The beginning of a New Year is something that everyone looks forward to for that is a time when life seems to begin afresh in right earnest. Resolutions are made after the victories and defeats of the past year are analysed. A sense of euphoria fills the air and optimistic energy seems prevalent everywhere. Hope is rekindled and faith reaffirmed. Puttaparthi is no exception to these things. In the place where every moment seems new and fresh and every day is a celebration for it is in the physical presence of Divinity, New Year's day has been gifted to the alumni for it seems as if Swami wishes to begin His New Year with His beloved children. And with each passing year, the alumni too have been assembling in ever increasing numbers. The first day of the year 2009 saw more than 700 alumni gathering in the Kulwant hall waiting in readiness for Him.
A Veda chanting contingent and a squadron of flag bearers waited at the Yajur mandir to escort Swami into the Kulwant hall. It was after 10 am that the doors of Yajur Mandir were thrown open. And what a sweet surprise Swami had in store for all! He has often said, "I am a man among men, woman among women and a child among children." It was as if He was saying, "I am a student among students" as He too, like them all, came dressed in white!! He was seated on that special throne-chair and there could have been no better way to start the New Year. There is a prevalent belief that what happens on the first day of the year continues throughout – another variant of the famous, "Well begun is half done". If that belief is true, the year is going to be sublimely special – and it is going to be so even if that belief is not true!
The chanting began as soon as Swami came out and the person holding the Poornakumbham got it blessed by Swami. The flag bearers neatly filed past Him and saluted Him as they did so. That having been done, Swami too joined the procession that made its way towards the Kulwant hall. The procession hid Swami from the eager eyes that were waiting to see Him. But like the full moon appearing from behind the clouds, Swami emerged as He fell behind in the procession and soon there was a resoundingly cheerful applause that spread through the hall. The Lord in white is a glorious sight. He looks as if He is wearing His purity and innocence on His person.
Swami took a detour after the ladies side and all the alumni gathered in the marble blocks seemed just a bit disappointed that Swami would not be coming near them. But Swami had another little surprise as He took another detour and moved back towards the old students' area. Completing His round, filling everyone with Joy supreme, Swami moved onto the stage. His path to the stage was paved with those ex-students who had chanted the Vedas as part of the procession. In the portico, students from the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School invited Swami to bless a specially made huge cake. Swami lit the candle and cut the cake which was constituted by six or so parts. He cut every part so sweetly and patiently. Then, He arrived on the stage.
The first thing He did was to light the lamp and thus formally began the New Year celebrations for 2009! A cheer ran through the happy crowd and Swami sat facing all of them, a smile dancing on his luminous face. The first presentation was by the former members of the Institute brass band. Offering cards, the songs list and roses to Swami, they sought His blessings and then began. Three pieces were played in all and they were interspersed with introductions to each of the pieces by different members of the band. As they played, it was such a wonderful feeling for here was the band constituted by members through the quarter century of the existence of the Institute and they played like one big family. Once the band finished its performance, the singers from among the alumni came forward to Swami and sought His blessings. Swami blessed them and then they started to sing songs specially composed for the occasion by the alumni. Soon, the three huge cakes were brought up to Swami and with a gentle smile, Swami cut each of the cakes and lit a candle too. Each of the songs sung had short introduction. One of them narrated in graphic detail as to how Swami was splashed with water from a faulty hot water tap that He had come to inaugurate in the Primary School. Swami with a smile had said, "I not only inaugurated the tap but also had the first bath!"
Many such instances were recounted and as each song began, students with roses and cards bearing the lyrics of the songs moved to Swami and presented them to Him seeking His blessings. Swami also released a few booklets and a newsletter that the alumni presented. He released the audio Cd, "Bridge across Time" which is a collection of bhajans sung by the alumni. After four songs, a few members requested Swami for permission to dance (!) and Swami approved. And so a bhajan medley formed the score for the short dance programme too. The dance turned out to be the item that made a huge smile blossom on His face which later erupted as a hearty laugh too! The dance was followed by some more songs. The highlight of the morning as far as the participants were concerned was the avalanche of padanamaskars that Swami showered. It began with the "head" of the Veda contingent moving up to Swami and requesting Him as to whether all could take padanamaskar. Swami agreed and so almost 60-70 students came up on stage and took padanamaskar. All that transpired between the Lord and His children cannot be captured here. Students ranging from batches as old as 1980 to those as latest as 2006 went to Him and thrilled themselves with His touch. It was a homecoming in the truest sense and once all the members of the Veda group were though, Swami agreed to bless all the band boys too in a similar manner. Finally He blessed prasadam to be distributed to all. At this time, the members of the music group also sought His blessings and Swami promised them He would bless later as now the "time was up". It was 11:30 when Swami retired to Yajur Mandir.
Student Band, Music Programme, Divine Discourse
January 01 , 2009: Evening
In the evening, Swami arrived and a surge of delight moved through the entire hall - the Lord looked magnificent in the maroon-red robe that He wore! White robe followed by the Red Robe - What a colourful opening for the New Year! Swami took a complete round and as He came on stage, He blessed the University band boys to begin their performance. They played two pieces, the first one a masterpiece from Yanni entitled - Santorini and the second one a tribute to the Divine Mother - the bhajan Eashwaramba Priya Tanaya. As they completed, Swami blessed them and then the students began to sing songs that they had prepared. Swami's ways are so wonderful and amazing. As two songs were sung, He called out for the alumni and asked them to render songs. They were taken in by surprise. No planning had gone on in their heads for this session of songs. Where the head fails and heart takes over, memorable moments get etched into ones memories. They began to sing the famous songs of the mid 90s and it was such a nostalgic journey with music. Swami too was fully involved in the songs. When the famous, "Humko Tumse Pyaar Kitna" began Swami jokingly showing the tip of His nail said, "Only itna!" There were smiles on every face as one reminesced the Swami of the bygone years. The songs went on like this when suddenly two students from the bhajan group went up to Swami on the dais.
There they told Swami, "Swami the day will not be complete without your sweet voice flowing into all of us. All of us are eager to listen to you. Please speak to us." Swami seemed to be refusing and He sent them back to their places. However, as the next song concluded, He signalled for His mikes and there was an explosive applause. Swami began His New Year Discourse, the summary of which is given below.
Swami began His discourse with the popular verse on the arrival of the Sankranthi festival. He followed it with a vivid description of the season. It is a time when people are busy in agriculture and household activities; when the food grains and pulses are available in plenty and all the farmers gather and sing in joy. The men visit their in-laws and all the members of the family join in with good humour and spend time in fun. Swami's description put everyone to perfect ease and with the mere power of His words, He brought alive the feelings and joy associated with the festival. He also beautifully narrated the tradition where the bull and cow are married off. The cow is named Sita and the bull as Rama. The people entreat and request 'Sita' to accept the handsome and virtuous 'Rama' as her husband!
He brought new meaning to the phrase, "Naa Deham" (literally meaning – My body) when He stated, "Naa means 'not' in Sanskrit. So when you say, "Naa Deham" or "Naa Manas", it means, 'I am not the body, I am not the mind'." And so, all our complaints and problems are due to our body attachment and our inability to control the mind. All the six vices are a result of our thoughts alone and there is nothing wrong with the creation. God gives neither joy nor sorrows. He is the eternal witness. It is the mind that does everything. It is responsible for our bondage and our liberation too. So realize that you are God. The Christian message too is the same – To cut the 'i' across and achieve the 'Cross" which is God. The message was loud and clear – give up your identification with all that you are not- the body, mind, intellect- and identify with your Self; the true I.
Swami exhorted that realizing our true selves was the only thing to be done in life. "All the wealth, fame and relatives you acquire will add up to nothing. When the body dies, not even a fistful of dust can be taken along." He illustrated this with emperor Alexander's story where he asks to be paraded in the towns with outstretched hands to declare that the great emperor who conquered the world is leaving it empty handed. Even the avatars like Rama and Krishna, having lived fulfilled lives, withdrew from their body and do not exist in a physical frame today. And so thoughts of the Self are paramount. Ultimately, the experience of the Self is inevitable for Self is existence and existence is Self. It has many forms. Pray to and worship the form of your choice but remember that it is all the Self.
All the symbolism has deeper meanings, He said and to elaborate on it, He waved His hand and materialized an gold ring with a diamond studded on it. In the western countries, the marriage is symbolized with the exchange of rings between the bride and groom. This symbolizes the Love which, like the diamond, should be permanent.
Elaborating on the significance of the Sahasra Chandra Darshanam, Swami said, "The Lord is called Sahasra Sheersha Purusha. This does not mean that He has a thousand heads. It means that all the heads are His. So too, when it is said that the Lord had Sahasra Chandra Darshanam, it means that He sees all the minds for the mind is symbolized by he moon. If taken literally, I have seen crores of moons!
Swami went on to say that Love was the most important. "You sang that Love is the only bond between us. Keep that always. Do not give up Love even if negative qualities come. Once Love is there all other values come. Sathya, Dharma, Shanthi, Prema and Ahimsa are the only 5 qualities that exist within and to bring it out is Educare. This love exists in all like the moon that is reflected in the waters of a thousand pots. There is only one moon and there is only One- that's Love.
He lashed out against foolish enquiries saying that instead of delving into the underlying unity, people enquire into divisive things like which is Rama's actual birthplace and so on. When that question was posed to Swami, He said, "Rama's actual birthplace is the womb of Kausalya." Only the lazy ones do such meaningless enquiries. Find yourself within and all will be known. All that you call as "My" is only Maya. God and Truth are One though known by different names. Do not fall prey to the paintings and photos being sold. Neither the photographer nor the painter has seen the Lord. They do so out of their imagination. Truly speaking, you are God. Have that faith and display God qualities. If you just close your eyes and see inwards, you will find God.
After speaking for more than 70 minutes, Bhagawan asked for Bhajans to begin at 7.25 pm. It was at this time that keeping His morning's promise, Swami granted all the members of the alumni music group the coveted chance to touch His feet. They came in a long line and one by one took His blessings and returned to their places beaming with joy. Prasadam was distributed, and Swami accepted Arati at 7.45 before returning to His residence. As the Aarthi concluded one more beautiful thing happened. Swami called the priest and gifted the diamond ring He had materialised earlier to him.