Friday, 30 August 2013

Kalpagiri - A murderer's story with Sathya Sai

A story of how God's love penetrated the darkest
of prisons
One fine morning in the early 1960s, a letter was received at Prasanthi Nilayam, the abode of supreme peace set up by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It was one among the several responses from the prisoners in a high-security jail in rural Andhra Pradesh. The contents of the letter poured gratitude for Baba and they read as follows:

"We are sinners, certainly; but, our lives have become full of hope, for, we have rendered ourselves fit to receive Your Grace! Really, if there are any who can be declared fortunate in the world, we are the ones and we are truly proud of this. That the stream of Your Mercy has started flowing towards these mean men who have injured society and who are suffering punishment, is no ordinary event. We prayed that You should grant us Your Darsan and Your Blessings. You have written to us, out of the vastness of Your Mercy that You will elevate us with Darsan,Sparsan and Sambhashana, at Puttaparthi! Sage NĂ¢rada blessed Savithri, a widow, with the statement, "May you have the status of living with your husband for a long time", and, she was able to win her husband back from the dominion of death. We too have learnt from Kalpagiri, that Your Word always comes true. It knows no defeat."

Who was this Kalpagiri whose name finds mention in a prisoner’s letter to Swami? His story is one of forgiveness and faith, gratitude and grace. And to witness it first hand, let us visit the jail in which he has been confined for the past two years.

The setting is in a high-security jail for life-term prisoners at a town in Andhra Pradesh in the early 1960s.  A bhajan session is in progress and if not for the presence of many policemen and the dresses donned by the prisoners, it would be nearly impossible to say that it is a prison! The bhajans conclude with “Jai Jaikars” in the name of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

Kalpagiri: (addressing a group of new prisoners) Sairam. Each and every one of you must be cursing this day in your lives when you have been cast into the confines of this jail. But let me assure you that this is a blessing in disguise for this is a prison that has been blessed by God’s love in abundance. Debt, enmity and murder are acts that have to be inescapably atoned for without exception. That we have won this opportunity to do it at this blessed time when the Lord, our God has graced the earth as Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba is indeed a fortune beyond our wildest dreams. Believe me, He will save us not only from the chains of this prison, but also from the shackles of this bodily prison which have trapped us in this transient world.”

Ramu: Easy for you to preach philosophy Kalpagiri because your death-sentence has been changed into one of lifelong imprisonment by the President of India. What about me? What about Raaka here? We are to be hanged in a month....

Kalpagiri: You have at least a month. Raja Parikshit had only 7 days to live and yet, that was the most blessed week of his life for he sanctified it with the stories of the Lord. He died after seven days in the eyes of the world of course, but ah! What a glorious death it was! Once one realizes the Truth of one’s unity with the Lord, death is as benign as sleep. It is not late to seek God Ramu...Raaka. Seek Sai and all will be well.

Chengappa: How can you say that? Are you sure that we will be saved?

Kalpagiri: Dear old Chengappa... Always doubting...Sai’s grace will surely reach you, wherever you are. And I know this from my own life experience.

Nasir: Pray share that experience with us... Maybe then, some of your conviction and confidence will get rubbed on to us as well.

Kalpagiri: It was in a fit of fury and madness that I committed a foul murder. Ah! How my heart aches even to think of that day! (pauses for a moment)
But back then, the only thing I wanted to do was to avoid the sleuth-eyed police of the area. So, I ran away to the Himalayas in an attempt to smother the cries of my guilt-ridden conscience. I donned the ochre robes and wandered from dharamshalas to hermitages in an attempt to make that external peace a part of my soul. Four years I spent thus, but to no avail.

Chengappa: It is said that the Himalayas are home to many saints, sages and people in touch with divinity. Didn’t you meet anyone who could help you?

Kalpagiri: Oh! I met a lot of them. But they could not help me in any way for I wasn’t open to them. Whenever I met a saint, a sage, a sadhaka or a monk, my mind was tormented by a doubt - Are these people too like me? Are the robes and rigors, devotees and disciples camouflage for the evil and wickedness within? Indeed, one perceives the world based on what one is. I felt all of them too, were like me, cheats.

Nasir: How then did you get to know Baba?

Kalpagiri:  Having met dozens of masters and read hundreds of books, having had intense discussions on Bhakti, Karma and Jnana, I was still dissatisfied. That was when, I felt that the Himalayas were not helping and decided to turn to the holy places back in South India. I extensively travelled in South India - Simhachalam, Tirupati, Kanchi, Rameshwaram, Chamundi Hills and even Shirdi. I did not get peace still but learned about the abode of highest peace at Puttaparthi. Imagine my plight when I realised that what I had been looking for was probably in my own homeland! I boarded a train to Guntakal, got off at Penukonda and arrived to Puttaparthi by a bus from there.

Raaka: That was when you were overwhelmed by Baba’s love? Did He meet you? Did He know what you had done?

Kalpagiri:  When I first met him in the interview room, I was overwhelmed by his all-knowing wisdom before being overwhelmed by his love. Swami knows everything. Nothing can be hidden from him by time or space. He immediately chided me for running away from the consequences of my deed. As I bent my head down in shame, he told me,
"Why postpone for another birth the suffering, which you must undergo in return for the dire deed?"
Then, telling me to wait, He went up to His apartment. He came down with white clothes and told me that the ochre robes are not meant for those that still had dues to be paid in this world.

Chengappa: What did He want you to do? Change clothes to change your fate?

Kalpagiri: That was a symbolic change. He told me to go straight to the police and confess my crime. He also told me to cheerfully accept whatever punishment was meted out to me. To strengthen me for the ordeal, He gave me 4 packets of vibhuti, the holy ash. But I was very scared. I told him that I would be hanged. His face melted into a most captivating smile. He lovingly patted me and firmly reassured me,
“You will not be hanged; I promise that. Your neck shall wear a Japamala, a rosary, which I shall myself put round it, when you come to Me after the sentence is over.”

Raaka:  So, though the police did not catch up with you, you offered yourself to them?

Kalpagiri: How could I not? The experience with Baba was so overpowering. His love mesmerised me completely. The police had not caught up with me, but I was sure that my good luck had. I was not going to let go of this opportunity of a lifetime! I immediately took the train back to my native place. In the train too, something interesting happened. There was a person lying on the seat. He was clutching his abdomen and seemed to be in great pain. I immediately opened a packet of vibhuti and poured the ash into his mouth. Then and there I experienced a miracle?

Chengappa: The man became fine in no time? Right?

Kalpagiri: Yes. That happened. But the miracle I was talking about is different. The fact that I empathized with another’s suffering and sacrificed the precious vibhuti for a total stranger was a miracle for me. I knew that the seed of transformation had been planted in my heart by Baba. I also knew that Baba was divinity in human form. I went to the police and confessed as advised. I also remained cheerful in spite of being handed the death-penalty. My Swami’s words would not fail me. Within a few days, I received the Presidential pardon and my sentence was changed. Here I am, alive in every sense of the term. I had killed myself and Baba has resurrected me.

Chengappa: This is for the fifth time I am hearing your tale Kalpa and each time I hear it, I have tears in my eyes. That is why I sit as if it is the first time.
(facing all the other prisoners)
Friends! What Kalpagiri says is abolutely true. I have also experienced the same. A slight difference of opinion arose between myself and my wife and, so, I decided that she should no longer live on earth. I resolved to end my life too, along with hers. Placing some poison on my tongue, I stabbed her while sleeping and swallowed the fatal dose. The woman died; but, death declined to accept me. So, I ripped open my bowels, with the knife still dripping with her blood and fell on the floor. I regained consciousness in the hospital, to which the police had transported me. They stitched the ghastly wound and made me whole. Later, while I was confined at the Rajahmundry Jail, they had to open the stomach again and after some years, once again, in order to repair the damage done in previous operations. The wonder was, I survived all these calamities. That was when I met Kalpagiri and inspired by his story, wrote a letter to Baba. I am sure He will respond to me also.”

Narrator: Such was the transforming power of Baba’s love that the labour camp that the jail is became a sadhana retreat! Every prisoner was inspired by Swami’s love and would write letters regularly to Baba. The warden of the prison and the police force there also became devotees of this Master who had converted a rotting jail into a vibrant community of god-lovers. Days grew into weeks and weeks into months. Then came that Thursday morning.

Morning work has just concluded and Kalpagiri is leading bhajans. Just as the Aarthi is about to be given, the Warden walks into the scene.

Warden:  Before we conclude the session today, I would like Kalpagiri to perform the Aarthi.

Kalpagiri: (surprised) Surely sir. But why this... all of a sudden?

Warden: Because this will be the last bhajan session for you Kalpagiri. Here are your release orders. Get ready to leave. But before that, please perform the Aarthi in our prison.

(Kalpagiri is quite amazed at the sudden turn of events. He gladly accepts the offer and does the Aarthi. He is in tears even as he does so. It is almost as if he is reliving that interview with Swami that changed his entire life. )

Warden: Kalpagiri, out of the blue, we were asked for our recommendations about you. I swear that I made no recommendation. I just made an itemised list of all the activities you have started and carried out in our jail. In fact, I also wrote to the decision-making bodies that your absence will be sorely felt in case you are freed. In spite of that, they have decided to reduce your punishment and let you go as a free man. Your transformation story, they say, will be an inspiration to society.

Kalpagiri: I am truly humbled sir. It is magical what God’s love and grace can do to you. All the while I was running and thinking that am free, I was in the thickest chains. And then, having won God’s grace, I felt so free even in this maximum security prison. I do not know anything about being an inspiration to society for I do not seek to stay in society any more. My life is Sri Sathya Sai and it is to Him that I am headed now. I have just followed what He said and everything has changed so wonderfully.

Chengappa: (rushing to Kalpagiri and embracing him) I have mixed feelings today Kalpa. I am happy that you are being liberated from the prison but sad that am being separated from you. You have been more than a brother for me. You were the one to water my parched heart with the showers of Baba’s love.

Kalpagiri: Do not grieve Chengappa. And do not restrict Swami’s love. I was just an instrument. Reach out to Him. When you look to Him, He definitely looks to you. He has said that if anyone needs Him, they deserve Him. He will never let go of you. Hold on to Him.

(Just then, another police constable arrives on the scene. he is carrying the mail to be distributed to all the prisoners. He hands over one envelope to Chengappa as well.)

Chengappa: (in tears) Oh my God! Oh my God! This is God! See Kalpa, whatever you have told is true. Here is a letter to me from Baba. Ah! Blessed indeed is this day. Jai Bolo Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Ji Ki....


If you need me, you deserve me. - Baba

Thus ends this narrative of Baba’s love and glory in a prison. Kalpagiri went straight back to Prasanthi Nilayam, in Puttaparthi, where Bhagawan Baba welcomed him with open arms. He materialized for him the promised rosary and Kalpagiri became an epitome of transformation by love. But this is just a sample. Baba has been accepted as the Guardian and Refuge by some prisoners in the Hazaribagh and Gaya jails too. Like the mother who pours extra love on the wayward child, Swami is kind to the repentant criminals and the sunshine He spreads over them is a sign of His Universal Love. He has always insisted on the criminal confessing his crime and bearing the consequences gladly, resolving not to repeat the offence. As a matter of fact, He advises against asking pardon. Be bold, face the result, suffer and learn fortitude. Repentance is enough compensation for the sin; so, use the period of the sentence, for repentance and inner purification. That is his advice.

If your thirst for stories of such transformation is not satiated, please visit the chapter entitled “With wounded wings” in part 2 of the biographical book-series, Sathyam Shivam Sundaram.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the following too:

For all readers:
(If you enjoyed this and wish to subscribe to this blog, please go to the right hand side and choose the last 'box' which says subscribe. Another blog which I maintain with more than 200 articles on it is at You may visit that at your leisure. If you wish to be added to my mailing list, please email me via this page with the subject "ADD ME TO MAILING LIST".

Also, use the Tweet and FB buttons below here liberally to share with your friends and family! Thank you)

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A memorable journey in a time machine

One of the most common questions asked to trigger a creative essay in our school days is often a variant of the following question:
“If you could travel back in time, where would you go and what would you do?”

I have read many essays of this type and they are a wonderful read because they give us a peep into the deepest desires of the writer. Naturally, when I pose this question to myself, my deepest desires too spring forth. So, here is a description of how it would be if I could spend a day in the past. The only difference between this and my school essays is while the latter were based completely on imagination, this piece is based on narratives by several devotees of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Of course, I have garnished those episodes with my imagination to produce this work of fiction. It has been presented as an autobiographical account because I wish to enjoy what those devotees enjoyed decades before. All the beautiful images here are courtesy of the wonderful book - Love is My Form.

So, are you ready to travel with me in the time machine? Let’s get on to it and turn the dial to 1945. Hold on. Within minutes, we would have traveled in time!


The journey to Karnatanagepalli

This is the village of Karnatanagepalli - cluster of houses would be more like it!The journey so far has been back-breaking to put it mildly. A train journey lasting almost four hours chugged me from Bangalore to Penukonda. From there, I had to engage a horse-drawn carriage, tonga as it is locally called, to take me to Penukonda bus-stand. An hour’s wait there was rewarded with a seat in the coal-fed, steam-driven bus which jumped and rattled along every bump and crater on a hard-mud path that the locals called as a road.

All through the journey, the locals asked me where I was headed to. The words ‘Puttaparthi’ and ‘Sai Baba’ had a magical effect on them. In an instant, they changed from friendlies into hostiles!
“You are going to meet that crazy lad? Wonder what has gotten into you...”
“It does not augur good for you to go to that boy. He is possessed by some evil spirits...”
The comments and stories went on but I turned a deaf ear. I am really keen to meet this wondrous lad who has been introduced to me as God-incarnate on earth. The bus journey of nearly two and a half hours deposited me at a big village, Bukkapatnam. Baba is said to have studied here in the government school. From Bukkapatnam, it was an hour’s journey by bullock cart to this point on the banks of the river Chitravati at Karnatanagepalli.

And so, here I am with a motley group of five other people who have traveled along with me for 9 hours from Bangalore to reach within a kilometer of Puttaparthi for the first time in our lives.  
We are told that the last kilometer has to be on traversed on foot across the shallow river. Raising up my pants, I wade through the knee-deep water, luggage in my hands. Reaching the other side, I am accosted by a few cows which are peacefully chewing the cud. How do I get to Baba’s ashram?

Friendly villager

Amidst the cows is one village lad, stroking the cow gently.
“Hey boy”, I call out. He looks at me and walks up to me.
“Could you tell me how do I get to Sathya Sai Baba’s place?”
“Oh! You have come to meet Sai Baba?”
Even as that question is posed to me, I mentally get prepared to face a volley of insults and rebuke. But surprisingly, this villager is friendly.
“Shall I take you to Baba’s mandir? I am anyway heading towards that direction...”
“Thank you”,  I reply, “that would be most welcome.”

The friendly villager takes one of my bags into his hands much against my wishes.
“We are all one family”, he says and I am so touched.
We walk for about ten minutes and soon, arrive to a gated courtyard. Within the walls is a medium sized hall measuring about 10 ft wide and 20 ft long.
“That is Baba’s mandir,” my guide tells me, “to its left is a tap where you can get water for your wash and ablutions. For drinking, you can draw water from the well behind. The water is sweet and wonderful.”

By now, a few more people have clustered around me. They too seem to be finding my guide helpful!
“The trees around will be your home. Pick any spot and spread your sheet there. Baba will come for darshan today evening by 3 o clock. There will be bhajans after that and, who knows, if things work out well, all of us will go to the sands of river Chitravati...”
“What happens there?”, a member from the group asks and everyone looks expectantly at the villager for the answer.
“That you will see for yourself”, he says and happily skips away.

I settle down comfortably under a tree trying to wonder how this Baba would look. One look at the watch which suspends by a chain from my waist tells me that I just need to wait a couple more hours to find out. Food is being served on leaves nearby by some ladies. I go there and partake it and also drink the well water. I am told that it was Baba who indicated the precise spot for the well to be dug and it has since overflowed in abundance in the drought-prone Rayalaseema region.

The first darshan

As assured by the guide, the darshan is about to happen as the clock strikes three. The first look at Baba and I am in a state of shock - it is that same village guide! He comes walking towards my tree with a broad smile,
“Are you comfortable? Hope you enjoyed your lunch. Your journey must have been long and tiresome. Rest here and stay here for as long as you want. I am so happy to see you.”

No words escape my lips. I am stunned. Needless to say, I have already been won over by this Baba’s sweetness and charm. I call out to Him,
He turns back and comes to me.
“I don’t know why but my heart tells me that you are my Lord.”
Saying so, I simply fall at the feet of this teenager. My eyes are closed and I am in tears of joy. As I open my eyes, I see that the complexion of Swami’s feet have changed. They are a shade of blue! Surprised, I look up. Instead of the cow-herding lad I saw a few hours ago, I see the cowherd boy of Brindavan from thousands of years before!

Did I turn the dials of the time machine again? No, I didn't! But then, I realize this Baba is beyond the shackles of space and time. He is that ultimate ultimate whom we refer to as God! The experience just dumbfounds me into supreme joy as Swami proceeds for the darshan.

Bhajans and divine play at the Chitravati sands

The darshan is followed by bhajans and the crowd of about fifty of us sat in the mandir. Swami Himself was leading the bhajans in His mellifluous voice. The words of the bhajan were all simple and easy to follow. Even as I sing, I look around at the newly-constructed hall. I am thinking of all that I had heard about this place from other devotees. This hall had been inaugurated a few weeks before on the 15th of December, the day of Vaikunta Ekadasi. I begin to think about the amazing miracles that Swami performed on that day.

Apparently, Swami had dug deep into the sands of Chitravati and unearthed a tiny silver vessel with a spoon. The vessel was full of divine ambrosia, the amritha. While everyone wondered who would be the lucky soul to get that ambrosia, Swami went around distributing those few drops to nearly the hundred people who had gathered there! My heart now pines to experience such miracles. The pining manifests itself as loud singing of the bhajan. I am in a totally carefree state as I sing along. Suddenly, the singing has come to a halt. I open my eyes to see Swami beckoning to me.

“Sing a bhajan ...” He says.
What do I sing? I have never sung a bhajan in my life. Out of the ‘blue’ words form within me. A tune springs forth from my heart and, even before I realize it, am singing a bhajan! That is when I realize that when Swami says something, the universe reorients itself to make it happen. Everybody follows the bhajan that am leading, including Swami Himself. Ah! What a thrill it is.

December 15, 1945. The day of inauguration
of Baba's first mandir.
The bhajans conclude with Mangala Aarthi. As everyone returns to their respective ‘trees’, there is a lot of excited chatter. Swami has decided to visit the sands of Chitravati and everyone is readying in anticipation of miracles. I too feel the excitement brewing in me. Even as it is gathering momentum, I hear a few sniggering voices. They are those never-satisfied critics.
“He would have buried stuff in the riverbed which he will dig out for us.... Hahahahaha”
“I just wonder when he goes there to bury the stuff?”
“He does not do it. He has some assistants to do that for him...”

I look at the trio. I am so irritated. Dealing with such critics is something that I will learn much later in life.  

Soon, we are walking on the sands of Chitravati. The ‘critical’ trio are closely following Swami. Swami suddenly turns to them and says,
“Pick any spot where we should sit.”
They are taken aback but they soon gather their senses and plot of a wicked plan. They decide to choose a spot in the middle of the village burial ground which was also nearby! Swami accepts the spot with a smile. All sit down and Swami asks the trio again,
“What do you want?”
They are delighted. They decide to ask for something that Baba could not have buried in the burial ground.
“We want an Alphonso mango”, they chorus, asking for the best variety of mangoes in India.

“Start digging”, Swami instructs them.
“Where?”, they ask, bewildered.
“Anywhere you choose”, is Swami’s reply.
Am now enjoying this play and I want to see where it heads to.
The trio start digging in some random spot. They dig upto three feet into the ground. In the fading twilight, one of them strikes something cold. He shudders in fright thinking it is a human skull. To his surprise, it is a large Alphonso mango!
Magical moments on the sands. 

Swami takes the mango and pulls a knife out of the sand beside Him. He slices the mango into half and gives it to one among the trio. Then, turning the mango over, He slices another half for the second member. I think that the third one is going to get the seed. But no! Swami turns the mango over and slices another half! That is followed by another turn and another slice into half. In this way, He goes on slicing till the trio plead that their stomachs are bursting. All of us are bursting with laughter. Swami says,
“Come to me and I shall fill your life with sweetness till you are bursting with it...”
I stop laughing and drink in the profundity of that statement.

Many miracles follow on the sands and am simply stunned. He pulls out a small idol of Lord Ganesha for me from the sands. Time flies so quickly that am tempted to rush to the mandir and turn the dial of the time machine backwards a few hours. But I am not a fool. Why should I go to a time machine when I am in the presence of one who is beyond time?

We return to the mandir late in the evening. Dinner follows. It is now time to go to sleep. A cot is placed in the centre of the courtyard. Apparently it is for Baba to lie down. All of us spread our sheets on the floor around The Cot. But even after an hour’s wait, Baba is not to be seen. I drift off into sleep. Sometime in the night, I wake up. I check the time. It is 11:00pm. I also see Swami. He is walking around the premises, torch in hand, performing watchman duty! It is amazing how He is the last to sleep and first to rise in the morning.

Even as I am lost in wonderment, the buzzer on my time machine is beeping. It is the alarm indicating to me that unless I board it now, it will be too late. I would b stuck in the ‘past’ and would have no chance of a return to ‘my time’. I don’t care about it. I don’t mind being ‘stuck’ in this past! But then, I feel a light on my face. It is Swami and His flashlight. He comes to me and pats me on my head.
Bangaroo, it is time to return.”
“But Swami, I want to be with you forever...”
“Don’t worry. I will be with you forever. Today is Krishna Janmashtami in ‘your time’, one of your favorite festivals. Go on and enjoy the festivities. I promise that I will be with you forever.”

Swami persuades me to return on the time machine and am back in my residence at Puttaparthi. What a trip it was!

....Golden days indeed....

For all readers:
(If you enjoyed this and wish to subscribe to this blog, please go to the right hand side and choose the last 'box' which says subscribe. Another blog which I maintain with more than 200 articles on it is at You may visit that at your leisure. If you wish to be added to my mailing list, please email me via this page with the subject "ADD ME TO MAILING LIST".

Also, use the Tweet and FB buttons below here liberally to share with your friends and family! Thank you)