By Mr. Birendranath Bardoloi
Mr. Birendranath Bardoloi hails from the East Indian state of Assam, and has had the good fortune of serving as a faculty member in the Department of English, Sri Sathya Sai University (Prasanthi Nilayam campus) for over two decades. Presently retired, he spends his time between Prasanthi Nilayam and his other home, Sri Sathya Sai Sishu Sadan, an orphanage he founded many years ago, in Assam.
The Lord Beckoned…
I had first read about Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in an issue of The Illustrated Weekly of India which appeared some time in the mid ‘60s of the last century. In one of the pages, Mr. S.B. Chavan, a political figure of the country at the time, could be seen worshipping Bhagavan Baba in his altar that was filled with Bhagavan’s pictures. I felt deeply touched by the form in these photographs.
Later, I read a discourse of Bhagavan Baba on the mind, or rather on its non-existence, which appeared along with an image of Swami on the opening page of the magazine Bhavan’s Journal.
The discourse had a direct appeal to my heart. It was not a philosophical treatise meant for a school of pedants, it had no jargon or a logician’s jugglery; it was simple and appealing. It was an intimate rendering of one heart to another, between father and son, as it were.
As for Bhagavan’s photograph printed in the magazine, the fairly large and circular tuft of hair on His head looked like an aura, all radiance. His head and His glowing face appeared to be a picture extraordinaire. “Here is a form unlike all other images of highly evolved souls I have seen before.” This was my instant response to the discourse and the photograph of Bhagavan Baba.
Not many days after this great experience, my brother-in-law brought me a chunk of Vibhuti (sacred ash), and a soiled copy of Professor Kasturi’s Sathyam Sivam Sundaram, Part I (the biography of Bhagavan Baba). The book must have acted as a messenger of God passing on from hand to hand in towns and villages.
At the time of his giving me these two priceless gifts, my brother-in-law put two straight questions to me: 1) Do you believe in God? 2) If so, do you believe in His descent on earth in human form? The answers to both these questions were an emphatic “yes”.
And now, my life had changed overnight. Many reassurances were given to me over the years, each miracles followed by another. I knew I had found my Master. He chose me as one of His humble servants. He found an excuse for me to serve Him in His University in the department of English. He blessed me with a beautiful family of four lovely girls who have flown their nests now. He continues to live in my heart and work through me.
Even for those, who have been fortunate enough to obtain a glimpse of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba by staying near Him physically for a certain length of time, it is a well-nigh impossibility, an unattainable El Dorado, to dwell and understand, and then share about His glory and mystery. However, I shall share an instance or two to the best of my limited knowledge.
My late mother would often tell us about her years as a girl. Climbing trees, going to school, knitting, and praying were her favourite pastimes. One of her creations was a tiny lump of clay that she called her Shiva lingam. She would spend hours on end having animated conversations with this source of joy, the Shiva lingam.
Krishna was another attraction, our family deity. My mother, in all her naïveté, talked to Krishna lovingly calling him “Gopal”. She would complain about her children, cry to Him, ask for His guidance, beg for reassurances, etc. Did our omnipresent Lord note all of this, more than ninety years ago?
In 1976, Bhagavan Baba gave my late mother a lingam, an atma lingam, as He had called it, in the interview room. Baba said that the emergence of that lingam had taken place on the Maha Shivarathri day in 1974. Swami had waited for two long years, as He alone times events to perfection.
He further explained that he had kept it especially for her, saying “Tumhara bhakti bada hai, isliye tumko yeh bada lingam deta hoon.” (Your devotion is big, so I give you this large lingam.) He continued, “In your childhood, you used to make Shiva lingams out of the clay taken from a termite hill, although your family God was Gopal.” Overwhelmed with the joy of receiving the lingam and bewildered at the revelation by Baba, she could only manage a nod.
The lingam was the size of a swan-egg, only heavier than it; greenish-blue in colour. Wherever she went, she carried it for its daily worship and abhisheka. If you rotate it, you can see a number of impressions, such as Bala Gopala (Child Krishna) with a laddoo (round sweetmeat) in His right hand, Muralidhara (Lord Krishna) playing upon His divine flute, Rama-Lakshmana-Sita-Hunaman and Lord Shiva as Kailashpathi (Lord of Mount Kailash).
Bhagavan Baba was then, as much with my mother here inside the interview room in Prasanthi Nilayam, as He had been with her at North Guwahati, Assam, when as a child she would blissfully worship her clay Shiva lingam! He was that very atma lingam, the all-pervasive God.
Bhagavan would address my mother as ‘Ma’ (mother). Such was His love for her! He always had some gift or the other for her, and once blessed her with an emerald-studded gold ring and a Spatika Japmala.
On another occasion, He gave her a large-sized round silver pendant of 1-1/2 inch diameters. On one side of it was the image of Ashta bhuja (eight armed) Durga, and on the other the letter, Aum. While giving it to her, He told her that although divinity has many forms, “Guru (Preceptor) is one” – “Guru Ek Hai.”
In one of the interviews with Swami in 1985, in course of the conversation with us, looking at my mother lovingly, Bhagavan asked about her well being. My brother told Swami that he wasn’t really able to take care of her as he lived far away in Assam.
Bhagavan assured him that He would take care of her all the time and created a Lingam. It was a Netralingam (eye). One can see a very charming eye with a beautiful eyebrow over it. Baba said it would constantly look after our mother and that she would never be alone.
Ten years before this, I was witness to an extraordinary incident. Kiran Konwar, a devotee of the town, came to my house with a request to hold bhajans at her residence. Her father, a retired draftsman of the Geological Survey of India, was on his death bed. She hoped that Bhagavan’s Grace through bhajans might restore her father.
At 10:15 a.m. on the following day, I went to Kiran’s house accompanied by my nephews, Rupak and Hirok, both still in school at the time. I saw the body of a man laid down on a wooden plank in the entrance room, ready to be taken for the final rites. Alas! Kiran’s father had already left the planet. I was late! The draftsman’s relatives had already gathered there having arrived from nearby villages. His wife was sobbing inconsolably, and so were Kiran and all the others.
Undaunted, I decided to start the bhajan session. We began at 10:30 a.m. and sang with a burning ardour amidst the poignant scene. Our hearts turned heavy with devotion as we reminded ourselves of the glory and grace of our Lord. It seemed as if we were floating on the wings of a timeless time.
I opened my eyes for a moment. Did I notice a very feeble movement of the fingertips of the “dead” man’s left hand, lying on a plank, lifeless all this while? Was it my imagination? Evidently it was not, for, slowly but steadily, the movement turned into a rhythmic drumming, keeping in tempo with the talas (the beats on the tabla and tambourine) of the bhajans. Exultant and ecstatic, we continued singing with renewed enthusiasm, realising that Bhagavan had taken over. The word ‘enthusiasm’, by the way, has its origin in Greek ‘entheos’ – ‘having a God within’. ‘Enthusiasm’, therefore, is a state of one’s being in God.
At the end of the aarti at 2:00 p.m., I saw a large chunk of Vibhuti sticking to the back of Rupak’s old green woollen coat. There were also sprinklings of Vibhuti all over the place and over the resurrected old man as well. The grateful man happily ate the Vibhuti and folded his hands in front of Bhagavan’s photograph. Kiran wept like a child, her heart filled with gratitude. It is another story that Rupak later studied at Bhagavan’s college in Brindavan and also had the great fortune to serve Swami closely for many years.
In 1974, I attended the conference of the All India Sri Sathya Seva Organisation in Rajamundry (East Godavari district). I was on crutches as I had fractured my ankle two months prior to this.
One day, I was returning to my camp from the morning session of the conference when Swami’s car passed me. In the vehicle, with Swami were Dr. Vinayak Krishna Gokak, the first Vice Chancellor of the Sri Sathya Sai University, Prasanthi Nilayam, and Professor N. Kasturi.
Swami looked at me and waved. Later, Dr. Gokak told me that Swami had asked Professor Kasturi what had happened to me and why I was limping.
The conference over, I was on my way home. At the Rangia railway station in Assam, as I was getting off the train onto the platform, there appeared a shabbily-dressed man. He looked at me and said, “Tumhara paon mei dukh hai, nahin?” (“You have pain in your foot, haven’t you?”) He then very gently touched my affected leg. I felt embarrassed, and telling him to ignore my pain, I hobbled off to my wife and others as fast as I could.
When I got home and started walking from the gate to the verandah of the house, I found that the pain in my ankle had almost vanished! Well, who could have been the shabbily-dressed man but for the Omnipotent One?
A few days later, I was in my office (serving as the then Principal of the Rangia College), when a tall person wearing a dhoti, kurta, and a headgear, approached me, standing outside my window, with a cotton bag hanging from one of his shoulders.
This person had not been seen by any of the staff anywhere in the neighbourhood before. He took out a bottle of oil from his bag, asking me to extend the palm of my right hand. I obliged rather hesitantly.
He poured a little into my palm, and asked me to rub it on my forehead and head, and then said, that would heal my leg completely. I said, “But I have pain in my leg, not on my head or forehead.” “It doesn’t matter” was all he said. I offered him some money, but he did not want to accept. I persisted; finally he took it saying, “Okay, I will spend it on Bhagavan’s work.” Now, I had my doubts.
Who was he? How did he know of my pain? I couldn’t help asking him his name and where he came from. He continued: “I have no name, not even a specific home or village or town to live in. I appear wherever I’m needed.” As soon as the fakir disappeared, so did the pain from my leg. I did away with the crutches once and for all, humbled beyond words.
After finding God in the form of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and experiencing His abounding love, the zeal to sanctify my life by worshipping Him, through service to society, became more intense. And as a result, in the early 1970s, a few of us started an orphanage for 20 boys on the bank of a river in Rangia, Assam.
The orphanage was named Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Sishu Seva Sadan, for which we decided we would not raise funds. The boys were to be given living accommodation, food, and clothing, as well as be properly educated. We kept a few cows in the orphanage so that the children could have milk everyday. This ‘ambitious’ venture obviously strained our limited source of income. But we had immense faith in Bhagavan.
There would be Aumkaram (chanting of Aum) and Suprabhatam (ritualistic prayer to wake the Lord) in the mornings and bhajans in the evenings at the Sadan. On Thursdays and Sundays, there would be nagar sankeertan (bhajans sung by a group of people while walking past every lane in the neighbourhood). Soon enough, so suffused was this place with divine vibrations that it came to be called an ‘ashram’.
One evening, I was sitting on the verandah of my house, a little dismayed, asking Swami if it was a wise decision to have taken the responsibility of 20 boys’ lives, as I saw resources dwindling.
Bhagavan’s response was perfectly timed. My telephone rang. From Guwahati, a Sai devotee, Wing Commander T.C. Punetha’s voice greeted me: “Jai Sai Ram. I’m Punetha speaking, we are visiting tomorrow morning with some clothes, blankets, and food for your boys.” An SOS message was hardly just sent! Our dear Swami always responds to a prayer, albeit in His own way.
On my leaving Rangia for Prasanthi Nilayam to join as faculty in 1979-80, the Lord Swami sent His emissary Col. Sukhvinder Singh of Patiala to take care of the boys. Each child, in course of time, excelled not only in school, but also in other activities like sports, painting, and poetry writing. One boy was even selected for the N.C.C. Parade in New Delhi on Republic Day.
Two of them won prizes in All India Sports competitions, while another went on to be the first graduate of the village and also received the first prize for the best motivator for ‘Village Development Work’ in the country in October 2000. As for the small Gokulam, the cowshed of the Ashram, the first few cows had female calves as family. It is amazing how Bhagavan takes care of us constantly.
The Ashram would celebrate festivals like Guru Poornima, Lakshmi Poornima, Vijaya Dasami, Saraswati Puja, Diwali and, of course, Maha Shivarathri. On these occasions, the Rangia Bhajan Mandali (small Sai centre) alongwith the boys and workers of the Ashram would sing Akhanda Bhajans (non-stop bhajans for long hours). The calves were named Poornima, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Shyama, Sankari, all after the deities worshipped in these festivals.
I was blessed to be present at the naming ceremonies of each of them who reminded me of the fortunate cows of Lord Krishna’s Gokulam at Brindavan, thousands of years ago. The same kind Lord has bestowed prosperity on this humble establishment too, probably pleased with the willing and pure hearts who are serving there only for the joy of it.
The place has today grown into an institution, which takes care of 2,000 needy families, besides providing employment for 300 men and women. The able secretary guiding the orphanage is a humble instrument of the Lord for whom Swami’s words are His life-breadth. Bhagavan Baba, indubitably, is our only real Provider. And how many times I have experienced this in my life!
In one of our visits to Prasanthi Nilayam, my eldest daughter, Manisha, a teenager at the time, looked sullen one morning after darshan. Swami had blessed devotees with sarees and shirts that day. Manisha was not one of them for obvious reasons; she was too little to be draped in a saree, but she didn’t think so. She walked off the darshan ground feeling a bit unloved. She went home that day and sat in front of the altar next to my mother complaining that Swami ignored her altogether.
My wise mother had words of consolation for her. “Swami responds to a heart that asks with faith. Ask Him for anything with all the faith in your heart.” Manisha hardly closed her eyes and prayed when she heard a knock on the door. Mr. Kutumba Rao, the in-charge of the ashram at the time, was at the entrance with a saree in hand. “Swami has sent this saree for Bardoloi’s daughter.” Manisha ran back to my mother, elated and shocked at the same time.
We do not realize often that each of us is special to Bhagavan. Each prayer is heard and answered. He just times it to suit the need of the hour. He says, “Why fear when I am here?” ‘Fear’ means fear of anything, imaginary or real, danger, disaster, or death. “When” means “anytime, or all the time.” “I am here” means “I am everywhere, I AM IN YOU and not outside you, not separate from you, whether I am at Prashanthi Nilayam or at Brindavan or anywhere else.”
Swami spoke to my family and me one day in the winter of 1984. During the interview, Bhagavan noticed that my wife showed signs of anxiety of a mother like most mothers do. Swami placed the palms of His hands on her head and mine, and reassured us, “Why fear when I am here? These four girls are my girls, not yours. I shall take care of them. Do not worry.” My wife knew those words were meant for her. Our all-knowing Lord knows every passing thought of ours.
All of us have no reason to fear. For, we have the Lord in our midst. We have Him placed in our hearts. All we need to do is Love Him dearly. We belong to Bhagavan, we are special indeed. We are one big, sweet and loving family.