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What a fine name, for the dwelling of the Lord! What cool breezes and quiet solitudes does that name invoke! The mountains that stand in a ring round the Nilayam look like hoary sages lost in contemplation. The broad sky inspires vast boundless musings; the rocks on top of the hills invite the Sadhaka for meditation. Baba has planted a Thapovana on the side of the hill, behind the Nilayam and in that Vana there grows a Banyan tree which is bound to become the holiest of such trees, at least so far as the seekers of spiritual uplift are concerned.
The Banyan tree, known as Nyagrodha and Vatavriksha is famous in Indian sacred literature and history. Mahavishnu is said to sleep on a Vatapathra, or a Banyan leaf, when Pralaya overpowers the World and the flood waters pervade the entire earth. Dakshinamurthi, or Siva in the Form of the Guru is described as sitting under a Banyan Tree, and expounding by His very Silence all knowledge to His disciples, just as Mahavishnu, by His Yoganidra is vigilantly guarding the three worlds! This tree may be said to symbolise Sanathana Dharma, for its branches reach out in all directions and draw sustenance from every type of faith and every spiritual striving. It is called also Bahupada in Sanskrit, for the series of roots that its branches send down towards the earth strike the ground and seek food therein and make the branches independent even of the parent trunk. The tree is therefore immortal and there are in India, Banyan trees that have been worshipped for over thousands of years, like the one at Triveni at Prayag or the one called Akshaya-vata at Gaya.
The Vata that is growing in the Thapovanam has a peculiar sanctity of its own. In April, 1959, while talking one evening on the sands of the Chitravathi river to a gathering of devotees, Baba spoke of Buddha and the Bodhi Tree and of Sadhakas seeking some specially favourable spots for their Tapas. Even as He was speaking thus, He 'took' out from the sands a thick copper plate, about 15 inches by 10 inches, containing mystic markings and letters of many known and unknown alphabets! He said that such Sasanas are planted under the trees where Sadhakas do Tapas, so that they may be helped to develop concentration of mind and control of the senses. He announced that He would be placing that Sasana under a Banyan tree that He proposed to plant in the Thapovana; this was actually done on 29th June and Baba declared that Yogis who have reached a certain stage of Tapas will automatically come to know of this Tree and this Sasana and they will be drawn by a mysterious force towards the Thapovana, which will then be fully justifying its name!
The Prasanthi Nilayam was inaugurated on 23rd November, 1950, the 25th Birthday of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It took about two years to build. Baba can be said to be the architect and engineer who directed the entire work of construction. His suggestions had to be accepted by the engineers for they found them much better than even theirs; they found Baba had a greater sense of perspective, a nicer aesthetic point of view than they had. Baba was a hard taskmaster, but, with immeasurable Karuna, too. And, His Grace overcame the most insurmountable obstacles! For example, huge heavy girders for the central prayer-hall came from near Trichinopoly by train to Penukonda all right, but, how on earth could they be brought over the District Board Road, sixteen miles long, with a sandy stream on the seventh mile? How can any lorry with those long bars sticking out negotiate the acute angled corners of the village Locherla, on the ninth mile? And, after Bukkapatnam is reached, there were three miles of a track that can be referred to, only by courtesy, as a road, and then, the broad expanse of sand which the Chitravathi river spreads across a distance of three furlongs, between Puttaparthi and Karnatanagapalli! There were the dilapidated culverts to be gone over; the slushes to be dragged through; and, if and when the girders arrive at the spot, the task of hoisting them on top of the high walls! The engineers gave up all hope of bringing the girders to the village and asked Baba for some alternative proposals for roofing the Prayer Hall.
But, one night, in the smaller hours, the engineer was awakened by a loud noise in front of his house at Anantapur. He peered into the darkness and was surprised to find a crane, from the Tungabhadra Dam works, put out of action and unable to move! He ran up to Puttaparthi and told Baba that if only it could be made all right, the owners could be persuaded to travel up to Penukonda and bring the girders along. Baba concretised and gave a little quantity of Vibhuthi to the Engineer (!) which he piously scattered over the engine of the crane and he asked the driver to make efforts to set it going. And with a grunt or two, the engine started, the wheels turned, and the crane moved... towards the girders! Lifting the girders with its giant arm, it somehow passed over all the culverts, turned round the Locherla corners, lurched over the Vankaperu slush, and puffed up the Karnatanagapalli hill! There, the Engineers said it strength was well-nigh exhausted. It could not possibly draw all that weight through the sands. So, Baba Himself sat near the driver and handled the wheel and the crane unloaded the girders near the work-spot.
The grumbling of the engineers did not stop with this achievement. In fact, it became even exasperating, for, they asked, of what use is all this trouble when it is humanly impossible to hoist them on the walls? Humanly, yes. But, where there is the Will, there is a Way! Labourers were brought from the Tungabhadra Dam, ropes were fastened, pulleys were rigged up, and, in order to make the girders lighter, each girder was pulled up amidst shouts of 'Jai Sai Ram!' from the throats of hundreds of devotees, in the Presence of Baba. The girders were set in places and all went all!
The Central Prayer Hall with a platform ensconced on either side is the main part of the Nilayam. On the western platform is the shrine, where two life size oil portraits are placed leaning against the wall, one of Shirdi Sai Baba and the other of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. There is also a silver figure of Shirdi Sai Baba in the centre and a small portrait of Sathya Sai Baba under it. These are kept as aids for meditation and Japam, for except Bhajan twice a day, once in the morning and a second time in the early hours of the night, there is no regular worship, as is generally done in places where an idols is installed and consecrated. There are no fixed rites and rituals which have to be performed on certain holy days, nor are there any scheduled prayers or Pujas which have to be performed! There is no rule that even the figure of Shirdi Sai Baba should be there. The Hall is a Prayer Hall, no more, no less, with the portraits of all the various Manifestation of Godhead and of all the great Sadhakas and Mahapurushas, like Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Ramanuja, Mahwacharya, Sankaracharya, Buddha and Jesus Christ, Sur Das, Meera, Tukaram etc., placed on the walls.
The rooms on the ground floor are mainly used for storing articles, or vessels etc., besides two rooms set apart for Private Interviews granted by Baba to devotees who come to have His Darsan. The rooms on the first floor are the living rooms, for Baba. There is a big-sized portico, to which Baba comes along the first floor and from where He gives Darsan to the devotees thronging below, from where He speaks on occasions like the Pathakothsavam, at the Inauguration of the Navarathri Festivities or Sivarathri or His Own Birthday Festival. A charming marble image of Sri Krishna, playing the flute, is placed right in the centre of the top floor in the portico and so, every one has his attention drawn towards its beauty and charm.
There is a flight of steps which lead to the top terrace, at the centre of which, facing the approach road, is a bust of Baba, kept on a pedestal, in front of the flag pole. Baba gives Darsan from near this Bust, on days on which the Flag is hoisted and He blesses the huge assembly down below with His Abhayahastha. The Flag carries on it the representation of the symbol, which Baba has concretised in the Circle, right in front of the Building on the ground.
There, in the very centre of a series of concentric circles, is a pillar which represents Yoga, with a number of rings to indicate the stages of Yogic Sadhana. This Yoga leads to the unfolding of the Lotus of the Heart, whose petals are borne on top of the pillar. The next stage of this consummation of Bhakthi and the blossoming of the Heart is the Flame of Jnana, the Illumination, the Jyothi, which is symbolised as the finale of the Sthambha The concentric circles and the intervening spaces, the first one, bare and sandy, the second one, planted with a bushy type of plant that grows in thick clusters that have to be occasionally clipped short are explained by Baba to represent the qualities of Kama and Krodha, that have to be overcome, in order to reach the Yogic Stage. The First Round, the sandy one is desert desire, the waste land, the purposeless striving after evanescent things; the Second, the one with the cluster plant, is Krodha, Anger, which is difficult to destroy, for, as soon as it is clipped it sprouts again; then, there are two steps, red in colour, one low, the other a little higher, symbolising Hatred, or Dwesha which too a Sadhaka has to overcome. One type of hatred is caused when one is thwarted in the effort to achieve the desired object and another type, when pain is caused to one by the actions of another. After these three are overcome, the circular space filled with green grass, cool to the eye, reminiscent of contentment and prosperity, representing Prema is attained; this is the stage when the mind of man is filled with Anandam, due to the absence of Kama, Krodha and Dwesha, and the attitude of Sarvasamaanabhava, that is the very basis of Prema. Soon, the Sadhaka moves on to the open space of Prasanthi, where he can sit at will and enjoy the fruits of the discipline he has gone through. The Yoga fructifies and takes him on from one height to another, until the Lotus of the Heart blooms and the Effulgence of Illumination is vouchsafed at last. Round the circumference of the circle, there are eight painted pots with flower plants, which Baba explains as symbolising the Ashtasiddhis which guard the Yogi and which guard the Yogi and which have to be kept at safe distance, on the outer fringe only.
On the occasion of the ceremonial hoisting of the Prasanthi Pathaka or flag, Baba generally dilates on this inner significance of this "Lotus Circle" in front of the Nilayam and explains why He has got it on the flag also. He advises and commands the devotees to hoist the flag in their own minds and keep it flying aloft there, ruminating all the time on the lessons that it is intended to teach. Baba also speaks of the deeper meaning of the three gates to the Prayer Hall. The first, the outermost one that leads one into the compound, the one with the arch, bearing the inscription of the name of the Nilayam is the Thamoguna Gate. A person who crosses it, leaves Thamoguna behind. He has nourished the holy thought of coming to the Presence and, so Thamas, or the spirit of Darkness and Ignorance has fallen behind him; those who are immersed in Thamas will not have even the curiosity to enter! Then, there is a second gate, just where the garden around the "Lotus Circle" begins. There one is attracted by the magnificence of the building, the electric tube lights, the coloured candelabras, the hanging flower pots, that is to say, aspects which appeal to Rajasic individuals. Now they come to the very door of the Prayer Hall, the Sathwic gate, leading to the Abode of Peace.
The garden in front of the Nilayam is itself a tribute to the devotion of the Bhakthas, for it is watered by long lines of devotees who pass the pots from one hand to another and thus bring joy to the plants from the well, behind the Nilayam or far in front of the building. Baba has made it a genuine Botanical Garden, for it contains fruit and flower trees of different parts of the country, and trees that do not ordinarily thrive in this particular climatic belt, like the eucalyptus, the silver oak, orange and coffee.
The day begins at the Prasanthi Nilayam with the ringing of the Prayer Hall Bell, at 4-30 A.M., announcing the Brahma Muhurtham, when devotees have to get ready for Dhyanam and Japam. At 4-45, the uttering of the Pranava begins in the Hall, and it continues for about half an hour, followed by silent Namasmarana or Japam, by devotees, until six in the morning.
The syllable Om is extolled in the Upanishads as the best and most effective symbol of Brahman. "Om ityanenaivaksharena parm purusham abhidhyayathi." (Prasnopanishad) it contains three Manthras, A U and M as well as the Amathra, the Asabda or soundless stage, where the sound of the Om rings without loudness, and makes the Sadhaka feel the communion with the Brahman. As the consummation of the Upasana of the Pranava is the attainment of Pure Consciousness, the letters must be taken by the Upasaka to symbolise the states to consciousness. Jagrat is the waking state, in which the soul of the grade Viswa is dominated by Thamas and is engaged with the Sthula Sarira; the letter A indicates these. The Swapna or dreaming state, in which the soul of the grade Taijasa is dominated by Rajas and is engrossed with the Sukshma Sarira, the letter U represents these; U is also taken to indicate Ubhayathwa, or Intermediateness. Sushupthi or the state of deep sleep finds the soul of the grade of Prajna, dominated by Sathwa and it becomes the point of mergence. The waking and dreaming states merge in sleep; 'A' or Brahma and 'U' or Vishnu merge in 'M' or Rudra. The Thamoguna and Rajoguna merge into the Sathwa. The Thuriya or the fourth state of the soundless Amathra is the state of the self per se. The Om also represents other triads, like Masculine, Feminine, Neuter, the Past, Present and Future.
The significance of Om is often explained in public speeches and private conversation by Baba. It is also repeated before and after each Bhajana Session, since it is the one great all-inclusive representative of Brahman, non-sectarian and universally accepted.
Baba also constantly emphasises the need for Dhyanam with Japam, as an essential discipline for every one, to be taken up as early in life as possible. He gives detailed instructions and guidance to every one at the Nilayam as well as elsewhere, eager to practise them. So, there are at the Prasanthi Nilayam many devotees who do Namasmarana, Dhyanam, or Japam for many hours a day. Baba while at the Prasanthi Nilayam, is engaged all the time in the task of blessing the devotees, by giving them the rare chances of Darsan, Sparsan (or Namaskar) and Sambhashana. He eats the simple food of the poorest of the land, food cooked and brought with devotion by the Bhakthas at the Nilayam; He sleeps on a bed spread on the floor! He sits on a chair placed generally on a platform in the North-west of the Hall, during Bhajana, and gives Darsan to all in the Hall. He allows them to touch His Feet, whenever He comes down during Bhajan.
The morning hours resound with the Vedic Manthras that are repeated in the Prayer Hall, during Abhishekam and Sahasranamapuja for the Sivalingam, that was "taken" for this purpose, in November '58, out of the sands of the river Chithravathi. In the evening, during most of the months of the year, the Bhagavatha, Ramayana or some such great religious text is expounded for about two hours by learned Pundits.
Every one who comes to the Nilayam has the supreme advantage of earning an interview with Baba in His Private Room, before departure from Puttaparthi, individually if they have come alone or as a family if they have come as members of a family. Perhaps, no other Avathar poured out Grace in such profusion! Then, Baba is the Divine Physician, diagnosing the ills which the suppliant is ailing from and laying bare the innermost blemishes of character or conduct with the utmost kindness and applying the soothing balm of His Grace to the prescription of appropriate remedies. The Interview Room at Puttaparthi has been the scene of countless transformation of character, revolutions of belief, confirmations of faith, curing of disease, calming of temper, discarding of hatred, salvaging of souls, and reunion of hearts. Seldom does a person come out after the interview with a dry eye. Baba gives to every one hope and courage, contentment and faith, assurance and solace, because He says, "Why fear when I am here?", "Put all your faith in Me; I shall guide you and guard you."
The Bhajan sessions in the Prayer Hall are highly elevating experiences, for the atmosphere is one of serene reverence. Baba Himself is generally present in the Hall, and on some rare occasions, when He feels like it, He sits along with the devotees and teaches in His entrancing way, a few Namavalis and songs. "The father might be a Ph.D. but, when he puts his son through the alphabet, he has to take up the slate and write on it the letters A B C and D; but, do not infer from that behaviour that he is learning the alphabet himself," says Baba. The Namavalis and songs are not all about Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba or His Previous Sariram, Shirdi Sai Baba. They cover the widest possible range from the Sathyam Jnanam Anantham Brahman, through all the Avatars of Vishnu, Siva, Ganesha, Vittala, Venkatesa and other forms of Godhead, and they are sung in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and Sanskrit. Emphasis is on the meaning and the 'emotion of surrender,' and in all singing together in unison and to the correct marking of time. Baba has often dilated on the value of the loud singing of the Lord's name, in unison, as an act of service to others; He has compared the loud clapping of the hands while at Bhajan to the clapping of the hands under a crow-infested tree, in order to frighten the birds away! The noisy crows of Gunas and desires and hatreds flocking to your minds can be driven out by the loud clapping of hands, as an accompaniment to the ecstatic repetition of the Lord's Name, says Baba. Baba exhorts every one to engage himself in the repetition of the Name of the Lord, any name that appeals to the individual being in His eye as good and effective as any other.
He has Himself composed a number of Bhajana songs for the edification of the devotees. Many of these summarise in simple Telugu or Kannada or Tamil the Spiritual disciplines that every mortal must adopt, so that the purpose of this human episode may be realised. For example, there is one which asks all to plod through the pilgrimage of life with Sathya, Dharma, Santhi and Prema as the inseparable companions and guides. "Effort and endeavour is the duty of Man; success or failure depends on the Lord's Grace. Engage yourselves in your allotted task every day, with the consciousness of the living presence of the Lord, always be landed by them in mere delusion. In this thick jungle of life, hold fast to His name, that is enough. Cultivate well the heart, which is your farm; the mind is the plough; the Gunas are the bullocks; take up the whip of discrimination and start the ploughing of your heart! Courage is the best of all manures; the seeds that you sow must be the seeds of Prema; Bhakthi is the rain; emotions are the weeds; the harvest is Brahmananda itself!" The Bhajan at Prasanthi Nilayam is a Sathsang, which purifies by instruction and strengthens by inspiration.
Formerly, Baba used to take out the devotees almost daily to the sands of the Chitravathi, and Bhajana was being held there, under the stars, with the hills as hoary listeners, and the river murmuring response. Now too He does so, occasionally. Sitting on the sands, Baba teaches the devotees songs He has composed for their elevation and edification, and He encourages people to ask Him any doubts regarding spiritual matters, for which He gives satisfying answers. Perhaps, the reader might get a clear picture of the scene and the importance of the occasion if I describe an evening on the sands that I had the privilege to attend.
It was November, 1949, I reached Puttaparthi one morning about 9-30 A.M. and I found an atmosphere of exaltation pervading the Mandir. (The Prasanthi Nilayam was then half way through towards completion) and every one was talking about Baba going to the "river" that evening. Some friends congratulated me on my good luck, for the visit to the river or rather the sands, had already become rather rare. About 5-30 P.M. Baba came out of His room and walked briskly at the head of a big throng of Bhakthas, scattering joy all round Him, will many a quip and joke or pleasantry or inquiry.
Stepping across the tiny trickle to which the river had been reduced, He trudged along the sands seeking a place clean and dry for the party to sit; and at last, after proceeding for about a hundred or two hundred yards He decided on a site and we all sat around Him, the men on one side, the women on the other, as we do always at Bhajan at the Mandir. Baba waited graciously until the oldest and the weakest of the Bhakthas reached the spot and were comfortably seated.
Then, in reply to a question from one devotee whether Karma has to be given up to attain Moksha, He gave a sweet simple exposition on the sublimation of all Karma by the attitude of Samarpana to the Lord and how that Arpana will take away the craving for the fruits of Karma, and how when that happens, Karma will lose its power to tighten the bonds of attachment which produce sorrow and rebirth. Bhakthi, devoid of Karma is like a basement, without a wall; Karma without Bhakthi is like a wall without a basement! I was struck by the universality of His Mission and Message, for, He said, during His discourse, " I am the Servant of every one" "You can call Me by any Name I will respond; for all names are Mine. Or, rather, I have no particular Name at all" "Even if I am discarded by you, I shall be behind you" "In my view there are no Nasthikas at all; all are existing by and for the Lord; denying the Sun does not make Him disappear." In fact, being with Him stilled all questioning and illumined all shadows.
After this discourse, Baba taught us a few songs, and then another question from some one turned the proceedings into another discourse, this time about Shirdi and Sai Baba, the "previous body," as He described the features of Sai Baba and derided all types of pictures now being circulated as incorrect caricatures and, even while talking so, He dug His Fingers into the sands and, lo, there was a fine picture in His Hand, which He showed to every one present as the authentic portrait representing Sai Baba as He really looked! He gave It to one of the devotees present for Puja. Conversation naturally moved on to Baba being a Manifestation of Dattatreya, and again Baba's Fingers went into the sands, and, lo, there came to His Hand a charming metal image of Dattatreya, the symbol of the Unity of the Trinity, in Hindu Mythology. In their excitement, all had now come much closer to Baba and He felt that each of them must receive something from Him and return happy, instead of only the two gentlemen who got the picture and the image. He therefore 'took' out form the sands a thick flat block of sugar candy, which He Himself broke into bits and distributed to every men, woman and child, (for, He said, if any one else did the distribution, it will not be enough for giving a piece for each) He then took a handful of sand and while pouring it on to a plate, it became Vibhuthi! This He gave to all who were present.
Baba is so fond of these open-air sessions of Bhajana and Discourse that He takes devotees to the riverbed or seashore, wherever one is within reach. Baba has held prayer sessions and discussion group of this nature on the sands of the Godavari, the Kaivalaya, the Swarnamukhi, the Baigai and other rivers as well as on the banks of the Ganga, the Jhelum and the Yamuna; He has also sat with the devotees on the seashore at Madras, Tranquebar, Masulipatam, Cape Comorin and Kovalam, and performed miracles of turning the sand into pictures, images, Vibhuthi, or whatever He wanted it to become!
Generally, Baba takes the devotees to the sands on Festival Days, which do not attract mammoth crowds, but, for which there assemble only a manageable throng of devotees. On Gokulashtami day, or perhaps the day previous, He very often visits the sands and sometimes 'takes' from the sand an image of Krishna, which is kept in the Hall on the Birthday of Lord Sri Krishna and, afterwards given to some Bhaktha, for being worshipped in his domestic shrine. So also, on Ramanavami Day, or perhaps the day previous, Baba takes from the seashore or riverbed, depending upon where He is at the time, images of Rama, Sitha, Lakshmana, and Anjaneya or of Rama only, and gives them to be worshipped. Near Kalahasthi, from the Swarnamukhi, He 'took' images of more than usual size, and they are now kept at Venkatagiri and worship is offered regularly to them. Again, on Vaikunta Ekadasi Day in the evening, He has been for many years regularly 'taking' for distribution among the devotees, while in the midst of Bhajan or Discourse on the riverbed or seashore, Divine Nectar! On the Vaikunta Ekadasi, 1958, for example, which fell on 21st of December, in the midst of Baba's Kerala Tour, Baba went to the Kovalam Beach, seven miles away from Trivandrum, accompanied by many devotees. At a quiet spot on the seashore, a mile away from the bathing area, Baba sat with the Bhakthas around Him. Baba sang a few songs and there was Bhajana afterwards. During the Bhajana, Baba 'took' from the sands a bewitching sandalwood image of Krishna, playing the Flute, and after a few minutes, a gold ring with the Radha-Krishna motif embossed on it! Every one expected that Baba will distribute Amritha 'taken' by Him from nowhere, as He generally does on Vaikunta Ekadasi Day, and they were not disappointed; for, even as Bhajana was going on, the fragrance of the Nectar was clearly cognised, no one knew from where! Baba's Palms became sticky, as if saturated with syrup even as He was 'making time' for the songs; all knew that the fragrance was emanating from those Palms; then, He held them together and pointed them at a silver vessel, when, lo, thick ambrosial 'honey' flowed into it from His Hand! He then distributed It Himself to all present, including some fisher folk who had joined the group! The Sweetness and scent of the Nectar were outside the experience of every one; they were incomparably strange.
On the Telugu New Year's Day, Baba generally distributes the traditional mixture of bittersweet Margosa-sugar; on Pongal day, the cattle of the Nilayam are decorated and taken in procession; the villagers come up to the Mandir for Puja when the cane-crushing season starts and the extractors are to be operated. The Bhakthas too delight when they are granted the chance of celebrating Upanayanams, Marriages, Shashtiaddapurthi Santhis, Kanakabhishekams Namakaranams, and other Samskaras in the immediate Presence of Baba and in the Nilayam itself. The platform on the Eastern end of the Prayer Hall is generally used for such Religious Functions.
On Deepavali Day, too, Baba bakes delight in illumination and the firing of crackers, and He distributes strings of crackers and coloured matches to the children of the devotees at Prasanthi Nilayam as well as the children of the village. He sends New Year Messages, messages of assurance and admonition, on January 1st, to the devotees who have earned that blessing and on His Birthday, too, He very often sends Birthday Blessing to the Fortunate.
Three Festivals are celebrated every year at Puttaparthi and they are attracting increasingly larger and larger throngs, from wider and wider areas. They are, (1) The Dasara (2) Mahasivarathri and (3) The Birthday of Baba, which is celebrated every year on the 23rd November, for the convenience of many of the devotees, who will find it difficult to calculate the date according to the Hindu calendar.
The Dasara is being celebrated from the very announcement of the Manifestation. In the early days, Bhajan and Puja were done every day and Baba Himself was decked in ornaments, rings, necklaces, crown and all and taken in procession in palanquins, decorated in different styles, each day, the climax being reached on Vijayadasami, when Sami Puja and Seemollanghana were also celebrated. But, within a few years, Baba emphasised the religious and spiritual significance of the worship of God as Mother, and the character of the celebrations took on a new phase. The worship by all women devotees, twice a day, with the offering of Kumkum, the Abhishekam of the image of Shirdi Sai Baba with the quantity of Kumkum thus offered during all the Nine Days; music, poetry, drama etc., all gained a place in the worship of the Mother.
Some idea of the Festivities can be gained by going through the programme, printed and sent to the devotees. Let us take the Programme for 1958 Dasara, for example. The Celebrations begin with the Flag Hoisting ceremony, on the morning of the first day. The devotees gather in solemn silence around the Lotus Circle, and to the sound of bells and gongs and the strains of music and prayer, Baba unfurls the flag. On many occasions, He has explained the inner meaning of the symbol of the Lotus that is found in front of the Nilayam as well as on the flag. Daily Puja, especially, the Kumkumarchana by all women devotees begin at noon and are performed twice, all the ten days. The Second Day is set apart for Social work by the devotees, repair of the approach road, cleaning of the place where the poor are to be fed on a subsequent day, etc., being some of the items of work. In the evening, the devotees hear discourses about the proper attitude for social workers and the need for doing Karma suffused with and nourished by Bhakthi, from Baba and a few experienced social workers. The third day is the Children's Day with sports and fancy dress, drama and recitations by the children of the devotees, as well as of the schools of the surrounding villages. Baba makes every child happy and at ease, persuading it to proceed when it break downs and caressing it into confidence. Prizes are given by Baba to every child participant, prizes that become the pride of the family, for years. On the Fourth Day, the Poets, Assembly is held in the immediate presence of Baba and poets from far and near read and expound their pieces, in Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada or English. They too are the proud recipients of presents which are highly valued, because they are vouchsafed with so much kindness, and by a Person who is Himself the Kavi. Baba Himself blesses the devotees with His Discourse, on two or three days, during Dasara; thus giving the thousands who come something to live by, some capital to carry home and invest in daily life. Two evenings, the sixth and the eighth, are devoted to Bhajans, one to Meera Bhajan and the other to Brindavan Bhajan. On the Seventh Day, the Poor are fed and clothes are distributed to the maimed and destitute. Some one once asked Baba why this mammoth function in which about 4 to 5 thousand people are fed sumptuously and about a thousand persons are given clothes or saris, did not appear in any newspaper. Baba replied, "I wonder why it should! When your relatives come to you and you feed them, do you invite the Press and crave publicity?"
Baba appears happiest that day of all days during Dasara, and it can be said to be His busiest. He examines the cooking and the items prepared; He supervises the seating arrangements; He Himself serves the sweet Laddu to almost every one, stooping before every leaf and pouring on the leaf as much as each can eat. He walks along the lane of misery and selects those to whom clothes have to be given; a ticket is issued to such and their names are later called out, so that they may walk up to Baba, and receive from His Hands the coveted Present. It is an inspiring sight and a very educative experience to watch Baba give the clothes. He has a kind word to every one; He treats the blind, the maimed, the very old and faltering with special consideration asking the volunteers to hold them and guide them; He advises them to be careful and cautious in the dark; He makes kind enquiries about them, and He makes the moment a precious memory to each and every one.
Some years ago, the present writer remembers how the rains melted away the brightness of the festoons in front of the Nilayam during the first three or four days of Dasara; so, Baba wanted that they be renewed, in time for the Day for the Feeding of the Poor; because He said, "They are our most distinguished guests and the Mandir should appear bright and cheerful when they come." That is the attitude which He teaches every one of the devotees to adopt.
The rest of the days are given over to Music recitals, Vocal, Instrumental or Orchestral. A large number of musicians compete for dates, because Baba Himself is the Great Musicians, who sings in a captivatingly style, and they are eager to win His Blessings, On Vijayadasami Day, Abhishekam is done to the image of Shirdi Baba and Baba generally 'takes' a Lingam and places it on the Head of the Image, prior to the Abhishekam.
Siva has an appellation in Tamil, Thayumanavar, meaning, "He who became also the Mother," for as the story goes, He once attended on a woman during the delivery of her child, since the actual mother who was hastening to attend on her could not reach the place on account of the floods in the Cauvery river which she could not cross. Therefore, Siva assumed the form of the mother and reached the place in time and nursed her as a midwife.
Baba has been Thayumanavar many times over; He has taken upon Himself the pains, in many instances; He has 'gone out' of His body to act as midwife during delivery in many instances; women in far off places have felt His Hand and He has said about it at Puttaparthi, and explained that He had set right the posture of the infant before the delivery itself, so that the event might pass off in comfort. The present writer knows of one incident where the lady was in hospital, the baby had died on the sixth day, because among other reasons, the umbilical cord was cut shabbily and the wound had become septic beyond repair; the mother was despaired of, because the placenta had not been removed and could not be, on account of septic conditions, and people were calmly expecting the worst, Baba at Puttaparthi 'went out' of His Body one morning; He was away for an hour and, 250 miles away, at the Hospital the placenta fell, the temperature decreased, and the mother was placed on the road to recovery and joy dawned again on the faces around the bed. Baba, when He returned to the Body, said that He had been to the hospital and that He had vouchsafed the Vision of His Hand to the Patient, and on the third day, a letter came from the party, describing the vision and the cure!
On a certain Varamahalakshmi Vratham Day, about ten years ago, He accepted Puja as Varamahalakshmi and received the offerings made by women who had fulfilled the vows of that Vratham. Those who had this unique good fortune say that He actually appeared to them dressed in sari and blouse and resplendent with bangles, necklaces, nose stud, ear ornaments etc.! No wonder Navarathri, when Devi is worshipped as Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Annapurna, Thripurasundari, Lalitha and other forms, is attracting thousands to Puttaparthi, where Sai Matha is so beneficent and bountiful.
Mahasivarathri is also an equally important festival, for the Devotees perform all night vigil with Bhajana, in the immediate presence of an Avathar which every moment reminds them of Siva Himself, what with the profuseness of Vibhuthi that emanates from hands, forehead toe and face, and what with the liberality with which He grants His Blessings to all types of erring humanity. For the last ten or twelve years, Sivarathri is being celebrated at Puttaparthi itself but, even earlier, every year since the Declaration of the Manifestation, Sivalingams have materialised within His Body, Baba has said almost every time that He finds it very difficult to postpone or prevent the formation of the Lingams, which concretise within Him. In the evening, Baba gives Darsan during Bhajan, and after an hour or so, He starts giving a discourse; very often, He is interrupted halfway by what appear to be spasmodic struggles in the stomach area, but, He continues with the speech, until the region of the struggle changes to the upper part of the chest and the neck, when He seems to be undergoing some kind of even physical tension, and, all of a sudden, to the joyous wonder of all, Lingams fall from His Mouth! They are then generally placed on the image of Shirdi Baba and, after the Celebrations are over, they are given by Baba to some Bhaktha or other, to be worshiped as per instructions. Such Lingams have been worshiped now for over sixteen years by some devotees!
The Lingams that emanate on successive Sivarathri days differ in number, size and composition. Sometimes only one Lingam is formed, the material being apparently Sphatika or gold or silver; often times it is more in number, three, five, seven or nine (!) each perhaps about an inch and half in height and all complete with the Pitham, the basement and the Lingam, marked with the three horizontal lines, to symbolise the Vibhuthi. This Lingodbhavam is indeed a unique and mysterious Manifestation of the Divine Will.
Of course, when we dilate so enthusiastically upon the manifestations of the Will, we should not fail to pay due homage to the Personification of that Will, Baba Himself. He is the Prasanthi Nilayam, wherever He is and wherever He is worshipped or remembered, or called upon with devotion. When some Bhaktha called upon the members of an assemble, which Baba had just addressed, at the Gokhale Hall, Madras, to "go to Puttaparthi and join the wonderful Bhajan at Prasanthi Nilayam", Baba immediately corrected him and said, "No, no. You can be where you are, I shall come to you; do not put yourself to expenses that you may not be able to afford. If you call upon Me, I shall be by your side." A medieval Kannada poet has sung that the distance between us and Siva is just the distance that our call will reach; believe in Him and call on Him; He will answer, 'I am here.' And, you can call on Him by any of His names, too.
In October 1957 a Hospital, with six beds for female patients and six beds for males, and the full complement of equipment for surgery and maternity, with even an x-ray unit was inaugurated, on the Hill, behind the Nilayam. It commands a magnificent panorama of hoary mountains, with scarps and cliffs sweeping down to the very banks of the Chithravathi. Baba chose the site, in spite of the murmurings of engineers, because as He said the patients will be inspired by the awe-inspiring Handiwork of the Lord opening out before their eyes. He got a bulldozer; cut and levelled three terraces where there was once the rocky flank of a hill and planned the Hospital, on the topmost terrace. Speaking on the occasion of the Foundation Laying ceremony, He said, that there were no unbelievers or Nasthikas; there were only some who did not know or had no opportunity to experience the Lord. Every one rich or poor, educated, pious or not pious was subject to disease, and so, as an example of Manavaseva which Madhava Himself does in order to make Man do likewise and earn the Grace of the Lord. He said, He had planned the Hospital at Puttaparthi, for there were no good Hospitals for miles around. He also said that those who come to the Hospital for their physical ills will naturally turn to the Prasanthi Nilayam for the treatment and cure of their spiritual ills.
The Hospital was built, in the inspiring Presence of Baba who supervised every bit of the work of construction and equipment; the Bhakthas standing in long queues all along the slope of the Hill, passed from hand to hand metal, stones, bricks, water, mud or red earth, mortar, in fact, everything needed for raising the structure that dominates the landscape today! On the First Annual day of the Hospital when the Medical Officer in charge spoke of many miraculous recoveries that had happened through the Blessings of Baba, Baba said that it was more due to the spirit of Love and Service with which every stone and brick of the building was saturated. Baba Himself visits the Hospital, going round the wards, persuading the villagers to swallow the medicines or undergo the prick or cut, and, by the sweetness of His words and the Healing influence of His Looks, hastening recovery. Baba also has often many things to teach the doctors in charge, for, He is Himself the Great Physician and the Great Surgeon. He also gives practical advice on the maintenance of mental equanimity and physical wholesomeness by means of Japam and Dhyanam, which keep the entire personality in good trim.
The case reports being published in "Sanathana Sarathi" off and on are invaluable for medical practitioners, for they reveal how long-standing and desperate illnesses are cured by the Healing Influence of the Divine Grace that presides over this Hospital. While ardent devotees of Baba are content to leave the welfare of their physical frames to His will, there are some who on His advice take as a curative the Vibhuthi that He 'gives' or, the medical treatment that he recommends; for, as Baba says, He does not have the same prescription for all; just as a doctor might recommend for four different patients suffering from stomach-ache, four different types of treatment, salts for the ache due to constipation, a mixture for the ache due to gastric disorder, and ointment or poultice for another and an immediate operation for the pain caused by appendicitis, so, Baba too recommends different remedies for different patients. He is the Greatest Physician of All.
To the right and left of the Nilayam, beyond the garden and at the back of the building, there are a number of tenements, single roomed and double roomed, where Bhakthas have taken residence. When those to whom the tenements are assigned are away, they can be made use of by other, who come to Puttaparthi. But, Baba directs and guides every item of work at the Nilayam His Command is awaited with eagerness by all, for, it is best that it is so.
Baba is naturally an expert gardener, as is evidenced by the personal interest He takes in the plants and trees of the garden of the Nilayam. While travelling by car an seeking some place to take breakfast or lunch, He spots out locations which are gems of beauty, among the eucalyptic slopes of Nilgiri or Kodaikanal Hills, the pine corridors of Kashmir, the arid plains of Bellary, the green carpet of Seringapatam, the coastal palm gardens of Kerala, the Palmyra avenues of Tinnevelly, the canal bank near Samalkot or the igneous fields of Raichur. He will draw the attention of those around Him to a beautiful sunset, or sunrise, the captivating panorama of a clouded sky, or a ring round the moon. 'Andame Anandam' is a statement often on His lips, meaning, "Beauty is Bliss."
He is also a great lover of cattle, the cowshed at Prasanthi Nilayam being a model for the ryots of the surrounding villages. He spends many hours with the cows, feeding and nursing them; He decorates them on Pongal Day and He has a scintillating stock of ornamental pieces for the purpose. He had a horse also for some time, as well as stags and deers and peacocks and rabbits, which were blessed to receive His Loving Touch and Tenderness.
He also had a number of dogs as His pets. The story of these dogs will itself make an interesting episode of the Lord's Care and Mercy, Jack and Jill, two Pomeranians from Ootacamund, were the earliest of these canine pets. Baba says that they used to fast every Thursday, by some holy Samskara of the past birth! And, they never could be induced to consume flesh! Jack used to sleep at the head of Baba's bed and Jill at the feet. After three years of this Samipya, Jack breathed his last, lying on Baba's Lap.
His end too was worthy of his life. The previous night Jack had followed the chauffeur of a car, which was parked across the river at Karnatanagapalli; he lay quietly under the car, all unknown to the occupants, for Jack had way of volunteering to keep watch over the cars which in those days had to be parked so far away from the Mandir. His tiny bark used to keep-off the village urchins. But that morning, when the car moved off, Jack was nearly killed; he had sufficient strength, says Baba, to drag himself along the riverbed back to the Mandir; he mustered some strength and pulled himself on the lap of Baba; with his eyes glued on Baba's face and tail shaking feebly in joy, Jack concluded his brief but blessed earthly career. Jill could not live alone; she followed him, in a few weeks. Both of them are buried in the centre of the quadrangle behind the "Old Mandir," and a Brindavan, or Tulsi Structure has been built over their mortal remains.
Chitty and Bitty, Lilly and Billy were two other Pomeranian couples that followed. Then there were the Cocker Spaniels, Minnie and Mickie as well as Honey and Goldie. Baba fondled these for some years and later gave them over to devotees, but He inquires even now after their welfare. Baba has had some Alsatians too, like Rover and Rita, and after them, for Tommy and Henry. These animal Bhakthas have received the tenderness and love of Baba, in great measure. We to whom the animal world is both different and dumb have to learn just this one lesson while observing His affection for them: never to harm any animal brother for the sake of sustenance or pleasure and always to look upon all Created Things as belonging to One Family.
Baba always speaks of the element of Destiny or Prapthi as He calls it, and says that if some animal or man earns His Grace, it is due to Prapthi, or Destiny. But, He always adds that His Grace can be earned by Sadhana, or disciplined life, self-control, selfless service of all as symbolising Narayana Himself. Just as an examiner adjudges the answer papers of candidates, the Lord too values our achievements, but if the answers reveal earnest study and an active interest in the subject as well as a grasp of the methodology of the science involved, the examiner will forgive even a poor performance, so far as the actual answer material is concerned. It has been the experience of many that sometimes in spite of the tremendous efforts they may make, they are not able to go to Puttaparthi, but, most often, as soon as they plan a visit, everything become available quickly and all the obstacles get automatically removed. Baba says that without His will, no one can start or, starting, reach the place where He is.
His Omniscience and Omnipresence are revealed to every one who meets Him in the interview room. He tells him what he said, or did, or felt; whom he spoke to and on what; what he feared and plotted; what he suffered and lost. If you want to consult him on ten points, he will, even before you open your mouth, have answered twelve, or fifteen! He would reveal what you even dreamt during sleep, and repeat even the very words which in the dream you had heard Him say. He will lay bare your history, down to the minutest detail and where was sorrow and weakness, He will fill Joy and Strength.
"He is tireless in His Ministry of Compassion," says Principal H. S. Rao, "Baba's Words do not merely soothe, but open up new levels of consciousness and reveal the hidden strength and goodness of one's nature. The Bhaktha is enabled by His Grace to know himself, to realise more keenly his duties, responsibilities and even shortcomings. All this He does in the most natural way, patting you affectionately on the back, His eyes lit up with a merry twinkle, and speaking words that you can understand. Yet, there is such power in what He utters, such depth of conviction, that you are left speechless at the Omniscience of Baba and His miraculous perception of your individual problems and needs."
Thus does Prasanthi Nilayam rebuild mankind; thus does the presence of Baba urge mankind onward.
NOTE:- Prasanthi Nilayam, on the outskirts of the village of Puttaparthi can be reached by road from the railway stations of Mudigubba (16 miles to Bukkapatnam by bus, and 3 miles from Bukkapatnam by cart) or Kadiri (18 miles to Gorantla by bus, 15 miles to Bukkapatnam again by bus and therefrom by cart) both on the Dharmavaram-Pakala line; or from Penukonda railway station (16 miles by bus to Bukkapatnam) or Dharmavaram Jn. (18 miles by bus to Bukkapatnam), both on the Bangalore-Guntakal line. Cars and special buses can reach the Nilayam itself taking the deviation road from Kothacheruvu, on the Penukonda-Bukkapatnam road, 2 miles away from Bukkapatnam town.)