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.

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  1. Thank You for the article, Mr. Aravind. There are always things to learn from your writing.


    Mr. Happy aka White Wolf

  2. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful swami's leeks....Love All - Serve All.

  3. Wonderful. Thank you for reminding me again that he is within us all the time.

  4. I had tears in my eyes. What a transformation, in literal sense. Beautiful story.

  5. Sairam ..a heart rending story beautifully written! Being a bal vikas teacher will utilise the script soon ! Thanks ! Sairam

  6. Loved the story. Thank u for sharing. Jai SaiRam

  7. What a powerful story.....when Swami can pardon a criminal so easily.....then why is it difficult for us to forgive a person who has just hurt your feelings

    Meenakshi Venkatesh

    1. Thats such a beautiful and powerful thought to ponder upon. Thank you.

  8. Sairam Aravind another excellent narrative from your pen, guided by HIM. SWAMI set an example to all of us and showed us LOVE ALL principle in action. Thanks for enriching our lives.

    1. Thank you so much uncle. Keep me in your prayers always. Sairam

  9. Touching Story..tugging at the heart strings. Our Most Merciful Mother SAI
    A EMBODIMENT of LOVE & COMPASSION. Thank You Brother Aravind for being HIS instrument and bringing this story to us. JAI SAIRAM

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