November 18, 2008 – Rathotsavam Day in Prasanthi Nilayam
It is tradition in Prasanthi Nilayam that on November 18 every year, the idol of Venugopala Swami moves back to its original location in a chariot procession led by the idols of Lord Rama and Mother Sita. After worship is offered to the deities, the idols of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita return to the Mandir. Later, in the evening, the idols are taken out in a procession in the village of Puttaparthi, amidst joyous celebration by the villagers. And so, this year too on November 18, the statues were ready in the Bhajan Hall decked up and waiting for Swami to arrive. It was after 9:20 a.m. that Swami came for darshan. He headed into the Bhajan Hall after the darshan round. There were still huge crowds - spillovers from the previous day’s event and new arrivals for dear Swami's birthday.
Swami entered the Bhajan Hall and all the students dressed in red dhotis gathered there began the chanting. Swami had a look at the idols and the priest added on a few decorations in Swami's presence. Swami also had a special crown that was made for Venugopalaswami, and so, the Krishna adorned with the flute was crowned with that pretty piece. Aarthi was performed to the idols and Swami enquired into the proceedings of the morning.
The Sevadal volunteers then came up till the idols and raised the palanquins on their shoulders. With the Veda contingent leading the procession, the bhajan group boys also joined in and heralded the statues towards the Gopuram gate of the Mandir. Swami moved out of the bhajan hall and saw the idols being taken out. He too followed suit through the central path that was made between the boys seated in the marble blocks. As Swami moved down, all the students took the opportunity to touch Him in some way or the other and there were many who were trying to give letters to Him. Swami seemed to say, "I will take them on My way back!"
Huge floral decorations (rangolis) adorned the floor and Swami saw them intently as He passed by them. Then, through the Gopuram gate, Swami too moved out onto the road. The whole world seemed to be waiting for Him there as every inch of real estate had been taken up. The balconies were brimming with people and devotees thronged to whichever place afforded them a view of their dear Lord. Many snapped pictures for this was one of those rare times when they would be able to click pictures of the Lord. Swami sweetly sat watching as the idols were hoisted up on shoulders to their places in the chariot. He blessed coconuts to be broken in front of the chariot and then had the camphor waved at the idols. Blessing the procession to begin, Swami moved back slowly to the Mandir. As He was returning, the devotees from both the ladies and gents side thronged from above sending down their salutations as Swami was moving through the huge area behind the Rama, Lakshmana and Sita statues in the Sai Kulwant Hall. Swami looked up at the devotees and blessed them. (He always looks up to His devotees!). Keeping His promise, He collected letters from the students as He moved through them into the interview room. He then returned to the Bhajan Hall and asked for bhajans to begin. It was now a few minutes before 10 o'clock.
The procession in the village was led by the little Sathya Geetha, followed Veda chanting and bhajans by group of students of the Sri Sathya Sai University. The whole village came out in unity to celebrate. There were women who poured water all along the way to wash the path to be traversed and many more women came up in front to break coconuts and pay homage. Children came running to just touch the chariot as it is believed to be sanctifying. The youth were there dancing and playing fast rhythms on the drums. On the whole, it was a cheerfully load and colorful affair. Meanwhile, back at the Mandir, Swami sat outside for the bhajans that were on so that maximum people could benefit from having His darshan. He called all the boys holding trays and blessed them. After about 20-25 minutes, Swami went back into the Bhajan Hall and soon, at about 10:30 a.m., received aarthi and left.
November 19, 2008 – Ladies Day Celebrations in Prasanthi Nilayam
Swami said right from the beginning of His Avatarhood that the redemption of a nation has to begin with the redemption of its women and it was for this reason that He began His massive educational revitalizing and reform programme by starting a college for the girl students in Anantapur. In the same manner, He dedicated November 19 as a day to recognise the rich contributions of women and ever since the World Ladies' Day is celebrated with intensity on the 19th of the Birthday month. In fact, at many places, the 19th of every month is observed as Ladies' Day. In Prasanthi Nilayam, Ladies' Day began with the traditional Suprabhatam being sung by the renowned Telugu singer Mrs. P. Susheela just before 5.30 a.m. Even the Veda chanting around Swami's Mandir in the morning was done by a women's contingent.
Sai Kulwant Hall seemed to be the bride on this day ready to receive her Divine groom! Rows of lamps had been lined up on either side of the path that Swami would be moving on. The brass band from the Anantapur Campus and the bagpipes band from the Primary school stood in readiness to escort Swami. There was also a Veda chanting group with the traditional Poorna Kumbham. The marble block was filled with solar lamps, water filters and blankets which Swami would be blessing to be distributed to the needy in and around Puttaparthi. Swami arrived in Sai Kulwant Hall at 9.30 a.m. in a procession led by the girls’ bands of the Anantapur campus of the Sri Sathya Sai University and the Primary School, along with Vedam chanting students, as a welcome song was aired. As He moved onto the stage, He lit the lamp to mark the beginning of the day's proceedings. He then sat on the ladies' side of the stage where a huge picture of the Divine Mother Easwaramma rested, adorning the stage by her Son's side!
Ms. Chetana Raju delivering the introductory speech dwelled upon the mystery of Divinity encased in human form. “Most of us live and carry upon the surface of the wondrous workings of Bhagavan, remarkably unaware of the levels upon levels with which so much is going on. Who is His instrument and who is not? What is God's work and what is not?” asked the speaker. Reflecting on the right perspective one should inculcate with our approach to Bhagavan, the speaker further added: “We are opportunists whom Bhagavan gives 101 chances to serve and becoming a servant. Our stay on earth is like a flicker of a candle placed against eternity. It is He what He is today, and shall be Sri Sathya Sai what He will be tomorrow. His name will echo in the heart of creation for ever and ever, for eternity”. So saying she concluded her speech. The second speaker for the session was Dr. Ankhi Mukherjee, an alumnus at Anantapur Campus between1984-1991. Ankhi Mukherjee started with a meditation on knowing Bhagavan through the register of "vidya" and spoke of "vidya" as the "portable property" she has carried away from her years at the Institute. Describing her relationship with Bhagavan as one of telepathy, both distant and intimate (from "tele" and "pathos" of the same word), she discussed the implication of Women's education for not just self-improvement, or the improvement of a particular class of women, but for the overall improvement of women. The last speaker was Sylvia Alden, from the US, a retired teacher, holding a Masters in Special Education. In a moving speech packed with emotion and devotion, she prayed to Swami: “Swami, I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart will be acceptable to You, my Lord and my all”. Dwelling upon the concept "Universal" and its dictionary meaning, the speaker extolled Bhagavan to be the Universal Solution. He is that which exists and is true in all places and at all times and in all situations as justice and beauty. She also stressed the fact that Swami says, "Even the words I speak as a joke is Truth." But sadly we seem to take that declaration itself in a light manner. She exhorted to all that we should rise out of that foolishness.
As the speeches concluded, Swami blessed the distribution to begin. The needy had been identified and were seated in lines. They came up to the front and bowed to Swami before receiving the gifts of Love from various ladies who had been blessed to do that noble deed of giving. Swami's love is such that while He gives some the joy of receiving gifts, He gifts the joy of giving to some others - but it is sheer Joy that He gifts to all. The solar LED lanterns, water purifiers, rugs and other items useful for the rural folk were passed on to the recipients drawn from various parts of Anantapur district. Swami sat watching the proceedings throughout. After that was completed, Swami gifted something of which everyone is needy - Grace in the form of 'sweet' prasadam! After this, Bhagawan accepted arati at 11.10 before returning to His residence.
In the evening, once again Swami was ushered into Sai Kulwant Hall in a grand and elaborate procession, with another welcome song played over the speakers, at 5 p.m. When He completed the darshan rounds and reached the Mandir, He moved to the Bhajan Hall where the children from the Primary school were ready in costumes for their programme this evening. The children were shining in their multi-coloured dresses and Swami's eyes seemed to light up seeing them. After a brief interaction with them, Swami came onstage and started the programme for the evening.
The evening session started off with a soulful rendering of devotional music by Sunita, Surabhi Shravani and Smita. While it was a home coming for Sunita after the wonderful opportunity during the Guru Purnima, for the other two, it was the maiden venture - an opportunity that they cherished; and so they expressed themselves as best as possible through their music.
Starting with an invocation prayer to Lord Ganesha, "Shuklambharadharam Vishnum", they sang the famous "Sathyam Sivam Sundaram", "Jagadi Sigadu", a patriotic piece, "Sri Rama Chandra Kripalu", "Allah Tero Naam", "Vendi Ginneluka" and "Eashwar Hey Allah Ek Pukaar…", receiving applause from the packed Sai Kulwant Hall.
In between, Swami went into the interview room for a brief while but soon returned with sarees to give to the artists. The joy that the singing in Swami's presence bestows is such that one becomes oblivious to everything else. That was the case with the three singers too and it was Swami who made a sweet request, "Its enough now! The children are waiting to perform." The beauty with Swami is that whether He tells anyone to start singing or stop singing, they do it instantly with the same joy! They concluded the concert and Swami gifted sarees to the ladies and white safari pieces to the gents. As the musicians were packing up, tiny tots came up the stage with cards, flowers and presents.
The name of the dance drama was "Sai Vigrahavan Prema" inspired from the famous statement, "Ramo Vigrahavan Dharmah". Avatars have come at different times with different missions and their glories and their stories have become the life breath for multitudes everywhere. Is it ever possible to bring all these incarnations on one stage depicting their stories? This seemed to be the attempt by the students from the Primary School through a dazzling display of light, music, dance and drama in the fading light of the Ladies' Day evening. Their 70 minute dance-drama brought out the glory of Sai down the ages of Krita Yuga till the present, with video projections on the back-drop adding to the narrative.
The story shifted between eras of time and the different Avatars to highlight the glory of His story and the story of His glory. Shown were episodes from Swami's childhood and dialogues were borrowed from Swami's daily vocabulary of Telugu words and that seemed to strike at the heart chords of the audience! The performers ranged from the 12th standard girls till the little ones from 2nd or 3rd standard. The hard work and sincerity of purpose and practice was easily visible in all the performances, and so it was no surprise that Swami was very happy at the end of their performance.
He moved down the stage and posed with the children for photos. All the girls came in small groups and sat by Him posing for pictures. Some spoke to Him and many took padanamaskar. Granting joy to all His children, Swami moved up the stage again. The children were all in the centre of the marble block as both the divine mother, Easwaramma, and The Divine Mother, Swami, seemed to look at them with Love and Grace. Blessing them, Swami received aarthi and retired to Yajur Mandir.
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- Heart2Heart Team