
    One: Me and my husband conceived our second baby after blessings from our beloved Swami. Even though we live in the United States, Swami has made us part of a beautiful Sai Satsang. Throughout the whole pregnancy swami made it possible for us to be part of this beautiful sai satsang and bhajans. Swami made it possible for me to devote a bhajan on the 21st nov 2015 on behalf of his birthday celebrations as well. A Baby girl she was born on Nov 23,2015. We have named her Lakshmika. We had many relatives telling us name is not good, change the name. I was in a constant worry of this. Your article relieves me of this worry. The moment Lakshmika listens to us even hum a sai bhajan, she would clap her hands in rythm. Grateful to our beloved swami for this beautiful gift.
    Two: As you said Swami is with us always. But I realized swami is everything to me, only in 2014. Even though I have been in his presence for only 2 years, It never feels like that. It is like I have been with him from my birth. But I always worry thinking I am unfortunate to have not met him in his physical form. Your article this morning is like swami's words to me. Thank you Anna for this beautiful article.
    Enjoy Bhakti.. :)

  8. .It is always joyful to read about swami .
    ..Your baby daughter is so cute and her smile is so nice:)thanks for sharing .


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