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How The Beatific Sai Bewitched Me

Interview with Dr. Jayalakshmi Gopinath, Part-1

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This is the first part of a Radio Sai interview recorded in May 2003 with late Prof. Jayalakshmi Gopinath, the then Warden and Head of the Department of English, Sri Sathya Sai University, Anantapur campus. Prof. Gopinath’s association with Bhagavan goes back to as early as 1948 when she was a little girl! An epitome of dedication, service and love at His Lotus Feet for more than half a century, in this interview Jayamma (this is how Swami calls her) shares some of her cherished memories and fascinating experiences with Dr. Rajeshwari Patel, an alumnus and currently a faculty member of Sri Sathya Sai University, Anantapur Campus. Prof. Jayalakshmi Gopinath merged at His lotus feet in Jun 2016.

Dr. Rajeshwari Patel (RP): Sairam Professor Jayalakshmi Gopinath and welcome to Radio Sai Global Harmony. Madam, it is a pleasure to have you with us today. You have had a long association of 55 years with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Can you take a walk down the memory lane?

In the Hindu spiritual tradition, among the nine modes of devotion, one is Shravana or ‘Listening to the Glory of God’. We would like you to open your golden casket of treasured experiences and share the spiritual treat with our listeners who have tuned into Radio Sai. Please tell our listeners a little of your early life. How old were you when you came to Bhagavan and how old was Bhagavan physically, then?

Sai Congleton
Prof. Jayalakshmi Gopinath

Prof. Jayalakshmi Gopinath (Jayamma): Thank you Rajeshwari for all that you have said. I was in my early teens when I came to the Lotus Feet. I saw Him in 1947 and Swami was about 21 years, I think. Bhagavan should have been that young.

RP: “Your tryst with God” - Did you sense it coming or did it happen unexpectedly? What brought you to Bhagavan?

Jayamma: I cannot call it mere chance. It must have been Divine Design!

Prior to his retirement, my father had settled down in Bangalore and I was then still studying. I was with my parents then and my father would go every day for a walk. And one day he met a person who told him about Bhagavan Baba.

Baba was then residing in the house of Mrs. Sakamma, the coffee magnate. Father himself, well I suppose, had certain occult powers. He could hypnotize and could cure certain diseases; ours was a very pious family. So my father got interested and said, “Well, let me know where He lives, give us the address, we would like to go”. That’s how father, mother and I went to Mrs. Sakamma’s house for the first time. I am indebted to my parents for having brought me to God.

RP: During your early childhood, did you ever feel a kind of seeking for God which brought you to Bhagavan?

Jayamma: Yes, absolutely. It might seem very funny. As a little child, I had an idol of Sri Krishna made out of clay. I would fondle it and even take it to my bed when I slept. Mother didn’t say anything. She sort of indulged me and for a long time that attachment to the Krishna idol was there. Apart from that, our family itself was so very devoted. They hosted the Sadhus and Sants (saints and pious people) in our house. I suppose that must have fostered in me to merely love God, not ask Him for this or that.

When we saw Bhagavan Baba - I do not know how to explain - there was something that happened to me! I felt a tremendous ecstasy and my eyes filled with tears. Baba was very young at the time.

Incredible Affinity with the Divine

RP: Was the experience of ecstasy instant, as soon as you saw Him?

Jayamma: Yes, as soon as I looked at Him! He threw a rose at me! He was very kind with my father. He took him aside and spoke to him. I suppose that day sealed the bond between Divinity and us. Since then, it has been that way.

RP: You must have visited Prashanthi Nilayam in the 1950s and 1960s several times. What was Puttaparthi like in those days?

Jayamma: We were there even during the Old Mandir days, which was a very small building of rough stones. Bhagavan’s residence itself was none too enviable. And it was wilderness all around and the transformation that has taken to today’s Prashanthi Nilayam is unimaginable.

RP: What was Bhagavan’s daily routine in that glorious past? You have been a direct witness to Him in many years.

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Jayamma: In the Old Mandir there was nothing like a daily routine. At that time we did not have Suprabhatham in the early morning. We were just a handful of devotees. As usual, there was the discipline of men on one side and women on the other. And early morning, as soon as we got up, most of us were in a state of heightened bliss, which perhaps can be related to Sri Krishna and His devotees mentioned in the Bhagavatha. It was so with me.

Baba would be up early, around 5 a.m. There was no such thing like Darshan. He would be out of His room. Everybody would be around Him and He would be moving amidst us. We were always standing near Him and looking at Him enraptured. He would play with us. During the Bhajan time, He would sing with us. Many a time, Bhagavan has sung along with me. The altar was on a platform; any devotee could go and clean it up.

One little experience I can tell you from those days. We had come after we went to Mrs. Sakkamma’s house many a times for Darshan; Bhajans would be held there. Baba told my father to come to Puttaparthi. It was not Prashanthi Nilayam at that time. So once during my holidays, we thought we would make the first trip. In those days, Bhagavan would be standing right at the portico of the Mandir to receive each and every devotee, whatever time they came. And so He received us and He was very happy.

At that time we were not aware that Baba would give interview to devotees. It was time for us to leave after a few days. And before that, I was motivated to clean the altar, put the wicks in order, cut it and fill the oil in the lamp. There was a curtain which was covering the altar from the rest of the place, so nobody could see me. If I could confess, I would go and hug Shirdi Baba’s idol. And I would feel so happy.

On the day of our departure, my father and mother had been called for an interview. But I didn’t know that. I was completely oblivious, busy with doing small chores at the altar. And as I was cleaning, a devotee called, “Jayamma! (that’s how Baba calls me) What is this? Your parents have gone for an interview and you didn’t go?” I went hurriedly but the door had been latched from inside!

A terrible sadness overcame me. I sat in a corner and was sobbing my heart out! After a little while, I heard my father calling me, “Jaya, Jaya come, it is late; let us go.” Thinking I shouldn’t go out with a tear stained face, I just lifted my hot tear stained face and whom do I see in front of me? Bhagavan Baba!

He said, “Why are you crying?”

He said it so tenderly, that tears came so profusely again!

“What do you want?” He asked.

At that time, I needed nothing. I said, “Swami I want your Photo.” I spoke to Him in Kannada.

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The materialised photograph

He looked at me with such tenderness and He said, “You want a Photo? If you put the photo in water, it gets dissolved; if you throw it into fire, it gets burnt to ashes; if you tear it, it becomes fragmented. Why do you want a photo? Keep Me in your heart.” I was thrilled!

Nevertheless, He materialized a small photograph and gave it to me. It is with me even today. He listened to my small prayer. That was the first one.

“Singing for the Lord”

RP: Can you share with our listeners some more experiences you have with Baba.

Jayamma: He is the unchangeable one. It is just circumstances have changed. And the devotees now are coming in huge numbers. There are so many things that Baba has taken upon Himself.

There in the Old Mandir, it was entirely a personal contact between God and the devotees. It was just a state of absolute enchantment. That is what I could call it.

Another instance comes to my mind from the old days, when we used to come to Puttaparthi. My mother had left for Delhi because my second older sister was about to deliver. Father and I were at home in Bangalore. Father was also crazy about Bhagavan. One day my father said, “Let us go to Puttaparthi.” And I was overjoyed to make the journey.

We alighted and Baba came to the portico and took us inside. In front of the altar, Baba just stopped. Naturally, Father and I stood there. Then, Baba looked at me and said, “Sing”.

I was very nervous to sing in His presence. Baba encouraged me and asked me to sing. There were a few devotees and as I was singing, I had an amazing experience.

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There were life-size photographs of Shirdi Baba and Sathya Sai Baba in the altar. The garlands were right from the toe to the head. First Shirdi Baba’s garlands started to sway and it gained momentum. It swayed, and swayed so forcibly that all the garlands snapped and fell down while I was singing. My hair stood on end!

Baba looked at me and said, “Sing another song”. I sang a Meerabai Bhajan. He would usually ask me to sing Purandara Dasa’s Kirtans and Meera Bhajans.

As I started the next song, the garlands on our Baba’s picture started swaying and gaining momentum; then they snapped and fell down too. Baba looked at me very meaningfully. I wanted to stop but He asked me to sing. I sang a third song and the garlands around the silver idol of Shirdi Baba, slowly rolled down. They didn’t snap this time! That was the end of that experience.

I knew Baba was very happy. As far as I was concerned, I was in the heaven of delight.

A Prized Gift

RP: I remember you telling us that you won the first prize in the music competition organized by Bhagavan in the Old Mandir; can you narrate that story?

Jayamma: This was something impromptu; it came all of a sudden. During that trip, I came first with a devotee and my parents were to follow. As soon as I alighted, they told me that a music competition was being conducted by Bhagavan Baba. I was interested to hear this, but then immediately one person came running to me and said, “Swami is calling you.” I was very nervous to sing in the presence of Bhagavan.

The new Mandir was a little different then; it was not so polished. Of course the altar had the life-size pictures of Bhagavan and where the chariot is now, there Bhagavan was sitting as the judge.

Men and women on either side - whom He had asked to sing - had to sit there and sing through the mike. So after a few had sung, both men and women, He called me. I always used to be a little fearful when Baba called me. He asked me to sit down, named a few Meera Bhajans and asked me to sing. I sang the song and then there were a few more participants to go. At the end of it all, Baba announced that I got the first prize, which I never expected. He gave me a lovely silver cup and saucer tinted with gold inside. I have it with me even today. He gave it to me and said, “Jayamma, drink milk with this.”

The Divine Bondage: Grandfather and his Divine Grandson

RP: Were you fortunate to see Swami’s grandfather?

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The Lord and His very own grandfather

Jayamma: Yes, I have seen His Grandfather. Then the grandfather must have been 105 years old (this was when He used to come occasionally to the Old Mandir), the new Mandir wasn’t there then.

He was thin and very tall. He had a personality of his own, even at that age, as if he is one of the chief persons in the village. It was a very beautiful sight to see: He would come with a stick and somebody would help him and then they would put a chair in the outside enclosure where the altar was. He would sit and wait for the Divine Grandson. Swami would come so quickly from His room as if He was rushing forth to meet the human grandfather and He would go to him, clasp his hands and I have seen the grandfather literally hugging Him. It was a wonderful sight.

RP: Bhagavan has said in some private discourses that His Grandfather was the only person who really recognized His Divinity.

Jayamma: Absolutely, we could see this interaction. There was definitely a Divine bondage between the grandfather and the grand-son.

Medallions from Vibhuti: “A Miracle I witnessed”

Jayamma: In those days during Dasara and Swami’s birthday, people would take a procession of Swami in a flower bedecked palanquin. And Swami gave Darshan of the Avatars to so many devotees. Once, I saw that when Baba got off the Palanquin, once the procession returned to the Old Mandir, He just shook His robes and from His robes, came plentiful vibhuti! It came out in flakes and it spread to such a distance that people started gathering it. Right on His forehead, there would be thick flakes of vibhuti.

When we returned from the procession, He would take some flowers and throw the petals of the flowers with both His Hands. They would get transformed into medallions! I was a witness to it! My mother got one such medallion, which was very significant for us. My father’s name was Keshav Vittal; he was called Vittal Rao. On one side of the medallion was Bhagavan Baba’s image and on the other side was of Lord Panduranga Vittal.

RP: Each medallion had a different deity?

Sai Congleton

Jayamma: Yes, each one had a different deity!

RP: This is a wonderful story. Please tell us one more of your precious experiences which speaks of Bhagavan’s Glory.

Jayamma: Let me share two from quite a few. Mrs. Sakkamma, was very devoted to Swami. She looked after Him like her own son. She was a pure soul and He too loved her very much.

Earlier, Sakkamma had lot of faith in my father, so she used to tell him, “This small Old Mandir for Swami is very cramped.” It was a crude stone building. Baba’s room was so small; He didn’t even have an attached bathroom. There was no privacy at all for Baba. It was a sad thing.

She said, “Why not we put an effort, collect some contribution and build a Mandir for Bhagavan?” That is how it started. Father took it up and some people contributed. One amongst them, at that time, was this very rich merchant, Sri Thiruvenkatam Shetty. That’s how the new Mandir was opened in 1950.

The Divine Declaration: “Everything is in My Hands”

RP: What did Bhagavan say to you about His life and Mission? Did He say anything then?

Jayamma: My uncle Dr. Prasanna Simha Rao, who was the Chief Surgeon in the Victoria Hospital, was a devotee. One day in 1952, he and my aunt said they would like to have Baba’s Darshan. I said, “I will go with them”. So they took me with them.

This incident is something that made an indelible mark in my mind, I can never forget it! The New Mandir was plain. It didn’t have all the curves and the embellishments. Baba was in the portico, the front verandah that still remains, at that time it wasn’t done up so well; it was just cement.

Sai Congleton

Baba had come down and was standing in that verandah. He gave an interview to my uncle and aunt, but didn’t call me for the interview. There were some others and devotees were so happy that the new Mandir had come up.

Some of them expressed to Swami, “How beautiful this Mandir is! Earlier, some devotees cast some aspersions and they had said, ‘This Mandir’s wall would not come up beyond one foot’. It was such arrogance they had before the construction! Swami, how stupid and ignorant they are, what a beautiful Mandir has come up!”

Swami then made a wonderful declaration. The whole world should know about it. He was standing there and then He became very solemn. Sometimes there is such a change between the Baba who plays with us and talks with us, and the Baba who becomes absolutely Divinity Personified and pulls Himself to that Majesty. That look was on Swami’s face! There was a far off aloofness in His eyes.

He said, “Let people talk. They do not know. I just have to clap My hands, and a whole Mandir will come up. Everything is in these Hands!”

That declaration He made so loudly, I suppose it went home to all of us. It sort of, made our hair stand up. Just imagine - He doesn’t need us! We think we are doing something, but He is getting it done by us to give us that fulfillment, that’s all! To get us the satisfaction that we have contributed! As He said that, He went on repeating, “I have everything, everything is in My Hands!”

Somehow He felt detached from those of us who were standing there and slowly walked off. He climbed the steps and went to His room. It made a tremendous impression upon me.

“Where am I?”

RP: Once, many years ago, you were asked by Bhagavan to translate for an interview that Bhagavan gave to Mr. Howard Murphet. After you returned to Anantapur, you shared with the students - I was a student then and remember this - some of the profound Truths uttered by Bhagavan during the interview. Do you remember some of them?

Jayamma: Sure! That was another incident where the small interview room, at that moment, lost its contour. It became something as vast as space, because of the things that Swami said.

Mr. Murphet had asked this question. “Swami, You incarnated as Shirdi Baba. Now You are the reincarnation of that deity, eight years later. Swami, where were You during this short span of eight years?”

Swami said, “Where was I? I permeated the whole Universe! There is no single place for Me, I was the Whole Universe.”

Thus He uttered with such solemnity, I staggered with this answer. This went on. This is one of the most important things.

(to be continued…)


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Vol 6 Issue 02 - FEBRUARY 2008
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