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January 11, 2009, Annual Sports and Cultural Meet

Vidyagiri stadium stood glorious, bedecked in all finery in anticipation of the Lord’s arrival on the fine morning of the 11th of January, 2009 for the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet of the Sri Sathya Sai Educational Institutions. The stadium had been filling from as early as 5:45 a.m. with devotees, especially the parents and relatives of the students involved in the various events. It was a few minutes before 8:30 a.m. when Swami arrived in His wonderful white robe, seated in the front of the Porte car. He entered the stadium from the Primary school entrance. There was a welcome applause as the Anantapur Brass Band struck up a lively tune.

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The flag bearing students await the Divine Chancellor
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Swami enters the stadium in the Porte car, regaled by the Anantapur brass band
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Bhagawan was escorted by representative students from all the campuses of the University on powerful, 160cc motorbikes. The road had been lined with decorative lamps on either sides and the lamp posts were embellished with bouquets. As the entourage reached the approximate midway point, the Anantapur band moved to either sides making a way through them for Swami and handing over the baton for leading Him to the Brass band of the Prashanthi Nilayam campus. A contingent of colourful flag bearers marched to the slow beat provided by the band and almost all the people on the stands were standing to catch a glimpse of their sweet, beloved Lord. Moving through the canopy of flags near the Shanti Vedika, Swami entered the D area of the Vedika where He was welcomed by the Vice-Chancellor, Principals and Wardens of the various campuses with roses. He ascended the stage through the gentle lift and as soon as He came on stage, He lit the lamp to mark an auspicious beginning for the Annual Sports & Cultural Meet. Once He settled at the centre of the stage, everyone awaited for the lovely day to unfold.

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The students escorting Bhagavan on 160cc motorbikes
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Swami arrives at the Shanti Vedika and is welcomed by the institute vice-chancellor
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As always, the opening ceremony is the parade in which Swami takes much pride. The band began the march beat and the different squads from all the campuses came marching by the stage, saluting the Chancellor as they moved in harmony and synergy. And so it was that the colourful companies from the Primary school, the dainty divisions of the Anantapur campus, the regal regiments from the Higher Secondary School and the brisk battalions of the Institute. 

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The Primary School students march past their Lord
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The Anantapur campus squad is next to salute Bhagavan
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The Higher Secondary School regiment delighting in discipline
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The Brindavan campus boys march by in strict regimen
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The Prashanti Nilayam University students elegantly bring up the rear of a perfect procession march past
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Each group put up a delightful display for the Divine to behold. It was indeed an awe-inspiring sight to see all the squads arranged in the ground and taking a pledge of love and loyalty to Sports, the Motherland and above all to dear Swami. The flame was then brought on stage and Swami used it to light the torch which was carried by athletes on its journey towards its resting place. The final leg of the journey was done by the majestic lion figure that Swami had chosen as the torch vehicle a few days back. All eyes were on the figure of the king of the jungle as he ascended the hill slowly with the beautiful song, "Tera Hi Pyaar" in the background. And then there was an applause as the flame was lit. On stage, doves and balloons were released and finally the Brass bands came marching to a brisk tempo to conclude the opening ceremony.

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Bhagavan lights the torch to symbolise the opening of the Sports Meet
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Next the torch is carried up by cable-winch to light the large flame atop the hill
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It was the turn of the Prashanti Nilayam campus to put up their show first. Beginning with the display of the magnificent golden eagle, that was the campus mascot of sorts, the students brought it right up to the stage and sought Swami's blessings. The sight of the golden eagle against the backdrop of a lovely blue sky spotted with puffy white clouds was indeed a heavenly experience. And then began the actual sports starting with the yoga asanas on the floor and a tower in honour of the brilliant Sun god.

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The splendorous golden eagle - the mascot of Prashanti Nilayam campus
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The Prashanti Nilayam students demonstrating the difficult Sirsasana asana
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That was quickly followed by gymnasts and acrobats using trampolines and beds as props. After a few warm up jumps, they quickly progressed to leaps and somersaults over two cars at first and finally over two cars and a bike in a row! As that was being appreciated, battery powered TVS teen scootys, several dozens of them, populated the field. Making colourful formations and moving so aptly with the music that had been composed for the event, they filled splashes and dashes (dots actually; just that "dashes" rhymes with "splashes") of the primary colours. They ended their event with all 60 of them waving yellow and green flags after a "human countdown clock" flagged them away!

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Gymnastics proved the boys were in tip top physical shape
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60 scootys showed the driving skills of the students as they made elaborate synchronised formations
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What followed next was stunts on what is commercially known as the rings of death. These are structures which end with rings on either ends of an arm and students walk and jump in the rings as the entire structure rotates along a centre pivot. This item drew a lot of applause which built into a crescendo as the rigs swirled on faster and faster. The next item was a very unique and interesting orchestra constituted of bamboo rods, canes, kettles, drums, saucers, pans, pots, vessels and plates along with spoons and ladles.  It was lively and induced feet tapping among all present nearby. Those on the stage were specially delighted at this creative and rhythmic item.

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Students then entered the 'ring of death' in a fearless routine
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An original item was a (literally) home-made percussion group - the rhythm was truly infectious!
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The "Ascenders" then descended onto the main foreground. They were acrobats on ladders and the entire item was about how to reach the top when there seems to be no wall to prop your ladder against. It was all about independence of the spirit and it climaxed with a higher secondary school student ascending 12 feet of sheer ladder! As a final formation, huge ladders and humans formed a lovely swing structure on which a costumed Lord Krishna swung merrily. From the sides then rolled in the Prashanti wheels, the local variant of the famous "German wheels." The students exhibited great skill, technique and strength as they moved in and along the metal wheels. All kind of feats were performed the most wonderful ones being those in which the students formed the spokes of these wheels in various poses. It concluded with three students making a concentric circle within the wheel as they rolled past the divine Chancellor.

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Lord Krishna swings supported by His 'devotees'
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The Prashanti wheels were put through their paces by the students in marvels of skill and strength
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A drill with 3 metre long logs of wood followed after which the 160 cc bikes thundered into the ground. These bikers displayed some spectacular ramp jumps, the best one being the synchronised jump involving 8 bikes. Mr.Venu Srinivasan of TVS motors was thanked for providing bikes and Scootys for the event. Swami lovingly called him and blessed him. An overwhelmed Srinivasan almost had tears rolling down his eyes as Swami posed for a photograph with him. The final formation with campus song came into place and the students of Prashanti Nilayam offered their pranaams to Swami.

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The Prashanti Nilayam boys singing in chorus to Bhagavan
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Fast synchronised bike jumps had the audience on the edge of their seats
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It was the turn of the Anantapur campus next. Their whole presentation was themed along the lines of the creation and the five elements. They carried an impressive Shiva Linga at the start and that formed their backdrop throughout. The first was a classic Shiva Tandavam dance. Lord Shiva and Parvati, considered as the parents of the world were in centre and the ganas or demigods were grouped in front of them. The dance was very well choreographed and executed with finesse. After that, there was a depiction of the elements: space, air, water, fire and earth. It ended with a powerful message to save earth and save life. The campus presentation was rounded off with some yogic postures and other difficult exercises on auto rickshaws. Then all the girls gathered in front of their dear Lord and sang their hearts out in gratitude.

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spacerAnantapur campus beautifully depicts the classic Shiva Tandavam dance
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A depiction of the elements with a powerful message to look after Mother Earth
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Anantapur campus puts on a display of yogic postures on auto rickshaws
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Brindavan campus was the last to put up its show. And they began energetically with a grand opening. Out strode dragons and lions majestically heralding warriors of the Samurai and the Kalari clans. The beginning was the dragons, on the eternal quest for the pearl of wisdom. There were three dragons which were handled skillfully and energetically by the students. Overwhelming that surge were the lions. Two students constituted each lion, working in perfect synchronisation and harmony. The high point of the item was when two of the lions climbed on specially placed bar steps and performed some jaw dropping feats. This was topped with displays of skill and strength by the martial artists as they broke pots.

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The lions atop high steps performing dexterous feats
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Martial arts displays the boys' strength and bravery
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Another interesting demonstration was a fight that showed how a '90 year old' could fend off 3-4 youths with proper techniques. The clangs and crashes of the sword and shields and the cracks of sticks as the battles were followed by the claps of the audience. Amidst all this group activity was what we prefer to call the "human rubber band". A student performed amazingly elastic feats, the best being his unsupported bend backward to pick up a handkerchief with his mouth. The final formation brought the Brindavan campus to a close and Swami left the stadium blessing all.

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The '90 year old' brings his 'assailant' to the ground!
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Show-piece battle scenes excited all the audience
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It should be put on record that students from their respective campuses went up to Swami, both, before and after their respective presentations to offer pranaams and gratitude.

The afternoon session was all about the primary school. Swami arrived after 4:20 p.m. and sat on the stage. He was welcomed to the stage by a special escort party of cart wheeling children! As the tiny tots came to offer bouquets to Him, Swami said that they too should come up by the lift He used as the steps were quite steep!That was so touching and the whole stadium applauded as the children went up the stage and offered Him the card and flowers. Then their programme began.

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The cart-wheeling primary school children open the afternoon session
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Having ascended the lift the little ones now offer sweet gifts to Bhagavan
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The boys present bouquets to Bhagavan
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As always, the Primary school programme was a melting pot of music, athleticism, grace and grandeur. The dances done by the small children were all simple and elegant but involved wonderful patterns and designs. A view from above, as God would see it, made the patterns visible and they were enthralling to say the least. There was a dance and song about stars and the children made a wonderful star formation. These were visible very well from high places like say the Hanuman statue. Many more dances followed, including a colourful ribbon dance and another in which rings were used.

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A still of the perfect formational dance by the tiny-tot young girls
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Dressed as pretty flowers the boys offered a fine performance to Swami
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The boys put up some clever gymnastics and interesting stunts on roller skates. The highlight of the roller skates event was the ramp jump that the boys did over a bike. Like the waters of a perennial  river, the students from the Primary school seemed to just flow into the ground from all directions at all times. Swami was so happy and excited like a child. He seemed to enjoy the Primary school the best. It was as if the morning programme was like the official one and the evening was for Swami to sit back and relax!

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The joy and satisfaction on Swami's face is beautiful to behold
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The gymnastics display contained some clever gyrations
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Everyone lends a hand to keep the sequence 'up and moving'
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The undoubted high point of the day was when the children came forward for the finale. Oh God! What a wonderful colour fest it was. It was as if several rainbows had descended at the same time at a spot. Balloons flying high and colour bombs spewing various coloured powders into the air created the atmosphere of great festivity and joy. All the children came forward and swung rhythmically to the song that was on. But children that they were, they swung in different directions and their chaotic, yet beautiful pattern thrilled everyone. Swami granted blessings galore as He raised His hands again and again to bless the children. He spoke to some of the guests on stage as He moved towards the lift. Granting a final blessing and benediction with both raised hands, Swami moved into the car and retired for the day.

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Swami gestures for the balloons to be released by the primary school children
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Children bedecked in colouful costumes; balloons let into the sky; 'colour bombs' and a joyful song provided the grand finale of the day!
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