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The Serpent Hill

Uravakonda derives its name from the hill that dominates the place. At first the name was Uragakonda, Uraga meaning serpent and Konda hill. The promontory on the hill, formed by a single bold boulder about 100 ft high, is in the shape of a many-hooded serpent, and so the name is particularly appropriate.

Uravakonda was indeed lucky that Sathyanarayana Raju accompanied his brother, the new Telugu teacher, to the place and joined the High School, for, it thereby became a candidate for immortality! The fame of the boy preceded him to the town. Boys told each other that he was a fine writer in Telugu, a good musician, genius in dance, wiser than his teacher; able to peer into the past and peep into the future. Authentic stories of his achievements and Divine powers were on everybody's lips; for they were circulated by people who came into the town from Bukkapatnam, Penukonda, Dharmavaram and Kamalapur. It was related and heard with wonder that even as a toddler, he had a unique power of getting from nowhere and from nothing, fruits, flowers and sweets by a mere wave of his hand! "What a wonder?" they asked each other.

They gathered round the new Telugu Pundit, eager to have more stories of the boy's capabilities. Every teacher was anxious to be assigned some work in the section to which he was admitted; some out of curiosity, some out of veneration, and some out of a mischievous impulse to prove it all absurd.

Sathya soon became the pet of the entire school, the cynosure of all eyes in the town. He was the leader of the School Prayer Group. He ascended the dais every day, when the entire school gathered for prayer before commencing work and it was his voice that sanctified the air and inspired both teachers and taught to dedicate themselves to their allotted tasks. He was the life and soul of school dramatics, the pillar of the school athletic team, for he could run pretty fast, play Gudu-Gudu exceedingly well and excel in the sack race and he was the best among school scouts.

A word may be said about Sathya and the dramatic activities of the school. Sri Thammi Raju, the teacher in charge, once asked Sathya to write and produce a play in Telugu, and Sathya plunged into the work very enthusiastically. The drama was a great success, not only because the hero of the play was a little boy, a role enacted by Sathya himself, but, chiefly because it had as its theme the eternal sin of man, hypocrisy, 'not acting as he feels he should.' "Cheppinattu, Chesthara?" was the title, "Do deeds follow words?" to put it in English.

The scene opens, revealing a lady, reading out the Bhagavatha to a number of other women, and explaining the meaning of the Slokas She says that it is the duty of the housewife to give charity to the deserving, the defectives who cannot earn by the sweat of their brow, and not to the stalwarts who lead idle parasitic lives. The women disperse some time later, and the lady is left alone with her little son, who has all along been an interested listener. Presently, a blind beggar comes and makes much fuss to attract attention but, he is rebuked and sent away. Then, there comes along a hefty mendicant with a pompous paunch and a polished copper vessel filled with grain and richly caparisoned Thambura, and the mother respectfully welcomes him and offers him rice and coins, and falls at his feet, asking for his blessings. The son is nonplussed; he asks the mother why she did not follow what she had herself extolled a few minutes previously and he is dismissed with the curt answer, "Cheppinattu Chesthara? Can we act as we say?". The mother is irritated by the impertinence of the son who dared question the ethics of adult behaviour; she drags the boy to the office room where the father, an Upper Division Clerk in some office, is busy with the files.

He gives the son a big lecture on the value of education and how people should study and get promoted from class to class, whatever the difficulties. Suddenly, a schoolboy pops in and asks for just a rupee to pay his fees, for otherwise his name will be struck off the rolls and he will fall short in attendance and he will not be promoted. The father says that he has no money with him and shows the boy his empty purse as proof. A few minutes later, a batch of young men, all clerks belonging to his office, thrust themselves in a hold out a subscription appeal calling for contributions for a Welcome Dinner in honour of an officer, taking charge of their office in a few days! The father is very jubilant at the idea, says that it must be done very aristocratically so that the new man may be pleased, offers to make a speech and pulling out the drawer of the table, he gives them the huge sum of Twenty Rupees!

The child looks aghast at this behaviour and asks the father why he went against his own words; why he uttered a lie to the schoolboy; the father turns angrily at the child, and says, "Cheppinattu Chesthara? should deeds follow words?" He roars at the child and commands him to go to school, without delay.

The scene now shifts to the school. Sathya, that is to say 'Krishna' of the drama, enters school. The teacher is in a storm of great excitement because the Inspector of Schools is to visit the school the next day. He coaches the children intensively for the Inspector. He tells them that the Inspector may ask, "How many lessons have been done?" and they were all to say, not "23" the actual number, but, "32". He says that he will do, when Inspector comes, lesson number 33, on "Harischandra"; so, he teaches them that lesson, so that the answers may come quick and fast the next day; he threatens them with severe punishment if any one so much as whispers that lesson 33 was already done in class. "It must all appear as if I am doing it for the first time tomorrow," he says, and continues with the teaching of Harischandra's sacrifices for the sake of Truth. When the class is over, all other boys move out, but Krishna alone remains behind; he asks the teacher the question he has already asked twice that day; "Why do you not follow the advice you give?" and he gets the same rebuff, "Cheppinattu Chesthara? Do you mean to say that the adviser should follow the advice?" Hypocrisy, hypocrisy, everywhere!

The scene is now changed to Krishna's home. It is next day, school-time, but the boy refuses to go. He throws away his books, says that going to school is waste of time, and sticks to his resolve, not to study in school. The distracted parents send for the teacher, who comes rushing in. Then, Krishna says, " If all that you teach, as mother, father and Guru is only to be spoken and written, if all that is learnt is to be discarded when it comes to action, I do not understand why I should learn anything at all." This opens the eyes of all three and they praise the boy as their "Guru," and decide thenceforward to speak the Truth and act the Truth.

This is the theme of the drama that Sathya wrote at the age of twelve! I have given it in some detail so that the reader may have a clear idea of the far-sighted Intelligence and the Educational Enthusiasm of the young Sai.

Sathya was soon sought after by persons who had lost articles of value, for he had brought with him to Uravakonda the reputation for an intuitive perception which revealed to him the place where anything was! Baba says that in those days, he used to give his friends only the first and last letters of the names of the persons with whom the lost articles could be found. He left them with their own resources to recover the goods.

But one case in particular deserves some notice. A teacher lost a valuable pen and he persuaded Sathya to disclose the identity of the person who had 'taken it without his consent.' Sathya gave the name of a servant; but, the teacher dismissed the very idea, because he was very faithful and 'honest.' Besides, a search in the servant's room when he was away did not give any trace of his share in the loss of the pen. But, Sathya persisted in his statements; he said that the man had dispatched it to his son, who was studying at Anantapur, and offered to prove the fact. So, Sathya got a letter written as if from the servant(he was illiterate and always indented on the services of a letter-writer for his correspondence) to his son, in which after inquiries about health etc., the father asked how the pen he sent was writing and advising the boy to be careful in using it, for it, it was costly and might easily be 'stolen'! there was also a self-addressed card for reply. Within four days came the reply into the teacher's hand! The pen was writing magnificently; it will be duly cared for, with all the vigilance due to its high price and its value as a present from a loving father. Thus, Sathya's miraculous power was vindicated; every one honoured him.

Sathya won the respect of the common man in Uravakonda by another incident, that reminds us of a similar one in the life of Shirdi Sai Baba. A Muslim of the place was frantically searching for his horse, which had strayed or got stolen, the Lord knows where or by whom. That was his sole source of livelihood, for he had a Jutka and he used to earn a rupee or two per day, transporting men and things. Now, he was desperate, for he had searched the entire area; his friends had combed the whole place and wandered far and wide, but, there was no trace of the animal. At last, some one told him about the boy in the local High School , Sathya. He came to him and poured out his grief.

Sathyanarayana Raju immediately told him to go to a certain tope, a mile and a half away from the town, and, when he did so, the horse was quietly grazing, all alone, quite unconcerned at the furore it had caused. This made Sathya famous as a Wonder-boy among the Muslim community and, many times, thereafter, Jutkas stopped on seeing him; the owners would insist on giving Sathya a lift to school or from school, so that some of his luck might get communicate to their vehicles, too.

Things were moving like this, with an occasional gleam of the wonder, a tiny glimpse of the might and majesty that lay in the frail body of the little boy of thirteen. On March 8th, 1940, the whole town was shocked to hear that a big black scorpion had stung Sathya. There is a belief current in Uravakonda and the surrounding country that no one will survive a snakebite or scorpion sting in the place, because of the many-hooded serpent stone that has given the name to the place. The rock looks as if a serpent has raised its head to strike its poison fangs and hence, the dread superstition has gained currency. It was about seven o'clock, at dusk, and Sathya leaped with a shriek, holding the right toe!

No scorpion was discovered, however; and, Sathya slept that night without any sign of pain! Every one felt relieved, only to become anxious once again, when exactly at 7 p.m. the next day, Sathya fell unconscious and became stiff; he would not speak and breathing appeared faint.

If such a thing happens to Baba now, devotees will not feel shocked, since they are used to Baba leaving His body and going out with the Sukshamasarira to other places. But, being as yet, unaware of these journeys, Seshama Raju, the brother and others got alarmed; they inferred that it must be the scorpion-poison that has taken 24 hours to affect the heart.

So, Seshama Raju brought in a doctor, who gave an injection and left behind a mixture. Sathya was unconscious as the saying goes, throughout the night. The doctor came again in the morning and declared that the boy was out of danger!

An incident happened in the night which showed that Sathya was not 'unconscious' but, that he was even superconscious! Some one suggested that Muthyalamma, the Devatha near the Hill might to propitiated, because the condition of the boy might be due to some evil spirit that possessed him. So,volunteers hurried to the temple, got down a ladder into the sanctum sanctorum, and offered worship, placing flowers and incense, and breaking a coconut. Just when they did it near the hill, Sathya, who was to all intents 'unconscious', said, "The coconut has broken into three pieces," and when the volunteers came home with the offerings, they had with them three pieces, and not the regular two!

Sathya got up in a day or two and began to behave in an extraordinary way. This is sometimes explained as "a complete transformation of the personality," as the "occupation of Sathya's physical frame by Shirdi Sai Baba." Nothing can be farther from truth. Baba has said that He Himself initiated the process of manifestation, for, He could not wait any longer, playing about as a mere boy, with 'brother' and 'sister' and 'classmates' and other secular bonds. He wanted to demonstrate, as He said, that 'he was beyond both Visha and Vishaya',unaffected by poison or the objective world. There was no scorpion which could sting Him.

Meanwhile, Seshama Raju had informed Puttaparthi about the state of things at Uravakonda. He had written that Sathya was not answering any one who spoke to him, that it was a Herculean task to make him accept food, that he was spending the time mostly in silence but, sometimes bursting into song and poetry, sometimes reciting long Sanskrit Slokas, sometimes talking the highest Vedanta. The parents took about a week to reach the place, because of unforeseen and inexplicable difficulties that caused delay and increased anxiety.

Seshama Raju got nervous why the parents had not arrived; he got a man who agreed to travel to Anantapur on a bicycle and from thence proceed to Bukkapatnam and Puttaparthi; when he was describing to the man the route he has to take to reach his parents, Sathya interposed and said, "Why, you need not send for them now; they will be here in half an hour," and, true to his word, they came in, exactly thirty minutes later.

The parents caught the infection of fear at the condition of Sathya; he sang and spoke and behaved in such a queer manner, they thought. He also became stiff, off and on, and appeared to leave the body and go elsewhere. It was all so mysterious.

One day, while Sathya was lying as usual without any awareness of his surroundings, he asked some one to bring in the Sastri of the neighbouring house! "He is reading the Bhagavatham all wrong; he is explaining it wrong way. Go and bring him here", he commanded; of course, the Sastri would not come. "What does that brat know about this Sanskrit Bhagavatham and the right or wrong of the meaning which I gave now to these people here? How did he hear it, by the way? Tell him to mind his own business," the Sastri said, and continued his exposition. But, Sathya persisted and so, the Sastri had to come, at least to satisfy the parents, who said, "Come and teach the boy a lesson in humility. That will be enough. He has become latterly too uncontrollable."

When the Sastri arrived, Sathya asked him to repeat the exposition and pointed out to him where he had erred; and poured out in quick succession, a series of questions, like 'Who is the father of Vali?' 'When was Ravana born?' 'Who is Garuda's sister?' etc., that floored the scholar. Finally, the Sastri fell at the feet of Sathya and asked him pardon for not obeying His summons immediately.

The District Medical Officer, Anantapur, who was camping at Uravakonda at the time was approached by the doctor who was treating Sathyanarayana; he pronounced judgement that the illness was allied to fits and was a variety of hysteria unconnected with the alleged scorpion and, in his wisdom, he advised a course of medication. This was strictly followed for full three days, but, the symptoms of alternate laughing and weeping, eloquence and silence continued as before; he sang and spoke about God; he described places of pilgrimage to which no one there had gone before; he declared that life was all a drama! Astrologers said, it was a ghost that had possessed the boy, an old occupant of the house, in fact, its first tenant! They chided Seshama Raju for not being more circumspect in the selection of a house to live in. Magicians ascribed it to a sudden fright, which must have set his nerves awry. Priests advised the brother to arrange for a Rudrabhishekam in the temple. Wiser men shook their heads and whispered that the ways of God are inscrutable.

Seshama was besieged by a large throng of sympathisers each of whom had his own specific cure for the affliction of his little brother. At last, he brought an exorciser into the house. On seeing him, Sathyanarayana challenged him and said to his face, "Come on! You have been worshipping Me every day and now that you have come your business is to worship Me and clear out." The ghost-doctor heard the warning administered by his own Ishtadevatha and so, he left in a hurry, forgetting to collect his fees! He advised the brother to treat the boy very reverentially, for he was 'in touch with God', and not afflicted by the Devil.

The parents were disheartened. They brought Sathya to Puttaparthi with them and watched his behaviour, with increasing fear! The boy himself was heightening the effect by occasional bouts of quietude or music or discourse. He would suddenly ask the sister, "Here, do Arathi, the gods are passing across the sky"; he would say that his school studies have been disturbed and sing a song composed impromptu on the value of reading and writing and how the villagers are duped by the wily money lender, if they are illiterate. Even while they were coming from Uravakonda, they took Sathya to a doctor at Bellary and to another at Dharmavaram. But, what can the poor practitioners diagnose? Their stethoscope cannot decipher the breathings of Godhead nor can it reveal the beatings of a soul, much less a Divine Soul, determined to transcend the bonds of human convention. Sathya himself once said, it seems, to the parents, "Why do you worry like this? There will be no doctor there when you go; even if he is there, he cannot cure me."

At Puttaparthi too exorcists were called in, because the first reaction to any illness in any village is usually, that it is the result of some one's black magic or some evil spirit taking hold of the patient. When the man came and sat in the room and drew up a list of articles necessary to invoke the spirit and to transfer the dire consequence to a lamb or fowl, Sathya laughingly reminded him of the items he had forgotten. He seemed determined to undergo all the travail resulting from their ignorance and superstition, taking it all as fun!

Otherwise, it is impossible to understand how the fourteen years old boy could pass through the terrors of the treatment at Brahmanapalli, near Kadiri. This is a saga of fortitude which merits some detail. Some one gave information to the worried parents that there was a Sakthi worshipper, before whom no evil spirit dare wag its poison tail! He will cure Sathya perfectly and make him fit to go school, they declared. So, the bullock-bandy was got ready, but the bullocks refused to move! There were all kinds of difficulties on the way, sickness, fever, diarrhoea, etc. At last the place was reached and the 'case' handed over to the famous expert in devil-craft.

He was a gigantic figure, terrible to behold, with blood-red eyes and untamed manners. He tried all his craft, sacrificing first a fowl and then a lamb and making him sit in the centre of a circle of blood. He chanted all the incantations he knew. He did not allow the parents to take away the boy, for he assumed that it was a case entrusted to him and that it was a trial of strength between him and his Sakthic feats and the little boy, smiling at his failures! He even attempted desperate techniques which he dared not experiment even with strong adult patients! For example, he shaved the head of the boy and, with a sharp instrument scored three X marks on the scalp, from the top towards the forehead. Sathya sat through the pain without wilting. He asked later, "Even after seeing all that fortitude and that miracle of a little boy passing unscathed through all that terror, you are not now convinced that I am Baba; how then would you have reacted if I just made the announcement, one fine day?" "I wanted to make known that I am Divine Stuff, impervious to human suffering, pain, or joy," He said.

With the scalp injured and bleeding with those markings, the witch- doctor poured on the open wound the juice of limes, garlic, and other acid fruits. The parents who were watching the proceedings in utter despair were surprised, for, there was not even a tear, or a gasp of pain from the boy! The Sakthi-worshipper was however furious; he arranged that, every day for some days, early in the morning, 108 pots of cold water be poured on the markings. That too was done; his armoury was now almost empty. The evil spirit that possessed the boy had not admitted defeat and shouted that it will leave him and go elsewhere! He beat the boy on the joints with a heavy stick to drive out what he called, 'stag fever' when he moved about and 'rock-fever' when he was quiet!

So, he decided to use his strongest weapon, which the toughest spirit cannot withstand, the "Kalikam". This is a magic collyrium, a mixture of all the acidic abracadabra in the repertory of torture. He applied it to Sathya's eyes and the parents were aghast at the consequence. The head and face swelled beyond recognition; they became red and the burning sensation could be 'felt' even by those who went near. The eyes exuded tears and the entire body shook under the impact of pain. The master of devils was happy that success was in sight, that the spirit would soon take formal leave. Sathya never spoke a word or moved a finger. Those around, especially, the parents and the elder sister felt guilty that they had become helpless onlookers of all this torment. They wept in uncontrollable anguish and tried to console Sathya, without the knowledge of the magician, who did not allow anyone to approach his patient. Sathya was making some signs to them, off and on, asking them to keep quiet. By means of gestures, he told them that he would get out of the room under some pretext and he asked them to be ready for him outside. There he told them to bring a remedy he knew; it was brought and applied to the eyes; the two eyes which had been reduced to the size of thin slits opened wide and the swelling subsided!

The 'doctor' was put out by this interference with the normal course of his 'treatment'; he fretted and fumed like a wild animal balked of its prey. "I was within an inch of victory," he raved. The parents wanted to save the boy from the jaws of that Yama in human form; they had seen and suffered enough. They paid him full fees and also gave him some unasked gifts, and thanked him for all the 'learning' he had utilised; they cursed only their fate; they promised to build up the boy's stamina a little more, so that he may stand up to his wonderful course of exorcism and bring him again, for the continuation of his attentions. Somehow, they won! The bullock-bandy moved away from the horror-house. They reached Puttaparthi.

But Sathya was far from 'normal' yet. He seemed another 'personality' pretty frequently; he recited Stotras and poems for beyond the ken of any teen-aged boy. Sometimes, he evinced the strength of ten; sometimes he was as weak as a lotus-stalk; he argued with adults on the correctness of their conduct and behaviour and put them to shame when he proved them wrong.

Some friend of the family advised that the boy could be taken to a village a few miles off, where a clever quack gave some green leaves as a drug to cure exactly such types of cases. The bullocks were brought; the bandy was ready. Sathya was lifted on to it and the bells started jingling along the fair-weather track. About half an hour later, Sathya seemed to realise that he was being taken somewhere; he said, "I do not want to go anywhere; let us go back" and, lo, the bullocks came to a halt and could not be persuaded, in spite of the most vigorous tail-twisting, to take a single step forward. The struggle went on for over and hour; they refused to budge! Then, their faces were turned homewards and the bells jingled merrily once again.

Sri Krishnamachari, a Vakil friend from Penukonda, heard of these occurrences in the Raju household and came to the village to study the situation and offer what help he could. He had a good look; he pondered long, alone, on the riverbank; then he told Venkapa Raju, "It is really more serious than I thought; take him immediately to the Narasimha Temple at Ghatikachalam; that is the last chance." Sathyanarayana heard his words. Suddenly, he turned upon him and said, "Funny, is it not? I am already there at Ghatikachalam and you want to take Me to Me!" The Vakil had no inclination to cross-examine.

On the 23rd May 1940, Sathya rose from bed as usual, but, after some time, he called the members of the household round him and gave them sugar candy and flowers taken from 'nowhere.' At this, the neighbours too rushed in. He gave them a ball each of rice cooked in milk and also the flowers and sugar candy, concretised by a mere wave of the hand. Sathya seemed to be in a very jovial mood and so, Venkaparaju was sent for, to come and see Sathya in the welcome role. He came rushing in, squeezing through the crowd; the people asked him to go and wash the feet and hands and face, before approaching the Giver of Boons. This incensed him still more; he was not impressed at all; he thought it was all a trick, hiding things somewhere and producing them by sleight of hand; at least, that was what he confessed to the present writer, recently. He wanted that this chapter must be closed, before it lengthens into a tragedy. So, he laughed a bitter laugh and accosted the boy within everyone's hearing "this is getting too much; it must be stopped." Arming himself with a stick, he moved a step nearer and threatened to beat it out of him. "Are you a God, or a ghost or a madcap? Tell me!" he shouted. Prompt came the answer, the announcement, that had been held back so long, "I am Sai Baba."

Further argument became impossible Venkapa Raju was stunned into silence; the stick slid from his hands. He stood staring at Sathya, trying to grasp the implications of that announcement, "I am Sai Baba." But, Sathya continued, " I belong to Apasthamba Suthra; I am of the Bharadwaja Gothra; I am Sai Baba; I have come to ward off all your troubles; keep your houses clean and pure." He repeated the names of the Suthra and the Gothra again and again that afternoon. The elder brother, Seshama Raju went near him, and asked, "What do you mean by 'Sai Baba'?" He did not reply, but only said this much: "Your Venkavadhootha prayed that I be born in your family; so, I came."

Who was this Venkavadhootha? When I asked Seshamaraju who he was, he informed me that there was tradition in the family of a great ancestral sage called Venkavadhootha who was looked upon as a Guru by hundreds of villages around, who ended his days at Huseinpura in Mysore State.

The father felt that Sai Baba was a Muslim, speaking through the boy and so, he asked, "What are we to do with you?" Prompt came the answer: "Worship Me!" "When?" "Every Thursday! Keep your minds and houses pure."

The villagers heard the name, Sai Baba, with fear and amazement; when they made inquiries, they came to know that a certain government officer had come to Penukonda some time ago, who was an ardent worshipper of a Fakir, named Sai Baba. So they proposed that Sathya be taken to him, for he was reputed to be well-versed in the lore of Sai Baba. He must know what Sathya is suffering from; he will suggest a way out. He condescended to see the boy but he was in no mood to examine the credentials. He pronounced it as a clear case of mental derangement and advised them to remove him to an institution! Sathya interposed and said, "Yes, it is mental derangement, but, whose? You are but a Pujari, you cannot recognise the very Sai whom you are worshipping!" so saying, He took handfuls of Vibhuthi from nowhere and scattered it in all directions in the room where they were.

After their return, one Thursday, some one challenged Sathyanarayana and asked Him, "If you are Sai Baba, show us some proof, now!" in the same spirit that the rustics ask the priest of the village temple, when he dances in ecstasy while apparently possessed. Baba replied, "Yes, I shall" and every one came nearer. "Place in my hands those jasmine flowers." He commanded. It was done. With a quick gesture, He threw them on the floor and said "Look". They saw that the flowers had formed, while falling, the Telugu letters, Sai Baba!

It will be seen that Sathyanarayana was preparing the people, step by step, for the new Era of Sathya Sai. His unconcerned coolness during all that torture at the hands of the magician made every one feel that He was no ordinary boy, that He was some superior manifestation. From occasional glimpses of His Divinity through extraordinary precocity in song, and dance and music and poetry, He had demonstrated His Power of journeying outside His body, His freedom from pain and suffering, and now He had resolved to announce to the world His Reality.

Seshama Raju still hugged his plan to push Sathyanarayana willy-nilly, through the High School Course and make him eligible for "Public Service," as the Secondary School Leaving Certificate declares. So, he took him back in June to Uravakonda and admitted him to school. He attracted the attention of every one now, for they had all heard of the madness and of the frantic efforts of the parents to 'cure' it; the boy was acclaimed as a mysterious prodigy, a tiny prophet, or watched as a rare curiosity. On Thursdays, the house was full of pilgrims till the small hours of the night from various villages around and they made Him sit and offered flowers and sweets. He used to point out Seshama Raju to them and say, "Senseless man, he does not believe!" The Headmaster of the school bowed before the little pupil; Assistant masters Thammairaju and Sesha Iyengar saw through the veil and listened to His inspiring words.

Thursdays became big events at Uravakonda. Sathya surprised all when he 'took' pictures of Shirdi Sai Baba, pieces of Gerua cloth that He said were from the Kafni that Shirdi Baba wore, date fruits that were the offerings at Shirdi as well as flowers, fruits, sugar-candy, and Oodi (not as Shirdi Sai Baba took from the fireplace, but straight from nowhere). One day the teachers of the High School came in a team, intent on testing Him, with a number of questions on Vedantha, Sadhana etc., ready for the purpose. They cast them at Him from all angles, helter-skelter. After they had finished, He gave them the answers in the same order as they were put to Him, calling upon the particular teacher to listen carefully to the answer for his question that He was about to give! Apart from the aptness and correctness of the answers, it was remarkable even as an intellectual feat.

It was then that an invitation from some townsmen from Hospet gave an idea to Seshama Raju; the Deputy Inspector of Schools, the Health officer, the Engineer, some Municipal Councillors and merchants, wanted that Sathyanarayana be brought to their place. Hospet is a few miles away from the ruins of Hampi, the capital of the ancient Vijayanagar Empire. So, the brother caught at the chance of a picnic, which might improve the mental health of the boy. The Dasara Holidays came in handy.

They alighted among the ruins. They trudged along the roads, once lined by jewellery shops and flower-stalls, trodden by men and women of all the nations of the East as well as travellers and traders from the Middle East and the Mediterranean shore. They saw the elephant stables, the Palace of the Queens, the Vijayadasami Mound, and then went to the Vittalanathaswami Temple. They proceeded to the stone chariot, the monolithic Narasimha, and the gigantic Ganapathi. Finally they came to the temple of Lord Virupaksha, the patron deity of the Vijayanagar Emperors, who protected and cherished Hindu Culture for well nigh three centuries from 1336 AD to 1635 AD.

It was noticed that throughout the morning, Sathya was moving among the ruins, unaware, as in a dream; a reverend sage, sitting in front of one of the temples, said of him. "This boy, believe me, is Divine." When the party went into the temple of Virupaksha, Sathya too went with them but he was more interested in height and majesty of the Gopurum, than in the worship at the sanctum sanctorum. He stood outside and no one pressed him to enter with the others. After a while, the priest waved the flame of camphor before the Lingam and asked the pilgrims to see the illuminated shrine, because the flame lit up the interior. There, inside the shrine, they saw to their utter amazement, Sathya! He was standing in place of the Lingam, smiling and erect, accepting their Pranams Everything about the 'boy' was so thrilling and unexpected that Seshama Raju wanted to verify whether he had not actually strayed into the shrine, evading everybody's notice. So, he hurried outside to find Sathya leaning on a wall, staring at the horizon!

The amazement of the members of the party can better be imagined than described. They did special Puja for Him that day, though it was not a Thursday, for their faith in Him as a Manifestation was confirmed. Hospet was on the toes of expectation and excitement. The story that He was seen as Virupaksha had spread to that town also, long before they reached it. The next day, Thursday, Sathya, as Sai Baba, cured a chronic tuberculosis patient by His touch and made him get up and walk a mile; He 'took' a variety of articles for the devotees and the enthusiasm of the people knew no bounds. Bhajan and Namasankirthana continued far into the night, for no one was in a mood to stop.

One could sense that Sathyanarayana was getting more and more reluctant to be bound by routine; he was tugging at the bonds, for History was whispering in His ear, to break away and reach out to the four quarters! The period of probation which Sai Baba had allotted to the people around Him was over; He saw that the moment had come to emerge, to be always Sai for every one.

On the 20th day of October, 1940, the day after they all returned from Hampi by special bus, Sathyanarayana started for school as usual. The Excise Inspector of the place, Sri Anjaneyulu who was very much attached to the little Baba, accompanied Him, as far as the school gate and went home, rather reluctantly. He seemed to see a superb halo, round the face of Baba that day and he could not take his eyes away from that enchantment. Within a few minutes, Baba too turned back to the house. Standing on the outer doorstep, he cast aside the books He was carrying and called out, "I am no longer your Sathya." "I am Sai." The sister-in-law came from the kitchen and peeped out; she was almost blinded by the splendour of the halo, which she saw around Baba's head! She closed her eyes and shrieked. Baba addressed her, "I am going; I don't belong to you: Maya has gone; My Bhakthas are calling Me; I have My Work; I can't stay any longer." And, so saying, He turned back and left in spite of her pleadings. The brother hurried home on hearing all this; but, Baba only told him, "Give up all your efforts to 'cure' Me; I am Sai; I do not consider Myself related to you." Neighbour Sri Narayana Sastri heard the noise; he listened and realised that it was something serious; he ran in; he saw the splendour of the 'halo' and fell at Baba's feet. He too heard the Historic Declaration, "Maya has left; I am going; My work is waiting."

Seshama Raju was nonplussed; he could scarce collect his wits to meet this new situation. A boy, just fourteen, talking of Bhakthas, Work, Maya, and the Philosophy of Belonging! He could think of only one plan: Sathya was entrusted to him by the parents and it was therefore his task to inform them; Sathya could leave the house, only after they came to Uravakonda.

But, Sathya would not step into that building again; He moved out into the garden of Excise Inspector's Bungalow, and sat on a rock, in the midst of the trees. People came into the garden from all directions bringing flowers and fruits; the tope resounded to the voices of hundreds, singing in chorus the lines that Sathya Sai taught them. The first prayer that He taught them that day was, as many still remember,

Maanasa bhajare gurucharanam
Dusthara bhava saagar a tharanam

"Meditate in thy mind on the Feet of the Guru; that can take you across the difficult sea of Samsara."

His classmates wept when they heard that Sathya will no longer attend school, that He was much beyond their reach, that His company was hereafter only for those upon whom He showers His Grace. Many came to the garden with incense and camphor, to worship Him. Some came to sympathise with the family, some to congratulate them. Some came to learn and some, alas, even to laugh!

Three days passed thus in that garden; three days of Bhajan and Namasankirthan. A photographer came with a camera; he wanted Baba to remove a crude stone that was right in front of Him but Baba did not pay heed to that prayer. He clicked nevertheless and lo! As can be seen from the picture of that photograph given in this book, the stone had become an image of Shirdi Sai Baba! But only in the photograph, not for all assembled there.

One evening while in the midst of the Bhajan, Baba suddenly said, "O, Maya has come!" and pointed out to Easwaramma, the mother, who had arrived just then in hot haste from Puttaparthi. When the parents pleaded with Him to come home, He retorted, "Who belongs to whom?" the mother wept and prayed but she could not shake the resolve of the boy. He was constantly repeating the statement, "It is all Maya." At last, He asked the mother to serve Him food; when she served some dishes, He mixed them all up and made the whole lot into a few balls. She handed Him three of these and , swallowing them, He said, "Yes, Now Maya has left. There is no need to worry." And re-entered the garden.

A few days later, Baba left Uravakonda. The parents were able to persuade Him to make His way to Puttaparthi, by assuring Him that they would henceforward abstain from teasing Him with importunities or disturbing, His task of meeting devotees. Sri Anjaneyulu worshipped His feet. Sri Subbanna and Ramaraju of Kamalapur supervised all arrangements. The townsmen arranged a procession with music to the very boundary and Arathi was offered at many places en route.

Baba was welcomed at Puttaparthi first into the Karnam's House by Subbamma. For some time, Baba remained in the house of Pedda Venkapa Raju, and later, He moved to the residence of Subbaraju, the brother of Easwaramma. But, soon, He shifted to the house of Subbamma, who tended Him with love and affection and welcomed all the Bhakthas into her spacious house; she spared no effort to make their stay happy and profitable.