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A ring of pink brown hills, a broad deep valley with a river cutting through and emptying into a tank built by an Emperor about six hundred years ago - that is the milieu, where the village of Puttaparthi nestles. It was the seat of a chieftain who ruled over the surrounding area in the past; later, it became desolate and isolated, but, the soil continued to be the nursery of saints and scholars. The family of the chieftain, the Rajus, continued to lead and guide, to teach and train the village youth.
Kondamaraju was a saintly centenarian who built a temple for Sathyabhama, the temperamental Consort of Lord Krishna; he was proficient in the ancient texts and scriptures. His eldest son was named by him after a famous recluse who adorned the family tree, Venka Avadhootha (Venka, who had given up all attachments to earthly things) ; he called him, Venkappa Raju. This son married a distant relation, a daughter who was born after the construction of a temple by her father to Siva, (under the appellation, Iswara) and so named Iswara-amba. They were a pious couple, quiet and contended; the only recreation Venkappa allowed himself was 'playing' epic roles on the village stage just as his father, Kondamaraju did. They had a son and two daughters; then, on November 23, 1926 was born another son, Sathyanarayana, who proved quite soon that he was uniquely Divine in nature and attainments.
His playmates called Him, 'Guru' (Preceptor). For He was always correcting them and consoling them; He comforted them in distress and never seemed to get cross or tired. He was a liberal giver, even at that age; for, He pulled out of empty bags, delectable sweets, pencils, pieces of rubber, toys, flowers and fruits for them. When asked how He got them, He answered, 'O, the village Goddess gives me what I want.' That was only to slake their thirst; that was the only answer which would quieten their doubts. But the wonder remained!
It increased when He was put to school; there He acquired a new nickname, "Brahmajnani". It meant "One who has acquired the wisdom that reveals the Inner Reality". What a name for a boy of six summers! At the age of eight Sathyanarayana decided to reveal His mystery by a dramatic miracle; when He was ordered by his teacher to 'stand upon the bench' for listlessness in the classroom, He 'willed' that the teacher stick to the chair, until He stepped down from the bench. It happened so and He became the talk of the region. He was simple and sweet, in spite of all this publicity; He formed a prayer-group of boys in his village and led them from place to place, carolling the hymns He wrote and taught.
He was an adept at dance and music, as well as in the histrionic art. Nay, His talents were used even by theatrical companies that toured the countryside; He had the temerity to write songs for them and for himself and even stretches of dialogue, when He was barely 'twelve'. He accompanied His elder brother to Kamalapur and Uravakonda, where the brother served as a teacher of the Telugu language; at school, in those places, Sathanarayana stood head and shoulders above even the teachers, for He shone as a poet, playwright, scout, sportsman and songster of extraordinary standards of excellence. He had also the mysterious power of tracing lost property, reading others' thoughts, seeing far into the future and deep into the past. He became the pet of the town and was much sought after by the distressed and the downtrodden.
He sat through the first years of the High School course and was but a few weeks in the second year class, when the call of the task which had brought him among men could no longer be ignored by him. He had already found it hard to cloak his majesty in the petty rigmarole of home and school. When on a picnic with his brother and others among the ruins of the ancient capital of the Vijayanagar Empire (Hampi), he was seen by them as Iswara, just where the Iswara idol was installed in the Virupaksha Temple. On the 8th day of March 1940, he could not but leave the body and go to the succour of a devotee in dire distress. This was misunderstood by his brother and others as a scorpion-sting or a snakebite, or a fainting fit, or an attack of hysteria. Doctors, of course, could not diagnose it right. Quacks and sorcerers were tired; they guessed wrong. They only tortured him and proved that the boy could suffer great pain and remain steady and unruffled.
At last, in the village of Puttaparthi, on the twenty-third day of May, 1940, while scattering gifts into the outstretched palms of all who came, Baba declared that He was Sai Baba come again to save humanity from downfall. He asked them to worship Him, every Thursday, as the first instalment of spiritual discipline. Back at Uravakonda, even while attending school, Sathyanarayana was worshipped as Sai Baba, the Saint of Shirdi come again, according to the promise he had made at Shirdi. Manchiraju Thammiraju, the teacher, who loved Sathyanarayana more than any other member of the staff, has written about these Thursdays - how, Sai Baba, his pupil gave to those who gathered for congregational prayer, sacred ash or other curative gifts of Grace, like a piece of the Gerua gown that Sai Baba wore at Shirdi (the saint had entered the tomb in 1918) that He got by a mere wave of the hand! Hundreds used to flock around Him and interrogate Him on all kinds of subjects, but, He replied calmly and correctly.
He went on Mahasivarathri (a holy day dedicated to the worship of Siva) to a Siva temple outside Uravakonda with a few companions including Thammiraju's son, Sairam, and the youths were astounded to find a stream of effulgence flowing from Sathyanarayana towards the Idol of Siva and another flowing from Siva to Sathyanarayana. One Thursday, He informed the wife of Kasibhatla Ramamurthy, "I have placed a picture in your shrine; go and worship it." She hurried thither with some neighbours and opening the locked doors and the closed window shutters, jammed tight to prevent the entry of monkeys, she found a picture of Sai Baba of Shirdi, inside the shrine of her home! He introduced or created such pictures inside many a home during those years - pictures which gave the people their first acquaintance of the Shirdi saint.
Thammiraju's experiences were amazing; Sathyanarayana came into his house one evening and showed him on the wall of his modest home, as in a movie, the sacred Forms of the Ten Incarnations of the Lord, besides lifelike portraits of many sages and saints mentioned in the sacred scriptures. His wife was so moved by this uplifting experience that she wrote a poem on it in Telugu; it was published in the 'Sai Sudha' magazine of Madras. Another day, Sathyanarayana gave him a picture of Shirdi Baba in an astoundingly new way - a bumble bee entered his room through an open window, with something rolled held fast by its legs. It dropped it and flew off; the paper was unrolled; it was a picture of Shirdi Lord! A few days later, a monkey perching on the window, outside his room, threw a small bundle of cloth into it; when the bundle was opened, Thammiraju writes, it was found to contain a ball of sweets! and a letter! from Sathyanarayana who was away at Puttaparthi. And what did the letter say? "The other day, I sent you with the bumblebee My picture; today, I am sending herewith Prasadam for you." Others too had amazing experiences of the Divine powers of the teenage Baba; but, He was biding the moment for Full Manifestation and Final Declaration.
October 20, 1940, was the day He chose. Returning sooner than usual from school that day He threw his books outside the door of his brother's house, and, when his sister-in-law came out to discover what the cause of the noise was, she was astonished to hear him say, "I do not belong to you, I am leaving; I have work to do." Then he stepped down and took the road. "Those devoted to Me are calling Me. The task for which I came is yet unfinished: I am starting now," He said, and walked off vigorously. He was accosted by the learned Pundit, Narayana Sastry, the neighbour, who ran up and tried to stop him; he was half afraid of the boy, for, he had called him out one day when he was expounding a difficult Sanskrit text and corrected his interpretation. This time, when he expostulated with the boy, he saw a halo around His head and was rendered mute. The brother too failed to make Him retrace His steps; Sathyanarayana told Him, "The illusion has gone: I am no more yours; I am Sai Baba."
Baba proceeded to a garden around the house of the Inspector of Excise, for it was extensive and open; He sat under a tree on a rock with the whole town around Him. Immediately, He inaugurated the Bhajan that was to progress so quickly and dramatically in every nook and corner of this vast land, revolutionising the habits and attitudes, the nature and character of hundreds of thousands. The very first song which He taught to arouse the mass of humanity was an invitation to surrender to the Feet of the Guru who had so mercifully appeared. It also contained a lesson that Baba has always emphasised since then that Bhajan or reverential adoration must be mental upsurge, not an oral exercise. It ran thus:
"Maanasa bhajare gurucharanam, dustara bhavasaagara tharanam"
Sai Baba returned to Puttaparthi or rather was brought there by the "parents"; they prayed to Him not to leave the village. Now, every day became a Thursday and large groups of people gathered to have His Darshan and Blessings. Baba spent most of the time at the village in the house of the Brahmin Karnam (hereditary village accountant) of the village where the aged Subbamma served the pilgrims with care and love. He granted many people their wishes, which ranged from a vision of Dwarakamayi (ruined mosque where Sai Baba spent His days) at Shirdi to the cure of an ulcer or an ache. He sat on most evenings among the devotees, on the sands of the Chithravathi River and created from the sand images, pictures, idols, sweets and fruits. He climbed the hills around the vouchsafed to the groups below, visions of the splendour and effulgence associated with Siva, Narayana, Kumaraswamy and other Forms of God. He plucked from the branches of the tamarind tree growing on the hill apples, mangoes, figs, bananas and grapes and distributed them to the devotees. He showed them Himself as Krishna or as any one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, or as Siva.
He also gave guidance to many, who were struggling along the hard path of spiritual Sadhana. For example, there came to Puttaparthi a lame monk, whose attainments were two popular vows: he would not speak out, he would only write what he had to say; he refused to wear clothes. Baba saw through this exhibitionist asceticism; he requested him either to retire into the forest for Sadhana (He assured him that he would ensure him food and shelter even there) and save his devotees the ignominy and burden, or to resume talk and wear clothes, which were not handicaps to spiritual effort. This incident happened when Baba was scarcely sixteen. People felt that this was the task for which He had come, correcting and guiding erring men.
One devotee had run deeply into debt and so he decided to escape into Burma or Malaya. He went to Madras Harbour to purchase a ticket for the journey, his pocket was picked; penniless he returned to his hotel; there was a letter from Baba on the table, advising him, commanding him, in fact, to return and brave it out. He did, and is today, quite happy with the wife and child whom he had decided to desert. How did Baba know his address at Madras?
Hearing that Sai Baba had come again, many who had been to Shirdi and many who had lost all hope of contacting the Saint hastened to Puttaparthi; they took Him to Hyderabad, Bangalore, Madras, Karur, Trichinopoly and Udumalpet. Rajas and Zamindars, ryots and clerks, doctors and lawyers thronged the house of Subbamma and later, the tiny little Mandir that she and the others built for Baba.
Baba was now twenty years of age; His elder brother, Seshamaraju, the teacher of Telugu, could not quite grasp the mystery of this phenomenon. He watched with increasing consternation and genuine fraternal love the procession of cars that came to the right bank of the river and took his 'simple village-grown brother' away into the cities that glittered behind the horizon, full of temptations and pitfalls. A few press comments that rose from ignorance pained him. So, he wrote a letter to his brother warning him and imparting to him the lesson he had learnt in life about society and human foibles, about fame and its attendants.
The reply that Sai Baba wrote to him on the 25th May, 1947 is in my possession. It is a document that reveals Baba in unmistakable terms. So I must allow you to have it: "To all who are devoted to me" (Though the letter was written by the brother, the reply is addressed to all, including you and me, for it is essential that you and I should know the real nature of the phenomenon that has appeared for our sake.)
"My dear One! I received the communication that you wrote and sent; I found in it the surging floods of your devotion and affection, with the undercurrents of doubts and anxiety. Let Me tell you that it is impossible to plumb the hearts and discover the natures of Jnanis, Yogis, ascetics, saints, sages and the like. People are endowed with a variety of characteristics and mental attitudes; so, each one judges according his own angle, talks and argues in the light of his own nature. But, we have to stick to our own path, our own wisdom, our own resolutions without getting affected by popular appraisal. As the proverb says, it is only fruit-laden tree that receives the shower of stones from passers-by. The good always provoke the bad into calumny; the bad always provoke the good into derision. This is the nature of this world. One must be surprised if such things do not happen.
The people too have to be pitied, rather than condemned. They do not know. They have no patience to judge aright. They are too full of lust, anger and conceit to see clearly and know fully. So, they write all manner of things. If they only know, they would not talk or write like that. We, too, should not attach any value to such comments and take them to heart, as you seem to do. Truth will certainly triumph some day. Untruth can never win. Untruth might appear to overpower Truth, but its victory will fade away and Truth will establish itself.
It is not the way of the great to swell when people offer worship, and shrink when people scoff. As a matter of fact, no sacred text lays down rules to regulate the lives of the great, prescribing the habits and attitudes that they must adopt. They themselves know the path they must tread; their wisdom regulates and makes their acts holy. Self-reliance, beneficial activity - these two are their special marks. They may also be engaged in the promotion of the welfare of devotees and in allotting them the fruits of their actions. Why should you be affected by doubt and worry, so long as I am adhering to these two? After all, the praise and blame of the populace do not touch the Atma, the reality; they can touch only the outer physical frame.
I have a 'Task': To foster all mankind and ensure for all of themselves lives full of Ananda. I have a 'Vow': To lead all who stray away from the straight path, again into goodness and save them. I am attached to a 'Work' that I love: To remove the sufferings of the poor and grant them what they lack. I have a 'reason to be proud', for, I rescue all who worship and adore Me, aright. I have My definition of the 'devotion'. I expect that those devoted to Me have to treat joy and grief, gain and loss, with equal fortitude. This means that I will never give up those who attach themselves to Me. When I am thus engaged in My beneficial task, how can My Name be ever tarnished, as you apprehend? I would advise you not to heed such absurd talk. Mahatmas do not acquire greatness through some one calling them so; they do not become small when some one calls them small. Only those low ones who revel in opium and Ganja but claim to be unexcelled yogis, only those who quote scriptural texts to justify their gourmandry and pride, only those who are dry-as-dust scholars exulting in their casuistry and argumentative skill, are moved by praise or blame.
You must have read life-stories of saints and Divine personages; in those books, you must have read of even worse falsehood and more heinous imputations cast against them. This is the lot of Mahatmas, everywhere, at all times. Why then do you take these things so much to heart? Have you not heard of dogs that howl at the stars? How long can they go on? Authenticity will soon win.
I will not give up My Mission, nor My determination. I know I will carry them on; I treat the honour and dishonour, the fame and blame that may be the consequence with equal equanimity. Internally, I am unconcerned. I act but in the outer world; I talk and move about, for the sake of the outer world and for announcing My coming to the people; else, I have no concern even with these.
I do not belong to any place; I am not attached to any name. I have no 'mine' or 'thine'. I answer whatever the name you use. I go, wherever I am taken. This is My very First Vow. I have not disclosed this to any one so far. For me the world is something afar, apart. I act and move only for the sake of mankind. No one can comprehend My Glory, whoever he is, whatever his method of enquiry, however long his attempt.
You can yourself see the full Glory in the coming years. Devotees must have patience and forbearance.
I am not concerned nor am I anxious that these facts should be made known; I have no need to write these words; I wrote them, because I felt you will be pained if I do not reply. Thus, your Baba."
What a letter this is? It is an epic epistle; a parting of the curtain, to give us a quick glimpse of the God in this human frame!
No wonder hundreds flocked to the village of Puttaparthi to have the Darsan of Sai Baba and to derive the benefits that the Grace of God can bestow on the meek, the lowly and the distressed. The Mandir built in the village to supersede the tiny room next to Subbamma's house had also to be changed; the festivals of Navarathri and Sivarathri attracted tens of thousands, especially the latter, since symbols, of Siva that He is, formed themselves in Him and emerged at the sacred hour which the scriptures declare as auspicious and significant. Devotees took delight arranging processions through the streets of the village, everyday during the Navarathri or Festival of Nine Nights.
So, a site was chosen outside the village and a spacious Prayer-Hall-cum-Residence was constructed. Baba named it 'Prasanthi Nilayam', the Abode of the Highest Peace, for, He, the source, the sustainer and the sustenance of that Peace, had that as His visible Abode. From this Nilayam, the Message that every man's heart must be transmuted into a Prasanthi Nilayam is radiating in all directions and the discipline necessary for this alchemy is being taught, with sympathy and understanding, to all mankind.
Baba refers to Himself as 'Sai Baba' and to the Sai Baba of Shirdi as 'My previous Body'. He speaks of His having come down, like Rama and Krishna, for the restoration of Truth and Morality, Peace and Love among mankind, for instilling faith in God among men who deny Him through pride and ignorance, and for saving the good from the talons of the bad. He had announced that till the age of sixteen He will be mostly engaged in sportive pursuits, and that from then on until the age of thirty-two, He will be drawing people to Him by means of Mahimas or miracles; for, as He has so often said, without these 'visiting cards', no one can gauge even a fraction of His Glory. "I shall give you what you want, so that you may want what I have come to give", is what Baba said, at Shirdi, while in His previous body. These miracles range from revealing to those who go to Him their past and future, to shaping their future as He wills it to be; by a wave of His hand, He changes empty air into sacred ash, sweets, images, idols, flowers, fruits, books, bowls, rosaries, crucifixes, drugs, dolls - in short, all things that man is accustomed to, as well as many that he has not known.
"If I had come amongst you as Narayana with four arms holding the Conch, the Wheel, the Mace and the Lotus, you would have kept Me in a museum and charged a fee for those who seek Darsan; if I had come as a mere man, you would not have respected My teaching and followed it for your own good. So, I have to be in this human form with suprahuman wisdom and powers," Baba has said. Baba is every moment the spiritual guide, which is His prime role, though He had said that He would begin His Upadesh or Teaching only when He reached His thirty-second year. He was too full of kindness to wait until then, to remove the ignorance of men, ignorance that is leading them on to war and ruin.
Since 1947, Baba has emerged as the Great Teacher of the People. That year, He presided over the All India Divine Life Conference at Venkatagiri and all those who heard Him, monk or scholar or litterateur, ryot or industrialist, young or old, man or woman, were moved by a strange exhilaration into the new world of the spirit. Thereafter, Swami Sadananda, the author of a commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Suthra and other valuable books as well as Swami Satchidananda followed Him for months and persuaded Him to visit Rishikesh and Kashmir, Delhi, Mathura and Brindavan. They had the good fortune to witness some astounding miracles and hear many satisfying interpretations of religious doctrine and spiritual discipline, which they spread enthusiastically among those who contacted them. Baba made them His instruments for announcing His advent.
In fact, every person who came to Him either for getting some physical illness cured or getting over some secular handicap or to be helped over a spiritual stile which he could not negotiate, became a loud herald of the tidings that a Divine Phenomenon has appeared in human Form inviting all, with sweetness and love, to receive from Him joy and peace, security and liberation.
In February, 1958, on the sacred occasion of Sivarathari Baba inaugurated a monthly magazine to convey His Teachings into every home, a magazine which He named, "Sanathana Sarathi" (the Timeless Ever-present Charioteer) intent on taking us to the goal of peace, Everlasting Prasanthi. This magazine is published in English and many languages other than the Telugu original; it has brought Baba into thousands of homes and hearts. It has also been the vehicle for a series of books from the Divine Pen, as well as for the inimitably wise and simple discourses that Baba gave in the cities and villages He deigned to visit, at the request of devotees.
The revival of Dharma (the regulated life of the spirit affecting every detail of the process of living, with liberation from the consequences of ignorance always in view) is the avowed purpose of all Incarnations of the Divine. Baba too has come for the same task. The revival of scriptural studies, of classical mores, of prayer, of temple-ritual, of simple living and high thinking, of piety and virtue - these are all items in the programme for uplift that Baba has burdened Himself with.
His visits to the ancient temples of Ayodhya, Varanasi and Badrinath were for "charging the batteries that had gone weak", He said.
These are but stray examples of His overwhelming Love for Mankind. His ministration to the sick, the insane, the desperate and the downtrodden and His "extracorporeal journeys" to save men from calamity or to bless them at the moment of departure from the physical cage, proclaim His Mission of Bhaktharakshana (Guarding the Good). His Touch, His Word, the very sight of Him has opened a new chapter in the lives of many a sinner, miser, and atheist, idler, agnostic and ascetic.
The revised edition of the First part of this Book published in 1961 gives the Divine life of Sri Sathya Sai Baba until the epoch-making visit to Badrinath.
I am thankful for this chance to continue the purifying record in this Second Part of the same book, for which the only fit title is "Sathyam Sivam Sundaram" - for, His Nature and His Reality are Truth, Light and Beauty, Sath, Chit and Ananda, Existence, Awareness and Bliss.