Volume 8 - Issue 08
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Aparna Murali was born into a family that has been devoted to Bhagavan Baba since the early 1960s. She grew up in Chennai where she attended the Sathya Sai Education (SSE) classes. Aparna later enrolled into the Sri Sathya Sai University, Anantapur campus, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Science.

Even after passing out from Anantapur, she continued to be active amongst the alumnus in Chennai, where she concurrently pursued a Master’s in Psychology. Thereafter, Aparna moved to the United States to pursue her second post-graduate degree in Genetic Counseling. Currently, she works as a genetic counselor in the Greater Los Angeles area in California.

Additionally, Aparna attends the Los Angeles Sai Center and is also a SSE teacher at the Glendale Sai Center. She has served as the center’s devotional coordinator and as the regional youth coordinator for women. Aparna feels deeply grateful to Bhagawan Baba for His presence in her life which is evident from this conversation with Heart2Heart (H2H):

H2H: Do tell us how and when Bhagawan Baba entered your life?

AM: It was through my mother’s side of the family; my maternal grandfather came to Bhagawan in the early 1960s. Swami was visiting Coimbatore when my grandfather had his first darshan. But it wasn’t as if my grandfather instantly became a Baba devotee. He had his share of questions partly because the darshan area was beautifully decorated and even seemed a little ostentatious. This surprised him to some extent. He thought, “If this is a spiritual person, what is the need for such ostentation?” It just so happened that when Bhagawan gave His discourse, He directly answered every single doubt running through his mind. At the end of it all, my grandfather felt he had finally found his God. And, that’s how it started for my family.

H2H: And your mother was obviously not married then.

Divine Assurance

AM: Yes, and when she did get married, my grandfather was insistent that his newly-wed daughter and son-in-law must visit Puttaparthi and receive Bhagawan’s darshan. He requested my father’s side of the family, indicating it would mean a lot to him if they came to Puttaparthi to take Swami’s blessings. But, my paternal grandparents did not know much about Bhagawan and were not very enthused by the idea. Eventually, they agreed even if reluctantly. This was back in late 1960s when there were no facilities like we have now. So, my grandfather came to Puttaparthi ahead of the others, just to make sure all arrangements were in order. And at one point, he shared his concern with Swami. And Bhagawan gave a very profound reply.

H2H: Which was…?

AM: Something that resonates even today with all of us. He told my grandfather, “Why are you worried? Everyone has to come here at some point in their life.”

H2H: Aparna, you’ve been an SSE student and also a student of Baba’s University. When you look back, what is it that stands out the most as your takeaway from the experience?

With the Loving Chancellor in Anantapur

AM: It’s very difficult to pick one particular experience and say this really stands out because every single moment with Bhagawan is a miracle, a magical moment, a moment to cherish forever. One of the sweet moments that I can recall is my first summer course as a student in Brindavan, when Bhagawan would share a meal with us at the Kalyana Mandapam. We would all be seated in rows with a special chair and table set aside for Bhagawan. He would visit the brother’s hostel first and then come over to the girls’ side. When He walked in, He would check our plates very carefully to make sure that all the food items had been served. Only then, would He go and take His seat. It was quite a sight with 500 pairs of eyes all fixed on Bhagawan.

Swami would quickly have the food served to Him as He eats very little. When He says that our joy is His food, He really means that. Once He finished eating, He would literally command us to start having our food because we would be so lost in looking at Bhagawan that it was the last thing on our minds. He would again go around checking to see if we were eating well. This felt very special at that time because we had just left home and it was our first experience of being away from our family in a hostel environment. Bhagawan helped us gently transition into the rigors of college life. Those were incredibly sweet moments with the Lord.

A Fun Afternoon with Bhagawan


AM: A lot of times, people perceive spirituality as being very serious, as something very solemn. My experience with Bhagawan has been to the contrary. To me, being spiritual is akin to being joyful, full of life! While in college, a student is filled with excitement and verve. Bhagawan very beautifully channeled the unbridled energy in us. He gave new meanings, a new definition of how to live our life in accordance with His spiritual teachings. I remember the time when we got an opportunity to watch a movie with Bhagawan.

H2H: A movie night with God?

AM: That’s right. That day, we were asked to assemble by the Poornachandra Auditorium. It was a big screen projection and we didn’t know the name of the movie but that really didn’t matter. To us, it was more important that we were sharing the afternoon with Bhagawan. Swami came in after darshan and the excitement among us was so palpable. He watched the movie Bhakta Prahalada with all of us. Some people might think, well, it’s not an ‘action’ movie. But, from a spiritual point of view, it was better than any of the Hollywood thrillers that you can imagine. The movie depicted this little boy, an ardent devotee of the Lord and how he had to overcome all the obstacles that were put forth by his own family and eventually won the love and grace of the Lord. Can you think of a better masala story than that?

Bhagawan was pointing out all the subtleties in that movie, which was a fantastic experience because He was teaching us to see the world through spiritual eyes. It did not matter what we saw, but the goal was to see it from a spiritual point of view.

H2H: Could you tell us about what you do currently in terms of your professional vocation as well as outside of it?

AM: As a genetics counselor, I offer counseling to pregnant women whose unborn child could be at risk of being diagnosed with a genetic condition. So, if any of the pre-natal results indicate an abnormality or a confirmed problem, I follow up with the mothers-to-be and help them cope through those challenging moments. During these sessions, I share a lot of Bhagawan’s teachings with them.

The job gives me ample opportunities to bring in all the acquired values into my practice. It becomes even more relevant in a country such as the United States where the concept of God and faith is so subtle, not obvious. You’ll be amazed that when somebody is going through a very challenging time, that’s when they really reach out to God, where their faith is renewed and rejuvenated.

H2H: Apart from your job, I understand you have a very packed schedule. What else do you do? What keeps Aparna Murali busy outside of work?

AM: Swami keeps me busy. Of course, He keeps me out of trouble by giving me opportunities to serve Him and that is His grace! I’m active among the youth group in the region, which is Southern California, Hawaii, and Nevada. 

H2H: With the Sai Youth?

Group Service Activity by Young Adults of Southern California

AM: Yes. In the United States, we are known as the Sai Young Adults or the YAs.I also teach the Bal Vikas or the SSE program in Los Angeles. And, I attend the center regularly and participate in the service activities on a weekly basis.

Uniqueness of Sai Education

H2H: How do you think your education at the Sai University prepared you for so many different, diverse and challenging roles?

AM: I believe it is the learning that I received in the Sathya Sai University that has prepared me for this role. I just cannot imagine doing what I’m doing if it had not been for Bhagawan’s training and inspiration. I owe it to Him to whatever and whoever I am today. If you look at our curriculum and the uniqueness of the Sathya Sai system of education, the basic philosophy is integrated personality development and not just academic excellence.

H2H: Very true.

AM: The academic excellence, spiritual consciousness and character development go hand in hand. They complement each other. If you look at a typical day in a Sai student’s life in the Anantapur campus, it comprises almost 18 hours. From 5.00 a.m. to 10.30 p.m., our day is packed with activities. There is a purpose for having such a packed schedule. In hindsight, when I look at it, I have lot of appreciation and respect for that kind of training because it helps you prioritize in life and hone your time management skills – two valuable life skills. Those 18 hours are not just filled with bhajan singing or meditation or seva.

The day would start with Suprabhatam, followed by a session of yoga, and college for six hours. In the evening, we were kept busy with sports and games, followed by bhajans. Our study time would last for only two and a half hours. We also had the self-reliance program and social work that collectively set a good foundation for handling different aspects of our life.

Transformation through Love!

Young Adults packaging Vibhuti prasadam

H2H: How do you bring the element of the Sai perspective into your working life as well as into your personal space, in your responsibility towards your family, siblings, and parents?

AM: I often joke with my mother that I am an apt case study for the TT syndrome – Typical Teenager syndrome. And I’m sure my mother will instantly agree that I had all the manifestations of this particular condition as a typical teenager.

H2H: Isn’t this virus rampant all across the globe?

AM: I agree a lot of mothers consider their children’s teenage years as some of the most difficult. My family was almost convinced I had no faith in God because of the way I would react when Bhagawan’s name would be mentioned each time I slipped into my TT syndrome and had an outburst. My mother would threaten me with dire consequences and say, “Wait till I tell Swami.” And because we had physical proximity with Swami, I had this nagging fear that during Swami’s next visit to Chennai, my mother would take up my case with Him. 

H2H: And, did it ever come to that?

AM: During one of Bhagawan’s visits to Chennai, I was in trouble with my mom over something wrong that I had done. She kept repeating her constant threat, “Swami is here, I’m definitely going to tell Him about you.” So, that day, we were waiting for blessings from Bhagawan at Sundaram, His residence in Chennai. Swami had gone for a short car ride after the bhajan. This is something that He generally does to help the crowds disperse. When He returned, He saw us waiting outside the gate and stopped His car. With every step that He took towards our direction, I could feel the tight knot in my stomach building in intensity.

H2H: The moment of truth; confession time?

Bhagavan Baba placing His divine hand to bless Aparna Murali,
flanked by her parents

AM: It was traumatic. At that particular moment, it felt as if my entire life was playing out in front of my eyes in some sort of flashback; all the things that I could have possibly done wrong propelled into the forefront of my memory. So, as Swami came closer and closer, the knot in my stomach got tighter and tighter. Swami started speaking with my father and I used that opportunity to begin inching backwards.

All of a sudden, He turned and looked at my mother and me. I was probably three or four feet away from all of them.Bhagawan looked at me with a puzzled look as if silently asking, “Why are you standing so far away?” Despite my mother’s telling looks, I refused to come forward as I was afraid of being reprimanded. But, the next few moments are something that I still treasure. I remember my mother grabbing my hand, pushing me forward. And as I came to the front, she let go of her hand and Bhagawan looked at me, gave me the sweetest smile and placed His hand on my head as a blessing. That moment was captured for posterity by the cameraman.

H2H: Wow!

AM: My mother constantly speaks of that moment when she let go of me and handed me over to God. While doing that, she even said to Swami, “She is yours now”.

H2H: Did that instance mark a turning point in your life?

AM: I feel this happened at a very critical time in my life because up until that point Bhagawan was a policeman of whom I was very afraid. But once I joined Anantapur, within just a few weeks, I discovered the secret - Bhagawan is no policeman but a thief instead as He steals your heart away.

From literally being a God-fearing person, the Sathya Sai University and Swami’s educational system transformed me into a God-loving person. Bhagawan always says, “papa bheeti and daiva preethi (Fear sin, love God)!”

H2H: Aparna, clearly because of your family’s association with Bhagawan and your mother handing you over physically to Swami, into His care, you’ve had so many insightful experiences. Could you share at least one or two of your close encounters with Divinity in terms of an interview or any other interaction as a student?

A Mother-in-Love!

Swami said, “See, she is a mother to you, a wife to your father, a daughter-in-law to your grandfather, a sister-in-law to your uncle, and a mother-in-law to your wife. See how her role changes. But look at Me. I am a mother to you, a mother to your mother, a mother to your father, and I will be a mother to your wife - the ‘law’ factor might change but my love, which is like a thousand mothers, will never change.”

AM: We all know that Swami always mixes profound spiritual truths and the revelation of His Divinity with humor. Here is a classic example: this was during one of our family visits to Puttaparthi and Bhagawan had called us in for an interview. We were inside the inner chamber. Swami was talking about family matters when He abruptly pointed to my older brother, right in the middle of a sentence and said, “Hey!” Pointing towards my mother He asked my brother, “Hey! Who is she?” My brother was stunned. I am sure he must have wondered, “Well, you should know who she is. Why are you asking these questions?”

Instead, he respectfully said, “Swami, this is my mother.” Swami didn’t stop with that. He continued, “Who is she to your father?” and my brother said “Wife, Swami”. Swami still prodded, “Who is she to your grandfather? Who is she to your uncle?” My brother was completely bewildered by then because he could not see what Swami was leading up to. Yet he said, “Swami, she is a daughter-in-law to my grandfather, she is a sister-in-law to my uncle”.

Bhagavan Baba with Anantapur students - ever caring like a doting Mother

Finally, Swami cracked a smile and said, “Who is she to your wife?” My brother could not take it because he was in middle school at that time and having a wife was a far-fetched thought. He just chuckled and could not respond. But Swami did not let go. He laughed and said, “She will be a mother-in-law, right?” and all of us nodded. And then Bhagawan said something very sweet.

He said, “See, she is a mother to you, a wife to your father, a daughter-in-law to your grandfather, a sister-in-law to your uncle, and a mother-in-law to your wife. See how her role changes. But look at Me. I am a mother to you, a mother to your mother, a mother to your father, and I will be a mother to your wife - the ‘law’ factor might change but my love, which is like a thousand mothers, will never change.”

H2H: That is so beautiful!

AM: Swami felt the need to remind us His love equals that of a thousand mothers because a lot of times, we struggle to understand who God is. So many scriptures have said that the mother is a manifestation of God. Swami Himself has said, “Maatru devo bhavah!” We too understand a mother’s love more readily than the concept of God. In asking all those questions, Bhagawan was only trying to simplify this concept.

H2H: And having been introduced to this universal, eternal mother with the love of a thousand mothers, do you experience it even now when you are no longer living or studying in Anantapur or living in India?

AM: Swami has often said, especially to the students, “You are here. You see this five foot frame and you think this is God. Go out into the world and you will experience My Divinity.” And that is very true. Being physically away from Bhagawan and my family, He has shown that He is truly beyond the physical form, or even a photograph because God is everywhere in all beings. Allow me to share with you one interesting anecdote that could probably answer your question.

The Divine Medicine for Dental Pain


AM: I had developed a very severe tooth infection and as it was a weekend, I was unable to get medical assistance. I didn’t obviously have the presence of mind to go to an emergency care center. The left side of the mouth was swollen and I was in terrible pain, unable to drink even fluids. On Sunday evening the pain grew worse with no relief in sight. Before I went to bed, I was literally crying out to Swami saying He had no choice but to help me out from the unbearable pain. I hoped the suffering would cease and allow me a few hours sleep before seeing a doctor on Monday morning.

My apartment and the room where I slept faced the rear of the building and not the street. When I continued to alternate between crying, praying, talking to Swami and asking for help, it was a little past midnight when I suddenly heard very soft music. It seemed as if someone was playing a stringed instrument and walking towards my building because the music kept getting louder. In a while and much to my amazement, it stopped right by my window. And I lived on the third floor. The music was so divine and soothing that by the time I realized what it was, it was already morning.

H2H: Did you find out where the music came from?

AM: I had lived in the apartment for three years and not once did I hear that kind of music being played. I asked my roommates who were up pretty late in the night if they had heard the music. Instead of taking me seriously, they said, “Oh Aparna! It must be the dental pain. You must be hallucinating. We were awake till three in the morning and none of us heard any music!” But, I was sure I wasn’t imagining things.

H2H: So, you’d fallen asleep with the music.

AM: Yes, the music was like a lullaby that calmed me down and made me forget the pain for those brief hours.

H2H: And Swami says, “My grace will act as an anesthetic. When you’re going through bad karma, you’ll go through it without feeling the pain.” I guess He demonstrated it in your example.

AM: The mother that He is!

H2H: You deal with a lot of young adults or the YAs. Have the years that you spent with Swami help you to better connect with them or guide you through your role as the co-ordinator of the young adults program?

AM: One of the things I have learnt in being with the youth group in Southern California and interacting with the youth from all over the United States is that they have not had the kind of physical proximity with Swami and the experiences that we might have had living in India because they don’t get to travel to India that often. But, it is the power of Bhagawan’s love that they have such deep faith even though they live so far away from Him. It is a heart to heart relationship. And, one of the benefits of being a part of the Young Adults group is the satsang or the good company that serves as our very own support system.

Aparna Murali (back row, middle) is an active YA in California

H2H: And that’s important. Swami often quotes Einstein to drive home the point - “Tell me your company, I’ll tell you who you are.” I guess at that age, you need a very positive social backup system.

AM: Absolutely! Especially to cope with the different challenges that you are expected to deal with, either when you step out into the world after you graduate from a SSE program, or start out in college, enter a dormitory and stay away from family – any of these phases can be a challenge.

H2H: Plus the campus life and the attractions that come with it.

AM: Exactly, that’s where the youth group plays a major role. There’s mentorship involved within the young adults program. Of course, there is always time for fun and games. For example, we sing ‘Power Bhajans’ or we play the game ‘Bhajan Antakshari’. Needless to say, we sing the glories of God and His beautiful names when we participate in such activities. But, it’s done in a way that keeps everybody energized and engaged. A lot of times we enjoy outdoor activities such as trekking and cycling. When we are together, Swami automatically becomes part of all that we are involved in.

“I am in you, with you, around you, above you, beside you….” - Swami

AM: I would like to share one more incident that illustrates Bhagawan’s omnipresence. It might sound a shade dramatic, with all the trappings of a Hollywood film, but the experience does point out to the universal truth that it doesn’t matter where you are - which city or village you are in. The truth is that God is always with you.

It was when the Young Adults were assigned a project for one of the Sai conferences in Los Angeles. This was based on the dictum that is prominently portrayed all over the United States, especially on the currency, which is “In God We Trust”. We had to put together a documentary that required us to interview the average man on the street and people from different backgrounds of life, religions, ethnicity - asking them how they perceived the philosophy “In God We Trust” or if they believed in God at all. We were looking to capture the essence of that phrase.

H2H: Who were you assigned to interview?

AM: We were divided into different teams. My group was assigned to interview this African-American gentleman who ran a vegetarian restaurant in a district in Los Angeles that was not considered a safe neighborhood. Regardless of the safety issues that bothered us, we decided to give it a good try. So, here were we - a group of young adults walking into the restaurant, armed with video cameras and looking absolutely clueless about how to introduce ourselves, leave alone introduce the project.

To give ourselves time to warm up to the place and come up with a good strategy to approach the owner, we decided to fortify ourselves with some food first. After an hour or so, we were still unsure how to broach the gentleman. Our nervousness was quite justified as it was the first interview we were working on for the assignment. We eventually realized we were beginning to look almost ridiculous hanging in there even after having finished dinner. The fact that it was predominantly an African-American neighborhood made us seem even more out of place. So, we unanimously agreed that we either had to do the interview or leave the place.

A few among us mustered the courage, went up to the gentleman, and introduced ourselves and the project. The first response from him was, “No. I’m sorry”. He was very reluctant and resistant to our request for an interview. But for some reason, the conversation prolonged. When we pretty much wore him down, he finally asked us the question, “You say you belong to a youth group from a church. Which spiritual church do you go to?” We decided to show him a picture of Swami. I picked up a calendar image of Swami that we normally keep in our wallets. I took it out and as I was walking back towards the gentleman, I saw him begin to smile. I panicked and wondered if I had picked out a wrong picture. I just couldn’t figure out why this man who had been adamantly resisting our efforts for the past half an hour was all of a sudden in smiles. Of course, I didn’t realize that Swami’s picture was facing the gentleman and the calendar towards me. As I got close to him, he just looked at us and simply said, “I know this guy. I’ll do your interview.”

Anantapur students receiving sarees from the divine hands of Baba

H2H: Were you taken aback?

AM: We were shocked! Here we are, in a not-so-safe neighborhood in Los Angeles, meeting with an African-American gentleman. There were no posters of God in his restaurant, no quotations, or cross, or picture of Jesus, - absolutely nothing that would remotely indicate his spiritual inclinations. And, he was actually saying, “I know this guy. I’ll do the interview.” You can obviously guess our first question when we finally started the interview.

All we said was - “How do you know Sai Baba?” And he replied, “I know all about Him. I love His teachings.” His words struck us as an overpowering reminder! When we were trying all ways to introduce Swami in as subtle a manner as possible, He was right there having fun at our predicament and telling us, “Hey! Don’t trouble yourself too much. Remember, I’m everywhere!”

H2H: Ahead of you!

AM: Absolutely.

H2H: I can imagine the interview went off very well.

AM: Very well. It seemed as if the interview had been pre-arranged solely for our benefit.

H2H: Rather than for him. And did it help you understand why he ran a vegetarian restaurant in such an unlikely location?

AM: He was only abiding by Swami’s teachings.

H2H: We hardly have an idea about the degree of penetration of this message and the appeal that Baba‘s teachings have for people who we tend to judge as non-devotees.

Only He Hears Because He is Within!

AM: I would like to share an intensely personal and profound experience, just to reiterate how Swami is everywhere. It happened when I was going through this extremely challenging phase at work. And, I had reached a point where I felt the situation was beyond my threshold of tolerance.

It was in December, late in the evening and I was driving back home from work. It had been a difficult day and I was overcome with emotion. I keep a small picture of Swami in the car that I often speak to when I need to get something off my chest. After all, He’s all that we have. That day, I was telling Him about the sequence of events at work and how it was becoming difficult to deal with office issues. In my own immaturity and foolishness, I was complaining, fighting and arguing with Him saying, “You said You would always be with me. I am struggling here and I am in pain.”And, then, I asked as if in an outburst, “So, where are You?”

H2H: Valid question!

This is the pointed message on the license plate of a BMW that Aparna had first spotted, in December 2005 (in the incident mentioned in the interview). Three years later, in December 2008, she saw same car parked outside a store. She was thrilled to spot it again, so many years later, far from the place she first saw it in. This was a picture she took then.

AM: At that moment, I saw from the corner of my eye a car speeding up on my left. It was a BMW white color car with a driver and a passenger. I felt as if it was racing with me and so I slowed down a bit. The car got into the same lane as I was in and went ahead, merged into the right lane, made a right turn and disappeared. All this happened within 15 to 20 seconds, enough to give me a good view of the license plate. Can you imagine what the license plate said?

H2H: I am curious, please tell!

AM: It had the words - “I am within”.

H2H: You got your answer right away! How did you feel?

AM: I was shocked; Swami was right there! My question to Him was, “I am in pain. Where are You?” And, within no time, I received the answer, “I am within”. It seemed like a bolt out of the blue particularly in a city such as Los Angeles where egos run high and people could get any kind of license plate with any wording that they wished. On a planet that has billions of people, lakhs of species, there was this one child of God crying out to Him and God chose to answer with the words, “I am within”.






Sai, My Loving God!

H2H: You have undergone a sea change since the time you were afflicted with the TT syndrome - from the time you were afflicted with your fear of God as a tough policeman looking out to catch you for your mistake to your present role as a Sai student and an active worker of the Sai organization. How would you explain this journey?

AM: That’s a difficult one to answer. I can only say that my yearning to love and serve God continues to grow stronger within me each day. When I am in His presence or experience His love, there is this strong urge to be a good human being. This yearning wasn’t very apparent earlier; I am more conscious of it now.

H2H: Finally, who is Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba to you?

AM: It might sound clichéd when I say “He is everything”. But that is what He truly is. In the final year, the graduating students are granted a farewell interview with Bhagawan. We had composed a song for Him that we performed during this interview. Just a few lines from that song would perhaps answer your question. It goes like this, in Hindi: “Suraj se kiranon ka rishta, seep se moti ka, tera mera woh rishta jo aankh se jyoti ka.

H2H: Would you like to translate it for our readers?

AM: Delineating the relationship between Bhagawan and us, we say: “It is like the relationship between the sun and the sun’s rays; it is similar to the affiliation between the oyster and its pearl. Such is the inextricable relationship between Bhagawan and us that it is like the light that gives vision to our eyes.” Sai Ram.

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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