EntHralling Reminiscences of the Days of Yore
From the mental diary of Mrs. Karunamba Ramamurthy - Part 2
Extremely fortunate to come to His lotus feet when she was just a tiny girl in the 1940s, Mrs. Karunamba Ramamurthy, lovingly addressed as Kannamma, has a priceless treasure trove of incredible memories of the yesteryears. She is also the author of the famous book "Sri Sathya Sai Anandadayi - Journey with Sai". This is the second part of her wonderful reminiscences.
Celebrating Bhagavan’s Birthday
In those days (in the 1940s), Bhagavan’s birthday did not call for any major celebration. Instead we enjoyed more experiences with the Lord which we now cherish for all eternity. Elderly devotees used to apply the customary coconut oil on His head and we would garland Him with bright flowers while singing bhajans.
Mrs. Karunamba Ramamurthy
During one birthday, Swami refused everyone who came to garland Him. The ever playful Swami was enacting a divine drama. But He appeared serious all the same! The 20 or so devotees who had assembled returned with the garland still in their hands, rather downcast and perplexed. This was to have been the highlight of their year! Then they discussed how to attract the mysterious Lord to their side, and collectively requested Swami to partake meals with them.
Swami asked them to sit inside the Mandir and then surprised the group by serving water and food to everyone with His own hands! Needless to say, they were all moved and overjoyed after their initial disappointment.
Maybe Bhagavan was teaching them the lesson that God’s creation is full of ups and downs – but be assured that when it seems as if things have gone awry, He will always wipe away our tears in an unexpected way!
There lived an old man named Kadirappa in the village who used to wash up all the utensils after devotees had partaken their meals. Generally, he ate the leftovers from these cooking vessels, and often, this comprised of just plain steamed rice, without any salt, or garnish, and was rather lacking in nutrition. Once, when this old man was eating silently sitting beside the well, Swami went into the kitchen and brought out all that my mother had personally cooked for Him.
This included boiled vegetables, curries, and chutney. Swami lovingly told the old man to eat all the other items and not just plain rice. It was such a sweet sight to behold. The Lord offering His own food to the man who washed the dishes! After giving him the food, Swami went up to my mother and asked her if she was upset. She replied, “Oh, Swami! You are God. How can I question what You do?”
This unique spirit of sacrifice seems unparalleled except in Swami’s own life as we remember incidents from His childhood recorded in His biography, Sathyam Shivam Sundaram, Part 1. Prof. Kasturi writes:
At the tender age of three and four, He showed that He had a heart that melted at human suffering. Whenever a beggar appeared at the door and raised his cry, Sathya left His play and rushed inside to force His sisters to hand out grain or food. The adults were naturally irritated by the endless procession of outstretched hands.
On one occasion, in order to put an end to what the elders thought was expensive and misplaced charity, the mother caught hold of Sathya, and with a finger raised in warning said, "Look here! You may give him food, but mind you, you will have to starve."
That did not daunt the child. He would run inside and bring out food to the hungry man at the door and later stay away from lunch or dinner himself. Nothing and no one could persuade Him to come for His food which was left untouched!
When Sathya began running about in the streets, He sought out the maimed, the blind, the decrepit, and the diseased, and led them by the hand to the doorstep of His parents. The sisters had to secure from the store or the kitchen some grain or food, and put it into the beggar's bowl while the Little Master looked on happily. – H2H Team
Pacifying the Turbulent Chitravathi
The Chitravati River, in the forties, was very different from what it is today, and its flood waters used to come up to the base of the old Mandir, often flooding the basement. One day, during such a flood, Swami asked my mother to offer turmeric and kumkum (vermillion) to the river. She brought these items on a bamboo mat, and Swami placed this on the water and gently shoved it away.
After this, with His feet, He slowly pushed at the lapping water as if He were sending her away. Lo! The waters receded peacefully at once! My mother stood there for some time enjoying this spectacle of the waters obeying Swami’s command, and felt rather in awe of the power evident in the small body of the Lord.
One day, during such a flood... Swami placed this on the water and gently shoved it away. After this, with His feet, He slowly pushed at the lapping water as if He were sending her away. Lo! The waters receded peacefully at once! My mother stood there for some time enjoying this spectacle of the waters obeying Swami’s command, and felt rather in awe of the power evident in the
small body of the Lord.
Asking Swami for Riches, Materialistic and Spiritual
Formal divine discourses on festivals and events like we have now, were not the practice 50-60 years ago. It was always casual conversations, but they were actually ridden with deep meanings. Whenever devotees gathered, He used to join them and sit in their midst. Most people used to ask Him about solutions to their personal problems such as about money for their businesses and so on.
Once, after the River Chitravathi’s floods had abated, we were seated around Swami. Almost everybody was busy asking Swami about their respective professions and their future. The topics raised were almost exclusively of a materialistic nature.
After a while Swami seemed as if He wished to finish the conversation and told all of them, “See, now I will go to the river and will build a big sand heap. On that mound I will place a stick. After it is complete, I’ll whistle. When you hear my signal, close your eyes and pray for whatever you want. When your wishes are completed, go to the heap and dig in it. You will get whatever you want.”
So saying, Swami went to the river accompanied by the group who were all agog at having their choicest desires soon fulfilled. After completing the heap and placing the stick on top Swami left at about 6.00 p.m. and returned to the Mandir.
An hour passed by, but there was no sign of the devotees returning. Swami then asked Krishnappa, His body’s cousin brother, as to what happened to the group. “They have not turned up yet. Did a tiger attack them? Go see what has happened.” So saying, He sent Krishnappa to the river bank.
When he reached the river, he saw a strange and comical sight - everybody was still furiously searching in the darkness. At odd intervals they thought they had found something and would start shouting “We got it! We have it!” When they lifted the object(s), to their dismay, they found only dried donkey dung, pebbles, and sand!
After some more time they realized the game was up, and dismally returned to the Mandir. On hearing what they all got, Swami laughed at their folly and told them, “Have you learned your lesson now? Don’t be so greedy in the future! Whenever you are with Swami, don’t ask for such cheap things.”
Generally, Swami was the perfection of patience in dealing with our poor understanding. And often He came down to our level to play and establish kinship with us. But now and again, He felt He must teach us the hard way, lest we never move on from our petty desires. Of course, He would do so in a playful way that would give us all a belly laugh whenever we recalled those pranks.
Despite the fun and laughter, there is always a profound meaning in all the Avatar says or does. This was clearly demonstrated by the assurance that He gave even in His previous incarnation at Shirdi when He advised His devotees thus: “There will never be any dearth or scarcity, regarding food and clothes, in any devotees’ homes. It is my special characteristic, that I always look to and provide for the welfare of those devotees, who worship Me whole-heartedly with their minds ever fixed on Me."
Lord Krishana has also said the same in the Gita:
"Therefore, strive not much for food and clothes. If you want anything, beg of the Lord, leave worldly honours, try to get Lord’s grace and blessings, and be honoured in His Court. Do not be deluded by worldly honour…”
The Coconut of Great Wealth
I remember another one of these leelas which concerned a lady from South India who asked Bhagavan to grant her material riches. This time Swami gave her a coconut and told her to listen to His advice carefully. “Hear properly what I have to say. I have given you a coconut. Take it home and worship it every day. You will be given all the riches you want.”
Needless to say, she was overjoyed. She received it and started her journey back home. On the way she sat at Penukonda railway station awaiting her train. She took the coconut and moved it with her hands. While doing so she heard a sound inside that seemed to emanate from the coconut. A doubt crept into her mind. Was Swami’s gift genuine? Could a coconut really offer riches?
So thinking, she decided to break it open and look inside. As the coconut cracked open, a golden idol of Lakshmi sprang out and instantly disappeared! Grief stricken, she came back to Swami and told Him about her mistake of breaking the coconut; she requested Him to give her one more. Then, Swami told her, “You do not have faith in My words. Hence, return just as you came here.”
Many such people came to Swami seeking such material wealth; very few were interested in spiritual riches.
“Oh, My dear friend, do not be anxious, I shall immediately show you the Brahman; all my dealings are in cash and never on credit. So many people come to Me and ask for wealth, health, power, honour, position, cure of diseases and other temporal matters. Rare is the person who comes here to Me and asks for Brahma-Gyana (Knowledge of the Self). I think it is an auspicious moment when a person like you comes and presses Me for Brahma-Gyana….” ~ Shirdi Sai Baba
Even during the Shirdi incarnation, there is an instance of a rich gentleman who had every worldly success in life and appeared to lack nothing, and therefore came to Baba seeking the ultimate wisdom.
The Sai Satcharita says that despite a very comfortable and prosperous life, the wealthy man came to Shirdi, went to the Masjid, saw Sai Baba, fell at His feet and said, “Baba, hearing that You show without any delay the Brahman (Almighty God) to all who come over here, I too have come all the way from my distant place." I am much fatigued by my journey and if I get the [knowledge of] Brahman from You, my troubles will be well-paid and rewarded.”
It is said that Baba replied to the rich gentleman seeking spiritual knowledge thus: “Oh, My dear friend, do not be anxious, I shall immediately show you the Brahman; all my dealings are in cash and never on credit. So many people come to Me and ask for wealth, health, power, honour, position, cure of diseases and other temporal matters. Rare is the person who comes here to Me and asks for Brahma-Gyana (Knowledge of the Self). I think it is an auspicious moment when a person like you comes and presses Me for Brahma-Gyana.…”
(However, the ensuing details of how Baba gave the seeker an experiential lesson in the supreme spiritual wisdom is very interestingly described in chapters 16 & 17 of the Shirdi Sai Satcharita and they go to show how genuine seeker’s of God’s grace are very rare, as most devotees tend to be only interested in gaining worldly favours from the God incarnate. – H2H Team)
Travelling to a Divine Home that is Puttaparthi
We used to live in Mysore in those days. Traveling to Puttaparthi was a long and arduous journey. We had to first come to Bangalore by train, and there switch trains to reach Penukonda. Then we had to continue the journey by bus till we found ourselves in the small town of Bukkapatnam. The frequency of this bus was very low, effectively only one per day. Needless to say, it was overloaded with passengers, often seated one on top of the other!
The roads weren’t actually roads, but only mud tracks riddled with potholes. Once we reached Bukkapatnam, we had to take to the bullock carts. And this was a journey of another two hours! Once we came across the sandy banks of River Chitravathi, we often had to cross by foot as the cart would get bogged down by our weight.
After arriving at the eastern bank of the river, we had to trudge along a furlong or two to the old Mandir. But the homecoming was sweet. At the gates there would be Bhagavan Himself awaiting our arrival with a smile on His face! “Come, all of you, come. Have you also brought children with you?” Swami would usually ask.
Sometimes, the trip would be so exhausting that we would fall ill. Once, when we visited Puttaparthi during the summer, we had to cross the hot sandy stretch that was Chitravathi by foot. After the ordeal, my mother and my son developed boils on their feet. However, we could not expect proper medication in the hamlet, and they bore it all.
One day, during bhajans Swami came out, looked at us and started laughing. He told us that had they (my mother and son) washed their feet in cold water after the crossing, they would have been cured of the problem. He then advised us to apply a mixture of castor oil and cold water over my son’s body. This we did and when it was time to return, we found at Penukonda station that there was not a single boil on him!
Singing with the Lord
The ladies would draw rangolis (floral decorations) in the shape of ‘OM’ at the old Mandir. Swami used to sit on this, and we sat around Him; the men on one side and the women on the other. We sang old village folk songs. Swami’s sister, Mrs. Venkamma, used to lead the songs and the other ladies sang the chorus. Often there was no time limit to the bhajan sessions; they went on for even two hours.
Swami often created a small silver receptacle from the sands. He warned us that He would be giving us amrit (nectar), one drop each, and that we must be careful not to waste it because there would be no second chance. When administering the amrit into our mouths, He playfully commented about the way our mouths looked.
He used to say that for some it looked like that of a goat’s, for another it looked like that of an elephant, and so on. At that moment we did not laugh at His jokes because we did not want to spill the nectar! We concentrated only on consuming the amrit. I must also emphasize that the small receptacle never became empty despite the number of devotees present!
On another occasion, my sister, mother and I, came to Puttaparthi. My mother asked Swami to give us a photo of Him. Instead Swami created an idol of Him which had the figure of Shirdi Sai Baba on the other side. My mother told Him that this was not what she had asked for. Swami, however, told her that whenever she became ill, she should bathe the idol, i.e. perform abhishekam and consume the holy water thus blessed. That would cure her.
On another occasion, when my mother and I went to see Swami, He gave her a photo. The image was wet. When mother asked Him the reason of it being in that condition, He said that the photo had just come from the studio lab after being processed, and hence the wetness!
(To be continued)