NOVEMBER 10 AND 11 – THE FIRST AND SECOND DAY OF BHAGAWATHA PARAYANA SAPTHAH
As part of the grand and sublime celebrations for the Sahasra Poorna Chandra Darshana Yajnam (SPCDY), the Bhagawatha Parayanam was to begin on November 10. The Bhagawatham is the collection of the leelas (divine sports) and mahimas (miraculous powers) of Lord Mahavishnu with special emphasis on His glories as Lord Krishna. Aeons ago, King Pareekshith had been cursed to meet death in 7 days and he made the correct choice to listen to the Srimad Bhagawatham in the last week of his life. Death approached him but it was immortality that embraced him as he was freed forever from the tyranny of the flesh. The power of this is such because as Swami says, the Name equals the Form. What then do we say when the name and form come together?
November 11 was a day that many of the westerners, the ladies especially, will cherish throughout their lives. Lets go through the beautiful day without hurrying, in the order in which the events unfolded for this is the best order - hasn't it been ordained by Swami Himself?
The idol of Sri Venugopalaswami (Lord Krishna) had been installed and decorated with all jewels and flowers at the centre stage. There were priests attending on to the Lord in the idol form at all times. At about 10:30 a.m., Swami arrived for the installation and the first aarthi was performed in the Sai Kulwant Hall. The hall was empty as the morning session had just concluded and everyone had given up the thought of Swami coming out in the morning. But well, as He came, many of the students who were still around, rushed in and were lucky to witness what happened. Since the hall was almost devoid of the full strength of Sevadal volunteers, the gates were quickly closed to prevent the exuberant and charged devotees from rushing in. Swami blessed all the priests and all who were on the stage seemed to be intent on just falling prostrate at His feet. The priests and organizers were all part of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam. Receiving aarthi and blessing all the priests, Swami made another round to the Vidyagiri stadium where the work now has taken on a feverish pace and one could already feel the magnificence and grandeur of the upcoming event. From there, Swami drove back to the Yajur Mandir.
Come the evening and Swami came out for darshan as usual - only this day it would not be that usual! Swami's darshan is never the same or "usual" in the way we use the term. New and refreshing things keep happening. It is only on a few fortunate occasions that we come to know what is happening or at least what happened! On November 11, Swami completed the darshan rounds and all expected Him to come on the stage. What does the Lord do instead? He moves to the ladies side for a second round and in what seems like a random choice, starts picking up ladies and tells them to move towards Bhajan Hall.
"Is it an interview? But...wait. An interview will not be for 30 people! And Swami is simply picking up people from everywhere? The only thing common among all of them (other than their Love and devotion to Him of course) was that they were all westerners or shall we say non-Indians."
Swami then went into the Bhajan Hall and the ladies sat, overwhelmed and happy. Swami spoke to a few of them as to where they had come from. Then He said, "Two Russian ladies...they run behind Swami's car always... call them." These two ladies have been so persistent and tireless in their pursuit of God that not only the All-knowing One but almost everyone in Puttaparthi for quite some time knew them! They were immediately brought to His presence and Swami gifted them a smile. He moved up and down the aisle and gave a command, "Call all the foreigners." As people hurried to put His command into action, He gently moved around the hall bringing tears from many eyes. To those lost in the Love of God (and who is not? Many who have claimed and even paraded themselves as atheists have sobbed and wept in front of Him as children for apparently no reason whatsoever) there seem to be tears always. When they cannot see their Lord, their tears speak of their agony and when they see Him, it is the tears again that speak of the unspeakable joy. Tears! Those salty droplets that carry with them the sweetest of feelings!
When the Bhajan Hall’s ladies' side was filled to its capacity, Swami began the distribution. Distribution? Of what? When the Bhagawatha Parayanam begins, it is customary to do Vasthradaanam (distribution of clothes). Boxes of brown silk sarees were opened and lovingly Swami began to distribute these to the ladies who had assembled. As He gave away the sarees, many of the ladies spoke to Him in their native tongues. There was so much that each wanted to tell Him and there seemed to be so little time. To top it all, this opportunity had arrived as a pleasant bolt in the blue and no one seemed prepared with what they wanted to tell Him. And that shows the importance of living every moment of life occupied with those thoughts and feelings that we cherish the most, for at such sudden times, only they surface in the mind and get spoken out by the tongue. Swami's response to the multitude of languages being showered on Him was in a language that all know and understand - that of the heart. His smile seemed to have a magical calming effect on all and His abhayahastha seemed a satisfactory enough answer to all the travails and tribulations of every heart.
There were mothers with their babies, grandmothers who had difficulty standing such that Swami had chairs arranged for them to sit, and young women beginning their journey of Life receiving the gifts of Love from His hands. Swami advised one of the women to eat well and have porridge and milk. To another He enquired whether she was happy and she replied loudly, "Very happy Swami. Very, very, very happy." All the babies inside were blessed and the mothers were so pleased with that. Swami went on this way for about one whole hour and it was only after He had personally distributed sarees to everyone inside (that is at least 250 of them) that He moved back into the interview room. In that one hour, He had spread happiness to various parts of the globe even with His physical frame as the grateful and joyous recipients spread it through word of mouth and the scientific technology of the cell phone and the internet. As Swami moved out of the Bhajan Hall, one of the boys there exclaimed to Him, "Swami, how You shower so much ananda on all!" Swami just seemed to shrug it away for what seems as extraordinary for us is so natural for Him. And it was so apt too. The story of Krishna is sweetest when He performs His divine leelas as a child among the gopikas. Sai Krishna seems to have gopikas from all the nations of the world and what we witnessed before the Bhagawatha Parayanam was the ceaseless flow of love that exists between Sai Krishna and His gopikas, the Lord and His beloved devotees. It was a practical lesson even before the theory class, if we can call it so!
Swami then quickly moved to the stage where the Saptaham was to commence. The priests did a brief ceremony and Swami moved across the stage to observe the Idol. After a short introduction in Telugu, Brahmasri Dr. Nagaphani Sharma took the stage with his Bhagavatha narration. Interspersed with songs and poems, the scholar described the glory of Sai in mellifluous Telugu for an hour. The speaker, an orator par excellence, had a mridangam and harmonium supporting him as he spoke and sang. Swami seemed very happy and touched with his rendition. So lost was he in the glories of Sai, that it truly became a Sai Bhagawatha Parayanam. Swami blessed him profusely and patted him while posing for pictures with him. Then as He moved into the car, He raised both His hands in a smiling benediction for all. There were gasps of delight from everyone who saw the beautiful scene. It was 7:30 p.m. when Swami retired into Yajur Mandir.
November 11 saw a sort of repeat of the previous day in the sense that Swami came out at the same 10:30 a.m. or so and after a brief stint with the installed idols, made His way to the grounds. The grand stage looked wonderful once the supporting scaffolding was removed. It looked so inviting that everyone felt it would not be a surprise if very soon Swami ascended the stage once again to do the final checks. Swami then returned to the Yajur Mandir.
The evening saw the continuation of the talks on the Bhagawatham. Swami came for darshan at about 5:15 p.m. and took the detour that the narrow passage after the Primary school block afforded Him. He came on stage and the priests did the brief ceremony. Swami blessed one of the priests to introduce the speaker of the day. He did so with such force and vigour beginning with the glory of Lord Sai that one could have easily mistaken him to be the speaker of the evening! Garikapati Narasimha Rao, a renowned scholar and excellent orator, was the scheduled speaker for the day. He spoke to an enthralled crowd for about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Though the speaker was excellent and flawless in his rendition, it was only Swami's presence that kept the entire crowd in order. There is the scientific law of entropy that states that with passage of time, the randomness or disorderliness increases unless energy is spent to maintain order. But in the Divine Presence, this law gets reversed. With the passage of time, more and more orderliness sets in and perfect unity and harmony gets achieved, that too apparently effortlessly! But that just speaks of Swami as the greatest generator of Godly energy! This got demonstrated when Swami went briefly into the interview room.
People started getting up and relaxing their muscles and moving around a bit maybe to refresh the blood circulation in their tired legs! Some even began to get up and file out. Five minutes later, Swami arrived and then it was all back to perfect order! It must be said that the speaker did a really fantastic job and narrated the Bhagawatham from Pareekshith's curse and dilemma till the Varaha Avatar of Lord Vishnu.
The talk was peppered with examples from day to day life and sprinkled liberally with humour. For instance, the speaker said that worries were like Government buses - 5-6 of them arrive in a row and after that for the next 3-4 hours there are none! So when in worry remember that trouble-free days are coming soon. It is a pity that each language has its own unique specialty that cannot be properly translated into other languages! It suffices to say that it was a Telugu person's delight to hear Sri Narasimha Rao Garu.
At the end of his speech, at about 6:45 p.m., Swami materialized a beautiful gold necklace for him and lovingly put it around his neck. He also blessed him with silk clothes - dhoti and angavastram. The aarthi to Swami and the idols were simultaneously performed and blessing everyone Swami retired for the day.
November 12 and 13, 2008 – The Third and Fourth Day of Bhagavatha Sapthah
The morning of the third day of the Bhagavatha Sapthah saw Swami arriving into the Mandir in the chair and going for a complete darshan round. Those seated on the gents’ side would have definitely rejoiced at this change of route after quite a few days of His taking the detour. Swami went through the portico and then came on the front stage and moved slowly across the shrine with the idols. He then went into the Bhajan Hall for bhajans. As bhajans concluded and aarthi was being sung, Swami moved out of the Sai Kulwant Hall towards the stadium where the stage was on the verge of completion.
The lift had been put in place and the roof of the Yagna area wore a regal look. Just as Swami approached the dais, the power supply bowed out - maybe in honour of the greatest "power" supply that was headed towards the stage! Providence, as the world calls it or Swami's Grace in the Sai devotees’ dictionary, ensured that a diesel motor engine powered vehicle with the makeshift lift was also present and it got the blessing of transporting Swami up to the stage. Once on stage, Swami was surrounded by all the main and important members of the Central Trust and they were all eager to ensure that Swami was happy with all the preparations being made. Swami went around the Yagna kundams and was very particular in finding out what place had been allotted for Him to sit. "Swami, one place is right in the centre of the stage", it was suggested.
Swami went to the actual Shanti Vedika, off the newly constructed platform, and had a look. The sight of Swami against the huge backdrop of Krishna and Arjuna in a magnificent chariot being pulled by powerful stallions was really thrilling. Swami had a brief glimpse of the room that had been made for Him. But all the while, something seemed to be on His mind. As we see it now, it was the fact that He had not found a spot from where all devotees could see Him. He moved right to the front edge of the stage. All the students and others who had gathered to see Him were down there and their faces lit up as Swami came there. Seeing this, Swami also seemed pleased and satisfied. He had found a place from where He could see all His beloved devotees and from where all could see Him too. As He was moving around all the workers atop the stage had close darshan and many of them were blessed with a personal and personalized smile from Swami! As Swami moved to the western end of the stage, He stopped and gently looked up. Then and there, right before everyone's eyes, a piece of the decorative plywood from the top crashed down with a thud. Swami was the centre of calm among the sea of storm. The beauty of Divinity is that it guides, foretells, warns and finally congratulates for a job well done! The warning before the congratulations that He surely will give seemed to have been served. "Take care of the tiniest of the details. It is inappropriate to say that the devil is in the details. Perfection and God lie in the details!" seemed to be the message. Swami then descended the stage and drove back to Yajur Mandir.
The evening sessions were dominated by the stories of the Lord as the Bhagawatha Parayanam continued in full zest and vigour. Swami arrived and after half a round, moved to the stage. Swami then got started the proceedings with the puja by the Tirupati priests for a few moments followed by the introduction of the speaker for the day - Tribhasha Sahasravadhani V. Padmakar garu. The topic for the day was one that is very close to Swami's heart - the story of little Prahalada. Prahalada was the son of the demon Hiranyakashipu who had boons that made him immortal - at least he thought that way. Like a single ray of light that dispels the darkness existing in a room for centuries, Prahalada illumined everyone with his intense faith and love for Vishnu. His story is a witness to the fact that the Lord will tolerate anything done against Him, but touch His devotee and it is all over. Lord Vishnu took up the terrible Narasimha avatar and annihilated Hiranyakashipu. The faith of the little boy is awe-inspiring and Swami seemed so touched and happy throughout the narrative. As the 75 minute long talk concluded, the Lord materialized a beautiful gold chain for the speaker and put it round his neck. He also gifted him with silk clothes. Then He received aarthi and blessed prasadam to be distributed to everyone. The concluding poojas for the idols were performed after Swami retired.
The night of November 12, 2008 is immortalized in the history of mankind for it is on this night that the 1000th full moon got its opportunity to shine down upon that earth which also held the physical frame of the Lord of the Universe. So, date wise, the Sahasra Chandra Darshanam was completed. The moon seemed to shine with added luster and why not? It had every right to feel like the one in thousand that it was!
In the morning of 13th, Swami did not come out for the morning session. It also happened to be the concluding day of the Grama Seva being done by the students. As a fitting finale, the seva was carried out for the inmates of the ashram. This concept is so beautiful for in all of our homes too, the hosts eat last after ensuring that everyone has had their fill to their heart’s content. But another wonderful thing that happened on this day was the supreme boon that Swami bestowed on the members of the family of His physical frame.
As mentioned earlier, the previous night was the formal completion of the sighting of a thousand full moons. To celebrate that, Swami permitted the family members to gather for a private function in His residence at Yajur Mandir. It was a very warm and homely ceremony. Aarthis were taken and other religious items waved at the Lord to ward off the "evil eye" as it is called. The Lord belongs to the whole Universe equally but it is really the blessings of God and the merits of many previous births that one gets the opportunity to be born in the same family as the Lord. Though Sri Krishna belonged to and loved everyone equally, the Yadavas were His family members and that was something unique and special. As the ceremony went on, Swami sat sweetly receiving the offerings and the Padapooja (worship of His lotus feet). He spoke to the members of the family and lovingly advised them as the eldest in a family should and would. It was an entirely new facet of Swami on display. He was now the Uncle, Father and Grandfather all rolled into one. He posed lovingly for pictures and the members of the family were grateful for this chance of many lifetimes that Swami conferred on them. Swami also had wonderful lunch prepared for all of them. Really, one has so much to learn from the Lord. Every moment with Him is a lesson on how one must live one’s life - happy and contented always and spreading the same to everyone who comes into contact with him/her.
The evening saw the exposition of the "Gajendra Moksha” story by the scholar, Bachampalli Santosha Kumara Shastri. He had been introducing the speakers daily and so Swami called on His translator, Prof. Anil Kumar to introduce him to the audience. The talk centered around the story of the mighty elephant-king, Gajendra, who is caught in the ferocious jaws of a crocodile. When all fails, the elephant calls out to the Lord who then arrives on the scene and rescues him. As has been through the past three days, people sat listening to him in rapt attention. Swami was there for all the 70 minutes on the stage. The greatness of these speakers lies in the manner they extrapolate the stories to our day to day lives and draw inspiring lessons for all. As he concluded, Swami materialized a gold chain and presented it lovingly to him. He requested Swami for a picture with him and Swami agreed to it. He also gifted Him with silk clothes. Aarthi was then performed and Swami moved towards Yajur Mandir.
Again at Yajur Mandir, lamps had been lit forming the outline of the Shivalinga. The ladies from the family did Aarthi to Swami and sought His blessings. Smilingly showering His blessings on them Swami went into the residence.
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