September 10, 2008 – Onam Celebrations in Prasanthi Nilayam
September 10 marked the beginning of the three day festival of Onam. Onam is the biggest festival in the Indian state of Kerala and it falls during the Malayali month of Chingam (Aug - Sep) marking the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali. The spiritual carnival of Onam lasts for ten days and brings out the best in Kerala culture and tradition. Intricately decorated Pookalam (design with flowers), ambrosial Onasadya (the traditional feast), breathtaking Chundanvellams (Snake Boats) racing through placid waters and the exotic Kaikottikali dance are some of the most remarkable features of Onam - the harvest festival in Kerala. Most importantly, wherever the Malayali people are located, they return home for the festival. And it is this homecoming that sees thousands of devotees from Kerala flock the abode of highest peace at Puttaparthi.
A central stage had been set up in the marble block in which the acting area had been demarcated with flowers. The sets were in place and wonderfully costumed children sat awaiting the Lord's arrival. The staging area however had been filled with students. Swami came out for darshan at around 4:35 p.m. He was all smiles and so were the devotees. To see Swami is really a very special feeling. But that feeling seems to get enhanced especially when you see Him on a day that you consider as very special. And so, while the people in Kerala waited in eager anticipation for their king Mahabali, the Kerala devotees in Puttaparthi were welcoming the Lord Vamana Himself!
Swami moved through the ladies side and coming to the centre saw the elaborate stage that had been set up. Seeing the tiny tots seated in regal costumes, the smile on His face widened. He asked them, "Are you doing drama?" All He got for a reply was hesitant and cute nods from a few kids and absolutely blank looks from the others! Smiling to Himself, Swami moved on. As He moved through the gents’ side, the devotees rose to various heights to catch a glimpse of Him. On His part Swami blessed all of them and His hands kept moving up and down, reassuring and calming them. Moving through the students’ area, Swami finally came onto the stage. He asked all the students to clear the performance area so that the drama could immediately begin. He called the State President of Kerala Sai Organisation and asked him to introduce the program.
”The Balvikas students from Kerala would be performing the dance-drama called ‘Dashavataaram’.” As that announcement was made, very tiny children came forward with flowers to present to Swami! The Lord also seemed to be amazed at how little the children were. Full marks to the children for the exemplary discipline they exhibited and that discipline seemed to invite Swami to interact more with them. Swami blessed them and then told them to return to their place which they did in the most reverential manner. Then the programme began. It turned out to be more of dance and less of drama - a wonderful proposition when it comes to the children from Kerala who seemed to have learnt dance even before they were born!
The programme traced all the 10 avatars of Mahavishnu. Each avatar was introduced by the dance and then the incarnation made its brief appearance. The Avatar was then celebrated with another dance. The dances were such a pleasing sight and musically so rich and resonant. The choreography was perfect and it was incredible to think that children so small were capable of feats so big! The Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise) and Varaha (boar) Avatars were well depicted with 'manimals" shall was say! That is, people in disguise as a fish, tortoise and boar were seen on the backstage. The story of the Narasimha Avatar (half man- half lion) was briefly depicted and the actor donning the role of Hiranyakashyapu performed superlatively.
The significance of Onam and some of the festivities were beautifully depicted as the Vamana Avatar came onstage. The Prashurama and Rama Avatar arrived together and the greatest devotee Hanuman too got his share of the 'limelight'. The tiny toddling Krishna won everyone’s heart with his sheer presence on the scene! He looked so sweet and cute. The famous episode of Krishna enriching Sudama's life in every way was depicted. Then going through the Buddha Avatar, the programme finally turned to Swami.
Swami went briefly to the interview room and returned having arranged for sarees which He wanted to gift the children with. On His way back, He stopped for a minute at the Bhajan Hall. Representatives of the students working in Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust were seated there. Swami, in all Love, had granted everyone bonuses and hikes in salaries, and they expressed gratitude to Him. Swami was moved reading their letter and then blessed them. He also told them, "Continue whatever you are doing in the same way. That’s enough for me!"
He arrived at the stage and asked for the children to arrange themselves in a compact manner so that He could pose for group photos with them. As the boys and girls seated themselves separately, Swami moved down from the stage and posed for photographs with the children. He then asked for sarees to be brought. He personally gave all the girls sarees and along with each saree came a free smile too! The same procedure followed with the boys too, only that they were given white cloth pieces. After blessing them thus, Swami moved back to the stage and asked for bhajans to begin. During the bhajans, He blessed prasadam to be distributed. Later, receiving aarthi and blessing everyone with beautiful smiles, Swami returned to Yajur Mandir.
September 11, 2008 – The Second Day of Onam Celebrations
It was 3:45 p.m. when Swami came out for darshan on September 11, 2008. Many were taken by the pleasant surprise, for, in the past few days, Swami usually came out only after 4:00 p.m. Bhagavan completed the rounds quickly and then moved on stage. He asked for the Veda chanting classes to begin. He said that come rain or shine, the classes must proceed and all must make efforts to learn the vedic hymn “Namakam”. And so, the class began and as it went on, Swami went into the interview room.
Soon He came out, and once the lessons for the day had been completed, He asked all the students seated in front to move out to clear the area for a drama, that was scheduled, to begin. This was a fantastic scene. Usually, there is very little space even to walk as all the students sit huddled and close, with the desire of maximum divine proximity. But at the same time, when Swami tells His students to get up and clear the area, everyone does it with the greatest enthusiasm, for is that too not a chance to directly follow His command? However, as these two feelings combine, the apparent confusion it creates is hilarious at times! And Swami sits enjoying every bit of it. As the students cleared the area, Swami once again went into the interview room. He asked for the programme to begin. On His return, after a few minutes, He sat watching the proceedings.
The drama that was being performed was derived from the immortal epic, Ramayana. Its focus seemed to be on three characters whose lives were intertwined since birth - Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman. While Lakshmana was born of Kausalya's portion of the potion given to Sumitra, Hanuman too was born of the same potion which an eagle carried away and dropped in his mother's hands. The drama opened with the incident where Rama is so happy that Lakshmana won the game, but Lakshmana is crying because Rama had lost the game purposely in his favour. Rama is the apple of the eye of every queen. Seeing this scene, the Lord's eyes brimmed with tears. Seeing Swami at such times is such a revealing experience. Nobility has the power to arouse the pure heart very easily. And so, irrespective of the background score or the level of acting, the episodes from Ramayana seem to arouse in Swami such powerful feelings and emotions. And when we sit seeing the drama in a distant fashion, it inspires us to aspire for that purity that sweet Swami embodies. But whatever be the purity levels, seeing Swami at such times makes everyone also feel for the drama being presented (and maybe that’s why the Lord who is called Sthitaprajna - the ever steady- does His human role of emoting!)
Then, there is fast forward of Ramayana and the trio of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita are seen in the forest. Rama tells Lakshmana to set up a hut in the place of his choice. This brings Lakshmana into tears! He asks, "Oh brother! What do you mean by the place which I like? My likes are exactly whatever You like. Don’t you know that?" That sort of brotherly Love existed between them.
Once again the story moves forward and now is the episode where the search for Mother Sita is on. Lord Rama places all his faith in Hanuman. This so beautifully showed that the amount of faith the Lord has in His devotee is the reflection of the faith that the devotee has in the Lord! Hanuman completes the mission successfully by meeting Mother Sita, conveying her Lord's message to her, and then strikes terror into the hearts of the demons. Vibhishana comes over and surrenders to Lord Rama. And Rama accepts him wholeheartedly saying that He will give refuge to anyone who asks for it irrespective of any distinctions. This part reminded everyone so much of our dear Swami who says, "If you need me, you deserve me!"
The drama concluded with the famous pearl necklace incident where Hanuman breaks Mother Sita's gift to him saying that it is worthless as none of the pearls chanted Rama's name! When the courtiers think that it is the monkey in him manifesting, he plucks out a hair from his body and the resonant name of Rama is heard. The drama’s closure took place in a grand palace. As all the participants gathered in a formation, Swami sat watching them and smiling. He told the two ‘Ramas’ and two ‘Sitas’ to come in the front separately. Then, He moved down and stood amidst them posing for group photos. He patted many a child and said, "Very nice drama, very nice drama." Then, He had sarees and white pant-shirt pieces distributed to all the participants. Prasadam also followed very soon. As all this was going on, singers from Kerala began bhajans. They were sung in a different style such that they had portions which only the lead singer would sing, which demonstrated his hold over the ragas, and there were also portions which gave a chance for all the following devotees to sing out and vent their devotion and Love! After two bhajans, Swami received aarthi. He sat through the entire aarthi on the stage itself.
Swami was so happy with the drama that He called the State President of the Sathya Sai Seva Organisation of Kerala and using him as a translator for Malayalam said," I am very happy with this drama. This drama gets first prize. The dialogues, script, acting, role selection and dresses were all very good. The people who have trained the children have also done a fantastic job. When I come to Kerala, I will surely stay in your school. And when I come I will come walking! Sita especially did very wonderfully. She performed with a lot of feelings." At this time, very understandably, the girl who had donned Sita's role broke down and let a free flow of tears. That started tears from almost all the other actors' eyes too. Swami immediately said, "One should not cry! Swami is overwhelmed with joy and so all of you should also smile and not cry!"
Leaving all in a state of great satisfaction and happiness, Swami retired for the day.
September 12, 2008 – The Day of Onam in the Divine Presence
The Kerala festival of Onam dawned in Puttaparthi with a lot of expectations from the devotees on the morning of September 12, 2008 . Swami had been showering so much love on these devotees in the past two days that everyone expected a grand closing ceremony for the festival celebrations! A procession had been arranged from the Yajur Mandir. Traditional posts in black wood for holding lamps had been erected at various places inside the ashram, and one decorated even the main stage. The mainstage lions had been housed in bamboo, and floral decorations covered the roof and floor of the Mandir. The Pookalam, the traditional flower decoration, adorned the marble floor in the centre. As Swami came out, the procession began. A band and the Vedic contingent led Swami into the Sai Kulwant Hall where small girls with lamps in the hand flanked both sides of the royal path through which the Lord was being welcomed.
Swami was not collecting letters but was all the while raising His hands in benediction to the thousands who had thronged the ashram to be with Him for the most important festival of their year. He completed the darshan rounds, and then moved on to the stage. There He lit the lamp to mark the formal beginning of the celebrations for the day. As the Veda chanting subsided, Swami blessed three gifted singers, Sri Kavalam Sreekumar, Sri Yogesh Sharma and Sri Sankaran Namboothiri to sing on the occasion.
The first among them has been a regular singer during Onam at Puttaparthi and he seemed to mesmerise the music lovers with his honeyed voice and near perfect rendition of Carnatic songs in the praise of Lord Vishnu. Sri Sankaran Namboothiri, a child prodigy, was all fervour and grace as he seemed to almost dance to the tunes of his notes! And Sri Yogesh Sharma, specialising in Kannada songs, thrilled the audience with songs of a fast rhythm and power. Swami also pointed out to the people by his side that the songs were in Kannada. He seemed to pay attention to every word being sung and as He swayed His hands in that divine manner, and it seemed as if He was drinking deep into the meaning of the songs. As the songs concluded and aarthi was sung, Swami threw in His surprise gift for Onam! He had it announced that in the afternoon He would be addressing everyone in the Sai Kulwant Hall. As the whole hall burst into applause, Swami asked the students to sing two bhajans.
The now famous and popular numbers, "Sri Raghunandana" and "Ram Hare Hare Ram Bolol" were then sung to the energetic clapping and singing of all the devotees gathered. Swami then returned to Yajur Mandir.
In the afternoon, as per His instructions, the Veda class began at 4:00 p.m. In ten minutes, Swami made His appearance. It need hardly be said that the chanting levels went up at least two notches when the Lord marked His presence! Perfection is what comes in the presence of Perfection Personified. After the day's "vedic tuition", the sole speaker for the day before Swami was introduced. He was a student from the Sri Sathya Sai Vidyapeeth, Sri Sailam and spoke confidently about his great fortune of being in a Sai School for about five minutes.
And then, to the greatest joy of everyone, Swami rose to deliver His divine discourse. He said:
Khanda Khandantara khyati narjinchina mahaneeyulanu kanna mathru bhoomi,
(India is a land which gave birth to many noble souls, who were renowned in all the continents)
Paschathya veerula para drolinchiyu, swatantramunu kanna samara bhoomi
(Driving away the foreign invaders from their land, this land has gained independence)
Sangeetha Sahithya sastreeya vidyalandu, dhee shakthi choopina punya bhoomi
(This land has shown scholarly excellence in the field of music and literature)
Itti Bharata bhoomi yandu janana mundi
(Being born in such a holy land…)
Bharatha mata dharma bhagyambu kapada bhadya tantayu meede bala balika lara
(To protect the spiritual riches of this holy India , it is the responsibility of you Boys and girls)
India is not an ordinary country. Bha-Rathi means ‘one who has love for God’. In spite of this, India is facing lot of difficulties. Don't be afraid of any problems. One should have self-confidence and immense faith in God. Time waste is life waste. Don't crave for worldly education. Advances in science will not help you know God. Science may fetch you some money, but will not lead you to God. Under the name of science, we learn delusion and impermanence. You may have faith in science. It will help you get wealth but not value! You may come across big names and terms in science. But that does not help even to control ones body! Why learn science that makes you insane? Use all your learning for the welfare of the community. Strive for the Truth. Spirituality is the path you should adhere to. So students, develop self-confidence; control your senses and keep the mind in check.
Develop intellect, have pure mind and serve your mother land. All your education should help the society. Only then your education will have any value. Develop morality. Struggle hard to know the truth. Who is your true mother? Dharma is your mother, Sathya is your father. When you have both you will have the child Shanthi. Shanthi will give love and where there is Love, there is no scope for hatred (non-violence). Love is God, live in love. But humans have zero love today. Today there is no love among siblings. Love is not to be seen any where. All the love has been routed towards power and money. Even in a tiny ant there is love. When ants go in a row, when they meet another ant they share love. Even insects have love. It is very sad that human beings don't have love. Love for individual is useless. Have love for the society.
Bali is a person of great sacrifice. But Bali doesn't just mean mere sacrifice. He has sacrificed everything. It is the good fortune of Keralaites that they have an emperor like Bali . Bali was conducting a huge Yagna. Vamana, the dwarf comes to the yagna. He was only 3 feet tall. Everyone wondered, "How can such a small child come for this big sacrifice?" Bali went to him and asked, "O sire! What is the purpose of your visit?" Vamana replied, "Emperor Bali, I don't want any money, I just want only 3 foot steps of land." Emperor Bali was surprised. Even a dead body needs at least 6 feet of land. So he wanted Vamana to ask for more. But the Lord did not relent, and so, emperor Bali agreed to his request.
The first step of Vamana covered the whole earth, and the second step covered the whole sky and there was no place for the third foot. Vamana asked the emperor, “Where is the place for the third foot?” Emperor Bali removed his crown and asked Vamana to put His foot on his head. If you see it spiritually, the emperor gave up his huge ego. All the people who came for the Yagna were crying. They couldn't believe that their emperor was no more. They prayed to Vamana, "Swami can't we have our Emperor back", to which Vamana replied that Bali would come to Kerala once a year and it is this day when Vamana comes to Kerala that is celebrated as Onam. Vamana came to confer liberation to Emperor Bali. Vamana was the first avatar that was fully human. It is Bali 's merit to get that chance.
This is a very holy festival in Kerala. The people of Kerala take a bath and prepare good food consisting of 10 items on this day! There is payasam and banana dishes along with lamps and poojas. All join in the prayers and the feeling is that emperor Bali is with them. They wait for long for this day. "Yatha Raja, tatha praja" - as is the king, so are the subjects. Bali is an example of complete surrender and sacrifice. "Na Karmana Na Prajaya Dhanena Tyagenaike Amrutatvamanashuhu". Bali did not go back on the given word. He gave himself up. The three steps are those that are physical, moral and spiritual. Whether the Lord puts the hand or leg on the head, it means the same - that He confers blessings.
In Kerala, there is no shortage of anything. The monsoons begin in Kerala. It is a land of merit, righteousness and sacrifice. Charity and dharma exist to this day in Kerala. Prayers begin there and the land is filled with scholars. Keralites celebrate this festival with utmost devotion. They don't even celebrate their own birthdays like this festival. Keralites ask swami to come there. I will come.. I never say I wont come to any one.. I will certainly come. Whomsoever invites Swami, Swami will accept. It is a state of scholarly excellence. It is a state of God. There is sincerity and devotion dancing in the hearts in Kerala. Kerala is a place named after God. There is no one who does not sing the glory of God in Kerala, but they do not publicize it. It is not a Communist state. Communist means “Come you next”!
When any child of any drama comes to Swami, He/she is full of smiles and love. Today we have the drama Savitri. Savitri is the wife of Sathyavantha. She stands for truth. She could bring back her dead husband to life. She followed Yama where ever He went. After 6 days of severe fight, she could revive her dead husband to life. Only in India such a thing can happen. Savitri was a role model for womanhood.
The women are very powerful. Their power will work to any extent. And it is only in Bharat that such things happen. Chandramati put out a forest fire and Sita went through a fire! And so if anyone asks you where you are from, do not reply with “ Bangalore ”, “ Bombay ” or “ Delhi ”. Say that you are from India . Anantapur, Puttaparthi etc. are all in Bharat.
The prosperity of Bharat is seen fully in Kerala. The past two days, dramas have been very good. Yesterday, Sita and Rama excelled in their roles. And before that, Krishna and Sudama did very well. ( This was a very touching thing. Two days before, when the drama was on, Swami went into the interview room at exactly this scene. The Krishna and Sudama in the scene were visibly disappointed! But Swami never misses a thing! The Lord proved it yet again! ) Kerala always maintains high standards in their plays. The dialogue delivery, music, action and even the dress are very nice. Keep up the high standards for years to come. The ladies from Kerala stand for heights of devotion. Because of the support from the ladies, the presentations were very good. Now get ready for Savitri...
As Swami completed the discourse, all the students cleared the performing area for the drama. The performance began and moved along the lines of the story that Swami had already narrated. It had an impressive opening dance sequence with Shiva and Parvati. Then the story began. Savitri chooses Satyavan as her husband knowing fully well that he has only a year of life on earth left. She performs penance and when the fateful moment comes, she bravely follows Yama, the Lord of death, almost till His abode. She selflessly asks for boons to benefit everyone and finally when Yama wants her to leave, He asks her to ask one last wish. She, very intelligently, prays, "Lord, may I be blessed with righteous children." Yama gets outwitted as He grants that boon for the childless Savitri could not bear children without Satyavan coming alive! The whole drama was well interspersed with beautiful and graceful dances.
Everyone in the hall celebrated the joy of Savitri and Swami blessed all the children who participated in the drama with clothes. As bhajans went on, prasadam was distributed, and finally, Swami received aarthi and retired.
- Heart2Heart Team
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