WATER, THE ELIXIR OF LIFE.
My earliest years, I have been concerned about
providing three primary requisites for our people.
Free education, free medical aid, and free basic
amenities like drinking water. Education is for
the head; medical care is for the heart; and pure
water is for the body. These three cover the main
requirements of life. To provide these three gives
one the greatest gratification.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba
percent of the human body is nothing but water. A human being
can survive without food for many days but without water,
no one can survive for more than a few hours. Water is one
of the greatest gifts of God, given by Him out of compassion
not merely for mankind but to all beings. God not only created
water but also set up an elaborate system to bring throughout
the year, trillions of tons of water from the sea to inland
areas. As if this was not enough, He created lakes for storing
water, and rivers for transporting it. In addition, He has
arranged also for underground storage, including in huge aquifers.
Man hardly bothers to appreciate all this. Even if he does
appreciate the physical nuances of the water cycle, he is
not prepared to see the Divine Hand behind. Instead, driven
by greed and selfishness, he constantly misuses and mismanages
the Divine gift called water. Thus, many regions of the earth
are parched and dry, though they do not have to be so.
western part of peninsular India receives heavy rains during
the monsoon season but vast tracts of land in the rain shadow
region regularly suffer from water shortage. During some years,
the water shortage escalates into a heart-rending drought.
Foremost among the drought-prone districts of South India
are Bellary, Anantapur, Cuddapah, and Kurnool. Because they
are also economically backward, they are known as backward
districts. Swami jocularly says that 'back' in backward means
Bellary, Anantapur, Cuddapah, and Kurnool!
This drought-prone region is collectively known as Rayalaseema.
People here depend almost entirely on well water. Unfortunately,
there is a serious problem with the ground water [if it is
available!] - it has too much fluoride. This causes serious
physical disabilities, like bone deformation, for example.
[In the state of West Bengal and in neighbouring Bangladesh,
the ground water is heavily contaminated with arsenic; over
a million people have been affected by this problem.] For
over a hundred years, right from the British days, the people
of the Rayalaseema region have been clamouring for drinking
water but their plea always fell on deaf ears. Even in Independent
India, this remained the situation for nearly half a century,
until Baba stepped in.
It all happened this way: On the morning of 22nd November,
1994, there was a special function in the Poornachandra Auditorium
to honour the distinguished surgeon Dr. Venugopal, who, besides
winning many laurels for his surgical achievements, had helped
the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences [Super
Speciality Hospital in Puttaparthi] in numerous ways. He it
was who had performed the first cardiac surgery there on the
day of its inauguration on 22nd November, 1991. Present in
the Poornachandra Auditorium was Mr. P.V.Narasimha Rao, the
then Prime Minister of India, who, incidentally, had inaugurated
the Super Speciality Hospital three years earlier. In His
Divine Discourse, Swami made a direct reference to the perennial
drinking water problem in Rayalaseema. No one knew at that
time that this would mark the beginning of a new mega project
of stunning proportions. Swami threw a direct challenge to
the Indian Government to do something about the drinking water
problem, offering all possible help from His side, if the
embarked on such a project.
I wish to draw the attention of the
Prime Minister to the age-old drinking water problem that
is affecting most parts of Rayalaseema, especially the remote
villages, where people have to walk several miles to get a
pot of drinking water. This needs immediate reversal. Rivers
are gifts of God. In rivers like the Krishna and the Godavari,
a lot of water is allowed to flow into the sea. There is no
point in every State claiming rights over the river waters
and quarrelling with each other over riparian rights. The
waters of the Krishna and the Tungabhadra rivers can be harnessed
to supply much-needed water to Rayalaseema. If there is constraint
of finance, Swami is ready to help, in fulfilling this dire
need of the Rayalaseema people.
Mountains may move easily but Governments do not. Swami was
well aware of this but for His own reasons He chose to first
remind the Government of its obligations. A few months passed,
and nothing happened from the Government's side - no surprise
in that. Baba then quietly told the Sri Sathya Sai Central
Trust, "Let us do the project;" and then set what
seemed an impossible timetable. The Trust Members were all
stunned. They wondered: "It is one thing to build a hospital,
or even an airport. But to provide drinking water to the entire
District of Anantapur with a population of over a million
and having so many hundreds of villages scattered over hundreds
of square kilometres? And that too in such a short time? Where
was the money for all this? Where was the manpower, expertise,
, etc.?" This is the way humans tend to look at
issues and problems. With Bhagavan, it is quite different.
He simply said, "Where there is a will, there is a way.
Haven't you heard that faith can move mountains?
I will demonstrate that good work combined with Total Purity
would always find fruition. "
Plans immediately began to be drawn, and miraculously, things
started rolling. The devotees were all amazed but there was
no shortage of sceptics. In the Government, it takes years
to consider taking up a project, more years to study it, still
more years to plan it, then more years to find funds, and
dozens of years for execution. So, how is Baba going to do
such a giant project and that too in such a short time, as
He had promised?
It was the 9th of July 1995, and the Gurupoornima festival
was being celebrated in the Sai Kulwant Hall in Prasanti Nilayam.
Barely a few months had passed after all the Poornachandra
Hall function just described and already, a function was being
held to mark the token beginning of the supply of drinking
water to the people of Rayalaseema. Fluoride-free drinking
water was being provided to the neighbouring village of Bukkapatnam,
and Baba was to remotely inaugurate the water supply from
the Sai Kulwant Hall, using the instruments of modern telecommunications.
After the usual speech making by the concerned officials,
Swami pressed a button. By remote control, the pump in Bukkapatnam
started working and drinking water began to flow out of a
tap there. A microphone placed near the spot picked up the
loud cheers of the villagers present, and soon village elders
spoke words of thanks into the microphone. All this was heard
by the thousands assembled in the Divine presence in Prasanti
Nilayam. One of those who spoke on that occasion was Mr. Kondal
Rao, then Secretary, Panchayat Raj Department, Government
of Andhra Pradesh, and Technical Advisor for the Sri Sathya
Sai Drinking Water Project. Mr. Rao informed devotees that
all this was just a curtain raiser, and great things would
follow soon. Legend has it that Lord Siva sent down the Ganges
in response to the prayers of Bhageeratha. Now in the Twentieth
Century, one was witnessing such a miracle happen right before
one's eyes. The people of Rayalaseema were all the time praying
to the Government but nothing happened. God heard the prayers
to answer them, though they were not addressed to Him.
The tempo now quickened and things happened with amazing
rapidity, with Swami taking direct charge and monitoring progress
literally on a day-to-day basis. The going was not always
smooth. Many devotees wondered why this was so. Was not God
in charge? Yes He was, and if He so willed things could have
happened with a mere wave of His hand. But this was not the
way He wanted things done. The project was being done partly
to teach man many lessons. One lesson of course is that man
must do his best to help others. Another lesson is that he
must not mind obstacles that come on the way, but march resolutely
forward towards the goal. The impossible becomes possible
if one has firm determination.
For a brief period, there was money crunch. He who is known
to create gold and even cash now borrowed money from a bank!
All a part of the never-ending Divine Drama! There were a
host of other problems too. But nothing bothered Him. He was
always calm and His usual self - ever a perfect demonstration
of equanimity. It was not so much His management of the difficulties
as the magic of His Prema that
amazed everybody. The Government of a State where Marxists
were in power, did not hesitate to waive taxes on pipes and
other products procured from their State. The Railways gave
priority in moving various items, especially steel and cement,
to the work spot. So on it went. In between, Swami made several
aerial surveys over the entire District. So considerate was
He that He squeezed these surveys between the morning and
evening Darshans, and the devotees
in Prasanti Nilayam never even knew that Baba was out touring
during the day while they were having their siesta. In more
ways than one, Swami showed how projects must be executed,
with constant direct personal supervision from the top, and
incessant attention to the minutest of details.
Months quickly rolled by and soon it was November. On 18th
November, 1995, there was a meeting in the Poornachandra
Auditorium. Once again, Mr. P.V.Narasimha Rao, the Prime Minister
of India was present. And he was going to inaugurate the Sri
Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project! Exactly one year earlier,
he had been asked in this very hall to do something, and now,
not only had he been spared the chore but actually asked to
cut the ribbon so to say, and make a speech in the usual manner!
Mr. Rao was naturally stunned and totally overwhelmed. He
said that 'Anantapur' had become 'Anandapur' or a 'city of
bliss'. Most appropriately, he quoted from the Bhagawatham
that describes the story of Krishna. One day when Krishna
was a small boy, His foster mother Yasodha was told that Krishna
had been eating mud. Yasodha ran to Krishna and asked Him,
"Krishna did You eat mud?" Krishna just smiled,
rolled His beautiful eyes, and shook His head to signal no.
Not believing what Krishna was saying, Yasodha asked Him to
open His mouth. He did, and what did she see? The whole Universe,
including herself looking into the mouth of Krishna! Yasodha
then exclaimed, "Is this an illusion that I am seeing
or a part of the Lord's mysterious Creation?" The once
remote hamlet of Puttaparthi already had a number of things
to boast of - several schools, a Bus Stand, a University,
a Stadium, a Planetarium, an Airport, and a couple of Hospitals,
including a Super Speciality Hospital. No village in India,
especially one located in a dry and backward District, could
claim even a fraction of what Puttaparthi had. What was more
significant, both education and medical treatment were available
completely free to all that came, irrespective of caste, creed,
and status in life. As if all this was not enough, Swami had
provided pure drinking water to almost an entire district!
No wonder the Prime Minister had to dip into His Story itself,
for the right words for the occasion. In His Divine Discourse
delivered on the occasion, Swami mentioned that though the
Project had been completed in a substantial measure [within
the incredibly short period of just one year], there were
many things that had to be wrapped up. He assured the people
that all these would be attended to shortly :
All the natural resources of the country
must be enjoyed equally by all the people, regardless of caste
or community. There are many rivers in the country that flow
across State boundaries. Bharat is not lacking in water or
other resources. We have perennial rives and vast areas of
fertile land. But these resources are not being fully used.
The Nation's great rivers like Kaveri, Ganga, and Krishna
should be treated as National property. There will then be
no room for inter-State disputes. The waters of all rivers
should be used for the benefit of all people. It is because
of lack of unity and the assertion of separatist claims, that
a lot of the river water is going waste. If if the Prime Minister
endeavours to promote a national approach to the harnessing
of river waters, the Nation will prosper. The States too are
prone to promote their claims over that of others. They all
should adopt a co-operative and fraternal attitude towards
each other and behave as good neighbours. If this is done,
there will be no shortage of food or water in the country.
People should develop this co-operative attitude.
With regard to the water project, it
should be noted that much was accomplished in a short period.
In the execution of the project, changes had to be made in
response to the appeals of people in different villages. Because
of this, the entire project has not yet been completed. Some
villages are yet to get water. This should not cause disappointment.
Whatever may happen, all villages will get water and the project
would be fully carried out !
was the uniqueness of the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project,
that the then President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma,
an ardent devotee of Baba, also wanted, in some manner, to
be associated with the inauguration ceremonies. And so, on
Swami's Birthday that followed a few days later, the President
symbolically signalled the achievements of the Water Project
by opening a tap [specially set up on the stage in the Hill
View Stadium], and collecting the water that flowed out. The
Lord had granted water, even without the people praying for
it directly to Him.
Meanwhile, seeing the miracle, many villages and even towns
that originally had not been included in the scope of the
Project began to clamour for Sai Water! Swami never says no,
and all these late entrants also were duly accommodated. At
last, safe and assured supply of drinking water was no longer
a mirage or a dream for over seven hundred parched villages
[and a few towns as well] that had suffered for over a century.
The statistics of the Project are most impressive. For example,
the record books said that the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water
Project was the largest social benefit project undertaken
anywhere in the world by a private charitable organisation.
However, records are no so important as Baba's Love. It is
His Love from which the Project was born, and it is His Love
again that saw the project to its completion. His Love came
to hundreds of thousands in life-giving liquid form. And it
was available to one all without distinction, including those
who had never
Swami's attention to details is legendary. The question arose:
"After the Project is completed, who would operate and
maintain this large system?" Swami was quite clear about
what had to be done in this respect. He said, "The Central
Trust will operate the Project and maintain it for about a
year or a little more, till things settle down completely.
After that, the entire water works would be handed over to
the people of the State. In between, people who were to take
over would be trained properly."
October, 1997. After a break of a few years, Swami had arranged
for the performance of a Yagna
[a holy Vedic
ritual] in the Poornachandra Hall, at the time of the
Navarathri Festival. On 11th October the concluding
day, after the religious ceremonies were over, a special function
was arranged in the Sai Kulwant Hall, to mark the formal transfer
of the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Supply System, to the
people of Andhra Pradesh. The person receiving on behalf of
the people was the Chief Minister of the State, Mr. Chandrababu
The function was simple. The speeches were few but the praise
for Baba was lavish - naturally. There was also an expression
of deep-felt gratitude, and the water works now formally became
a property of the people. In His Discourse, Swami said: "You
all are praising Me, but what have I done? Whose money has
been spent? Who has given the money for the project? It is
all people's money. People's money has been spent for people's
welfare. What is there in My hands?" At this point, Bhagavan
raised His hands
high and showed they were empty. Then He softly whispered,
"Everything is in these hands!"
The curtain had come down on the historic Sri Sathya Sai
Drinking Water Project, or so people thought. Not quite, for
it set a new and continuing trend. People now began to realise
that providing drinking water is an essential social service.
Spurred by Baba's inspiring example, many began to organise
efforts on scales affordable by them. For example, one devotee
hailing from Chittoor District started mobilising people in
various villages to tackle the problem there. Another devotee
spearheaded a similar drive in Kolar District in the State
of Karnataka [Kolar is close to Whitefield]. There are many
other such local efforts. One presumes that in the years to
come, such schemes would multiply both in number and in magnitude.
Meanwhile, Baba has mounted a major thrust in the northern
Districts of Andhra Pradesh, particularly Medak and Mahboobnagar,
Phase II, one might say.
The Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project must be viewed
in its entirety and not merely in terms of statistics, impressive
as they are. It is not merely an illustration of how the drinking
water problem, present in many parts of the world, must be
addressed. Nor is it just an example of how projects must
be boldly pushed with dynamism and energy. There are a number
of things the project represents. Above all, it is a touching
symbol of God's Love for His children. Equally, it is a stirring
lesson for man how not to run away from society's problems
but face them squarely and head-on. As Swami often says, "Good
work is always God's work." If man takes a small step
in doing good to his fellow beings, then God will shower His
Grace and magnify that small step into a giant leap. All it
takes for man is firm faith in God, strong determination,
and one small step of
The Sai water projects constitute a major milestone in the
history of the Sai Avatar. While
Divinity is the common aspect of all the Avatars,
each Incarnation is unique in its own respect. Where the Sathya
Sai Avatar is concerned, Selfless
Service to humanity at large, born of Infinite Love and Infinite
Compassion are the unmatched Hallmarks. Swami constantly tells
us: "Love All, Serve All". He is doing precisely
that all the time, and every second of His life is His Message.