For a moment, just fantasize. If you had unimaginable wealth and power at your disposal, how would you imagine your childhood?
Would you ever want to grow up surrounded by poverty, starvation and superstition… in a hamlet where kerosene lanterns are the only source of light after every dusk; where snakes and scorpions lurk in and around your decrepit dwelling, and mud walls make houses; where you have only one or two pairs of clothes for a whole year; where people die suddenly from mysterious diseases, and half of the village seems to be ‘possessed’ by evil spirits; where toiling night and day in the fields is the only viable occupation and most of the produce of the people is snatched away by greedy landowners and exploitative foreigners; where the rural population is religious but at the same time so outrageously orthodox that they will not allow the shadow of the lower castes to fall on them, and fights between religious communities are as common as seasons in the year; where one has to walk miles on thorn-ridden, and undulating muddy paths, and swim across a river to reach the closest town, and the best means of transport is the bullock cart; where the only way to procure drinking water is to physically draw pots of water from a couple of wells available for the entire settlement; and the menu for every meal, made of poor man’s millet, remains the same for months together; where an electric bulb is a wonder to be possessed only by the privileged?
Would any of the current 53 billionaires of India - whose combined wealth amounts to 31% of the country’s GDP or the top 1% of the Americans who own $17 trillion, which is greater than the total value of the national output of Japan, Germany, the U.K., and France - have chosen to be born in such a setting? Even if they were forced to do so, would they have spent their youth in such an isolated and obsolete habitation, and still, stayed on for their entire life?
That is exactly what Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who commands the love and respect of millions around the globe today, did. Though He has within His reach every kind of wealth and affluence, power and prosperity that anyone can dream of, eighty-three years ago He chose to be born, not in a palace, but in the poor and pathetic hamlet of Puttaparthi. If that wasn’t enough, He was determined to make that very impoverished valley the epicenter of His grand mission. And from then on, slowly but amazingly, He began to heal the hearts and minds of hundreds and thousands, starting with the inhabitants of that poor, but now holy, locality.
As a child, young Sathya (Baba’s childhood name), would rush to give away His share of food to any beggar standing at His door step. When on a rare occasion, His father procured clothes for all the children of the house, and asked Sathya to pick His choice, He declined the offer and said, 'Let every one be given the clothes they want; what remains is good enough for Me.' Again, when He went to the Fair and Cattle show held at Pushpagiri to lead His school’s scout group, He lead by example. Little Sathya got busy supplying drinking water to the weary, ensuring the safety of small children, giving a helping hand to the old and handicapped and providing first-aid to the injured. Sathya did not have money to even buy food for Himself there; in fact, unlike all the other boys who reached there by bus, Sathya walked the entire 12 miles! He had a meager sum in His pocket for the Fair which He had raised by selling His own books to a poor boy belonging to the lower caste at half the price. Although He suffered physically, He could not stand to see anyone else in pain, be it human beings or animals. Once He began to be adored as the ‘guru’ by all His classmates because of His profound wisdom and incredible powers, He stopped all the children from witnessing the annual bullock-cart race where the poor bovines were bullied by twisting their tails and flaying them mercilessly for the vicarious glory of their masters.
As days rolled by, His Glory only grew. Hundreds, afflicted with severe physical illnesses or mental worries, flocked to Him from neighbouring villages and cities. If for Mr. Tirumala Rao, a divine pat on the stomach was enough to cure months of painful ulcer attacks, His gift of Vibhuti to another not only removed years of head ache but also granted him a promotion at his office; and to a third Baba performed his abdominal operation Himself with only His bare hands! (Read H2H Special in this issue). In a few years, Puttaparthi transformed into “Prasanthi Nilayam” - the abode which removes suffering of all kinds and confers permanent peace. And now, the Lord’s masterplan of alleviating the pains of multitudes of humanity and then elevating them to higher levels of conscientious living, started unfolding with astounding precision and scale.
As early as 1954, Swami laid the foundation stone of the Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital on a hillock to the South of Prasanthi Nilayam. What started as a two-bed hospital with a single doctor and two nurses, is now a 100 bed hospital, with twelve specialties, and nearly 1,50,000 patients walking out of the outpatient department every year while 2500 babies are safely delivered annually. When it comes to helping the sick and the needy, Bhagavan does not know where the full stop is. Soon, a sister Hospital appeared in Whitefield, Bangalore and this was a more sophisticated one, what with dozens of doctors from the city of Bangalore willingly volunteering to offer their time and energy to be a part of His mission.
After setting up the two general hospitals, in 1990, Bhagavan stunned the world with the announcement of the first completely free Super Speciality Hospital in Puttaparthi. Even now, after 18 years of its successful operation, people, especially in the West, refuse to believe that such an institution can actually exist, that too in a developing country. Read the story Reaching Out to the Stars to get a glimpse of how this “Marvel of Healing’ has been creating beautiful lives, day after day. This feat was repeated, only on a larger scale in Whitefield, Bangalore, where another Super Speciality Hospital serves hundreds of thousands of patients each year, once again, without charging them a penny.
Just like these Hospitals, the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project which Swami launched in the drought-stricken districts of Anantapur, Medak and Mahaboobnagar, became a lifeline for millions in the state of Andhra Pradesh. While the magnitude and scope of the project baffled the bureaucrats in the United Nations, for the simple village folk of these Rayalseema areas, it was a divine deliverance from perennial suffering. Again, when a distraught mother in a neighbouring village committed suicide after poisoning her children because of lack of food, His heart bled; He immediately started the Sri Sathya Sai Grama Seva programme. Every year, hundreds of students of His University visit these villages, go to every home, and personally offer food, clothes and the assurance that Sai is there to look after their every need. Over the years, Bhagavan Himself has given so many guidelines on how to do such Grama Seva in its true spirit. Try our ‘Special Quiz on Grama Seva’ to know about this in more detail.
Even though for years now, dozens of mega service initiatives offering free health, education, water and food directly under Bhagavan’s guidance have been in place on a daily basis, the Lord, being the ocean of compassion, is extremely eager to reach out to anybody crying for help elsewhere too. When a massive earthquake hit the state of Gujarat in 2001, Bhagavan immediately sent truckloads of relief material and also a team of trusted senior devotees to supervise the distribution. It was the same when the devastating Tsunami rocked the coasts of Tamil Nadu in December 2004 [H2H published a special issue on this in March 2005].
And now, more recently, when severe flooding inundated over 2500 villages and marooned nearly 2.5 million lives in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, how could the Lord rest? During the Dasara celebrations in October 2008, at Swami’s command, Mr. V. Srinivasan, the All India President of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, announced that Bhagavan had immediately sanctioned rupees 10 crores to build permanent and solid homes for the marooned families of this historically impoverished state of India. Mr. Srinivasan very rightly added, “Where there is suffering, there is Sai to rescue!”
Since the declaration four months ago, what has unfolded in this ‘least developed’ but now ‘most fortunate’ state of Orissa is a story that will move anybody who has a caring heart. Fortunately, the H2H Team had an opportunity to visit this state in the first week of February and what you find in our cover story “Abodes of Happiness…The Abounding Grace of Sai to Orissa” is an eye-witness account. Another flood has now swept these regions, but this one is different and divine; it has converted these hundreds of isolated and ostracized societies into ‘oasises of love’. What Pure Love can do is absolutely incredible! Don’t miss this comprehensive account of the immeasurable compassion of Sai, which is in two parts.