The Serpent Hill

Uravakonda derives its name from the hill that dominates the place. At first the name was Uragakonda, uraga meaning serpent and konda meaning hill. The promontory on the hill, formed by a single huge boulder about 100 feet high, is in the shape of a many-hooded serpent. 

The High School at Uravakonda will be ever famous because of Sathya's attendance there. The fame of the boy preceded him. The students told each other that Sathya was a fine writer, a good musician, a genius in dance, a student wiser than any teacher, and one able to peer into the past and peep into the future. Authentic stories of his achievements and divine powers were on everyone's lips. They were circulated by the people who had come into the town from places such as Bukkapatnam, Penukonda, Dharmavaram and Kamalapur. It was related and heard with wonder that, even as a toddler, he had the unique power of getting from nowhere and nothing, fruits, flowers, and sweets by a mere wave of his hand! "What a wonder!" they said.

People gathered around Sathya's brother, the new Telugu teacher, eager to hear stories of the boy's capabilities. Every teacher wanted to be assigned some work in the section in which Sathya was admitted - some out of curiosity, some out of veneration, and some out of a mischievous impulse to prove it all absurd.

Sathya soon became the pet of the entire school and the cynosure of all eyes in the town. He was the leader of the School Prayer Group and ascended the dais every day when the entire school gathered for prayer before classes commenced. It was his voice that sanctified the air and inspired both teachers and students to dedicate themselves to their allotted tasks. He was the life and soul of the school's dramatics and the backbone of the athletic team, for he was a fast runner and played gudugudu, an outdoor running game, exceedingly well. He excelled in the school scout movement.

The teacher in charge of the drama department, Sri Thammi Raju, once asked Sathya to write and produce a play, and Sathya plunged into the work enthusiastically. The drama was a great success, not only because the hero of the play was a little boy, a role enacted by Sathya himself, but also chiefly because it had as its theme the eternal sin of man, hypocrisy. The title of the drama was, "Do Deeds Follow Words?".

The scene opens revealing a lady reading and explaining to a number of women some verses from the Bhagavata Purana, a legendary history. She is telling them that it is the duty of a housewife to give charity only to the deserving and to the defective who cannot earn a living, not to the stalwarts who lead idle parasitic lives. The women then disperse and the lady is left alone with her little son, Krishna, who has been an interested listener. Sathya plays the role of Krishna.

Presently a blind beggar enters and seeks to attract attention, but he is rebuked and sent away. Then there appears a hefty priest with a pompous paunch and a polished copper vessel filled with grain. On his arm is a richly ornamented musical instrument, the tambura. The mother respectfully welcomes him and offers him rice and coins. She falls at his feet, asking for his blessings. Krishna is non-plussed. He asks his mother why she did not follow what she herself had extolled a few minutes previously. The boy is dismissed with the curt answer, "Can we act as we say?" The mother is irritated by the impertinence of the son who dared question the ethics of adult behavior. She drags him to a room where his father, an accountant, is busy with files.

He gives Krishna a long lecture on the value of education and how people should study and be promoted from class to class, whatever the difficulties. Suddenly a schoolboy pops in and asks for just one rupee to pay his school-fees to avoid having his name dropped from the rolls and thereby failing to have the record of attendance required for promotion. The father says that he has no money with him and shows the boy his empty purse as proof. A few minutes later a group of young accountants belonging to his firm rushes in. They hold out a subscription list requesting contributions for a welcome dinner in honor of an officer who is to take charge of their office in a few days. The father is jubilant at the idea, says that it must be done aristocratically so that the new man may be p!eased. He offers to make a speech at the dinner and, pulling out the drawer of the table, gives them the large sum of twenty rupees!

Krishna is aghast at this behavior and asks the father why he went against his own words and why he uttered a lie to the schoolboy. The father turns angrily to him and asks, "Should deeds follow words?" He rages at the child and commands him to go to school without delay.

The scene now shifts to the school. Krishna enters. The teacher is in a mood of great excitement because the inspector of schools is to visit the next day. He coaches the children intensively for the occasion. He explains that the inspector may ask, "How many lessons have been done? They are all to say not twenty-three, the actual number, but thirty-two. He says that when the inspector comes he will teach lesson number thirty-three on Harischandra, the king who never uttered a lie. He drills them on that lesson so that the next day the answers may come quickly, and threatens them with severe punishment should anyone whisper that the lesson had already been reviewed in class. He says, "It must appear as if I'm doing it for the first time tomorrow." When the class is over, all the other boys leave. Krishna alone remains. He asks the teacher the question he has already asked twice that day. "Why do you not follow the advice you give? Why do you tell us of the nobility of the king and then yourself not follow his footsteps?" He gets the same rebuff as previously, "Do you mean to say that the adviser should follow the advice?"

"Hypocrisy, hypocrisy everywhere!" thought Krishna.

The scene is changed to Krishna's home. It is the next day, schooltime, but Krishna refuses to go. He throws away his books, says that going to school is a waste of time, and states his resolve not to study in school. The distracted parents send for the teacher who comes rushing in. Then Krishna says, "If all that you instruct as mother, father, and teacher is only to be spoken and written; if all that one learns is to be discarded when it comes to action, I do not understand why I should learn anything at all." This opens their eyes to their shortcomings. They praise Krishna as their Master and decide henceforth to speak and act only the truth.

This was the theme of the drama Sathya wrote at the age of twelve and presents a glimpse into his farsightedness, intelligence, and enthusiasm for true education.

Sathya was often sought after by people who had lost articles of value, because he was known for his intuitive perception which revealed to him their whereabouts. Sai Baba now says that in those days he used to give his friends only the first and last letters of the names of the persons possessing the lost articles. He would leave them to their own resources to recover the goods.

A typical incident was that of a teacher who had lost a valuable pen and persuaded Sathya to disclose the identity of the person who had taken it without permission. In this instance Sathya revealed the name of a servant, but the teacher dismissed the idea because of the servant's faithfulness and honesty. Furthermore a search in the servant's room did not disclose the lost pen. Sathya persisted in his statements. He said that the man had sent the pen to his son who was studying in Anantapur and offered to prove this fact. He had a letter written to the son as if from the father, who was illiterate and always needed the services of a letter writer. After the usual inquiries about the son's health and welfare were made, the son was asked how the pen the father had sent was writing. The father advised him  to be careful when using it because it was costly and might easily be "stolen!" There was enclosed a self-addressed card for reply. Within four days the reply came into the teacher's hand! The card read that the pen was writing magnificently, would be carefully kept because of its value, and was considered as a precious gift from the father. Thus Sathya's miraculous power was vindicated. Everyone concerned complimented him.

Sathya also won the respect of the common man in Uravakonda by an incident similar to one in the life of Sai Baba of Shirdi. A Muslim was frantically searching for his horse which had either strayed or been stolen. The horse was used to pull a cart transporting men and goods and was the Muslim's sole source of livelihood. Now he was desperate, for he had searched the entire area and his friends had combed the countryside far and wide. There was no trace of the animal. At last someone told the Muslim about Sathya. He came to the boy and poured out his grief.

Sathya immediately told him to go to a certain grove a mile and a half away from the town. When he did so, the horse was found grazing all alone, quite unconcerned at the furor its disappearance had caused. This made Sathya famous as a wonder boy in the Muslim community. Many times thereafter drivers of carts stopped when seeing Sathya and insisted on giving him a lift to or from school, for they felt his presence would bring them good fortune.

Incidents such as these continued, with an occasional glimpse of wonders, a tiny indication of the might and majesty hidden in the slender body of the young lad now thirteen years old.

On March 8, 1940, the entire town was shocked to hear that a "big black scorpion" had stung Sathya. It was at dusk, about seven o'clock, when Sathya gave a shriek and leaped up grasping his right toe as if he had been bitten! Although no scorpion or snake was discovered, he fell as though unconscious and became stiff. He did not speak and his breathing became faint.

When such an occurrence happens to Sai Baba now, devotees do not feel shocked, for they are accustomed to His leaving His gross body and going out in the "subtle body" to other places.

As they were then as yet unaware of the reason for these divine instances, brother Seshama and others became alarmed.

There is a belief current in Uravakonda and the surrounding country that no one can survive a snake bite or scorpion sting received in that vicinity. It is primarily because of the many-hooded "serpent stone" that has given its name to the area that the dread superstition has spread, for the rock looks as if a serpent has raised its head to strike with its poisonous fangs.

Seshama brought in a doctor who gave Sathya an injection and left some medicine. Sathya was "unconscious" throughout the night. However, an incident occurred in the night which clearly showed that he was not unconscious at all. On the contrary, he was actually supraconscious! Thinking that the condition of the boy might be due to some evil spirit's possession of him, someone suggested that Muthyalamma, a spirit in a cave near the hill, should be propitiated. Volunteers hurried to the temple, climbed down a ladder into the sanctum sanctorum, and offered worship by placing flowers, burning incense, and breaking a coconut. Just when they were doing this in the cave, Sathya, who was to all intents unconscious, said, "The coconut has broken into three pieces," and when the volunteers came home with the offerings, they had with them three pieces of coconut instead of the customary two!

The doctor came again the next morning and declared that the boy was out of danger. Sathya revived in a day or two, then began to behave in an extraordinary manner. This was sometimes explained as "a complete transformation of the personality - the occupation of Sathya's physical frame by Sai Baba of Shirdi."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Sai Baba has said that He Himself initiated the process of manifestation, for he could not wait any longer playing about as a mere boy with "brother," "sister," "classmates," and other secular bonds. He wanted to demonstrate that he was unaffected by poison or the poisonous objective world.

Swami with his brother Seshamaraju

Seshama had informed the family at Puttaparthi about the state of affairs at Uravakonda. He wrote his parents that Sathya was not answering anyone who spoke to him and that it was a Herculean task to make him accept food. He told them Sathya was spending his time mostly in silence, sometimes bursting into song and poetry, sometimes reciting long Sanskrit verses, sometimes expounding the philosophic wisdom of ancient India. Because of unforeseen and inexplicable difficulties which arose to delay them, the parents did not arrive for about a week. Seshama's anxiety increased. He found a man who agreed to travel to Anantapur on a bicycle and to proceed from there to Bukkapatnam and Puttaparthi. While he was describing to the man the route he was to take to reach his parents, Sathya interposed and said, "Why, you need not send for them now; they will be here in half an hour." True to his word, they arrived in exactly one half hour!

The parents caught the infection of fear upon seeing the condition of Sathya, for he sang, spoke, and behaved in a strange manner. Also his body would become stiff intermittently, and he appeared to leave the body and go elsewhere. It was all so mysterious!

One day while Sathya was reposing, seemingly without any awareness of his surroundings, he made reference to the Scripture Reader next door, saying to his parents, "He is reading the Sanskrit book all wrong; he is explaining it in the wrong way. Go and bring him here," he commanded.

The Reader would not come. "What does that boy know about this holy book and the right or wrong of the meaning which I give? How did he hear it, by the way? Tell him to mind his own business," he said, and continued his exposition. But Sathya persisted, and the Reader had to come at least to satisfy the parents, who pleaded, "Please come and teach the boy a lesson in humility. Lately he has become uncontrollable."

When the learned man arrived, Sathya asked him to repeat the exposition, pointed out to him wherein he erred, and poured out in rapid succession a series of questions on the epics which overwhelmed the scholar. Finally he fell at Sathya's feet and asked pardon for not immediately obeying his summons.

The District Medical Officer from Anantapur, who was at Uravakonda at the time, was asked for his opinion by the doctor who was treating Sathya. He judged that the illness was allied to fits, that it was a type of hysteria unconnected with the alleged scorpion sting, and in his wisdom advised a course of medication. This was strictly adhered to for three days, but the symptoms of laughing and weeping, eloquence and silence continued as before. Sathya sang and spoke about God; he described places of pilgrimage to which no one had gone before; he declared that life was all a drama! Astrologers said it was a ghost that possessed the boy, an old occupant of the house - in fact, its first tenant! They chided Seshama for not being more circumspect in his selection of a house. Magicians ascribed the condition to a sudden fright which must have set Sathya's nerves awry. The priest advised Seshama to arrange for a consecration rite in the temple. Wiser men shook their heads and whispered that the ways of God are inscrutable.

Seshama was besieged by a large throng of sympathizers each of whom had his own specific cure for the affliction of his brother. At last he brought an exorciser into the house. On seeing him, Sathya challenged him, "Come on! You have been worshipping me every day, and now that you have come here, your only business is to worship me and clear out." The "ghost doctor" heard the warning administered by the very deity he had chosen for his own personal worship. He left in a hurry, forgetting to collect his fees! He advised Seshama to treat the boy very reverentially, for he was "in touch with God" and certainly not afflicted by the devil.

The parents were disheartened. They took Sathya to Puttaparthi and watched his behavior with increasing fear. The boy himself was heightening the effect by bouts of quietness, song, or discourse. He would suddenly ask his sister, "Here, wave the sacred lamp; the gods are passing across the sky." He would say that his school studies had been disturbed and sing a song composed impromptu on the value of reading and writing and how villagers are duped by the wily moneylender if they are illiterate.

While travelling from Uravakonda, they had taken Sathya to a doctor at Bellary and to another at Dharmavaram. But what could the practitioners diagnose? Their stethoscopes could not decipher the beats of Godhead or reveal the pulse of a soul, much less a Divine Soul determined to transcend the bonds of human convention. Sathya asked his parents, "Why do you worry like this? There will be no doctor there when you go; even if he is there, he cannot cure me."

Since the first reaction to an illness in any village is usually to fear that it is the result of someone's black magic or some evil spirit's taking hold of the patient, two exorcists were called in at Puttaparthi. When one came and sat in the room and drew up a list of the articles necessary to invoke the spirit and transfer the dire symptoms to a lamb or fowl, Sathya laughingly reminded him of some items he had forgotten. He seemed determined to undergo all the travail resulting from their ignorance and superstition, taking it all as fun!

It is almost impossible to understand how the fourteen year old boy passed through the terrors of the treatment at the village of Brahmanapalli near Kadiri. This is a saga of fortitude.

Someone gave information to the worried parents about a powerful practitioner before whom no evil spirit dared wag its poisonous tail! They declared that he would cure Sathya completely and make him fit to go to school again. The bullocks and cart were readied in preparation for the journey, but the bullocks refused to move! There were all kinds of difficulties and sicknesses on the way. At last the place was reached and the "case" handed over to the famous expert in devil-craft.

He was a gigantic figure, terrible to behold, with bloodred eyes and untamed manners. He tried all his devil-craft sacrificing fowl, then a lamb, and making Sathya sit in the center of the circle of blood. He chanted all the incantations he knew. He did not allow the parents to take the boy away, for he assumed it was a case entrusted to him and that it was a trial of strength between his power and that of the young boy who was smiling at his failures! He even attempted desperate techniques with which he had not dared experiment even on his adult patients! For example, he shaved Sathya's head, and then with a sharp instrument scored "x" marks on his scalp from the top of his head all the way to his forehead. Sathya sat through the pain without flinching. The witchdoctor poured on the open wounds of the bleeding scalp the juice of limes, garlic and other acid fruits. The parents, who were watching the proceedings in utter despair, were surprised, for there was not even a tear or a gasp of pain from the young boy! The "torture-specialist" was furious! He arranged that every day for some days, early in the morning, one hundred and eight pots of cold water were to be poured on the scalp. That, too, was done. His armory was now almost empty, and the "evil spirit" that possessed the boy had not admitted defeat; it had not shouted that it would leave him and go elsewhere! He then beat Sathya on the joints with a heavy stick to drive out what he called "stag fever" when the boy moved about, and "rock fever". when the boy was quiet!

Finally he decided to use his strongest weapon which the toughest spirit cannot withstand, the "Kalikam." This is a magic collyrium, a mixture of all the fiery abracadabra in the repertory of torture. He applied it to Sathya's eyes. The parents were aghast at the consequences. Sathya's head and face swelled beyond recognition; they became red, and the burning sensation could be felt even by those who went near, according to the sister Venkamma. His eyes exuded tears and his entire body shook under the impact of pain.

The master of devils was happy that success was in sight, that the spirit would soon take formal leave. Sathya never spoke a word or moved a finger. Those around, especially the parents and sister, felt guilty to be merely helpless onlookers of all this torment. They wept in uncontrollable anguish and tried to console Sathya without the knowledge of the magician, who did not allow anyone to approach his patient. Meanwhile Sathya was making some signs to his parents, off and on, asking them to be quiet. By means of gestures he told them that he would get out of the room under some pretext, and he asked them to be ready for him outside. There he told them to bring a remedy he knew. It was brought and applied to his eyes; the two eyes which had been reduced to the size of thin slits opened wide and the swelling subsided!

He asked later, "Even after seeing all that fortitude and that miracle of a young boy passing unscathed through all that terror, you are not now convinced that I am Sai Baba. How then would you have reacted if I just made the Announcement one fine day? I wanted to make known that I am Divine, impervious to suffering, pain, or joy."

The "doctor" was angered by the interference with the normal course of his treatment; he fretted and fumed as a wild animal balked of its prey. "I was within an inch of victory," he raved. The parents wanted to save their boy from the jaws of that "God of Death" in human form; they had seen and suffered enough. They paid the practitioner full fees, gave him some unasked gifts, and thanked him for all the "learning" he had utilized; they cursed only their fate; they promised to build up the boy's stamina a little more so that he could stand up to this wonderful course of exorcism and then bring him again for the continuation of the "doctor's" attentions. Somehow, they won! The bullocks and cart moved away from the house of horror, and eventually they reached Puttaparthi.

Sathya was still far from normal. Frequently he seemed to be another personality. He recited verses of praise to God and poems far beyond the knowledge of any teen-age boy. Sometimes he evinced the strength of ten; sometimes he was as weak as a lotus-stalk. He argued with adults on the correctness of their conduct and behavior and put them to shame when he proved them wrong.

One friend of the family advised that the boy should be taken to a village a few miles away where a clever "doctor" cured exactly such types of cases by giving some green leaves as a drug.

The bullocks were brought and the cart made ready. Sathya was lifted onto it and the bells started jangling along the fair-weather track.

About half an hour later, Sathya seemed to realize that he was being taken somewhere. He said emphatically, "I do not want to go anywhere; let us go back." Upon saying this, the bullocks came to a halt and could not be persuaded to take a single step forward in spite of the most vigorous tail-twisting. The struggle went on for over an hour, but they refused to budge! Finally their faces were turned home-ward, and immediately the bells jingled merrily once again.

Sri Krishnamacharya, a lawyer and friend from Penukonda, heard of these occurrences in the Raju household and came to the village to study the situation and offer what help he could. He took a good look at Sathya and pondered long, alone on the river bank. Then he told Venkapa Raju, "It is really more serious than I thought. Take him immediately to the Narasimha Temple, the shrine of 'God as Lion-Man'; that is the last chance."

Sathya heard his words and, suddenly turning to him, said, "Funny, is it not? I am already there in that temple and you want to take me to me!" The lawyer had no inclination to cross-examine.

On the twenty-third of May, 1940, the fourteen year old Sathya rose from bed as usual, but soon afterwards called the members of the household round him and presented them with sugar-candy and flowers taken from "nowhere." At this the neighbors rushed in. He gave each a ball of rice cooked in milk, also flowers and sugar-candy, all manifested by a mere wave of the hand. Sathya seemed to be in such a very jovial state that Venkapa Raju was sent for to see him in this welcome happy mood. Venkapa Raju rushed in and had to squeeze his way through the crowd. The people asked him to wash his feet, hands, and face before approaching the Giver of Boons. This incensed Venkapa Raju. He was not impressed at all, thinking it was a trick and that Sathya was hiding things somewhere and producing them by sleight of hand. At least that was what he confessed to the author many years later. He wished that this confusing chapter in their lives be closed before it developed into a tragedy. So he laughed a bitter laugh and accosted the boy within everyone's hearing, "This is getting too much; it must be stopped." Arming himself with a stick, he moved a step nearer and threatened to beat it out of him. "Are you a God, or a ghost, or a mad- cap? Tell me!" he shouted. Promptly came the answer, the Announcement that had been held back so long, "I am Sai Baba."

Further argument became impossible; Venkapa Raju was stunned into silence; the stick fell from his hands. He stood staring at Sathya, trying to grasp the implication of that Announcement, "I am Sai Baba." But Sathya continued, "I belong to Apastamba Sutra, the school of Sage Apastamba and am of the Spiritual Lineage of Bharadwaja; I am Sai Baba; I have come to ward off all your troubles; keep your houses clean and pure." He repeated the two names again and again that afternoon. Brother Seshama went near him and asked, "What do you mean by 'Sai Baba'?" He did not reply, but only said, "Your Venkavadhootha prayed that I be born in your family; so I came."

Who was this Venkavadhootha? When Seshama was asked who he was, he told of a tradition in the family that a sage called Venkavadhootha, who was looked upon as a Guru by the people in hundreds of villages around, had been born in the family years ago.

The villagers heard the name "Sai Baba" with fear and amazement. When they made inquiries, they came to know that a certain officer who was an ardent worshipper of the Muslim recluse, Sai Baba of Shirdi, had come to Penukonda sometime ago. So they proposed that Sathya be taken to him, for he was reputed to be well-versed in the lore of Sai Baba of Shirdi. He must know what Sathya was suffering from and would suggest a way out. He condescended to see the boy but was in no mood to examine his history. He pronounced it as a clear case of mental derangement and advised them to remove Sathya to an institution. Sathya interposed and said, "Yes, it is mental derangement, but whose? You are but a blind servant. You cannot recognize the very Sai whom you are worshipping!" So saying, He took from "nowhere" hands full of Vibhuti, the Sacred Ash, and scattered it in all directions in the room where they were.

The father felt that Sai Baba was speaking through the boy, and asked, "What are we to do with you?" Sathya answered promptly, "Worship Me! When? Every Thursday! Keep your minds and houses pure."

Later, on one Thursday, someone challenged Sathya, asking Him, "if you are Sai Baba, show us some proof now!" They asked in the same spirit that the rustics question the priest of the village temple when he dances in ecstasy while apparently possessed. Baba replied, "Yes, I shall." Then everyone came nearer. "Place in My hands those jasmine flowers," He commanded. It was done. With a quick gesture He threw them on the floor and said, "Look." They saw that the flowers had formed while falling the Telugu letters, "S A I  B A B A."

It can be seen that Sathya was preparing the people, step by step, for the new era of Sathya Sai. His unconcerned coolness during all that torture at the hands of the magician made everyone feel that He was no ordinary boy, that  He was indeed some superior manifestation. Occasional glimpses of His Divinity had been revealed through an extraordinary precocity in song, dance, music, and poetry. He had demonstrated His Power of journeying outside His Body, His freedom from pain and suffering, and now He had resolved to announce to the world His Reality.

Seshama still had not given up his plans to push Sathya through the High School Course, regardless of everything. He took Him back to Uravakonda in June and had Him admitted to the school. Now Sathya attracted the attention of everyone, for they had all heard of His "madness" and of the frantic efforts of the parents to "cure" Him. The boy was acclaimed as a mysterious prodigy, a tiny "prophet," and was looked upon as a rare curiosity. On Thursdays the house was full of pilgrims from various villages who stayed until the small hours of the night sitting around Sai Baba, offering Him flowers and sweets. He used to point out Seshama to them and say, "Senseless man, he does not believe!" The headmaster of the school bowed before the young pupil; assistant masters, Tammiraju and Sesha Iyengar, saw through the veil and listened to His inspiring words.

Thursdays became big events in Uravakonda. Sathya surprised all when He materialized pictures of Sai Baba of Shirdi, pieces of orange cloth that He said were from the kafni that Sai wore, date fruits that were the offerings at the Shirdi Shrine, as well as flowers, sugar-candy and "Ash." The "Ash" was not the kind taken from a fireplace, but taken straight from "nowhere." One day the teachers of the High School came in a team intent on testing Him, bringing a number of questions which they cast at Him from all angles, helter-skelter. He gave them the answers in the same order as they were put to Him, calling upon each individual teacher to listen carefully to the answer to his particular question. Apart from the aptness and correctness of the answers, the performance was remarkable even as only an intellectual feat!

It was then that an invitation from some townsmen from Hospet gave an idea to Seshama. Hospet is a few miles away from the ruins of Hampi, the capital of the ancient Vijayanagara Empire. The deputy inspector of schools, the health officer, the engineer, some municipal councilors and merchants wanted Sathya to be brought to their town. The brother took the opportunity to go, thinking the long journey and a picnic enroute might improve the mental health of the boy. The Dasara holidays in October came in handy for the trip.

The group arrived at the Hampi ruins. They trudged along the roads once lined by men and women of all the nations of the East as well as travelers and traders from the Middle East and the Mediterranean shores. They saw the elephant stables, the Palace of the Queens, the Coronation Mound, and the Vittalanatha Temple. They proceeded to the huge stone chariot. Finally they came to the Temple of Lord Virupaksha, the patron deity of the Vijayanagara Emperors, who protected and cherished Hindu culture for almost three centuries from 1336 A.D. to 1635 A.D.

It was noticed that throughout the morning Sathya was moving among the ruins unaware, as one in a dream. A reverend sage sitting in front of one of the temples said of him, "This boy, believe me, is Divine." When the party went into the Temple of Lord Virupaksha, Sathya too went with them, but he was more interested in the height and majesty of the Temple gate than in the worship at the sanctum sanctorum. He stood outside and no one pressed him to enter with the others. After a while the priest waved the flame of camphor before the idol of the lingam. (The lingam is the representation of the Formless emerging into Form or the Form merging into the Formless. It is usually oval in shape.) He asked the pilgrims to see the illuminated shrine as the flame lit the interior. Inside the shrine they saw to their utter amazement none other than Sathya! He was standing in the place of the lingam, smiling and erect, accepting their reverent greetings. Everything about the vision of the boy was so thrilling and unexpected that Seshama wanted to verify whether He had not perhaps actually strayed into the shrine evading everybody's notice. So he hurried outside only to find Sathya leaning against a wall, staring at the distant horizon!

The amazement of the members of the party can be better imagined than described. They offered special worship for Him that day, though it was not a Thursday, for their faith in Him as a Manifestation was confirmed. The people of Hospet were alive with expectation and excitement. The story that He was seen in the shrine of Virupaksha while really outside it had spread to the town long before the party's arrival. The next day, Thursday, Sathya, as Sai Baba, cured a chronic tuberculosis patient by His touch and made him get up and walk a mile. He created from "nowhere" a variety of articles for the devotees, and the enthusiasm of the people knew no bounds. Bhajan and Namasamkirtan, chanting and singing together the praises of the Name of God, continued far into the night; no one was in a mood to stop.

One could sense that the young Sai Baba was getting more and more reluctant to be bound by routine. He was tugging at the bonds, for history was whispering in His ear to break away and reach out to the four quarters! The period of probation which Sai Baba had allotted to the people around Him was over. He saw that the moment had come to renounce the family name and declare Himself to be always Sai Baba.

Saimetaura.jpg (8275 bytes)[Picture: Sai Baba in His teens] On the twentieth day of October, 1940, the day after they all returned from Hampi by a special bus, Sathya started for school as usual. The Excise Inspector of the place, Sri Anjaneyulu, who was very much attached to the young Baba, accompanied Him as far as the school gate and reluctantly went home. He seemed to see a superb halo around the face of Baba that day, and he could not take his eyes away from that enchantment. Within a few minutes Baba also turned back to the house. Standing on the outer doorstep, He cast aside the books He was carrying and called out, "I am no longer your Sathya. I am Sai." The sister-in-law came from the kitchen and peeped out; she was almost blinded by the splendor of the halo which she saw around Sai Baba's Head! She closed her eyes and shrieked. Baba addressed her, "I am going. I don't belong to you; Maya (illusion) has gone; My devotees are calling Me; I have My Work. I cannot stay any longer." So saying, He turned and left in spite of her pleadings. The brother hurried home on hearing of this, but Sai Baba only told him, "Give up all your efforts to 'cure' Me. I am Sai. I do not consider Myself related to you." Neighbor Sri Narayana Sastri heard the noise; he listened and realized that it was something serious. He ran in. Seeing the splendor of the halo, he fell at Sai Baba's Feet. He too heard the historic declaration: "Maya has left; I am going; My Work is waiting."

Seshama Raju was non-plussed. He could hardly collect his wits to meet the new situation. A boy, just fourteen, talking of devotees, work, illusion, and the philosophy of "belonging!" He could think of only one plan. Sathya was entrusted to him by his parents, and it was therefore his task to inform them and keep Sathya in the house until they came to Uravakonda for Him.

But Sathya would not step into the house again. He moved out into the garden of Sri Anjaneyulu's bungalow and sat on a rock in the midst of the trees. People came into the garden from all directions bringing flowers and fruits. The grove resounded to the voices of hundreds, singing in chorus the lines that Sathya Sai taught them. The first prayer that He taught them that day was, as many still remember:

"Meditate in thy mind on the Feet of the Guru. This can take you across the difficult sea of existence in birth after birth."

His classmates wept when they heard that Sathya would no longer attend school, that He was much beyond their reach, that His company was hereafter only for those upon whom He showered His Grace. Many came to the garden with incense and camphor to worship Him. Some came to sympathize with the family, some to congratulate them. Some came to learn, and some, alas, even to laugh!

Three days passed thus in that garden, three days of worship. A photographer came who wanted Sai Baba to remove a crude stone that was right in front of Him, but Baba did not pay heed to that prayer. The photographer took the picture nevertheless, and lo, the stone had become an image of Sai Baba of Shirdi! But only in the photograph, not for all the people who had assembled there.

One evening while chanting, Baba suddenly said, "0 Maya has come!" ("The illusion is presenting itself.") He pointed out Easwaramma, the mother, who had just arrived in hot haste from Puttaparthi. When the parents pleaded with Him to come home, He retorted, "Who belongs to whom?" The mother wept and prayed but she could not shake the resolve of the boy. He was constantly repeating the statement, "It is all illusion-untrue."

At last He asked the mother to serve Him food. When she served some dishes, He mixed them all up and made the whole lot into a few balls. She handed Him three of these. Swallowing them, He said, "Yes, now False Appearance has failed. There is no need to worry," and He re-entered the garden.

A few days later Sai Baba left Uravakonda. The parents were able to persuade Him to make His way to Puttaparthi by assuring Him that they would henceforth abstain from ridiculing Him or disturbing His task of meeting devotees. Sri Anjaneyulu worshipped His Feet. The townsmen arranged a procession to the very boundary. Lamps were waved in reverence, and music was sung at many places enroute.

Sai Baba was first welcomed at Puttaparthi into the village accountant's house by Subbamma, the accountant's wife. Then Baba stayed for some time at the house of the aged Pedda Venkapa Raju and later moved to the residence of Subbaraju, the brother of Easwaramma. But soon He moved to the house of Subbamma, who tended Him with love and affection and welcomed all the devotees into her spacious home. She spared no effort to make their stay happy and comfortable.

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Written by N. Kasturi M.A., B.L.