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Sai Anandam: National UK Pilgrimage 2013

Swami has many a time said that entry into Prashanti Nilayam is by divine invitation only, and not by the virtue of affording the flight ticket. Thus, with the grace of Bhagawan, approximately 60 devotees from the UK embarked to Puttaparthi to participate in the National UK Pilgrimage with the theme, Sai Anandam – In harmony with Sai.

Running from 28th July until 3rd August 2013, the programme was densely filled with spiritual activities, ranging from hearing inspiring speeches to visiting Brindavan. Evidently, Swami was determined to make sure we were not idle during our time in Prashanti.

Following the much appreciated preparation by our group leaders, the official pilgrimage began at 4am on the morning of 28th July for Omkar, Suprabhatam, and Nagarsankeertan. In spite of the tiring hour, those who made the queue outside N2 were eager to begin their Sadhana by first waking up Swami – “a rare blessing”, as one fellow devotee gracefully described it. Afterwards, many of us discussed the experience of being in the Prashanti Mandir, describing it as “electrifying”, “uplifting” and “peaceful”.

Our first group darshan was a poignant event, filled with mixed feelings and spirits, as for many it was the first visit to Prashanti since Swami’s Maha Samadhi in 2011. Walking into Sai Kulwant Hall and seeing the Samadhi in place of the Ganesh statue on the veranda was overwhelming and for some, would take time to adjust to. Nonetheless, being part of a group, Bhagawan allowed us to have special seating in the hall and priority to go up to the Samadhi.

The first meeting was an opportunity for the leaders to introduce the itinerary of the pilgrimage, which we found to be surprisingly busy, with very little time for rest. Nevertheless, our National Chair, Dr Kiran Patel assured us that these extra activities, intertwined between darshan were the real gems of the trip. We of course could only trust his sound opinion. Our leaders graced us with calendars, photos and copies of Bhagawatha Vahini, the official designated book of the pilgrimage. These gifts conveyed the background work which had gone into the trip.

One of the most important elements of a group pilgrimage, as opposed to family or individual trips, is the opportunity to develop and extend our Sai family by meeting like-minded brothers and sisters to elevate each other’s spiritual path. In order to facilitate this we were given the chance to introduce ourselves to the other group members. We expressed our reasons for joining the trip and what we hoped to achieve through the journey. This revealed that many of us came to recharge ourselves with Swami’s divine energy and take this back to the UK. Others sought answers to questions. We discovered that members hailed from various corners of the UK – Alperton, Mill Hill, Hounslow, Bedford, Southampton, Coventry and Leicester.

Following our opening discussions, began the line of prominent guest speakers, who in their own way conveyed Swami’s teachings, keeping him alive in our hearts. Our first speaker, Aravind Balasubrahmaniam, was a student of Swami and currently a broadcaster on RadioSai. He made us think about the question that many of us are probably asked, “How did we start believing in Swami?”. Through an array of experiences during his time as a student and popular student speaker in the divine presence, he said that it is because Swami is the Lord of many little things. Whether it was that eye-to-eye contact you had or vibhuti materialisation or perhaps something as divine as cancelling cancer, God comes into our lives in so many little ways. Indeed, it is these little stories which together create the divine epic for an individual person. He touched greatly on faith in the Lord, especially during hardships when we have a tendency to feel that God has neglected us. We must remember that this is false and concluded with a touching analogy about a goldsmith. A goldsmith was working on an impure piece of gold. He was heating it, filtering it, shaping it and causing the gold much pain. The gold cried to the goldsmith “when will you stop hurting me?”. The goldsmith replied “I will stop when I see my image in you.” And this is perhaps the reality, as Swami will put us through trials and tribulations in order to ensure we become his image.

Our second speaker, Mr. Bishu Prusty, was also a former student and currently a main anchor at RadioSai. Through personal experiences, he spoke on the importance of surrender and how letting God lead the way will always reaps greater results. This was beautifully summarised in a story about a mother and son who went to a bakery. After the mother had bought all that she needed, she asked her son whether he wanted any toffees. They boy wanted some however refused to help himself to the toffees in the jar. This irritated his mother and the shopkeeper. As a result, the shopkeeper had to take them out of the toffee jar himself and placed them in the hands of the boy, who gracefully accepted them. On leaving the store, the mother asked her son why he would not help himself. He smartly conveyed that had he helped himself, he would only have grabbed as many toffees as would have filled his small hands. However, because he let the shopkeeper take the toffees, he received a lot more. If we whole-heartedly surrender to God, we can only receive more. The humility with which he conveyed this was heart-warming.

Dr Sara Pavan, an anaesthetist from Australia spoke of his experiences with Swami and how Swami told him to leave his wealth and comfort in Australia and bring his family to Puttaparthi. He narrated stories of Swami bringing back his grandson to life and spectacles that were left in Bangalore reappearing in Rome, reminding us of Swami’s omnipresence. He touched on being in harmony with God and how this is achieved through leaving behind materialistic and false identities. Agnostic himself, he tried to separate religion from spirituality and said that even an atheist can be in harmony with Swami.

On Monday evening we were addressed by an ex-student who is now a lecturer in statistics and commerce in Swami’s institute, Mr Sai Surendranath. He said that he was determined never to marry and only serve Swami, but later he had to agree to marry as per Swami’s Command. Swami found his future wife, and the two first met on their wedding day! He linked this to the importance of faith in God, for he will take care of everything. A few years ago, his wife suffered from a slipped disc in her spinal column. This caused her much pain and rendered her almost immobile. Before undertaking any further medical treatment, brother Surendranath went to Swami who gave him some vibhuti. This vibhuti ultimately led to her complete recovery. Such is the faith of some lucky souls in the Lord – who withhold from professional medical advice to seek the help from the doctor of all doctors! He gave us useful practical advice on how to connect with the inner God by thinking of Swami and remembering happy moments with God. In this way, we can keep him alive within us.

We were fortunate to listen to Professor Nanjundaiah on Tuesday morning, who translated Swami’s discourses for almost a decade. He outlined the amusing story of how Sri Kasturi came to Swami, after trying to defame the Lord by attempting to pull off his afro, thinking that it was a wig! Through stories, he eloquently reminded us of God’s love and compassion and expressed how we already have God’s love, and need not ask for it. This touched us all.

Perhaps the most thought provoking and challenging talk was given by the former Vice Chancellor of the Swami’s Institute of Higher Learning, Professor G. Venkataraman. Rather than narrating experiences he brought up social issues common in the modern world – single mothers, violence, corruption, rape. Such changes in society though, have not developed overnight but rather are an accumulation of lack of morality in society. He condemned capitalism for its profit driven motives, removing any morality that was left in man. He stressed the importance of serving society as means of helping social problems and described education in moral values is needed, as the nurturing of moral young adults requires time. What he emphasised though, was that such service need not be done in the name of religion or God. This way, they may appeal to a wider population. His talk undoubtedly gave everyone food for thought, especially about conducting service in the UK with an aim of also facilitating the development of more morality in society. As man of science and a great leader, he gave us many anecdotes from his vocation, narrating how Gandhi referred to the radio as “shakti, the energy of God” and how Einstein’s famous equation of energy, E = mc2, was equivalent to the energy of God. This emphasised how these leaders were connected to the higher power. It is hence, not surprising that Einstein said “God does not play with dice”, that is, everything is due to the fine divine design!

Some say, that Prasanthi is Swami’s Office, but Brindavan is Swami’s Home! Hence, on Wednesday, we travelled as a group to Brindavan. Having heard about the experience of the trip last year, we all set off with high expectations. Walking through the grounds in Brindavan, we were met with vibrant flowers and many nostalgic stories. Sri Sanjay Sahni the Director of the Brindavan Institute Campus, guided us through these grounds narrating anecdotes associated with every corner. He explained how Swami inaugurated the cricket field by taking six wickets in six under arm balls! This made us all laugh and reminded us of the playfulness of Sai Krishna in his Brindavan.

We were given the opportunity to sit in Sai Ramesh Hall, the hall in which Swami gave darshan to his devotees in Brindavan. It was truly filled with magical vibrations. One could imagine the hall filled with people, the blue carpets laid out and Swami, in his orange robe, walking towards individuals. Professor Sahni then led us to the University campus where we were met by Dr Ravi Kumar, who narrated his experiences. He conveyed how Swami does everything for a reason. During the construction of Sai Kulwant Hall, many thought the green and gold ceiling was a mistake. However, Swami once explained to a devotee that the reason for this was that he could not materialise a green and gold ring for everyone. Green, he said was for peace. Hence, when the masses flock to Prashanti with their problems, worries and anxieties, they should go home peacefully after sitting in Sai Kulwant Hall.

During the afternoon in Brindavan, we made a trip to the Super Speciality Hospital. The architecture and interior designs were simply mesmerising – not your average hospital, anywhere. It had been designed and constructed with the intention of holistic healing – physically, spiritually and mentally. This temple of healing accommodated a neurology and cardiology department and provided free healthcare to the masses. It was a true blessing to see Swami’s work in action. As Swami says, “If wealth is lost, nothing is lost. If health is lost, something is lost”. In this hospital Swami was clearly restoring and restructuring many lives.

One of the most touching experiences was the visit to an Elderly Care Home which Swami had opened. Here devotees who were very close to Swami were looked after, including a lady who accompanied Swami to Badrinath in 1961. It was a pleasure to meet them and receive their blessings after we sang a few bhajans.

The evening saw a brilliant performance by the four UK musicians accompanying us- Sister Roopa Panesar on Sitar, and brothers Kirpal Panesar on Tar Shehnai, Talvin Singh on the Tabla, and Pirashanna Thevarajah on Mridangam- in the Kalyana Mandapam (Marriage Hall) for the Brindavan students and devotees. The musicians stunned their audience with thrilling variations and improvisations around the bhajans, Arunachala Shiva and Partheeshwari Jagat Janani. The peace and tranquillity that this performance filled us with, appeared to prepare us for what was perhaps the pinnacle of our trip to Brindavan – entry into Swami’s Divine Residence, Trayee Brindavan! We were truly bestowed with a blessing of a lifetime. Sitting in the residence of the Lord that walked on the Earth was surreal. We were addressed by Dr T Ravi Kumar, the Warden of Sri Sathya Sai Boys Hostel, Brindavan Campus and Professor Sanjay Sahni who narrated many sweet experiences with the Lord. What touched us greatly though, was when Professor Sanjay Sahni said that Swami was pleased to have us in his home and then presented the group with four photos of Swami from Trayee. Words cannot describe the elation we all felt after hearing these words. This visit to Brindavan was truly heavenly!

Of course, one must never forget that problems are likely even when one is journeying to a holy place. We were no exception. We were told that we would have to leave Brindavan at 4am on Thursday morning due to the political unrest in Andhra Pradesh following the decision to split the State. With Swami’s grace, our early rise paid off and we arrived back in Pranshanti, ready for morning darshan.

That afternoon was to be the UK Musical offering, titled ‘Sai Bandhan’, by the four musicians who performed earlier in Brindavan. The sisters all dressed up in coordinated saris and as ever, the musicians ‘wow’ed the audience with their loving offering to Swami, playing various improvisations around familiar bhajans including, Antharanga Sai, Om Hari Om Hari Om Bhajore Sada, Hari Bhajana Bina and Rama Jayam Raghu Rama Jayam, to name a few. Our musicians created a certain a-ha moment in Sai Kulwant hall! During the bhajans by the students, our group was privileged to have photos taken at the Maha Samadhi. No doubt, we will cherish these photos forever, along with the beautiful memories of the trip.

Video Link:
http://media.radiosai.org/journals/vol_11/01AUG13/roopa-panesar-instrumental-concert.htm

On Friday morning, following darshan, the group went to the Heritage museum. In spite of the long trek up the hill with a plethora of stairs it was a worthwhile journey. The return gave the opportunity to sit underneath the majestic Meditation Tree, which was a chance to get some well deserved rest or reflect upon the trip thus far.

That evening, we gathered together and reflected upon the trip, each saying what our most memorable experiences were. Almost all commented on the magic they took away from Brindavan and sitting in Trayee. Everyone felt like a family – a Sai family – and was prepared to go away with energising experiences, having successfully recharged their batteries.

On Saturday, as our journey together drew to a close we visited the planetarium which explored new concepts like dark matter in space and the possibility of landing on the moon once again in order to see if it would be suitable for life. We heard of some vibhuti materialisations in the Easwaramma English Medium School which was Swami’s first school, established especially for the underprivileged children of local residents. The school is separate from Swami’s primary school. These students come to darshan on Wednesday and Saturday. Swami had changed the school from a Telugu Medium to an English Medium in 2010, which will no doubt be beneficial for them in the future, especially if they want to join Swami’s Institute. At the school we were told of the materialisations filling the principal’s office completely. Although they had cleared this by the time we arrived, we could see vibhuti marks all over the chair. We were taken around the school and were shown into the computer lab, which contained 14 PCs to accommodate more than 400 students, and is used to teach students from fourth standard. This was a brand new suite and made us appreciate how not everyone gets the opportunity to start learning how to use computers as soon as they start school, as is often the case in the UK. We visited classes, and students as young as six were chanting Vedas and singing bhajans. The discipline they displayed was humbling.

Our last group darshan was made memorable by the potent rains, which seemed to have come from nowhere, during the Rudram chanting. It was as though the heavens opened to conjure up a powerful and auspicious atmosphere. During that darshan, we were joined by students from the Easwaramma English Medium School. It was a pleasure to hear them chant and sing bhajans.

Although the pilgrimage has officially concluded, such a trip is for life, for a spiritual journey cannot be bound by time or space. Indeed, being truly in harmony with Sai depends only on how well we harmonize and sanctify our feelings, thoughts, words and deeds wherever we are. For many, this pilgrimage was the first time in Prashanti Nilayam without Swami’s physical presence. However, it can be said with confidence that we all felt Swami’s presence during every moment. We were privileged with opportunities of a lifetime, graced with the talks by prominent speakers, and blessed to sit in Swami’s residence. Swami was no doubt there every step of the way!

We offer our gratitude to the group leaders and organisers for the incredible amount of work behind the scenes and of course to our dear Bhagawan for allowing us to journey to his holy abode.

Guest Speakers

Aravind Balasubramanya

Dr. Sara Pavan

Bishu Prusty

Prof. Venkataraman

Prof. Nanjundaiah

Ms. Dixa Thakrar

I Will Now Tell You How Much Fun I Had

A loving Sairam to the entire Sai family. I have been fortunate to take part in this year’s National Pilgrimage Sai Anandam. I will now tell you how much fun I had.

Brindavan:

My favorite part of the trip is the trip to Brindavan. I was extremely lucky because the number of the room we were given was 108. I really loved the dog in the ashram, which I think was called ‘Boxy’. Even the shape of college building seemed interesting. When we were taken to the cricket ground, Sri Sanjay Sahni uncle, the Principal of the Brindavan collage, told us the way the ground was inaugurated by Swami. The story was Swami threw the ball six times and got six wickets. In one turn, Swami threw the ball and it was coming slowly towards the boy and he thought that it would be an easy one. But just as he was about to hit the ball, it went in a funny shape and hit the wicket. After that we went to Sai Ramesh hall and looked around it and the best one I liked was the lovely big picture of Swami there.

Then we went to see the Super Specialty hospital which was a giant building. We had few photo’s there too. The staff told us that some people who come there ask if it is really free as it is so big hospital. Then we had a long session of musical program. Last and my favorite part of Brindavan trip was when we went in to Trayee Brindavan. I can’t believe we went there. There was a clock there sounding like cuckoo, which I loved.

Darshan in Prashanthi:

I also liked Darshans because we were allowed to sit in the front. When we go near to the Maha Samadhi I would normally put down a flower and pray. I also liked the Mandir hall darshans. The big pictures of Swami there with silver framing are very good. I also loved the sculpture of Krishna riding the chariot with Arjuna at the back which is in the Mandir.

Puttaparthi the village:

Even though Puttaparthi is a small village it is like a city to me. There are lots of bullock carts, rickshaws and also cars. There are many temples in the village. There are also many big apartments around, some even with 9 floors. There are lots of shops around. There is lots of greenery. There are lots of fruit sellers and flower sellers too.

Planetarium:

I loved going to the planetarium too. They showed a video about outer Space. They showed pictures that looked like you could touch them. They showed rockets going on to the moon and also a super spotter like thing in Australia which can see things in space. I enjoyed my trip to planetarium.

Guest Speakers:

We were given lots of talks by great speakers like Dr Sara Pavan, Aravind Balasubrahmanya and Bishu Prusty. The summary of these speeches was to have all the faith in Swami and he will help us always. I also asked them questions and cleared some of doubts which my little mind could think of.

Conclusion:

Overall Sai Anandam was a fantastic pilgrimage for me and I am looking forward to next years pilgrimage to make a trip to Puttaparthy again.

Sriya Moparthi, Year 2, London.

A Special Evening in Brindavan

Close to Sai Ramesh Hall, the students had assembled inside the Kalyana Mandapam. As we entered, we saw that the instruments had already been laid out on the stage at one end: the sitar and tar shehnai at the centre, flanked by the tabla and mridangam. Swami’s simple red chair was facing the stage, inviting the Divine to watch our musical offering, and behind it, the students from the Brindavan campus were soulfully singing the bhajan, ‘Vighna Vinashaka Devadi Deva.’ Next, a sanskrit verse in praise of Lord Vishnu led beautifully into the familiar bhajan ‘Sai Ram, Sai Shyam, Mere Sai Ram.’ One could not fail to be moved by these bhajans, sung by Swami’s students with such obvious devotion and musical talent.

With the tone so appropriately set by the bhajan singers, it was soon time for our own instrumentalists to ascend the stage and offer their music to Swami, on behalf of all of us: Sister Roopa Panesar taking up her sitar, brother Pirashanna Thevarajah placing the mridangam drum across one leg, brother Kirpal Panesar taking the Tar Shenai and bow into his hands, and brother Talvin Sing, setting the tabla before him.

The first note was struck on the sitar, resounding across the hall like the unexpected first raindrop of a heavy, but welcome, downpour. The torrential flow was not far away, as the other instruments quickly joined it, at a daring tempo: the rhythmic beating of the table and mridangam percussion, and the other-worldly sound of the Tar shehnai. For over one hour the quartet plucked, bowed and struck their instruments with such a variety of speed and tune, and with such energy and synergy, that the entire audience was lifted up into thoughts of the Divine.

At the conclusion, there was a thunderous and sustained applause, as the students and devotees expressed their delight at the stellar performance given by the four instrumentalists. The humbled musicians bowed their heads, and with hands folded, prayerfully offered their music at the Divine Lotus Feet. The session ended with Aarathi, offered to Swami’s chair; students and devotees alike thanking the Lord for a blissful evening in His Brindavan ashram. But of course, Swami still had saved the best surprise until last.

As we left the Kalyana Mantapam, it was dark outside and the ashram was illuminated by electric lights. Turning left, we approached an arch, with a path leading through beyond it towards a solitary, Lotus shaped building, surrounded by grass and trees. With a rush of excitement and anticipation, we realised that we were heading for ‘Trayee’ – Swami’s own Divine residence. As we walked up the path, we realised that Swami Himself had used the very same path, everytime he had walked down to Sai Ramesh Hall to give darshan. The hairs stood on end as we came to the ornately carved wooden doors, verily the gates to heaven. How does one describe the feeling of stepping into Swami’s own home? Should I attempt to describe how each of us felt as we entered that most sacred of portals? Volumes could not fully describe the bliss of being seated on the marble floor, in front of the altar inside Trayee.

At the centre was a statue of Lord Ganesha, carved in dark wood, surrounded by small images of the Navagrahas – the nine planets. On either side, large framed pictures of Swami and other idols, as well as Swami’s chair, placed on the ladies’ side. The poets of the past have asked, ‘are a thousand eyes enough to see the beauty of the Divine?’
That day, we all felt that two eyes were not sufficient to take in the beauty of that sight. Swami’s presence could be felt so intensely that the burdens carried over a lifetime were put down there, the forests of sorrow were felled, and our hearts were filled with hopefulness and love. And over the next hour and a half or so, as Sri Sanjay Sahni and Dr T Ravi Kumar, former students of our dearest Lord and currently the Director and Warden of the Brindavan Campus respectively, brought to life through their vivid and loving narrations the many events and occurrences around our beloved Swami’s physical sojourn on earth, that love in our hearts overflowed and saturated our very beings! Everyone was thrilled, overjoyed and overwhelmed by the Divine Love and Leelas of the Lord. There wasn’t a single dry eye or a single dry heart in the entire group. As we retired for the night, all of us were acutely aware that this was a very special evening when we touched Him, and were in turn, touched by Him!

Sairaj Puvinathan
London