this holy day of Ramazan, the second year graduate students of the
Prashanti Nilayam campus presented the story of Islam. This year,
Muslim devotees from different parts of the world who were in Prashanti
Nilayam as well as the local Muslim devotees were seated in front
in Sai Kulwant Hall and joined in during the drama in performing namaz
The play very nicely brought out and explained the basic tenets of Islam, through the mode of answering the everyday questions that people have regarding that religion. Answers to questions like why we should pray 5 times a day (To express our gratitude to God); why go to Mecca for a pilgrimage (a sacred event reflecting the power in united worship), were very elucidating to the crowd. The play also explained the significance of Ramazan (the day when the Angel Gabriel revealed the Koran to Prophet Mohammed). Ramazan is the last day of the month long fast during this holy time for the Muslims. The play concluded with a Hindu and Christian entering the scene. Parallels were drawn between the religions to show that the essence is the same, with all leading to the same goal.
All the Muslim devotees in Sai Kulwant Hall (from Puttaparthi as well as abroad) then did namaz to Swami. It was a unique sight with Sai Kulwant Hall getting transformed into a Masjid, and the namaz normally done to a formless God now being received by the divine incarnation Himself.
The play concluded with a young six year old boy from Iran reciting from the Koran as well as from the Vedas. This really brought the house down. His father then movingly shared his experience of how Swami had restored and deepened their family’s faith in Islam. Swami then posed for photographs with all the actors as well as distributed sweets to every individual to show His appreciation and deep pleasure.
NOV 16th: PURANDAROPANISHAD, A DRAMA BY THE BRINDAVAN CAMPUS
On the evening of the 16th of November, the students of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Brindavan Campus, presented a drama entitled, ‘Purandaropanishad’. This drama was based on the life of Purandara Dasa, the singer saint of Karnataka and brought out his devotion towards the Lord. The episodes depicted were the transformation of Purandara from a miserly merchant, a money crazy man into a God intoxicated human being; the testing of the renunciation of Purandara by Sri Krishnadevaraya, the King of Vijaynagara by dropping jewels in his begging bowl; and finally the total dedication of all his work and devotional verses to his guru. The drama was interspersed with soulful Purandara compositions. The dialogues were in Telugu and the songs were in Kannada. The whole presentation was professionally done, enriched by excellent sets, good acting and elaborate period costumes. At the conclusion of the drama, Swami came down the steps and blessed the boys by posing for a group photograph with them.
NOV 18th: RATHOTHSAVAM OR CHARIOT FESTIVAL
On the morning of November 18th, the annual Rathothsavam festival was celebrated. Here the deities of Sri Venugopala Swami and Sri Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman were carried in palanquins in a procession to the Old Mandir and then returned back to Sai Kulwant Hall.
The procession was led by Sai Geeta, Swami’s pet elephant decked out in all her finery for the occasion. She was followed by Vedam chanting and Bhajan chanting students and then by two palanquins bearing the deities. While waiting for the procession to come back Swami distributed saris to all the primary school teachers.
NOV 19th: LADIES’ DAY CELEBRATION
THE MORNING PROGRAM
Early in the morning Swami entered Sai Kulwant Hall escorted by a long procession consisting of the Primary School band, the Vedam chanting girl students, the Anantapur College Band, and the Naadaswaram group. This motley blend of different sounds harmoniously blending together set the right tone for the Ladies’ Day celebration. After Swami lit the candle, He was regaled by the School girls playing on their bagpipes.
Smt. Chetana gave the welcome address and prayed to Swami to inaugurate a new project for the welfare of the economically backward women called the ‘Easwaramma Women's Welfare Project’. Swami pressed a button to part the curtains and reveal a beautiful plaque to inaugurate this welcome project.
The first speaker for the morning was Dr. Geeta Reddy, Minister for Tourism, Andhra Pradesh and also a medical doctor by profession. She gave a very inspirational talk and described how Swami's name is spreading everywhere across the globe as witnessed by her in her travels around the world in her capacity as the Minister for Tourism. After profusely praising Mother Easwaramma, she called Swami as the champion of women. Representing the Government, she also thanked Swami for all his social service projects.
The second speaker was Mrs. Helen, a doctor from Greece, who is part of a team that rushes to the aid of people suffering from natural and man-made disasters. Her poignant talk, straight from the heart and the recounting of her astounding experiences left everyone very moved. She related her experience when she went to Bosnia to distribute food to the war-ravaged victims and she couldn’t believe her ears when she heard that Swami had already been there in His physical form (orange robe and all) to distribute food and provide succor. Her experience in Darfur (Sudan) when the bags of wheat she was carrying were transformed into bags of milk (as that is what the people there were entreating her for) left everyone spellbound, and the story of how Swami protected her in all her trips to war ravaged Baghdad left everyone in awe of Swami’s silent work and ever present protection to people who go about His work.
The next item was a dance by the Primary School sisters. It was a short but very well choreographed dance that was actually a combination of different type of dance forms all artfully blended together! The coordinated costumes and make-up along with their dainty movements made the primary school girls win the hearts of one and all.
Continuing on with this full slate of programs for the morning, it was the turn of two professional women artistes to play on their violins. As they produced soul stirring music on this instrument in the background, Swami sitting on the sofa coordinated the distribution of many gifts to the lady devotees - starting with red silk saris, chocolates, and gift bags one after the other. Then began the main prasadam distribution of a sweet to all the devotees present in Sai Kulwant Hall. This was followed by the distribution of innumerable vessels of apples. The loving mother in Sai was definitely at Her giving best that day!
All the while, the violin duo continued to strum away reverberating Sai Kulwant Hall with devotional songs and soulful keertanas. While they provided the background music that kept the devotional fervor high and the crowd swaying and clapping in tune to their music, the prasadam distribution went peacefully and was finished fast. Swami then personally gave clothes to all the artistes. He then also got down and posed for photographs with the little girls who had danced for Him.
When Bhagavan came out for darshan in the afternoon all the Ladies were wearing the saris given to them by Bhagavan in the morning! It made quite a sight to see all of them dressed alike on the wonderful occasion of Ladies’ Day.
The first item in the afternoon was a short musical rendering by the sisters from U.K. They sang two English songs and a Hindi one. They were followed by Smt. Anuradha Paudwal, a well known devotional singer, and her group. Swami seated them beside Him on the stage and as she began singing in her mellifluous voice, the entire Hall was totally silent.
This brought a very memorable Ladies Day Program to a close. Everyone went home charged and rejuvenated, inspired with devotional fervor by the scintillating programs presented by the tiny tots.
NOV 20th: ALIKE SCHOOL PROGRAM ‘SRI RAMA DARSHANAM’
The students of the Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Institutions, Alike, reenacted the drama they had presented earlier in Sai Kulwant Hall on September 30th. They presented several scenes from the Ramayana through the medium of Yakshagana, a combination of musical narration, dance and drama. Yakshagana is a unique folk art form of coastal Karnataka. The novelty of this form of drama is that the characters do not speak but give expression to their thoughts and feelings through their dance and actions. The actors enact the songs sung by the Bhagavatha (the singer-storyteller).
They narrated so many episodes -it seemed the entire Ramayana came to life- from the story of Vishwamitra taking Rama and Lakshmana from Ayodhya to the forest to protect the Yagnas and depict the killing of Thataki and driving away of Mareecha; the redemption of Ahalya, and the Sita Swayamvara; the defeat of Parashurama; and the sending of Sri Rama to the forest by Kaike. The Yakshagana goes on to further depict - the meeting with the boatman devotee Guha while on the way to exile in the forest; Bharata taking Sri Rama’s padukas, the cutting of the nose of Shurpanakhi, Mareechi appearing as the golden deer, salvation of Jatayu, freeing Kabanda from the curse, and Sabari’s hospitality. Continuing, it tells the story of Hanuman meeting Rama and all the episodes including Vali’s salvation and Vibhisana’s surrender till the death of Ravana. With Sri Rama’s Pattabhisheka (coronation), the drama came to an end.
The well presented songs, the elaborate costumes, the smooth rendition of the dances and the fast pace made everyone give these small boys a thunderous ovation at the conclusion of the play. Swami manifested a ring for the boy who played the role of Sri Rama and also for the Bhagavathar (the singer narrator).
NOV 21st: TWO MUSIC PROGRAMS IN SAI KULWANT HALL
The afternoon’s program started with a speech by two devotees from UK. The first speaker, the chairman of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation, UK gave an account of the service rendered in the past four days by the UK Group in villages around Puttaparthi. The second speaker, an actor in the UK by profession, spoke movingly from his heart about how his life was transformed after coming to Swami.
Following these speeches, there was a bhajan session by the Devotees from Brazil.The group consisted of 8 men and 4 women from the Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte. Starting with a Ganesha invocation, they sang well known bhajans like Guru Brahmane, Murali Krishna, Rama Rahim, Manasa Bhajore, Shiva Shambo and so on. Familiar, yet different! They sang these bhajans with a distinct Brazilian flavour with a lot of rhythm and beat that had the crowd tapping and clapping in appreciation. They finally sang the George Harrison number ‘My Sweet Lord’ and ended their program with the Asatoma Prayer.
NOV 22nd: SSSIHL CONVOCATION AND DRAMA
November 22nd is always a red letter day in the events connected with the Institute as it is the day of the annual convocation. Sai Kulwant Hall is always decorated with an abundance of flowers and a lot of formal paraphernalia. Swami officiates over this formal function in His capacity as the Chancellor of the Institute.
Promptly at 2:55 pm the procession of the Chancellor and the Chief Guest (Sri Rasgotra, Retired Foreign Secretary of Government of India) followed by members of the Academic Council entered Sai Kulwant Hall. The procession is lead by the Institute band with Swami and the Chief Guest, standing in an open car, right behind them. Behind Swami’s car came the Academic Council members dressed in the convocation robe of either a purple or red colour.
The program started at 3:00 pm sharp with the chanting of Vedas by a group of students. Then, Sri S.V. Giri (the Vice Chancellor of the Institute) welcomed the Chancellor, the Chief Guest and the other members of the gathering and then read out the pledge for the students. Prof. U.S.Rao, Principal, Prashanti Nilayam Campus, called out the students who were awarded gold medals for their performance to come and receive it from the hands of the Chancellor Himself. The overall performance gold medal was awarded to Kumari Deepti Bhagia of the Anantapur Campus. Swami materialised a golden chain and put it around her neck, apart from the gold medal which was awarded to her.
In Sri Rasgotra’s convocation address he recalled that he had presided over this function earlier many years ago and this was his second time as the chief guest at the convocation. He praised the Institute and the students and outlined the changes that have taken place over the years. Following the convocation address, Swami gave His divine benediction. Speaking about love, Swami said that it was the surest path to reach God. Swami closed His discourse by praising Kum. Deepti Bhagia who had obtained the overall gold medal. Stating that though she was a diabetic from birth, still she made light of her physical discomforts and followed all of Swami’s teachings bravely, having full faith in Him. The convocation concluded with the singing of the National Anthem.
The annual convocation drama is always much anticipated as Swami gets involved in its preparation. This year was no exception as Swami guided the boys acting in the drama through numerous practise sessions in the Interview room, and even visited a full practise session in the Institute auditorium on the 14th of November.
This year’s convocation drama, "Chal Re Man Apne Dhaam", revolved around Kaushik, a student of English Literature from Pragathi Viswavidyalaya. Kaushik is in search of a real life story for a contest, a story that highlights the hidden goodness in man. Kaushik comes across a talented and devoted idealist - Avinash, who had saved the life of the son of a poor father by giving the money, entrusted to him by his company to arrange a business function, for the son’s immediate surgery. Being fired by his employer for ‘dereliction of duty’, Avinash decides to devote his life to social service and starts ‘Karunalayam’ a residential school for orphans. Kaushik calls such idealism impractical; but finds out in a touching finale scene that the son that Avinash saved earlier was no-one else other than himself. The lease of life that was given to Kaushik by Avinash providing the money for the surgery (though he was fired from his job for that action), enabled Kaushik to study in Swami’s institution and come up in life! The drama moved at a very vigorous pace and was punctuated by vigorous dances by the students that had the audience engaged. The elaborate costumes and makeup along with the very realistic acting made one feel that this was a professionally rendered play rather than one being put up by students with approximately 3 weeks of preparation!
Swami walked up to the stage and gave watches to all the boys involved in the drama and also posed for photographs with all the participants.
NOV 23rd: THE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
Sai Kulwant Hall was full to overflowing on the Birthday morning.
Swami, in a white robe, entered Sai Kulwant Hall in a procession.
Leading the procession was the Anantapur Campus Band, the School Girls
Band from the PSN Campus, the primary school band and finally the
Senior Boys’ Band from the Prashanti Nilayam campus. Fittingly,
the entire Sai Kulwant hall was elaborately decorated. Even the front
steps of the verandah were laid out with lawn patches and flowering
plants to make it look like we were in the Garden of the Lord!
The morning program started with speeches by Dr. Michael Goldstein and Prof. G.Venkataraman of the Prashanti Council. Following their speeches, Swami gave His Birthday message. The main thrust of Swami’s discourse was that one should know where he came from, where he currently is and where he is going. To illustrate the point, Swami narrated a story about a person crossing the Godavari in a boat. He asks the boatman questions (like can you tell me the time, can you read the newspaper, do you know the price of gold in the bullion market etc) and when the boatman signifies a lack of knowledge, he continues to tell him that a part of his life has been wasted. There is turbulence in the river and the boatman asks this person whether he knows swimming and on getting a
negative reply, the boatman says that his entire life is going to be wasted by drowning! Swami also narrated how He saved the lives of Dr. Goldstein and his wife after the plane in which they were travelling was hijacked. Swami concluded the discourse by exhorting people not to pay too much attention to the body and mentioned that He had the hip fracture accident to illustrate how to get over the body consciousness. After that prasadam was distributed to all. Swami also cut the birthday cakes that were specially baked for Him by the different organizations.
In the afternoon there was a one hour music performance by Smt. Parveen
Sultana, who gave a Hindustani music program.
DEC 9: SINGAPORE BALA VIKAS DRAMA ON SRI ADISANKARACHARYA
DEC 12th: DEVOTEES FROM CHENNAI THANK SWAMI FOR PROVIDING WATER
On December 12th, about 4000 devotees from Chennai came to Prashanti Nilayam to express their gratitude to Swami for His kindness in providing water to the city that has seen an acute shortage of drinking water. In a public function arranged in Sai Kulwant Hall in the morning, the crowd was addressed by two speakers. Dr. G. Venkataraman, former Vice-Chancellor of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, spoke to the crowd in Tamil and Dr Mohana Krishnan, Retired Chief Engineer, Public Works Department, Chennai (who was associated with the project) addressed the gathering in English.(See feature articles for related story). In the afternoon, the Sundaram Bhajan Group from Chennai regaled Swami with a violin and vocal concert to more fittingly express their love and deep-felt feeling for Him.
Slowly the Christmas spirit is now descending to the Ashram and devotees from all parts of the world are coming to Prashanti Nilayam to celebrate the season of good cheer in the divine presence. We will, of course, bring you a full report on these celebrations along with exclusive pictures next month. Traditionally January 1 is a day of making New Year resolutions, generally based on the body, like losing weight or developing public speaking skills etc. Perhaps, this year, you might consider adopting a New Year resolution that picks one of Swami’s teachings (that is closest to your heart) and practicing it assiduously for the whole year.
Till we meet again, Sai Ram.
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