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The Avatar and His Mission
by V.K. Narasimhan
There are certain periods in the history of mankind when the mortal beings of this earth witness epoch-making divine events with their own eyes. By far the most astounding event of this century is the Advent of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
Birth and Family
Bhagavan Baba was born on 23rd November 1926 in Puttaparthi, a remote village of Andhra Pradesh in India, in the Ratnakar family of Sri Kondama Raju, who was the grandfather of Bhagavan's physical body. Sri Kondama Raju, who lived separately from the family contemplating on God day in and day out, had full faith in the prophecy of his Guru Venkavadhoota that God would incarnate in his family. He lived a long life of 116 years to realise and experience the divinity of his grandson, who was by his side to fulfil his last wish of pouring water into his mouth when he breathed his last in 1950. He had two sons, both named after his Guru Venkavadhoota, Sri Pedda Venkama Raju and Sri Chinna Venkama Raju. The divine child Sathyanarayana Raju (called Sathya or Raju in childhood) was the fourth child of the devout couple, Sri Pedda Venkama Raju and Srimati Easwaramma.
Sathya as a child was enchantingly charming. The entire village was enthralled by His unearthly beauty and majestic demeanour. Even at the age of five, He earned the titles of Brahmajnani (one endowed with the knowledge of God) and Biddalaguru (child teacher). He was a born renunciant and never let a needy person go empty-handed. He was a vegetarian and abhorred cruelty to animals. He spent most of His time in the house of Karnam Subbamma, who lived in the next house, and whose boundless motherly affection for Sathya was reminiscent of Yashoda's love for Krishna.
One of the favourite activities of child Sathya was Bhajan singing. He not only sang and composed Bhajans, but also organised a children's Bhajan group in Puttaparthi even at the age of ten. Later, in old Mandir as well as in New Mandir (Prashanthi Nilayam), Bhajan singing became an essential part of the daily programme. Who else but Divinity could know that one day Bhajans would become one of the main instruments in Divine hands to put the deluded humanity on the path of devotion and spirituality? No wonder, today Sai Bhajans are sung in all parts of the world and in all the languages as a means of elevating and ennobling human nature.
Puttaparthi in the early 40's consisted of only two lanes, which met each other at right angles in addition to a few mud huts. A western author, Arnold Schulman, who visited this hamlet in late sixties described this cluster of scattered huts as "ten minutes past the Stone Age". Bhagavan Baba has transformed this so-called Stone Age village into a modern township with a unique educational complex and a university, a super speciality hospital with all modern facilities and an airport of its own. The crest jewel of this now world-known place is Prashanthi Nilayam, where millions come every year from all corners of the world to receive the blessings of the Avatar.
After finishing his elementary education in the school in Puttaparthi, Sathya was admitted to the Higher Elementary School in the nearby town of Bukkapatnam at the age of eight. Bukkapatnam is about 2 1/2 miles from Puttaparthi across the river Chitravathi.
Sathya's conduct in school was a model for others. He excelled in studies, games, sports, plays etc., and invariably sang the prayer song at the start of the school everyday. He earned the love and admiration of not only his classmates, but many teachers also. Janab Mahbub Khan was one of those teachers who adored and loved Sathya and recognised His Divinity. After the famous incident of a teacher getting stuck to his chair as he made Sathya stand on the bench, Sathya came to be recognised as a divine child not only in the school, but in the town also. Another fortunate teacher of Sathya was Sri B. Subbannachar. Since the entire family of this teacher adored Sathya, He often lived in their house. He also visited the house of another teacher Sri V.C. Kondappa, to whom He used to narrate the story of Shirdi Sai Baba. On this basis, Sri Kondappa wrote the life story of Shirdi Sai Baba in 102 Telugu verses and published it as a small book entitled "Sree Sayeesuni Charithra".
After completing His studies at Bukkapatnam, Sathya went to Kamalapuram (Cuddappa District) with His elder brother Seshama Raju for further education at the age of ten. The fame of the wonder child Sathya reached Kamalapuram also. In school, He earned the love and admiration of His schoolmates and teachers. While Sathya continued His studies at Kamalapuram, Seshama Raju went elsewhere to undergo training. After completing his training, Seshama Raju was posted as a Telugu Teacher in a High School at Uravakonda, a town in Anantapur District. Naturally, Sathya accompanied His brother to Uravakonda, where He was admitted in the same school where His elder brother worked. Stories of Sathya's manifestations and miracles were already on the lips of not only the students and teachers but all over Uravakonda. As in Bukkapatnam school, Sathya's proficiency in music, dance, drama, poetry was immediately recognised in the Uravakonda school also.
When Sathya turned 13, history took a sharp turn. Divinity of Sathya as an Avatar was in full readiness to bloom, but mystery of the Divine is impossible to fathom. The effulgence of the Supreme Being comes only after the darkest period. The body of the tender child Sathya had to undergo a terrible persecution before the rays of Divinity could spread in the universe in full effulgence from it. On the 8th March 1940, a shocking news spread in the town of Uravakonda that Sathya was stung by a big black scorpion, as Sathya shrieked and held His right toe at about 7.00 p.m. on that day. Nobody saw the scorpion, but exactly after 24 hours, Sathya became unconscious and remained so throughout the next night. On regaining consciousness, Sathya behaved in a most extraordinary way as if possessed by a spirit. Alarmed at the condition of Sathya, His elder brother Seshama Raju called the parents who brought Sathya to Puttaparthi. After consulting doctors and other village healers, the parents took the tender child Sathya to the house of a terrible exorcist at Brahmanapalli, who put the child to such horrible treatment that every onlooker was moved with fear and shock. The dismayed parents could not bear all this and brought Sathya back to Puttaparthi.
Early Declarations of Avatarhood
Exactly after two and a half months of the scorpion incident, Sathya made His first declaration of Avatarhood on 23rd May 1940. The household of Pedda Venkama Raju was crowded with people as Sathya was materialising flowers and sugar candy and distributing to the amazed villagers. Pedda Venkama Raju was informed about what was happening in his house. Enraged and puzzled by the behaviour of his own child, he threatened him to disclose his true identity. And pat came the reply from Sathya "I am Sai Baba" in the form of the first declaration of Avatarhood. Later when He was asked to give proof of what He said, He threw a handful of jasmine flowers on the ground which formed into Telugu letters "Sai Baba". Not impressed by these extraordinary acts of Sathya, Seshama Raju stuck to his plan of giving Him higher education to make him fit for "Public Service". So, only a few days after this incident, he took Sathya back to Uravakonda in June 1940 and admitted him in the same school. Sathya was already a celebrity in Uravakonda. Crowds of pilgrims started coming to the miracle boy's house to seek his blessings. The headmaster of the school and several teachers recognised the divinity of the child Sathya. His teacher Thammiraju adored and worshipped Him.
Sathya provided another proof of His Divinity to His unbelieving elder brother when in Dasara holidays they all went to Virupaksha temple in Hampi near Hospet. When Seshama Raju and party entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, they found to their utter amazement, Sathya standing in place of the Lingam, though they had left Him outside. Baffled by this extraordinary happening, Seshama Raju rushed out and found Sathya leaning against a wall. This in fact was the prelude to the momentous declaration the Avatar wanted to make about His Divinity, as He seemed to have resolved to declare to mankind that God had come on the earth in human form to usher in the promised Golden Age.
After their return from Hospet, Sathya went to school as usual, but returned soon from midway. It was 20th October 1940. History of mankind was rewritten on this glorious day when Sathya, throwing his school bag in the house, cast away the veil of Maya and assumed the role of Sathya Sai Baba to start His mission of transformation of mankind which He has been performing for the last 60 years for the benefit of the beleaguered humanity in all corners of the world.
From Uravakonda, Baba was brought in a grand procession to Puttaparthi, where He first took residence in the spacious house of Karnam Subbamma who served Him all her life with devotion and dedication. This old lady served Baba with tender care and looked after all the devotees who came to meet Him. Bhagavan stayed at her house for several years after declaring His Divine Mission in Uravakonda before he shifted to the Old Mandir.
When the number of devotees increased, need for a Mandir was felt by the devotees. Thus, the Old Mandir was constructed at the place between Sathyabhama and Gopalaswami temples, which was inaugurated by Bhagavan Baba on 14th December 1945. The Old Mandir had four rooms. Bhagavan shifted from Karnam Subbamma's house and occupied one of the rooms to the left of the verandah. One room was used as a store room and the other two rooms were for the devotees.
Divine Leelas on Chitravathi Sands
After the inauguration of the Old Mandir, the daily flow of devotees to Puttaparthi increased substantially. During those days, devotees would get ready at 3.00 p.m. in the afternoon to witness Bhagavan's Leelas (divine pranks) on the sands of Chitravathi. By 4.00 p.m. all would reach there. Baba would ask the devotees to choose the place of ther liking and all would sit in a circle. Baba would then start playing with the sand while eager eyes of the devotees watched His divine play. From the mounds of sand, He would bring out idols of gods and goddesses, sweets of various kinds and numerous other objects. In fact, anything He willed would come out of the sand. From 1946 to 1949, this was almost a daily event. On certain special days, Baba would take out a Kalasha (vessel) full of nectar from these sands and distribute this ethereal liquid to devotees. At other times nectar would flow from His fingers and the fortunate devotees would receive it. In later years also some devotees were privileged to see such Leelas of Bhagavan.
The tamarind tree, now called Kalpavriksha (wish-fulfilling tree) standing on the hill on the west bank of Chitravathi, was another object of Bhagavan's Leelas. Sometimes, Baba would take the devotees to this tree and ask them what they wanted. And in an instant, Baba would pluck them from the tree and give them.
The number of devotees kept on increasing with the result that in a few years the Old Mandir could not accomodate them. Even sheds and makeshift Pandals around the Old Mandir were inadequate during festivals. In answer to the prayers of the devotees, Baba agreed for a more spacious place. Thus, the idea of New Mandir was conceived and the same was constructed at a place to the south of the village of Puttaparthi. Bhagavan Baba inaugurated it on 23rd November 1950 on his 25th birthday and named it Prashanthi Nilayam (the abode of supreme peace).
Prashanthi Nilayam, the abode of Bhagavan Baba, bears testimony of Bhagavan's Divinity. The millions who throng this small township in a remote part of Andhra Pradesh in India experience its divine vibrations, which are soaked in its atmosphere. They come from all parts of the world, from nearly 180 countries spending their money and time to have Darshan and blessings of Bhagavan. When they return to their countries and places, they carry with them numerous stories of experiences, which describe the divine love of Bhagavan for the entire mankind. Bhagavan's presence has made Prashanthi Nilayam a township of love and peace. It is a different world altogether where Sathya, Dharma, Santhi, Prema and Ahimsa permeate the entire environment. Though there are crowds evwerywhere, there are no jarring noises. There is cleanliness, order, discipline, courtesy and humility everywhere. This is a mini world in itself. People from different countries following different religions, speaking different languages live together, dine together and mingle with each other with sacred feelings of love and brotherhood. If one wants to see "brotherhood of man and fatherhood of God" not merely in theory but in practice, one can see it in Prashanthi Nilayam.
Bhagavan announced His Mission in the following words way back on 25th May 1947, when he wrote to His elder brother Seshama Raju in reply to his letter:
Bhagavan's Mission spread rapidly after the construction of Prashanthi Nilayam. Publication of "Sanathana Sarathi" was started of Sivarathri day in February 1958 in which all the 14 books of Vahini series written by Bhagavan Baba were published in serial form. Besides, Bhagavan's Discourses now run into 30 volumes of "Sathya Sai Speaks". Sri Sathya Sai Organisation was started in 1965, which now has branches in nearly 180 countries all over the world. Some remarkable changes have also taken place in and around Prashanthi Nilayam, including those on the growth of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (commenced in 1981), the functioning of Sri Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital (1991) and the Drinking Water Projects (1995). A few articles highlighting the significance of these and various other aspects of Bhagavan's Mission have been given in this Special Issue of "Sanathana Sarathi," which is offered at the Lotus Feet of Bhagavan to mark the 74th year of the Advent of the Avatar. A brief account of Bhagavan's early life and Mission has also been included for the benefit of the ever-growing community of devotees.
Source: Sanathana Sarathi, Special Issue, November 1999, published by Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust