December 24, 2008 – Christmas Eve at Prasanthi Nilayam
Christmas or Yuletide or Noel or Christ's Mass brings to mind images of snow and snowmen, candles and candies, Santa Claus and his sprinting reindeer, Christ and the Holy Cross. The night before, celebrated as Christmas eve, is that holy night when Jesus, the son of God, was supposed to have taken birth. And in Prashanti Nilayam, it is the holy night which is blessed by the Father of Christ!
At about 4:15 p.m., Swami arrived into the "decked with holly" Sai Kulwant Hall. A mention must be made about the elaborate decorations. Sai Kulwant Hall didn't seem as a place in South India. Huge clothspreads with Virgin Mary and her babe boy hung from different parts of the hall. Beautiful paintings adorned the Mandir premises and there were lovely blue lights draping the pillars along with decorative cloths. Tiny bells, ornamental trinkets and other X'Mas decorations made the whole atmosphere festive and holy. How the entire decorations came about is a lovely story in itself which we plan to carry soon as a separate story.
That evening the large number of participants for the choir sat neatly arranged in rows in their respective places. This choir too has a wonderful story of its own and you can find that here: http://sssbpt.org/Pages/Prasanthi_Nilayam/SingingforSai.html
Swami observed the beautifully decorated Christmas tree as soon as He came out. Moving through the hundreds of Christian and Jewish ladies who had assembled for the occasion Swami blessed them all. A huge area in the centre of the Sai Kulwant Hall had been occupied by the members of the choir. They bowed down to Swami and were flashing smiles of glee and joy. Passing through them, Swami blessed all of them. He took a complete darshan round and blessed the boys holding trays as He neared them. He then accepted two letters and a card from the students, and those happened to be the only offerings received by Him that day during darshan rounds.
Swami then moved on to the stage and lit the three huge candles that had been specially placed there. That was followed by a round of applause, and then Swami asked for the choir to begin. Christmas Eve in Prasanthi Nilayam is distinctive over the years with a unique choir comprising representation from many countries singing His glory together in His immediate Divine Presence. The overseas choir has been a part of the Christmas celebrations for over a decade now. This unique choir for this year had over 400 voices singing a spirited collection of songs which were based on different cultures from around the world.
Swami gave His blessings and the graceful conductor waved her finger-baton in the air, giving the cue to more than 400 vocal chords to start the performance. The result was three resounding omkars and another wonderful Christmas Eve in the immediate Divine Presence had begun! All men and women, clad in white, symbolising purity, sang their hearts out in devotional ecstasy.
Some of the numbers for the evening included Christmas is the holy time to celebrate the birth, Almighty God…make me aware and And this is Christmas in Prasanthi. At His Divine command, they continued…as sonorous notes from an array of musical instruments rendered the air, hundreds of them sang in chorus, the Sun in the western horizon slowly started giving way to a beautiful twilight, and they continued to sing "Then Sings My Soul, My Saviour God to Thee, How Great Thou Art, How Great Thou Art…." It was a befitting evening paying homage to the Master of Masters while remembering His chosen Son, anticipating yet another Divine Advent - the glorious Christmas! It was such a wonderful feeling listening to the overseas devotees and seeing Swami. All sang in unison, united in their Love for Him. The joy and power of Unity which Swami always stresses on could literally be felt, especially with the carols, since these songs are chord based and all the counter strains add up to a great symphonic effect. Separately sung they seem disconnected but when combined, they make an everlasting impression - just what Unity does to diverse components - bringing amazing synergy.
There was something very subtle but interesting that happened as the choir was in progress. After about half an hour of singing, Swami seemed a bit unhappy that no truly Christian carols were being sung; most of them were carols composed on Swami. Swami always advises all to follow their chosen pathways steadfastly. When it is a Buddhist festival, He ensures that bhajans on Bhagavan Buddha are sung and the same is the case on Islamic festivals where the glories of Allah and The Prophet are sung. Therefore, Swami repeatedly called the conductor of the orchestra and told her to sing "Jesus" carols. All of them who witnessed this were in smiles as Swami seemed like a child insisting on the traditional Christmas carols being sung. In such a sweet manner Swami was conveying a profound message. There is no single pathway to the Lord and Swami stands for all. Moreover when there is a gathering of various faiths, we must ensure that our singing reflects the same.
Taken aback at this sudden request from Swami, the conductor began to guide the choir through the carols and songs that they had not actually practised! "O Holy Night", and some of the more traditional carols were then sung. As this was on, Swami blessed prasadam to be distributed to all. People joyfully sang sweet songs as they received "sweet" gifts of the Lord. Towards the end, when the choir told Swami that they were done, Swami seemed to ask, "One more please?" They were simply overjoyed and burst out singing one more which concluded with thunderous claps and a sweet smile from Swami. The Lord then looked towards the students and asked them to sing. It is so beautiful to see how Swami involves the students in any celebration that happens in His presence. It is a great fortune indeed to be His students. And as they began singing bhajans with aalap, Swami sat enjoying it. After 3-4 bhajans, aarthi was taken and Swami retired granting Abhayahastha to all assembled.
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- Heart2Heart Team