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Having declared Himself as Sai Baba, of the Bharadwaja Gothram and the Apasthamba Suthram, Sathyanarayana Raju was thereafter commonly known either as Bala Sai or Sathya Sai Baba, an appellation which He Himself accepted. Bhajan was done in His presence not only on Thursday evenings, but gradually on everyday and sometimes even twice a day, for the pilgrims who began to arrive could not wait until the ensuing Thursday, to pay their homage to Him. At first, a small room eight feet by eight, facing the road that led to the house of Pedda Venkapa Raju was utilised as the Bhajana Mandir, but, it could accommodate only a dozen at the most, whereas the road too was being filled to overflow! A Recruiting Officer came in a jeep for Baba's Darsan from Hindupur, giving the villagers their first contact with self-propelled vehicle! Others too came in large numbers. So, the family of the Karnam put up a shed, which was lengthened as the months passed. Even a tent was rigged up and some devotees who came up from Bangalore and Anantapur brought and pitched their own tents. The spacious house of the Karnam was also insufficient, because Baba insisted on feeding all those who came to see Him, and huge dining halls became necessary.
Very often, when the food cooked threatened to be too small in quantity, Baba was quietly informed and, in the words of an old lady who was in the Karnam's house during those months, "He asked two coconuts to be brought ; when they were given to Him, He struck one against the other and both broke exactly into halves; He then sprinkled the coconut water on the little heaps of rice and the vessels containing the other items and, gave us the signal to proceed with the task of serving all who have come or may come, until dusk!"
Baba has Himself spoken about the untiring devotion of Sri Subbamma, the Karnam's wife, an old lady who looked after the comforts of the pilgrims, and had Baba Himself in her house for some years, until the building now called "Old Mandir" was built, in 1944. Baba composed a number of Songs and Stothras to be used for these Bhajanas, for Sai Baba was unknown in these areas and, the song refer to Dwarakamayi, Puti Mandiram, Udi and the Margosa Tree and other details, which were strange to the devotees who assembled at Puttaparthi! Many of them are sung even today, at the Prasanthi Nilayam.
He used to complain off and on of the 'householder atmosphere' in the places where He stayed and, little boy that He was, He used to disappear during day or night, into the mountains that surround the village. Whenever He was found absent, Subbamma and others used to search every hill and dale within walking distance, and they generally found Him sitting quietly on some rock overlooking the valley, or in some cave like hollow or crevice, or on the sands of the river, or in some tope, on the other bank of the river. These absences and wanderings gave the persons who were attending on Him a great deal of anxiety for, they were ignorant of the true significance of the absences. Some of them were afraid He would go away to the Himalayas, or that He would waste Himself in asceticism, for they did not understand the Nature of the Incarnation or the Purpose for which It had come. Even today, these people continue talking of the Yogic practices(!) of the young boy on the hills, not knowing that He has Come to 'bear the Yogakshema of us all!'
One day when a party of devotees was accompanying Baba in a caravan of bullock carts to Uravakonda, He got down from His cart and went into the hills and disappeared. The entire area was searched but there was no trace of Him. Every one was in great distress until Baba appeared at about 6 P.M., fresh and smiling and restored every one's drooping heart.
Speaking of bullock carts and the journey to Uravakonda, one is tempted to relate an incident, which is described by Baba with a twinkle of merriment, even now. In spite of occasional moods of solitude which took Baba away from Bhakthas into the hills and dales, Baba was always a sprightly joyous Boy, full of practical jokes and fun. Once, when about twenty devotees were proceeding along the road to Dharmavaram, Baba and a group of young men were walking behind the bullock carts in the moonlight. Suddenly He moved a few yards away, unnoticed by the rest, and hastened to the cart that was leading the rest. There He appeared as a girl of sixteen; she appealed to the persons in side the cart for a lift because her feet were sore; she was to go to Dharmavaram, where her husband had been admitted to the hospital. He acted the part with so many sighs and rubbing of eyes and even tears that the ladies in that cart took pity on the unfortunate 'girl' and took her in. After about a mile or so, news came from the tail-end of the line that Baba was missing and all the carts were brought to a halt; each of the occupants got down and joined the search. They found Him at last, just a few yards ahead of the foremost cart itself, and some of the older men even dared chide Baba for playing hide-and-seek, in strange places at dead of night! The journey was resumed; but another person was now found missing! Where was the 'girl,' whose husband was an inpatient at the Dharmavaram Hospital? Where could 'she' have gone? Perhaps in her anxiety to be by the bedside of her husband, she might have run on, when the carts stopped to search for Bala Sai. So, some fleet-footed young men ran forward, only to bring back the report that the road was empty for at least two miles ahead! Finally they asked Baba Himself, for missing person. And, of course, He knew! The 'girl' was there, before them, in the form of Baba Himself, the Great Actor.
Venkamma, the 'sister' was pestering Baba for a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba, about whom so many songs were composed for the Bhajan by Baba, and it seems, He told her that He would be giving it by a certain Thursday. But, Baba went off to Uravakonda on the day previous to the Thursday indicated, and she too had forgotten all about it, for, she was sure she would get it some day and was not very particular when. Night fell and all were asleep at Puttaparthi; some one called out, "Ammayi," "Ammayi" outside the front door, but, the sister did not go and open the door, since the call did not persist. She argued it must be some one calling the neighbour. When she laid herself down after the sitting up, she heard a grating sound, behind one of the bags of Jowar in the same room; she imagined it be a rat or a snake; it was distinct and loud; so, she lit a lamp and searched and, lo, something was sticking out behind the bag, white, sharp, a piece of rolled paper, a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba, mysteriously presented to her by Baba, who was at Uravakonda at the time! She has the picture still!
During those days, Baba generally went every evening to the sands of the river with the devotees and Bhajana was done mostly there, because there was no big shed or hall where all could be accommodated. Baba Himself has said many times that in His Life, the first sixteen years will be marked mainly by Leelas, the next sixteen by Mahimas or Miracles and the subsequent years by Upadesam. He has assured of course, that Leela, Mahima and Upadesam will be the main notes but that the other two will not be absent during every stage. True to this statement, Baba vouchsafed to the devotees who attended these evening Bhajanas various miracles. It was then that the tamarind tree that grows solitarily at the crest of the hill on the left bank of the Chitravathi, near where the road meets it, got the reputation of being a Kalpetharu though the name Sankalpatharu is more appropriate because, Baba used to take the devotees to that height and pluck from that tree many varieties of fruits, apple from one branch, mango from another, orange from a third, pears and figs from a fourth and a fifth! Of course, as Baba says, He can make any tree any time a Kalpatharu, for He is Himself the Kalpatharu!
He got up the rocks quick and fast, to the surprise of every one; indeed, sometimes He did not climb at all; still, He would be talking to the devotees on the sands one moment, and hail them from near the tamarind tree, the next. He usually helped up the older and fatter among the Bhakthas and when they held His Hand, He pulled them up as if they had no weight at all.
There are some very fortunate devotees of those days who cannot contain themselves with joy, when they describe the miracles they were privileged to witness. He would ask them, in clear commanding voice from the top of the hill, standing by the side of the Kalpatharu aforesaid, "Look up and see"; and lo, they saw a wheel of circling Light, with Baba's Head in the Centre, or, a blinding jet of Jyothi emanating from His Forehead, 'from Siva's Third Eye,' they say. Instances are related of a few devotees falling down in a swoon at the sight of these strange phenomena. Some have seen, looking up from the sands, a huge Shirdi Sai Baba, illuminated by a mysterious effulgence, some have seen Sathya Sai Baba's Face inside the Full-circled Moon, and miracles like a pillar of fire etc.
A College student who was present on evening when Baba ascended the Hill on which the Tamarind Tree can still be seen, writes, "The next day, Baba took us again to the sands. In fact, He was going out every day, sometimes to a tope near Sahebcheruvu, a tank on the other bank of the river, where He delighted in swimming and diving, or sometimes to the sands. After some little conversation, He challenged a few young men of His physical age, that is to say some teenagers, to run a race with Him up the rocky path from the sands to the Tamarind Tree. Off they went, but, before one could just close one's eyes and open them, Baba was calling us in great glee, from the very top! He asked the others to stop where they were and He called out to every one, "Be watching Me; I am giving you the Darsan of Jyothi." Suddenly, there was a great big ball of fire, like a sun, piercing that New Moon dusk. It was impossible to open the eye and keep looking. About three or four of the devotees fainted and fell. The time was a little past seven."
While mentioning the tope near Sahebcheruvu, another incident too might be recorded. One day, Baba had tied a swing to the overhanging branch of a tree there and sitting on the contraption, He was swinging fast, up and down, in great joy, to the delight of all. Suddenly, He said "Look", to the devotees sitting on the ground. They looked up and saw the charming Cowherd Boy of Brindavan, sitting on a magnificently decorated flower-bedecked Jhoola! Then too, some lost consciousness and had to be revived by Baba scattering on them the Akshatha grains that He secured by a 'wave' of the Hand. While they woke up dazed and weeping with joy, Baba told them, "Calm yourselves! Do not get excited! This is why I do not grant you any of these visions."
Similarly, the Purohit of a family whose Guest Baba was at Mysore was granted, quite unexpectedly, a Vision of Narsimha, and the Srivaishnava Brahmin swooned and did not recover consciousness for several hours. A retired Health Inspector, to whom Baba showed the Jyothi emanating from His Forehead, while talking about God and Godhead, was so overcome with the strange splendour of the experience that he could not regain consciousness for full seventy hours and his children began chiding Baba for taking him so near the door of death!
A devotee from Kamalapuram was asking Baba to show him some miracle and one day, Baba called him and the members of his family, his mother and the rest, and offered to show them the Dasavatharas, the Ten Incarnations of Vishnu! Matsya, Kurma and Varaha passed off without any incident, but, when the terrible form of Narasimha appeared, they shrieked and yelled with fright, fearing that the house might collapse on their heads. They clamoured "Enough," "Enough," and Baba calmed down after Mangalarathi was performed, by persons, who, though they were there, did not see the Forms, because the miracle was not intended for them! The Dasavathara Forms were vouchsafed to another gentleman, now deceased, a relative of the Karnam family. As a matter of fact, he passed away, because his physical frame was too weak to contain the joy of the Vision. Baba took him to the river and asked him to watch the reflection, His own reflection, in the water. The man announced later that he saw at first Sathya Sai Baba Himself, then, only the halo of hair that surrounds His Head, and then all the ten Avatharas in the order in which they are mentioned in the Puranas; the Kalki Avathar on horseback had the form of Baba Himself!
One can well appreciate the hesitation of Baba to vouchsafe these visions, when one remembers the case of Sri Krishnamurthy, a clerk at the Mysore Secretariat. Of course, Baba will bless only those who have reached that stage in which they deserve the Vision that He grants; He is the Judge of the time, the recipient, and the nature of the Vision, and, if the person so blessed is so overwhelmed with joy that he cannot survive in this physical framework, which is too weak a container for that type of Bliss, one has only to be thankful for the glory and the blessedness of such a death.
Baba was then at Bangalore, ostensibly a little Boy of seventeen; He used to wear then a white half-arm shirt, and a Dhothi round His waist. The aforesaid Krishnamurthy was a frequent visitor and an enthusiastic member of the Bhajana group that sang the Sthothras. He was closely watching Baba and following Him for a few days. Then, one day, at about 8 a.m., he confronted Baba and said rather excitedly, "I know You are God; show me Your real Form!". Baba tried to avoid him but couldn't. Then, He gave him a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba, which He 'took' on the spot, and directed him to meditate on that, keeping it against the wall. "Be looking at that picture," He commanded and left the house, to give Darsan to some Bhakthas in their own homes.
Baba returned when the clock struck twelve. Just when He crossed the threshold, Krishnamurthy raised a huge cry of joy and fainted in the inner room! When he came to, he was shivering and shaking and breathing heavily; he kept his eyes tightly closed and he was pursuing Baba from room to room, asking sometimes plaintively, sometimes authoritatively, "Give me Your Pada! Let me touch Your Feet!" He seemed to know exactly where Baba was, by the sense of smell, for he was sniffing his way towards Him! But, Baba pushed him gently off or hid Himself or kept His Feet firmly under Him while He sat and never acceded to his importunities.
When Krishnamurthy was asked to open his eyes, he refused, saying that he did not desire to cast his eyes on anything else, he wanted only to touch and see Baba's Feet. His excitement and joy continued unabated for days and Baba said that if he touched His Feet while in that ecstatic mood, he would pass away. So, Baba quietly persuaded him to go home, saying He would give him His Darsan there, and Himself shifted to a house in the Civil Station. But, Krishnamurthy could not contain himself; with his eyes still closed, he some how sniffed his way; he boarded a Jutka, and directed the driver to the house where Baba was staying! He slid down from the Jutka and ran into the compound. He roamed round the building, and began to bang at the very window of the room where Baba was at the time! Baba still spoke of the danger to his life, because of the overpowering joy of his experience. The man was dragged back home by his relations, who came behind him. He was still keeping his eyes closed and praying for Baba's Feet.
He was taken to the Hospital by some people, for, he became weak through fasting and he would not even drink water. Baba sent him at the hospital a little Padathirtham, that is to say, water with which His Feet had been washed and when he drank it, he became fit enough to be taken home. At home, he asked every one to do Bhajana, himself lying on a cot in the same room. When the Bhajan was over, they found he did not rise. He had touched the Feet of the Lord; the River had found the Sea. What a highly evolved soul it must have been, to deserve that unspeakable Bliss!
In later years too Baba has granted Visions of Ishtadevathas and of His own manifold Forms to many. These cherish the memory of that moment of Bliss.
Baba has Himself said often that the Lord has to come in human form, in order to be understood by men, in order to speak to them in their own language, just as a person desirous of saving a drowning man has, perforce, to jump into the very same tank or well. No one can benefit from an Avathar if the Lord comes down, as He is, with His Effulgence unimpaired.
On another occasion He asked some persons who had come from Kamalapur, whether they would like to hear the Muraligana of Sri Krishna, and,... who would say, No? He asked them to lay their heads on His chest, and, lo, they could hear the enchanting melody of the Flute of Krishna that brought even the Yamuna to a standstill. Easwaramma speaks of another thrilling experience, when Baba said; "Listen, Shirdi Sairam is here;" she and every one in the room could hear steps advancing towards them, heavy, wooden-sandalled steps; the steps ceased when they reached where Baba was sitting! It seemed when first the sound was heard, the mother asked with a little anger, "Who comes in, with sandals on?" So real was the sensation, so true was the Vision!
While this is the experience of the 'mother', the 'father,' Peddavenkapa Raju has another incident to narrate. It seems one evening some people came from Penukonda to Puttaparthi; among them was the old family friend, Sri Krishnamachari, who though a native of Puttaparthi, had long ago settled down at Penukonda as a lawyer. He and others came to the Karnam's house and Smt. Subbamma gave them coffee etc. The talk naturally turned on latest phenomenon of Sathyanarayana Raju and they asked Peddavenkapa Raju, who happened to be there, what it all was and how true it was. He replied that it was all a mystery to him and that he too was equally in the dark. Then, it seems the lawyer called Venkapa Raju a 'cheat' and charged him with misleading innocent village folk with tall stories. This upset him so much that he went to where Baba was at the time and challenged Him to convince the doubters about His Divinity, so that they might not attack him as the lawyer did. Baba coolly asked him to bring everyone who had any doubt, direct to Him.
At this, Smt. Subbamma and the Penukonda party were taken to Peddavenkapa Raju's house, where Baba was at the time. Baba asked Subbamma if she would like to see the Shirdi Samadhi, and on her saying, "Yes," He took her inside the house to an inner room and said, "Look" and, lo, there she could see the Samadhi with all the flowers, incense stick with smoke and fragrance complete, and an attendant sitting in one corner, murmuring some Manthra to himself! Baba told her, "This side, see the Anjaneya Temple, and in the far distance, see that Margosa Tree," and it appeared to her as if she was in some vast open space looking at the scene in Shirdi, the entire landscape spreading out before her for miles and miles to the horizon in the distance.
When she was brought out after this thrilling experience, she persuaded Sri Krishnamachari to follow Baba to the same inner room. Baba took them all in one by one and vouchsafed to each the same vision, a panoramic view of the Samadhi at Shirdi and its locale. Peddavenkapa Raju says that he was taken inside after all the rest and when he came out, he was a changed man; his own doubts had vanished. The friends from Penukonda apologised for their slighting remarks and said that with a Divine Phenomenon like Baba, the sanest remark for any one would be that it was "un-understandably mysterious". They and Subbamma and Peddavenkapa Raju were convinced that day that the little boy of sixteen was really an incarnation of Baba. Pedda-Venkapa Raju says that he instructed his family to consider Baba as Divine and not bother Him with any more littleness, neglect or temper.
Baba was engaged even during those early days in Upadesh; in fact, His Life is one Continuous Upadesh. A clear example of this is the Upadesham. He gave to Digambara Swami, when he came to Puttaparthi, in 1941. The town of Bukkapatnam was all agog with the visit of this of the ascetic, an aged man, who had lost the use of both his legs, who had discarded dress, and therefore was looked upon by the masses as a triple example of sagehood. His admirers were eager to watch the reactions of Baba, when pitted against a veteran of many hardships. The Digambara Swami had taken also a vow of silence and so, the curiosity of the people became greater. The sweet little Divine Child met the Hefty Hero who was carried to the village and deposited in front of the Karnam's House. Baba gave the unclothes Sage a big towel(!) and some advice, the like of which he would not have got anywhere else.
"If you have cut off all relationship with Society, as your nakedness indicates you have, then why do you not go to a cave in a forest away from human society? Why are you afraid? On the other hand, if you have a craving for disciples, for name and the food available in cities and towns, why do you allow yourselves to be mistaken for a man with no attachment?" These were the words that fell from the young Baba. They struck every one with wonder and admiration.
The Digambara Swami looked crestfallen, for he was evidently not sincere enough to act up to his 'nakedness' and his Mounam! But, Baba was not sarcastic; no, far from it; He was ready to help, to assure, to guarantee! He said, patting the cripple on the back, "I know your difficulty. You are afraid you may not get food and shelter if you retire from the company of men, isn't it? Well. I assure you, any one taking the name of the Lord, wherever he may be, will get his food. I shall see to that. You may be in the deepest Himalayas or the thickest Dandakaranya, I shall give you food regularly there! But, if you have not that Faith and that Courage, you can meditate on Him here itself; then, don't wander about naked, and give all this bother to these people to carry you about from place to place." What a grand teaching that! If only people would grasp its meaning! That was the Authentic Voice; only a Avathar could give that Assurance!
While on this point, it is best to mention here that this assurance is being given even today by Baba to all Sadhakas. Three years ago, when Swami Satchidananda met Him, Baba told him to cultivate his Yogic proficiency and not fritter it away in the manifold activities of an Organising Secretaryship, and He added, patting the seventy-year old Sanyasin on the back, "Your Yogic attainments will themselves penetrate the rock of the cave where you sit and bring auspiciousness to the world; go to some Himalayan solitude; I shall provide you food and shelter wherever you are!" The same authentic Voice, the Voice of the Avathar, come to guide and guard all Sadhakas, whatever the religion, the race, the clime!
With the arrival of devotees from all around at the news of the manifestation of Sai Baba at Puttaparthi, Baba was busy with the cure of their physical and mental ills. He says that even this forms part of His Mission, for, no one can have the urge for spiritual discipline when pestered by physical and mental ills. So, many cases of chronic illness, lunacy, hysteria, possession by evil spirits and ghosts, etc. were brought to the presence of the Great Healer. Persons who were worshipping Shirdi Baba also came, out of curiosity, to examine the new Manifestation of their Lord, Many persuaded Baba to move to their places and thus Baba went to Bangalore and visited a few houses which had contacts with Mirzapur, Kolapuram, Pithapuram, Sandur, Madras, and other places. Some devotees came also from the Ursu families connected with the Royal Line of Mysore. At Bangalore Baba 'operated' a long-standing case of duodenal ulcer and the patient got complete relief; the 'instruments' were all 'materialised' mysteriously and so, the stream of pilgrims increased considerably.
All these highlighted the need for a bigger Mandir where Baba could reside and where the devotees could be accommodated. This was how the Old 'Mandir' got planned by Thirumala Rao of Bangalore and others in 1945. The place selected was a little away from the village, between the Sathyamma and the Gopalakrishna temples, the very site on which sheds and Pandals were put up since some years, during Dasara and other festivals, by the Karnam family and other devotees.
When the servant, Gooni Venkata (Venkata with the Hump, that is) dug at the spot indicated by Baba, so that the consecrated stones may be laid as foundation, a large number of stone Peethams, bases of Lingams, turned up! But, strangely enough, no Lingam could be got, though vigorous search was made. Dozens of Peethams... but, not even a single Lingam! People gathered round Baba and sought the answer. Baba told them cryptically, pointing a finger at His stomach, "The Lingams are all here." Those who have witnessed the emanation of Lingams from Baba's Mouth on the night of every Mahasivarathri might be convinced of the correctness of the answer; others will have to be satisfied with the consolation that the ways of the Lord are beyond the categories with which we measure and weigh and infer and judge.
After the completion of the building, Baba came over from the Karnam's house and began residing in the room to the left of the front veranda, a small room, about 8 feet long and 6 feet wide.
Meanwhile, Baba had gone to Madras and given Darsan to thousands there. He also went as far as Masulipatam. Wherever He went, He granted people peace of mind and spiritual advice, and assured them all that He would guide and guard them, One day, while on the sands of the seashore near Masulipatam, Baba walked straight into the sea! The devotees took some time to realise the situation. Then they heard a voice and turned towards the waves, when lo, they saw a vision of Sesha-Sayee, the Lord on the Serpent Sesha, reclining on the waves! Within a moment, Baba was by their side. They were struck by the fact that His clothes were not wet at all. Another day, He walked towards the sea up to the very edge of the water and threw a silver cup, far into the waves. Every one wondered why; but, in an instant the cup came back and was deposited near them. Baba lifted it up along with the 'salt water' it contained; He poured the water on to the palms of the Bhakthas, a few drops for each, to be swallowed religiously; on, lo, each one found it fragrant and sweet beyond compare! The sea had offered Him, Amritha, just as, years later, it placed round His feet a garland of pearls.
Persons who witnessed these Leelas and partook of the Nectar are now at Prasanthi Nilayam, ardent devotees of Bhagavan.
It would be a mistake to infer from these incidents that Baba was attempting to impress the people around Him by the manifestation of His Divinity. The miraculous is of the very nature of the Lord; His action are beyond our arithmetic and physics and chemistry. Plato called the inquiry into the nature of the relationship between the "here and now" and the "Hereafter and Ever" as metaphysics, or 'after Physics'; Baba's action are all meta! He vouchsafes the miracles, because He is He, not because of any desire or purpose or want, for what can He ever want or wish?
Whenever any person came into the Presence, even in those days, Baba immediately took him in Hand and; by advice, suggestion, satire, sarcasm, or even downright reprimand, He slowly shaped him into a humble, silent, pious, but, withal, efficient enthusiastic limb of society. That is the Alchemy of His Touch. Even when He addressed groups of devotees He harped on the need for the inner transformation. He told every one to have Courage and said that Courage can come only by Faith in the Infinite Power, the Infinite Mercy of the Lord. Of course, any one inclined to doubt need only approach Him and taste His Infinite Power and His Infinite Mercy.
Talking of His Karuna, an incident that happened at Bangalore, while He was yet in His teens occurs to mind. A cobbler plying his trade in a corner of a road in the Civil Station saw Baba in a Bungalow opposite the place where he sat; many cars were moving into the house and coming out; flowers and fruits were being taken in and the faces of those that came out on the road were bright with joy and contentment; they were talking of an Avathar, of Sri Krishna, of Bhagavan, of Baba etc. so, he too ventured to enter the gate and peep nervously into the Hall, where Baba was seated on a special chair, with men on one side and women on the other; his eyes fell on Baba, just when He too looked at him. Baba rose up immediately him, took the little dried-up garland that the cobbler held in his hand, even before the man offered it and He asked him in Tamil, what he wanted from Him!
The temerity to formulate his wish and express it in so many words must have been granted to that aged cobbler by Baba Himself for, how else can we explain the astounding request that he dared to make? He said, quite confidently and without hesitation, to the surprise of every one who heard him, "Please come to my house also and accept something!" Baba patted his back lovingly and said, "All right, I shall come." And resumed His seat at the other end of the hall.
The cobbler waited long because he wanted to tell Baba where his house was and he wanted to know when Baba would visit it, so that he might clean it and be ready to receive Him; but, he had to hurry back to his corner to keep watch over his bag of leather pieces and old shoes; he was pushed and jostled by the rush of visitors; no one listened to him when he said that Baba had promised to pay a visit to his hut and when he wanted them to find out form Him when He would be coming. Some laughed at him and his audacity; some said, he was drunk or mad. Days passed. Baba spent His days with other Bhakthas and did not visit the Bungalow opposite the Cobbler's Corner. He gave up all hopes of meeting Baba again.
Suddenly one day a swell car pulled up right in front of the aged fellow. He was taken aback; he was afraid it might be the police van or some Corporation officer intent on prosecuting him. But, it was Baba! He invited the cobbler to get into the car; the man was too confused even to open his mouth to direct the driver to his hut; but, Baba seemed to know! Stopping the car on the side of the road, He got down and hastened over the cobblestones in the side-lane to the exact hut, in the midst of a number of slum dwellings! The cobbler ran forward to warn his family; Baba 'took' some sweets and fruits and gave them as Prasad to the members of the cobbler's family, and sat on a plank near the wall. He blessed the aged man, who was shedding tears of joy, partook of a few plantains that he brought from a shop near by and left the hut, which he had made by His visit a place of pilgrimage for the entire neighbourhood! Such was Baba's Prema.
But some in their foolishness attempted even to poison Baba! Since the incident reveals more than one facet of Baba's Divinity, it is best to relate it in some detail. Even today, Baba will not allow the attempt to be called an 'attempt to kill'; and, since His Words are Truth, we shall repeat that it was just an attempt to test whether He could survive the eating of poison; it was more the result of scepticism, than of wickedness.
It was a festival day and Baba visited a few houses in His native village with two devotees. In each house, He partook of something or other and when He entered the house where the fatal food was ready, He showed extra enthusiasm, and demanded more of the stuff and saw to it that His companions did not consume the deadly mixture. When he returned to the Karnam's house, He confided to some persons the secret of the special invitation from the particular house and talked about the utter futility and foolishness of it all and He had a hearty laugh over the incident. After some time, He vomited the whole stuff; persons near Him secretly tested whether it was poisonous to living beings or not. It was!
In fact, Baba takes delight in doing just what we mortals dread to do. For example, the night of the snakebite! This incident is described in the chapter on "The Wave of the Hand"! That night, after the recovery of Baba with the application of the Talisman produced miraculously through His Grace, every one in the village pleaded with Him not to have any supper, for, food might aggravate the poison; but, He audaciously ate a little more than usual; they wanted Him against sleep, not knowing that His sleep is simply the 'Nidramudra' that is devoted to the vigilant protection of the World, but, He 'slept' longer than usual. Next morning, He was asked by the elders to avoid cold water, but, He purposely dived into a well and swam about, just to spite human nervousness and human precautions! In spite of these constant reminders of His Divinity, we drag the Height to our own depths and circumscribe the Supreme Illogical into our cramped, but, symmetric syllogisms!
Subbamma was the person most anxious about His "health" and most worried about the hundreds of pilgrims who gathered at Puttaparthi. Baba even now says that the grinding stone in her house was always busy, preparing chutney out of the heaps of coconuts that the pilgrims offered. Subbamma was grinding, grinding , grinding, almost eight hours of the day! She had immense love and devotion to the Lord and Baba had said that He would satisfy her one desire... to have the Darsan of Baba in her last moments. It is indeed a thrilling story, the story of those moments and that Darsan.
Subbamma fell ill; she was taken to Bukkapatnam; but in spite of her illness, she came over one day in a bullock cart to see the Prasanthi Nilayam, which was then under construction; she was soon bedridden; she could not move; her condition worsened; and, Baba was away, at Bangalore! Subbamma, in her delirium, talked about Baba and the vision of Shirdi Sai Baba which she had been privileged to see, of the manifold Leelas of the Krishna she had witnessed, and, when she came to, her talk was about the same incidents and the same Person. She was in the midst of relatives who did not have much sympathy with these sentiments, for they felt that her love for the strange little miraculous Boy had taken her away from attachment to her kith and kin and so, they told her that her Baba was a hundred miles away, and so, it would be better for her to concentrate her failing attention on men and matters, nearer and closer. But, her Faith did not falter.
Meanwhile, Baba left Bangalore for Tirupathi, where He spent some time with the devotees of His own Concretised and Consecrated Image. Of course, Baba knew that Subbamma's soul was struggling to free itself from the mortal coil, and that she was rolling in her deathbed at Bukkapatnam. The people around her announced that she had breathed her last. But, some peculiar glow on her face, made them nervous to take the body to the cremation ground. A few wiser persons shook their heads when it was suggested that she had died. They advised patience, and admonished the relatives; "The bird has not flown yet," they said. How could that bird fly, even though the door of the cage was lying open? She must have the Darsan and she must wait, until Baba comes. And, Baba too was hurrying towards her bedside. He left Tirupathi by car, and arriving at Puttaparthi, proceeded to Bukkapatnam, three full days after the first announcement of Subbamma's end! Her eyes had lost the glint, she was placed on the floor and people were evincing an uneasy impatience. Baba sat by her and in a low voice, called out, "Subbamma," "Subbamma," just twice and no more! Then, to the wonderment of everyone crowding around, Subbamma opened her eyes; her hand extended towards Baba and grasped His palm firmly and began to stroke it lovingly; Baba put His Fingers to her lips; her mouth opened a little, as if she knew that Baba was giving her something to slake the thirst of the soul. From the fingers of Baba there poured into her mouth the Immortal Ganga and Subbamma joined the ranks of the Released!
About this time, Baba was approached by some Muslims of neighbouring village on a matter of some importance for them. Their ranks were reduced by a fell disease. The worship of what are called Pirs is traditional in these parts during the month of Mohurram, the installation, the worship, the ceremonial procession and the immersion, all the being celebrated by the Hindu as well as the Muslim communities. Pirs are the hand-shaped objects made of brass etc., which are held sacred as mementoes of the sacrifice of Hassan and Hussein on the memorable battle field of Kerbela. Baba told the Muslims that came to Him that Pirs were being installed in their village since hundreds of years, but, latterly the ceremony had stopped. He asked them to continue the worship and revealed to them that if they dig at a certain place which He pointed out, they would get the Pirs which their forefathers consecrated. They dug at the place and the Pirs were exposed to view! Every one was so surprised at Baba's omniscience and the sudden appearance of the sacred objects that none had the courage to descend and pull the Pirs into the open. So, Baba himself got down the pit and took the Pirs out. There were four of them at the place! For many years thereafter, these were kept at the Mandir itself, rolled up in a mat and packed nearly. They were issued to those villagers for the Mohurrum celebrations only, and they were being returned duly after the functions were over.
One curious circumstance that was witnessed by the present writer may be added here. When the Muslims were once proceeding from the Mandir, after accepting the Pirs from Baba's Hands, the person who carried them began to act as if he was 'possessed' and all began to gather around him, to watch the holy man in that elevated mood. He danced a few steps, ran round in circles, muttered a few verses of the Holy Quran to himself and walked back to where Baba was! Then, Baba said, "Go, go and come back, after the festival," and, quickly, quietly, the 'possessed' man sped forward with the Pirs in the same tense condition of prayerful joy. Only those who have had the privilege of experiencing such moments can grasp an iota of the Mystery that is Baba.
Many devotees came to Puttaparthi during those days from far and near. Each one was drawn from his place by some inexplicable circumstance and kept loyal by some glimpse of Baba's Omniscience, or Omnipresence or Omnipotence. A gentleman from Udumalpet who first refused to join the party of pilgrims but who was later persuaded to join, offered a flower garland to Baba, as soon as Puttaparthi was reached, as every one else did; but, Baba did not accept his offering; He said, "You had no mind to come!" and that remark bound Him closer to the unbeliever.
Another gentleman from Madurai came because his sister at Vellore accepted to have an operation performed on her, only if and when Baba agreed it was essential. He came to Puttaparthi but, Baba did not speak to him for some days and, when at last, He spoke, He only asked him to go back to Vellore by the next available bus. The Doctor at Vellore was getting furiouser and furiouser (!) because the silly patient was endangering her own life, waiting for a Hukum from a Boy, who, she said, was her Guru and God! The brother came at last; another examination was made; and, wonder of wonders, there was no need for an operation! Is it the same 'she'? The doctor rubbed her eyes.
It would make very inspiring reading if a book is composed of the answers from devotees to the question, "how did you first come to Puttaparthi and why? If such a volume is ever produced, the story of the coming of Smt. Sakamma, the famous Coffee Planter and Philanthropist of Coorg, the lady who was honoured with the title of Dharmaparayani by the Maharaja of Mysore will be an interesting chapter. Not that she was rich and famous in the field of business and industry. Oh, no. Baba does not mind a person being rich nor being poor. He cares for the richness of character, the wealth of Sadhana, the treasures of the spirit, whatever the bank balance!
The late Smt. Sakamma used to tell this strange story that she experienced. One day at her own Bungalow in Somewarpet, Coorg, when she was engaged in worship, a servant disturbed her and announced that a car had come into the compound and that the person inside insisted on seeing her immediately. She was rather upset, but, nevertheless went out to find who could take so much liberty with her timetable. She found in the car a tall fair old man with a very reverend beard, sitting on a deer skin, his whole body bathed in ash. And, she was struck by the age of the car too, for it matched the age of the owner or occupant. The car was driven by a weak little boy in his teens and Smt. Sakamma wondered how he could have managed to secure a licence or whether he had one at all. The car had a name plate, on top, in front, "THE KAILAS COMMITTEE!" She invited the old man inside; did Pranam; placed a newly plucked rose at his feet; and offered him some fruits. He said that he would not eat the fruits there; he said he did not cater to the tongue at all times and all places, 'Jihvachapalya' was the word he used; he wanted her to contribute to the Kailas Committee and become a Member, by giving the donation of a thousand rupees. She signed a paper in which the sum and her name was already written! And when she proffered the amount, the old man said, "Keep this also with you. I shall come and take it later." With those words he kept on the table the signed sheet and, getting into the car, he left the place! The teen-age driver did his work remarkably well, for the car was out of sight in a moment.
Years later, when she saw Baba in a house to which she had gone, He appeared to her at one moment like the driver of that mysterious car and the next, like the hoary occupant who took so much pains to make her contribute to the "Kailas Committee", and, then, asked her to wait with the cash in her own keeping! And then Baba surprised her by telling her, "Come on, give the Rs.1000/- you promised that day!" and describing in her presence the entire story, correct to the minutest detail.
Baba went to Mysore City during the Deepavali Festival once and stayed with an Ursu devotee. While there, He granted the devotees at Puttaparthi the vision of a Naga, a phenomenon not unknown to the devotees of Shirdi Rupa also, as the citizens of Coimbatore and of many other places can confirm. The interesting fact about this vision is that at the same time, or rather, for the entire period that it lasted, Baba was 'outside' His physical frame, which was at Mysore. The Bhajana at the "Old Mandir" was done during the absence of Baba, before a temporary shrine on the steps leading up to the front door, where a photo was kept decorated, with a pair of lamps which burnt both day and night. Deepavali Night passed away, and in the early dawn some devotees at Puttaparthi saw the lights of a car coming up the curve of the hill beyond Karnatanagapalli. But, that was later found to be just an impression of a few. When the persons who saw the light and ran forward to the river bank were returning to the Mandir, they were surprised to hear that a Cobra had coiled round the portrait of Baba, in the temporary shrine. It was seen by hundreds of villagers and others, until 3 p.m. They offered Puja to it, sang the regular Bhajana, at noon, and broke coconuts to propitiate it, but, it did not stir out of its place. Emboldened by this, some women threw Kumkum and Saffron powder on it, pronouncing the name of the Lord and calling upon Baba; they placed milk in bowls before it; it only swayed its raised hood from side to side. One reverend female of the village, when the two halves of a coconut were given back to her after the ceremonial offering, protested loudly, saying that the nut she handed in was definitely bigger in size and that she would be a loser if she quietly accepted the halves of a smaller nut; at this, the Cobra, as if it was keenly watching the proceedings turned sharply in her direction, and hissed loudly! Every one had a hearty laugh at her fright! At 3 P.M. the Cobra slid down and within a yard or two became invisible. And Baba at Mysore brought joy to all, by getting up.
Just as Baba went to Mysore, He visited also Hyderabad and since He recognised a number of places as those which He had once seen, the Rani of Chincholi got convinced that He was the Avathar of Shirdi Baba Himself. Baba also went to Kuppam and from thence to Karur, and Trichinopoly. Everywhere, He was welcomed with great enthusiasm by the devotees and citizens. At Trichinopoly, the procession was let by a richly caparisoned elephant, followed by parties reciting Vedic Manthras and carrying in silver pots consecrated water as an offering of homage. Everywhere, He advised the people, "From now onwards, purify your hearts and make them fit tabernacles for the Lord. Do not fall deeper and deeper into evil, yielding to temptations. Take courage. Believe in the Lord who is within you; He is your thickest and nearest kith and kin."
While the cars of Baba's party were going along the streets of Trichinopoly, one of the vehicles ran over a little boy and he was badly injured; a crowd collected around the boy, who was laid bleeding and hurt on the veranda of a house near by and the police popped up to investigate; but, meanwhile, Baba had come and touched the boy, so, when the police came, they had nothing to report, for the boy who was hurt, was running about telling everyone, how one touch had made him whole. Long after Baba left, that boy was fondled and fed by an admiring crowd, who envied him for his miraculous experience.
There was another boy too who was similarly honoured by an admiring crowd, and who perhaps even today is thankful to the Lord for intervention in his career. At a public meeting near Trichinopoly held to honour Baba, someone doubted the Divinity of Baba and, sensing this from the platform, Baba immediately called up a deaf and dumb lad who was standing near the aforesaid person, and making him stand in front of the mike, He asked him, "What is your name?" Immediately, the boy spoke into the mike for all the thousands to hear, "Venkatanarayanan"! The doubter swallowed his tongue and hung his head in shame; but, there was another consequence too. Baba often talks about this incident with laughter. For, when morning dawned, the entire length of the street where He was residing was packed with the dumb and deaf! It had become a silent lane of pain! No one knew till then that Trichinopoly had such a large population of that particular brand of defectives. Baba had to move out of the bungalow through a side exit, in order to avoid the clamour of their relatives.
The devotees at Karur and Trichinopoly vied with each other in decorating their houses and streets and in the magnificence or reception arrangements. But, Baba was unaffected by all the pageantry. He moved freely among the people, both rich and poor, sometimes more among the poor than among his hosts for, He cares more for the prayerful heart and the heart filled with remorse than those puffed with pride and contaminated by greed. The Mantapams, bedecked with flowers of variegated hue which were erected for seating Him and offering worship to Him, were gems of artistry. But, Baba told the people times without number that He attached value only to the unsullied blossom of a pure heart and the fruit-offerings of good deeds, the Hridaya Pushpa and the Karma-phala, as He says.
Once at Mysore, seated on one such Mantapam, Baba was receiving the Puja of an Ursu devotee, when a cobra appeared from nowhere and crept on to the heap of flowers at his feet; presently, it was accompanied by another and the two took up positions on the both sides of the Mantapam. Baba assured the members of the Ursu family that there was nothing to be afraid of and, after a while, the cobras disappeared into the nowhere from which they emerged!
Baba is not content merely by instilling faith in his devotees through these miracles; He is a hard taskmaster who will be satisfied with nothing less than cent per cent integrity, and a sincere striving for the spiritual discipline. This explains why, of the very large number of men and women who are drawn to Him by the stories of his miracles and who get their first impressions of His Divinity confirmed by many subsequent miracles, fall away from Him, unable to cope with the demands He makes, in character reform, Renunciation, Sadhana, Japam and Dhyanam. Baba reiterated even in those early days that He wards off physical calamities, curse bodily ills, heals, consoles, and gives solace, only as a first step towards Sadhana which must automatically follow His Darsan. Many a Sadhu and Maharishi have fallen into the mire, because of their anxiety to keep themselves in the good books of rich and influential patrons, but Baba, who has come to illumine the paths of Sadhus and Maharishis, has never minced matters, when it comes to correcting the faults of those around Him; in fact, His Grace is so overpowering that it disregards the obstacles of age, scholarship, or length of association; He Blesses every one with His correction and evaluation. Complete resignation to His Will alone can make each one full and free.
Dasara soon became the festival par excellence at Puttaparthi, for while Baba might be away at Madras or at Trichinopoly or Masulipatam for other festivals, He was invariably at the Mandiram for Dasara. Srimathi Sakamma and other devotees were privileged for many years to make arrangements for this festival of the Mother. Baba is indeed the Supreme Mother, manifesting Herself as Saraswathi, Lakshmi, Sarada, Annapurna, and even Kali. Baba has said that Sanathana Dharma is the Divine Mother of Humanity; with His Message of Sathya, Dharma, Santhi and Prema, the four cardinal principles of that Dharma, He is Himself the Mother, the Sanathana Sarathi. His devotees feel that He is their Mother more than all, and so, there is a special appropriateness in Dasara being the biggest festival at Puttaparthi. Many among His Bhakthas have been blessed with visions of Him as the Mother. In fact, one of them insists on addressing Him as Sivathayi, Siva the Mother. He likes the company of children, and even the most recalcitrant is brought round by Him, through an inexhaustible repertoire of tricks, and games, and ventriloquial achievements, and shadow figures, and even presents of sweets, materialised by a wave of the Hand. He twists and turns His Fingers and, lo, when the shadow falls on the bare wall opposite, the children are astonished to find snakes, eagles, horses, stags, dogs, peacocks, crows, cats and buffaloes jumping about in high glee. He offers the child a ball of sand; it reluctantly extends its tiny hand to receive the 'Laddu' as He calls it; the sand actually becomes sweet fragrant Laddu the moment it reaches the pal of the child. He says that children are indeed lucky, since they have the good fortune for Baba Darsan, much earlier than adults and they are privileged to have Baba as their Teacher, Protector, Guide and Guardian, for many decades to come. When Baba agrees to name the children of His devotees, the names He gives them are redolent of His Grace and His Mercy. He also initiates the little ones in Akshara; that is , He holds their tiny fingers in His Hand and scribbles along with them in honey or milk or rice the letters of the alphabet.
But, Akshara means also the imperishable, the eternal; and Baba, when He inaugurates the Aksharabhyasa, initiates them also into the Imperishable. For, He makes the child pronounce the Mahamanthra, Om Namo Narayana, or Om Namasivaya or Om Srinivasaya, or any one of such, suited to the traditions of the family of the child, thus giving the child the key to ultimate spiritual destiny. There is a Tamil song on Baba, which refer to Him as the Sayimatha, the Mother who suckles Her children on the milk of Jnana, and the Aksharabhyasa is the occasion on which the fortunate child gets the chance.
Baba shines forth as the patron of Music and Letters, and as the Giver of Food and Sustenance, during Dasara, and so, it is a memorable festival, from the very beginning of the Manifestation. The devotees delight in discourses, musical performances, dramas and sumptuous feasts. Every evening, during those Years there was a procession too, along the narrow roads of the village, Baba on a palanquin decorated differently on each day, and carried on the shoulders by eager relays of Bhakthas. During the progress of the procession, the present writer has himself seen Baba plucking from the garlands around Him odd flowers and, with a palm full of petals, scattering them among the crowd. And, lo, it all fell with a jingle, for each petal had become a small medallion with Baba's portrait on one side and Shirdi Sai Baba's portrait on the other! Or, it often happened that the petals were turned into peppermints, which rained among the crowds around the palanquin! While on the palanquin, Baba's Forehead will often be covered by Vibhuthi that emanated from within and Bhakthas could see this, as well as Kumkum dots!
Soon, the Mandir was found to be too small for the gatherings of devotees. Many worshippers of Shirdi Sai Baba, on hearing that He had incarnated in human form in the village of Puttaparthi hurried thither. Many who went on pilgrimage to Shirdi as usual, were 'directed' there to go to Puttaparthi instead. Others got to know the Baba of Shirdi through Sathya Sai Baba Himself. "Aartho jijnasurartharthi jnani cha," says Sri Krishna in the Bhagavadgitha, "flock to the Lord," that is to say, the afflicted, the inquiring, the seekers of comfortable life, and the wise, these four types approach the Lord with their varied motives but the Lord welcomes all and satisfies all. The afflicted, He relieves. His Vibhuthi acts as a charm to drive away evil spirits and the effects of black magic, from hundreds of unfortunates. The critical, the inquisitive, the doubting, the sceptical, the agnostic, He satisfies and attracts and attaches to Himself. The persons eager to get a comfortable life, He blesses, provided they are educated enough to use the peace of mind they get for cultivating the spirit and contemplating on the ultimate goal of Life itself. The Jnani is dearest to Him, for He reveals Himself in all His Glory to his vision, purified and clarified by steadfast discipline. Persons belonging to all these groups came to Puttaparthi, the first and the third groups naturally in much larger numbers. He revolutionised the lives of all who came to Him.
The transformation of a gang of thieves into quiet god-fearing agriculturists is worth noting. When Baba one night was on the hill on the other bank of the Chitravathi, He came upon a group of dacoits who were engaged in the rather ticklish task of dividing their spoils. But, when they saw Him and accepted from His Hand the Divine Vibhuthi, they knew they were face to face with the Eternal Witness. Baba spoke to the seventeen black hearts and, by His Alchemy, He brought them over to the village of Puttaparthi. They all took up ways of peaceful living and, Baba used to present one of them as an example, a sturdy man of middle age, whom He had appointed as a night watchman!
A long shed had to be put up within a few years in front of the Mandir, along its whole length, with a corrugated sheet roofing to accommodate the gatherings of devotees. But, even that proved too small. A separate block, with one living room and bath room was put up for Baba, behind the Mandir. It was in this room that Baba operated on Dr. Padmanabhan's brother for hernia! It was in that shed, behind the screen in front of the shrine that Baba operated on Appaiah of Puttaparthi for appendicitis. It was while sleeping in the open space between the Mandir and the block behind, that Baba, one night, announced that one of His Bhakthas had lost a talisman that he had given Him, for it had come back into His possession! He said that He must go to Madras immediately to tie it to the wrist of the patient, but, all around Him prayed that He should not undertake the 'journey' at that hour, going out of His Body and coming back into it. He agreed to send it with someone proceeding to Madras and gave the talisman into the custody of Sri Seshagiri Rao, and old devotee, with the warning. "Keep it tight; tie it in a towel and wind it round your waist." He obeyed the command implicitly and slept with the talisman, would round his middle. About two hours later, all of us were awakened by the loud laughter of Baba, who had sat up in bed. We gathered round Him and wanted that he should permit us to join in the joke. Seshagiri Rao was still unaware of what was going on. Baba woke him up and asked for the talisman. He unwound the towel, unrolled it, and, lo, it had disappeared! Baba chided him for fun and said that He had 'gone' and tied it round the wrist of the person who had to be continuously guarded by it! Yes! He had gone to Madras and returned!
Bhakthas will never forget the Old Mandiram, for Baba was always moving right in the midst of the people there. He composed a large number of Bhajan songs and Kirthans which He taught them, while there. He trained them and corrected them on the spot, and with great love and attention. Since the number of devotees who were present was not very large, Baba used to go out more frequently, to the sands on the riverbed, or the hills around or the gardens across the river and while they were engaged in cooking the feast, they saw many "miracles," or signs of His Divinity.
I first had Darsan of Baba at the Old Mandiram and that very evening, He proceeded to the sands! There, I heard Him admonish some Bhakthas for getting agitated in mind for all kinds of minor troubles. He told them that they must concentrate on Japam, as the best means of earning Santhi and, then He suddenly turned upon a lady devotee with the question, "Don't you do Japam?" she said something in reply but Baba did not wait to hear it. "Oh, you have lost your Japamala, is it?", He asked, then, thrusting His Hand into the sand He took out a rosary and said, "Here, come and take this." The lady rose reverentially and came forward with folded hands to receive. Baba signed to her to halt, and told her with a smile illuminating His face, "Wait, First tell me which rosary this is?" She looked at it and gasped, "Mine, Swami! Or rather, my mother's". She was so happy she had got back her Japamala, the one given to her by her dying mother. Baba told us all about her mother's piety, her brother's rigorous Thapas and her own Sadhana and asked her when she had lost the precious Japamal. She struck us all dumb by declaring she had misplaced it four years previously, at Bangalore! What an astounding miracle to witness, on one's very first evening at Puttaparthi!
The gathering of Bhakthas increased in number from month to month. The Old Mandiram was found inadequate; it was not possible to meet every day on the sands. The Bhakthas felt that Baba's room was too cramped and low. He was being forced to live in the very midst of noise and dust and confusion. On festival occasions the area around the Mandir was too small to accommodate the persons who came; and, so, some devotees prayed to Baba to agree to the construction of the spacious building, which Baba has named, 'Prasanthi Nilayam'.