December 2014 Edition

Quote

Saadhana is the name for the mental discipline and intellectual effort to realise this Unity. Jesus sacrificed his life and poured out his blood to instil Love and Compassion in the heart of man, so that he may be happy when others are happy and sad when others are sad. It is not by festivity and. fun that you should celebrate Christmas. Celebrate it, rather, by resolving and putting into practice at least one of the ideals He enunciated, or endeavouring to reach at least one of the goals that He placed before man. Let Me call upon you to give up, in memory of this holy day, two evils from your mind: self-praise and talking scandal. Adopt one habit: the habit of loving service to the distressed. If you spend all your time and energy in worldly comfort and sensual delight, you are disgracing this human existence. Life is not to be spent In just eating; eating is only a necessity for 1iving. You consider this habitation on of yours as your body; no, It is the temple of God. God resides therein. Keep it clean, fresh and fragrant through developing Compassion and Love. Use the temple of God only for holy thoughts, words and deeds. Do not demean it by using it for low, trivial and unholy tasks. Wherever you are, whatever you do have this resolution steady and strong. ~ Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Brindhaavan, 25-12-1976

~ Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Events

Sai Smaran Bhajans

National Sathya Sai Orientation Conference 2015

Articles

Early Days and Growth of the Sai Organisation in UK

National Christmas Celebrations 2014

National Christmas Celebrations 2014 – "Love came down at Christmas"

National Christmas Celebrations 2014 – CCP

National Christmas Celebrations 2014 – Refuge UK

National Christmas Celebrations 2014 – SSE Articles

Region 1 - "Life is a Game, Play It"

Region 1 - Christmas with Brixton Sai Centre

Region 1 - YAP: Christmas Hampers for Homeless

Region 2 - Swami’s Birthday Celebrations at Sathya Sai Centre Pinner

Region 3 - Avataram: A Humble Offering

Region 3 - Service & Health Awareness Activities at Russell Square

Region 4 - Babas 89th Birthday Celebrations in Leicester

Region 4 - Birthday Celebrations at Rugby Sai Centre

Region 4 - Coventry Sai Centre Birthday Celebrations

Region 4 - Dawn Centre Christmas Party

Region 5 - Christmas Hampers for Underprivileged Children

Region 5 - Special Narayana Seva for Swami`s Birthday Celebrations

The Joy of Sai Bhajans (Devotional Singing)

Editorial

Dear Love & Light Readers,
Greetings and Loving Sai Ram to you!

It was most uplifting and inspiring to participate in the National Christmas Celebrations that were held in Cheltenham on the 14th December, concluding another memorable year in the Sathya Sai Mission in UK. This highly acclaimed Christmas event is fondly cherished and awaited by one and all in the country, thanks to the continuous dedication and hard work by a number of people. It spreads so much cheer and injects so much energy in everyone that one feels refreshed to welcome the year ahead in the Sai Calendar. These celebrations also herald a weeklong festivity of Christmas celebrations for a large number of centres and groups throughout the country.

As we come to the end of 2014, we reflect on the year which had set off with the theme ‘One with Sai’ with all activities, be it at centre, regional or national level focussed around it. Much enthusiasm was created, a ‘battery re-charge’ for the many at all levels of the organisation. The national events facilitated focus upon the Divine Mission of Baba and inspired lot of devotes to travel hundreds of miles to participate and derive and share joy. Several service activities were undertaken, some in partnership with other organisations with similar objectives, so as to serve fellow beings in our communities with a sense of brotherhood. Our heartfelt gratitude goes to each of you for your selfless participation.

2015 marks an exciting and significant year for devotees around the globe as they celebrate the 90th year of the advent of Lord Sri Sathya Sai Baba. One recollects the purpose of His Avatar (incarnation) and a special place that each of us holds, and to quote His own words-

“The arrival of the Lord was anxiously awaited by saints and sages. Spiritual aspirants prayed and I have come.”

Our lives are indeed blessed. Let each one of us be His ambassador, to reflect His Life and Message, a spark to rekindle the hope, confidence and faith of fellow beings in this journey of life. Let this become our pledge of offering for Sathya Sai Baba’s 90th Birthday!

To commemorate this important year, several events are planned in the UK, some highlighted in this issue, and others will be communicated soon. The year kicks off with Sai Smaran, our humble offering of devotional singing on the 10th January 2015 – please see details.

We have the Office Bearers (OBs) of our Organisation who have completed their term in office and handover to their successors on the 14th January 2015. I would like to thank the outgoing OBs for their selfless dedication and welcome the new ones. For everyone, be it new, current or outgoing OBs, participation in Baba’s Divine Mission should remain in steady and strong focus.

Please also take note of our forthcoming National Sathya Sai Orientation Conference on 24th January for office bearers and active workers. Registration is now open; please click on the link below:

http://www.srisathyasai.org.uk/national-programmes/NSSOC2015/

Finally, on behalf of the UK Central Council and the Sri Sathya Sai Charitable Trust, I pray with the Divine Grace and Blessings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba that you have a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous and holy 2015!

Dr Kiran Patel,
National Chair Person
SSSSO UK

Early Days and Growth of the Sai Organisation in UK

(Continued from previous article ‘Blessings at a height of 30,000 feet’;
Love and Light, June 2014)

My wife, Damyanti, came back from Prasanthi Nilayam fully charged and highly motivated to develop Sai activities in UK. She worked tirelessly to get more and more people involved in bhajans. The first step she took, in consultation with Sitaram ji, was to introduce house bhajans on each Thursday of the month. This was in addition to regular bhajans on Sundays at Pinner. All Thursdays of the month got booked in no time by the then handful of devotees. It may be of interest for the readers to know that if on one Thursday the bhajans were held at Harrow, the next Thursday it was at Croydon and the next at Borehamwood. Although we were just a few of us, the enthusiasm was so great that we all travelled long distances after our work. The Thursday bhajans were held from 8pm to 9 pm. The family of each devotee got involved and so did their friends and neighbours. Due to the long distances and time people spent travelling for bhajans, each family hosting the bhajans would serve dinner as Prashad. The number of devotees attending the bhajans on Thursdays and Sundays increased gradually, and soon more devotees came forward to have bhajans at their homes. To accommodate them the bhajans were arranged on Saturdays as well!

The real expansion of the Sai movement in UK started after 1973. As we know, the President of Uganda asked all Asians, including those who had taken Ugandan nationality, to leave the country by 9th November 1972. Some of our country men living in Uganda left for india and some landed in Great Britain. The Indians coming from Uganda chose cities like London, Leicester, Wellinborough, Birmingham, Bradfaord and Manchester as their new homes. As Baba had visited Uganda in 1968, (the only country which He had visited) the repatriating Indians from uganda included lot of Sai devotees as well.

We observed in 1973 that people were meeting for bhajans in small groups at places where Ugandan Asians had settled. Damyanti and I would travel early in the morning for these places on Saturdays and after conducting the bhajans, return by Sunday afternoon for bhajans at Pinner.

In January 1975, the then Chairman of the Sathya Sai international Organisation, Sri Indulal Shah, arrived in London with the good news that Swami had blessed UK to establish a proper Organisation. The first UK Council of the Sri Satya Sai Organisation was formed in 1975 with Mr Sita Ram ji as Chairman of the Council. Damyanti was appointed as the first Balvikas (SSE) and Mahila Vibhag (Ladies) convenor for the UK. The mahila vibhag included the duties of organising bhajans.

After the formation of the Council, the first Birthday of Swami was celebrated at national level in the town hall of Acton, London. The devotees came from all places in the UK like Bradford, Birmingham, and Leicester etc.

The activity started with great enthusiam. Damyanti organised groups of ladies from the UK to visit Puttaparti on Swami’s birthday. It became a regular feature year after year for many years to follow. Mr Sita Ram ji was suceeded by Mr Gulabbhai Patel of Bradford as the second chairman of the UK Council.

In the first phase of Sai Organisation, utmost importance was given by Swami to bhajan singing. This was for cleansing the mind and preparing for further activities. The second phase was the balvikas, where children were taught human values and scriptures from all religions. The third phase was the development of the youth about which Swami was very keen and particular. Once the youth group was ready, the emphasis was on seva activites, and so seva became a very important activity of each centre.

The council had since then expanded and more devotees joined and we had centres and devotees all over the UK.

Establishment of UK Trust

In 1978, Mr Shah during his visit to London, gave me the good news that Swami was keen to establish a charitable trust in UK. Bhagawan Baba would be the founder trustee. He also told me that I should be a trustee and start the necessary paper work for the registration of the Trust with the Charity Commission. I politely told Mr. Shah that it would be my privilege to get the Trust registered and work for it, but as a trustee, I did not have sufficient means to give donations to the Trust. Mr Shah immediately corrected me and said that Swami was not expecting any donations from me. He further conveyed that Swami had blessed me to be a trustee to work and manage the Trust.

Registration with the Charity Commission

I did not waste any time and got the papers ready and submitted to the Charity Commission for regisration. In response, the Charity Commission in their letter dated 17th February, 1979 wrote, and I quote, “to teach and carry out the message of love is a very vague purpose. Please set out in detail the activities the Trust would undertake”!

On receiving this letter, I felt that it was not possible to explain Swami’s philosophy by correspondence, and so I arranged a personal meeting with the Charity Commission.

During the meeting I explained that Swami taught all charity work, like advancement of education, relief of poverty and sickness, support for an existing charitable organisation ( the trustee may select), is to be done with love.... "with a feeling of love for all human beings".

The official at the Charity Commission was convinced and with a smile agreed to register the Trust. Finally the Trust was registered as “Sri Sathya Sai World Foundation” under a deed dated 15th June 1979.

Functions of the trust.

As you know, the Trust has two functions:
1. Collection of funds
2. Disbursements to meet the objectives of the Trust.

1. Collection of funds

The divine instruction from Swami was that we should not approach any one seeking funds for the Trust. The donations have to be voluntary and from those who can really afford.

I followed Swami’s strict instructions about collection and spoke about Swami’s projects like the establishment of the university, the super speciality hospital etc., only to those who could really afford and also had a charitable heart to donate. I also explained that all the education in the university or the medical treatment in the hospitals was free, irrespective of the status or caste or creed of the beneficiaries.

I can assure you with Swami’s Grace, that I have never approached any one for donations for Swami’s trust. The funds always did come voluntarily. And I kept this practise till I remained as Chairman of the Trust.

2. Disbursement of donations

After the Trust was established, a bank account was opened. Any payment from the account could be made with two signatories, one being Swami always!

When the first payment was to be made for establishment of a Professor’s chair at the Sai University, a cheque was prepared in favour of the university and sent to Swami for His Signature. I waited for the cheque to arrive so that the second signature could be added and payment arranged. However the cheque did not arrive back. I contacted Mr.Shah about this, who after a week, informed me that Swami had ‘misplaced’ the cheque and I should prepare another one and send it to him instead. So I prepared the second cheque and sent it across to Mr. Shah who gave it to Swami for His Signatures. Again after some time when he went to collect the cheque, he was told that the cheque was lost/misplaced!

I could not believe it, but I felt that Swami gets so many letters that a cheque might get ‘misplaced’. I then decided to send the cheque book itself and requested Mr.Shah to keep the cheque book with him and whenever there was any need for payment, he should obtain Swami’s Signatures and send it to me to do the needful.

Finally Indulal Shah got the cheque signed in his presence and sent it to me, and funds were sent to the Central Trust for the Professor’s Chair at the Sai university.

Later it was decided that the Trust should establish yet another Professor’s Chair. The cheque book being at Puttaparti, I requested Mr. Shah to get a cheque with Swami’s Signature and send it to me to arrange payment to the Central Trust.
Once again I did not receive the cheque and this time I was told that Swami has ‘misplaced’ the cheque book! How this could happen, I could not understand.

So now a letter was prepared for transfer of funds and sent to Swami for His Signatures, which was duly received back. I also received a note that henceforth Swami wants any two trustees to sign the cheques. However, he named a particular trustee to be always one of the signatories on the cheque.

It became very clear now that Swami did not like to involve Himself in any of the financial transactions.

Like any organisation, in the early years the Trust also faced a big management problem. As a trustee, I made sincere efforts but could not find any solution. My misapprehension was that my actions might hurt someone. And Baba’s teaching “help ever hurt never” always came to my mind. I consulted with Indulal Shah, who in a few days time conveyed Swami’s directions which resolved the problem without the concerned person being hurt!

Another activity of the Trust was the sale of Sai literature. The first sale centre for Swami’s literature was opened on 23rd November 1979 at 24 Mortimer Street, London (which runs parallel to Oxford Street) at one of the devotee’s business premises.

The Minister of Economic Affairs from the Indian High Commission was invited for the opening ceremony of the book centre. Mathoor krishnamoorthy, Executive Director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan London, was invited for the pooja ceremony which was followed by keertan and prashad. In time, the Sathya Sai Bookshop moved to Commercial Street, and now finally is in Kingsbury in London.

The Trust in its earlier years took part in the educational and medical activities in India and donations were accordingly directed to the Central Trust in India. The Trust also participated in the Sathya Sai Water Project that supplied drinking water to numerous villages in India.

All the work of the Trust was done on a completely voluntary basis. I confirm that no expense of whatsoever nature was charged to the Trust.

As I have mentioned earlier, Swami gave a solution to the problem facing the Trust without hurting anyone. So Swami always practised what He preached. But let us ask ourselves, “Do we follow this particular teaching of Swami?” If we can follow even half of His teaching, i.e. “hurt never”, we can then claim to have made some progress in calling ourselves as devotees.

How to follow this teaching? We must see that everyday, all our actions bring a ‘thank you’ in return. At the end of the day, we must make sure that we have collected enough ‘thank yous’ to be sure that we have made the effort not to hurt anyone.

We are so fortunate that Swami, during his lifetime, bestowed upon us all various responsibilities. And to fulfill these responsibilities, He gave us necessary authority and power. We now have to carry on the responsibility by following His teachings of love, discipline and devotion. It is our moral responsibility to carry on the Sai Mission with great fervour and enthusiasm. As Swami continues to watch us, let us resolve to work together with love as a team.

Jai Sai Ram
Balram Puri
London

Sri Balram Puri is one of the oldest devotee of Bhagawan Baba living in UK today. He has been involved in the development of the Sri Sathya Sai Organisation in the UK since its very early days. He was instrumental in founding the Sri Sathya Sai Charitable Trust in UK as per the divine instructions of Bhagawan, and actively served on it as a Trustee until his retirement recently.

National Christmas Celebrations 2014

Sunday the 14th December was the day for our much anticipated National Christmas Celebrations 2014. Along with many members of Sai family from Region 1, I too travelled the 120 miles by Coach – 3 Coaches in all christened Sathya, Dharma, Shanti – to the very select venue of Cheltenham Ladies College in Gloucestershire. Having started on our journey very early on a wintry morning, we arrived to a very welcoming breakfast of homemade biscuits, cake, tea, coffee and soft drinks- all ready and so lovingly served to us by the happy Sevadal Volunteers of the day. Many of the wonderful youth were there too, gently guiding us around the venue and helping us deposit the bags of Food that each of us had brought along for the Christmas Food Bank Seva.

We then proceeded to the beautiful Princess Hall where the celebrations were to be held. The hall is all oak panelled, and above the impressive Stage, there is a magnificent frieze depicting the 12 Virtues of Woman. On either side of it, up in the alcoves, were Christmas Trees with Christmas Lights twinkling on them. On the right hand side of the stage, stood a very large picture of Lord Jesus Christ, smiling and talking with the children. And on the left was the same size picture of Swami, our beloved Lord, smiling and dressed in his white robe. In the centre was the lovely Manger, also in white, as were the Palm trees. The entire setting was just beautiful and had a very peaceful and calming effect on us all.

The programme, based on the theme ‘Be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven’, started with a soulful Taize Chant sung by the Anahata group. Our National Chairperson, Dr. Kiran Patel, then gave the Welcome speech and told us how the Ladies College authorities, having witnessed the spirit of our celebrations in previous years, had invited us to use the venue again this year! He then invited Reverend Katie McClure, the chaplain of this prestigious college, to conduct the Christmas Service. And she did this with great elan, grace and poise.

The Service started with the traditional Christmas Carol ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, led by a 50-member Choir who were accompanied by various musicians on violins, cello, guitar and piano. And the rest of the 350 of us in the hall joined in the singing with great joy and devotion in our hearts. As our singing resonated across the venue and beyond, Reverend McClure led a procession of children. The girls were dressed in white satin dresses with halos around their heads and the boys in regal robes, each one carrying a ‘Christingle’. The Shepherds, the three Wise Men, and the animals- they were all there along with the Reverend, and the Mayor of Cheltenham amongst others. And …..this was only the start of a very emotional and spiritually uplifting day! The Programme continued and 10 more Carols were sung, alternated in between by Readings from the Holy Bible and read by different people who had assembled from across the country, representing the 8 different Regions of our Organisation. One of the carols was ‘Little Drummer Boy’ led by the children; I
and the lady sitting next to me tried to sing this, but the tears that welled up in our eyes prevented us as it was so moving!

Rev. McClure then delivered the Christmas Sermon from the stage. She expressed her happiness for being with all of us and spoke about how Christmas is a time of Love and Giving. But the most important thing to remind oneself on this holy occasion, she said in her sermon, was to ‘give’ or offer oneself to the Lord! This beautiful message she conveyed in a powerful yet poignant way, when she narrated a story through the enactment of a play on Stage, titled ‘Mikhaila the Mouse’, by our very own SSE children from Region 7.

It was about a little mouse, Mikhaila, who got to know about the birth of Baby Jesus in Bethlehem from her friend, a wise old owl. Mikhaila is eager to see the Baby, and braving many hardships along the way, she finally reaches the Manger. Only to find that unlike others- the sheep, cows, hens and the cats who carried presents for the Baby and therefore allowed entry into the Manger- she didn’t carry any presents and hence was refused entry despite her entreaties. However she saw a small hole up on the side of the Manger and scrambled up, but as she pushed her way in through the hole, she got stuck. She decided to stay in that position, unmindful of the discomfort, because she could see the Baby finally! Mother Mary saw her there, and nudged Joseph too, and they both smiled at her, as Mikhaila was helping block a cold draught that had been blowing in on the Baby that night, through that hole high in the wall which Joseph couldn’t reach. When Mikhaila returned home, the Owl asked her what she had given the Baby and she replied, “ I gave him me, for as long as he needed me.” And that was the Message of the story which the children relayed to all of us through the Play. The little ones performed so well, and deservedly received a rapturous applause when the Revered announced that she had asked them only shortly beforehand.

The Lord Mayor addressed the gathering, and again said how happy he was to be present. Although Christmas is a time of giving, he said he knows that our Sathya Sai Organisation gives 365 days of the year, thus everyday is a Christmas for us!

Our Guest Speaker for the day, brother George Bebedelis from Greece, was next and he told us a little about his life and his meetings with Swami and a story about him, Swami and Swami’s students that made us all laugh. He shared how Swami liked to talk to him about the Great Philosophers, in particular Socrates. He finished the morning talk on the topic ‘Love is the Source’ by highlighting the similarities in the teachings of Jesus, Swami and Socrates. He spoke again in the afternoon on the topic ‘Happiness is Union with God’ and showed us slides of the ruins in Delphi where
the Oracle, a Prophet, once lived and spoke for the God Apollo. When these ruins were excavated, they found the maxim that Socrates had pronounced and preached, ‘Know Thyself’, etched above the door. He then showed some examples of how Swami and his teachings of Love and those of Socrates are the same. He said how he
likes to incorporate some of Swami’s sayings when he teaches his students, as they carry a unifying and universal message. Brother George’s deep dedication, study, understanding and experience shone through in the joy and peace that he conveyed through his talks and interaction on the day.

The morning session closed with a scintillating musical performance on Strings by the ‘King Street Quartet’. The group played expertly on familiar tunes and hymns that warmed all our hearts. It was now time for lunch, and what a lunch it was! Nut Roast, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, roast parsnips- all served piping hot with gravy and cranberry sauce, followed by homemade mince pies and cream, and bottles of apple and pear juice on the tables. It truly was a traditional feast that was enjoyed by all.

The afternoon commenced with the SSE children from Merton Sai Centre performing the Nativity and again they were all there- the beautiful angels, the donkeys and the ass, the sheep, Mother Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Titled ‘The Christmas Secret’, they performed with great energy and coordination, with interludes of a very lively pop version of Jingle Bells!

After the Guest Speaker’s talk, SSE children from Brixton Sai Centre performed a Play based on human values, titled ‘The Loyal Builder’. Dressed in dungarees and hard hats, and holding their tools, they looked their parts which they performed so well. It was about a builder called Simon who lived in a very cold old house with his aged father, who said in a very cockney accent, that he wished the boiler was working as the cold wasn’t doing his cough any good. Simon was short of money, but was conscientious and morally upright at work and always ready to help his colleagues. Simon’s boss, suddenly one day, gave him a job to refurbish an old house, but stipulated that he had to do it all alone and complete the project by a certain date. Simon faces many challenges, including self doubt, that he overcomes by remembering his dad’s advice, “whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance”. Well, he did complete the project on time and when his boss came along, he acknowledged Simon’s good job and proceeded to hand the keys of the house to Simon, saying, “ This house belonged to my late father. You are a good hard working man who looks after his family and I wanted it completed quickly so you and your father could move in before the winter sets in. If anyone deserves it, you do”. The children and the supporting teams received a standing ovation for both plays from all of us.

Our guests from two well known national charities, Refuge UK and County Community Project, were then handed over the gifts we had all brought along for the Refuge Children and the Food Banks. In their brief talks, the representatives from these charities spoke of the work they do in the communities for people in need, and
thanked us for our contributions on the day. They said how very much this is all appreciated by them and the receiving participants.

As the Programme drew to a close, we all sang the beautiful Carol ‘Silent Night’ with our hearts brimming with love. We then sang the Aarti for Swami with the same love, whilst it was offered by brother George. This was sung in English, and this was something that I had not heard before, and again it was quite beautiful and we all rose to our feet and clapped as usual.

The day finally did end…..but not before Father Christmas visited us! And yes, he made us laugh so much as he poked his head out from behind a Palm Tree, and then the Manger, and threw handfuls of sweets from his Man Bag. The shrieks from the children are something that I can still hear as he gave them all a present and made them laugh so much. We all left that wonderful emotional and spiritual day with a smile of happiness on our faces and I thank Swami from my heart for bringing me to share in such an Auspicious Warm Blissful and fun day!

PS: I have booked my place for next year already.

Jai Sai Ram.

Sandra Fletcher
Sathya Sai Centre of Bromley
Region 1, SSSSO UK

National Christmas Celebrations 2014 – "Love came down at Christmas"

The national Christmas Celebrations of the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organisation UK were a joyful and heart-warming affair this year as they wove together three strands which encapsulate not only Christmas but also the work of the organisation (born of the vision of Sai Baba) - children, giving and love. It was my privilege to speak at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols where the children ably assisted me in telling the tale of a small mouse who arrives to see the baby Jesus with no gift. At first the mouse is left out in the cold, made to feel a second-class citizen. Finally, in his eagerness to see the babe, he climbs the stable door and climbs half way through a knot hole and in so doing stops the draught which was blowing on the baby Jesus, much to the delight of Mary and Joseph. The mouse afterwards tells a friend who is sceptical about his lack of gift, ' I gave him me for as long as he needed me'.

That was the end of the story for the little mouse but only the beginning for us as we were reminded with childlike simplicity that our response to the greatest gift of all is to give of ourselves for as long as God needs us. Often though our motives for giving can be very mixed and find themselves coloured by pride or guilt or show, when ideally our motive should be love. A beautiful (but not often sung) Christmas carol 'Love came down at Christmas' expresses how God's love was shown to us in the giving of his Son in his birth at Christmas:

Love came down at Christmas; Love all lovely, Love divine.
Love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign.

In becoming a little child, God became a gift to us and to all mankind and he showed us love in its purest form. My slender knowledge of the vision of Sai Baba is that very basic equation which Jesus came to show us - that our hearts are made to love and that we shall be most fulfilled when we love and, in that loving, when we give of ourselves in the service of others. Like the mouse, we may not be blessed with much in material terms, but even the longing to give is recognised by God and transformed by him into something of worth. The third verse of that same carol runs:

Love shall be our token; Love be yours and love be mine.
Love to God and all men; Love for plea and gift and sign.

There was, in fact, no shortage of giving on the day as the 400 or so who had travelled from all over the UK to be at the Christmas Celebrations had brought hundreds of items to be donated to the Food Banks and Refuge UK who were also there for the day. And as for love, apart from its evidence in all the joyfulness and hospitality of the day, George Bebedelis, Director of the European Institute of Sathya Sai Education had come all the way from Athens to seamlessly and knowledgeably take up that theme...

Reverend K McClure

National Christmas Celebrations 2014 – CCP

I just wanted to thank you for the amazing support you have shown us, and for your hospitality, during our participation at the Christmas Celebrations in Cheltenham. I am overwhelmed with the good will you have collectively offered to CCP and our Food Share. It has been incredible and we are blown away with the support and, more importantly, the outcomes.

Hamper Scamper is CCP's Christmas giving scheme, providing gifts and food hampers for some of the counties most disadvantaged children, young people, families and vulnerable adults. Using donated food and gifts CCP is aiming to supply 500 hampers and in excess of 1000 gifts to children and young people. The food and gifts donated to CCP transform many Christmases.

We have successfully dispatched 557 awesomely packed Christmas hampers out to those in need this Christmas. You may be interested to know that collectively your congregation donated 815 separate items of food. We undertake valuation (because lots of people ask us the value of the project) and using our ‘average’ calculation can place a value of £1,122.00. Quite incredible!

From everyone at CCP, our beneficiaries and probably most notably Chris and Dave – the organisers of Hamper Scamper 2014- thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It really is heartening to know we have your pure and positive energy behind the work of CCP.

All best Wishes for a peaceful Christmas and to 2015. There’s much work to be done.

Cordell Ray
Chief Executive Officer, CCP
15 Royal Crescent
Cheltenham

National Christmas Celebrations 2014 – Refuge UK

When Christine and I arrived at the National Christmas celebrations we were so impressed with the quality of the performance. The children were beautifully dressed with such glamorous and intricate costumes, clearly having a great time performing the nativity play.

It was clear to see the amount of time and effort that had taken place by young and old, truly a community event for every one regardless of faith or culture. The messages from the children particularly inspired me about doing things for others and helping those less fortunate than yourself. If they carry that message into their adult life they will be a great asset to society.

It was delightful to see the joy and excitement of the children when Father Christmas appeared on stage and gave out presents to every child. Clearly SSSSO UK gets great pleasure out of giving, be that spiritually or materially and that message came across very strong to both Christine and I.

I would like to thank you all on behalf of Refuge for all your kindness and for thinking of the families who are victims of domestic violence in the UK, especially the children in the refuges this Christmas.

Claire Cooper
Senior operations manager

National Christmas Celebrations 2014 – SSE Articles

A SSE Teachers Perspective

As a teacher, I have always passionately believed in the value of Art and Drama to enhance a child’s learning experience, and have tried to always convey this in my SSE teaching and also in my teacher-training role.

One shining example of how drama can positively influence children, far beyond the acting and costumes, was what I witnessed at the National Christmas Celebrations this year.

This was the second time that our SSE children had performed in the beautiful precincts of Cheltenham Ladies’ College. For Swami, it always must be the very best that we offer to Him, so a new version of the nativity story was chosen and preparations began!

Because the children were taken from our Nursery and Group 1 children, most of them between the ages of 4-6 years, practices started months in advance! Our SSE Co-ordinator took on the mammoth task of guiding more than 40 young children and their parents through the rigours of the first major performance of their lives! She was ably supported by the SSE Nursery teachers, who took on the responsibility of creating lovely little dances for angels, shepherds, stars and sheep. All those teachers who helped, learnt great lessons in patience and perseverance - having to juggle the complicated diaries of so many different families, coping with flu that struck many – and even a few who came down with chicken pox, as well as always trying to keep such young ones focussed and on-task. Throughout, Swami tested their faith and their love and ability to cope under stress, and this was even before the main performance was even in sight!

But the reward for the SSE teachers and parents was the effect that all this preparation had on the children. It was not just a case of coming for SSE classes each week. There were many long rehearsals, co-operation and co-ordination between parents to create the beautiful costumes and props, and the feeling of love and camaraderie that this created between the children was a joy to behold.

We all travelled up to Cheltenham by coach from the Temple at 7 in the morning! Children were sleepy, some were unwell, but all insistent that they would carry on together. One parent in particular, new to Swami and to SSE, told me later that his daughter had been really unwell with a high temperature and could hardly stand. Her mother couldn’t go because their other daughter was very sick also. Yet the little one insisted that she must go, as she was one of the main star dancers. He said he was amazed at her determination and also touched to the heart by the wonderful support shown by the other parents, and teachers, in helping him look after his daughter. They offered medicine and food and drink, words of love and care, even looking after her whilst he took a quick break. He said it felt like he was with his own family. And of course, Swami gave her the strength to go on and perform beautifully!

My thoughts went straight back to our times preparing and performing the Sai Mahima programmes in front of our beloved Lord, so many years ago. Although this play was much smaller in comparison, it echoed the building of those life lessons that so many children gained from those special and spiritual dance-dramas.

The dedication to learning their lines and coming to practices on time, the discipline in listening carefully to the teacher’s instruction and performing in synchrony, the devotion they felt to Swami and to the story of the Birth of Lord Jesus was a true wonder to behold. And all coalesced into a truly spiritual performance at the National Christmas Celebrations. The carols sung by the Christmas Choir, the inspirational talks, the beautiful music, the play and, of course, the Nativity took us straight back to Prashanthi and to our beloved Lord. We felt His presence in those who performed, we felt His presence in those who looked after us so well in Cheltenham and we felt His presence when we saw the joy on the faces of all those beautiful Sai children who conveyed the true meaning of Christmas.

By Mrs Geetha Maheshwaran

SSE Student Perspective

Jai Sai Ram

My name is Hemila Aarti Adnath and I attend SSE Classes at the Merton Sai Centre. Every Year, around October, there is a buzz in the air at Merton, as the centre starts preparation for all the exciting events- Diwali, Akhand Bhajan, Swami’s birthday and the Christmas Nativity Play. All students are asked to participate, but this year, I decided that due to my heavy extra curriculum activities, I would not take part. However, Swami works in mysterious ways and he has other plans for me! So I ended up taking part in the Diwali Play, Bhajan singing and my favourite one, the Christmas Play.

The rehearsals for the Christmas Nativity Play started in early October and we were told that we were going to perform for the National Christmas Celebration in Cheltenham on the 14th December. A big responsibility on our tiny shoulders! But looking back, all the children did a fantastic job. I was given the role of Mary. I was not as keen, as I wanted to be a narrator; but my mum reminded me that every role is important- big or small, and that all I needed to do was give my best. Again, Swami intervened and I was given the chance to be a background narrator for different characters. I thoroughly enjoyed acting and every Friday and Saturday I looked forward to go to the Sai Mandir for rehearsals. I also got to meet lots of new friends from nursery and other groups. Although at times I was tired and had lots of homework to do, I made every effort to attend. Our teacher very calmly and relentlessly worked with all the children to ensure that we were acting properly. For three months, all the children, parents and teachers would come to the Sai Mandir, working as a big family to make sure we gave the best play to Swami.

Finally, the big day arrived! Early in the morning, we all set out on our journey from Wimbledon to Cheltenham by three coaches. It was a long journey and it was made interesting by other Sai devotees sharing their experiences and yummy food. Once we reached the venue, all the children relaxed a bit and we got dressed up in our costumes. Again, we were all excited as all the mummies transformed us into Super Stars- the angels were radiantly beautiful, the stars were sparkling and the shepherds were all in character. I have to say, I do get a bit nervous but as usual, I reminded myself that I would be acting for Swami.

Before the Play started, we all sat down silently and chanted Three AUMs and offered our prayers to Swami. As the Play started, the beautifully decorated stage became lively as each character portrayed their roles. The youngest ones – the stars, dazzled as they danced, the angels shared heavenly secrets with the shepherds and the narrators reminded us of Swami’s messages. The Play was fantastic and the finale was spectacular with all the children having a standing ovation from the audience.

It was yet another beautiful experience that taught me many things like the fact that practice makes perfect and that discipline and teamwork is the ultimate objective. I have made some wonderful friends. With Swami’s blessings, all the children performed to their best ability and we even got lucky as we got our Christmas treat from Santa early!!!

I’d like to say a big thank you to Swami, our teacher, all the children, the parents and the audience.

Sai Ram
Hemila Adnath
SSE, Merton Sai Centre

Brixton Sai Centre SSE Students

On Sunday 14 December we, the SSE children of Brixton Sai Centre, travelled to the Ladies College in Cheltenham, which was the venue of the National Christmas Celebration. There were many children and parents as well. I really enjoyed the day and being with my friends. Our play, 'The Loyal Builder' had a strong message about love and giving to others. I hope that the audience learnt something from it. After the play, I felt more confident. I want to thank my friends and teachers for supporting me and helping me build up my confidence. – Priyanka Pun

I had an amazing time on Sunday at the Cheltenham Ladies College celebrating Christmas with my beloved Sai family. After the 2 hour journey from London, I managed to learn a lot from the day through carols, readings and talks about the life of Jesus Christ and how he and Sathya Sai Baba were no different. We, the SSE students from Brixton Sai Centre, performed a play called ‘The Loyal Builder’; I was so pleased to see the audience give us a standing ovation at the end, which filled me with so much joy. The highlight of the day for me was when Santa Claus came into the hall and all the children went crazy running around trying catch the sweets being thrown at them. The venue was breathtaking with its old church look and the choir was especially good. I will definitely be going to next year’s National Christmas Celebration. – Yuvish Luckputtya.

I thought the National Christmas Celebration was a great experience and was great fun too. Everyone came together to celebrate as one big family and I think that's the greatest part of the programme. It was also good to come together and have the experience of a church service, with the readings as well as the carols. Everyone seemed very welcoming and appreciated the play we performed; I am really happy I had a chance to make others feel happy with the play, and I am glad they enjoyed it. I am really appreciative of those who took their time and effort to make the programme happen and make it the best it could be, as in the end it was great fun and it was really enjoyable. – Bhelina Luckputtya

The Joy of Sai Bhajans (Devotional Singing)

Bhajan singing is a main sadhana activity in Sathya Sai organisation, which as we know was founded by Bhagawan Baba for the spiritual awakening of our true divine nature. Swami announced his mission of re-educating the human community in the paths of truth, peace and happiness, with the bhajan- ‘Manasa Bhajare Guru Charanam’ in the year 1940, which is sung by all with gusto even today.

“Bhajan (devotional singing) is one of the processes by which you can train the mind to expand into eternal values. Teach the mind to revel in the glory and majesty of God; wear it away from petty horizons of pleasure. Bhajan induces in you a desire for experiencing the Truth, to glimpse the Beauty that is God; to taste the Bliss that is the Self. It encourages man to dive into himself and be genuinely his real Self. Once that search is desired, the path is easy. One has only to be reminded that he is divine..." Bhagawan Baba; Sathya Sai Speaks Vol.7, 497-8

In fact, the tradition of Sai Bhajans was started many years earlier, when aged about 10 years, Sathya (Swami) formed the 'Pandhari Bhajan' group in the village of Puttaparthi. As described in the book Satyam Sivam Sundaram, ‘the group consisted of about sixteen to eighteen boys dressed uniformly in ochre clothes, each holding a flag in hand and wearing jingling anklets. They all danced to the tune of folk-songs and ballads, describing the yearning of pilgrims for Lord Panduranga's Darshan. It is noted that Swami also added some Bhagavatha songs of his own, and also songs on a pilgrimage to a new shrine of which no one had heard, and the majesty of a new Deity of whom they had not even the faintest idea, Shirdi and Sai! Moreover, it was observed that when an infection of cholera swept like a poisonous miasma over the area and wiped out entire families in the surrounding villages, Puttaparthi did not feel the blast of death. Wise men told one another that the Divine Atmosphere generated by the Bhajan group was responsible for saving their lives’. Swami says:

“Bhajan is the process of singing your prayers to God, praising His glory and compassion, and pleading that He may fill you with His Grace. Dr. Hislop has as a result of many years of research, declared that prayer has a highly curative effect on the body and mind of man. That is the result of constant Bhajan and recital of the Name. Every Unit of the Organisation is enjoined to arrange for Nagarasankeerthan (moving choirs) to go around the streets, in the early hours of the day, Bhajan every evening and morning, for this very reason”. Sathya Sai Speaks 11: 37

Today, Sai bhajans are sung in 125 countries of the world, giving millions of people joy and peace. Sai Bhajans are unique in that they glorify all the various forms of the Divine from all the various world religions, are sung in different languages, tunes and rhythms, are short and easy to follow, thus encouraging everyone in a group to join in and experience the oneness.

During the days when I was a student in Prasanthi Nilayam, I have seen on several occasions how involved Swami gets in bhajans. In fact, his daily routine revolved around Bhajans which happen twice daily. He would stop whatever he was doing, be it a meeting in relation to an important project or an Interview, and come into the Mandir and occupy His Throne. He would envelop all those assembled with His Divine Energy, tapping his fingers to keep the rhythm or swaying gently with the tune, at times smiling or gazing at us deeply, and at other times lost in a higher dimension of Absolute Bliss. But our hearts kept pace with every variation of His expression and movement, our bodies soaked in his energy, and our souls lost in union with His Bliss. Swami says:

“Bhajan should not be gone through as a painful necessity; it has to be a thrilling experience, which must leave the participants full of pure energy and elevated enthusiasm. (SSS 11-37) You should sing wholeheartedly with the desire to please God. God makes no distinction between a proficient musician and a beggar in the street. It is the devotion and sincerity that matter. Merge your soul in the Bhajans you sing. Spiritualize your Bhajan singing. Then you will experience real bliss..."

So as to make bhajans a thrilling experience for everyone, Swami places particular emphasis on discipline too, especially for the lead singers. I remember many instances when he would intervene directly to correct and advise the singers. To be a Mandir singer and to sing in his presence, one would have to be selected by Swami. Even the best of the bhajan singers had to practice sincerely before they sang in the Mandir each time. Swami would often give so much love and attention to bhajan boys, enquired about their welfare etc, but at same time reminded them regularly of their responsibilities as a lead singer.

“Sing familiar Bhajans, so that all can share in the Aanandha. Also, pay attention to the tune, the meaning, the variety, the voice, the raaga, the thaala (the tune and the beat) and other fine points of the Bhajans. If your voice is not pleasant or sweet, keep quiet; that is the best service you can do.

The Bhajans must be sweet to the ear, arousing pictures of the glory and grandeur of Godhead, in the mind of the singers and listeners; they must refer to various Names and Forms of God, so that the Bhajan Sessions might fill every one with ecstasy. Bhajan is a Saadhana for all who share in it; that is why it is prescribed, for every Unit. Do not cause discontent, discord and disharmony, insisting on singing, because you are an office-bearer, or something!” Bhagawan Baba; SSS 11-37

Many of us would have been drawn to the Sai Path through bhajans. Similarly, for many of us, bhajans are a constant source of strength in facing life’s everyday challenges. Personally, I find just humming a bhajan silently inside whilst faced with a challenging situation, even at work, somehow seems to lighten the stress a great deal. Often times, we also find that bhajans would connect us instantaneously with a particular divine memory of Swami- either a scene from Prasanthi Nilayam, or a favourite image of his, an anecdote from a book or a personal experience we might have had with him. In my case, I relive the late 80’s when Swami often gave a second ‘Darshan’ during bhajans, which was always a great bonus indeed. On his way back to the Mandir to receive the Arathi, he would walk between the rows of students and teachers seated on the Veranda and accept a letter or two, or exchange a word or two, with those fortunate ones amongst us. Now as I sit in bhajans, wherever in the world, I pray to Swami to evoke his presence by re-playing those wonderful moments of his darshan. I am grateful to Swami, and to my parents, for giving these opportunities that enable me to steer my life with steady faith and fill it with joy. Now my son, through the SSE programme, also learns to sing bhajans and enjoys them. Bhajans thus bring families together, and no wonder that Swami has prescribed this as an important part of the 9-Point Code of Conduct for members of the Sathya Sai Organisation.

In UK, over the past three years Sai Smaran bhajans have been held at a national level on a regular basis in every quarter in different parts of the country. Coordinated by the spiritual wing, with active participation from the youth, this national event brings together devotees, singers and musicians, from across the country to participate in a six-hour session of thrilling bhajans that are offered in loving gratitude to Swami. A lot of sincere effort is dedicated by the teams of coordinators, singers and musicians participating in these bhajans. They follow a rigorous discipline- holding practise sessions regionally about 6-8 weeks in advance, working diligently on the feedback received, publishing bhajan lists in advance, arriving on the day in time- as per the divine directions of our beloved Swami.

The day usually commences with short prayers, and live instrumental music, before the bhajans start. Bhajans are sung in high quality with devotion and discipline, and devotees enjoy and absorb the vibration created by the continuous devotional singing from morning to evening, creating a Prasanthi atmosphere. Purely by the immense grace of Swami, to date, 8 such sessions of Sai Smaran bhajans have been held in various locations such as Manchester, Leicester, and different parts of London. About 225 singers and 50 musicians from across the UK have participated in these bhajans and shared their joy with fellow devotees. More and more devotees, including singers and musicians, are encouraged to take part in these bhajans and carry the joyful vibrations back with them into their homes, centres, communities and workplaces. The next Sai Smaran bhajan is on the 10th of January 2015 in Watford, London. Let us take the opportunity to attend, and welcome the New Year together in prayer, seeking his blessings for the year ahead!

Those who sing Bhajans get what can be called 'double promotion' for they derive joy and distribute joy. Bhagawan Baba; SSS X, 101

Dr Rakendu Suren,
National Spiritual Coordinator
SSSSO UK

Region 1 - "Life is a Game, Play It"

Sai Badminton Tournament

Saturday the 6th of December saw the 3rd Youth vs Adults Badminton tournament, hosted at Tiffin Boys Grammar School organised by our regional chair and youth coordinator to strengthen the bond between the youth and adults of our region. The assembled 6 Youth and 6 Adults had an enjoyable time and the event was perceived as a resounding success. All who attended found the session to be a great bonding experience that all are eager to repeat soon. The games consisted of different youth pairs squaring off against different adult pairs, with new opponents and partners each time. Play started at 2:30PM continually over 3 courts and the day concluded at 5:00PM, with a total of 63 games played over the 3 hour session.

Though the youth put up an admirable effort, the final score was 26-37 to the adult doubles pairs. The day was well spent with wins and losses for both sides, however that is all part of the game. As youth, these games gave us an opportunity to interact with our Sai-Elders in a way we had never done before, making it an amazing experience and one we would all wish to continue. We also had an SSE Child keeping the registration, scores of all games. The adults felt this to be a way to connect and interact with the youth of today and get to know them outside their busy schedules and to see them interact outside the usual setting we see them in, bridging the gap between generations.

This integration of youth and adults through sport has brought a new way of learning to work together. Region 1 has a great family feel, due to the way that we all find it easy to communicate with each other. By doing more of these kinds of events, we are able to bridge any gaps where youth may find it hard to talk to the adults and vice versa.

After all, Swami has said “The supreme virtue in every human being is to forget their individual differences and move with everyone in a spirit of harmony and equality. What lends beauty to sports and games is this spirit of unity. Unfortunately many people today derive only physical fitness and strength from sports and games, not the spirit of love and unity! Fulfilment in life can never be attained from physical health and strength alone. Even if your stomach is full, you can be happy only when both your body and mind are healthy. Young people must understand this truth and not be focused only on physique and beauty. The Divine has endowed everyone with physical, mental and spiritual potencies of many kinds. Your mind is the source of infinite powers. A subdued mind can help you realize the Divine. Recognize the magnitude of your internal powers and leverage them in your daily lives.” (Taken from My dear Students, Volume 5 Chapter 14, 14 January 1996).

We were informed the Tournaments will carry on into future years, and now look forward to the next tournament that is scheduled to take place in Mid-February 2015. We hope all who wish to play will be able to join us on that day. This also give the youth enough time to practice hard and come back to give the adults more of a competition!

Sai Ram
Lakshan Surendran - Youth Tooting Sai Centre

Region 1 - Christmas with Brixton Sai Centre

The annual Brixton Sai Centre carol singing went ahead as planned, even though some members could not attend because they had been struck down by influenza and the cold viruses that were claiming victims all over the country. Among the relatively few members who attended, some were also recovering from illness, but all kept their spirits up and brought festive cheer to the residents of both Truscott House in Croydon and Freeman Court in Norbury, two sheltered accommodation schemes.

The carol singing organised at Truscott House started at 7.30 pm on Friday 19 December. The residents and relatives were served by staff with their favourite tipple - a glass of sherry - to get them in the festive mood. They were all given carol sheets and were encouraged to join in, which they happily did. The session lasted over an hour and the atmosphere was joyful and merry. Afterwards the residents were invited to the dining room where Centre members served them snacks, mince pies with cream and some soft drinks. The residents showed their gratitude before they retired to their private quarters.

The next day saw more carol singing organised by the Centre, this time at Freeman Court in Norbury, from 2 pm on Saturday 20 December. There was an improvement in the number of residents who attended, compared to last year. Again the residents were given carol sheets in order to join in the singing. The singing session lasted over an hour but was extended in order to accommodate a few carol requests from residents. Afterwards they were served some mince pies with cream and drinks by the staff.

The Centre held its usual weekly group devotional singing session at Norbury Manor School the following day from 11.30 am on Sunday 21 December. The number of members attending was quite impressive, considering that some were still recovering from sickness. Half the allotted time was devoted to traditional Sai Centre devotional songs and the rest for carol singing. After the aartee, a short discourse was given on the avataarhood of our Lord Jesus Christ and how he is synonymous with Love. Proceedings ended with all being invited to partake in some prashaadam (consecrated food) and mince pies with cream.

The Centre wished all its members a merry Christmas and also a speedy recovery to those who were still under the weather.

Sai Ram

Region 1 - YAP: Christmas Hampers for Homeless

December is a month synonymous with the festive season, Christmas and importantly the gift of giving. For giving, sharing, and spreading the love were the main themes of the evening at the final Region 1 YAP (Young Adult Programme) session of the year.

#STL – Spread The Love

The evening began with the launch of a new initiative to “spread the love” that we each have within us, through random acts of kindness. The concept of random acts of kindness is not new; however how many of us actually practice this? Often we can get carried away by looking for larger service opportunities, without seeing the numerous opportunities that exist in our everyday lives. The beauty of initiatives like this is that we can work on it at an individual level as well as at a collective level. It requires each of us to live in the moment and see what’s really going in front of us, be courageous enough to follow our heart, and be humble in the knowing that we are serving a reflection of ourselves. Each month, youth from a different centre will take on the initiative of leading ‘#stl’ with the work being documented to simply inspire and show others how a little act can make a lot of difference.

Christmas Hampers & Children’s toy collection

Each year, Region 1 youth lead on making hampers to give to the homeless people in London through a charity called ‘The Passage’. Items in the hampers include scarves, gloves, hats, sleeping bags, raincoats and socks. In addition to this, the Region donated toys to the Children’s Hospital Royal Marsden and Great Ormond Street. The toys were targeted for younger children and included games, Lego, soft toys, and figurines. Approximately 20 people were there helping on the night splitting into two teams to pack the hampers and wrap the presents. As they say, many hands make light work, and we managed to finish in approximately 90 minutes. A total of 133 hampers were put together along with 90 toys wrapped on that day. However in total Region 1 with the help of all the centres and all the SSE children managed to collect around 250 presents! Thank you kindly to everyone who contributed and helped out on the day. The youth have used this service opportunity to integrate with everyone in the region from the children to the adults; integrating with the SSE and Service wings.

In one of the inspirational videos we watched during the #STL launch, an Indian man who quit his job to feed and look after the homeless people in his own town said something that struck a chord with me. It was about giving nutrition for the body (food/water) and nutrition for the mind (LOVE!). This struck a chord with me because I know from experience that both are equally important. It can be easy to detach ourselves from the people we give to, to simply ‘throw money at it’ without ever meeting the recipient. In a different context, our local youth group in New Zealand does monthly singing at a local hospital – initially we simply showed up, sang our songs and went home without really getting to know the patients. Feeling that this wasn’t enough, this changed to spending more time with the patients, and really opened our eyes to what they were going through. Sometimes all a person wants is a person to talk to, or someone to listen to them and just know that another person out there cares about them. The value of a heart to heart connection cannot be underestimated. Next year promises to bring an abundance of opportunities to help serve and love the society we live in, and acknowledge the divinity within us all. As Swami as so often said, “Service to Man, is Service to God”.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and with Love,

Branavan Ravichelvan
Youth

Region 2 - Swami’s Birthday Celebrations at Sathya Sai Centre Pinner

Sunday 23rd November has always been a special day for all devotees at the Centre, with everyone looking forward to coming together as one Sai Family and offering gratitude to Swami for having manifest amongst us on this auspicious day.

This year was no exception. With Swami’s grace, over 300 people came together for the celebrations which were led by our SSE Choir. It’s been a busy time of the year for the SSE students, preparing for both akhand bhajans and Swami’s Birthday. With the guidance and support of the teachers and parent-helpers who helped train them, they were able to raise the atmosphere and filled each person with love and joy. I’m sure Swami was proud of them.

With Swami’s Grace, the first edition of our centre newsletter titled ‘Sai InSight’ was also launched on this auspicious day.

Saiprem Kumar

Region 3 - Avataram: A Humble Offering

“Whatever talent a person has should be dedicated to the rest of humanity - indeed to all living beings...” says Baba. Holding this as the scaffolding to the big structure called Avataram- the play, the SSE children and the youth of Mill Hill started working towards one goal with one intention and as one team – Sai

The idea of the play was put forward by our youth co-ordinator who explained that taking the first step of being Swami’s humble instrument is to spread positivity, love and respect amongst individuals. What better gift can we offer at His lotus feet than a garland of an epic play with full of love and devotion

As the name by itself explains the play’s purpose was to beautifully portray the Dashavataram (ten incarnations ) of Lord Vishnu and further explaining the magnificent Purnavataram(complete incarnation) of our one and only dearest Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

As the saying goes “ no pain, no gain “ we always knew that a play that involved 50 SSE chidren and youth along with the making of costumes , props , sound and acting with finesse in front of Swami was not an easy task. It was indeed a mammoth task, but then Swami always says “Why fear when I am here”.

With that in mind we started this mammoth task three months before Swami’s birthday.

I would like to explain this beautiful journey of togetherness as follows:-

Our Challenges:-

As Swami’s children we all are aware that challenges are not obstacles but opportunities to learn and make our lives better as individual and most of all to become Swami’s instruments in our present lives. As the aspiration of the youth and the children was huge so comes the boulders of challenges along with it.

We faced the following challenges:-

1. Dasha- Avataram is the story of 10 avatars which will mean that there will be 10 different plays plus Swami at the end to complete the play .Where do we get 50 SSE children and youth to act for the play?
2. Where do we conduct regular practices for those casts ?
3. It is a beautiful epic play so we will need the best of costumes. Where do we get these beautiful and colourful costumes from?
4. Where do we get the props for the scenes and how do we record all of the voices?

We never knew that the answer for these big challenges was very simple – as Swami says if we take the first step with pure dedication He will take a million steps to achieve it.

Though we had a lot of inhibitions initially we did only one thing, we surrendered with complete unfathomed dedication and faith in Swami to offer this garland on His birthday. We the youth, the SSE children, the parents and the teachers of Mill Hill then took our first step and miraculously but unsurprisingly Swami took His million steps to complete the play.

The costumes were mostly contributed by the devotees as recycled items, props were hand made by the youth, conference calls were held every week with respective teams to gauge the progress and practices were held regularly at houses .

Swami’s Leela

As they say every tide has its ebb. This is a fact of life that most of us humans at some stage forget to realise.

The recordings had come out beautifully with the help of our actors and the enthusiastic technical team. The houses of devotees and rented halls were used to practice regularly and all the children and youth were in synergy enjoying them in the process.

A week to go and we held a final dress rehearsal of the play .The children and youth were dressed and the stage was ready.

What happened?

The music was not playing, the projector was not working and these affected the morale of the actors and they froze on the stage which resulted in lack of co-ordination.

All of was shocked by this and some serious questions raised in our minds - if we deliver a play like this on Swami’s Birthday will He be ever pleased? Have we given our 108% commitment? Do we even have to hold this play at all?

Why this happened?

As we were breaking down because of these thoughts, little did we realise it was Swami’s test of our faith in Him during challenging times.

With His grace we collectively thought of two important factors that was necessary

a) Give our 108% commitment by practicing enough and more a day before the play and
b) Nothing but complete surrender at His feet like Draupadi surrendered to Krishna, like Hanuman surrendered to Rama and like Prahalada surrendered to Narasimha.
The result, the week that followed was filled with positivity, unity, strength, courage and devotion from all – parents, teachers, you and children.

And these made Swami achieve His objective, despite all odds He kept us united together by teaching us life’s lessons.

Avataram – the play on His beautiful birthday

Mill Hill Centre was filled with positive energy - children and youth dressing up , adults helping them get ready and all of them with full of zest and devotion.

We also received great support from the regional youth team who were a part of every activity of the play, be it props, dressing or even to support us by motivating us in challenging times.

Please see below photos of the beautiful play which mesmerised all of us and left us with a big smile and we hope it pleased our Bhagwan as well

Narasimha Avatar - Lord Narsimha destroying the demon king Hiranyakahyap

Krishna Avatar - Draupadi Vasthraharan – Durshaasan gets tired, Krishna comes to Draupadi’s help

Buddha Avatar – Lord Buddha and His disciples

Krishna Avatar - Vishwaroopam

Kalki Avatar – Destroyer of Evil

Swami in His Poornavataram with the rest of the Avataram casts

Happy Birthday Swami

With the purest of the intentions and with our 108% commitment we wanted to gift Swami a play on His birthday and the result was just the opposite. He gifted us a play that was so divine that the nectar of its love, positivity and talent is still lingering in our minds and will stay in our hearts forever.

Thank you Swami for teaching the youth, the children and the elders what is the true meaning of dedication, commitment and love and thank you for giving the gift you gave us on your birthday – Avataram , the play

"My Life is my message, your life is my message" says Baba

Let us all strive to be His instruments and spread love to the farthest of the horizons

Jai Sairam
Aneet Govindarajan
Mill Hill Centre (Region 3 Youth)

Region 3 - Service & Health Awareness Activities at Russell Square

Sathya Sai Centre of Central London (Russell Square) is located at Coram’s Fields, a seven acre playground and park for children and young people. Coram’s Fields is an historic Grade II listed site run by an independent charity. Until the 1920s, the land was the location of the famous Foundling Hospital, an orphanage established by the philanthropic sea captain Thomas Coram in 1741 for “education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children”. The orphanage is thought to have been the UK’s first incorporated charity.

We at Central London Sathya Sai Centre, consider it as an honour inspired by Sri Sathya Sai Baba to play a small part in ensuring that the “exposed” and the “deserted” continue to be served at Coram’s Fields. Those we serve are “exposed” because they are, largely, homeless. Literally, therefore, they are exposed to the elements, often living on the streets, or in shelters, or perhaps just in inadequate and insecure accommodation. They are “deserted” because, in different ways, they tend to be those who have been a little left behind in life, often not through any weakness or negligence on their part, or through their own deliberate fault, but just through sheer bad luck or unfortunate combination of circumstances.

The Centre strives to support those we serve, as our guests in the spirit of brotherhood in a number of ways. On the third Sunday of every month, a hot sit-down meal is provided, usually to around 70 guests who assemble here. Unlimited hot and cold drinks are also served, along with desserts, fruits, biscuits and other extras for our guests to take away. A free hair-cutting service is also provided each month to our guests – this is usually provided by one of our regular guests and, on occasion, by one of our volunteers. Distribution of clothing also takes place twice each year, with new winter clothing distributed in February.

In the last year, a number of initiatives have also been introduced to try and help some of our guests get back into employment. A representative from a mainline rail company has visited the Centre to speak about employment opportunities within the company. The Centre has also partnered with Crisis to this end, and a number of our guests have now been put through Crisis’ programs. In addition, workshops are soon to be introduced to teach art and craft skills to interested guests, the aim being to enable them to make items which they are then able to sell.

The Centre also conducts an annual Health Awareness Day for its guests; this year, this event was held on Sunday 15 June 2014. The services on offer included blood pressure and blood sugar check, body mass index, Diabetes Risk Assessment, GP referral as well as dental and Eye checks. The TB mobile unit from the University College London was also in attendance to screen for TB. Twelve visitors took up this service.

41 people participated (11 ladies and 30 gents ages ranging from 22 to 81 years) in the Health Awareness clinic. 180 consultations were carried out with seven GP referrals. The team of health care professionals comprised of doctors, nurses, dentists, Optometrist, Ophtalmologist, sonographer as well as a pharmacist together with about twenty general volunteers.

Irene Moore

Region 4 - Babas 89th Birthday Celebrations in Leicester

On Sunday 23rd November 2014, all over the world, Swami’s 89th Birthday was celebrated. Leicester was no exception. Hosted at the Ram Mandir, a venue so infused with vibrations accumulated over years of events and prayers, the celebrations ran in full motion, compèred by sister Nirali Sisodia.

As some 600 people flocked into the hall, they were greeted by a colourful photo of Swami on the stage, surrounded by flowers and balloons. The altar was adorned with symbols of different faiths, which embodied Swami’s all-encompassing love for everyone regardless of religion. Attracting the most attention for some perhaps, was the birthday cake at the centre, baked by the devotees and impressively decorated with miniatures along with the well-known phrase “Love is my Form”.

At 2pm, the event commenced with multi faith prayers and two bhajans. We were all initially heart warmed by the adorable performances and dances from the young SSE groups, twinkling like stars in their outfits, and the Good Values Club, facilitated by Mr Dipak Kumar. Swami tells us that the “students of today are the teachers of tomorrow”. During this event however, the SSE students were already teaching us a lesson about the importance of our thoughts, words and deeds being in harmony through a well performed play about a school boy who questions the legitimacy of carrying out actions that are not in tune with one’s own words. A necessary reminder this was! We were also fortunate to enjoy the intricate finger work from tabla maestro Anand Bhalsod and his talented students.

The event was intertwined with vignettes of Swami’s life by group 4 SSE students, translated into Gujarati by Anand Lad so that all members of the congregation could enjoy the Swami’s divine Leelas in their full glory. Included in the programme was the English choir conducted by the enthusiastic Jenni Robson. Accompanied by harmonium, keyboard, baritone ukulele, flute, tabla and other percussion instruments, the choir sang nine songs including the Lord’s Prayer, a Hebrew song and an American Indian song. The SSE orchestra were also able to make an offering by playing an instrumental version of “Happy Birthday to you”. Following this “Tere Janam Dina Me Sai” was sung. The hall reverberating with the lines “Happy birthday day to you Sai Rama”, devotees could imbibe the excitement as the SSE children were about to cut the cake.

The final part of the celebrations was the all anticipated performance by Sairam Iyer. Known as the 8th wonder of the musical world for his ability to sing in both male and female vocals, he, eerily yet magically, blew us away as he began with his female rendition of “Allah Tero Nam”. Awestruck as we were, we sat listening with our eyes peeled to decipher whether what we were hearing was indeed coming from who we were seeing.

The occasion was undoubtedly beautiful. This was not only because of what we saw and heard but also because of the thought of the unity that had to be present to ensure smooth running of the event. Whether it was a child in SSE or an elderly aunty in the choir, a confident musician or a first-time public speaker, a member of the PA team or a volunteer in the kitchen, it was a celebration where so many were able give their personal gift to Swami on this birthday.

Swami says that “My birthday is the date when divinity blossoms in your heart”. If this is the case, why then do we continue to celebrate the physical birthday of the Lord? Whether Swami is your God, Guru, mother, father, best friend or a person you consider to be more enlightened than yourself, he came on Earth to spread his love and deliver his message. He came neither to hurt, nor to convert anyone. He came only to confirm each one in their own faith. His life was his message. He was the one who would always “walk the talk”. It may simply be because we truly adore the form that was born on 23rd November, and all that this form did for us, that we continue to make an offering each year on this this date. Needless to say though, let us pray to be directed in the right direction so that we may plant those seeds for the blossom of divinity in our hearts.

Dixa Thakrar

Region 4 - Birthday Celebrations at Rugby Sai Centre

At the sound of the third “gong” the celebrations of Bhagwan’s 89th birthday started with three Omkars followed by the opening prayers, recitation of the Lingastakum and 108 Namavali paduka pooja to welcome our Bhagwan.

Candle lit alter of pink and purple drapes , Swami adorned with a beautiful garland that swept to his lotus feet blessing all present in the Abhaya Hasta pose.

We opened the programme with our SSE children marching displaying plaques of Swami’s teachings; Sathya, Dharma, Shanti, Prem and Ahimsa, singing “He is Love so learn to Love“ – how apt as the theme was “His work & His words“

We had a short video presentation of Swami’s work followed by a play by our SSE children on “DO DEEDS FOLLOW WORDS”.... followed by 2 songs.

Rugby’s Lord Mayor Mr. Ramesh Shrivastava gave an insight into his role and also how Swami’s teachings will help us all to be ideal human beings.

This was followed by vibrational multi faith bhajans in Swahili, English and Tamil.

A presentation of classical Krishna dance by two very young and talented girls from the Rugby Bharatanatyam group, set the scene for the recitation and translation of chapter 15 from the holy Gita , was beautifully presented by two of our centre ladies.

This was followed by a talk quoting from the book “ Sai-cology” mirroring the Gita recitation ! The second part of the video of Bhagwan’s work/words was followed by the cutting of the cake and vote of thanks.

The programme ended with unison songs “Every man is your son divine“ & “May the Love we’re sharing“

Lovingly
Rugby Sai Centre

Region 4 - Coventry Sai Centre Birthday Celebrations

Theme: "Peace for Mother Earth"

On Sunday 23rd November 2014 the devotees from Coventry Sai Centre gathered to celebrate our beloved Sathya Sai Baba’s 89th birthday.

The day began by preparing the hall, decorating the stage with beautiful doves and clouds, and Swami’s chair placed ready to welcome devotees on this auspicious day.

After all of the devotees arrived and the SSE children were sat down eagerly waiting for the programme to begin, we began with 3 OM’s and universal prayers setting a peaceful tone for the day.

The Nursery SSE children bravely came on to the stage for the first performance singing ‘Ganesha Sharanam Sharanam Ganesha’. The children had been practising the bhajan, and hearing them perform on the day at such a young age was fantastic and inspiring.

There were two Bharat Natyam dances performed by our young sisters Shyaami and Amrita on the theme – Peace for Mother Earth. The first dance performed was on Peace, and the second dance was on Mother Earth. The dances were performed with beautiful movements and vigour and were uplifting for all the devotees. There were readings by other SSE children offering a prayer for Mother Earth and also presentations by the children who used their knowledge on Goddess Mothers – Durga Mata, Lakshmi Mata and Saraswati Mata to highlight the messages of Sathya Sai Baba.

A short Yagna was performed by all the SSE children to bring Peace for Mother Earth. They recited the sacred 21 Gayatri Mantra. This was powerful and very peaceful and enjoyed by all.

There were various presentations and readings by the other SSE children, which they had lovingly prepared and practised ready to perform for Swami and the devotees. One of the presentations was about Veda Mata where we were reminded: Swami says that “the Gayatri Mantra is described as the Mother of all the Vedas – it protects the one who recites it". In another presentation we were informed about Gau Mata (Mother Cow) and that “she is not our Mother on Earth but she is a Mother to us as a Goddess”. Gau Mata gives us milk, fuel, fertilisers and aryuvedic medicine – all of the necessary products in order to live our life.

With all of the devotees gathered together, it was a great opportunity for us to remember as a Centre the activities that have taken place throughout the year. Swami, our dearest Mother gives us all the opportunity to take part in many service activities, and together we were able to reminisce on all that has been achieved this year, along with SSE and Ladies Day activities.

There were some bhajans sung by the adults, bringing the programme to a lively conclusion. The atmosphere at this point was spiritual and uplifting with devotees focused on Swami and enjoying the bliss he was showering on us all.

A birthday cake lovingly prepared by one of the devotees was cut by the SSE children whilst a birthday song was played in the background much to the delight of all the devotees at the programme.

Thank you Swami, for giving us a chance to show you our love and devotion to you. You are our Mother, you bring us Peace for Mother Earth.

Jai Sai Ram

Geeta Parashar (Coventry Centre)

Region 4 - Dawn Centre Christmas Party

It’s Christmas Party Time

Quite often I think about what I want. What I want now, what I want tomorrow, what I want in a year. I suppose we all do, that is human nature.

What we really need however, is quite different, although it may not seem that way at the time.
But if we stopped to think, during every minute of every day about what we need and how much we appreciate it, we wouldn’t have time to do everything else. For example, if I considered every single sound I could hear and marvelled at the function of the ear, I probably wouldn’t stop to actually listen to Bhajans or a friend who needs to talk.
So sometimes, it’s moments like this party where we can pause for thought, to look outside ourselves and learn from our brothers and sisters. I won’t pretend that all experiences are purely positive either, but it is up to us to sift through it all and decide what to absorb and to discard.

It takes a lot of organisation to set up a party! Nirali (Leicester Central Youth Coordinator) and all the Sai Youth did a brilliant job to divide responsibility of party games, ensure all decorations and electronic equipment was set up and even managed a last minute scramble for buffet food when we were told it wasn’t going to be provided! (Despite that, we still managed to bring enough to sink a ship, although I think the majority of it was eaten, so wastage was low).

It was important to treat residents as family, to respect elders and mingle with all. All people deserve respect from each other, but as we laid down the ground rules at the start (no swearing, no talking over each other etc.) we tried to instil the idea that residents should respect each other.

I don’t know the relationships that already existed between the residents who attended the party, but I loved to see, as the evening progressed, how they came together and made the experience enjoyable for each other. It was wonderful to see the shyer participants coming to the fore and volunteering for games.

Food is a commonly overlooked ‘need’; I feel it has become more of a want. It is when fasting or reducing intake for sadhana, that we realise how precious it really is. Of course this was a party so healthy eating principles weren’t really on the agenda! It was a wonderful opportunity to share food and eat together as friends, with people for whom social interactions involving food have become a luxury.

The Christmas presents were enjoyed by residents at the end of the party and I was lucky to receive thanks from a couple of the ladies who were very happy to have new hats for the winter. (On another note I will remember to colour code my gents and ladies presents next year!).

All in all, a fantastic success for the Sai Youth and I hope next year will be even better.
As ever, everything we do is for Swami and possible because of Him.

“Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray.”

Chetna Pandya, Youth
Leicester Central Sai Centre, Region 4

Sharing & Receiving the gift of Christmas

What comes to mind when you think of Christmas – presents, food, and lots of it, lights, trees, gifts, decorations, family, friends, snow, carols, movies, Santa Claus? Whatever you associate with Christmas, some undisputedly important elements are sharing joy, love and the Christmas spirit. Hence, we the youth of Leicester decided to impart these feelings with those less fortunate than ourselves by hosting a Christmas party for the residents at the Dawn Centre. The Dawn Centre is a temporary accommodation project for homeless people providing support, advice and assistance across the issues of health, housing, life skills and education regardless of race, gender, age, disability, sexuality, class or religion.

The event took place on 20th December 2014. After a welcome by Leicester Youth Coordinator, Nirali Sisodia, the party began. It was an exciting time full of games, singing, music, laughter and of course food. The activities that we organised included a tower building game, charades, opening and eating a Curly Wurly with the use of one hand only and tag Pictionary. These games provided an opportunity for us to work with residents as we teamed up with them to try and win each of the games. It was a time of friendly and light-hearted competition. With spirits high, residents took part in a karaoke. Singing classics like Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You”, George Michael’s “Last Christmas” with newer hits like Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, I could sense that the residents were enjoying themselves, which was after all our aim.

Between the activities, I had the opportunity to chat to the residents and hearing some of their stirring life experiences. When talking to them, I could sense a subtle shadow of melancholy in their voices although many of them tried to exude an array of optimism, confidence and pride. This was something I thought was admirable.

Much to the dismay of many, the event had to draw to an end. As a final token of our want to share the Christmas feeling, each resident was given a Christmas present containing a pair of gloves, hat and scarf. When we arrived at the centre, a sense of despondency was evident on the faces of the residents. However at by the end, the countenances of many were that little more gleeful. Perhaps we had succeeded in sharing that happiness. Personally though, the most touching part of the evening was when one resident, with a voice of enthusiasm said, “same time next year”. As such, it felt as though they enjoyed and appreciated the evening, as much as we did.

“Manava Seva Madhava Seva” (Service to man is service to God), is the famous saying we have heard on countless occasions. Thought provokingly so, although we were attempting to serve the residents of the centre, they were in reality serving us by granting us the opportunity to host such an event and experience the joy that they were in fact giving us. They appreciated us but we too appreciated them. Hence we offer our gratitude to Swami for allowing us to share the Christmas festivities as we in turn received a priceless gift.

Dixa Thakrar, Youth
Leicester Central Sai Centre, Region 4

Region 5 - Christmas Hampers for Underprivileged Children

Devotees at the Lidget Green Sai centre donated 32 “shoe-box gift packs” containing gifts for children aged 3-14 years old. The packs were packed based on the age and the gender of the child. It included basic toiletries, gloves, cap, soft toys and stationary.

The items were donated to needy children through the “Samaritans Purse” at Bradford.

Kailash Venkat
Region 5 Chair

Region 5 - Special Narayana Seva for Swami`s Birthday Celebrations

Devotees from the Lidget Green Sai centre serve hot food to the homeless every month at Bradford. The initiative has been successfully running for the last two years by Swami’s grace. During the auspicious month of November, Swami tested their persistence as the building (including the kitchen) were undergoing repair work and was unavailable for cooking.

The devotees took it as an opportunity and distributed special burgers for the homeless people. They made it into a beautiful pack containing a burger, drink, a cap and gloves for them to take it. 77 packs were distributed on that day and the people felt very happy. It was a beautiful gift for the people for Swami’s birthday.

Kailash Venkat
Region 5 Chair

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