Volume 7 - Issue 12
December 2009
Other Articles


How a Journey of Hope and Love Began
From a Terrible Train Tragedy

February 13, 2009 was a fateful day for the Coromandel Express en route from Kolkata to Chennai.  The pathetic catastrophe it met with left hundreds injured physically but unscathed emotionally or psychologically.

Thanks to a rescue operation that sprang spontaneously from the hearts of a band of Sai devotees, it wasn’t long before the victims forgot their physical pain and began to smile.  Just like the group of super active Sai Youth from Jajpur in the state of Orissa, India, the members of the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organisation are creating a global benchmark in selfless community service and responsibility. This gripping tale of the gruesome twist of destiny also unfolds the glory of hope and joy for the hundreds of passengers who were in the train that eventful night. 


It was pitch dark as the Coromandel Express hurtled towards its destination. Running for thousands of miles, this super fast train connects two major metros of India, Kolkata in the East and the city of Chennai down South everyday. On February 13, 2009 it set out to do the same routine too, but with a twist of fate, it turned into a tragedy.

The town of Jajpur in the state of Orissa where hundreds were injured
and a few lost their lives on that fateful evening - Feb 13, 2009

The Coromandel Express Catastrophe

On that day it departed from Howrah (Kolkota) at 2.50 p.m. and proceeded at its usual fast pace covering nearly 70 kilometres every hour with minimum stops.

By the time the Sun went down the sprightly carrier had crossed the state of West Bengal and was half way into Orissa. When it was 100 kilometres away from Bhubaneshwar, Orissa’s capital city, something suddenly happened; in an instant the pleasurable journey had turned into a nightmare.

It was 7.45 p.m. The commuters, who were either relaxing or enjoying their meals, in a split second, saw their world turn topsy-turvy.

The train came to an abrupt screeching and frightening halt, and in the process, several carriages instantly overturned! It was a full speed derailment - the worst accident that could happen on a rail journey.

Unable to withstand the impact of the sudden halt, coaches S4 and S5 just toppled over
while many other bogies were instantly derailed

The mayhem and panic that ensued was heartrending to say the least. Screams and groans from every corner, pathetic pleas from the severely injured, agonising shrieks from terrified and hapless children, plaintive cries from mothers for their near and dear ones – it was literally a nightmare; the thick blanket of darkness that enveloped the area as the train lights went out added to the sad plight of the passengers. 

Mr. Sabuj Biswas experienced the tragedy first-hand

“I found everyone was wailing in pain and agony. A few ladies in S6 were severely injured and their skulls were bleeding. Using my cell phone light I could somehow get out of the train through the door.

"I was actually very scared – all I could hear was miserable cries everywhere,”
recalls Mr. Sabuj Biswas, a passenger who was on his visit to Prasanthi Nilayam for Bhagavan’s darshan.

Describing the sad event more as he saw it himself, he says,


“I had my berth reserved in coach S4 of the train and at the time of the accident I was heading towards the pantry car to buy some food. As soon as I entered S6 after crossing S5, the train suddenly came to an immediate jerky halt, and the next moment was complete turmoil - all the 16 bogies of the train had derailed. Coaches S4 and S5 were fully upside down, but bogie S6, which I had just entered, luckily escaped from turning over because the wheel
of that coach got loosened.”

Sai Sevadals Spring into Action to Offer Support and Solace

Many limbs were broken, several hearts were wrecked in total horror, and most unfortunately a few lives were lost too. It was a scene from hell. The only saving grace as it turned out later was the fact that the train had come to rest about 50 metres away from the Sai Centre of the area. It was the Jajpur Road in the state of Orissa in East India, and thanks to providence, all the Sai devotees had gathered in the centre that night to conduct their weekly bhajan session.                      

How do the Sai Youth feel on receiving all these moving letters and accolades? “Well, this makes us happy but the greatest fact about this whole service activity is that each one of us felt the Divine Presence; it was as if Someone Higher was in charge,
it wasn’t mere human effort.

The moment the news of this tragedy reached them, they instantly organised the mselves into groups of 60 and rushed to the spot. Their sole goal – to save as many lives as possible and bring aid to the injured.

With the name of the Divine on their lips, and trying their best to not breakdown witnessing the agonising scenes and anguishing cries, soon they entered into the damaged carriages.

It was a terrible tragedy and what made it worse was that it happened in a remote place and much after the
Sun had set; the immediate challenge was arranging light for the rescue operations

In fact, they were the first rescuers to arrive and when they started their work the only source of light was their mobile phones. They desperately identified the injured and made prompt calls for emergency help. Mr. Dhirendra Kumar Sahoo, the Sai Youth Coordinator of that region, led this initiative. Recounting later those tense moments to a leading national newspaper, he said,

Moments after the crash, one of our members called me. We immediately alerted the district collector and the hospital, gathered a few doctors, and rushed to the accident site.

“I cannot even begin to describe the wails and screams we heard on reaching there. It was pitch dark. Sixty of us had reached within minutes but we did not know where to start. We split into groups and started rescuing passengers.”

Sai Centre Transforms into a Temple of Healing

While a group of Sai workers were busy at the accident site, there were others who had converted the Sai Temple into the official location of emergency first aid; here all the patients were provided immediate medical help and the most severely injured were transported to a local hospital. The selfless Sai workers first provided much needed physical, and also more importantly, emotional support to the hundreds of distressed passengers.

In a rapid response they organised three full hot meals over the next twelve hours for over one thousand people. Food was not enough; the cold weather around was biting and that only worsened the pain.

They quickly procured and distributed blankets, and this was followed by biscuit packets, hot drinks, etc.

The Sai workers immediately sprung into action preparing hot and healthy food for the distressed passengers

Mr. Sabuj Biswas was one among the many who were rescued. He recalls the service done by the Sai workers and says:

“I was very soon taken to the Sai Centre, and there I found Sai volunteers rendering whatever help they could - giving first aid to the injured and transporting the severely wounded to a hospital. In fact, they offered whole hearted support to the patients. They were truly God-sent as they indeed were the first to come to our help.

“They even made arrangements for our dinner! They started giving out pouches of water and black tea to all of us; children got biscuits. They even brought us medicines that we desperately needed. It boosted our morale a great deal to find such people offering help so selflessly.”

The Sai Centre had transformed into a makeshift mini hospital where the depressed and dejected
received ample doses of physical, emotional and psychological support

The moment the Sai workers took the patients to the nearest hospital, the officials there admitted the injured without a question or a second of delay. This was because the staff of the hospital had great admiration and trust in the Sai volunteers. These inspired youngsters had actually been visiting this hospital every Sunday as early as 6 in the morning for many months together to clean the premises and enliven the spirits of the patients by offering them physical and emotional help.

“In those immediate hours after the accident, all the passengers were dazed and were in a state of shock. Our sisters sat by the side of each passenger and spoke to them lovingly like they were their own family members. They gave their cell phones to them so that they could talk to their near and dear ones. This really helped to infuse a lot of courage into the minds of these distressed people and gave them confidence to face the situation with fortitude. The Sai sisters worked till 1 a.m. in the night with great love.”

What touched the traumatic passengers that fateful night was the love that was showered on them so spontaneously. “Our Sai sisters’ contribution was truly immense,” says Mr. Dhirendra Sahu and adds, “In those immediate hours after the accident, all the passengers were dazed and were in a state of shock. Our sisters sat by the side of each passenger and spoke to them lovingly like they were their own family members. They gave their cell phones to them so that they could talk to their near and dear ones. This really helped to infuse a lot of courage into the minds of these distressed people and gave them confidence to face the situation with fortitude. The Sai sisters worked till 1 a.m. in the night with great love.”

The heavily injured patients were instantly shifted to a nearby hospitals
while the others received the required help and aid in the Sai Centre itself

Selfless Service Begets Selfless Service

As this was going on inside the Sai centre, the other Sai workers were busy not only rescuing more passengers but also collecting their displaced luggage and protecting it from theft and misuse. They handed over everything to the local police for safe custody, and because of this, even two days after the incident many passengers could find all their belongings in tact in the office of the railway police.

The Sai Workers organised and distributed
much-needed medicines too

All these timely and efficient initiatives of the Sai workers inspired many others in the village to join the service. And so there was a good number of people lending their hands and soon the local authorities became active too. They brought lanterns, more blankets, biscuits and so on. The Sai centre, however, remained the central coordinating point for the entire rescue operation.

In fact, the Sai workers’ service extended even to helping the distressed passengers complete their journey. Mr. Biswas shares his own story:

“I realised I needed to catch the Prashanthi Express next day from Vishakapatnam to reach Puttaparthi! But my worry was how could I get there? It was a long way from Jajpur, the site of the accident. The Sai workers there however were very kind; they arranged a van for me to reach to Bhubaneswar (from where the Prashanthi Express begins). Like me, twelve other people were facilitated to catch this train to come to Puttaparthi.”

Heartfelt Expressions of Gratitude

Many passengers were moved with the intense interest displayed by the Sai workers to reach out and help. And they expressed this through emails and letters after they reached their destinations safely. One example is the letter from Mr. P. M. Gunaseelan from Chennai. This is what he wrote to the convenor of the Sai Centre of Jajpur:

The Sai Youth later received more than a couple of such gratitude letters from the rescued passengers

Respected Sir,

After finishing my work I started on my journey to my hometown by the Coromandel Express (that fateful day). At about 7.45 p.m., I saw death before my eyes. I and my co-passengers were lost in an entirely new place, situation and language during that terrible night. We felt like we were in a dense forest without any directions. At that time, you and the other Sai Baba devotees took care of us. Not only this, you provided us food, shelter and essential medical care to those who were affected.

We did not feel that we were amidst strangers. We felt as if we were with our own brothers and sisters. Your comfort and care made us feel better to an extent that we forgot our painful wounds. I admire your services till this second and I will never forget that in my life time.

When you took us to your place, I was almost spellbound to see the two Sai Baba photos there. At that moment I felt as if something  inside my soul was fulfilled. All my worries melted away. With the kindness of great Sai Baba, we all reached Chennai safely. Even when we reached Chennai Central, the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Samithi devotees came to help us, which just moved our hearts.

Yours faithfully,
P.M. Gunaseelan

This is the appreciation letter from Mr. Dhiren Kumar Das, the District Magistrate and Collector of Jajpur

The District Magistrate and Collector of Jajpur, Mr. Dhiren Kumar Das, who rushed to the accident site and was instrumental in the rescue efforts, also sent letters of commendation to the Sai Samithi Convenor, Mr. P. Panda and to the Youth leader, Mr. Dhirendra Kumar Sahu.

Dear Mr. Panda,

It is heartening to see how your organisation could transcend itself in the service of suffering people. The selfless service and humanitarian helping hand that the people of your organisation extended to the victims of the rail accident will always remain an enduring experience for others to emulate. I have nothing but words of effusive thanks for the way you made the task of district administration much easier and made us feel proud. I wish this spirit of humanity touches all aspects of our lives and makes a difference to the ways of our society.

Dear Mr. Sahu,

It is hard to imagine how different it would have been but for your phone call informing me of this accident. We could save precious time to organise ourselves to respond to this contingent situation. I have words of appreciation for the sense of volunteerism shown by you during adversity. I commend this day your effort, sincerity and above all a serving attitude which I hope shall set examples for others to follow. Let this spirit live long in you.

National media hailed the exemplary selfless service
initiatives of the Sai Youth of Jajpur

Sai Sevadals feel the Invisible Hand of Sai

How do the Sai Youth feel on receiving all these moving letters and accolades? “Well, this makes us happy but the greatest fact about this whole service activity is that each one of us felt the Divine Presence; it was as if Someone Higher was in charge, it wasn’t mere human effort.

"For instance, if the accident had happened even a hundred meters further down the route, certainly we would have had a lot of severe casualties. This is because after a few metres the rails climb high and the surrounding area becomes quite low.

"If the accident had occured there the train would probably have somersaulted killing hundreds instantly. Besides, it would have taken us longer to reach there and help out. As the accident happened near our Sai Centre and at a time when all of us were there in the Centre, plenty of activities could be coordinated easily.

Moreover, a lot of other people also came forward and joined us, the Sai workers, as they have a lot of respect and positive attitude about our intentions and actions. The community of Jajpur thinks very highly of our organization,”
shares Mr. Dhirendra Kumar Sahu.

“When we work in Sai Organisation, it is not ‘I’, it is ‘we’” – Mr. Dhirendra Kumar Sahu, Sai Youth Leader

Such selfless service activities has surely helped in bringing solace and joy to hundreds and also brightening the image of the Sai Organisation. But how has it helped the volunteers themselves? “What is in it for you?” we ask the Sai Youth leader, and this is what he says:

“To undertake a service project as a personal activity and do the same thing under the banner of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations are two very different experiences. When I go to a hospital alone, people there might suspect my intentions or I may even develop a personal pride about the work I do, which is not advisable.

"In our organization, it is not ‘I’, it is always ‘we’, and finally ‘He’. I think this is what attracts the younger generation to this organization."

"On the other hand, when we do the work as an activity of the Sai Organisation, there is no ‘I’ there, it is ‘we’. Instead of being a suspect, we are welcomed. Bhagavan is the Driving Force of this organization and He has created this to improve our lives even as we help the others. Here we stand up as models before society. One must have the desire to contribute to the society’s welfare.

Mr. Dhirendra Kumar Sahoo, Sai Youth leader of Jajpur

“Other day we saw so many people becoming a victim of the terrible train tragedy, who knows someday we ourselves might run into a similar misfortune. Therefore, we need to help others, only then will God help us when we need it the most.

"We have to be humble to receive Bhagavan in our lives. In fact, I consider it a great blessing that Swami has given me this wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to others how treading on the path laid down by him can change our lives completely for the better. I only pray that He never denies me this fortune of being an instrument in His hands.”

It is because of such a noble attitude of these youth of that region that the Sai organization of Jajpur has become a great force of positive transformation. Plenty of other youth, who were otherwise misguided, are now happy to be part of this organization and experience the joy of selfless service. What exactly appeals to these youngsters about the Sai organization?

The Speciality of Sai Organisation - Love

“It is just love, our specialty is Love,” says Mr. Dhirendra Sahu, the Youth leader. “We never distinguish between people and organizations. If I cannot take the other person as my brother in God, how can I touch him, and how can we understand each other? And unless we work in unity, how can we work for God? And if we cannot work for God, how can we love each other? As you can see, it is all beautifully related. In our organization, it is not ‘I’, it is always ‘we’, and finally ‘He’. I think this is what attracts the younger generation to this organization.

Inspired by the service rendered by the Sai Youth immediately after the tragedy, many other organisations and senior politicians joined hands with these selfless workers and every little bit helped to assuage the pain of the victims

This is how Brotherhood of Sai is growing in this little town hidden in one of the most underdeveloped states of India. The Love of Sai has no boundaries and the magic that it creates in transforming hearts is as heartening as it is mystifying. “All of us felt a kind of exhilaration in being able to bring succour to the poor victims of the train accident. We may not have slept a night, but the joy of participating in helping so many people is really indescribable. We are eternally grateful to Bhagavan Baba for giving us this opportunity to be of use to others in their time of need. What other special blessing can we ask for?”

The dedication and devotion of these Youth can only be matched by their exemplary service and their exceptional love for their Lord. For all those who think devotion and spirituality is for the retired and unemployed, this is what Love for God can do to a person. Imagine how our Society could be if we had such inspired souls in every little corner of this earth. Would that not be heaven?

The Chief Minister of the state too reached the
spot to access the situation
The Sai Youth leader of Jajpur receives an award of appreciation from Mr. Naveen Pattnaik, the CM of Orissa

The sense of social responsibility and civic consciousness demonstrated by the members of the Sai Centre in Jajpur, Orissa is but one of the many instances where state administrators, officials and the general public are openly acknowledging the sincerity and selflessness of the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organization of India.  Raising the bar of volunteering to the level of worship, the band of workers that function under the divine banner of the Most Compassionate Being of this Universe remain committed to soaking all their efforts, intentions, thoughts, words and actions in the purest of love, untainted by any ulterior motives or desire for reward or recognition

- Bishu Prusty
Radio Sai Team

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