September 28, 2010 – ‘Ubuntu’ Programme by South African Sai Devotees

There were a flood of devotees from South Africa in Puttaparthi in the last week of September. More than 2500 devotees had arrived and were ready with a programme that featured hundreds of children. And so, when Swami gave permission for their programme to be put up on Sep 28, Sai Kulwant Hall seemed to transform itself into the heart of Africa - for the hearts from Africa had arrived and in large numbers too! There were purple scarves everywhere and a rolling backdrop had been erected. Hundreds of kids were behind this prop and a representative sample sat in front of it. The children’s choir adorned either sides of the marbled block and beyond them were the ladies’ and gents’ choirs. They were in complete readiness by 4:30 p.m. As they waited for Swami, they engaged themselves in chanting the Sai Gayatri.

It was 7:00 p.m. when Swami arrived for darshan. The sun had definitely set but the ‘Darling Figure in Orange’ seemed to bring in light as He glided into the hall. Faces lit up and the fatigue of being in a state of alertness from hours simply seemed to vanish. Swami was all smiles as He moved in for darshan. He blessed the girls from the Primary school and arrived at the centre. The concept being portrayed that day was the spirit of Ubuntu in South Africa. Ubuntu pronounced as oo-boon-too is an ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other. The word has its origin in the Bantu languages of southern Africa. The word literally translates into, “I am because you are and you are because I am!” That is the founding philosophy of the South African nation.

Swami then moved through the gents’ side. Bhajans were on and Swami arrived on the stage after taking a round through the portico. A broad smile came over His face as He turned to the students and said, “They (have come from) South Africa!” He seemed delighted. Immediately He asked for the programme to begin. The co-ordinators offered their salutations to Swami and the various representatives from the gents’ and ladies’ side went up the stage to make offerings. Swami blessed the various items. He accepted the offered roses and gifted the people with padanamaskar.

A girl then presented Swami with an album that contained letters written by the children. Swami began to leaf through it. The student by His side aided Him by turning pages. At one point, when he turned five or six pages together, Swami seemed to scold him and told him to turn only one page at a time. “These are letters they have written”, He explained so sweetly! Once that was done, He asked for the programme to begin.

Essaying the beautiful story of Unity in Diversity, the fifty minute presentation ran through the historical time of evolution of the nation beginning from immigration of the tribals, the Europeans and the Indians to the dark days of apartheid which concluded in what the nation was in the present times. It was presented by a chieftain of a tribe and his audience in the play were the animals of the continent - the cheetah, elephant, lion, rhino and buffalo. When each of these animals made their cries, Swami was so amused. The child in Him seemed to jump out as He laughed heartily. The various tribes of South Africa - the Maasai, the Zulu, the Ashanti - were all presented. Then the invasions by the foreigners were depicted. The beauty in this presentation was that it was never said that these foreigners depleted or destroyed Africa. Instead, they proclaimed, “There were troubled times but it was these times that enriched the culture of the nation!”

The episode of Mahatma Gandhi involving himself in the struggle against apartheid was also presented. There was a coal miners’ dance set during these times and seeing the natives dance with energy and joy, Swami was once again smiling and was so very happy. There were eleven songs in all and this included their national anthem and the various folk medleys. While the children in the centre depicted and danced, the ones from the choir swayed and moved their hands lending more meaning and festivity to the atmosphere. There were four conductors in all and they went about their job with clockwork efficiency. Swami kept looking at these conductors once in a while and the sweet game that He played was such that when they turned to look at Him, He seemed to look away!

The African drums and instruments made their appearance. However, there was also a song in classical Carnatic style with a dance when they depicted the arrival of the Indians to their nation. On the whole, it was a charged and filled 50 minutes. The concluding song celebrated the spirit of Ubuntu in South Africa and children waving flags of all the countries in the world formed a massive formation. The whole of the marbled blocks was populated with the 350 odd children who had participated in the programme. Even as they concluded, Swami said that He would move down into their midst. It was asked of Him, “Swami, should we segregate the girls and boys?” The gathering was so huge and Swami said, “No! I will go amidst them as the formation stands now.”

Moving down, Swami blessed all the participants with group photos. He asked many of them their names. He just seemed to be giving Himself to them. Even after the photo session, Swami did not moved up the stage, He sat down in their midst and asked them to sing bhajans. He distributed prasadam from His own hands. There was one very beautiful moment here. One boy on a wheel chair just got up and came skipping to Swami. He bent down and took namaskar. There was a smile on his face. Swami called him closer and touched him on his head. That touch threw him into a bout of extreme delight that he got up and almost danced his way back. It was such a beautiful sight to see and it is every time a wonderful sight to see someone touched by God! Swami then moved up the stage and asked for aarthi. As the aarthi was taken, Swami called one little girl who was crying and presented her with the print of the group photo that had been taken.

The girl gave Him a bundle of letters which He accepted. As she returned to her place, one more girl gave her a letter. In all her innocence, she simply walked up the stage and gave the letter to Swami. And Swami also simply accepted it! It was so sweet and done so simply - approach God with childlike simplicity and He too reflects the same! Swami then blessed everyone seated in front and then told all of them to go and eat well, and this elicited hearty laughter from all. After this, He retired for the day. It was 9 p.m.

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