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From the Joy of Symphony to the Bliss of Sai
By Mr. T. V. Hariharan


Mr. T.V. Hariharan joined the Sri Sathya Sai College in Prasanthi Nilayam in the year 1979, two years before the Sri Sathya Sai University (SSSU) was unfurled. After his graduation from the Sai college, he served in the Administrative Block of the newly inaugurated SSSU for two years, until 1984. He later moved to Bangalore for further studies and subsequently worked in a pharmaceutical company for 3 years.

In 1989, he resigned from his job and ever since, he has been engaged in spreading the message of Bhagavan through bhajans, music and talks at various Sai centres and other holy gatherings all over the world. Here are a few extracts of his journey with the supreme teacher Sai.

There were innumerable opportunities to learn from Bhagavan while being a student of the Sri Sathya Sai College. It is, in fact, difficult to choose which one to share. In 1979, when Swami inaugurated the Sri Sathya Sai College in Prasanthi Nilayam, I was extremely fortunate to secure an admission there. And one of the foremost lessons that I received, the first Guru Mantra I should say, unfolded like this:

Growing out of the Cocoon of the Brahmin World

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Swami and Me Sohni
 
Mr. T. V. Hariharan with his beloved Sai

I hail from a rural setup in Tamil Nadu. My village was my world; the 75 houses there were virtually my whole universe. Additionally, it was a community of orthodox Brahmins (the upper caste in the Hindu society). Therefore, I grew up in an environment which was suffused with religious fervour, but coloured by many conventional and strict traditions. Little did I know then, as I did after coming to Swami, the true and deeper meaning of all the exercises that we ‘religiously practiced’ in our small society.

To practice a ritual ‘religiously’ is very different from understanding its underlying spiritual significance. In fact, I had no idea about this enlightened aspect of our traditions; I simply adhered to them rather mechanically, impressed by the interesting stories narrated by my grandmother. And that is the time when this Poornavatar (Baba) picked me up!

As a part of our Brahminical way of life, we have a custom of changing the Yagnopavitam (the sacred-thread worn by Brahmins across their shoulder) every year on Sravana Pournima Day (also called the Raksha Bandhan Day in India which usually falls in the month of August).

Yagnopavitam by the Yagna Purusha

Those days, Swami used to Himself give the new threads to the students who observed this tradition in their family. So, in the first year (1979), when Swami was distributing these threads on one morning, I was unfortunately not present in the Mandir at that time. But when somebody gave me the news, I rushed over. But by the time I reached, the distribution was almost over. After giving everybody, Swami finally asked, “Is there anyone else left?” Somebody now began to mention that there was one boy who had missed this, and just then I landed in front of Swami. He looked at me keenly and asked, “Where did you go?” And then as He was about to bless me with a thread, He asked, “Are you a Brahmin?”

“Yes, I am a Brahmin” I replied with pride and confidence as I hailed from a Brahmin community.

Realise the World is Brahman

But immediately, Swami remarked, Emi Brahmin, donga Brahmin” (What kind of a Brahmin you are? You are a phony Brahmin).

As a raw youngster, I was absolutely a newcomer to Swami and spirituality then. I was puzzled when Swami did not accept my reply. So, I asserted again, “Swami, I belong to the Athreya Gotram,” that is, I belong to the lineage of one of the foremost sages of India. Unimpressed, Swami said: “That’s OK, but are you a Brahmin?” I again replied in the affirmative, “Yes, Swami!”

But what Swami taught me that day was if you can see the unity in creation, that is the same Brahman that resides in every being, only then you qualify to be called a Brahmin.... Similarly, to be a Brahmin, one must undergo the tapas (penance) and sadhana (spiritual practice) to see and realize the Divinity latent in all beings. This was the first and most profound lesson I received from Swami.

 

Now, Swami said, “How can you be a Brahmin? By birth everyone is low-born? Only by action alone one can be a Brahmin”. Then, He further added, “If your father is an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer, would it mean that you are also an IAS officer?”

Incidentally, my father was an IAS officer but it did not strike me then. (Even though my father served in a city, I was brought up completely by my grandmother in the village.) My mind went blank, when Swami made this statement. I was desperately trying to fathom His words.

Now, Swami continued, “If you have to be an IAS officer, you have to qualify yourself to be so. Similarly, just because you are born in the lineage of Athreya, does not mean that you are a Brahmin. A person who knows Brahman alone can be called a Brahmin”.

Until then, for me, a ‘Brahmin’ was a person who was born in that particular community. But what Swami taught me that day was if you can see the unity in creation, that is the same Brahman that resides in every being, only then you qualify to be called a Brahmin. Just as to be an IAS officer, one needs to study, get through the competitive examinations, undergo the training, and so on. Similarly, to be a Brahmin, one must undergo the tapas (penance) and sadhana (spiritual practice) to see and realize the Divinity latent in all beings. This was the first and most profound lesson I received from Swami.

The Master Sculptor

We often carry a false opinion about ourselves. In one of His discourses, Swami said you can make use of a granite stone in any manner you like. You may use it to sit or stand on it, or use it as a table. But when it falls in the hands of a sculptor, who chisels it and gives it the form of Lord Ganesha or Mother Laxmi, you start worshipping it.

So too, Swami says that we can become Gods by chiseling out all the unwanted elements, which are the vasanas (desires), from our personality. And this sizing is done by the Lord constantly.

 

...Swami said you can make use of a granite stone in any manner you like. You may use it to sit or stand on it, or use it as a table. But when it falls in the hands of a sculptor, who chisels it and gives it the form of Lord Ganesha or Mother Laxmi, you start worshipping it. So too, Swami says that we can become Gods by chiseling out all the unwanted elements, which are the vasanas (desires), from our personality.

Swami always wants us to give up our ego, but it does raise its hood many a time, even without our knowledge. By the time I joined Swami’s college, I had gained a lot of expertise in playing the violin; in fact, I considered this as an achievement of my life. At that time, the Students’ Bhajan group had not yet formed. And I thought I could offer my services during the Bhajan sessions in the mandir. I was unhappy about my talent not being put to any use.

Violin Concert before the Lord

It was at this time that one day, in the Mandir verandah, Swami asked if any students had any talents. To this, one of the lecturers got up and pointing towards me, mentioned to Swami, that I was a Carnatic violinist. Swami then said He would be visiting the Hostel the ensuing Sunday, and I could perform in His presence. Then, I bent down and knelt before Him to take His blessings.

In the next few days, I prepared myself to play in the Divine Presence. The appointed day arrived and Swami did come to the Hostel. I sat down at His Lotus Feet and when I was given the go-ahead, I started my violin recital. I could see He was enjoying the music. So, I started playing to the best of my best ability, in all ‘speeds’ and our God was happily listening to my rendition.. Actually, Swami thrilled me with a beautiful surprise when He Himself started softly singing the intricate and fast swaras that I was playing!

(How I wish we had an audio or video record of this! At that time, there was only one student in the hostel who had an old-fashioned tape recorder, and that was a luxury!)

I was actually baffled seeing the Divine Musician in action. Many a times, we have no clue of the grandeur of the Lord whom we see everyday. That was a big lesson for me. Stupefied, I just stopped playing. Swami then said, “Well played. You have performed very well on the violin”. After this divine encouragement, I resumed my concert and continued to play for one more hour.

Swami Elucidates what Real Music Is

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Swami and Me Sohni

At the end, Swami praised me for my musical finesse. But before He left, He made a remark that stumped me thoroughly. He said, “All these swaras and ragas that you played are just to demonstrate your knowledge in music. But Saint Tyagaraja conversed with Lord Rama through his music; he never ‘played’ with the ragas by expanding or altering them. He did everything out of Love for Lord Rama and poured out his devotion through music. That is real music!”

The lesson there was too profound to be ignored. I knew I was not on the right path. Swami often says that if you sing Meera bhajans, you should become a Meerabai yourself; if you recite Kabir’s couplets, you should transform yourself into a Kabir; and if you render a Tyagaraja keertana, you should be filled with the devotion that Tyagaraja had for Lord Rama.

This insightful message of Bhagavan is what has changed my life greatly. In the later part of my life when I began to compose bhajans, this is the advice from Swami which did wonders. The tune and the lyrics would just spring from within me spontaneously.

One-Pointed Devotion

In fact, on that day I realized that my music was not leading me to Divinity; instead it was only expressing its own glory which resulted in the growth of my ego. I felt the instrument had become an impediment in my spiritual growth. Therefore, on that same day, immediately after my concert in the Hostel, I broke the violin! The music, which was to lead me to God, was actually taking me away from Him.

In fact, on that day I realized that my music was not leading me to Divinity; instead it was only expressing its own glory which resulted in the growth of my ego. I felt the instrument had become an impediment in my spiritual growth. Therefore, on that same day, immediately after my concert in the Hostel, I broke the violin! The music, which was to lead me to God, was actually taking me away from Him.

Swami and Me Sohni
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One may wonder how I could break the violin when music was my life-breath before I joined the College. In fact, the reason was precisely that. I was very attached to the violin; many a times I could not resist the urge to play the instrument. And this, I thought was surely a hurdle in my sadhana to reach God.

However, the violin story does not end there. I was greatly honoured when many years later Swami Himself gave me a violin and asked me to accompany the legendary Carnatic vocalist, Mrs. M. S. Subbalakshmi, during her performance in His presence on the occasion of Jhoola ceremony during His Birthday celebrations in 1982.

So, I have played the violin only once, on that specific occasion, as I received the Saraswati (Goddess of Music) from Him with all humility. But after this event, till now, I haven’t played again.

Though I have lived a life devoted to glorifying Him through my melody, Swami has taken care of every detail of my life, whether I am physically near Him or in a distant city or country. I see His glory everywhere; it humbles me and fills me with bliss. I always pray that I should always be in this state of bliss and merge in Him ultimately.

 


Dear Reader, did this article inspire you in any way? Would you like more such stories from devotees who have been touched by His Love? Please write to us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.


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Vol 7 Issue 02 - FEBRUARY 2009
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