Love on the March (continued c)
(in 4 parts: (
a) continued b, continued c and continued d)

Slice of all the Maps

"All Roads Lead to Puttaparthi" was the headline in the daily papers. Special trains, reserved coaches, omnibuses, trucks and tractors, scooters and cycles, horse-drawn vehicles and bullock carts, all unloaded thousands of pilgrims in a continuous flux at the Nilayam. From overseas, thousands alighted at Bangalore and taxied to the place. The prophecy that Baba would be an orange speck in the distant eminence, well nigh came true. Besides the construction of seven gigantic sheds, hundreds of ad hoc shelters hastily contrived, and scores of tents and pandals were permitted to fill every patch of available space in and around the township. 5000 members of the seva dal stayed on duty night and day, cooking, serving, sweeping, cleaning, guarding, guiding and helping. Teams of doctors were stationed in temporary clinics and at the hospital. Kitchens for serving eastern and western food were set up.

A rally of bal vikas pupils (about 1000, selected from every state) was held. These children had the privilege of marching past Bhagavan Himself. More than a thousand bal vikas gurus attended a two-day conference which was inaugurated by Bhagavan. For the world conference of office bearers, 8000 delegates came from over fifty nations.

On the 18th, the imposing and inspiring 'Gopuram', (temple) built by devoted hands in the south indian style of temple architecture, was inaugurated. Baba had the ancient temples of Puttaparthi, rebuilt including the Gopala Krishna temple, associated with its history through the ages. That day all the new silver idols of the deities installed in the temple were placed on a huge chariot and taken in procession through the village - a great day in the annals of the holy hamlet. The Vedic rite of Purushottama Yajna was also part of the jubilee celebrations. The final ceremony of offering the last oblation in the sacred fire, delighted the huge gathering on the jubilee day.

The world conference was an inspiring experience. Devotees from a multitude of nations and affiliated to various religions, humbly walked up to Bhagavan and offered garlands of flowers. Edgar Mitchell, the astronaut who had watched the tragedy of the human race from the moon and remarked, "When will civilization make man realize mankind?" could have derived faith and hope that day at Prasanthi Nilayam. The huge concourse offered Bhagavan the solemn pledge of loyalty to His teachings. They promised to cultivate truth, peace and love, and progress along the path of duty, devotion and discipline.

On Shivarathri in 1976, Baba announced, while hoisting the Prasanthi flag to mark the inauguration of the festival. 

"The Lingam that emerges from the Universal Absolute, Brahman, is the cosmos - first conceived as a wish, later formed as an idea and finally adopted as a will. The cosmos is the will of Shiva concretised. You, too, are therefore, willed by Shiva and formed by Shiva from Himself."

God's Vesture

During the last week of March, Bhagavan flew to Hyderabad and stayed at Sivam. The elite of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad were invited by the Sathya Sai Seva Samithi to share the grace of Bhagavan. The meeting was presided over by Shri Mohanlal Sukhadia, then governor of Andhra Pradesh. He said that the task for which Bhagavan had incarnated was to "put humanity back on the rails." In His discourse Baba emphasized, 

"There is no east or west distinguishable on the globe. All mankind is one. The cosmos is energy felt as matter. Man relies on his sensory experiences and on the inferences that he draws from those experiences. Therefore he lacks the knowledge and awareness of experiences beyond the sensory world.

On the Telugu new year day Bhagavan addressed a vast gathering of devotees at 'Sivam'. He blessed the seva dal members who had established all over the cities on that day no less than a hundred first aid centres for rendering service to the ailing and the distressed. He inaugurated a boarding school for children on Castle Hill, where a historic building had been acquired by the Samithi for the purpose. The school is run on the lines laid down by Bhagavan, who insists that children must learn humility, service and reverence, imbibe our ancient cultural heritage, be disciplined and devoted, participate in bhajans and take only sathwic food, even while mastering the prescribed academic curriculum. Dedicated teachers serve the children, adoring their assignment as the 'worship of Sai'. Referring to the arrogant vandalism of modern man which has led to the pollution of rivers and oceans, the advance of deserts into arable areas and the desecration of forests, Bhagavan said in a discourse on 6th May,

"Nature is God's vesture. The universe is a 'university' for man. Man should treat nature with reverence. He has no right to talk of conquering nature or exploiting the forces of nature. He must proceed to visualise in nature, its God. All are but temporary, short-term tenants in God's estate."

Bombay had the good fortune of welcoming Baba on 12th May, the anniversary of the inauguration of Dharmakshetra, which also happened to be sacred Thursday and, luckily enough, the triple holy day of the Buddhists - the day Gautama was born, the day he became the Buddha and the day of His Parinirvana (Liberation).

The Blue Mountains

The 1976 summer course on Indian culture and spirituality was held at Nandanavanam in Ootacammund, in the Nilgiri Hills. It was scheduled to last fifteen days, and the participants, who numbered about two hundred, were selected from the Sathya Sai colleges. One feature of the course was that the role of lecturers was assigned to the senior students, who spoke on the Vedanta, the Gîtâ, the Purushottama Yajna, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Hanuman, the Bhagavatha, etc., after deep study and reflection, with clear understanding. Dr. S. Bhagavantham pronounced the project "a resounding success." Subsequently the students spread out for social service to the city bus stand, railway station and the market area. Their sadhana of cleaning the area was so efficient that the municipal council passed a resolution expressing its grateful appreciation, and communicated it to the organizers. When the camp was concluding, Bhagavan disclosed to the students at a special meeting, details about His school days, and His relations with His parents, teachers and schoolmates, and with the brother who was His 'guardian'. As he was describing the role that He had planned for the students seated before Him and exhorting them to cultivate such qualities as fortitude, detachment, sympathy, humility and reverence that He Himself had held forth as a living example even as a child, He waved His hand and created a silver plaque with the map of India embossed on it, which had Puttaparthi, Bombay, Bhubaneshwar, Madras, Delhi, Calcutta, Shillong, Hyderabad and other cities marked on it by means of brilliant gems embedded in the silver. Bhagavan announced that those were some of the places from where the Sai message would be propagated by them in coming years. Bhagavan's discourses were mainly on the strategy of Lord Krishna in relation to the Kaurava-Pandava conflict, as depicted in the Mahabharata. Since we have Lord Krishna with us now, and since the conflict between the two forces of Dharma (righteousness) and Adharma (unrighteousness) symbolizing Daivic (godly) and Asuric (demonic) tendencies was even today confronting mankind, Bhagavan's analysis of His methods and motives in the epic was part of His present message itself.

Sri Sailam

While at Ootacamund, Baba motored down the ghats (slopes) on the Kerala coast to the historic town of Calicut, famous as the town where Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, had landed in 1498 AD. Thirty miles north of Calicut, on a hill that is embraced by the sea on three sides, and which was named 'Sri Sailam' by Rabindranath Tagore who spent some days there, the Sri Sathya Sai Trust in Kerala had planned to construct a Vidya Peeth (public school) to provide education on Sai lines. Bhagavan graciously laid the foundation stone and blessed the project. More than 30.000 people had gathered to be blessed by His darsan and sambhashan (speech).

Gurupurnima, a time when spiritual aspirants all over the world welcome their preceptor into their hearts, found Bhagavan at Puttaparthi. The students and teachers of the high school which had been established there to commemorate Mother Easwaramma, who bore the Avatar, were blessed by Bhagavan on that auspicious day. The state minister for education declared that it was a significant step forward in Bhagavan's programme of increasing facilities for educating rural folk. Bhagavan proceeded to Puttaparthi village where a new hamlet of a hundred houses had been built for the Harijans whose hutments had been washed away by the angry floods of the Chitravathi some six months earlier. Bhagavan told the huge gathering of devotees present that every living being is a cell in the cosmic body of God, and that castes that are described in the Vedas as forming the limbs of God, form an integral part of the whole. He said that worshipping the feet of God is best done by serving the poorest and lowliest among men.

On all the ten days of the Dasara festival 1976, Bhagavan spoke on the mind, its vagaries, its potentialities and on the sadhana which can straighten and strengthen it. In the midst of the busy schedule of the Vedic Yajna, Bhagavan found time to meet more than three hundred district presidents of the Sathya Sai Seva organization who had journeyed thither from all the states of India. They had two sessions with Him during which Bhagavan stressed the need for discipline and gave them advice on many aspects of their duties and responsibilities.

This Dasara was rendered memorable when Bhagavan defined what He characterized as the 'Sai Religion', while elaborating upon the impact of the Mathi (mind) on Matha (creed). "The religion that feeds and fosters all religions and emphasizes their common greatness is the Sai Religion," He said.

Global Bhajan

During the second world conference, held during the golden jubilee week at Prasanthi Nilayam, a cardinal decision was taken by the devotees that a twenty-four-hour Bhajan emanating from devout hearts gathered in more than 8000 centres in over forty-five nations from New Zealand to Iceland and from Taiwan to Trinidad, would girdle the globe. The day for this universal prayer was fixed as the Saturday-Sunday immediately preceding the birthday of Bhagavan every year. To a Bhajan gathering at Prasanthi Nilayam Baba said, 

"Bhajan must be as continuous as breathing. In fact, the breath is ever engaged in Bhajan for it is constantly repeating the fundamental mantra, 'Soham' (I am That). Twenty-four hours is just a wink when measured against a lifetime. Your life is a song on the glory of God. Sing it from your soul, sing it aloud, sing it in chorus so that the atmosphere polluted by greed, hatred and envy can be purified by the holy vibrations." 

Swami sings: MP3
Murali Gana Lola:
'Player of the flute, giver of joy
Nanda's son, the cowherd boy (Krishna)
Come, come, Radha's joy'.

All the villages around Puttaparthi now look forward to the birthday week. For them, this sacred occasion is heralded by the chariot festival, in which the idols of all the deities worshipped in the temples of Puttaparthi are taken in procession through the crowded streets of the village to the delight of everyone - men, women and children - whatever their caste or creed. On the birthday itself, Bhagavan proceeds to the Samadhi (tomb) of His parents and distributes food and clothes to the villagers.

On His birthday in 1976, Bhagavan declared that miracles are the spontaneous and natural expressions of Avatarhood: 

"Rama means, 'He who confers joy'; Krishna means, 'He who attracts'. Every act of Mine conferring joy or attracting the heart, becomes a 'miracle' in your phraseology. The avatar comes to reform and reconstruct, and his 'miracle' invariably has this result. The Chamatkara (miracle) has as its aim the Samskara (refinement) of mankind. How is that achieved by the Avatar? Everyone so drawn is persuaded through love, to love all (since all are the same Atman encased in distinct bodies), and to transform that love into Paropakara (service). As a result, their minds get sanctified, their intellects clarified and their hearts purified. Thus they are able to realise their core, the Atman, which is but a wave in the ocean, the universal, eternal, absolute Paramatman. This is Sakshatkara (realisation), the goal of human life."

Every December, on the fifth day of the month, the Sri Sathya Sai Seva organization celebrates 'Medical Service Day', each centre drawing up its own programme according to the needs of the area and the resources - human and material - that it can command. Gifts are made of oxygen cylinders to hospitals, wheelchairs for the physically handicapped and Bhajan cassettes and books for the blind, besides projects of medical check-up for slum dwellers and rural folk that are initiated on that day. In 1976 Bhagavan blessed those who gave and those who received. He sounded a warning against the indiscriminate use of medicines and medical drugs. He advised the people to resort to the cheaper and often more effective methods of fasting or dieting, Yogasanas (postures prescribed by yoga) or physical exercises, and desist from such deleterious habits like smoking and drinking. "Anxiety, worry and tension have to be overcome in order to gain and preserve health," He said.

Large numbers of christians from the east and the west come to spend Christmas and New Year in the immediate presence of Bhagavan for, as they have found, this is the only place where "peace on earth and goodwill among men" can be experienced.   



" 'Christ' is only another name for the Ananda principle in the heart of man," Baba said. "Meditate on Him and seek His love for all living beings. Let Him be born in all His Divine splendour in your heart. Then you can celebrate Christmas in humble thanksgiving and sincere adoration, with penitence and prayer. Do not desecrate the day with drink and dance, revelry and gluttony." 

He said to the gathering of devotees on the New Year Day, 1977. He created a medaillion that had Mary and the child Jesus on one side and Joseph on the other. It showed the sanctity of Mary and the sturdy simplicity of Joseph. It was indeed an exhilarating moment.

Shivaratri 1977 was celebrated at Prasanthi Nilayam. Bhagavan called upon the devotees to 

"strive, for that is your duty; struggle, for that is your assignment; yearn, for that is the path." 

He exhorted them to overcome sloth, dullness and prejudice, which hide, in the darkness that they create, the beauty of the unity of every individual consciousness in the Divine. "All i's are only reflections of the One I," He explained. Meanwhile a crystal oval, the Shivaratri Lingam, emerged from within Him, interrupting the Bhajan He was singing to enthuse the gathering. He held it before the gathering of astonished devotees. 

"It is the symbol of emergence of the five primordial elements," He clarified.
"The Lingam is the essence of all attributes and names. It is the formless with form,
the nameless with name, the primal emergent from the Divine," He explained.

Next morning He announced the unpleasant news that He had decided against continuing, in subsequent years, the celebration of Mahashivaratri, which was drawing from all over the world countless numbers of pilgrims eager to benefit from Darsan of the Divine manifestation, and to look on the 'symbol of the cosmos', created by Shiva Himself. But, seeing that thousands, unable to get even a near glimpse, were returning disappointed every year after journeying long distance over sea and land, spending large sums of money and suffering much hardship, Bhagavan, out of His infinite mercy, directed that in the coming years they might celebrate the 'Night of Shiva' in their own native places, where He would certainly be with them.

Walter Cowan Block

On 28th April, the Cowan block of the hostel at the Brindavan campus was inaugurated by the President of India, Sri B.D. Jatti, himself an ardent devotee of Bhagavan ever since the days when he was in the ministerial cabinet of Karnataka. The hostel was built within the campus itself, because Bhagavan could not deny the students of His college the proximity to Him that they ardently prayed for. Elsie Cowan was present at the function and expressed her immense joy at the name which Baba had given to the hermitage of Saraswati (the goddess of learning), to commemorate her husband, Walter Cowan, whom He Himself had resurrected. "We, too, who reside in this hostel, are awaiting resurrection," said a student in his exaltation that day. The President was elated at the increasing pace of the Sai era in education. He welcomed the Sai colleges which emphasize moral and spiritual progress, highlight a variety of skills and promote projects of social service. He praised all those students who had won high academic distinctions and, at the same time, mastered with equal enthusiasm the techniques of farming, animal husbandry, dairying and canteen management, besides yogasanas (postures described by yoga), elocution, music, nursing, histrionics and photography. Architecture is said to be the art of perpetuating song in stone; the Cowan block is indeed a Bhajan in brick and mortar. One cannot but sense the presence of both, penitence and grace in the dormitories, corridors and halls. "Fill your heads and hearts with light and love, rather than mere facts and figures," says Baba. The hostel is a reservoir of both, the light of knowledge and the delight of Seva.

Since some years, the sixth of May, the day the mother of the Avatar bade farewell to the world, is known the world over as Easwaramma Day, and is dedicated to the service of children by children. It has grown into a week-long festival, with the children from Bal Vikas groups chumming with children from the slums in games and play, visiting children's wards in hospitals and singing Bhajans in homes meant for retarded, ailing and delinquent children. Like rays of light, they carry the sparkle of joy into others gloom. They also offer to the elders, and present to toddlers, the pictures they paint, the models they make, the pets they play with and the floral designs they assemble. They sing and dance, they mimic, recite and enjoy themselves.

The Ramayana

The summer course in 1977 was based on the Ramayana, the epic reservoir of dharma. The first seven days were devoted to an intensive study of various versions of the Ramayana in the languages of India as well as those of nations to the south and south-east of India. Bhagavan discoursed on the ideals embodied in the heroic personalities described in the Ramayana. Over 40 students from Sai colleges spoke to the large concourse of participants, with a large sprinkling of learners from overseas, on the saints and the philosophers of the world. For thirty days the students, boys and girls from colleges of India and abroad, lived in the Brindavan campus, away from the noisy and polluting distractions of the city, in an atmosphere of devotion and dedication, of prayer and meditation, of love and service, of mutual help and encouragement. Bhagavan would be amidst them in the lecture hall, at lunch and at dinner, during their hours of service in the villages around Brindavan and during the elocution and quiz competitions on Sundays. As many students confessed, they experienced both, "immensity and eternity." On the final day, when the students were sobbing in sorrow, Baba comforted and consoled them with gifts of grace, assuring them that since they had installed Him in their hearts, He would ever be with them, guarding and guiding, wherever they may be. 

"Never forget God... 
Never believe the world as reality... 
Never be afraid of death," 

He told them at the valedictory session. (see also Swami's Ramakatha Rasavahini)

During the ten days of Dasara 1977, [see Divine Discourses on Dasara] Bhagavan elaborated on Santhi (inner peace) and the means of getting established in it. His discourses traced the faults and failings that foul the body, the mind and the faculty of reason in man. He analysed the habits and traits that disturbed and depressed the emotions of man and prescribed the exercises by which physical, mental, emotional and occupational equipoise could be gained. He also referred to the conflicts created by ethical and philosophical schools, as well as by fanatical loyalty to particular forms and names of the one, omnipresent God.

The seven-day Vedic rite of Jnana Yajna, [see Esoteric Significance of the Veda Purusha Jnana Yajna] which forms an important part of the Dasara festival, was inaugurated by Sri Govinda Narain, the Governor of Karnataka. An indication of the surge of devotion to the Avatar, which binds human hearts 'though they come from the ends of the earth' was the joint recital of songs on Baba, both in English and Sanskrit, by Ida Marion St. John from California and Gita Orescan from Germany. On Vijayadashami, the tenth day of victory (Dasara), Bhagavan allowed a few poets to recite their verses composed in various languages. Mrs. Zeba Bashiruddin, a professor of English from Hyderabad, sang a few of her mellifluous Urdu poems on Baba.

Mention must also be made here of the announcement that was made that day about Bhagavan taking under His benign guardianship a number of educational institutions of the Loka Seva Vrinda in Karnataka, to be run on patriotic and spiritual lines by a band of His own devoted teachers. The Vrinda was orphaned by the death, in a car accident, of its founder and promoter, Sri Madiyala Narayana Bhat, an educationalist who had sought to reinforce the secularist curriculum laid down by the State with the spiritual ideals of duty, devotion and discipline.


The Wedding Knot

Dasara at Prasanthi Nilayam fills devotees with reverence for the heritage they live in. The birthday inspires them to reshape their lives as desired by the divine incarnation. The week was ushered in with a big bang of blessedness. Baba had made it known that indigent parents from the villages around Prasanthi Nilayam could celebrate the weddings of their children without incurring any expense. He would be the priest, parent and providence. The call was heard by parents of all castes, who had been knocking at the doors of astrologers and moneylenders. When Baba Himself was the High Priest, no astrologer need be consulted about the future of the wedded couples. When He Himself was providence, no moneylender need be approached to get the funds needed for celebrating the wedding. Hearing this, young men hurried to the homes of prospective brides and saw to it that their parents did not let go this miraculous chance to have the marriages celebrated in Baba's presence. One hundred and thirty four couples were registered at Prasanthi Nilayam in a few days. Baba gifted a wedding sari each to all the brides, much to their surprise at receiving this costly present. The grooms got dhotis (men's wear) and angavastrams (cloths slung over the shoulder) with borders of zari (brocade). They were also given silk shirts stitched to size by tailors brought to the Nilayam for this very purpose. They were then taken to the Kalyana Mantap (a structure raised for the purpose of auspicious events or functions) on the outskirts of Puttaparthi village and seated in rows under a decorated pandal. Girl students from the Sathya Sai College in Anantapur acted as 'ladies-in-waiting' for the brides, and boys from the Sathya Sai College in Bangalore were the 'best men', for the grooms. Vedic hymns were recited by brahmin priests during the wedding rite. The couples garlanded each other, symbolic of union in wedlock. Baba gave each groom a gold Mangalasutra (auspicious thread worn by married women), and as it was put around the neck of the bride and knotted, He sprinkled on the heads of the couple, grains of rice. Bhagavan gave each bride another sari, besides bangles, kumkum (vermillion powder, considered auspicious), and haldi (turmeric) which are all a must for her in wedded life. He also gave each couple plates and cups for their new home. Then they poured handfuls of rice on each other's heads - a rite to ensure prosperity. The sari and angavastram ends were knotted together to symbolise the union of hearts for the joint pilgrimage ahead. The 134 couples then slowly made their way in procession to the Mandir, with folk dance, pipe, tom-tom and Bhajan parties in the lead. Later, along with their kinsfolk, they all had a wedding feast at the Nilayam itself, oblivious of any differences of caste or economic or educational backgrounds. It was a heartening experience for all those who have the welfare of mankind at heart. It was a festival of love, an object lesson for all those who have faith in the overpowering impact of love. Now a large number of Seva Samithis are arranging, under their own auspices, simple weddings for poor villagers.

Fury of Wind and Water

Another event that preceded the birthday was the 8th All India Conference of the Sai Seva organizations. While the celebrations were in progress, it became known that a terrific cyclone had hit the Andhra coast. A tidal wave over 20 feet high had swept over the coast and sped itself about thirty to forty miles inland. The devastation inflicted by both wind and water, was enormous. Tens of thousands died, caught by the waves. A large number of cattle lost their lives, and coconut groves over several square miles were toppled. Scores of villages were washed off the face of earth. The few who survived were confronted by disease, despair and decimation. Bhagavan directed the Seva Dal from Andhra to rush to the area, even while the festival was progressing at the Nilayam. Truckloads of cloth, rugs, garments and whatever could be laid hold of, were got ready to be transported by devotees to the affected areas. More than eight lakh rupees poured into the bank for relief work. Four relief camps were quickly established in the afflicted areas, along with a complement of trained Seva Dal members, both men and women, including teams of doctors. Remote spots which had been isolated by the floods were selected. I witnessed a massive transport of provisions and materials, in the form of head-loads, by devotees. They had to wade through slush and mire, braving the stench of rotting corpses and carcasses. Indeed the first task was to bury or burn the dead, lying in heaps on the ground and caught in trees and bushes. Kitchens which provided food for over five thousand forlorn victims, kept working for more than a month in four strategic centres - Kattamajeru Gudapalem, Adavuladeevu, Ganapavaram and Barrankula - in the region lashed by the furious elements. From some kitchens, cooked food was taken to even more remote places, and the victims fed wherever they were found. Children were given milk and special foods. Besides these, the Seva Dal erected hundreds of hutments to enable people to continue their normal occupations of fishing and farming. They were given sets of kitchen utensils and cooking vessels, as well as garments, reed mats and rugs. Bhagavan assured the children who were orphaned by the calamity that He would be their guardian. When the relief centres were closed, the exhausted Seva Dal workers gladly noted that the faces of the village folk around them were lit with gratitude, contentment and devotion towards Bhagavan. In order to avoid such colossal loss of life in future, Bhagavan directed the Seva organisations to build at each place where they served, a community hall for the people, which would serve as a shelter whenever wind and wave rushed furiously onto land.

When the holy day of Shivaratri approached in 1978, the people remembered the previous year's announcement by Bhagavan regarding the cancellation of the ceremony. But the prospect of such deprivation was so painful that thousands would not at first believe it. So they continued to stream into Prasanthi Nilayam in time for the occasion. Rumours were afloat that Bhagavan would be at Brindavan that day. May be Shivaratri would be celebrated at Brindavan? Or would it be at Hyderabad? So thousands also gathered at Hyderabad and at Brindavan in Whitefield. But Bhagavan did not oblige. He was in the Nilgiri Hills, and returned only two days later.

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