Volume 6 - Issue 05
MAY - 2008
Shivam – Sai Hrudayam
…The Heart of Sai
THE SPIRITUAL MAGIC OF SHIVAM
Shivam, literally, means ‘auspiciousness’. The story of Shivam, the Abode of Sri Sathya Sai, at Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh (the state that is also home to Prasanthi Nilayam), therefore, can only be a tale of supreme sublimity and Divine efflorescence. “I have been coming to Shivam for more than 30 years,” says the bespectacled and beaming septuagenarian, Mr. Sitarama Rao. “Whenever I come here, I feel like Swami is in Hyderabad; the experience is similar to seeing Swami in Puttaparthi!” He is excited, energetic and so full of life standing in the Shivam corridor.
“A glorious chapter in my life unfolded once I started visiting this Holy Temple,” he continues. “The photo in the shrine seems so alive! I feel Swami is looking at me all the time. Today, because of Shivam, I am blessed with God’s company. I am never worried about my health or any other problems; my life is so full of fulfillment and peace.” The simple and humble Mr. Sitarama Rao, is now past 75, but exudes the enthusiasm of someone half his age.
Shivam – the Seat of Peace, nay Supreme Peace
Mr. Ankama Rao, has been an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva since his childhood. Twenty years back, he had no clue what his favourite deity had in store for him. He says, “This happened more than two decades ago. I was traveling by the Shivam Road one day, and I saw this magnificent Lingam shaped building. It drew me towards it. I could not resist the temptation of stepping inside the premises, and then, a never-before-experienced feeling of sublime peace enveloped me. Within a few months, all my problems – health and otherwise – vanished. I then knew that this was Lord’s Shiva gift to me. Since then, whenever I am confronted with any problems or dilemmas in my life, I just sit in Shivam silently, all by myself, and then I feel as if Swami is whispering into my ears beautiful ideas and solutions to all my worries.”
Now, cutting through the air with both his hands to emphasise his point, Mr. Ankama states, “From the time I started visiting Shivam, I do not know any failure in my life. Shivam, to me, means ‘energy’, ‘courage’, ‘peace’, nay, ‘supreme peace’,” he adds with an aura of great joy and satisfaction. “That is why I come to Shivam every single day, and in fact, every event in my life has manifested itself like a miracle since I knew Sai and Shivam. In spite of many ailments - some small and others serious - I have never seen a doctor in the last two decades. Shivam is suffused with Sai. Even now, I have the same feeling of awe and ecstasy that I had when I first entered these premises; in fact, it is only increasing and intensifying everyday like an upward curve.” His hand sketching the rising graph in the air, Mr. Ankama Rao, is as emphatic as he is ecstatic.
Shivam Signifies Sweetness of Sai
Prod any devotee, who has ever visited Shivam, just a tiny bit, and a soul-stirring narration flows, quite effortlessly, and more importantly, accompanied with jubilation. The mention of Shivam fills them with sweet memories and satisfied smiles, even if it is a place they visit every single day. “Since I have known Shivam, I go nowhere else,” says Mr. M. M. Mohan Rao. “In the early seventies, I was in Vishakapatnam…,” he starts his story. “I used to attend Sai bhajans and at the end of these sessions, there were announcements about the progress of the construction of the Shivam building in Hyderabad. I longed to be in Hyderabad, but there was no way I could move there. I was stuck with my job in Vishakapatnam and was beset with many problems in my personal and professional life.
Journey to Sai is Journey to Shivam
One day, in October 1972, I decided I would go to Puttaparthi. I wanted relief from my tribulations; but I did not know the way to reach there. Nevertheless, I started and with great difficulty reached Prasanthi Nilayam. Once there, I went and sat in the veranda. It was in the afternoon, and I remember, when Swami came out for Darshan, He came straight to me and said, ‘You, get up.’ I did not know what that meant; the concept of interview then was new to me. I imagined that interviews were probably governed by tokens, recommendations or some such procedure.
The next moment, I was inside the interview room, and even before I could say anything, Swami, in one continuous flow, narrated every troubling twist of my life in great detail. I was in awe; I sat there perplexed. Then, casting His Loving Looks on me, He comforted me, and then said, ‘You do not have to worry. I am there. Your current job hardly fetches you any money; moreover, you get no promotion. Do not worry; apply for another job and you will get it.’
“It happened, just as He had said. I found a new job, yes, but the best part is that it transferred me to Hyderabad! My dream of living near Shivam came true! And this was followed by more such unexpected boons. I was awarded quick promotions, and soon I became the Assistant Director in the Directorate of School Education. I did not own a house, and amazingly, I won a property in a lottery! What has Swami not done for me?
"My youngest son suffered from epileptic fits. In spite of that I used to come to Shivam to serve. My son was a year old infant then. One day, Akhanda Bhajan was organized and Swami was on His visit to Shivam. We decided to attend the bhajans taking our sick son with us. To our horror, he developed fever while in Shivam. We got very panicky as we knew the next thing that would happen was seizures. My wife was desperate.
"When Swami came out of the inner chambers of Shivam, and happened to pass by where she was sitting, she got up and loudly prayed, ‘Swami, please bless my son so that he does not have fits. Please protect him and shower Your Grace.’ Swami just turned and looked once, and believe me, from that day, my son has not had another instance of fits! I can go on and on. His Blessings are innumerable. In 1991, when Swami granted another interview to me, I prayed that this son, who was at that time holding a top position in United India Insurance, in the state of Maharashtra, be transferred to Hyderabad. Again, incredibly, the seemingly impossible happened. He was moved in a few days; this had never happened in the history of that organisation.
Shivam: Hyderabad ’s Very Own Prashanthi Nilayam
“Truly, in Shivam, I see Sai, I feel Sai. I experience the same feeling of visiting Prasanthi Nilayam; in fact, to tell you the truth, the feeling is much stronger for me in Shivam! Before undertaking any task, I first prostrate in Shivam; so much so that even when I plan a trip to Prasanthi Nilayam, I first bow down at His Feet in Shivam. That is why my every endeavour is a success. No task has ever become a casualty when I had started with offering myself at the Shivam shrine. For me, Shivam is synonymous with Sai, success, and His Grace.”
What is it that makes Shivam so special? What is the ‘Shivam secret’? Why is it that anybody who steps inside Shivam feels serene within and without?
The Secret Behind Shivam’s Success
The answer lies in every particle of its sand and brick, wall and pillar, step and stone. It lies in its name and its form. The secret is that it is the epitome of unsullied auspiciousness that it embodies in its every element. Simply put, Shivam is not a human creation; the Divine willed it and built it. From the very conception of the structure, the selection of the site, laying of the foundation stone, supervising the construction, to the inauguration of this architectural marvel – all aspects were directly ordained, orchestrated and executed by Sai in person. There were, of course, many who were chosen and chiseled by Him to be instruments in this Divine mission.
EARLY DIVINE VISITS TO HYDERABAD
Creating Shivam Consciousness before It was Born – Divine Visits to Hyderabad
Though Sai breathed life into Shivam on April 4, 1973, the inauguration day, He was working splendidly and silently for decades awakening the minds and energizing the souls of many in Hyderabad. He was preparing a critical group of inspired individuals who would embody the spirit of Shivam and ensure that this marvel of a Temple in the heart of Hyderabad becomes the epicenter of auspiciousness and peace for thousands.
Swami’s first visit to Hyderabad dates back to as early as 1958. It was August 26, 1958 to be precise, when Swami blessed the house warming ceremony at Kausalya Bhavan, a devotee’s home, and also delivered a discourse at the same venue. This was followed by numerous Divine visits in the sixties. In 1964, Swami chose Hyderabad to host the conference of Prasanthi Vidwan Mahasabha – an organization that Bhagavan had founded in 1962, not only to revive the ancient scriptures of the sacred land of India, but also to restore the respect due to scholars of these sublime texts in the eyes of the modern man.
Speaking on the first day of this conference on December 7, 1964, which was attended by the Governor of Andhra Pradesh among other distinguished officials, Bhagavan said:
On the second day of this conference, Swami stressed on the process of purifying one’s mind and blessed everyone with the words:
DRAWING PEOPLE FOR THE SHIVAM MISSION
Personal Crisis Draws His Instrument to Him
The year 1964, was also the time Swami had decided in His Master Plan to bring to His fold a pious and precious devotee of the Lord, who in the years to come, would contribute to this namasmarana movement in the Sai Mission like few have done. Mr. Rama Brahma Sastry was as deeply spiritually inclined as he was religious, and at the same time gifted with great literary talent. In the fifties, he heard a discourse of Swami where He said, “To whichever God you may worship, all prayers reach Me.” “This cannot be true!” he said to himself. Being a devotee of Lord Krishna since his childhood, any other concept of God was difficult for him to digest. But destiny has its own ways, and in 1964, his job shifted him to Hyderabad.
It was also the time when he was struck with a tragedy – his third son, Krishna Mohan, became a victim of polio. He lost his ability to walk completely; Rama Brahma Sastry’s family was devastated. For three months, treatment went on in Gandhi Hospital, but with little hope. It was at this time that a well-wisher alerted him, “It seems Swami would soon be coming to Hyderabad, why don’t you take your son to Him? With His Blessings, He will become fine.”
Rama Brahma Sastry also learnt that Swami would be staying in the house of Mr. Burugula Ramakrishna Rao, the first elected Chief Minister of the erstwhile Hyderabad State. He said to himself, “These Swamis bless only those who can fly them in planes and house them in palatial homes. Why would He bother about me?” Nevertheless, hoping for the best, he went for darshan to the house of Mr. Ramakrishna Rao and sat in the crowd carrying his son along with him. He saw Swami coming from the interview room, and he was reminded of a verse from Bhagavad Gita which described God. He thought to himself: “If Swami is really God, He should bless the common people in the same way He blesses the rich. For, God knows no difference between the two.”
Gratitude Translates into Devotion and Service
Swami had by now passed by him, but then, He suddenly stopped, retraced His steps, looked into his eyes, glanced at his son on his lap, waved His Hand and materialized Vibhuti, the sacred ash. Next, He lovingly poured it into the mouth of the toddler.
Now, He again looked at Rama Brahma Sastry, proffered a mischievous smile and moved on. From that day, Krishna Mohan’s health began to improve and in a few days he started walking again! Today, 44 years later, he is a Branch Manager at the State Bank of India, Hyderabad.
Rama Brahma Sastry’s faith received a boost and in the days to come, though He would test the Lord more than once, finally he would be lost in his love for Him, writing many beautiful shlokas while his wife and son composed bhajans to be sung in Shivam.
Some of these like Parthieswara Sathya Sai Saieswara, Sri Ram Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama, Sai Ram Bolo and so on are sung in the Prasanthi Mandir even today. From their initial days, his family has been instrumental in not only enriching bhajans in Shivam, but also in a variety of activities concerning the spiritual wing of the Sai Organisation.
If that was the fascinating story of a man whose son, Mr. Ravi Teja, even today, plays the flute during every single bhajan session in Prasanthi Mandir, the tale of how Swami drew to His Feet another diadem of a devotee who would contribute immensely to the service movement in the soon-to-be Shivam, is even more incredible.
The Transforming Touch
“It was during the 50s. I was ten years old then,” recalls Mr. S. V. L. N. Narasimha Rao gladly. “Swami used to often visit Rajahmundry those days and during one such visit, our neighbour, an 85 year old lady, Mrs. Lakshmi Kanthamma, asked us to accompany her to have Baba’s darshan. When Swami came near us, this octogenarian woman bowed down and touched the Feet of Baba who was only 25! This baffled me and I immediately expressed my reservations to my mother who was with me. Nevertheless, she took my head and gently shoved it onto His Feet as He stood in front of us. The moment I touched Him, I felt so tranquil and at peace. It made me motionless. I was fixed staring at Him even though He had moved away. I could not take my eyes off of Him.”
Revealing the Ears behind His Hair
Well, this was only the beginning; in the subsequent years, Mr. Narasimha Rao was a witness to many amazing acts of the Divine. On another occasion in Rajahmundry, while addressing a gathering of about 600 people, Swami suddenly stopped and sent word for two youngsters sitting in an obscure corner of the crowd, giving complete details of their names, village, etc. When the two were discovered, they refused to come to the dais. “Why should He call us? We do not know Him…” they went on.
Finally, with a lot of persuasion when they were brought to Swami’s Presence, Bhagavan lovingly asked them, “How are you?” and then gently ran His fingers through His hair pushing it behind His face, and said, “See, there is nothing wrong with My ears. They are where they are supposed to be.” Next, Swami looked at the devotees and revealed, “Since My hair falls on My Shoulders, these two had decided that I do not have ears, and that I am using My hair to conceal this fact.” The teenagers were too shocked to react; they fell at His Feet seeking pardon.
Divine Control Over the Elements
Similarly, during one summer season, Swami had come to Rajahmundry to perform a yagnam. As the ritual reached its conclusion, on the request of the priests, Swami materialized navadanyas and navaratnas (nine types of grains and nine gems) and cast them into the ceremonial fire-pit. Next, Swami sprinkled sacred water on all present. After this, the priests prayed to Swami saying “A slight shower of rain would bring joy to all.” Swami then enquired if there was a temple nearby, and He was informed that a Krishna Temple stood a few meters away. Swami then said, “In ten minutes, it is going to rain. You can all disperse.”
People from far off places stayed in the Temple and in the houses nearby. “I could see no cloud in the vicinity,” narrates Mr. Narasimha Rao. “Eight minutes had passed and nothing happened. Suddenly in the next two minutes, dark clouds enveloped the sky and it did begin to rain! It poured from 12.30 to 3.30 pm; I was soaked in the downpour. But by 4.30 it was sunny again, and there was nothing to hint that it had rained just a few minutes ago.”
It is such supernormal feats that placed the faith of Mr. Narasimha Rao on a firm foundation. He, later, dedicated himself completely serving for His Mission in Shivam. In the years prior to Shivam’s existence, Swami used to often stay in the houses of devotees. If it was the mansion of Chincholi Rani Saheb during one visit, at another time, it was the house of Dr. Boorgula Ramakrishna Rao or Raja Umapathi Rao or Mr. V. D. Prasada Rao. The latter’s son, Dr. V. V. S. Sharma, who used to drive Swami around in Hyderabad, has many interesting anecdotes of His visits. “
Once when we were on our way to a place located at a distance of 40 kilometres, half way into our journey, our car suddenly stopped; we had run out of petrol. There were only three of us inside the vehicle – Swami, my father and I. Just then a villager appeared on a bicycle carrying country liquor in a pot. Swami asked me to fill the petrol tank with that liquid and the car started running! Swami used to visit our house frequently till 1969, and in those days we never realized what a great opportunity it was!”
Power-packed Speeches of the 1960s
While such fascinating instances of His Power were commonplace in the sixties and seventies, equally prevalent were His powerful discourses. The Prasanthi Vidwan Mahasabha continued to be held in Hyderabad for many years, and speaking in one such assembly in March 5, 1968, Swami said:
March 1968 - the Army of Virtuous Volunteers is Born
Thus exhorted Sai to the hundreds gathered in Hyderabad. It was an emphatic call to the devotees to expand their love from narrow boundaries of their own families and friends to the community and the needy. This was for a very definite reason in the Divine Master Plan. It was in this year, 1968, that Swami unfolded the single most crucial facet of the Sai Organisation which has today made the worldwide Sai Movement vibrant and absolutely unique, and that is - the Sri Sathya Sai Sevadals or volunteers who epitomize selfless service.
THE BIRTH OF SRI SATHYA SAI SEVADALS
One prophetic evening in Hyderabad, in March 1968, Swami had it announced that soon the ‘Sathya Sai Sevadal’ would be formed and interested participants could fill in the application forms. The next day, from all the forms submitted, Swami Himself selected the first batch of candidates. That was how the first group of Sai sevadal volunteers came into being on March 17, 1968. Swami personally coached this chosen group in the principles and practices of rendering selfless service, and even posed with them later for a group photograph, with Him sitting at the centre. Since then, His attention on this group was continuous and copious. Swami called upon this group whenever there was a crucial need in His Mission.
Avatar’s Messengers Swing into Spiritual Activism
It was this group that swung into action during the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Sri Sathya Sai College for Women in Anantapur, in June 1968. Out of the 50 who had traveled for this service, Swami selected 20 after the conclusion of the function there, and asked them to proceed to Puttaparthi. They were assigned various duties in the devotees’ canteen personally by Him.
Similarly, during the construction of the college in Bangalore in 1969, Swami again called for this batch of fortunate sevadal volunteers. The group started at 5 pm from Hyderabad one evening, and after traveling a small distance, their journey came to a sad halt as the bus broke down. For five hours they were stuck, while the driver commuted to the nearby town to fetch spare parts. Finally, at 10 pm their journey resumed. In those days, the Telangana Movement (demand for a separate state within Andhra Pradesh) was fierce and there were riots at many places.
When the bus passed through the town, Jagithyala, the sevadals noticed destroyed shops and raging bonfires on the road. Fortunately, no untoward incident happened with them, and they reached Brindavan the next morning without any further delay. That day, during darshan, Swami came to them and asked, “How is it that none of you are wearing any bandages on your heads and hands?” Everybody looked confused. Swami, then, revealed, “There were riots in Jagithyala last evening. Had I not delayed your journey in the form of that bus repair, you would all have been hurt.”
Service to Fellow Beings - Passport to Divine Grace
Selfless service is closest to Swami’s heart and the Lord will go to any extent to rescue those who dedicate their time and energy for others. Like the eyelid takes care of the eye, Sai cares not only for the seva dals, but their entire families.
Once when Mr. B. V. Sathyamurthy, a member of the Hyderabad Sevadal group, had been to Puttaparthi, Swami asked him, “Didn’t your brother come?” To this, he replied, “Swami, a new director has been appointed in his office, which has made it difficult for him to get frequent leaves.” Swami immediately said, “Tell him, within a week, Raghavendra will come.” When Sathyamurthy delivered this message to his brother, he was confused as he knew nobody by that name. But as the week ended, it became clear. A gentleman by name Mr. Raghavandra took over as the new director of the company. And the best part was that he was a Sai devotee.
On another occasion, Mr. Sathyamurthy was again in Puttaparthi in the early 1970s. This time he was accompanied by his brother, Mr. B. V. Chandrashekhar, who had come to inform Swami and take His Blessings before resigning from his current job and accepting a new offer. He waited and tried for three days, but with no success. On the third day, dejected, he walked towards the bus station to return to Hyderabad. Exactly the same time, Swami was returning to Mandir after inspecting the Canteen. He immediately called for Sathyamurthy and said, “Your brother is loading his luggage onto the bus, go and call him!”
When he arrived, without hearing anything, Swami said, “Do not quit the current job. Soon there will be hike in your pay; it is going to be good for you. Go back and continue working there till I tell you.” At the same time, Swami looked at Sathyamurthy, who was anxious about his pregnant wife’s health, and said, “I know, you are concerned about your wife. Have no worries; she will be fine. I am giving you a boy, give this Vibhuti to her, and bring the child to Puttaparthi.”
Shaping Instruments of Change with Precision
This is how the Lord took charge of the life of every seva dal who had willingly offered himself to His Work. Still, there were a few who harboured doubts about His Divinity. Mr. S. V. L. N. Narasimha Rao of Rajahmundry was one of them. Though Swami had blessed him with an ethereal experience when he touched His Feet in Rajahmundry, doubts still remained. In 1970, Narasimha Rao made his first visit to Puttaparthi and now wanted to test if Swami was truly God. Recalling that trip wherein he had an exhilarating experience, He says, “I had read in the scriptures that when God walks on Earth, owing to His Power, the Earth’s level goes down by 6 inches, and His Feet never really touches the ground.
"For fifteen days, I observed the sand on which Swami walked during darshans. Anything that falls on sand creates an impression. But when Swami walked on those sands nearly ten times a day, I found impressions of not His Feet but only of His Robe! After a fortnight had passed, Swami came and stood in front of me, looked into my eyes, smiled, and then pressed the sand before me with His Right Foot. An impression was formed on the sand of His right foot, but again, there was no mark of His left foot there! I was stupefied, and convinced. I realized Swami, in fact, moves above the earth, not on earth! He is none other than God!”
THE GENESIS OF SRI SATHYA SAI SEVA SAMITHIS
The Divine Announces His Lieutenants of Love
It is these Divine manifestations of Love that pulled more and more into the Sai fold, and soon there were two seva dal groups, one in Hyderabad and the other in its twin city, Secunderabad. In January 27, 1971, Swami clubbed these two into one body – the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Samithi, and appointed Justice V. K. Parthsarathy as the Chairperson, and Mr. V. D. Prasad Rao as the Secretary.
In the next few years, Mr. Prasad Rao, a construction engineer, had a very significant role to play in the making of Shivam, and therefore, the story of his coming into the Sai ambit is a tale which cannot be missed.
Recalling their family’s story, Dr. V. V. S. Sharma, the first son of Mr. Prasad Rao, says, “We migrated to Hyderabad from Vijaywada in 1960. My mother suffered from a serious cardiac ailment and my father, in those days, visited every hospital and holy man in search for a cure. In 1966, we heard about Baba, and soon, my father arrived in Puttaparthi along with the then Collector of Anantapur District, Mr. Narayana Rao, and two others. There was no accommodation available in the ashram then. Therefore, the four of them parked their luggage in the police station, and went for darshan.
"Swami came out at four that evening, but did not look at them. Next day, at 7 in the morning, Swami sent word for my father. He was absolutely puzzled, as he had not sent any information to Swami, and nobody in Puttaparthi knew him either. Nevertheless, he went to His Presence, and as soon as Swami saw him, He said, “I will soon be going to Hyderabad. I will stay in Mr. Bhoorgula Ramakrishna Rao’s house or in Mr. Umapati Rao's house. You come there. I will see your wife too there.” Then Swami allowed him to have lunch with Him and blessed him profusely. The same night, my father returned to Hyderabad.
Paying off the Karmic Debt
“In a few months, Swami came to Hyderabad as promised, and within a day or two of His arrival, He made a surprise visit to our house. He saw my mother, created medicine and gave it to her.
And then, He said, ‘One cannot avoid karmic results. If you want, I can remove your ailment in a second, but you would have to suffer in the next birth. In this life, you are lucky to be born into a nice family. Therefore, it is better you go through it in this birth itself.’ My mother agreed to His advice. Then Swami added, ‘I will see to it that your pain and suffering is minimal.’
This happened in March 1967. Swami also promised in that visit that He would stay in our house next time He came to Hyderabad. What actually happened was that He visited/stayed in our house not only the next time, but nearly 20 times after that! I had the privilege of driving Swami around in Hyderabad and in each trip, He went to 20 to 30 devotees’ homes.”
THE SAGA OF THE CONCRETE SHIVAM STARTS….
That is how much Swami had endeared Himself to Mr. Prasad Rao and his family. Quite unknown to them, they were handpicked instruments in His Divine Mission. In 1971, Mr. Prasad Rao had a dream in which Swami appeared to him inside a lingam. He liked the image in the dream very much.
Moreover, during Shivarathri that year, the seva dals from Mumbai had worn a badge which had an enamel showing Swami within a lingam, which devotees from Hyderabad found very appealing.
So, Mr. Prasad Rao expressed his dream to Swami, and sought His permission to build a structure in the shape of a lingam in Hyderabad. Swami listened to his prayer and said, “Good, develop a model”. Soon, a prototype was ready, and Mr. Prasad Rao, along with a few other architects, showed it to Swami for His approval. Swami made many corrections, and finally gave the ‘go ahead’ to the plan.
Divine Planner Swings into Action
The next important activity was the selection of a suitable site. Swami, along with a few devotees, drove around Hyderabad looking for an appropriate site in a Hillman car and finally, selected the site in Baghamberpet in Vidyanagar. Apparently, Swami had Himself purchased this area a few years ago. It was adjacent to the house of an ardent devotee, Mr. E. J. Sathyamurthy.
Shivam Site is Uniquely Consecrated
Once the site selection was done, Swami had another significant event in His Divine agenda. There were three devotees in Hyderabad whom Swami had specially blessed by giving them for worship the lingams that He had manifested from within His Body during lingodbhavam on the occasions of Maha Shivarathri in Puttaparthi. Swami directed the three of them – Mr. V. S. Desikichari, Mr. B. V. Ramana Rao and Mr. V. D. Prasad Rao – to bring those lingams to the site and perform Thrilingabhishekam. All the three Divine manifestations were worshipped elaborately with piety and grandeur, thus suffusing that area with sacred vibrations.
THE FOUNDATION STONE CEREMONY OF SHIVAM
The Epicentre of Truth, Beauty and Goodness
Next, was the grand ceremony of sankhusthapana – the foundation stone laying ceremony. Swami Himself supervised every section of this function. The day was most appropriate – it was a Monday, in the month of Karthika – the same day and month in which Swami was born! The date according to the English calendar was October 25, 1971. The most sublime aspect of this ceremony was that Lord Sai Shiva in His own Hands laid the first stone for this enigmatic edifice, and then with a wave of His Hand materialized a yantra (mystical plate) and placed it at the site.
Later in the day, Swami gave a profound discourse in which He said:
The Avatar Descends and Lives for the Devotees
After this lofty spiritual objective, Swami also explained the down-the-earth reason for the creation of Shivam. He said:
THE STIRRING STORY OF SHIVAM’S CONSTRUTION
Translating Love into Service
The crowd burst into a thunderous applause, and the enthusiasm among the Sai devotees was at its zenith. Hundreds eagerly joined hands in the construction of this sacred abode of the Lord. Mr. S. V. L. N. Narasimha Rao of Rajahmundry, whose journey to Swami we have described earlier, was one of the active volunteers who participated in the making of Shivam. Recalling those days, he says, “Once the construction started, we used to work from 9 in the morning till 6 in the evening every Sunday; on some days it would stretch till 10 in the night. We did all kinds of labour work - digging the ground and carrying bricks and cement, to cleaning and guarding the premises. Even though we worked, literally like labourers, putting in long hours and enduring physical strain, we never felt tired. The name of Swami was constantly on our lips. If a particular object was heavy to transport, we just uttered the sacred name ‘Sai Ram’ and the work went on smoothly.
“Even though 200-250 sevadals contributed their might on Sundays, on the weekdays too, many came after their office hours and worked late into the night. As I was staying very near, I used to come every evening. Even during the morning, I used to pass by Shivam and attend to anything that was needed urgently. In fact, once the flooring was done, even before the roof was laid, I started sleeping in Shivam during the nights. Nobody told me to do so, but I did it because I felt Shivam is Swami’s own abode, and this is the place meant for me to serve.”
Lingam, a Potent Symbol of Infinity
The most critical part of the construction was getting the shape of Lingam right. Swami had, in fact, given detailed instructions to Mr. Prasad Rao on various precautions that have to be taken so that the structure is crack-free and crack-proof. “For giving shape to the Lingam, concrete was poured continuously for 4 days, day and night,” recalls Mr. Narasimha Rao. “As it had to be completed in one stretch once it is started, we worked non-stop for four consecutive days. There were instances when sevadals worked five hours rigorously, without a break, covering the structure with concrete to arrive at the shape of the Lingam. We just chanted His Name and knew no pain.”
Mr. K. V. L. N. Sharma, who too played an active role at the time of Shivam construction, recalling the most challenging part of the whole endeavour, says, “One night, at 11 pm, I received a call informing me that the centering work for Shivam’s dome would start the next day, and the work for the concrete beam in the circular shape should be finished in 24 hours, so that the centering work could go on. Next day morning, when engineers and labourers came to the site, they were shocked to see the progress in work. They were amazed that such a difficult task could be done so quickly, and that too completely by seva dals.”
Another dedicated sevadal for years, Mr. R. M. Krishna Rao, says, “Initially, the plan was to construct three rings for the dome of Shivam. But when Swami came to oversee the progress of work, He suggested that it should be increased to four. There were many modifications like this – major and minor, with respect to choice of colours, creation of rooms, to placement of bulbs – that Swami advised Mr. Prasad Rao whenever He came to the construction site.”
When Swami was physically far, He made the devotees in Hyderabad know that He was constantly thinking about them. In fact, on the occasion of the First Anniversary of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Samithi that Swami had formed a year before, He wrote a beautiful letter addressed to all devotees of Hyderabad. It was dated January 21, 1972 and it read:
SAI ARRIVES TO INAUGURATE HIS SHIVAM
Divine Inspiration Delivers a Marvel in Record Time
Swami’s continuous shower of Love and Benediction only enthused the devotees more, and in 18 months, the construction of Shivam was complete. Swami was in Mumbai then; therefore, five senior devotees went to Mumbai to pray to Him to visit Hyderabad, and inaugurate Shivam. In Mumbai, when Swami saw Mr. Prasad Rao, the main engineer behind the project, He said, “Prasad Rao, so you have finally completed it! Come, let us go!” Thus, Swami descended to Hyderabad from His trip to Mumbai and Goa.
On the auspicious Telugu New Year “Ugadi” day, Swami stepped into His Shivam. It became alive and charged! Swami materialized a lingam and installed it in the Shivam Hall so that devotees could worship it and derive benefits.
In a beautiful discourse on that occasion, He said:
For the next ten days, till Rama Navami, Swami blessed all with darshans, morning and evening. Not only that, He gave a discourse every single day expounding on the significance of the Shiva principle, with examples from the Shiva Puranam. Responding to the negative feelings of agnostics and so called rationalists towards construction in Shivam, in one of His discourses, Swami emphatically answered their frivolous queries. In effect, He said, “Some question the money spent towards the construction of Shivam. They say it could have been utilized for feeding the poor and such other social work. These people do not realize the importance of Shivam. This place will confer mental peace on anyone who steps inside. This is something which cannot be acquired even if one had in possession lakhs of rupees.”
For the entire span of Swami’s stay, there were cultural programs organized by the Bal Vikas children, and one of them was a drama based on the life of Meera Bai. The girl who acted as the child Meera, was only four and a half years old. Swami blessed her specially and asked, “Are you Meera?” The girl did not respond. Then the Lord smiled and said, “She has come to Me!”
AMAZING MANIFESTATIONS OF HIS POWER AND PRESENCE IN SHIVAM
Shivam : Abode of Lord Sai Shiva
From April 1973, whenever Swami came to Hyderabad, Shivam was where He would reside. For the devotees, Shivam was no different from Kailasa; it was the Holy Home of their Sai Shiva. They felt the unique vibrations that the premises seemed to be subsumed with. In fact, it was here that they were a witness to any number of fantastic and revealing manifestations of His Divine Power, Grace and Omniscience.
Recalling one such experience, Mr. B. V. Ramana Rao, says, “Shivam used to be packed and overflowing whenever Swami came to Hyderabad; there would be people even on the parapet wall and the roads in the front. Once when Bhagavan was delivering a Discourse, suddenly from nowhere dark clouds covered the sky; a downpour looked imminent. Soon, a drizzle starting coming down even as His Discourse was on the course.
"There was an air of panic among the devotees. Swami then declared, 'To quench the thirst of devotees who are tired of waiting for long, Lord Varuna (God of Rain) came down. There won’t be any more interruption to this programme.' Immediately, the drizzle halted, as if reacting to His Command, and the Lord continued with His Discourse. As the session neared completion, Swami directed all the devotees to return to their houses within an hour. Exactly after sixty minutes, it started pouring cats and dogs.”
Beyond the Limitations of Time and Space
Shivam was His own Home and the setting for a few amusing Divine Dramas too. During one visit, Swami asked Sri Karunyananda, whom He had brought along, to stay in a room downstairs in Shivam. One day, early morning at 4, Swami came into that room, woke him up and said, “It is already 4 am, all devotees are awake and getting ready. You too wake up.” After saying this, Swami gently asked, “Do you have an extra shaving blade which I can use?”
Karunyananda woke up with a start. He said, “Swami! How could You come in? I had bolted the door from inside. You did not even tap the door!” Nevertheless, he gave a shaving blade to Bhagavan, after which Swami opened the door that was bolted from inside and went out. Such was the maya of the Lord that an esteemed devotee like Karunyananda too was deluded.
The Divine Reaffirms a Loving Sacrifice
For Sai, Shivam was an extension of Him. In fact, on one occasion He said, “Shivam is My Heart.” Therefore, no activity or incident inside that holy premises ever went unnoticed by Swami, whether He was physically present or not. Narrating a revealing instance, Mr. S. V. L. N. Narasimha Rao says, “During its construction, I used to sleep in Shivam, without any one asking me to do it.
"I knew the Lord was aware of my service because He used to send many items to Shivam with instructions that they had to be handed over to me. Even though I believed that Swami knew of my contribution, I was keen to get His recognition physically. So after the inauguration, I decided that I will not enter Shivam, until He calls me and takes me along with Him to the Mandir.
“During those ten days after Shivam’s opening, I used to serve at the gate selling books and photographs. One day, at 1 pm when I was going for lunch, I saw Swami coming from the opposite direction. I moved to a corner expecting Swami to go in the direction of the interview room.
"But Swami stopped, and came towards me. He said, 'Come, let’s go into Shivam.' As I was wearing the sevadal badge, I was bound by rule not to walk with Swami, therefore, I followed a few paces behind Him. But Swami stepped back and said, 'Come with Me!' Still, I hesitated, and continued to walk behind Him.
"Again He asked me to walk beside Him. By now, we were at the entrance of the building, and suddenly, a lady with two children rushed to Swami to have His Darshan. Swami said, 'The poor lady is hungry', and went inside immediately to return with a coconut. I offered to give the fruit to the lady, but He said, 'No, you wait, we will go into Shivam' and asked another volunteer to do the job with instructions to tell the poor woman to eat the fruit, drink water and rest under the tree. We were still on the steps of Shivam.
"Next, He created two rupees and asked that too to be given to the lady. Again, I extended my hand to do the job, but His response was a firm ‘no’. He said, 'Not you, we will go into Shivam'; this was the fourth time. Like this, Swami practically led me from outside into the chambers of Shivam fulfilling my innermost desire. And I have experienced this Divine Omniscience of Swami any number of times.
The Palpable Presence
“One night, while I was asleep in Shivam, I was woken up by the loud prattle of verbal arguments. I saw a few people around quarrelling with each other. I said to them, “What are you doing? This is Shivam! How can you speak so loudly here where Swami is present?” And as soon as I said this, all the flowers from the garland which adorned Swami’s photograph fell down in a second, all over that place! The people who saw this were shocked to their skin; they slept silently from then on. Sai’s presence in Shivam is so obvious, if only we have the eyes to see and the heart to feel.”
Divine Grace in Shivam flowed in a continuous stream right from the day of its existence. When Mr. B. V. Sathyamurthy was diagnosed with a brain tumour in early 1980s, the doctors advised an operation. Even after the surgery, the malignant growth persisted and now the doctors were clueless; they didn’t expect him to survive beyond a few days. Then, his brother, Mr. B. V. Ramana Rao, presented to Swami their problem, and Swami gracefully materialized Vibhuti, and said, “Give this to your brother, all will be fine.”
It happened just as He had said. The moment he started taking the Vibhuti, the tumour’s growth stopped, and it cured itself completely. Later, when Sathyamurthy went to Puttaparthi, Swami identified him in the huge crowd and created a sugar candy for him saying that he should take that regularly. Similarly, Swami’s Vibhuti cured the asthma of his wife and the terrible myopia of his daughter. When his daughter was a few years old, Swami even created a pair of diamond studded ear rings and pierced them into the baby’s ears. The girl surprisingly did not even cry!
Saved from the Gun By God
Instances of such Divine benedictions became common in Shivam. Mr. Rama Raju came to Shivam for the first time in 1975. Out of the blue, Swami created Vibhuti for him and eventually blessed him with an interview. Later, one day, Swami even went to his house. On that particular occasion, Mr. Rama Raju told Swami that although half of his problems were solved, another other half still remained. And then, taking out a gun from the cupboard and he showed it to Swami, and said, “Swami, if all my problems are not solved by the end of the month, then the only option left for me is this gun,” (referring to suicide).
Swami then laughed aloud and told his wife, “See, he believes more in a mere gun than in Swami!” and went away. But his problems did not abate for weeks. Suddenly, on the last day of the month, all his troubles vanished! Since then Rama Raju became an active participant in all Sai activities in Shivam.
SERVICE WING OF SHIVAM SOARS, THANKS TO HIS CLARION CALL
Ushering the New Year In with Divinity
Therefore, as the years rolled on, through different ‘calling cards’ of Swami, the number of devotees swelled in Shivam. And Swami too made regular visits to Hyderabad between 1973 and 1979. To the delight of the people of Andhra Pradesh, Swami was in Shivam on Ugadi, the Telugu New Year Day, during all these years, as it fell very close or coincided with Shivam Anniversary every year. His constant Message during all these years was always one – Service. On March 21, 1976, He said:
On the same day, three years later, in 1979, He said:
Serving the Needy to Please God
Such repeated and powerful exhortations of the Lord spurred the seva dals in Shivam to undertake a host of service projects. The very first initiative was Narayana seva, feeding the poor, every Sunday.
Recalling those early days of service, Mr. S. V. L. N. Narasimha Rao Says, “We used to congregate in Shivam by 9 pm on Saturday night and sleep there till mid-night. At 12 am, when Sunday had dawned, we would wake up, shower, wear fresh clothes and begin our work in the kitchen. Making Pulihora (a South Indian dish made by mixing rice with turmeric and tamarind) with 100 kgs of rice was our chief chore then.
"The cooking would be over by 5 am, after which we would clean all the vessels. This would be followed by Omkaram, Suprabhatham and Nagara Sankeerthan. We would then offer the prepared food as Naivedyam to Swami, pack it and return to our homes.
"Again, at 11 am, we would meet at Shivam, load the packets in vehicles, and distribute them personally in certified schools, jails, homes for the aged, houses for the disabled, leprosy colonies and so on.
“After this, we would do ‘Hospital duty’ wherein we would serve the patients – clean their beds and surroundings, talk to them lovingly and cater to their needs – at Osmania Hospital and Gandhi Hospital. In the evening, we would be there for the bhajans in Shivam. Our Sundays were spent completely in Shivam and service.
Sai Seeks Simplicity and Sincerity
“I must narrate here an incident which showed how much Swami valued our work. One night, because of work pressure in the office, I reached Shivam only at 10.30 pm. When I stepped inside, I found an elderly man, Mr. Parthasarathy, waiting for me. He said, ‘I have been asked to inform you that you are not permitted to sleep in Shivam from now on.’ Hearing that, I went in, picked up my bedding and before leaving said, ‘I used to sleep here voluntarily, as part of my service to Swami. Since I am not allowed to do this anymore, I will go home. In any case, my mother is alone at home.’
“A few weeks later, there was news of Swami coming to Shivam. Tents were put up and other arrangements made. But Swami did not come! In those days, Sri V. D. Prasada Rao used to accompany Swami wherever He went. So, he asked Him, ‘Swami! We arranged everything for You in Shivam, why didn’t You come?’
“Swami replied, ‘For whom should I come to Hyderabad ? Do you know why I come to Shivam? I come there for the sake of sevadals, but sincere workers are asked to stop their seva. How can I come then?’”
Loving Service Becomes a Way of Life
That is how much the Lord’s Heart went out for the sincere Sai workers. And it is this Love that was the sole inspiration and motivation for the sevadals. The Narayana Seva over the years has grown in magnitude and variety. Now, there are at least 500-600 people fed, not with a single item of pulihora, but an elaborate menu of rice, curry, sambar, chutney, curds, banana or sweet. The unique aspect of this activity is that no person has ever being turned away for shortage of food, and since its inception, it has been carried out without a break, be it summer or winter, rain or sun.
Marrying a Sai Devotee
One of the active sevadals who is responsible for the effective continuance of this service is another person by the same name but different initials, Mr. K. Narasimha Rao. The story of this Sai worker’s journey to Sai is interesting.
“In 1979, while employed in a private firm, I was approached by a family for a marriage proposal,” he says going down memory lane. “When I, along with my elder brother, went to the girl’s house, we were taken aback by the number of Sai photos that filled its every wall and corner. We learnt that, by then, that family had been devoted to Baba for nearly 30 years.
"Watching all this, my brother advised, ‘If you marry her, you are sure to become a recluse soon. Do not get into this family.’ So I forgot about it. But a year later, somehow my brother changed his mind and said, ‘If you are happy with it, you can go ahead and marry that girl’. Then, my would-be father-in-law went to Swami and showed Him my photo.
"Swami gave him to go ahead with the marriage, and in December 1980, I became a part of this Sai family. Within 6 months, I got a better job in the Government, and nectar, vermillion, etc. used to ooze out of photos in my in-law’s house. Still, my faith in Swami was very feeble.
Robber Scared off by Sai’s Presence
“One day, around this time, while my in-laws were away at Puttaparthi, a thief broke into their house and ransacked the place. They came to know of this through a telegram sent by a relative, asking them to return as early as possible. The next day, my father-in-law sat for darshan, with the telegram in his hand, to seek His permission to return home quickly. When Swami came near him, before he could even open his mouth, Swami said, ‘Was there a robbery at home? Do not worry; nothing has been taken away. You do not have to go immediately.’
"So, the family returned after a few days, and eventually the thief was caught. When questioned why he did not steal anything, the gangster replied, ‘For many days, this house was locked, so I thought it was an easy target. But when I broke in and was searching for valuables, I saw there a “ghost” in orange dress and thick black hair. I was scared, I left without taking anything’.
Outsourcing Parenting to the Divine Mother
“This incident had amazing effect on me; I started believing Him. And so, I joined the Sai Organization with the logic that, ‘I lose nothing joining this Organisation, because even if He is not God, this group, in any case, is always engaged in sacred activities. But suppose He is God, and I am not part of it, then I would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime.’ Later, I was blessed with a son and Swami lovingly named him “Gunaranjan” saying he would have all sadgunas (good qualities).
"In 1989, when my son joined Swami’s school, a devotee came up to me and said, ‘Suppose your son was with you, how much time would you be spending for him during the day?’ ‘Maybe, around 2 hours to teach him and be with him,’ I said. ‘Then, since Swami is taking care of your child now, from today, spend those two hours serving God by engaging in service activities.’ This advice really made me think, and spurred me on to become an active seva dal in His Organization. From then on, I gave all my energy and time to His work, and He, in turn, took care of my family, job, promotions, pay rise - everything.
Commendable Service during Communal Riots
“We jumped at every opportunity to be of help to society. When communal riots erupted in Hyderabad on December 10, 1990, we worked with Osmania Hospital in trying to save lives. We picked up casualties from the road, put them on a stretcher, and within seconds wheeled them into the operation theatre. We were with the patients till they recovered - doing all the tests, taking care of their papers and ensuring their return to their homes.
"We worked 17 to 18 hours a day, continuously, for 10 days. I can never forget those moments – we forgot our homes, office, everything, immersed completely in trying to save the poor victims. Suddenly we would hear a blast of firing and pathetic cries outside the hospital compound, and the next minute, a batch of bodies would arrive. We tried to do everything we could to keep their hearts beating. This was not easy, and at the same time we had to deal with other challenges too.
"When we went out, many protestors obstructed us in our work, suspecting us to be part of a particular group, even though we had our seva dal scarfs on. But seeing us rushing to help everybody, irrespective of religion or community, most of them allowed us to do our work. Our only aim was to save as many lives as possible. We did not do it for name or fame. We did it for our Sai. Our clothes used to be soaked with the blood of the victims. We had no time to bother about ourselves.”
MEDICAL SERVICE GATHERS MOMENTUM
Medical Relief as part of Regular Community Outreach
Like this, fired by their love for Sai, the sevadals plunged into several service activities – some sporadic and many ongoing. One of these was Medical Camps for the poor. When Mr. B. V. Ramana Rao sought to get Bhagavan’s Blessings and Guidance before embarking on this venture, Swami said, “Go to the patients and enquire about their wellbeing. Place your hand on their hearts and pray ardently to the Lord. Divine Energy will flow through your hands.” This is the Divine Assurance which propelled the start of “Sri Sathya Sai Free Clinic” in the Shivam annex building more than 25 years ago. Just like the Narayana Seva, it continues till date, without a break, but now on a larger scale and with much sophistication.
A Gentle Touch Expands the Heart
Dr. Raghavachari, who has been part of this endeavour right from its inception, says, “It was 1978, when I had my first darshan of Swami in Shivam. He did not call me or speak to me, just looked at me, and later, as He was speaking to other doctors, gently patted my head. That was it! I do not know what happened in the next moment. From that day onwards, I decided to be part of the Sai Organization which has continued till date.”
Motivating Medical Outreach as Spirituality
“It was a similar case with me too,” says Dr. Phani Mohankrishna, who also has been associated with these medical camps from its early years. “My house was 200 yards from Shivam, but I never went inside after its construction for four long years, busy having fun with my friends in my spare time, while I pursued becoming a doctor. In 1978, when Swami had come to Shivam, out of curiosity, I peeped in through the fencing, and said to myself, ‘He looks to be a great man, a good man.’
"Later, I heard Him speak and was greatly impressed with the profundity of the Message and the simplicity of His language. Still, I never involved myself with any Sai activities. During this time, one day the relative of one of the sevadals whom I had treated in my clinic, took me to the free clinic in Shivam. He held my hand and introduced me to all the doctors there. I was impressed with their work. I always had a secret love for rural medical camps, and had, in fact, conducted a few during my housemanship in Kurnool. Therefore, like fish to water, I took to this service.
“Those days we used to see maybe 50-60 people every Sunday, and the regular doctors totaled 5 or 6,” continues Dr. Raghavachari. “It was a small room, hardly 5ft by 6ft, and we somehow managed to do everything needed in that tiny area. The medicines came from the samples we could gather. With Swami’s grace, it was sufficient for that period. But soon, the number of patients grew, and we needed a bigger space. At this time, Dr. Kakade donated about Rs. 2-3 lakhs to facilitate a bigger area for the work. In fact, during this interim period of construction, we carried all the medicines in boxes and continued the camp under the trees. Not only that, each one of us participated in the making of this new structure too; we carried bricks and worked literally like labourers.”
Exemplars of Humility Inspire the Team
As doctors, did it not bother them to do such menial manual work? “Well, actually the example of doctors with far superior credentials changed us,” says Dr. Raghavachari. “Apart from Dr. Kakade, who was well known, there was Dr. Tilak, a reputed ENT specialist; Dr. J Subbarao, who was a Professor at Gandhi Hospital; and such other eminent physicians, who worked like an ordinary daily wage earner. In fact, Dr. Subbarao used to double up as a security guard in the night. We were bowled over with their dedication and humility, and just followed in their footsteps.”
Initial Suspicion Transforms into Sai Samithis
With the new block added, the activities of the camp too increased. More doctors joined and their number now was about a dozen. They not only brought samples from their own clinics, but also persuaded many drug companies to donate towards this service. For these doctors, every Sunday did not mean relaxing with friends or family, but more work; and they enjoyed it. In fact, their workload increased with Sai Samithis deciding to do medical camps outside the city in adopted villages. “I and Dr. Raghavachari went every Sunday to a village named Nanakaramguda,” recalls Dr. Phani Mohankrishna.
“At that time, it was a very poor village; the rural folk did not have anything. We used to serve from 8 to 12 am every Sunday, dispensing medicines and educating them about good health. Slowly, another village called Gowladodi got added to our list. Similarly, our colleagues were going to many other adopted areas. But serving in these villages was not easy to begin with. The villagers were reluctant and uncooperative; they thought we were canvassing for a political party.
"For 3-4 months we just did menial jobs, like sweeping their roads, cleaning their drains, etc. to win their confidence. Seeing our persistent efforts to help them, with no ulterior motives, they finally accepted us; in fact, with time, they became a part of us. Now, in all these villages you find full fledged Sai Samithis doing such good work for themselves and others too.”
While this outreach medical service acquired momentum, simultaneously, the numbers in Shivam Clinic too grew exponentially. Now, the need for a bigger place was felt more than ever before, and this led to the construction of the big rectangular hall behind Shivam which till today serves as the centre for all the medicare initiatives of Shivam.
Thousands Receive Free Sai Medical Care Each Month
Dr. J. B. Venkat Rao, who heads the Medical Service Team at Shivam, says, “We now have a big team of doctors, and offer specialized services to the patients in various disciplines like gynecology, nephrology, oncology, ENT, Ophthalmology, and also for chronic ailments like diabetes and hypertension. Nearly a thousand patients are cared for every month, and every needy person gets free medicines for two weeks in one visit. By Swami’s Grace, since the start of the Sri Sathya Sai Free clinic in Shivam, there was never an occasion when we were short of medicines.”
Universe Compensates Generously for Selflessness
Most of these doctors serve not only in Shivam, but also in the temporary medical camps in Prasanthi Nilayam during all major festivals and conferences. But, does spending so much of their time and energy in service not affect their careers and private practice? “Actually, when I had to go to Puttaparthi for service, I closed down my clinic for 3-4 days. I was apprehensive if the number of patients would dwindle, but Swami’s Grace was such that when I returned, the number only increased.
"I saw this happen, not once or twice, but every time I made a visit to Puttaparthi. My old patients never deserted me; they always waited patiently. So, I was convinced that if I did His Work, He would do mine,” says Dr. Raghavachari.
Dr. Phani Mohankrishna agrees. “It has been the same experience with me too. In fact, Swami was gracious to bless me with a wife who is also a doctor, who takes care of my clinic in my absence. Swami is always watching over us, I know it for sure. When Swami came to Shivam in 1992, we had a 24 hour free clinic for all devotees converging for His Darshan.
One evening, Swami suddenly called all the doctors for a meeting, but I could not go immediately as just then a patient had arrived with a four inch deep cut on his head. We had to dress and suture his wound, which took a good 45 minutes.
Generally, whenever Swami takes people inside, He locks the door before starting the session. So, we had no hope. Nevertheless, we went inside Shivam, and to our great surprise, found Swami standing at the open door, waiting for us. As soon as He saw us, with joy and pride on His face, He said, “Come, come”, and then closed the door. That day we had a beautiful session with Swami, wherein He also delivered for us a special discourse. Such instances of His love and concern are far too many to enumerate.”
THE SPIRITUAL ACTIVITIES SOAR IN HIS WINGS
Music as a Means of Spiritual Revival
If that was how the medical service wing of the Sai Organisation in Shivam gathered so much momentum, the story of the spiritual wing, of which bhajans forms a major part, is even more fascinating.
Much before Shivam came into being, Swami, during one of His trips to Hyderabad, announced that a few members would be selected to be trained in singing bhajans. Later, Swami Himself brought Mr. Panduranga Dixit along with Him to train the chosen candidates. The bhajan training sessions were conducted under His personal guidance. In fact, He Himself played the cymbals, while the singers tried to pick up the tune and the rhythm.
This was the glorious beginning of the Hyderabad Sevadal Bhajan Group which for years has distinguished itself as a vibrant group of singers who raise the joy of bhajan singing to a new level wherever they go. Though this group consists of enthusiastic young men, quite ironically, bhajans in Shivam was started by five ladies. One of these was Mrs. Malathi Subramaniam, endearingly referred to as Malathi Maami, by everyone in the Sai family. Her tryst with Divinity, way back in the 50s and 60s, is unique and most interesting.
Melody Queen Malathi Maami’s Reluctant Tryst with Sai
When Bhagavan visited Hyderabad in 1954, Malathi Maami was adamant about not seeing Him, even though a few from her family went for His darshan. Shortly after that, her father was to be appointed as the first High Court Judge by the Andhra Pradesh Government. Just three days prior to this event, the same telegraph which delivered this good news, also carried the horrifying message of the sudden death of her father. This was too much of a shock for her; it shook the foundations of her faith in Divinity.
However, her family members continued to visit Swami, and on one occasion, Swami granted all of them an interview, at the end of which He gifted them Vibhuti and photos. One of these pictures was framed and hung in her uncle’s room. Malathi Maami avoided looking at that photo to the best of her ability, but somehow it had entered her consciousness, so much so that, after a while, she developed a desire to visit Puttaparthi.
It was Ganesh Chaturthi day, in 1960, when she arrived in Puttaparthi, and Swami greeted her from the upstairs of the Mandir, asking in Tamil, “When did you come?” Malathi Maami was baffled. He seemed to know her through and through, and she never imagined Swami would speak to her in Tamil.
“Tomorrow I will give interview, family by family,” Swami further added, before disappearing into His room. Malathi’s family had actually not come with her, but surprisingly her husband and children landed the next morning in Prasanthi Nilayam.
As soon as her family entered the interview room, Swami held the hands of Malathi and her husband, and said, “I will firm up your faith and devotion in Me”. Next, He spoke about her lost father and asked, “Where do you think Sunder Ram has gone?” Pointing to His Heart, He continued, “He is very much here.” Thus, began Malathi Maami’s amazing association with Sai. As promised, the Lord blessed her with many experiences which fortified her faith in Him.
In those days, Swami used to accept paan (a kind of digestive made of betel-nuts, lime, calcium, etc. wrapped in betel leaves) from devotees. Therefore, Malathi Maami, in the altar of her home, used to offer a paan to Swami everyday. Whenever she came to Puttaparthi, she asked her children to continue the practice.
On one such occasion, when she was in Puttaparthi, Swami came to her and said, “I have got an ulcer in my mouth!” She looked back concerned and confused. Swami further added, “I went to your house, and it was full of only calcium!”
After three days of stay, when Malathi Maami returned to her home, she found that the paan box was full of calcium. This was a revelation to her; she was convinced of Swami’s omniscience.
Handpicking Singers for the Bhajan Movement
Once her faith was established, the Lord instilled devotion in her through the medium of bhajans. In fact, He chose her as one of His instruments to facilitate this sadhana of bhajan singing. How this happened is a scintillating story.
Malathi Maami was a student of Carnatic music and was used to singing krithis, but did not know to sing bhajans when she came to Swami. Once, when Swami gave her an interview, He asked her to lead bhajans in the Bhajan Hall. She refused, saying she did not know a single bhajan. But Swami insisted, and she objected to it again. The third time, Swami instructed her, rather firmly, to do as He said. Malathi Maami had no choice.
She went to the Bhajan Hall and there, met Mrs. Venkamma, Swami’s elder sister, who filled her with confidence and directions. “If God has asked you to sing, then sing!” she said. “Once Swami looks at you, start singing, and the moment He stops playing the cymbals or keeping beat in His Hands, stop wherever you are.” Malathi Maami now sat in the Bhajan Hall, perplexed.
Divine Bhajan Debut
Bhajans started and Mr. Raja Reddy sang the first bhajan. Just as it ended, Swami looked at Malathi Maami (indicating her to sing the next bhajan). She was shocked, her mind went blank! But the next moment, she started to sing! Her bhajan began, Swami never stopped the beat, and it continued for eight rounds! After the session, Venkamma called her near and said, “Why did you lie to me? You sing so well! Swami enjoyed it very much.”
Even now when she recalls those ten minutes of her debut in bhajan singing, Malathi Maami becomes speechless. She was completely unaware of her voice or singing that day; it was as if she was taken over by somebody. She did not know what she had sung, until others told her about it. That is how Swami launched her into this sacred spiritual practice, with a bang, so to say. Later, Malathi Maami composed 108 bhajans and offered them at His Lotus Feet during the Dasara celebrations that year.
During the next few years, Swami visited her house a couple of times, miraculously gave a new life to her 17 year old son who was at the brink of death from brain fever (the doctors had given him only 48 hours, but now he is a scientist and the Deputy Director at the National Geophysical Research Institute), and instructed her to take classes in bhajan singing for gents too, as only a few ladies sang in those days.
Soulful Bhajans Spring from Deep and Abiding Faith
In a similar fashion, Swami turned around Mr. Rama Brahma Sastry, another stalwart of the activities in the spiritual wing of the Organisation. Earlier, in this article we have narrated his first encounter with Swami when He cured his son of polio. That helped to sow the seed of ‘faith in Sai’ in the heart of this devout man, but more experiences followed before His surrender to Sai was complete.
When his son went to Puttaparthi in 1976, he sent along with him a few of his poems to be given to Swami, and thought to himself, “If Swami accepts this humble attempt, I will be happy to feel that I belong to Him.” “As soon as my son reached Puttaparthi,” he says, “Swami came to him and took the poems. I was thrilled; still, not satisfied. I wanted more proofs of His Divinity.”
Divine Surgeon Performs Cancer Surgery
At this time, one of his relatives was diagnosed with cancer. “She was in the last chronic stages of cancer,” Ram Brahma Sastry narrates. “The doctors gave up; it is the last 10-15 days of her life, they said. Then the woman, who was a devotee, said, if anybody could save her, it is only Swami.
"Therefore, she, along with her husband, went to Puttaparthi. Swami told her that her cancer would be gone by the next morning. He also added that the operation would be a success. The second part of His statement baffled them, as in those days there was not even a hospital in Puttaparthi. She thought, maybe Swami was referring to her last day on earth.
“That night, in her sleep, she saw Swami in a doctor’s apron along with a few other medical assistants. The next moment He was operating on her, and once He finished, He asked her to come for darshan the next morning saying He needs to give her some medicines as well.
"The lady dismissed it to be a mere dream. But to her shock, the next morning she found stitches on her chest! She could not believe she had really been operated on. When she went for darshan that morning, Swami enquired with her if she had any pain, and then said He would send her a medicine bottle.
“This incident cleared all cobwebs of doubt within me. Instantly, I knew this was not possible for anyone, except God Himself.”
Strengthening of Faith - A Precursor to Uplifting Musical Compositions
In the coming years, Swami blessed Rama Brahma Sastry with only more experiences which made his faith as firm as a rock. In 1985, when he had gone to Puttaparthi for the Birthday celebrations, and was worried about his family’s accommodation, Swami mysteriously delayed the coming of relatives of the person in whose house they were lodged.
Later, when he was looking for possible alliances for his daughter and wrote a letter to Swami, the then editor of 'Sanathana Sarathi' sent him a reply saying “Swami is calling you here.” He immediately reached Puttaparthi, expecting the chance of an interview.
But the Lord did not speak to him for three days. Soon, it turned into a week. “Then, one day,” he says, “a fellow devotee told me to do 108 circumambulations around the Shiva Temple that stands on the birth place of Swami.
"This would alleviate my problems, he said. So, I went and just did that. The next day, I was down with fever, as my body could not take in so much strain. When I went for darshan the next day, Swami immediately called me for an interview and asked, 'Who asked you to do those 108 rounds? Why did you do so many? How is your fever now?'
"I wondered how Swami knew all this! Nobody, except my friend, had any idea about this. Swami, once again, proved to me that He is, in fact, the very manifestation of Lord Shiva.”
Sai is Moved by Perfected Bhajan Singing
It is this Sai Shiva, who inspired Mr. Ram Brahma Sastry and his son, Krishna Mohan, to compose many beautiful Sai Bhajans. Bhasmabhusthitanga Sai Chandrasekhara, which is sung by Sai devotees world over, came to his son almost like a revelation. Similar was the case with Giridhara Bala Hey Nandalala and Sheshashaila Vasa Narayana. “In those days when Swami used to spend time in Shivam, He used to train the Hyderabad Bhajan Group personally. We used to practice bhajans in His Presence,” says his son, Krishna Mohan. “Even now, His concern and Love for us is not any less. In 2003, He gave us a chance to sing a few songs and bhajans, and at the end of the programme, He said ‘Sravananandam’, ‘Nayananandam’ ‘Manananadam’, meaning, ‘these bhajans have given happiness not only to the ears but also to the mind’. Again, as recent as March 2008, Swami blessed us with another opportunity to sing before Him.
"On the evening of March 2, Swami sent word from the interview room to start the performance. Soon, Swami took to the stage and sat one whole hour listening to their soulful renderings. While their songs were going on, He called the violinist (who had come for the first time) and blessed him with a chain. After the programme, He called me and asked, ‘How many children do you have?’ ‘Two,’ I said, and the next moment, He created another chain, this time for me. I always used to listen to a devotional song which said ‘We do not know meditation or penance, the only way to please God is by wearing the garland of namasmarana (chanting His Name) on ourselves.’ This special blessing only reaffirmed my faith that one can win over the Lord by just chanting His Name.”
HOW THE EDUCATION WING ROSE TO GREAT HEIGHTS
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Through various Divine ways and means, the Lord has continuously ensured that the devotees’ progress in their chosen path towards their goal. If for some it was service, others it was bhajans, and for yet another group, it was a mix of both. As the bhajan movement acquired critical mass, the activities in the education wing too continued in parallel.
Spiritual Revival through Values Education
Here too, Malathi Maami’s contribution was immense. She narrated moral stories and taught slokas (devotional verses) to the children. Being very talented, she used to have her way easily with children with music, tales and songs. Soon, the initial 45-50 became 500, and Malathi Maami now taught not the children, but the teachers. She coached batches of Bal Vikas teachers, so that Bal Vikas classes could be opened in every locality in Hyderabad. Their aim was to give every child of the city an opportunity to benefit from this Values Education.
Patience, Persistence and Divine Intervention – Vidya Vihar is born
With time, the number of Bal Vikas children went through the roof and the Sai Organisation contemplated on building a Sai School. To build this ‘Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Vihar’, the elders decided to acquire the land from the Osmania University campus, which happened to be very near Shivam. Swami wanted that land to be bought, but the university authorities did not accede to that, constricted by their rules; the maximum they offered was a 99 years lease.
But Mr. E. J. Sathyamurthy did not lose hope; for three years he tried convincing the university officials to sell the land, but in vain. Dejected, He went to Puttaparthi. Once in His Presence, Swami said, “Those University officials are looking for you to send them the cheque and collect the documents.”
Sathyamurthy was surprised. The last time he met the Vice Chancellor, he was bluntly told that in future he will not be given an appointment if it concerned about purchase of that land. But Swami gave him an entirely opposite version. He immediately returned to Hyderabad, and hesitantly went to the Vice Chancellor's chamber.
“All these years you were running after us, but yesterday we were searching for you. Do you have the cheque?” the Vice Chancellor asked. “Yes, sir,” said the jubilant Sathyamurthy, and in the next two minutes, his three years of persistence finally bore fruit, thanks to His Grace. Till this day, Mr. Sathyamurthy has no idea what suddenly turned the tide in their favour.
Soon, Bhagavan Himself consented to lay the foundation stone for this sacred school of learning. It was March 8, 1981, and in His enlightening message on that day, Swami said:
TEAM: Together, Everyone Achieves More
During His every visit to Hyderabad, after the start and functioning of Vidya Vihar, Swami spent time with these children and prodded them onto the path of virtues. At the same time, He exhorted the members of various wings of the organization to work as a cohesive unit.
He likened each wing to one finger of one’s hand, and said, “Each finger must feel that strength lies in working with the rest, and that all are but parts of one hand which they cannot ignore.” In an emphatic discourse on May 20, 1984, He said:
NEW DIMENSIONS OF THE SERVICE WING
Qualitative Service Projects by Sai Youth
This only propelled the Sai Youth of the Organisation to take up projects which would make qualitative and sustainable improvement in the lives of the poor and downtrodden. Over the years, a host of service initiatives were undertaken. A year ago, the Youth completed the construction of 9 schools for the children of backward areas. Since many years, the Youth have been doing Blanket Distribution Seva, during the winter months, wherein they go around the city in the middle of night and silently cover the men, women and children, sleeping on the streets and shivering in cold, with thick blankets.
Big Brothers Bring Joy, Evoke Corporate Support
Another moving project, that has been going on for years, is the service being rendered in the two homes for under-privileged kids – the Victoria Memorial Home and Bolaram Boys Hostel. For these kids, the Youth have conducted Bala Vikas classes to medical camps to educational excursions. The children often hug and kiss their Sai brothers, overwhelmed with their love, as the youth look after their physical needs and fill their lives with gifts and happiness.
Taking notice of the magnitude and quality of selfless service being rendered by the youth, many corporate offices in the twin cities too have eagerly offered to help. One company, for instance, has donated six month worth of groceries to the hostel kitchen; yet others are sponsoring the higher education of bright students, and the third is paying for their medicines, and so on.
Creative Strategies Mark Sai Youth Projects
In the last decade, the youth have also come up with many innovative service projects like the Pharma Bank, through which they could solve the perennial problem of acquiring medicines for the many medical camps, without spending a penny. Similarly, for the unemployed youth of these cities, they found a solution in organizing a free computer skills training program for over 40 days, at the end of which most of them got absorbed in call centres and such other jobs. In previous issues of H2H, we have brought you detailed stories of these projects. In the October 2006 issue, we had the story of Chollamaari where the Sai Youth have brought about a silent revolution of rural rejuvenation.
Miraculous Transformation by Sai Youth
Apart from all these activities, which are only a representative sample, the Youth have also adopted Puttoniguda, a highly backward hamlet, as Shivam’s adopted village. Five years ago, this was a settlement which reeked with suffering and pain, being a bed of epidemic and chronic diseases. Additionally, there was violence and the people consumed more liquor than food. But with years of continuous hard work and Himalayan patience, this village has today, not only transformed itself into a Sai village where people abstain from bad habits, keep their surroundings clean and help each other, but also have stepped out and helped the nearby tribal units. This is truly an amazing story by itself and we will soon bring you a detailed account of this in a future issue.
Sai Legal-Aid Clinics - Another Feather in Shivam’s Crown
In 2000, the service activities added new dimension with the inauguration of “Sri Sathya Sai Free Legal Help Centre” being set up with Bhagavan’s Blessings. Through this initiative, all the advocates and persons with legal experience, working in Sai Organisations, assist the needy in sorting out their legal battles. Most often, they explore if the issue between the parties could be resolved outside of the court with proper counseling. Encouraged by the success of this venture in Shivam, such centres are now being set up in every district of Andhra Pradesh by the office bearers of the Sai Organisation.
SHIVAM’S GRAND AND GALA BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS
Shivam Delivers Sai Teachings in Action
With every wing of the Organisation bursting with activities, Shivam, over the years has become the epicenter of sacred inspiration. People, in hundreds and thousands, throng to its sacred precincts to find peace, goodness and spiritual serenity. Festivals in Shivam have become occasions for grand celebrations, the highlight of them being Bhagavan’s Birthday every year. Till Swami’s 69th birthday, the celebrations used to be a one-day affair; but after the splendid one week celebration on His 70th Birthday, this festival in Shivam scaled to unprecedented heights.
Divine Advent Marked with Love in Action
The mornings, during the Birthday week, start with special nagar sankeerthan, followed by puja done by ladies, and then Narayana Seva organized at different orphanages, old age homes, blind schools, leprosy colonies and such other destitute places. The evenings are reserved for cultural feasts wherein maestros in the field of music and dance from the length and breadth of the country fill the air of Shivam with Sai consciousness.
Over the years many esteemed artists have offered their services and they include Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Ms. Sudha Raghunathan, Sri Kadiri Gopalanathan, Mr. O S Arun, Sri Mandolin Srinivas, Sri Abhijeeth Pahonkar, Mr. Tarun Bhattacharya, Mr. Ronu Mujamdar, Ms. Kavitha Krishnamurthy and L. Subramanyam, Ms. Nithya Sri Mahadevan, to name a few.
Sai Acknowledges Sacredness of Shivam’s Celebrations
In fact, on one such occasion, Ms. P. Susheela, the famous Telugu playback singer, was requested to make a devotional performance during the celebrations. Being an ardent devotee, she asked Swami for permission as she did not want to miss the celebrations at Puttaparthi. Swami, then, gave her explicit permission and even went to the extent of instructing her to perform at Shivam. Bhagavan even added that His Birthday celebrations in Shivam are one of the best and she was indeed fortunate to perform there.
Many distinguished artists cancel their earlier commitments for an opportunity to offer their talent in Shivam. In fact, a famous Carnatic Vocalist, Ms. Aruna Sai Ram, was so touched by the celebrations in Shivam that she postponed all her concerts to participate fully in the programmes. To everybody’s surprise, the following day, she turned up early in the morning to be in time for the nagar sankeertan saying, “I do not want to miss any of this.”
Paths are Many, Goal is One
On the glorious day of Swami’s Birthday, the Divine euphoria in Shivam is extraordinary. Nearly 1,000 people gather before the dawn for the special nagar sankeerthan, and the procession is lead by richly decorated chariots, camels, elephants, horses and the Lord’s palanquin is adorned with all kinds of paraphernalia. The ‘Chariot ceremony’ is packed with a multitude of folk dances from all parts of India ; it also has Muslim moulvis reading out the melodious Quran in Shivam. In the morning, there are also gliders flying high above sprinkling sacred blossoms on Shivam.
There is one devoted lady, Mrs. Sheshamamba, who actually challenges the culinary world of sweets every year on Bhagavan’s Birthday, by preparing as many varieties of sweet as is Swami’s age that year. On 82nd Birthday, for example, she had 82 different kinds of sweet dishes surround Swami’s shrine. In the afternoon, devotees throng to partake a morsel of the sacred prasadam of the Narayana Seva carried out for thousands.
Evening is ‘Cake Time’ when 1,500 kilograms of cake are distributed with joy. The huge Cake is actually divided into 27 parts and tastefully spread across the pathway where Bhagavan usually walks when He resides in Shivam. There are cakes also cut for children who share the same birthday with Swami. The whole atmosphere is one of joy, camaraderie and Divine Oneness, with Love for Swami oozing out of everyone’s heart.
The grand finale takes place when all is completely dark. The sky is then lit up with an exciting fanfare of fireworks. The Birthday celebrations in Shivam, in one phrase can be summed up as ‘Blessed and Brilliant’. Through unity, joy and common love, the devotees experience Divinity.
THE SHIVAM MULTIPLIER EFFECT – SAI’S UNIQUE MISSION
Shivam – a Lighthouse of Spiritual Guidance
It is more than three and half decades since Shivam came into being, and the greatness this enigmatic edifice has achieved is that it has created a semblance of itself in the heart of every individual whoever considered it as their source, strength and sustenance. When Mr. K. Narasimha Rao, is offered bribes, given his influential position in the government, all he says in refusal, is a humble ‘Sairam’. And such has been the impact of his strong will that all his junior and sub-junior officers too have changed their ways.
They were simply overpowered by his moral charisma, the source of which is, of course, the ‘Shivam’, that is always reverberating in his heart. When Swami told Malathi Maami that He would bless her with a gyana putra, a son of wisdom, she instead prayed to bless her with spiritual wisdom as her son. The Lord was extremely touched.
That is what Shivam has done to the inner recesses of everyone who has basked in its sublimity. ‘Shivam is the foundation stone for our own spiritual upliftment,’ says Dr. Raghavachari. While his colleague, Dr. Phani Mohankrishna asserts, ‘Shivam is my life, it has shown me God and taken me to the highest realms of spiritual bliss.’
If the mission of the Sri Sathya Sai Avatar has been the seeding of the human consciousness, creating an awareness about its ultimate truth, revealing the secret behind the true purpose and goal of human life, Bhagavan has carefully chosen select centres to work as extensions of Prasanthi Nilayam, His abode in Puttaparthi, that has emerged as the undisputed spiritual capital of the universe. Shivam is one such very vital light house in Southern India that works in synchrony with the Sai will, nourishing the roots of the Sai Spiritual Tree that is bearing a bumper crop of fruits in the form of pure, unconditional, all-accepting Love in its universal sense.
This Love touches all who experience it through its loving energy or selfless service, expressing itself in their thoughts as Truth, in their feelings as Peace, in their actions as Right Conduct and in their choices as Non-violence. In the process, everyone involved evolves, as the benefits blow both ways.
Just as the ancients seats of learning played a vital role in reviving the true understanding of the glory of Sanathan Dharma, a way of life based on perennial values at another time in history, today, Shivam in Hyderabad stands as a sacred powerhouse that is fuelling a revival in the form of spiritual activism that translates the highest spiritual wisdom to meet the challenges of modern life, allowing all who are blessed to come into its fold a chance to live worthy lives.
To know more about Shivam and its activities, please visit www.shivam.org.in
- Bishu Prusty
Vol 6 Issue 05 - MAY 2008
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