Volume 11 - Issue 11
November 2013
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Posted on: Nov 09, 2013

'CONTINUE TO SING BHAJANS'

Conversation with Mr. Srinivasulu about Mr. Mohan Rao,
the yesteryears brilliant and blessed
bhajan singer of Prasanthi Nilayam


Bishu Prusty (BP): Sairam Brother Srinivasulu, you have been a member of the Prasanthi Bhajan Group for more than two and a half decades. You joined the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in 1986 for your Bachelors in Physics and since then have been blessed to sing in the Divine Presence. We have seen how Swami used to love your voice. In those days, especially in the '80s and '90s, you had the chance to sing both in the morning and evening. Students used to not come in the mornings and that continues even today. Perhaps the only other person to sing along with you was the legendary devotee Mr. Mohan Rao.

Mr. Srinivasulu (SL): True Bishu, not many know about Mohan Rao Sir. He was a wonderful singer and more important, a great devotee. Swami was fond of him and this was so obvious whenever you had the chance to witness his interactions with Bhagawan; and you didn't have to wait for this because Swami spoke to him regularly.

As you said, by Bhagawan's grace I had the privilege of singing along with him during morning bhajans for nearly a decade during the '90s. In those days, there were no mikes for morning bhajans. Since students don't come to Mandir in the morning except on holidays, there was no one to play even harmonium and tabla.

BP: You had bhajans without harmonium and tabla?

SL: Yes, because there was no one else. I used to play kanjira and Mohan Rao Sir used to keep one shruthi (pitch) on the harmonium and we used to sing all bhajans in the same shruthi.

Normally, bhajan boys decide on the bhajans first and then think about the appropriate shruthi, but in the case of morning bhajans in those days, it was the other way. Mohan Rao Sir would fix the shruthi first and then we would decide on the bhajans accordingly. He never felt comfortable changing the shruthis in the middle of the bhajans.

Seenu, eeroju yaen shruthilo paaduthaam? (In which shruthi are we going to sing today?)” He used to ask me after the morning nagar sankeerthan every day. So right then and there we used to fix the shruthi for that day's morning bhajans.

BP: You must have had plenty of interactions with him during all those years.

The Prasanthi Nilayam Bhajan Hall in the 50s

SL: Yes, very much. He did narrate to me some of his personal experiences with Bhagawan. He told me that initially he was a devotee of Shirdi Sai. Every year he would make a pilgrimage to Shirdi, and on every such occasion he was permitted to sing some bhajans at the Samadhi of Shirdi Sai.

It was during one such trip to Shirdi maybe during the early '60s that he heard about Bhagawan and came to Puttaparthi directly from Shirdi. It was afternoon by the time he reached Mandir that day and Bhagawan was upstairs. Swami was indeed standing in the verandah and talking to a few devotees who had gathered in front of the Mandir. When Bhagawan noticed Mohan Rao Sir coming inside the Mandir compound, Swami instantly called him near and said, “Shirdi nundi vastununaava naayana? Manchidi. Chaala santhosham (You are coming from Shirdi, isn't it dear one? Very good. I am very happy).”

Next morning, Swami called him for an interview. In that session He told him everything about his personal life and the problems he had been dealing with. Swami assured him that He would take care of everything. By the time the interview ended he was more than hundred percent convinced that Baba is Shakshat Parabrahmam (The Ultimate Godhead). In fact that day without even his asking, Bhagawan Himself told him to sing in Mandir whenever he came to Puttaparthi. So he had His blanket permission right from his first visit to Puttaparthi.

mohan-rao-with-sathya-sai-baba-at-chitravati-puttaparthi-krishna-materialisation
Bhagawan materialising an idol of Krishna on the sands of Chitravathi; Mr. Mohan Rao was fortunate to be present on many such occasions in the 60s

In those days, that is, in the '60s and '70s, Mohan Rao Sir was employed in Indian Railways and resided in Chennai. However he came regularly to Puttaparthi and definitely for all festivals.

1.Ganesha Sharanam in Mr. Mohan Rao's voice

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2. Jagadeesha Hare in Mr. Mohan Rao's voice

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3. Jaya Ho Nataraja in Mr. Mohan Rao's voice

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What helped him was a travel pass he had received from Railways which allowed him to make one free trip to Puttaparthi. In one year he had already used this and could not afford to buy a ticket for this second trip to see Swami but was keen to come to Puttaparthi because of a forthcoming festival.

Left with little options, he took a blade and skilfully erased the Train Ticket Examiner's (TTE) signature on the travel pass so that he could use it again. It was wrong, yes but he was desperate to come to Swami.

He came to Prasanthi without any problems. But the moment Bhagawan saw him in Puttaparthi, the first thing He asked was, “Do you want your job or not? You want to work or want to be dismissed from the Railways?

Mr. Mohan Rao went blank. He had actually forgotten all about the tampering of the ticket because it had been an uneventful journey; he looked at Swami fully bewildered. Swami then had to reveal more, “What did you do with that pass?”

Immediately he fell at Bhagawan's feet and said, “Swami, please pardon me. But I had no money... I somehow wanted to come for this festival.”

Swami warned him, “Never do this again!”

And then He waved His hand and produced Vibhuti which He poured into his hand and lovingly said, “Keep this in your pocket, you will be safe in your travels.”

 
To Bhagawan's left is Mr. Raja Reddy who served and sang for Him for at least 25 years  

Mr. Mohan Rao recalled that during his return journey to Chennai in that trip, when the TTE came, he asked for the tickets of the passengers sitting to his right, left and front, but not to him!

That is how Swami was always with him and Sir always came for all the festivals since the '60s. He used to then sing along with Mr. Raja Reddy, who too was another legendary singer.

In fact on one occasion, Swami came out of the interview room when Raja Reddy Sir was singing and told him, “Why do you sing so beautifully?! I just could not continue with the interview... you have just pulled me to you!” Such was the power of his devotion offered through melodious bhajans.

So, Mohan Rao Sir and Raja Reddy Sir were the singers on the gents' side. Similarly, on the ladies side there used to be a great singer, Vijayamma. In those days daily bhajan sessions were long. The Shivarathri Akhanda Bhajan was managed entirely by Mohan Rao Sir because Mr. Raja Reddy would go inside once Baba retired as He was serving Swami. Mr. Mohan Rao was the only person to lead and organise the full programme.

That is how he became a part of every celebration in Prasanthi.

4. Nacho Nacho Nandalala in Mr. Mohan Rao's voice

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5. Sai Charan Sukhadayi in Mr. Mohan Rao's voice

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6. Radhe Shyam Panduranga in Mr. Mohan Rao's voice

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After five or six years of such lovely opportunities, one day he got the chance to do pada seva (massaging the Lord's feet) in the interview room, and that day he casually mentioned, “Swami, everyday we conduct bhajans in our house and many people come and participate.”

Bhagawan immediately said, “Telusu, telusu, bangaru! Nee bhajans nenu vintunnaanu (I know, I know, golden one! I am enjoying your bhajans).”

By then Mohan Rao Sir had developed some intimacy with Bhagawan, so he took this opportunity and said, “But Swami, how am I to believe that you hear our bhajans unless you give me a proof?”

Mr. Mohan Rao had faith in Swami's divinity but he felt that Bhagawan had made that remark quite casually and he now wanted to check if Swami really meant what He said.

Swami looked at him quizzically and said, “Oh, you want proof?! Okay, I will give you one. Do you remember, last month one evening it was raining heavily and just before the commencement of bhajan in your house, a stranger came on a cycle and gave you a garland for My photo? Do you recollect? It was none other than Me.”

The moment he heard this, Mohan Rao Sir was stunned. He prostrated at Bhagawan's feet shedding tears of joy and gratitude.

What had happened was this: He had arranged a flower vendor to bring a garland for Bhagawan's photo before bhajan starts every day. One day there was a heavy downpour, and he was disappointed thinking that the flower vendor would not turn up, and Baba's photo would be without the flower decoration that day. He was really feeling sad. But just a few minutes before the bhajans began, even as it was raining like crazy, someone suddenly came on a cycle, gave him a garland and went away immediately without even taking any money.

Mohan Rao Sir thought that the garland was probably sent by the usual flower vendor even though he could not come personally because of the heavy rain. He had completely forgotten about the whole incident.

BP: Swami was always with Him, ever listening to Him wherever he was singing. And you had the chance to sing along with such a great devotee of the Lord for so many years. I believe Mohan Rao Sir used to sing many bhajans that are not sung often these days.

SL: Very true. In fact he taught me many bhajans like:

Nanda Kishora Jaya Gopal,
Navaneetha Chora Shyama Gopal,
Meera Ke Nath Prabhu Giridara Gopal,
Rasa Vilola Radhe Gopal (2)

Listen to this sung by a student:

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This is his composition. All his compositions were short and they were Namavali bhajans. There is another beautiful bhajan on Lord Rama:

Jayatu Jayatu Rama, Janani Janaki Rama,
Janana Marana Bhaya Klesha Vinashaka,
Raghupathi Seetha Rama, Rama Rameti Rama

 
 

Swami in Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital during the
final moments of Mr. Mohan Rao

Listen to this sung by Srinivasulu:

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This too I learnt from him. Swami used to really love his compositions. In fact once he settled down in Puttaparthi permanently in 1982 he sang in Mandir daily, morning and evening. His life indeed was a melodious melody of devotion.

7. Narayana Govinda Hare in Mr. Mohan Rao's voice

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8. Om Jagat Janani Sai Mata in Mr. Mohan Rao's voice

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9. Sai Rama Hey Ghana Shyama in Mr. Mohan Rao's voice

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When he was admitted in the General Hospital during his last moments in 2002, the merciful Lord went to the ward and blessed him with His darshan.

The last words of Bhagawan to him were: “Bhajana Paduko (continue singing bhajans).” That is the gift the Lord blessed him with and that is what he lived up to all through his life. Whenever I think of him, I cannot help but recall all those moving memories; he just fills me with devotion and inspiration.

BP: Truly, such souls continue to inspire us in so many ways and prod us to work more on ourselves so that we too can become beautiful instruments of the Lord, and find fulfilment in our lives. Thank you so much brother for sharing this story.

SL: Thank you. It is my pleasure. Sairam.


- Team Radio Sai

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