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Love and Light

Pre-World Youth Festival: Legacy of Love

This summer will see the World Youth Festival (WYF) in Prasanthi Nilayam, with the theme ‘Love is the Source, the Path, and the Goal’. We are all very well aware of the emphasis our Lord places on youth. These events provide a platform and grounding to come together and fully comprehend how best we can fulfil Swami’s ideals as the youth. Leading up to this, countries around the world have been hosting their own events to prepare youth for the festival by reflecting, discussing and acting upon the relevant themes, goals and ideas. The UK is no exception! From 1st until 3rd April 2016 we had the UK Pre-World Youth Festival, entitled ‘Legacy of Love’, held at Beaumanor Hall in Loughborough. The aim here was to really bring Prasanthi to the UK, so that we may better experience the energy, vibrations and atmosphere that one would anticipate there.

The beautifully arranged Main Altar for the weekend

As with any retreat or event, during the weeks and days leading up to the festival, the various organising teams – workshops, music, PA, altar, catering, etc - were frantically getting together hoping to achieve a smooth, successful and above all, a fulfilling and motivating weekend.

To begin with, the location was in the idyllic rural landscapes of Leicestershire, where the minds could instantly find rest from the distractions of the mundane hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. The programme commenced at 7.30pm on the Friday. As we walked into the hall we were greeted by a bewitching life size picture of beloved Bhagawan, as if He was standing there just to welcome us into His Presence! Combined with Swami’s chair, the carefully selected lighting and altar colours, the ambience was reminiscent of Sai Kulwant hall, complete with a backdrop of the sacred Mahasamadhi. Opening with multifaith prayers and a selection of bhajans, the festival began in full swing. The programme was inaugurated by our National Youth Coordinator, brother Sai Ganesh, who outlined briefly the purpose and itinerary of the weekend. He also elaborated on the Sadhana we were invited to do leading up to the WYF. He gave us all a “Sadhana Diary” in which we could, on a daily basis, reflect upon the events of the day and highlight certain specifics such as acts of selfless service we achieved in the day and areas we wish to improve on. The evening programme concluded with Aarti and everyone was encouraged to rest, ready for the busy subsequent days.

For those who have been to Prasanthi, you will be aware of the early morning starts, commencing with Suprabhatam – prayer to wake up our beloved Lord, where even the toughest of us may struggle to stay awake! This youth retreat, where we brought Prasanthi to the UK, was not going to miss upon that opportunity. At 5.45am we entered the hall on Saturday morning, facing the Mahasamadhi and welcomed with the serene atmosphere. At 6am we began with 21 Aumkars and Suprabhatam. Following this, the brothers and sisters separated to do yoga, led by Hansa aunty Sisodia and brother Keval Shah. Starting with breathing exercises and then moving to more physical activities, this proved to be an eye-opener for some of us who were complete beginners to this ancient art. More than that though, it ended up being an amusing spectacle of sisters jumping around in their saris!

The next main activity was the first workshop entitled, Sai – our younger years. This aimed to reflect upon how we first came into the Sai field and how it influenced our younger years. This proved to be quite a reflective conversation where we truly appreciated how different we would be, had we not been able to learn about the values stressed in the Sai Fold. We additionally discussed the traits which comprise an “ideal Sai youth” and also spoke about how we can bridge SSE children with the youth so that they too feel inspired and motivated to carry on the Sai Mission.

The retreat in actual fact turned into an international event for we were joined by brothers and sisters who flew in from The Netherlands. We were fortunate enough that our first main speaker was brother Sathyam Sheoratan, National Youth Coordinator of the Netherlands. He lovingly spoke about his experiences and dreams growing up. Intertwined in the programme were vignettes of various youths’ experiences that they wished to share with the rest of the congregation. This included brother Harianand who spoke about the group trips that he had been on to Prashanti and how loving Swami was towards them. He wisely concluded by reminding us of letting go of the idea of us being the doer and ensuring spirituality permeates our whole lives and not just for the few hours we attend the Sai Centre. We additionally heard from sister Dipika who shared her humorous experiences when working as a junior doctor, really reiterating to us that Swami is truly omnipresent and listens to our earnest prayers.

Harianand Mistry, Leicester UK & Sathyam Sheoratan, Netherlands

The next activity was fun filled activity of spiritual games, making everyone work and get their brains ticking. Our next speaker was Dr Kiran Patel, previous UKCC National President, who shared his early experiences with Swami. He reminded us, through his own hardships during college examinations, that when we really leave everything to Swami he will surely take care of everything. His profound concluding remarks would have struck a chord with many in the congregation, “If we are successful, it is only because of his Grace and we should not forget that."

Following this, our culinary skills were challenged where we had to break up into groups and make various dishes from around the world including Pau bhaji, quesadillas, noodles and pasta. Hence the youth were able to enjoy the products of their own efforts for their lunch. After lunch was a musical offering by the youth comprising a medley of songs and bhajans including the chorus of the song the UK submitted to the world youth festival theme song competition.

Busy preparing Lunch Prasadam

As some of the younger, less experienced folk of the Sai Organisation, it is often invaluable for us youth to hear the advice of those with a wealth of knowledge in areas we may lack. So we were most fortunate to have a question and answer session. The panel included our national youth coordinator, Sai Ganesh, former UK chairperson and International youth coordinator, brother Shitu Chudasama, his wife Ritaben, and our UKCC Vice President, Mrs Vidyulatha Narayan. During the session various questions about connecting to Swami following his Mahasamadhi etc were asked. The panel provided very well constructed and practical answers that many of us could apply to our daily lives. Many of us were heart warmed when Shitubhai relayed to us that he used to wake up 3.30am every morning between the ages of 8 and 12 years and hug Swami’s photos as a form of his love and devotions towards our Lord.

Q & A Session- Moderated by Karthik Prashanth, Alumnus, SSSIHL
Panellists (from left): Vidyu Narayan, Rita Chudasama, Sai Ganesh, Shitu Chudasama

The next workshop was entitled, Sai youth – Life is a challenge, Meet it. During the discussions, we were encouraged to reflect upon what barriers we had in the path of becoming that “Ideal Sai Youth”. These included for many of us, anger, lack of discipline, impatience. After the long discussions we were asked to write on a piece of paper a motivational message that we could give to someone else, to help them overcome their barriers. This was placed in a box and we all at random were able to pick a message to take home as our prasadam from Swami. The main message of the workshop was beautifully summed up through Swami’s quotation, “The path of Love and Service is not smooth: it abounds in struggle and disappointments. Life itself is a pendulum between sighs and smiles. But, every obstacle is an invitation to your intelligence. "Life is a challenge; meet it! Life is a dream; realise it”. We were additionally given the Prayer of Surrender – practical instructions our Lord has given us on how to surrender and take the right step in overcoming the challenges we face.

We all have various ways of expressing our love and devotion, be it through singing, praying, service etc. Brother Sanjay shared his way through poems – one entitled A Conversation with Sai. We all laughed away at his cleverly fashioned rhyming couplets, aided by an ingenious slideshow of photos of Swami matching the phrases he was reciting.

After the dinner, which was lovingly prepared for us by the service team, we heard the stories of uncle Navin Patel, one of the first students of Swami at the Brindavan campus. He narrated the story of how he first saw Swami in Uganda and how Swami personally asked him to join his college – how blessed indeed! We further heard the stories of sisters Nirali and Bijal, who endearingly narrated the interview experience they had with Swami during their 2004 pilgrimage to Prashanti, entitled “Sai Anugraha”. Through the detail with which they described the scene and Swami’s various interactions, we could almost imagine we were there, living the stories they were sharing.

Navin Patel, Alumnus, SSSIHL & Sai Anugraha Experiences

The final activity of the day was a session of exciting bhajan games, where the brothers competed against the sisters. This included bhajan pictionary where our artist skills were tested. Bizarrely enough though, the bhajan pictionary game really made you think about the meaning of the bhajan, something we often overlook. The games provided great team working opportunities among the brothers and the sisters in their respective teams. One could really feel the tension in the atmosphere escalate as the sides were competing against each other. After an eventful day, we concluded with Aarti.

The third and final day commenced as previously with Aumkars, Suprabhatam and yoga. On this day however, Swami had a Jhoola. The first speaker for the day was brother Divij Desai, alumnus of SSSIHL. He spoke about his experiences which seemed to draw parallels with many of our lives, where we are trying to balance our work for Swami with work we may consider as mundane or day-to-day duties. This could be succinctly summarised with Swami’s well known reassurance: “You do My work, I will do yours!”

Suprabatham Session & Divij Desai, Alumnus, SSSIHL

After a sumptuous breakfast, again provided by our Service Wing volunteers, we heard the much needed words from brother Kapil who reminded us that whilst it is all well to listen and smile at the experiences of others that Swami has given them, it is also just as necessary to reflect upon the inner message and significance of these events and implement the learning points into our lives. Following this, we were lucky to be addressed by Dr Mahesh Narayan, who has had a plethora of experiences with Bhagawan. Interestingly, he advised how we should speak in front of an audience. Through humorous tales and loving anecdotes, he elaborated on the importance of speaking from the heart, where Swami is always installed, and not from a piece of paper! This hopefully would have awakened the shy amongst us to not have any fear when we are asked to speak in front of our brothers and sisters.

Kapil Dev Prasher, Regional Youth Coordinator & Dr. Mahesh Narayan, Regional President

penultimate workshop was entitled, Our task at hand – what are we doing and what can we do? In this workshop we discussed the service activities that we were currently undertaking, as youth in the organisation and suggesting ways to overcome barriers in consolidating and expanding on these activities. Our Lord places great emphasis on service, as we know, as a means of gradually expanding our smaller self and experiencing instead our ever joyful Higher Self. The service streams that Swami has propounded for us, and which are followed in the Organisation in UK, were discussed in detail under the headings: educare; medicare; sociocare; aquacare and envirocare. It was interesting to note that many youths were only minimally aware of the activities that were currently taking place and so was encouraging to see them motivated to participate.

Continuing on the theme of service, we participated in an outdoor service activity. Luckily, the weather Gods too lent a helping hand to our good motives to serve, because until then the weather was a bit temperamental to say the least! Some went to a nearby town, Groby, to clean the streets as part of the national initiative “Clean for the Queen”, leading up to the Queen’s 90th birthday. The rest of us stayed in the vicinity of Beaumanor Hall and cleared parts of the streets, a church, parks and forest. It was good opportunity to get on our feet and enjoy the country air too, as well as do an activity that would be of benefit to the local area. It was encouraging when we saw how grateful some of the locals were.

Following what was arguably a well-deserved lunch, brother Deviesh Tankaria, Zone 7 vice-youth coordinator, spoke to us about how Swami played a role in every aspect of his life, including at his job interview with the Home Office! He additionally talked about the World Youth Festival this year and value of us going to hear, learn and serve together as youth for the benefit of ourselves, the Sai Organisation and the Society.

Dev Tankaria, Zone 7 Youth Coordinator & Dr. Veeru Mudigonda, National President

The final workshop complemented brother Deviesh’s talk for it was on about the World Youth Festival. We shared in our groups the significance of going to Prasanthi and what it meant to each one of us; and for those who had never been, we shared why they would feel inspired to go.

Our final address was by our UKCC National President, Dr Veeru Mudigonda, who once again lovingly encouraged us all to go home and book our tickets to India! He explained how Swami defined the meaning of Youth, the ways to stay in tune with Swami’s teachings, and how to lead our lives as the real ‘legacies’ of His Love. The weekend concluded with a bhajan by Swami and Aarti.

A lot of thoughts and feelings may be running across our monkey minds following such a weekend – motivation, excitement, energy, enthusiasm or even just sheer fatigue! It was a busy and packed weekend, and there would have been a few shortcomings and last minute changes, but in a way everything went according to His Divine Plan. Ultimately He is the director of such a weekend! But why have such a weekend in our busy lives, I reflect. Such a weekend requires a lot of planning, logistics, resources and even sweat and tears no doubt. But when we do it out of love for our Lord, it allows us to help ourselves. It brings about a change in ourselves, allowing us to expand and unite; and it is this change in ourselves that will be reflected in the world around us. Ultimately our aim is a transformation from “I to we to He”. One weekend will not necessarily take us to the goal, but it at least is a step forward on this path, towards the goal. The weekend left us with many platforms that we can build upon whether it is overcoming our occasional waywardness, or developing our good qualities or serving more. No doubt, up on reflection, we would have been filled with many positive thoughts, making us ponder about ways to progress as our Lord would see fit.

Swami has said that the “Youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow”. That tomorrow, brothers and sisters, is now! The future is now here, today. We, as youth, have to start acting now. What makes today so special is that many of the youth have never had the opportunity to see our Lord, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, physically and hence we have to act as his beacons, so that all can experience what we have experienced. Our Lord once beautifully shared the analogy that the youth are his heart and that his love for us is the blood flowing through it. Let us therefore beat together as One Heart, carrying His Legacy of Love to all aspects of our lives and to all the communities of the World. The Grand Opportunity is ours, and is upon us!

We thank Swami, dearly, for working through us to make the Pre-World Youth Festival a reality.

Sai Ram!

Dixa Thakrar
Leicester Central Youth Coordinator