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In Human Form

This is the story of the Lord, come in human form. He incarnated at a quiet little village, Puttaparthi by name, thirty five years ago.

Puttaparthi is a hamlet that has carved out a niche for itself in the hearts of the people of the area, by legends that sanctify the memory and a history that inspires the young. The name is derived from 'Putta', which means an anthill in which a snake has taken up its abode and 'Parthi', which is a modified form of Vardhini or multiplier. A thrilling legend endeavours to explain the origin of this place - name to the curious inquirer.

Long, long ago, the village was known as Gollapalli or Home of Cowherds, a designation reminiscent of the Leelas of Sri Krishna and redolent with music of His Flute. It was the abode of prosperous Gopalas and the cattle of this place were sleek and strong and beautiful to behold. The cows yielded copious milk, thick and sweet beyond compare; every home was rich in butter and Ghee! One day, a cowherd noticed that his favourite cow had no milk in its udder when she returned from the grazing grounds on the hills and when he later secretly watched her movements, he was astonished at her behaviour. For, she slid out of the shed, leaving her tiny calf to nose about with her sisters and proceeded in a beeline to an anthill on the outskirts of the village. He followed her to this rendezvous, only to witness an even more astounding spectacle! A cobra issued from the mound, raised itself on its tail and applying its lips gently to her teats drank the milk, in glee! Enraged at loss to which he was subjected by this wily trick, the villager lifted a stone over his head and taking good aim, heaved it right on top of the cobra. Writhing in pain, the serpent threw an angry curse on all Gopalas of the village and, its last words foretold that the place will soon be full of anthills, which will multiply endlessly. And, so it happened, soon! The cattle declined in numbers and health; they could not be raised successfully at Gollapalli any longer. Anthills spread all over the place and the name had soon to be changed to Valmikipura, for Valmika in Sanskrit means an anthill or Puttaparthi in common parlance. Of course, this gave some satisfaction to the elders of the village, since Valmiki is no other than the immortal saint who sang the story of Sri Rama and showed mankind the Path to Perfection.

The villagers still show, as proof of this tragic legend, the very stone, thick and round, with a slight jam on one side, which the enraged cowherd aimed at the wonder-snake. The stone has a long reddish streak over it, which is pointed out as the mark of the cobra's blood. In fact, this stone is worshipped as Gopalaswami, the Lord as Cowherd, probably in an effort to avert the curse and help the cattle to prosper. There is a temple in the village built by the pallegars of old, where the stone is installed, and generations of men and women have bowed reverentially before it.

Strangely enough, that stone has acquired a feature, which was revealed by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba some years ago! He directed some people to wash the stone and to smear sandal paste on the jammed side; when this was done, they could discern the clear outline of a picture of Sri Gopalaswami, with the world captivating Flute at His lips, leaning on a cow. Some unsophisticated rustics swear, even this day, that they can hear the melody of Krishna's Breath passing through the straight and hollow reed. From that day, the curse has lost its evil power and cattle have begun to thrive at Puttaparthi!

The bastion of the old Fort which still raises its hoary head in the eastern part of the village is evidence of its mastery over the surrounding area and the power and majesty of the Rajus of the place. "With the Chithravathi descending the gorges and flowing as a moat on one side, set like a green gem in a ring of hills, with temple bells pealing on all the eminences around, enriched by the tank built by Chikkaraya, adjacent to the town that bears the name of Bukka, the far-famed Emperor of Vijayanagara, Puttaparthi is the abode of both Lakshmi and Saraswathi"... such is the eulogy showered on this place, by an anonymous poet of the past. In fact, Puttaparthi was the nursery of Pundits and Scholars as well as Heroes and Donors. The Raju family itself was noted for its piety since the days of the renowned sage, Venkavadhootha. Not only did they build and endow the Gopalaswami Temple but, even within living memory, the pious Sri Ratnakaram Kondama Raju, dedicated a temple to Sathyabhama, the consort of Lord Krishna, a deity to whom this type of homage is seldom offered in any part of India. He used to say in explanation of this unusual tribute to Sathyabhama, that he was persuaded to erect the temple, by events that occurred during a strange dream!

Sri Kondama Raju lived to be a centenarian and the writer remembers how tears of joy ran down those wrinkled cheeks whenever he recollected that enthralling experience. In the dream, Kondama Raju saw "Sathyabhama, alone, expectant and forlorn, waiting anxiously for her lord, who had gone on an errand to bring her the much-coveted Parijatha flowers. The minutes increased to hours and the hours accumulated into days but still there was no sign of Krishna! So, Sathyabhama broke into tears. There ensued a huge storm accompanied by thunder, lightning and a heavy shower of rain. Luckily, Her eyes fell on Kondama Raju who was passing across the place where she stood and she asked him to provide some shelter." This led to his determination to raise a sizeably large temple for the Consort of the Lord.

He was a pious soul who lived out his hundred and ten years of earthly existence in the unceasing contemplation of the Lord. He was a master of music and of the histrionic art. He knew by heart the entire Ramayana, in what is called the Lepakshi version, that is, a series of songs composed by a poet from Lepakshi, depicting the incidents in dramatic imagery and artistic luxuriance. He played the role of Lakshmana in all the Ramayana plays enacted at Puttaparthi and other villages of the Taluk; in fact, his services to play this role were requisitioned even by far-off villages, for his depiction of the steadfast devotion and Saranagathi of Lakshmana touched the hearts of every one who witnessed it. He appeared hundreds of times in dozens of stages, until age incapacitated him from further repetition of the role. He was a strict vegetarian, prone to observe all the holy vows of the Hindu calendar; he lived in a cottage, a little apart from his sons and grand children; his hut was a veritable Asram, resonant with Ramayana songs. He took delight in gathering around his cot the children of his sons and relating to them the tales of Gods and God-men; the children too never left him, for, he made every character and adventure live before their eyes, through the delight of song and drama!

We can be certain that among those children, it was Satyanarayana who was the favourite of the old grandfather, for, the little boy could sing in a charming musical voice and he could give even the old man a lesson or two in the art of drama! There was another reason too, why Kondama Raju exhibited special affection for Sathyanarayana. The little boy hated non-vegetarian food and did not even stay in the neighbourhood when such dishes were being prepared. The boy, even at the age of six and seven was also a very good cook! He was so intelligent and resourceful that he manufactured the most tasty dishes from the meagre larder of the grandfather's cottage, and all this, most willingly, and very quickly too! Baba says that He would go into the kitchen of the old man and complete the cooking, rice, curries, chutney and all, in much less time than what was needed by the mother (with two daughters to help her) to finish her cooking assignment at her own place!

In his later days, Kondama Raju was visited by all the devotees who came to have the Blessings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and when he struggled to stand erect to accept their Pranams, one could see a twinkle of joyful thankfulness that the Lord took birth in his family. He lived till 1950, and passed away peacefully, singing to himself aloud the stanzas describing the consolation that Sri Rama gave to the dying Vanara King, Vali. Truly, a life worthy to be recorded in the annals of saints!

His wife Sri Lakshamma predeceased him about twenty years earlier. She was a very pious lady, whose life was regulated by the religious calendar, with its rotation of Holy Fasts, Vows and Vigils. She observed these very scrupulously, despite the worry expense and inconvenience, with her eye only on the accumulation of the blessings of the Divine Forces, which the Sastras promised in return for the regimen.

Sri Kondama Raju had two sons who were both named after the sage, Venkavadhootha, Pedda Venkapa Raju, and Chinna Venkapa Raju. They too inherited his musical literary and dramatic capabilities, as well as his piety and simplicity. Of the two brothers, the younger is equipped with a larger variety of skills, which cover the fields of literary composition, and preparation of drugs and talismans with the aid of traditional formulae.

Pedda Venkapa Raju was taken once by their parents to a village Kolimigundla by name in the Koilkuntla Taluk of Kurnool District; the family had some lands there which had been given on long lease, extending to 20, 30, and even 40 years and the visit was primarily intended to acquaint him with the area and the tenants; but, Kondama Raju had also a different aim in view. There were some distant relatives living in that isolated place and he desired to bring them nearer to Puttaparthi itself. In fact, some miles away from Kolimigundla, they had intimation of the daily danger amidst which those relatives were eking out their livelihood. For, just when they were about to enter the Parlepalli Forest, some good men warned them to take a stronger escort, since the forest had become a nest of dacoits and scarce two days prior to their journey they had murdered in cold blood a family of six which had innocently walked into their trap. So, Sri Subba Raju of Kolimigundla was persuaded to come over to the Karnatanagapalli village, on the other bank of the river, Chithravathi, right opposite to Puttaparthi, though not without the offer of a substantial bribe which Kondama Raju held before his eyes! This was nothing less than the gift Easwaramma the daughter of Sri Subba Raju, as the bride of his elder son, Venkappa. And thus it came about... the auspicious marriage of Pedda Venkapa Raju with Easwaramma.

This happy couple were blessed with a son and two daughters in that order, Seshama Raju, Venkamma, and Parvathamma. Some years passed and Easwaramma longed for another son. She prayed to the village gods and observed Satyanarayana Puja and kept a number of vows, which were rigorous and needed vigil and abstention from food.

[Sri Sathya Sai Baba once said to a person who requested Him to visit his place, "Certainly. Having come down from Vaikunta so far, how can I say that I will not travel this short distance?"]

The Lord in Vaikunta heard the prayer of the mother; He decided on the place where he was to take human form. He came!