October 28, 2008 – Diwali Celebration in the Divine Presence
Diwali, the festival of lights as it is often called, arrives at a time in India when the chills of the winter are spreading their tentacles slowly over everything. It arrives as a warm thawing influence and along with the lights and sweets, warm feelings and loving thoughts are also distributed among all. Across many parts of India and Nepal, it is celebrated as the homecoming of Lord Ram of Ayodhya, after a 14-year exile in the forest and his victory over the evil demon-king Ravan. In the epic Ramayana, the people of Ayodhya (the capital of his kingdom) welcome Lord Ram by lighting rows (avali) of lamps (deepa), thus its name: Deepavali.
Over time, this word transformed into Diwali in Hindi and Dipawali in Nepali, but still retained its original form in South and East Indian Languages. Celebrated as Narak Chaturdashi, one day before Diwali day, it commemorates the killing of Narakasura, an evil demon who created havoc, by Lord Krishna's wife Satyabhama. According to the Puranas, the goddess of wealth, prosperity and good Luck, Lakshmi was born from the churning of the Milk Ocean, along with other magical beings and objects, on this day.
In Puttaparthi, Diwali is another occasion to celebrate! Any occasion with the Lord is a reason to celebrate, and so, Puttaparthi has no shortage of reasons for a celebration. The day at Puttaparthi saw the confluence of people from various parts of India and the world, especially from Gujarat as the Gujarati New Year also happens to fall during this period. They had come prepared with programmes for three days and Swami in all Love and Grace had permitted them to put it up in His presence.
The evening of October 28 saw Swami go to the Vidyagiri stadium a little after 4:00 p.m. After having a look at the progress of the preparations for the Yagna scheduled to start on November 15, Swami returned in about 25 minutes. Since it was the day of Diwali, the people from Gujarat had prepared two programmes.
The first one was based on the Ramayana. It compared the Sri Rama story with the Sai Rama story and brought out the similarities between the two missions. The drama focused on the bridge building episode to highlight the power of the name. It also highlighted the same with the example of the great devotee Hanuman - how he crossed the ocean and overcame all the demonic forces to fill the Lord's heart with hope and thrill. He also filled Lord Sai's heart with joy as Swami seemed to nostalgically reminisce on the devotion and Love exhibited by this great devotee. It had a song cum acting scene highlighting the dialogue between Ravana and Mother Sita. As the war went on between the forces of good and the evil, little Vanaras (monkeys) arrived in clusters holding Swami's picture. It concluded with all the children coming together in a formation. It was like the aggregation of the forces of Sathya, Dharma, Shanti and Prema.
That concluded and the children dispersed. Then a little boy so perfectly dressed as the Father of the Nation - the Mahatma, came and offered his salutations to Swami. Some more participants came up to Swami with cards, pictures and a specially prepared brochure showing the various seva activities being carried out in Gujarat.
Two children then brought a special card which showed symbolically all the children contributing to the mission by rowing the boat of Sai's work. All the photos of the participants adorned it and Swami blessed it. The programme entitled, "The great souls meet" highlighted the various religious conflicts taking place in the world and attempted to provide solutions based on the teachings of all the great people of God - Jesus, Adi Sankaracharya, Prophet Mohammed, Swami Vivekananda, Confucius, Zarathushtra, Gautama Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. It ended on a jubilant note when the Lord's voice is heard telling them not to worry for this time He Himself had arrived on earth for the redemption of mankind.
As the final formation came into place, the children came to the front and rolled out a blue velvety carpet and invited Swami to the centre of the formation. They also placed a lovely cushiony lotus for Swami to rest His tender feet on! Swami sweetly obliged them and moved into their midst. After that, all the children moved back to let the participants of the first programme have their share of the Lord's time and Presence in their midst - but not before a quick padanamaskar or a word with Swami. Swami was all smiles and He called the children of the other group also to surround Him. After the photo session, Swami blessed prasadam to be distributed to all and asked for bhajans to begin. As bhajans were on, Swami went for a short while into the interview room.
Coming out Swami asked for the aarthi. Blessing everyone, Swami moved towards the Yajur Mandir. There some school children, a few teachers and some other devotees had gathered with a few fireworks. Swami sweetly held out a sparkler and as it sizzled on, it appeared so poignant and significant. It was absolutely significant of His life - burning Himself away to lend light and joy to everyone around! He then distributed sparklers and other crackers to some children and the students. A 'garland' type cracker was lit and the sound it created was such that all devotees gathered at the gate of the Yajur Mandir. A lot of smoke and sound was created. But again the sight there embodied what Swami means to the devotees. They are ready to face any hardship for even a glimpse of His beautiful form - and when you ask them as to why they are ready to undergo anything, they just reply, "Who is undergoing anything? We are so happy and Swami is so sweet and Loving". As the line of a famous song goes, "Where do I begin to tell the story of how great a Love can be?"
Swami sat a while watching the small display of flowerpots and the chakras on the ground. He advised everyone to be careful. He pointed out towards the loose clothing of some people and advised them to be at a safe distance from the lit lamps. Spending 15 minutes and giving joy to all who had gathered there, He agreed for a second round of aarthi and also coconut breaking before retiring for the day.
October 29, 2008 – Gujarati New Year Day in Prasanthi Nilayam
October 29 was the occasion of the Gujarati New year. This occasion is synonymous with sudekam of the Kartik month - the first day of the first month of Gujarati lunar calendar. Most other Hindus celebrate the New Year in early spring, but the Gujarati community celebrates the New Year after Diwali to mark the beginning of a new fiscal year. More than 2500 devotees had arrived specially for this occasion from the Indian state of Gujarat.
It was at about 4:30 p.m. that Swami arrived to the chanting of the Vedas. The youth were seated in neat rows and were distinct by their deep brown scarves. Swami took a complete darshan round and then came on stage. He lit the lamp that had been decorated and placed for the occasion. It is interesting to note that the drama they were about to stage in a few minutes was called "Prema Jyoti" and here we had "Prema" lighting the "Jyoti"! Lighting the lamp, Swami went into the interview room for a short while.
As soon as He came out on the dais again, He asked for the programme to begin. The opening was a parade of items for Swami to bless. Devotees from the ladies and gents sections moved up the stage with cards, a lamp, brochures of the Grama Seva being done, fruit trays and even a cake. Swami slaked everyone's thirst for His proximity and blessed them too. Then the programme began.
There was a 10 minute presentation of welcome songs. After this, the drama began. It portrayed the manner in which the Sri Sathya Sai Organization in Gujarat went about organizing the exhibition - Prema Jyoti. This exhibition had been inaugurated by Swami during the Guru Poornima of 2007 and by His will travelled the length and breadth of India conferring the joy of witnessing His Life and work to millions. Like any other noble endeavour, organising the exhibition had its ups and downs, but 'the Hand of God' was felt in every aspect of the work. Experiences based on the actual interaction of the volunteers on site with various people from the different walks of life were shown dramatically in the drama. Dance and music were embedded into the fabric of the plot. The conclusion was with a song and dance sequence and all the participants gathered in the centre, and offered their prayers and pranaams to Swami.
Swami appeared very happy and moved during various portions of the drama. In one scene, when the organisers of Prema Jyothi were facing a very tough situation with getting the arch and gateway ready in time for the D-day, they surrender completely to Swami and are fully confident about His Grace flowing on them for hasn't He said, "If you need me, you deserve me." Swami seemed so charged during the course of this episode that when one of the characters fell on his knees and prayed, "Swami only you have to help", Swami nodded His head and blessed Him saying, "Yes! I will help."
At the end, Swami moved down and posed for group photos with all the participants. As that was being done, many of them gave letters to Bhagavan; one little boy, in particular, dug deep into his pockets trying to extract a card that he had made for Swami. Bhagavan on His part, sat sweetly and patiently, and accepted the extracted letter! Then with a lovely smile and a gracious abhayahastha, Swami moved to the ladies section of the youth. He posed for photos with them too before moving back to the stage. He then blessed Mrs. Piu Sarkhel to present Hindustani Classical songs. As the stage was being prepared for her, Swami went into the interview room and returned with watches for all the participants.
At this time, the lady began her songs and Swami noticed two primary school children right up in the front. He called them on stage and began to see through the card that they had made for Him for the occasion of the Gujarati New Year. One of the boys also gave Swami an invitation to the ground breaking ceremony of the land for his house. Swami had a detailed look at it. He also played with the boys with comments about the card that they had made. Blessing both of them, He sent them to their places. Then again, as if like an afterthought, Swami called both back on the stage and materialized vibhuti for them. Putting spots on their foreheads, He put the remaining into their palms and told them, "Eat it now itself!" And immediately, the boys stuffed the Vibhuti into their mouths much to the glee and amusement of all the devotees assembled. Playfully patting them, Swami sent them back.
Mrs. Piu Sarkhel then presented Hindustani classical songs and bhajans on the stage for half an hour. Swami blessed her and her group with clothes and photographs. Soon after, bhajans by the devotees commenced at six o'clock. Ten minutes later, Swami asked the students to sing the 'Allah ho Akbar' bhajan with alap. After this, He accepted arati and returned to His residence.
October 30, 2008 – “Vision of the Divine” Drama by Gujarat Devotees
The concluding programme of the devotees from Gujarat was based on real life experiences at Navsari in Gujarat in a drama entitled "Vision of the Divine". It was 5:10 p.m. when the programme began in the true sense as Swami came out to grant darshan! As always, the central area was kept empty and free, and the backdrop stood majestic. Swami looked at it as He slowly passed by it and it was wonderful moment - Swami looking at a majestic backdrop that proclaimed, "Vision of the Divine". Completing the round, Swami moved to the stage. Once again, there was a parade of lucky souls who went up to Swami seeking blessings before the programme. This is a great opportunity and everyone utilises it to the full. Swami blessed all the people who came up the stage and then the programme began.
The drama had as its theme the “cataract surgery” Seva activities done in Navsari district of Gujarat. The region, being backward, was infested with many self-proclaimed quacks who always attributed the eye problems of the suffering masses to the curse of God for all the sins they had committed. The story, that was portrayed, could have been the story of any one of the hundreds of tribals treated and nursed by the doctors and devotees of Swami. It showed how a poor man is deprived of his sight by a cataract and of hope by a local "witch doctor" wielding peacock feathers and chanting mumbo-jumbo. It is firmly ingrained in the minds of the affected person that he has been cursed by God. When the volunteers from the Sai Organisation arrive to help and treat the people of the area through eye camps, everyone at first eyes them suspiciously. [Isn't it funny that nowadays we accept selfishness as natural and are unable to believe that selflessness exists? Else how can one explain the amazement that we express at Swami's Love and Grace? As Bhagavan aptly puts it, "What is aascharyam (surprise) for you is sahajam (natural) for me."]
The drama was very simple but powerful in showing how a little care and love coupled with the Lord's grace can literally help thousands to see more clearly! The drama was backed with the power of Truth and though no 'flashy' miracles seemed to happen, the miracle wherein the patients were blessed from seeing through the milky fluid of the cataract to the clear fluid of grateful and joyous tears was awe inspiring in itself. The eye camps in this region have been vastly successful and have covered more than a hundred villages and more than four thousand operations have been successfully conducted. The drama was short and sweet and at the end of it as all the participants gathered in a formation, Swami called the "tribal" who had been "cursed" by God according to the "village quack" and blessed him with a gold chain. Everyone burst in applause and Swami blessed the participants with abhayahastha. He then told all of them to sit in their places and the next part of the evening's programme began.
Mr. Devesh Dave sang some popular songs and bhajans. Before the performance, he and the other artists bowed to Swami and that included a small kid who was to play the cymbals. Swami smilingly kidded with the kid asking him, "Are you going to sing?" The smile was returned by the apparently startled kid. The concert then began and went on for about half an hour. At the end of it, Swami accepted aarthi. It was 6:30 p.m. and Swami started moving towards Yajur mandir in the chair itself! Now this was a bonus for all the ladies and they rejoiced at the close darshan.
At Yajur Mandir, the security guards prayed to Swami for group pictures as their shifts had been completed and a new set of guards would be replacing them the next day. With a sweet smile, Swami posed for photographs with them before retiring for the day.
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- Heart2Heart Team