October 1, 2008 – Dasara in Prasanthi Nilayam
With the beginning of the new month on October 1, the whole of Prasanthi Nilayam shifted gears in preparation of the Dasara Yagnam called the Veda Purusha Saptaha Jnana Yagna which was to start on October 3. The Kalasa Puja had already begun inside the Prasanthi Mandir the previous day.
By October 1, almost all the students had become acquainted with the Rudram after the 20 days of intensive coaching. It was about 5:15 p.m. that Swami arrived for darshan and was welcomed with the chants of the Rudram. He did not take the full round and used the detour after ladies side and went straight to the Bhajan Hall. Not very long after, Swami took a round in the Bhajan Hall, and then moving via the upper portico, came out to the main stage.
He sat listening to the Vedas being chanted. He was keenly observing as to who were chanting confidently and who were shaky, still learning. Even if we do not consider His divine all-seeing eye, Swami's observation and sight are so perfect that He immediately spots those who are not confident. And when He does so, it is actually to inspire them and breathe confidence into them. He sat swaying His hands and looking at everyone; it was a wonderful experience. All the students in the front few rows were stretching out their hands with letters to the fullest as if wanting Him also to stretch 10 times more and receive them! But on some occasions Swami just chooses to look at all of them nonchalantly in a relaxed manner.
After a while however, He began calling boys from the front rows in a ‘random’ manner. Well, events in Swami’s presence may seem ‘random’ at times, but that's only to a mind that has not yet experienced Him. Many things in the universe such as the way smoke twirls and rises into the skies or the way water eddies and flows in turbulent streams have been thought to be ‘random’ - till the time chaos theory made waves! The chaos theory, one that is in the frontiers of sciences today, is really about finding the underlying order in apparently random data. And so, with Swami too, when we think or talk about His ‘randomness’ it’s actually a reflection of that wonderful underlying order that He alone knows!
And so, Swami began collecting letters. As a student would get up and go to Him, his place in the front row would be occupied by another student from behind who would have a letter! The first line therefore always had students holding out letters for Him! He called out for a member of the Veda group and asked him as to how many students were confident with the Rudram. Swami wanted to know at least an approximate number. The answer given to Him was ‘about 50’. Swami then called the tray boys and blessed all of them. One Iranian Muslim boy from the Primary school had also come for blessings as it was the occasion of Id. Swami called out to him and blessed him too. That being done, Swami went back to taking letters from the boys. Each boy sitting there was pining for that personal call from Swami when he could go and handover his letter to Him.
It’s all a matter of perspective as they say. As you sit there, just identify yourself with one of the students holding out the letters. And do the identifying a bit seriously. Feelings of devotion and desperation combine and make you think, "Swami, why not this letter? Why only from a few of them? What is special in others that is not in me?" Instead, sitting there if you identify yourself with Swami, there is the feeling of absolute impartiality, and thoughts that arise are, "The boys have to be picked ‘randomly’ for all are equal. What criteria can I use when, say, I want to take 20 letters?’ And thus silently, amidst the loud chanting, goes on wonderful games of thoughts and feelings - games in which His decision is final and all abide by it!
Swami sat outside till about 5:45 p.m. and then He said that it was time for the bhajans to begin. He moved into the Bhajan Hall and the bhajans began. Aarthi was taken at about 6:10 p.m.
October 2, 2008 – Day three of Dasara in Prasanthi Nilayam
The evening of October 2, the third day since the Kalasa Puja started in Prasanthi Mandir marking the beginning of Dasara Celebrations, was very eventful even though Swami chose to remain indoors in the morning. At about 4:30 p.m. everyone became alert and signs that Swami was coming out was very evident. And the master of uncertainty that He is, Swami came in the car! As He neared the central marble blocks, He took a turn and drove out of the main Gopuram gate. At the same time, many of the devotees too headed towards the nearest exits.
The enthusiasm of the devotees to catch a glimpse of Him is so infectious that even those who are not able to or not inclined to run, find their legs moving faster and faster as they see others doing the same! Swami’s car via the main road went to the Vidyagiri Stadium where the construction of a grand stage for the upcoming Sahasra Chandra Darshanam Homam was on. As always a huge following formed the tail of the car and athletic sevadal formed a security cordon of ropes alongside the car. Swami arrived at the stage and then the car halted. The glass was lowered and the chief engineers at the site went to Swami.
The Lord in all His love and magnanimity gives opportunities to all of us to enjoy the joy of interaction with Him. And next, armed with the different charts and sketches, the engineers explained to Swami the proposed plan of action and the progress achieved till then. All the workers stood with folded hands on either side of the car and were very happy at this wonderful darshan being conferred on them. Swami seemed to survey the Shanti Vedika and expressed satisfaction at the way things were going on there. He was there for about 5-10 minutes. Then blessing the workers and devotees gathered on either sides, Swami slowly moved across the Shanti Vedika. He was seated on the left side seat of the car while Shanti Vedika was on the right, and elders present there prayed to Swami that if the car came the other way, He could see the work better.
As Swami moved down the slope of the road, the workers from the Senior Boys’ Hostel too offered their salutations. The warden was also there and He invited Swami to bless the new "Dhyanamandir" that had been constructed at the hostel. Swami assured that He would do so later and then drove on. It was a pleasant surprise when Swami took an about turn and returned back to the Shanti Vedika. One may be tempted to think that He did so to get a better view of the work in progress. But as one waited and watched, it dawned that it was for the workers' joy that He did so! The car slowly drove across and Swami blessed all the workers who had gathered in a straight line and drank in His beautiful form. The scene reminded one of the Brindavan days of the Dwapara Yuga where everyone would abandon whatever they were doing to have a look at the sweet Krishna. The Karma Yoga, like the mind, came to a stand still and the Bhakti Yoga, like the heart, continued at a frenetic pace. Swami, thus, drove out of the stadium leaving behind workers and devotees with cherished memories.
After this, Swami arrived at Sai Kulwant Hall and took a darshan round in the car itself. Then, He moved to the centre of the stage via the lower veranda. He sat out listening to the Vedic chants. He also began to participate in some of the chants and this encouraged everyone to exercise their vocal chords to a greater extent. Almost everyone in the first line held letters for Him. This is a wonderful type of game that goes on. Seeing that Swami was intent only on the Veda, the hands holding the letters began to drop down slowly. Finally, only two or three boys seemed to have letters. After a few minutes, Swami suddenly called one boy and took his letter, opened it and read through. The next moment, the "letter count" had risen dramatically as now even boys in the second and third lines held up their letters praying for acceptance! Smilingly, Swami called the boys one by one and took their letters. He read many of them there itself. One boy was reprimanded for writing long letters. "Write only what is necessary" seemed to be the message!
As most of the letters were taken, Swami emptied His hands and began to sway them gently to the rhythmic chanting. He instructed that bhajans should begin in the Bhajan Hall. All the singers were seated outside, and so, they rose and silently moved inside the hall. Swami looked at each of them as they passed by Him. The bhajans began soon afterwards and needless to say His presence outside made a world of difference to the singing volume and enthusiasm. Swami sat outside for about five bhajans and it was a wonderful darshan cum bhajan session. Then He moved into the Bhajan Hall and two bhajans later, received aarthi and retired for the day.
October 3, 2008 – The Start of Veda Purusha Sapthah Jnana Yagnam
The beginning of spring and start of autumn are two very important junctions of climatic and solar influence. These two periods are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother since ancient times in India. The Navarathri festival or the 'nine day festival' becomes 'ten days festival', Dasara, meaning 'ten days', with the addition of the last day, Vijaya Dashami which is its culmination. On all these ten days, the various forms of Mother Mahisasura-mardini (Durga) are worshipped with fervour and devotion. The goddess is invoked as a spiritual force called Durga, also known as Kali in order to destroy all impurities during the first three days. The next three days, the Mother is adored as a giver of spiritual wealth, Lakshmi, who is considered to have the power of bestowing on her devotees inexhaustible wealth in all senses of the term. The final set of three days is spent in worshipping the goddess of wisdom, Saraswati. In order to have all-round success in life, devotees seek the blessings of all the three aspects of the Divine Mother and hence, the nine nights of worship.
At Puttaparthi, this festival is celebrated in all its fervour and spiritual intensity. It marks the beginning of the Vedapurusha Saptaha Jnana Yagnam with the Vedapurusha, our beloved Bhagavan, presiding over the Yagnam in the morning, and imparting Jnana in the evening, either through His own discourses or through the inspiration He lends to scholars. October 3rd was to mark the beginning of this magnificent homam (fire sacrifice), which is a homage and prayer for all humanity. The Sai Kulwant Hall had been decked to its brilliant best. The strains of the sacred Nadaswaram filled the air and the smell of incense filled hearts with the sense of deepest devotion. A brightly caparisoned Sathya Gita marched regally, strutting around her tiny trunk, towards the Yajur Mandir. It was about 8:30 a.m. when an announcement was made that on this holy day Swami would grant darshan in the Sai Kulwant Hall, and then all could move silently into the Poornachandra Auditorium where the Yagnam would commence.
At about 8:50 a.m., Swami arrived, and He looked as fresh as a rose! Sathya Gita moved forward gently towards Him and with her tiny trumpet, offered Him a salute. Swami took apples from her caretaker and fed her. She happily accepted apples from His hand and popped it into her mouth. Swami observed her very sweetly and fed her many times. After that, Swami permitted the little elephant to move to the Sai Kulwant Hall from the back entrance, and He made His much awaited entry into the darshan hall. Moving through the ladies and gents side, He came to the front. Then, He moved into the Bhajan Hall where about a hundred students clad in saffron were chanting the Vedas along with the purohits (priests) who had arrived for the Yagnam. Swami sat there for a while listening to the chants. Then, He got the traditional clothes to be presented to the priests.
As per the custom, the head priest and his wife conduct a separate worship. Swami first gifted a green silk saree to the head priest's wife. Then, He proceeded to give dhotis and angavastrams to all the priests as they bowed at His feet and sought His blessings. They immediately changed into the new clothes and were ready for the commencement of the yagnam. Swami asked, "What about the turmeric and kumkum?" Those were also kept in readiness and Swami permitted them to leave for the auditorium. Before leaving they chanted loudly in unison, some hymns and mantras, and then began to file out. Swami, then, instructed the students also to follow suit. He sat by the side blessing everyone as they left for the Poornachandra auditorium.
As everyone left, Swami was almost alone except for 4-5 people in the entire Bhajan Hall. He sat there so serene and composed, looking at the altar, the walls and the lights! He was at perfect ease with Himself and just looking at Him reminded one of His statement: "When I am alone, I am God!" He need not be isolated to be alone. His is a solitude that is perfect and He moves in and out of it at Will. After a few minutes, Swami moved into the interview room, after which He too made His way to the Poornachandra auditorium.
There is a plethora of activity that goes on the Poornachandra auditorium stage. From the conduction of the Yagnam while chanting Rudram to the silent reading of the Devi Bhagavatam to the strenuous stretching and exercising of the Surya Namaskar. And this is shared between two groups, the priests and the students. All were ready when Swami arrived on the stage. The priests sought His permission to churn the woods and begin the sacred fire to light up the Yagnam. He permitted them, and then they began to churn the embers in a wooden cradle.
As the first wisps of smoke rose into the air, they blew and fanned it lovingly into a flame. At the same time, they took great care that no breeze or external force put it out. Showing it to all assembled, they placed it in the pit and fuelled it into a wonderful flame! The same breeze that once threatened to put out the spark now inflamed the holy fire to greater heights! Like Swami says that there will be many hindrances in the spiritual path in the beginning. But later, these obstructions themselves hasten one’s spiritual progress!
And thus, the Yagnam began and a silent thrill seemed to surge through the being of anyone who could comprehend, in part at least, the great blessing he/she was being conferred with. Swami accepted the garlands and also lit a candle with a matchstick. This candle was used to light up all the oil lamps on stage. The priest engaged in Surya Namaskar, as is the tradition, came to Swami and offered a flower at the beginning and fell in full prostration, the Sashtanga Namaskar, as it is called, to Him. Swami blessed Him, after which the priest circumambulated Swami before continuing His prayers. The students, a large group on stage, kept the chanting alive, and in one corner, the Devi Mahatyam or reading the glories of the Divine Mother was on. After a while, Swami moved across the stage to the other corner where the head priest and his wife were involved in worship. He placed a garland and received their prayers. All the ladies rejoiced at the close darshan that they got as He came to their side. On His way back, Swami stopped at the Homakundam.
He sat observing the offerings made to the fire. A magnificent wooden, exquisitely carved statue depicting the Vishwa Roopa Darshanam from the immortal epic, Mahabharata, had been placed at the back of the stage. When Swami sat at the fire, the hood of the serpent on the statue seemed to form an arch over His head! Swami sat there for a while and then retired for the day. The Yagnam went on till the aarthi at about 12:00 p.m.
In the evening, Swami arrived again in the chair. He moved through the ladies side which was packed with children from the Primary school and the students of the Anantapur campus of the University. The Veda chanting welcomed Him into what used to be called the Prashanti Vidwan Mahasabha - not that it isn't that anymore but it is not specifically called that way. The evenings during the Dasara are used as a platform for showering the wisdom of elders on all, besides Swami’s own divine discourses whichever days He condescends to bless with. On this day, Swami went around showering the joy of His darshan on all assembled; nobody had the slightest idea as to what the proceedings of the evening would be. Swami came on the stage and asked for the chanting to cease. Then He called the priest who performs aarthi daily in the Prasanthi Mandir on to the stage. Sri Narayana Bhatta was the speaker for the evening.
As he was introduced, he prostrated and sought blessings from Swami. His topic was "Devi Bhagawatam". Using the 10 years of Vedic learning experience, he dwelt in a masterly manner on the significance of the Mother worship. He exhorted all to make attempts at least to read the Devi Purana as it was in very simple Sanskrit. As he concluded his half an hour talk, Swami asked him to speak some more on the Gayathri mantra. And thus, he dwelt on that too. When the speaker kept addressing the chant as "Gayathri", Swami corrected, "Gayathri Maata"(meaning Mother Gayathri). The Gayathri mantra is actually addressed to the Sun God and is not a goddess as common belief is, he said. "Gayathri" is actually a meter in Sanskrit and it is used to make some of the most powerful chants. He also went into the fascinating details and after he concluded, Swami applauded his effort.
For the next 10 minutes or so, Swami and the speaker were involved in a quite animated and deep discussion. After that, Swami smiled and called a student and asked, "Can you chant the Gayathri mantra?"
He did so and Swami corrected him at some places. With a loving pat on his cheeks, Swami sent him back to his place and called another student - an American boy this time. This boy too was told to chant and he did so. Swami smilingly latched on to his errors and after a loving pat, sent him back. The next student tested was the Iranian boy Sathya from the primary school. He seemed to impress Swami with his chanting.
Swami was in such a comfortable and calm poise. He called boys holding letters and accepted them interacting with all of them for some time. There were smiles everywhere and the silence that filled the hall was occupied with prayers from the devotees and Grace from the Lord. Swami then asked for bhajans to begin. Three bhajans were sung during which the prasadam distribution went on. After that, Swami received Aarthi and retired for the day.
- Heart2Heart Team
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