Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Waiting for the Lord - Ganesh's experience with Sri Sathya Sai

The story of a dancer
A beautiful idol of Natya Ganesh. 

It was a fine evening in Prasanthi Nilayam, the abode of supreme peace. It was the seventh day of March in 2007. The clock read 4:15 pm and the Vedic chants rented the air. Sitting in the first line of the Veda chanting group was Ganesh, pouring out the chants with his gun-throated voice. He was (and is to this day) a regular at the Prasanthi Veda chanting group with immense knowledge of the various Vedic hymns and incantations. He used to regularly teach students in hostel and I too had been his student for a while, learning the Vedas in the early hours of the morning.

But Ganesh was not just a master at the Vedas. He was (and is) also a class act when it came to dancing. He had learnt the art of Bharatanatyam professionally for nearly a decade and had found a very good patron in his Swami, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, when he became a student in the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. What started as 2-minute, solo dance performances in between scenes of a drama soon grew into full-fledged, hour-long, group dance performances in about 3 years.

A group known as the Prasanthi Dance Group (PDG) was formed and every year, new students of the Institute who wished to learn dancing and perform in Swami’s presence enrolled. Swami was the inspiration and Ganesh was His instrument as far as dancing was concerned. In just a couple of years, more than a dozen students had found fulfillment of their innermost desires of interaction with Swami via dance programmes.

Swami too took great interest in dance as He did in any other form of art that the students wished to pursue and cultivate. Soon, it became the norm to have at least one dance in each and every programme that the students put up in the divine presence. This was apart from the full-scale dance-only programmes that were put up in front of Swami under the able guidance and leadership of Ganesh. In fact, he earned the epithet Natya Ganesh or Nritya Ganesh (the Ganesh who is happy dancing), after the 15th form among the thirty-two forms of Lord Ganesha!

The reason for the elaboration on Ganesh was to ensure that the reader is able to better understand why a lad chanting the Vedas in the Prasanthi mandir was lost thinking about different combinations and movements in dance. Ganesh was lost in trying to come up with a nice choreographed sequence for the next programme, whenever that would happen. In the course of mentally choreographing, Ganesh was also thinking about the many chances Swami had given him and the students’ dance troupe. And somehow, today, among all the other moments, one particular memory kept pounding from within. That was the memory of Swami telling him and the other dancers,
“Keep practicing very well and regularly. Practice is most important.”

He felt the pangs of guilt suddenly as he realized that though the dance troupe was practicing intensely before every programme, they were not training and practicing regularly if there was no programme to be put up in front of Swami. In other words, practice for the dance troupe depended completely on Swami seeking a programme in His presence. Ganesh felt that this was not what Swami meant by practice. He planned to start a regular practice schedule for all the existing and wannabe dancers, irrespective of whether there was a programme in mandir or not.

Dancing to His tunes

His train of thoughts was abruptly halted with the arrival of Swami for darshan. That is the mesmerising effect that the mere sight of Swami has on people. Ganesh continued to chant the Vedas though for that had become part of his routine. Swami completed the darshan rounds and arrived on the dais. He sat there listening to the chants that were on. After a few minutes, He looked at Ganesh. Ganesh felt his heartbeat quicken like it had happened on hundreds of occasions before. Every time Swami looked at him in the eye, he always felt his pulse speeding up. Swami continued to look at him and then, with a finger, beckoned to him to the dais.

In a trice Ganesh was kneeling on the marbled steps of the dais, lending his ear to what Swami had to tell him.
“Will you put up a dance programme?”, his Lord asked him.
“Definitely Swami. Your wish is our command. When do you want it?”
Ganesh was stunned.
“Swami, the boys are all seated in different places in the hall.”
“Gather them together then...”
“Swami, the costumes are in hostel...”
“I will wait here. Take your time, go and get them.” Swami replied.
The only excuse remaining now was the truth that the dancers were out of practice but Ganesh did not dare tell that to Swami.
“Yes Swami. I shall go and get everything organised for the dance...”
“And I shall sit, waiting here for you dancers”, Swami smiled.

The next half an hour was sheer madness for Ganesh. With the help of a few other students, he managed to intimate all members of the PDG to assemble in the bhajan hall of the mandir. He also rushed to the hostel with a couple of boys and raided the costumes room, picking up as many dance costumes as the boys in the group. He also picked up a handy mp3 player which was a repository of hundreds of songs. On his way to the mandir, he sifted through the different songs, trying to select a few songs for this extempore performance that Swami had asked for.

It was 45 minutes since Swami had asked for the dance programme and all the members of the PDG were ready and dressed in the bhajan hall. They thought that they should have a quick practice inside before going out but Swami sprung another surprise on them - He entered the bhajan hall.

‘Dance’ lessons from Nataraja

“Are you all ready?”
There was an excitement in Swami’s voice. On any other day, that would have thrilled Ganesh but not today. He knelt before Swami and said,
“Swami, we have not practiced. No idea how good it will be...”
Swami smiled again and said,
“This is also my leela (sport). Just watch...”
Then Swami asked,
"Why are you in a white dress when others are wearing colored dresses?"
"Swami, I did not find sufficient colored dresses. For sake of maintaining symmetry, I picked the white one for myself."

With that, Swami exited the bhajan hall from its front entrance while the dancers came out from its back entrance. Within minutes, the PDG was performing in the divine presence, in the Sai Kulwant hall. There were at least 8,000 people in the audience who felt that the dance was exceptional in its poor synchronisation - and that included the dancers themselves. Swami’s statement that it was all His leela gave them hope that something would happen out of the blue. Nothing like that happened. Twenty five to thirty minutes later, an embarrassed Ganesh told Swami that the performance was complete, though not up to His expectations. Swami smiled, blessed all of them and said,
“Practice well.”

Not one of the PDG's finest moments, but the members carried on with a smile. (Ganesh is seen here in the white dress)
Looking back to  that day, Ganesh realizes that it holds several lessons for life - lessons that go beyond simply practicing dance. For one, it taught him what it feels like to make God wait. But more than that, it taught him what it means to wait for God and how one should wait for God.

How is that? Through a simple connection, to understand which, we shall briefly re-live the story of one of the greatest ‘waiter’ for God on earth - Shabari.

Shabari’s example

In her mad love for God, Shabari runs away in the middle of her wedding to the hermitage of sage Matanga who promises her that she will attain what he heart desperately longs for. Years pass after which it is time for sage Matanga to give up his body. As he does so, he reassures Shabari,
“Continue to stay on here. The Lord as Sri Rama will visit you and fulfill your deepest desire of having darshan and serving Him.”

An artist's depiction of Shabari serving her dear
Lord Rama. 
Thus Shabari continues to live alone in the hermitage. She is filled with great joy at the prospects of seeing her Lord. So she wakes up early everyday wondering if that would be the day Sri Rama would arrive. She completes all her chores and starts making the place ready for Sri Rama's arrival. She collect fruits and berries for him to eat if he did come, removes the thorns, weeds and stones along the path that he would trod so that her beloved Lord wouldn't be hurt. She does this for more than a decade with the same sincerity and love.

Finally, Lord Rama arrives to her hermitage with his brother Lakshmana. Having ‘practiced’ for this day for almost a decade, everything goes perfectly as planned for Shabari. She invites Him to her hut. There, she decides to offer the sweetest berries to Rama. So, she tastes each berry before giving it to Him. Lakshmana is scandalised by this. However, Rama is an epitome of peace and love as he partakes the berries and blessed Shabari. Once the Lord does so, Shabari is liberated. Rama then tells Lakshmana,
“Dear brother! Nothing that I have ever eaten in life could equal these berries offered with such devotion. You taste them and then alone will you know the ‘sweetness’ they contain.”

Waiting for the Lord - what it means?

For a moment, just imagine that Shabari got disheartened midway and stopped doing her daily routine. What would happen when Lord Rama arrived at the hermitage? Just imagine, what would have happened if, just one day before the D-Day, Shabari had said, “Enough is enough”?

Lord Rama would be at her doorstep and what would she say?
“Lord! You are just a wee bit late... I am sorry nothing is ready.” OR
“Oh Rama! Till yesterday I did everything perfect. Today I am not ready for you; please give me some time.”

Nothing - the months and years of sincere work before that day - would matter then right? And that would be because when it mattered the most, Shabari would have failed in her duty.

On the face of it, this may seem unfair. But does not an athlete prepare for years to run his/her best race, whenever that may happen? Does not an entrepreneur keep attempting and trying hard in quest for that break which opens up a world of new opportunities? Don’t we insure our property and lives, paying out large sums of money in spite of not knowing when death or loss may occur? Whenever it comes to things we are not sure about, the solution we adopt is that of being sincere and regular in our efforts. Why not have the same attitude when it comes to waiting for God too?

There is another reason why we should adopt this attitude while waiting for God. Unlike the wait of an athlete, entrepreneur or insurance buyer, the wait of a sincere seeker is ALWAYS rewarded. So, it makes a lot of sense to have faith, patience and perseverance in our efforts of waiting. Inculcating these virtues is sure to bring boundless joy to us, like it brought Shabari. It will also ensure that we do not get caught unawares like Ganesh and his troupe.

Ganesh learned this lesson that day - Do whatever Swami says with utmost sincerity. That in itself will bring the greatest rewards one can ever hope for. Even though Swami ‘caught’ the PDG unawares, He did that as His leela. There is no doubt in that because He gave the PDG many more opportunities to perform in His presence and the PDG lived up to ‘His expectations’ each and every time, thanks to their continuous and incessant practice.

Before concluding, it must be said that even the ‘embarrassing’ performance on the 7th of March 2007 won the PDG accolades from everyone as
“The dance group members, intent on pleasing Swami alone, performed in spite of being given no time for practice without caring for the fact that they would not be able to put up a good programme. They were least bothered by what the world would think of them. Their only intent was pleasing Swami.”

“So”, as Ganesh concludes,”it was a win-win situation where we learned a lesson and everyone else too learned a lesson. At the end of the day, all were happy and so was Swami.”

Hearing Ganesh’s narrative, I was just lost in admiration for Swami. How He strives to teach a lesson and ensures that the ‘students’ progress well! He inspires, then evaluates and finally congratulates too. He is like a mother, beaming happily when the child recites a rhyme successfully. The only difference is while there is the reason of relationship in a mother’s love, there is no ‘rhyme’ or reason in the Divine Mother’s love.

I understood a little better, the meaning of Swami’s statement,

"I am Nataraja - the dance master, the first among dancers. You are all dance pupils. I alone know the agony of teaching you each step in the dance!"

Thank you Swami for your love and patience. We will surely learn the ultimate dance that you are teaching us. And for that, we will keep dancing to Your tunes.

For all readers:
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  1. Beautiful article brother.the whole thing makes perfect sense.thanks for making my day:)


  2. Lovely and apt tie up between the PDG story and Sabari's example of preparedness. Well done!

  3. Wonderful post bro! :) Many deep lessons... We have to be prepared for the Lord.

  4. Exemplary Brother.
    Swami is always beyond human words, what a wonderful way to make his true devotees dance to his tunes

  5. Great article ! Thanks a lot.

  6. Discipline, dedication and determination are high maintenance in spiritual life, especially with life's distractions. Thank you for this beautifully inspiring story. Loved the tie-in story of Shabari so well piggy backed from your friend, Ganesh's discipline story. Thank you! Neeta

  7. Dear Aravind bro, I normally do not miss your articles. Somehome I couldn't read this on the day it got published.

    But Swami had a reason for that too. I got an answer through you which was most needed only today. Thank you!



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