Divine Visit – Bandipur, Ooty and Mandya – Day Four – 03 March, 2016

Day Four of the trip to Bandipur, Ooty and Mandya was set in Ooty, a region blessed by the Lord’s bounty in the form of nature. After a hearty breakfast, the group got into their vehicles and headed out. The destination was a mystery to all, and no one seemed to know where they were headed. Added to it, was the conspicuous absence of Swami’s car. The long drive through the winding roads brought the entourage and students to the foot of a hill, with a winding road, that would lead to the top. The tip of the gopuram of a temple was visible, right at the hill top. It was the Annamalai temple, dedicated to Lord Subramanya. One could feel the serenity of the surrounding area, which overtook everyone to a state of bliss.

Back in Muddenahalli, Swami had asked Sri MG Anand, the host for the Ooty visit, about an old Shiva Temple in a small village, which Swami had visited earlier during his trips to Ooty.  After a little enquiry he found out about this little village 20 kms away from Connoor. Swami immediately recognised and said, “Yes, we must go there!”

So the first visit of Bhagawan that morning was to the Shiva temple, which He had graced earlier, and  supposedly the only place with an idol of Swami which is eleven feet, placed inside a bhajan hall that was under renovation.

Swami reached the village, which still did not look different from what it would have been, during His visit in the 1960s. The locals even mentioned that Swami had stayed there for three days!

Immediately, Swami recognised the road to the temple and walked up the steep road to reach the very tree, under which He had stood then! Swami asked for an old man. All were puzzled when a man unaware of this entourage was seen standing a little away. Swami beckoned him and as he came close, Swami recognised him as one of the young men who had served Swami then. The old man recollected how Swami came and stood at the same place, where He was talking to him now. Since this was an unplanned visit, the Shiva temple was locked, so Swami went into the temple of the local deity next door, where some painting work was in progress.

Swami lovingly handed over an envelope with some money to the old man, and urged him to complete the works and told him, “You were asking everyone for help, but did not receive all the money needed. But, I heard your prayers and have come all the way to pay you the cash for completion of works!” The old man accepted it most gratefully. It was a moment of revelation for everyone, as they got to witness yet another instance, which showed the all-knowing Lord’s love, for His dear devotees!

The local devotees then invited Swami to a small bhajan hall close by. Swami accepted the invitation immediately and started going towards the hall, without having to be told the way. Obviously He knew where He was headed!

Swami asked the people gathered to sing bhajans, and devotees sang their heart out in a bhajan to Lord Ganesha in their local language. Swami blessed them with a short and crisp discourse, recollecting the Krishna Tulabharam episode.  He reminded that the Lord’s name is equal to the Lord’s form, and therefore wherever His is chanted, He assured that His form is also there! “Out of the nine types of devotion, chanting the name is the easiest, does not cost any money or time, can be done anywhere, anytime!” Swami assured everyone that the Lord is with them all the time, provided they have the faith to believe!

It was amazing to experience the fact that Swami felt so much at home! After aarthi, Swami gave Vibuthi Prasadam to the villagers,  around and then went walking down to the car, recollecting that He had visited this place in 1964, when a particular devotee Gowda and his friend Shetty, met Swami in Mysore and had requested Him to visit this village.
Bhagawan arrived a little before noon at the Annamalai temple, after His visit to the Shiva temple and spending previous moments with the villagers. Even by the sparcely populated hilly countryside, the Annamalai temple appeared secluded. A few devotees from Russia had already reached the hill top, and were eagerly waiting for the Lord, and to be a part of His visit to the temple that morning. As He alighted from the car, He was seemingly surprised to see the Russian devotees, and asked them jokingly, “Have you all fallen from the sky?”

The question on everyone’s mind persisted as to why Swami had chosen to visit this remote temple. Bhagawan entered the ‘garbha gudi’ or ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of the temple, and presided over the aarti which was offered to Lord Subramanya. Swami asked for a sadhu or ascetic, who resides in the temple premises. When the sadhu, Sri Krishnananda ji arrived, Swami blessed him with a chain with a pendant of Swami. As Swami came out of the ‘garbha gudi’, He addressed all gathered, revealing the significance of the morning’s events. He spoke of Sri Krishnananda ji, who at the age
of 20 had a vision of Lord Subramanya, who commanded him to build a temple for Him on the hill. Sri Krishnanada ji, painstakingly went about building the temple, phase by phase, foregoing everything he had. Swami also narrated a incident when a huge bear attacked Sri Krishnananda ji, and how He had saved him. All the while as Swami was speaking, Sri Krishnananda ji was nodding his head.

Swami told Sri Krishnananda ji was a chosen instrument of God, for his temple work at an early age . His mother pleaded with him to not forsake a normal family life. But he told his mother, “If this life cannot be used to serve God, then death is better.” He saved every penny to build the temple which was earlier only a sheet roof on four iron pillars. He would go hungry to save money for the temple. That was his devotion!

Swami was telling all this not to praise him, but to teach the students who were around about the greatness of such instruments, and the kind of devotion, people like Krishanananda ji had for God! Today, thousands come to the temple, and are fed free by the one who slept on a hungry stomach for the sake to the Lord. That’s why the name : Anna malai means ‘hill of food!’

Swami asked Krishnanand Ji to speak a few words, which he did in his native language, and was translated by a devotee in English .

When it was time for aarti, Swami
beckoned Sri Krishanananda ji to offer the same, and what followed next, had everyone spellbound. As the pious sadhu began doing the aarti, He froze midway and went into a trance with the aarti plate; he lost grip of the plate, which went flying into the air. The students around immediately supported him, as he experienced a blissful state with his hands raised high up in the air, as if blessing all gathered with the bliss he was experiencing. As the aarti got over, Swami started moving towards the exit of the temple, as He looked at Krishnananda ji, Swami said, “He (referring to the Krishnananda ji) always wants to experience bliss. So I have given him that experience now and also a new name today – Atmananada!”

A grateful krishnanda Ji with tears of joy caught hold of the Lord’s hand, asking Him to come again and again. The whole visit to the Annamalai temple was a very surreal experience and left everyone spellbound!

Lunch was arranged in the house of Jaikumari amma, a devotee of Swami for many decades, in the little hamlet of Manjoor. Everyone in the entourage got to experience the incredible hospitality that exists in India’s rural heartland, even today. Swami remembered many old devotees and also recalled  some of them instantly, by telling a word or two about them to their utter amazement.

It was indeed an eye opener for all.

An interesting incident during the visit involved a dream Jaikumari amma had seen a long time ago, where she had seen Swami visiting her house and having lunch. In the dream she had seen herself serving Swami an array of dishes, which included a banana. On this day as she served those very dishes in her modest dwelling, with the same satisfaction of Shabari in the days of Sri Rama, Bhagawan said “Where is the banana? You had served me a banana too in your dream, didn’t you?”

How can one measure the depth or breadth of Swami who straddles the dream state, the waking state and the innumerable states that exists! If we are unable to comprehend this, then we certainly have a long way to go in our path of spirituality!

After lunch, Swami chose to ‘drop in’ at the residence of another devotee, a few houses from Jaikumari mama’s house. Madha Gowda, now 90-years-old, has been a long time devotee of Swami, and the Lord’s arrival lit up his humble house with the joy, and excitement that only God can evoke!

Swami recognised Madha Gowda as the devotee who was the first to come to Swami from that village , and was instrumental in bringing many devotees later. In fact, Swami had even visited this village earlier, and even stayed for three days there.

Madha Gowda established the first samithi in that part of Nilgiris in his own home, and continues to maintain the same till date. Swami recollected many interactions with Madha Gowda in the past. The old man was in tears of gratitude and invited Swami to his home, which Swami visited .

Another amazing incident in this house laid to rest any doubts people in this part of the country had about Bhagawan’s Sookshma form! As Sri Madha Gowda’s daughters came to get
Swami’s blessings, the Lord called out the name of the first one, Leela ! Then He asked for the other daughter too, as Smt Sarasakka approached Swami, He said “Here is the saree that you did not receive from Me, when you were doing seva in Prasanthi Nilayam and had been very disappointed!”  Later, Smt Sarasakka explained that many years ago when she was doing seva in Prasanthi Nilayam, Swami has called her group to give sarees. As she had not been informed while doing seva, she had missed the opportunity then! Swami had come to her very home to deliver the saree!

As the entourage drove back to their lodging, one was left overwhelmed of being very fortunate to witness a special day in the grand mission of God on earth!

The evening satsang was organized on the terrace of the Yashodamma’s mandir. The Badaga community was present in full strength, along with the Russian contingent of devotees from the morning’s visit to Annamalai. Looking at the Russian devotees Swami said, “They are like the bees coming from far for the nectar. Can plastic flowers, however well painted, attract a single bee? This is the very proof of Swami’s presence!”

Swami also named Yashodamma’s home as ‘Sai Nivas’, and commanded that some sculptor works must be done. He also instructed a hall to be constructed on the terrace, so that people don’t suffer in cold.

Yashodamma’s home is known for umpteen miracles that happen all the time, even as she walked behind Swami a load of Vibhuti just filed her hands and more fell on the path out of thin air!

The first speaker of the day was Sri Venkatesh Kamat who gave an overview of Swami’s continuing mission in education and
healthcare. He gave a vivid description of the various new campuses that have come up, which are rendering great service in the rural hinterland of India.
He went on to speak about the special mission with which Bhagawan had set up the Sri Sathya Sai Centre for Human Excellence at Muddenahalli.

The next speaker was Sri Narasimha Murthy who narrated an incident from earlier that day, when he had requested Swami to review the decision to have the evening’s satsang on the terrace of the mandir, as it would be difficult for the devotees to climb up the narrow metal ladder leading up to the terrace. Swami, standing at the foot of the flight of steps, counted the steps – 1,2,3,4,…..,14! “Fourteen Steps”, Swami said – “I have come down 14 worlds, can’t my devotees climb up 14 steps to be with me?”
Sri Narasimha Murthy then spoke of the fervour he had seen among devotees around the world, be it Kuching, Malaysia, or Ooty, giving examples of their deep love for their beloved Lord Sai!

Bhagawan’s discourse was based on the theme of devotion. As the leaves of a lotus plant is untouched by water, a true devotee is untouched by sin. Giving a beautiful analogy, Swami said bhakti or devotion is like
a cheque book to draw God’s grace! Distinguishing between the
transactional kind of relationship many have with God, Swami said true devotion was always steady during good times and bad times. Drawing similarity of the devotion of the people of Ooty, to that of the gopikas in Brindavan, He said though they were not very educated, their love for
Swami was selfless and non-calculative. He narrated a story when Krishna apparently suffered a headache which could be cured only if the dust of the feet of his devotees could be applied to his forehead. When Krishna’s own wives refused to give it for the fear of sin or condemnation to hell, Gopikas willingly gave it without fearing any hell for Krishna’s suffering itself was a hell to them. He told the blessed devotees assembled there to keep their hearts pure, and bereft of selfishness.

Again, drawing on His earlier analogy, Bhagawan said that they should travel on the two rails of Love for God and Selfless Service to reach their destination. As a ant does not need be told where the sugar is, neither do true devotees of Swami need be told where He is. They will find Him!

Swami ended His discourse asking the Ooty devotees to be ideal Sai devotees, like the gopikas who were the ideal devotees of Lord Krishna. The day ended with prasadam and Mangala Arathi to beloved Bhagawan.