Christmas Eve: Music Programme by International Devotees
December 24, 2008
Christmas or Yuletide or Noel or Christ's Mass brings to mind images of snow and snowmen, candles and candies, Santa Claus and his sprinting reindeer, Christ and the Holy Cross. The night before, celebrated as Christmas eve, is that holy night when Jesus the son of God was supposed to have taken birth. And in Prashanti Nilayam, it is the holy night which is blessed by the father of Christ!
At about 4:15 pm, Swami arrived into the "decked with holly" Kulwant hall. A mention must be made about the elaborate decorations. Kulwant hall didn't seem as a place in South India. Huge cloth spreads with Virgin Mary and her babe boy hung from different parts of the hall. Beautiful paintings adorned the mandir premises and there were lovely blue lights draping the pillars along with decorative cloths. Tiny bells, ornamental trinkets and other X'Mas decorations made the whole atmosphere festive and holy. How the entire decorations came about is a lovely story in itself which we plan to carry soon hopefully. The large number of participants for the choir sat neatly arranged in rows in their respective places. This choir has a wonderful story of its own and you can read that at http://sssbpt.org/Pages/Prasanthi_Nilayam/SingingforSai.html
Swami observed the beautifully decorated Christmas tree as soon as He came out. Moving through the hundreds of Christian and Jewish ladies who had assembled for the occasion Swami blessed all. A huge area in the centre of the Kulwant hall had been occupied by the members of the choir. They bowed down to Swami and were flashing smiles of glee and joy. Passing through them, Swami blessed all of them. He took a complete darshan round as blessed the boys holding trays as He neared them. He accepted two letters and a card from the students and those happened to be the only "collectables" with Him in today's darshan rounds. Swami moved on to the stage and then lit the three huge candles that had been specially placed there. That was followed by a round of applause and then Swami asked for the choir to begin.Christmas Eve in Prasanthi Nilayam is distinctive over the years with a unique choir comprising representation of united nations singing His glory in His immediate Divine Presence. The overseas choir has been a part of the Christmas celebrations for over a decade now. This unique choir for this year had over 400 voices singing a spirited collection of songs basing different cultures from around the world.
Swami gave His blessings and the graceful conductor waved her finger-baton in the air tickling 756 vocal cords resulting in three omkars kick starting yet another wonderful Christmas Eve in the immediate Divine Presence! All men and women, with 756 singers and 36 musicians, clad in white, symbolising purity sang their hearts out in devotional ecstasy on the Christmas Eve witnessed by the Holy Father and a concourse of devotees from around the world that filled the Sai Kulwant Hall to capacity. Some of the numbers for the evening included Christmas is the holy time to celebrate the birth, Almighty God…make me aware and And this is Christmas in Prasanthi. At His Divine command, they continued…As sonorous notes from an array of musical instruments rendered the air, with hundreds singing in chorus, the sun in the western horizon slowly fading off giving way to a beautiful twilight, they sang…Then sings My soul, My saviour God to Thee…How great Thou Art, How great Thou Art…It was a befitting evening paying homage to the Master of masters while remembering His chosen son, anticipating yet another Divine Advent…a glorious Christmas!!! It was such a wonderful feeling listening to the overseas devotees and seeing Swami. All sang in unison, united in their Love for Him. The joy and power of Unity which Swami always stresses on could literally be felt especially with the carols since these songs are chord based and all the counter strains add up to a great symphonic effect. Separately sung they seem disconnected but when combined, they make an everlasting impression - just what Unity does to diverse components - bringing synergy.
There was something very subtle but interesting that happened as the choir was in progress. Somewhere at the midway stage, Swami seemed a bit unhappy that no "Jesus" carols were being sung. It may sound a bit in the face but we devotees of Swami profess broad mindedness but become unwary victims to narrow mindedness. What are we saying??!! Well just that, we are so enamoured by our dear Lord that we feel that singing His glory is sufficient and it is equivalent to singing the glories of all dieties. We forget what Swami says as, "Munde Munde Mathih Bhinna" (thoughts differ from head to head). But Swami never allows that, for He has come to propagate all pathways to the Divine. When it a Buddhist festival, He ensures that bhajans on Bhagawan Buddha are sung and the same is the case on Islamic festivals where the glories of Allah and The Prophet are sung. And so, Swami repeatedly called the conductor of the orchestra and told her to sing "Jesus" carols. All who witnessed this were in smiles as Swami seemed like a child insisting on the traditional Christmas carols being sung. But a little introspection and we all realize the wonderful unifying message that Swami is sending forth. There is no single pathway to the Lord and Swami stands for all. Sing any name, about any form, the same Lord receives it. And so when there is a gathering of various faiths, we must ensure that our singing also reflects it.
Taken aback at this sudden insistent request from Swami, the conductor began to guide the choir through the carols and songs that they had not practised! O Holy Night the stars are brightly shining and some of the more traditional carols were then sung. As this was on, Swami blessed prasadam to be distributed to all. People joyfully sang sweet songs as they received "sweet" gifts of the Lord. Towards the end when The choir told Swami that they were done, Swami seemed to ask, "One more please?" They were simply overjoyed and they burst out singing one more which concluded with thunderous claps and a sweet smile from Swami. Swami then looked towards the students and asked them to sing. It is so beautiful to see how Swami involves the students in any celebration that happens in His presence. It is a great fortune indeed to be His students. And as they began singing bhajans with Aalaap, Swami sat enjoying it. After 3-4 bhajans, Aarthi was taken and Swami retired granting Abhayahastha to all assembled.
Christmas Day: Procession, Brass Band Programme, Violin Orchestra & Carols
December 25, 2008:Morning
Christmas morning is something very very special in terms of the schedule too in Puttaparthi. Till a few years back, the Lord clad in pure and pristine white would grant darshan to all the eagerly awaiting devotees from the shiny silver door leading to the balcony in the mandir premises. Its been a few years since those days, but the lovely taste and feelings of those beautiful mornings linger in the hearts of the thronging thousands as they encircle the hallowed mandir premises singing carols. The way the Christmas processions have progressed with each passing year has been symbolic of a spiritual revolution happening the world over with His presence. Those were the days when Swami would physically come up in the balcony to bless the devotees. That has stopped now. The devotees would carry candles and sing hymns glorifying the Father and His blessed Son Jesus. Today, the candles are absent and carols are no longer restricted to "Christian" themes as they embrace all being sung in the glory of the single God. The whole experience represents a movement from the religious to the spiritual, a movement just like that of the procession that has happened so gently and willingly.
More joy awaits the watching ones…this is the way to express the beautiful morning of 25th December. True to the feeling entailed in the expression, the Christamas morn indeed was brought forward from the previous evening wherein the spirit of the festivity was very much ringing in….and the beautiful morning had men and women clad in white singing His glory in the waking hours rounding the ashram and at the culmination they sang Christmas Carols for the Lord in the Mandir. Two screens that had been put up in the mandir played clips of the times when Swami would bless the thousands with candles and people rejoiced in that memory and the joy of the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.
The celebrations in the Divine Presence got underway at 8:30 am with Swami's arrival from Yajur Mandir. There was a procession by the members of the Nativity scene as Swami watched on. A few tiny tots moved up to Swami offering Him flowers and Love. Swami smiled and blessed them. Swami was in shiny white and the moment the hem of His robe was visible to the vast gathering, a rapturous applause of glee moved through the entire Kulwant hall. The Heavenly Father that He is, He was seated on a lovely golden throne and He entered the hall forming the tail as well as the heart of the procession. Soon the procession moved on and Swami was left back, moving slowly through the joyous devotees. The Veda chanting was on and it was such a harmonious commingling of the instrumental carols on the PA system and the Veda chanting by the students. We can say with surety that such a Christamas will never be witnessed anywhere else in the world.
Swami completed the darshan rounds and then arrived in the portico. Several cakes and their makers awaited the Lord's attention. Swami smilingly moved from one cake to another, lighting the candles on them and gracing them with a gentle cut from the knives. Blessing all the cakes thus, Swami arrived on the dais. The whole hall was so beautifully decorated and lit up. Swami blessed the programnme to begin. The University brass band was the first to perform. It turned out to be a scintillating band display by the University boys. Some of the popular Christmas numbers namely, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reinder,Noel etc. were rendered to perfection by these well trained students. Swami kept tapping His hands in rhythm to the playing band. The audience too clapped in unison to some of the lively numbers. After about 5 pieces, Swami said that it was time now for the Primary school violins to take over.
The kids rose and with wonderful co ordination and harmony played a few carols and bhajans on the violin. Towards the end, they played the famous "Jingle Bells" piece and with that popped up half a dozen Santas! They moved to the stage where Swami took chocolates from their bags and threw them to the students nearby. Then He bid them to go around spraying their chocolates on all. All the devotees leapt and rushed for the chocolates foor they had been blessed by Swami and just receiving one made them feel that they had a part of Him with them! Swami watched these scenes from the stage and soon two "snow machines" installed on the roof of the hall began to emit snow flakes adding to the Christmas atmosphere. As the violins completed their performance, Swami blessed the University students to begin their carol programme. Swami looked so beautiful and like the embodiment of purity that He is in the silken white robe. A mere sight of Him was enough to send thrills of joy through ones being. People drank in thirstily at His form and the eyes feasted on a magnificent supper!
The students beginnning with the Aumkara, presented a most joyful gift of Christmas Carols tied together by a thoughtful and informative voice-over narrative depicting the entire course of the story of His Divine Advent - the Christmas Story, to all assemblage consisting of a sizeable number of western devotees.Starting with "Light one thousand candles", they sang a variety of carols covering all the significant aspects of Christmas. As the programme went on Swami sifted through the various letters that He had collected during the rounds. The programme climaxed with the song, "Come everyone to Santa Claus's Party". It was at this time that the "senior" Santas came onstage. Swami blessed them and their bagful of chocolates too. Then they hopped and skipped around throwing chocolates to all the devotees and students. The programme continued after that with a few more songs. Swami then blessed the more "traditional" prasadam also to be distributed to all. The Christmas day also happens to be the hostel opening anniversary. So a few students moved to Swami to show the pictures of the decorated hostel. They also showed Him pictures of His visits to the hostel with the aim of (as they put it), "making Him nostalgic and inducing another Hostel visit!" Swami smiled (for no motive is secret from Him!) and blessed the students. A few more Christmas cards were blessed before Swami received Aarthi.
Christmas Evening: Speeches and Divine Discourse
December 25, 2008:Evening
The afternoon session began at about 4:40pm with Swami's arrival. Swami moved to the stage and blessed the proceedings to begin. John Behner sought HIs blessings and began his introductory talk. Thanking Bhagawan profusely for the wonderful opportunity and blessing bestowed upon he divulged into varied details of the back stage operations that made the celebration a grand success. Making a special mention of the wonderful array of decorations made all over the Sai Kulwant Hall and Yajur Mandiam, he said, the preparations for the same started way back six months before Christmas with a dedicated team from the US taking the lead. Various wings of the ashram, the special group of ladies and gents from Indonesia who cooked food for the entire group, the Californian group of devotees behind decoration, sevadals all came in mention for their dedicated and loving service rendered during the run up to the festivity. Talking about the children choir and drama presentation to be followed the next day, Behner narrated the story of young Sathya Sai, as has been the practice during the rehearsal sessions every day to pep little hearts and minds, for the benefit of children, compensating for the miss out on the previous day owing the tight schedule.
The first speaker for the afternoon was Ms. Gisela Sebastian, a long time devotee from Munich, Germany, a wonderful singer, member, choir group. Talking about Bhagawan, the beauty of Christmas in Prasanthi and the greater significance of being in Prasanthi in the Divine presence to celebrate in Christmas spirit Ms. Sebastian narrated her wonderful tale of her introduction into Sai fraternity. She was directed to go to Sai Baba by her doctor at a time when she was in a critical condition. Not knowing anything about Sai Baba she was reluctant at first but subsequently she met with a terrible car accident and lost her vision.d her passionate plea, prayer to this unknown God was heard and she had a dream…and got a promise…an answer to her prayer…!!! It was an amazing story of total surrender! She concluded with a mellifluous rendering of prayer to Bhagawan…at Thy Lotus Feet…I hold on to Thy Feet…Om Bhagawan…Om SaiRam…
The last speaker for the session was Mr. Ted Henry, a veteran TV journalist and a news reporter of fame from Cleveland, Ohio, who runs a spiritual oriented programme over TV in the United States. Having travelled all over the world, Mr. Ted Henry was instrumental in interviewing many a devotee and these interviews were published in various Sai Media, including H2H journal and Radio Sai Global Harmony.
"We are among the luckiest people on the face of the earth on this Christmas Day…We get to be on Christmas Day, with Jesus Himself" said Ted Henry commencing his rhetoric excellence. Narrating the incident when he sought Divine permission to take Bhagawan's name to the United States of America, to contribute his might as a journalist to the Sai Cause, Bhagawan gave him a firm No as an answer, further advising him to take His Love instead. Henry said he understood the underlying message in it, that first he should be submerged in His love before taking His name across the world. Talking about his own boomerang story wherein through hundreds of interviews, seeing the love of devotees for Bhagawan, tears of joy for Bhagawan the journalist in him has had a transformation…and that was the wonder of Bhagawan. Traversing through the Divine Wonder and His life in true journalistic perception,Ted spoke about His all encompassing love, barring boundaries, bringing in transformation of heart. He prayed to Bhagawan to get them deeper and deeper in to the majesty of His Divine Awareness!
And then came the moment all had waited for with bated breath. Mr.Behner requested Swami to deliver His divine discourse. With a sweet smile, Swami nodded and asked for His mikes to be brought. There was a loud round of applause. A brief summary of the highlights are presented below.
Starting His discourse hailing Bharat for her glory and her spiritual leaning in all matters, Swami exhorted that all the seen in this world is momentary and subject to change. The only one that lasts without any change is the principle of Atma, the principle of Love. With Love one can conquer the whole of the world. And God, being the witness, does not give you good or bad. Everything is man's own making. With reference to the recent terror attacks, Bhagawan said that world was finding restlessness with wicked things happening everywhere. The best solution to counter this would be to develop self confidence and pray to God. With Self Confidence in place one could achieve anything. Once we develop self-confidence and lead a life of love, nothing would ever happen to us. "God is in you, with you, above you, around you, below you". God is only ONE though He is called by different names and is seen as different forms. God is the only hero and once we rest our faith in Him, no bomb or any other artillery could disturb the humanity.
God is the most powerful hydrogen bomb within…then why are you afraid of small tiny little bombs, asked Swami to the assemblage of devotees exhorting them to develop self confidence. "In respect of God do not entertain any doubts; one doubt leads to another and multiply spoiling the man. If you want to lead a perfect ideal life of a human being, dispel all doubts." All of you have come from distant lands with full of devotion and steadfastness for God…hold on with that conviction and love. Develop the deep conviction that "I am God".
As is the case always, Swami's discourse had a message for each and every soul seated in the hall. It was 90 minutes of sheer profundity as words flowed in an endless stream from the Divine lips. The climax was two bhajans that Swami sang instead of His usual single bhajan. Swami sang both,"Prema Mudhita" and "Hari Bhajan Bina". After that, as prasadam was distributed, Swami asked the students to sing bhajans. Another small episode occured while the bhajans went on. The wooden cover of one of the speakers kept in front of Swami fell off, slipping down the steps. A student went up and put it back in place as Swami watched. However, the problem was the satin cloth that was making the cover slip away. So, a few minutes later, the cover fell again and Swami looked at the student with a smile as if to say, "Nay...not a properly done job." The student went back andset it right, pulling out the "satin slip causer". That was a job well done! Three bhajans later, Swami asked for Aarthi and then retired to Yajur Mandir.