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Divine Abodes

Dear fellow spiritual aspirant! We are excited to bring to you this new resource to highlight the significant and important milestones witnessed during the earthly life of our Divine Master. Baba has always reminded us that His abode is in our hearts. However, in order to give us joy, strength, courage and inspiration on our spiritual journeys, there are extraordinary places that were physically touched, walked and lived by Him. We hope that you will find this series a spiritually uplifting experience and benefit by a richer understanding and deeper awareness of His Divine Glory.
Love & Light Team

Prasanthi Nilayam: The Abode of Supreme Peace
Its Genesis and Growth

Prasanthi Nilayam and Puttaparthi are names that are revered and remembered today with immense gratitude by millions of people belonging to all lands, all castes, creeds and religions across the world. They are immortalised in the annals of human history as the holiest of holy places on planet earth, as the landmarks for spiritual renaissance and reawakening of human consciousness, and indeed as the spiritual home and headquarters for multitudes of devotees. Prasanthi Mandir, the sanctum sanctorum of this sacred land, is the very abode of Supreme Light that confers bliss and peace on all those who visit it, providing comfort, consolation and courage. Sri N Kasturi, Bhagawan Baba’s biographer, writes about the Mandir: "It has been the scene of countless transformations of character, revolutions in belief, confirmations of faith, curing of disease, calmings of temper, discarding of hatred, salvaging of souls and reunions of hearts."

Prasanthi Mandir with devotees sitting in the Sai Kulwant Hall

Puttaparthi village, previously a tiny and remote hamlet in South India, was originally known as Gollapalli – a village of the cowherds, as many of them lived here eking their livelihood by tending cows. A popular local legend narrates how a hasty and revengeful action of one of these cowherds drew a curse from a dying serpent whom he had stoned to death as it was seen sucking milk from the udder of his favourite cow. The curse began to operate in due course, virtually eliminating the cowherds and the cows. Soon the entire area was covered with anthills and snake pits housing serpents. Gollapalli thus became Puttapalli (village of ant hills) and in due course Puttaparthi. Concurrently the cowherds were replaced by tribals, and later by various clans, including the Ratnakaram family into which the Divine Advent of Bhagawan Baba was to occur in 1926. By this time, the village had begun to flourish again, especially with regular prayers at the nearby Venugopala Swami (Lord Krishna with the Flute) Temple, and special prayers to the stone that was flung on the serpent!

Puttaparthi village - An aerial view in recent times (left)

Bhagawan composed a beautiful poem describing the glorious history of Puttaparthi, the English translation of which reads as follows: (SSS 38-05)

Encircling which town the sacred river Chitravathi flows in all its pristine beauty; Around which town there are beautiful Mango groves symbolising auspiciousness; Standing guard on the four sides of which town are the deities of Parvati and Parameswara constantly protecting;
Firmly installed in the midst of which town is the effulgent Lord Vishnu in all His splendour; That world famous town is Puttapuram or Puttaparthi; With its fresh water tank built by Chikkavadiyar, Standing as an everlasting monument to the glory of Bukkaraya. (Chikkavadiyar was a scion to emperor Bukkaraya during the 14th century).

Baba with a few other devotees in the waters of Chitravathi Early Years (1940-1945)

On 20th October 1940, Bhagawan Baba announced His Divine Advent and Mission through the epic Avatar Declaration in Uravakonda, a nearby town where he was sent to school at the time. He returned to Puttaparthi upon the entreaties by his parents, but stayed mostly at the house of an elderly and pious lady devotee, Karanam Subbamma. As the divine fragrance spread, many people from near and far started visiting Baba. Bhajan was conducted in His presence not only on Thursday evenings, but gradually every evening and sometimes even twice a day, for the pilgrims who began to arrive could not wait until the ensuing Thursday to pay their homage to Him.

At first, a small room eight feet by eight, facing the road that led to the house of Pedda Venkapa Raju (Baba’s father) was utilised as the Bhajan Mandir, but it could accommodate only a dozen at most, whilst people came in large numbers. So the Karanam family put up a shed, which was lengthened as the months passed. Even a tent was rigged up and some devotees who came up from Bangalore and Anantapur brought and pitched their own tents. The spacious house of Karanam Subbamma was also insufficient, because Baba insisted on feeding all those who came to see Him, and huge dining halls became necessary. The great devotee that she was, Karanam Subbamma recognised the need for a place for her Swami, and so purchased one acre of land for the construction of an Ashram for Swami. This was registered in Swami’s name on 20th July 1945.

Karanam Subbamma’s House where Baba lived often between 1940-1945

The place selected was a little away from the village, between the Sathyabhama and the Venugopala Swami temples, the very site on which sheds and pandals were put up since some years, during Dasara and other festivals by the Karanam family and other devotees. A makeshift ashram was built on this land using mud for walls, grass for roof and thatch for partitions measuring 20 x 10 feet. Swami remained there for many days engaging people in bhajans. One night some jealous villagers set fire to the ashram. Swami created rain just on the ashram and doused the fire. Subbamma therefore decided to build a stone walled ashram as a precaution to avoid such incidents.

The Old Mandir (1945-1950) & Group Photograph at The Old Mandir

Devotees in the Old Mandir

Swami laid the foundation stone for the Old Mandir on 30th August 1945. The Old Mandir consisted of a tin shed and a set of rooms across a quadrangle. The tin shed served as a shelter for the devotees, and of the set of rooms, one was a bedroom and the other a simple bathroom. The bhajan hall of the Old Mandir was inaugurated on 14th December 1945. After the completion of the building, Baba came over from the Karanam Subbamma’s house and began residing in the room to the left of the front veranda, a small room, about 8 feet long and 6 feet wide.

Devotees will never forget the Old Mandir, for Baba was always moving right in the midst of the people there. He composed a large number of Bhajan songs and Kirtans which He taught them, while there. He trained them and corrected them on the spot, and with great love and attention. He would often take groups of devotees to the sands on the Chitravathi riverbed, or the hills around or the gardens across the river and while they were engaged in cooking the feast, they saw many miracles or signs of divinity. The Mandir too was the scene of many a miracle in those early days. 
The gathering of devotees increased in number from month to month.

On the sands of River Chitravathi (above and left)

Very soon, the Old Mandir was found inadequate! It was not possible to meet everyday on the sands. The devotees felt that Baba's room was too cramped and low. He was being forced to live in the very midst of noise and dust and confusion. On festival occasions, the area around the Mandir was too small to accommodate the persons who came. Many eminent people from Bangalore and Mysore too, started visiting Swami at Puttaparthi in their cars. To name a few - Maharani of Mysore, coffee planter Sakamma and Desaraj Arasu, the maternal uncle of Mysore Maharaja and others. They prayed that due to the difficulties they and other devotees faced in reaching Puttaparthi in those days, due to the lack of proper roads and other amenities, Swami should settle in Mysore where they would build a big mansion for Swami. Swami categorically refused this saying, “I don’t want palatial buildings. I want to be here”.

That night, Mother Easwaramma came to Swami with tears in her eyes, prayerfully seeking a Divine Promise from Swami that He would remain in Puttaparthi for ever! She submitted that she would find it unbearable to live if Swami left Puttaparthi. Bhagawan described His response to mother Easwaramma wonderfully, when He elaborated later in His Discourses:

“After I had promised Easwaramma, I never abandoned Puttaparthi. The whole world may flock here but I shall not leave Puttaparthi. Generally, the Avatars adhere to their place of birth. If you uproot a plant from here and plant it elsewhere, how long will it survive? A tree should grow where the seed sprouted. In this manner only, Sathya Sai Baba has retained his roots in Puttaparthi and has made Puttaparthi a place of pilgrimage”. ( SSS 36:20)

“I gave her My word that I would never leave Puttaparthi. This is why I have constructed many buildings in the Ashram for the comfort and convenience of devotees.” (SSS 35-17)

And so, some devotees prayed to Baba to agree to the construction of a more spacious building in Puttaparthi itself. Sakamma, an ardent devotee from Bangalore purchased 3.86 acres of land situated near the mountain on the southern part of the village. She registered this in the name of Swami on 24th July 1947. One evening, when Swami was sitting on the sands of Chitravathi, He started drawing something on the sands which were not mere lines but a blue print of Prasanthi Nilayam.

Swami laid the foundation for the new Mandir on 14th January 1948. In a ceremony led by a musical band, hundred devotees accompanied Baba to the site. Various dignitaries were invited for this.

The Mountain site where Prasanthi Nilayam currently stands!

A hole was dug into the ground and Baba materialised pearls and other precious stones, putting them into the hole and laying the foundation stone on top. The place was barren and one wondered how a spacious ashram could ever come up here. A big building was the need of the hour and it was raised with stone and mortar; and Bhagawan himself was the architect and the engineer of this building. Others who were associated with the construction of the Nilayam are Sakamma (a devotee from the Coorg District in Karnataka, who was instrumental in the construction of the Old Mandir in the village), the Raja of Sandur (a province now in Karnataka), Tiruvenkatam, a merchant from Bangalore and Thirumala Iyengar, an engineer in charge of the construction of the Tungabhadra dam.

Thirumala Iyenger searched around the riverbeds and selected a huge rock near the Chitravathi river to cut into blocks for the use in the construction of the Mandir. The rock was about 60 feet high and 100 feet in diameter. Thirumala Iyenger planned to blow up the rock with dynamite, but was told by Baba to wait! The next day there was a heavy rain and a thunderbolt struck the rock, breaking it into two pieces. Skilled stone cutters and masons then used these for the construction. No cement was used, only a mixture of sand and lime. Baba would tie a towel or a scarf around His head and neck and personally supervise the new Mandir construction.

The work on Prasanthi Nilayam was in full swing. Huge girders, forty feet in length were needed for the central Prayer Hall which had reached Penukonda from Thiruchirapalli by train awaiting collection. The task of transporting these to Puttaparthi from Penukonda station, which was 36 kilometers away, was challenging and impossible due to narrow roads meandering through villages with houses on their edges. The engineer gave up all hope and placed before Baba alternative roofing proposals for the prayer hall. Baba did not relent to this!

Raising the Central door frame for the Bhajan Hall

One morning, a devotee of Baba who was the Road Transport Officer of Anantapur district saw a huge crane previously used at the Tungabhadra Dam parked in front of his house overnight. It had broken down and the driver was frantically trying to repair it. The driver sought the help of the Transport Officer. It was agreed that if repaired, the crane would transport the girders to Puttaparthi. The officer hurried to Baba and prayed to Him. Baba materialised vibhuti and gave it to him. The officer came back and smeared the vibhuti on the engine of the crane. The defunct engine sprang back to life! The iron girders were finally brought to Puttaparthi through the villages.

The lifting of the girders manually across the 20 foot high walls was a herculean task. As they were lifted, the sidewalls started cracking and work had to stop. Swami was away in Bangalore at the time. A frantic message was sent to Baba. He returned back and went straight to the construction site. He said, ”Come on, Lift it now.” Under His directions, the girders started moving and within a few seconds, it could be lifted and put into its assigned position. Such miracles were being witnessed by people at all times.

Prasanthi Nilayam under construction, 1949

Getting ready for Inauguration

The Entrance Archway where now the Gopuram stands

Prayer Hall inside the Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir, inaugurated on Baba’s 25th Birthday on 23rd November 1950

Prasanthi Nilayam 1950-1973 (above and left)

Swami giving the Sivarathri Discourse from the Vedika (Stage) near Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir

Prasanthi Nilayam, a simple looking two-storeyed building of granite, was inaugurated by Baba on Thursday the 23rd November 1950, on the auspicious occasion of His 25th Birthday. It had a central prayer hall flanked by rooms on either side and corridors in the front and behind. In addition, there was a small portico attached to the central portion of the corridor in the front. The height of the prayer hall was divided into two floors for the rooms and the corridors linking the rooms on either side. The inauguration ceremony was a joyous occasion when invitations were sent to devotees. On the card, names of all donors was printed. At dawn, Swami was brought from the old mandir to the new mandir in a flower-bedecked chariot, with the vedic pandits chanting mantras, and the band of music playing melodious tunes. Swami then stepped in, broke two coconuts and entered the Mandir. Whilst inaugurating His new residence, Swami declared:

“I am naming this new mansion as PRASANTHI NILAYAM. Prasanthi means highest peace. Nilayam conveys sense of residence, dwelling…..Those who reside here in Prasanthi Nilayam and practise meditation, bhajan and other spiritual activities will have no more births.”

Prasanthi Nilayam - Mandir Area

The Nilayam continued in its original form with very few modifications until 1973 when Bhagawan Baba planned and executed its transformation. The building was extended on all sides and three domes were built on top of the building. The exterior of the whole building, the corridor and the portico on the front and the interior of the central prayer hall were covered with beautiful and meaningful pieces of sculpture of Indian tradition. These alterations and additions changed the very appearance of the building and gave the structure a very majestic and sacred appearance. All this was completed by 23rd November 1974, the day on which Baba completed forty-eight years.

Prasanthi Mandir 1975

Over the years since 1974, Prasanthi Nilayam has grown into its own township, with numerous new buildings and amenities. The Prasanthi Mandir area too has witnessed many changes. The Mandir was initially set in a compound with trees and sand, where devotees sat and waited for Baba’s divine Darshan everyday. In front of the Mandir was a circle of greenery and amidst the greenery used to be the yogic pillar with a number of rings. These rings indicated the different stages of yogic discipline that lead an aspirant to the unfolding of the ‘Lotus of the Heart’ whose petals were borne on the top of the pillar. 

In front of this circular patch used to be the statue of Lord Ganesha seated in the Abhayahasta pose (hand upraised conferring blessings). A few yards away, is the beautiful arch that stands even now, the top of it containing two winged angels carrying the Sarva Dharma (Multifaith) Symbol. 
The arch leads to the entrance gate of the Gopuram (sacred Tower). 
Speaking on the significance of the Gopuram, Bhagawan himself made the following statement:

Prayer Hall inside the Prasanthi Mandir & Gopuram - The Principal Entry Archway

"If you dwell upon the significance of the gopuram, you can realise how holy, how mysterious, how revealing is its purpose. The gopuram beckons to wayfarers who have lost their way and who wander away from truth, 'O ye mortals! Blinded by the fog of physical attachments and self-aggrandizing urges, overcome by the miasma of worldly desires, which are fleeting and false, you have forgotten Me, the source and sustenance of you all. Look up to this eternal, ever pure, over-full tower of joy. Forgetting Me, you are wallowing in grief; you are pursuing the mirage in desert sands. Come, have faith in the Everlasting Me. Struggle out of the darkness and enter the realm of light, and come to the royal road of Santhi. That is the Path of Dharma. Come, come, O come!

Thus does Gopala, the divine Lord, call on all, with raised hand, from atop the Gopuras in every village".

Today, the Prasanthi Mandir area extends to incorporate the majestic Sai Kulwant Hall which can seat about 20,000 people under its ‘green and gold’ emerald roof. Bhagawan Baba’s Mahasamadhi, the most hallowed place where the physical remains of the Divine Form of the Avatar are contained, adorns the Central Arch of the Prasanthi Mandir, looking out on the devotees seated in the Sai Kulwant Hall, bestowing eternal blessings of Supreme peace and bliss.

The genesis and the growth of the Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir is thus as unique as the Sathya Sai Avatar, whose Divine Abode it is. Bhagawan Baba chose Puttaparthi not only as His birth place but also as the epicentre for His Avataric Mission of transforming ‘man in to divine’ through Love. This hallowed land has also been the centre for His Leelas (divine sport), Mahimas (divine miracles) and Upadhesha (divine instruction). His Divine Call has drawn millions of pilgrims and seekers from different climes and cultures over the past many decades to this holy place. Apart from being a spring for spirituality, Puttaparthi continues to serve as a nucleus of activity in the realms of Educare, Sociocare and Medicare. It is here that Lord Sathya Sai established and exemplified the Five Human Values of Sathya (truth), Dharma (right conduct), Shanti (peace), Prema (love) and Ahimsa (non-violence) on a firm footing and inspired millions around the world to practise them in daily life. Indeed, Prasanthi Nilayam today stands as the source and symbol of redemption of the world through the transformation of man.

“You are seeing for yourself how the thirsty souls are gathering in numbers every day at Puttaparthi. I have told you often that in a matter of a year or two the multitude will be so large that you may not get much chance to approach Me with your spiritual problems and difficulties. So, hurry to Me with them, even now. While in other places, I speak generally on the need for bhakthi (devotion) etc., here at Puttaparthi, I emphasise the practical discipline of everyday life, because this is the Head Quarters of an army under training. So, you should cultivate Truth and Love and make yourselves examples for all who might contact you.”
Divine Discourse by Bhagawan Baba, Prasanthi Nilayam, 14.2.1961; SSSpeaks 02:01

References

  1. Sri Sathya Sai Speaks
  2. The Valley of Peace by Dr C. L. N. Moorty
  3. Love is My Form, Volume 1, The Advent by R. Padmanaban
  4. media.radiosai.org
  5. www.sathyasai.org.in

Compiled by LnL Team