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Volume 5 - Issue 01 JANUARY 2007

Sporting Divinity

By Sri K. P. Gopinath

January 11 every year is the Inaugural Day of the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet of Swami’s Institute in Prasanthi Nilayam. In the article below, Sri K. P. Gopinath, the Physical Instructor at the Brindavan Campus of the Institute since 1988, describes the genesis, purpose and fascinating aspects of this much-awaited annual event. Sri Gopinath, before joining the Institute, worked in various Public Sector Institutions and represented them in Cricket and Basket Ball.

 ‘Janthunam Nara Janma Durlabham’, human birth is the most precious and rarest of all births. It becomes more valuable when we are born as contemporaries of the greatest of all avatars - our beloved Swami. I bow with gratitude to my late parents who discovered Him by His grace and took my siblings and me to Him at a very tender age.

Sri Sathya Sai Arts, Science and Commerce College for Boys was established in Brindavan in 1969. Earlier in 1968, Swami had established a women’s college at Anantapur.  In the earlier days, teams from the boy’s college used to go to Bangalore city and take part in the inter college matches and tournaments. The annual sports day (no specific date was fixed then) was an eagerly awaited event for Swami would specially come to Brindavan. The prime athletic events like 100m, 200m, the relays and tug-of-war would be held in His presence and Swami would enjoy every moment of it.

The Hill View Stadium


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The Hill View Stadium, Prasanthi Nilayam

During the second week of December 1983, Swami asked the students and teachers to clear up the ground to the west of the Easwaramma School. Simultaneously a stage was coming up facing west and attached to the school building. Everyday Swami came with a tractor full of sweets, fruits and drinks for the students. One day He even distributed Parker pens. Another day He came along with late Sri Kasturi and Sri Narasimha Murthy and stood in the middle of the rocky terrain and said, “It will be nice if we have a stadium here.” The Divine Will was in action. The next morning the work on the lower ground began.

The first major event on this new ground was the Bal Vikas Rally in January 1984. On 21st November 1984, the first major sports presentation was made. Students of the Prasanthi Nilayam campus put up a magnificent performance of gymnastics followed by a fire drill organized by the then Physical Directors Sri Venkateswaran and Sri Kishan Lal. The Brindavan campus under the leadership of Sri C Srinivas, who was himself an outstanding sportsman put up a very graceful and breathtaking cricket strokes drill, followed by an item titled “Cosmic Play” which had a huge boat. Swami came and sat in the boat. What a sight for the Gods to see! The next day He remarked, “Many people think that our boys can only sing bhajans. The performance last evening dispelled all such notions.”

By 1985 the upper ground was also getting ready. Bulldozers came and leveled the hilly terrain.  In January 1986 Swami was on a visit to Bombay and unfortunately the Sports Meet was held during that period. Swami was disappointed as He had brought loads of prizes for His students. At His command, a Sports Meet for staff members was held and He distributed the prizes. It was then decided that the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet would be held on the 11th of January every year and the prize distribution function would be held on the 14th of January – the Sankranthi day. Those days He would autograph footballs, cricket bats and other sports goods for the boys. In 1997 Swami decided to have a stadium of international standards. The whole place became one huge playground. The stands can easily take up to 50,000 people.

On the 29th of December we had an international cricket match held at the venue. The chief organizers were Sri Sunil Gavaskar, Sri E A S Prasanna, Sri G R Vishwanath and Sri Allwyn Kallicharan. Sri I K Gujral, the then Prime Minister of India, was the Chief Guest. The pitch was prepared with great care by the famous Curator Sri Kasturirangan. The Indian XI led by Sachin Tendulkar beat the World XI comprising of players from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and England led by Arjuna Ranatunga of Sri Lanka. At every step Swami was there to help and guide us. Nowhere in the world has a match of this stature been held where the entry was free. Needless to say the stadium was packed to capacity. Only Swami can do this and teach us valuable lessons in the process.

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Sai with Cricket legend, Sachin Tendulkar
Swami with chief organisers

Beckoned and Blessed

My predecessors in Brindavan were Mr. Victor Basabara of USSR and then Mr. John Henn of the US. Both were outstanding international sportsmen. In fact John was a member of the US National Volleyball Team. Both were wonderful devotees of the Lord. In 1986, I quit my job and visited Parthi on weekends. For two long years the cleansing process went on and Swami observed His version of mounam with me. In June 1988, Swami was taking His third round of Darshan lines after the interviews. I was seated in the eighth row. He glided in gently and looked in my direction and beckoned to me. I literally froze and my mind went blank. He again indicated to me to come forward. I looked around - no one moved. The floodgates opened and I somehow managed to reach Him. “What are you doing now?” was His first question. He chided me for not seeking His permission to quit my job. The Lord then asked, “Will you work if I give you a job?” I held His feet and wept. “After Gurupoornima, I will tell you…” and He returned to the Mandir. When I informed my mother, she was the happiest person on earth.

Channeling Spiritual Energy through Sports

In our Institute, sports, games and yoga are on top of the list of integral items. Our Divine Chancellor Swami had visualized that sports and games was the best way to channel the youthful energy. The best way to learn spirituality is on a sports field: More practical, less theory. Leading a sports oriented life personally was different, but to lead 300 boys in the age group of 18-20 was a different ball game altogether. Sports and games is a compulsory part of their lives in the campus. Swami says:

Life is a dream, realize it
Life is a challenge, meet it
Life is a game, play it
Life is love, live it.

Slowly but steadily the Sports Meet began to take shape as He desired. Each campus and school wanted to do only the very best for Him. There are two components in the Sports Meet on 11th morning. The Opening Ceremony and March Past followed by the presentation of the different campuses. After the procession led by Sai Geetha, the slow march contingent, the motor cycle escorts and the band, the march past begins.

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The march past
The march past Sai

Marching to a New Beat at the Annual Sports Meet

Swami commanded that each and every student participate in the march past and every student looks forward to the chance to salute the Divine Master. I have had a very humbling experience in this regard. There was a student who was disciplined, good in academics and a keen sportsman. In his first year when the march past practice began in early December, I noticed that He could not differentiate between left and right when he marched. Both of us struggled till Jan 5th and gave up. In his second year the story was slightly better, but the crucial moment near the dais, he would get it wrong again. To encourage him he was nominated as the reserve for march-past! He shed a tear or two and I too could not contain my disappointment.  In his final year he came to me in early June and said, “Sir, I practiced marching in my holidays.” Now he wanted to pass out of the campus as squad leader during the Sports Meet! He wanted to do it for his beloved Swami. Indeed he practiced very hard and led the squad in January 2002. Our students love Swami and this is their greatest virtue and quality.

The second part of the programme is the real show piece. We used to go to Parthi to take Bhagavan’s approval after the events were finalized. His face would light up when enquired about the programme. He would ask for details in public and we would let out bits and pieces. He would then call us inside, listen and make suggestions and changes. He would command us to keep it a secret! He did not want each campus to know what the other campuses were planning. This would make us feel on top of the world.

In later years, some of the programmes became repetitive and we had representatives meeting and sorting out timings and events. The events became more adventurous and professional as the years rolled by. The only motivation for all the students and teachers was to please Swami.

Challenging the Boundaries:
Becoming more Adventurous and Professional

I can say with pride that no institution, anywhere in the world, can come up with such wonderful programmes in such a short period of 15-20 days every year. The one and only goal of all our students is Swami, His love for them, and their love for Him. Our students have done everything which showcases their enthusiasm, balance, skill, courage, fitness and sportsman spirit of the highest order. Our students have learned to fly in a matter of fifteen-twenty days! Is this not a miracle? Our students have done para-sailing, para-motoring, para-gliding and landed in the midst of fifty thousand people. Even a professional flier will think twice as the conditions are really tough. The motor cycle events had earlier been performed only by the Army and BSF. Our students - both boys and girls - drive their bullets with speed and precision and perform breathtaking stunts which make even a seasoned driver sit back and take notice. Our students have done carabining from the top of the Hanuman hill to the ground. What a wonderful sight! They have done rock climbing, and performed gymnastics of the highest order. Stunts have been performed on moving cars, jeeps and even trucks.

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Parachuting with precision
Suspended from a crane

The giant wheel of the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus is always an eagerly awaited event. The mono cycling event of the Anantapur campus is rarely seen in other parts of the country.  One of the most spectacular events ever was called the ‘celestial rhythm’ performed at a height of 80 feet from the ground on a structure held up by a crane. The twenty boys who performed the show stole the hearts of one and all. Earlier, only the professional British navy sailors had done this event anywhere in the world. Col. Rajvardhan Singh Rathore, the country’s pride at the Olympics, after watching the event, remarked that he has never seen anything like this before. Even the Army would need at least 6 months to prepare such a team.

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A 'high wire' act
Motoring into formation

Our students have done equestrian events, show jumping, tent pegging and what not! Our bungee jumpers had barely one or two practice jumps before the final jump and have even done the latest reverse bungee jumping. The latest additions are the most colourful Chinese Lion Dance and Dragon Dance.

The most awaited and heart warming performance comes from the tiny tots of the Primary School. The variety of dances, colorful formations, flexibility of the tiny gymnasts and agility of the skaters speak very highly of the standards we have set for ourselves. The Primary School Teachers themselves stitch all the costumes for the thousand odd children! I have seen Swami watching their programmes. He is so happy when the small children perform. If you wish to see what a true mother’s love is – watch Swami during the Sports Meet.

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A colorful act by the primary school students
Primary students dance for Swami

The Students Bring out their Best for Swami

All the programmes are choreographed and set to music by the students themselves. I believe that the Sports Meet brings out the best in every student. The backdrops and sets are also made by the students. Some of them become expert carpenters, welders and some carve out the most exquisite designs ever.

On the 14th of January, Swami gives a huge silver cup to each Campus after His discourse. The individual prizes for athletics and games are given by Swami Himself. The articles He distributes as prizes are of daily use to the students such as electric shavers, soaps, walkmans, cameras, etc. The students cherish these tokens of love all their lives.

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Group photo of Swami with His performers
Sai presents award in athletics

The Sports Meet has a cultural component. We have had wonderful drama presentations on the evening of the Prize Distribution function – Jayadeva, Surdas, Annamaya which have held the devotees spell bound. The costumes, dialogues, songs, music and the sets – all of these are done by the students themselves.

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The most satisfying feeling for us teachers is that the Sports Meet is one event which brings every student closer to Swami. The bond of love brings out the best in them. They learn the value of hard work and discover the joy of sharing and caring. Discipline and determination come naturally to them. The spirit of sportsmanship enhances their love for Swami and inspires them to put into practice: “Life is Love, Live it”. For all of us at the Institute, He is the unbiased Selector, Stern Coach, Exemplary Captain, Ideal Umpire, and above all, the Omnipresent Scorer!

The only hope for the future are these boys and girls of Swami’s Institutions, who with their integrity, honesty, sincerity, and discipline, will inspire the youth of the world towards everything good and noble. Swami keeps reminding us that dark clouds will sometimes block the sunlight. Does it mean that the sun does not exist? When dark clouds fill our skies, hiding sunshine from our eyes, say His Name, see His Form – Hold on and then we are sure to be blessed.

Jai Sai Ram!

-courtesy: Vidyagiri Divine Vision

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Vol 5 Issue 01 - JANUARY 2007
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