March 7, 8, 15, 16 and 21 - Gratitude Programmes by the Students of His University
The onset of summer at Puttaparthi is very special for the students of Swami’s schools and colleges. The "ides of March" was the term that Shakespeare used to describe this onset. Though that term brings to mind the assassination of Julius Caesar, it originally referred to the day of the full moon, the 15th of March, and the Romans considered this an auspicious day in their calendar. Swami's students too agree whole-heartedly with the Romans as they readied themselves to present their gratitude programmes. The "gratitude programme", a term that attempts to describe the indescribable, occupied a major portion of the many presentations made before Swami in the month of March. Year after year, the Sri Sathya Sai University sends a fresh batch of students into the society, moulded by the Divine Chancellor. Being present in Prasanthi Nilayam, when it is 'march'ing time for many a young cadet of this divine brigade, gives one an idea of how much goodness is being slowly injected into our world. For the cadet, it is a time of mixed emotions. There is joy at the opportunity to offer gratitude to the Divine Master and Parent, but, deep down, there is sorrow at the thought of leaving Him; physically only, of course! And so, there were five occasions when everyone seated in Sai Kulwant Hall was blessed to witness samples of this divine love between Him and His students.
March 7 saw the outgoing batch of undergraduate students of the Prasanthi Nilayam campus gather in the hall to offer their gratitude to Swami. They were seated in the marble blocks and Swami arrived at 5:30 p.m. for His darshan rounds. Completing it, He went into the interview room. It was 6 p.m. when He arrived onstage and permitted the programme to commence. When it comes to writing about the programme, it is either very easy to describe or incredibly hard even to try to think about writing! The whole programme could be summarized easily by the sentence, "it was a presentation of songs and short heart-felt speeches in many languages." But if one attempted to write about the flow of feelings, then no amount of description would do justice. As each of the songs was sung, a couple of students came up to Swami with a rose and a card which had the lyrics of the song handwritten. Students also went to Swami with trays of chocolates, vibhuti and pens! Every item became a vehicle to get closer to the Lord.
There was a short Veena recital where one of the students offered the song "Bho Shambho" at His lotus feet. So beautiful and correct was his rendition that some mistook him to be a student of the music college! As he completed the piece, Swami called him and creating a beautiful gold chain put it around his neck. There was a short piece played by the members of the brass band on the band instruments. As each student got up and spoke, there was deep nostalgia that filled their voices. As the 'programme' neared the conclusion, Swami called the students up onto the stage in small groups of 5-6. They were all thrilled at this gesture from Swami that made the day truly memorable for them. However, the surprise that Swami planted was still not over! He next called for the teachers too to come up by His side. Almost all the teachers and staff of the University were blessed with padanamaskar and a picture with Swami. They were pleasantly shocked but soon overcame it and converted surprise into super joy! Blessing everyone and leaving all in a mood of sublime happiness, Swami retired at 7:10 p.m. after aarthi.
On March 8, the students of the Anantapur campus arrived to seek an opportunity to present their gratitude programme. Bhajans had begun and they had still not received the chance to pray on the physical plane to Swami. But does Swami need that plane for communication? As the bhajans concluded, He moved in the car towards them. The girls were actually leaving the next morning, and so, Swami told them to sing then and there! As they sang, Swami had a look at all their offerings which they made through the open window of the car. The saying, "When the Lord closes the door, He opens the windows", came to one’s mind as Swami blessed the outgoing batch of girls from the Anantapur campus.
March 15 was the turn of the outgoing undergraduate students from the Brindavan campus of the University to express their feelings for Swami. The Lord came for evening darshan in the chair, and after His darshan round, came to the Bhajan Hall where some of the students were in costumes, awaiting His arrival. The batch from Brindavan had been named as "Vainateya" (another name of Garuda, the eagle vehicle of Lord Vishnu) by Swami, and surely enough, Swami found a student-eagle in the Bhajan Hall! He seemed to study the marvellous and painstakingly made make up.
As "Lord Vishnu" stood up to his magnificent height, Swami seemed to admire the costume for long. He also seemed intrigued at "Vainateya" who spoke to Him through his 'beak' which was another classic example of wonderful costume design. They prayed to Him to come to Brindavan and Swami seemed to nod. After having one final look at the fine and detailed make up, Swami moved out to the stage. As Swami came on the stage, there was a surprise(d) visitor for Him. A pigeon, that had come on stage for taking a few sips of water from the pots placed there, seemed to escort Swami to His place in the middle! The programme began with the celestial sage Narada, Lord Vishnu and the eagle Garuda starting a discussion. All the students chipped in with their expressions of gratitude. The languages were different and the styles of expression varied, but the message was the same – “We love you, Swami”. A few students chose to express themselves through poems.
As the boys sang the songs, the whole roof of the Sai Kulwant Hall virtually seemed to blow away with their amplitude and energy. Swami sat, reading through the words of each song, and tapping His hand in rhythm to the ongoing number. There was also a lively dance sequence in which the dancers seemed to be flowing in a river of energy. A couple of songs had been composed and tweaked specially for the occasion. A kind of division of labour was seen as the singers, dancers and speakers did what they did best. Gratitude programmes give scope for singers to speak out and speakers to join and sing, for it is a heart to heart conversation between man and God. But when a person expressed his gratitude via a skill/talent that God has blessed him with, even onlookers are swept away in the wave of love and emotion. At the end of the programme, Swami agreed to gift them with the opportunity of group photos with Him.
As the different students moved on to the stage Swami blessed them with group photographs and when the only refrain from them was that He should visit Brindavan, He seemed to acquiesce. They sang a couple of bhajans which were again pleading to the Lord to visit Brindavan. At 6:30 p.m., after receiving aarthi and blessing all with prasadam, Swami moved to the car. There, the students from the final year Post Graduate class, requested Him for an opportunity to express their gratitude. Swami agreed and retired.
As Swami had agreed the previous day, the graduating batch of post-graduate students from the Prasanthi Nilayam campus of the Sri Sathya Sai University presented their gratitude programme on the evening of March 16. Swami came for darshan in His chair and after a round of the hall and a brief visit to the Bhajan Hall, came onstage to begin the programme just after 5.30 p.m. Being the senior most students of the University, they spoke to Him as they would to their best friend - straight from the heart and without any flowery words. In addition to a musical tribute and short speeches in various languages, the boys innovated with a dumb charade of events in Swami's life. Just like Swami used to engage the students with a game of passing the parcel at picnics, the students engaged Him with their game of passing the parcel.
There were various extempore performances in the game. One was mimicry; another was a question as to what was the song Swami had composed for the advertisement of a medicine in His childhood. The boy was not sure of the lyrics. When offered a helpline, he wanted help from his 'best friend' - Swami! Swami obliged by calling him and telling him the words of the song on the 'wonder medicine'- Balabhaskara, which he then sang out! There was an applause of joy, and Swami too seemed to enjoy that a lot. As the programme went on, Swami went into the interview room after about 45 minutes. The programme, which was paused, resumed as soon as He returned a few minutes later.
There was a band performance on the famous bhajan, "Manasa Bhajore Guru Charanam." There was also a dance for a song that Swami had composed in the early days. As stated by the compere at the beginning, the students offered all their talents to Him as a token of their gratitude. At the end, Swami asked for bhajans. A few boys moved up the stage and asked Swami for group pictures. It was late but Swami agreed for a quick round of photos as the bhajans went on, after which He retired for the day, receiving aarthi.
The music wing of Swami's educational institutions, the graduating students from the Music College, staged their gratitude programme on March 21. One hardly needs to state that songs of the Hindustani and Carnatic classical variety formed the bread and butter of the programme. Swami arrived at about 5:10 p.m. for the darshan rounds and moving to the stage, asked for the programme to begin. It began with the rendering of a prayer to Lord Ganesha in Raag Hamsadhwani, with two singers singing in the Carnatic style while two others did the Hindustani rendering. That was followed by a Veena recital and a Tabla duet which was highly appreciated by all the listeners. Swami was absorbed in the programme and the Ganapriya (Lover of Music)that He is, His hands moved constantly in rhythm of the song. There were a few speeches in different tongues but the speaking was minimal. Some who got up to speak, ended up singing, for that was the best medium to express their feelings for Him. As the songs concluded, Swami blessed all the students and accepted roses from many of them. He blessed the chocolate trays and prasadam to be distributed among them.
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