When Renata, a Sai devotee from Italy, first came to Muddenahalli in December 2011, she felt a strong, undeniable presence of Bhagawan there. Slowly, over the course of time, her belief came to fruition as Bhagawan made His subtle presence known to the world. Read on to know more about her journey from the form to the formless, the journey through which Bhagawan made His presence known, both within and without.
Ms.Renata Simonelli who hails from Italy is 62 years old now and is a proud mother to a daughter. She also volunteers regularly at old age homes and has translated many of Bhagawan’s discourses to Italian.
It was in 1986, during a beach holiday, that my husband and I read the book ‘Sai Baba, the Man of Miracles’ by Howard Murphet. To us, it sounded like Sai Baba was another Jesus and we were at once wonderstruck. We asked ourselves – would we like to meet such a person? When we thought about it, the answer for both of us was a resounding YES! So, we began to set aside money to buy the three tickets we needed to go to India and see Sai Baba. In the meantime, we also discovered the Sai Centre in our city and started to attend the meetings there every week. In a short time, we had saved up enough to travel to Puttaparthi and the following year we met Sai Baba for the first time!
The first Darshan
When I arrived at Puttaparthi, it felt as if I had known the place from time immemorial. I felt a mixture of joy and nostalgia; it felt like I was coming home after a long time! In Italy, I had seen many movies about Sai Baba and Puttaparthi and now it seemed to me that I was in one of those movies! The first time I saw Baba it felt like a dream. I could not believe I was finally there, at the Lotus Feet of the Lord of the Universe!
After that first journey, many others followed and we started going to India twice every year. Almost miraculously, my husband did not need to use a single day off, nor did we take any vacations, and so all the vacation days available were grouped together for our two annual trips to India! In August 1990, we were blessed with our first interview. On that occasion we experienced for the first time, the deep sense of pure love and divine bliss that comes with physical nearness to the Lord!
Back in Italy, at the Sai Centre in our city, I translated Baba’s discourses while my husband was in charge of seva and my daughter was a bhajan leader. Both of us, my husband and I, served in a rest-house for the elderly. We also did seva as guides in exhibitions on Human Values. This left a deep impact and changed our lives as teaching human values to school children helped us imbibe and live those values ourselves, especially dharma. In all circumstances that we faced, what we taught the students helped us apply dharma in our own lives.
Following dharma is not always a bed of roses and to live our lives with dharma in our society sometimes puts us through some difficulties. Especially for my husband, at work, there were many such occasions. Denouncing acts that he felt were against dharma or incorrect, got him into trouble at times. But he did not give up and eventually discovered dharma protects those who protect it! His motto was: evil is evil even if everyone does it, good is good even if nobody else does it. With this in mind, he continued to do his duty without paying attention to what the others said. Baba always protected him until the happy day when he retired from his business! From that day, our trips to Puttaparthi became longer.
In 1989, we started organising groups to go to India to see Sai Baba. For every group of 15 people, we were offered a free airline ticket for the group leader. We always chose to donate this to Swami’s hospital. During an interview in 1990, Swami gave His robe to my husband and told him to open a new group in our city. Once we returned to Italy, we immediately opened the group in our house, turning one of our rooms into a pooja room. We christened the group ‘Prema Sai Group’. People began attending the group for bhajans and hours of study on Sai literature. I continued to translate Baba’s speeches for the members of the group. During my translation work, I could hear Baba as He spoke, with the nuances of His divine melodious voice!
Quickly, I saw many positive changes in the people who were following the spiritual path with us. They started participating in seva activities (such as assistance to the elderly in two rest-houses, rehabilitation exercises for a sick child, visits to elderly and sick people living alone etc.), changed their eating habits (nearly everyone became vegetarian) and were better individuals. We began to follow Baba’s directive on ‘ceiling on desires’ and so, every time we went to India, we had a fair amount to be offered to Swami’s hospitals. This gave us immense joy as the thought of being able to help save a human life made us feel part of the Sai mission.
In 2000, Swami gave me the opportunity to become a practitioner of Sai Vibrionics (a free healing system blessed by Baba). I translated some books related to this seva and even now I translate all the newsletters of Sai Vibrionics for Italian practitioners.
Dreams come true
In all these years, we have had several interviews with Swami and countless experiences showing us the constant presence and grace of Swami. A day before one such interview, I had a dream the previous night in which I saw Baba handing me a piece of orange cloth. During the interview the next day, Baba gave me His robe as a personal gift! In another dream (at the beginning of November 1990, before leaving for India) I saw a colorful tent city and, when I came to Puttaparthi for the celebrations of His birthday, I saw exactly the tent city I had seen in the dream. It was the area that had been set up to accommodate the thousands of devotees gathered in Parthi for the Birthday Celebrations.
I also translated many books about Indian Divinities and every time I felt the presence of Swami, who suggested the best words to use. I also had many experiences with the same Gods who seemed to want to reward the work I was doing! In 1998, during another interview, Baba materialized a ring bearing the symbol of Om for my husband and the same year we became allottees of a room at Sai Gokulam of Whitefield. For us, it was the most beautiful house in the world because it was the home of Baba!
We also had the opportunity to be part of the staff of Sri Sathya Sai Symphony Orchestra and this offered us many opportunities to be near Swami.
In 2003, my sister told me that she wanted to come to India and see Sai Baba. She said: “For years, I have observed you and noticed a positive change in you. So I want to know Sai Baba!” That year she came to India with one of her two daughters. She came again several times, with her husband and also alone.
These are, of course, only a few experiences among the many that we were blessed with, through all the years we spent with Swami. To narrate all of them, it would take more than one book!
Then came the moment when Swami left His physical body. That morning of 24 April 2011, when we received the news, I didn’t cry. I told Swami: “It is not like You to leave as a common old man, who is hospitalised for one month and then passes away. You are God, You are not the physical form. There must be something else behind this comedy of life and death.” So, I started to wait for something special to happen, because I could not believe that my beloved Lord had left the earth in a manner so ordinary.
From Form to Formless
And this happened after a few months, the day when a friend of mine asked me to go and visit a school. At the beginning I did not really feel like visiting the school (I had already seen so many!). But when he told me that it was about hundred kilometers from Parthi, a thought flashed through my mind! I suddenly remembered that I had translated a discourse that Baba gave during the celebrations of His 83rd birthday. In that speech Baba had said that he would build a college for poor children in the rural area of Muddenahalli. Muddenahalli – I do not know why, but that name had stuck in my mind and I had thought how great was the love and compassion of Swami. So, I asked my friend if the name of the place was Muddenahalli. At his affirmative answer, I got ready for departure with joy!
That first time (and always since then) both my husband and I felt the presence of Baba strongly in Muddenahalli. This was on 1st December 2011 and from that day we didn’t miss even a single weekly appointment with our beloved Swami. The physical form was not there, it was true, but something much stronger than that was present. His infinite love, the thrill that only He awoke in the heart were the same! Our heart could not be wrong: we had found and recognised our beloved Swami! Now, it all made sense! If we truly believe that Swami is God, then He can definitely manifest Himself in a subtle form. Nothing is impossible for God!
So, for my husband and me, this was the natural continuation of the mission of Baba. The same was true for my whole family. This gave us immense joy and bliss. Every Thursday was for us a moment of great happiness. Prof. Babu, a man of great kindness and humility, told us about amazing things that happened in the Muddenahalli campus or in the home of devotees. Every time we came into Baba’s abode, on the hilltop, we could feel His anandam pervading our whole being! The absence of His form was not an obstacle; it was indeed something that allowed us to feel Him stronger in our heart!
Then, in the month of May 2014 He started to use as His instrument, an alumnus who had studied in Baba’s college. Being without a physical body, Swami needed to convey His messages using a person as a microphone. When I read the discourses that Baba had given through him, I had no difficulty in recognising the language because in the past I had translated so many speeches of Swami. I could not be wrong: it was my beloved Bhagawan! In July of that year, I, along with a small group of western devotees had the opportunity to attend the discourse for Gurupoornima at Sathya Sai Anandam, the abode of Baba on the hilltop. I drank every word of that discourse as Divine Nectar!
After that, Swami also started granting interviews. I had my first interview with the Subtle Form of Swami on 7th of December 2014. Again I felt and recognised Swami’s energy, His love and compassion. If there was still any doubt in my mind, it was blown away by the shower of Divine Love! Nothing had changed, apart from the absence of the form. But, as He kept repeating that He was not the body, the form no longer had importance. That year, we celebrated Christmas in Muddenahalli and the next day we were called for an interview along with some friends. Once again, we experienced the immense love of Baba. He spoke to each of us and revealed various facts known only to the concerned person. This helped strengthen the faith that it was our Swami indeed! One of our friends confessed that the facts, which Baba had mentioned were a secret that he had never revealed to anyone!
In the same interview, Baba announced His visit to Italy in a few months. I must narrate a particular experience in this context. In the late eighties or early nineties there were rumours about Baba visiting Italy. One night I had a dream in which my husband and I were going to receive Baba and His entourage at the airport in our car. That dream was just a dream, but little did we know of Swami’s Divine plans! After so many years that dream came true when my husband went to the airport with some friends to pick up Baba and His entourage in April 2015. During the same trip, He came to our house and, for us it was the most wonderful moment in our life! It went beyond the greatest of our dreams! Needless to say, there are no words to describe such an experience! Who could find the words to express what it is like to receive the Lord of the Universe in your humble abode? The joy of His divine visit will remain forever in our hearts!
Even people who accompanied Baba are truly special. We had a chance to know them much better and we understood why Baba has chosen them to join Him in His mission. Narasimha Murthy is a simple person, with great humility and an extensive knowledge, who dedicated his entire life to the service of Baba. His mentor was the late Madiyal Narayana Bhat, founder of Alike and Muddenahalli institutions in the sixties and seventies. I had the opportunity of translating a book on the life of Narayana Bhat and that made me realise his greatness and nobility.
While I was doing that particular translation in my study, one evening, towards the end of the book, I felt Swami’s presence strongly. At one point, I felt as if He told me to go into my bedroom and open the window. I went there and opened the window. The sky was cloud laden and crossed by a beautiful rainbow. The strange thing was that from the window of my study the sky appeared blue and sunny! Jokingly, I said: “Oh, one rainbow only?” Immediately, a second rainbow appeared above the first one! At that point, I folded my hands and said, “Thank You, Swami!” After that I returned to my computer. I began to translate the next chapter and the title was “The rainbow” !!!
Swami’s continued presence with us is a blessing and I pray that we all always bask in His love and grace.