Very quickly, Swami’s car turned into the driveway and slowly proceeded towards the gate. In a matter of seconds, the road was blocked by auto rickshaws, two-wheelers, all abandoned as their drivers and riders (and passengers) all rushed forward for Car Darshan. Swami’s car continued slowly towards the gate; I was still walking towards the opened gates and I could just make out Swami’s form in the front seat. Alas, Swami and the car were soon lost to view by the surging crowds. Seva Dals ran with their ropes.
I continued on my errands, as people milled about in front; as I looked further up Main Road, there was more rushing towards Swami’s car.
All drawn by Love.
A little while later, after I had washed and changed, I went outside and concentrated a bit, querying “What to do?” on the inner level. “Come inside,” was the answer. So I collected the ever-reliable cushion and made my way into the ashram. When I entered the Ganesh Gate, I saw this long queue of small boys dressed in white, and I wondered if they were from the Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Trust at Muddenahalli or Alike; I would not have been surprised as they are now auspiced by the Sai University as colleges of the Institute. It would be normal for students from all the member colleges of the Sai University to be present (and the Anantapur College ladies are here… I saw them this morning through the Chaitanya Jyothi gate) for the Sports and Cultural Meet.
As I walked towards the darshan hall I was greeted with loud confident “Sai Ram” from many of these small boys, all queued up to enter the darshan hall. I asked, “Going for Darshan of Swami?” These angelic faces with great big soulful eyes all looked up at me and said, “Yes, Yes, First darshan!!!” They showed their badges to me, I think I saw the Sarva Dharma Logo on the cards. Sweet boys, with lovely energy.
In the darshan hall, it is quiet, and people are streaming in for bhajans. Bit of a crowd up the front; I check to see that I am not sitting under any pigeons, and drop the cushion to sit. I looked over the crowds and asked myself, “What is it that brings them all here?” Love, came the answer, unbidden. Yes, I felt that was right, as I gazed over the waiting devotees. Students sitting in front of the porch; Professors and Hospital Staff on the veranda. Yes, it is Love that draws them all here.
Very shortly, the harmonium sounded over the loudspeakers and I joined in with the OM. We had hardly sung two bhajans when the security detail ran into the Darshan Hall, and Swami’s car followed. Men pressed forward to the front, some got up on their knees, hands went up in pranams. Swami’s car circled the ladies side and went to the porch from the interview room side. A bhajan was in progress.
Unusually, Swami door was on the “darshan hall” side, so most got a full view of the door sliding back and Swami’s (sedan-chair-call-it-what-you-will) swing out and move into the mandir. Men sat down, removed their ankles from beneath their posteriors, and continued to sing bhajans.
Moments later, Swami came to the front of the porch, and remained there for the rest of the bhajan session, a glorious half-hour of Swami’s darshan, he is there keeping time with his hand, occasionally dabbing his lips with the kerchief, and looking over the throng.
More bhajans, and I look up at Swami on the porch, sitting there behind the polished handrails. Love and Peace are flowing out from Swami. Now Swami is glancing here, there, now towards the students, looking over the men; glances to the ladies side. More bhajans are sung. Nataraja, Nataraja, and he calls a student forward; the student approaches the porch with a big card, and kneels beside Swami. Conversation; more conversation, we have finished Nataraja and moved onto Om Namah Shivaya, and Swami is still speaking with this student. The porch lights are on; I observe Swami’s face is a light brown colour.
Enfin the student is sent back, and Swami calls for arathi. The bell rings (drowning out everything else), the pujari rises and waves the flame, and I can see three students also waving an arathi flame. A special occasion for that class who presented the card to Swami. Narayana, Narayana Om Sathya, Swami remains right there at the front of the porch as the Narayana verses are chanted, full-throated. Samasta Loka Sukhino Bhavantu, Swami remains there on the porch. No movement.
After Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi, Swami is still there on the porch. Someone exhorts a Jaikar, and the crowd are fully into the Jai! Another Jaikar, (all sorts of people call them out)(everywhere) and another loud Jai! Then another, and another, and another, and another, each Jaikar getting louder and louder. With each Jai! I see something odd, Swami’s face is getting darker and darker after each Jai! until his face was almost a dark-brown-blue colour. We had nine Jaikars after bhajans tonight, and Swami waited for them all, before he moved off.
But you know, we all sit there, push to get to the front, and love has drawn us all to our home, Prashanti Nilayam. We take the darshan of Sathya Sai, but at the end of those nine Jai’s!!! bliss and joy were palpable in the Darshan Hall—men arise with eyes brimming, joyful and thrilled!
Auto-rickshaws and crowds are milling at the Ganesh Gate; it is dark now, and I make my way to the Western Canteen for evening meal. The roadway past Swami’s house is closed with barriers; I take the pathway which abounds South Block. As I pass in front of Swami’s house, Ladies pause and join their hands in pranams and offer a silent prayer. A boy walks past pushing his two wheeler. People stream down from the supermarket with their shopping bags. I thread my way between West 3 and West 5 towards the canteen, the birds are twittering and chattering in the trees above.
Enter the Western Canteen, Glory Be! Its full!!! “Where do they all come from,” I asked myself. I take a tray and join a queue; a small meal tonight, and by golly, this canteen is the best advertisement for Vegetarian Food I have ever encountered.
I take a seat, get a cup of water and eat silently, peacefully. There is a low hum of conversation; I paused from my eating and took a sip of water, and gave some attention to the low hum of conversation. Looking over the seated men, I recalled the thought that came to me unbidden in darshan, earlier - All drawn by Love. Then I realised what was odd about the conversation! Instead of a raucous noise, pointless chatter, clanging of dishes and shouting, it was a hum of harmony and love—all the conversation was about Swami—softly told stories of vibhuti pouring off pictures, pendants and medals materialising in piles of vibhuti, miracles of healing, miracles of Swami’s intervention. No inane chatter or vacuous talk, just Love, Love, Love. How different from the school canteen, the restaurant, the bistro! An energy of harmony and love pervading the canteen.
I returned my attention to the meal in front of me, and after some time, I noticed the Sai Gayathri was going by itself, in my head while I was eating. A sure sign of the heightened, elevated atmosphere in the canteen, all generated by Love, prayer, service by the canteen sevaks, and the love and harmony in all present. I was astounded to find the Sai Gayathri going by itself in my head!
I finished my meal and wandered over to the shrine, located between the two doorways. There, several ladies stand in prayer, eyes closed and hands joined; other ladies are sitting on the floor, eating beside Swami’s shrine.
I take a closer look at the shrine; Isa-Jesus-seated-on-the-Lotus has been moved back to his place opposite Swami’s chair; Swami’s chair has a light green cover, there are two kerchiefs there and garlands draped over the back of the chair. The stool beside Swami has a matching cover with tumbler of water and lid. Right in front of the chair are silver padukas, adorned with small flowers, on a silver box. In front, a large circular rangoli, perfectly executed with a violet centre and twirls of gold spanning outwards in small waves. Small votive lamps encircle the shrine. Arathi lamps and matches just inside the circle. On the wall behind, centre, a large photograph of Swami in a pink robe, seated, he has a serene look on his face, and eyes that seem to be looking at you and following you wherever you walk … you know that kind of photo.
I pause and reflect on the love and effort put in by the canteen staff into making this shrine, a circle of love and dedication to Swami. I say a quick prayer and leave the canteen. Children are playing in the grass out the front, people are seated on the stone wall, conversing quietly, and girls are playing Chase on the lawn. Ashram pups sit next to people talking. Other ashram dogs lie here and there on the footpath, sleeping; people walk around them.
Looking up at the stars I see the full moon, and a small red dot nearby the moon, which I take is Mars. Walking towards South 1, I notice the Sai Gayathri is going again in my head. I reflect on what it is that has brought us all here to Prashanti Nilayam; not hurry, hurry, hurry, join lines, hate the sight of the Seva Dals, get impatient, push to the front, hurry to the Bakery, rush hither and thither; No, No. It is all love, love pervades everyone and everything. All time here is Love. Love pervades everything in the ashram, and drenches everyone with Love, Love, Love—Love for its own sake. I pass by the Anantapur College girls on my way out, all decorous, demure, and this odd circle of peace extends out from them!
Good Night from Prashanti Nilayam.