July 31, 2009 – Varalakshmi Vratham in the Divine Presence

Goddess Lakshmi is the bestower of prosperity and wealth. While in a narrow sense, people consider this to be the material riches, she also confers spiritual wealth. In fact, she is depicted as seated at the lotus feet of Lord Narayana, eternally engaged in His service.

The message is very clear - all prosperity and riches are at the Lord's feet. His feet are the panacea for everything! Swami has stamped this message in the minds and hearts of devotees ever since He sang His first song in 1940 - Manasa Bhajare guru Charanam; Dusthara Bhava Saagara Tharanam.

And so, very aptly, on the day of Varalakshmi Vratam dedicated for the worship of Goddess Lakshmi, more than 1500 married women gathered in Prashanti Nilayam to worship at the feet of the Divine Mother Sai. It was a colourful spectacle as the women began filing in from the early hours of the morning.

The hall was a kaleidoscope of colours as the Veda chanting began at 8:00 a.m. The stage had been tastefully decorated and images and figurines of the mothers - Lakshmi and Saraswati adorned various parts of the stage and the hall. The chanting concluded at 9:00 a.m. and it was about 9:45 a.m. when Swami arrived for the darshan.

He was received with the Poornakumbham and Naadaswaram accompaniment. A literal "red carpet" welcome was accorded to Him.  He moved through the prayerful rows of the Sumangalis (literally meaning "the greatly auspicious"- a term which all the married women leading happy lives with their husbands are known by) and cut through at the centre to move to the stage.

Arriving on the dais, Swami lit the lamp to mark the beginning of the auspicious day. The Veda chanting went on for another 10 minutes or so when the priest asked Swami if they could begin. Swami blessed them to start the worship.

The story behind the Varalakshmi Vratam goes as follows. Mother Parvati prayed to Lord Shiva on behalf of all the Sumangalis. Lord Shiva suggested that by performing the Varalakshmi Vratam on the first Friday of the Hindu month of Shraavana, a woman could attain all her desires. The Mother now appeared in a dream of a pious lady, Charumathi and instructed her to perform the worship. It has been tradition ever since for Sumangalis to perform this Vratham. The priest guided all the assembled ladies through the Kalasha Pooja, Ganesha worship and finally the worship of the Divine mother.

The Divine Mother Sai was on the dais all the while watching Her children in all Love and Patience. The wonderful thing was that Europeans, Japanese, Americans were all part of the worshipping brigade! At the end of the pooja, as the ladies did the ceremonial exchange of gifts, Swami moved down the stage. Ah! What a sight it was then.

A thousand moons seemed to rise in Sai Kulwant Hall as all the ladies beamed happily in celebration. Swami slowly moved through the long lines of women, blessing them and accepting letters from many of them. Some of the ladies were unable to quell the urge to rush to Him.

He gently smiled at them and taking the holy akshatha grains, sprinkled them with it. It was another complete darshan round in Sai Kulwant Hall and a complete thrill for the assembled Sumangalis. After conferring joy thus, Swami returned to the stage and the final formalities of the worship were completed. The story of the origin of the Vratham was narrated. Swami blessed both the priests and asked for aarthi.

The aarthi was special in the sense that all the ladies too waved tiny flames of their silver lamps at Swami. Prasadam was blessed for distribution and once the aarthi was completed, Swami retired for the morning at about 11:00 a.m. It was announced that there would be a concert by Mrs. Anuradha Sriram in the evening.

In the evening, Swami arrived for darshan at 4:30 p.m. The hall was packed and Swami took a complete round. He saw that the artist for the evening had been seated on carpets in the marbled area. He said that the performance must be on the mainstage!

So, quickly, the readjustments had to be made! The artists were seated soon on the stage and the mikes were kept ready. Soon Swami arrived on the stage and asked Mrs. Anuradha to begin. Starting with “Vatapi Ganapathim” in Hamsadhwani, she moved on to the Thyagaraja Kirtan, "Marugelara O Raghava". Aptly for the occasion, she sang the Kannada song, "Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma". Swami was so moved with her renderings and often she merged the name of Sai into the songs to give it a special meaning in Swami's presence.

Some more popular devotional song were sung, notably, "Kurai Ondrum Illai" in Tamil and "Mere Sai Teri Murat Rahe Man Mein" in Hindi. In between Swami moved to the interview room for about ten minutes as the artist continued with her performance.

When Swami returned, He asked her if she had completed. He seemed to be beaming smiles as Mrs. Anuradha requested, "Swami, one more?" Swami nodded in agreement and she began singing the Meera bhajan, "Payoji Maine Ram Ratan Dhan Payo." As she rendered this song beautifully, Swami raised the sleeves of His robe.

He was rubbing His palms and it appeared as if He was eager to shower His love and Grace on the talented artist. And sure enough! No sooner had she completed her song, Swami waved His hand and materialized a beautiful golden chain for her. Mrs. Anuradha was so overwhelmed that she rushed to His feet and lay down there!

She was there for almost half a minute and all the while Swami so sweetly waited for her to rise. Then, putting the chain around her neck, Swami presented her with two sarees! She asked with her eyes, "Both for me?" and a sweet smile was His reply! Swami presented the accompanying artists too with sarees and safari pieces. Having done that, He called the photographer and told him to take a group photo from two different angles, adjusting His chair and posing perfectly!

Swami then told the students to sing bhajans. Two alaap bhajans were sung among the other bhajans and Swami was so happy. He called the tablist and harmonium player from among the artists and told them, "Music college boys!" He also asked them as to when they were leaving and blessed them.

In the meanwhile, a picture of the artist receiving the chain from Him was presented to Swami and Swami gave it to the delighted artist. Another senior member of the ashram presented Swami with a rose.

Swami accepted it and when he spoke about his heart, Swami gently placed His hand on his chest. He lovingly rubbed it and assured him that He was there for him always. Blessing everyone with prasadam and Grace, Swami retired for the day at about 6:30 p.m.

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