Tamil New Year and Vishu at Prasanthi Nilayam - a Report
Dawn of Twin New Years
twin states get going welcoming another annual event
The inseparable bond of cultural and religious heritage of the two closest civilisations of South India, the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, dates back to many centuries. These two states do share much in common; language of Kerala, Malayalam, being a derivative of the original Tamil, the multi-religious fabric, Kerala’s own past history of having been a part of the erstwhile Chera Kingdom of the Tamil land, and later having been a part of the formerly Madras Presidency (North Kerala belonged to Madras Presidency), all these stand supporting the unique bond between the two civilisations…and substantiating this, come the twin New Years, Tamil New Year and Vishu.
Rarely had Prasanthi Nilayam witnessed these New Year celebrations as it had been an almost regular practice of Bhagawan to move to Brindavan or Kodaikanal before the onset of simmering summer in Puttaparthi during the months of April and May and as a natural fallout, Prasanthi Nilayam would often miss out on these festivities. This year, as Bhagawan continued to stay on in spite of the advancing summer, it was time to celebrate, and Prasanthi rejoiced as large number of devotees from the twin states flocked in to be in the Divine Presence on the coveted occasions.
It is the month of Chittirai for Tamil Nadu…the first month of Tamil calendar and it is time to welcome the advent of yet another New Year…Every vernacular calendar has a legend attached to it that Lord Brahma supposedly started creation on the first day of the New Year and so it goes with Tamil belief also.
The day begins with viewing the 'kani' (the auspicious sight) at dawn, symbolically signifying the popular belief that viewing of auspicious things would bring auspiciousness during the entire year. The propitious things include gold, silver, betel leaves, nuts, fruits, vegetables, flowers, raw rice, coconuts and more importantly statues and images of deities. Visit to a nearby temple after a ritual bath, wearing new clothes is a widely practised custom that is followed by reading of the Panchangam (almanac), yearly predictions. Women at home adorn their houses with‘Kolam’ (design made with rice flour) and deck the doorway with mango leaves. A sumptuous feast that has a special item 'Maanga Pachadi' (a dish made of raw mangoes, jaggery and neem flowers), is another highlight of this festivity.
…And in the neighbouring Kerala, it is astronomical New Year…this occasion signifies the Sun's transit to the zodiac Mesha Raasi as per Indian astrological calculations. Keralites celebrate this ‘New Year’ on the first day of the Malayalam month of Medam. This invariably falls on 14th or 15th of April.
Vishukkani, the auspicious sight, a metaphorically signifying act, underlining the popular belief that viewing of auspicious things would bring auspiciousness throughout the year is the main ritual and the centre point of this festivity. During the previous night vegetables, red cucumber ,snake gourd and fruits like jack fruit, mango, flowers Kani Konnai along with rice, dhal, gold and silver coins, lighted lamp called Nilavilakku, metal mirror etc., would be arranged along with statues and images of chosen deities. At dawn, in the scheduled hour, as per the directive given in the Panchangam (almanac) the senior member of the family, mostly mother, would get up and have the auspicious darshan and would lead the children and other members, blind folded, one after one, in the order of seniority, to the ‘kani’ to have the maiden auspicious sight at the commencement of the ‘New Year’. This would be followed by Vishukkaineettam, an offering in cash given to the junior members of the family by the elders; children would burst crackers making merry of colours and sounds and this would in-fact begin a few days earlier and would reach its peak by the previous evening. In the afternoon there would be a grand feast attended by the united family.
Tamil New Year in the Divine Presence
Programmes on the morning of 14th April
14th morning was the day for devotees from Tamil Nadu. After completing His full round of darshan, Bhagawan lighted the lamp on the stage before occupying His seat. Trust Convener of Tamil Nadu Sri. G.K. Raman had the singular opportunity of completing the introductory formalities.
Referring to the Divine Discourse on the Ugadi Day wherein Bhagawan exhorted devotees to take up Integrated Rural Development Programme in interior villages, Sri. G.K. Raman briefly narrated the initiative taken up by the State Organisation in implementing the project in the state. He said, 250 villages from 25 districts had been identified and 250 Village Panchayat heads and other senior leaders had come seeking Divine Blessings. Providing Drinking Water to each house in the adopted villages, awareness on personal hygiene, cleanliness in and outside the houses, sanitation for the villages as a whole, nutritive plants for the kitchen in each household with the help of the panchayats were some of the identified areas of the proposed project, as announced by the Trust Convener. He further prayed for a repeat of the happy days when Bhagawan most graciously blessed the city with His Divine visit (after a gap of ten years) blessing the devotees to bask in the glory of His Divine Love. He also made a mention of the uninterrupted water supply in the city and expressed gratitude to Bhagawan for His greater magnanimity. At the end he introduced the three speakers for the session.
The first speaker, Dr. S.P.Thyagarajan, a medical micro-biologist by profession, eminent educationist and formerly the Vice Chancellor of The University of Madras, while reaffirming gratitude to Bhagawan on behalf of the citizens of Chennai for His greater benevolence for the Divine visit to Chennai and the boon of ‘Elixir Divine’ conferred upon them, dwelt upon the backdrop that finally led to the fructification of Sai Ganga Water Project for Chennai. Referring to the felicitation programme on the 21st January 2007 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai that brought a wide spectrum of political luminaries on stage with Bhagawan, diffusing all political and regional differences, he quoted Bhagawan’s core message of Love and Sacrifice delivered on that day… Allow the God within to manifest and to take charge of your mind and body. What is the expression of Prema? Accept the manifestation of Divine Love latent within. Love without sacrifice is meaningless and sacrifice without love is impossible. Talking on education …on the dire need of value based education, the speaker extensively quoted Bhagawan to impress upon the audience the greater significance of the ambience prevailed upon in Sri Sathya Sai Educational System. He expressed his wish that the same ambience would prevail upon the entire nation and such a transformation could be brought about by Bhagawan alone.
Padmasri K. Balachander, film director of repute from the Tamil Film Industry, the second speaker in the morning started on a sober note explaining lucidly how Bhagawan played the trick in absentia bringing in subtle blessings at the time of dire need, quoting an incident happened way back in the year 1986 during the release of his popular film, Sindhu Bhairavi. Talking about the enormity of the task that Bhagawan had undertaken in fulfilling the mammoth water project for the city of Chennai, Sri Balachander admitted that his skeptic notion towards Bhagawan’s announcement had proved to be absolutely wrong; Bhagawan is not an individual; He is an Institution by Himself; He is a Phenomenon; He is the Ultimate. Bhagawan had the vision; We lack vision… said the learned speaker. While extolling Bhagawan for His single act of grace and compassion, the speaker in an apparent reference to the present day bureaucratic hurdles, mentioned that much water has flowed under the bridge of indecision and inaction…Chennai is enjoying the greater boon of Divinity conferred upon them…and the fate of nine million people of Chennai has been changed, said the speaker concluding his talk.
The third speaker, Justice Ramasubramaniam of Madras High Court started with an interesting briefing as to how over the years Bhagawan has been showering His Divine Grace upon him…Citing clear inferences of various occasions he had been blessed with opportunities to speak in the Divine Presence, the speaker added voicing similar to a judicial note, …that I was a school student 36 years ago, …. that I am a Judge of the High Court now….are of little significance…what is significant is that Bhagawan has been keeping me under His Divine Care…an Insurance that no other Insurance Company can ever offer…Drawing attention on to the present day’s corrupt educational system, the speaker observed that the constitution made by Bhagawan to the society was immeasurable in terms…as Bhagawan wanted everyone to become a good human being and thereafter incidentally as a by-product, to become a professional…Before closing he prayed Bhagawan to make every day a festive day and continue to shower His Divine Blessings on one and all…
There was an interlude before the commencement of Bhagawan’s Divine Discourse and Sri. G.K. Raman, Trust Convener, Tamil Nadu made a fervent prayer at His Lotus Feet to take up the project covering a distance of 25 kms, from the zero point at the Andhra-Tamil Nadu border to Sathyamurthy Sagar that was in a dilapidated condition where the water flow was often interrupted.
…And Bhagawan began His Divine discourse with a mention about the Chennai Water Project. Declaring thatHe would undertake the repair work of the canal right across the 25 kms stretch from the zero point at the Andhra-Tamil Nadu border to Sathyamurthy Sagar that had been left unattended, Bhagawan exhorted the audience… Do not depend on anybody…depend on God alone, Chennai would be getting water on a permanent basis now onwards; so long Chennai stays…the city would get water, declared Bhagawan. In an apparent reference to disputes over drinking water, Bhagawan said, Water is not anybody’s property; Water is God’s Property.
Let all of you lead life peacefully, blissfully…Think of God incessantly…God’s Name will protect you everywhere…Why Fear When I am here…Do not worry about anything…It is Bhagawan’s responsibility to take care of everything…In this all conquering New Year of Sarvajith citizens of Kerala and Tamil Nadu will have all the reasons to be happy and blissful…said Bhagawan concluding His Divine Discourse. It was His special love for the city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu as a whole that was made obvious during His short Divine Discourse. This was followed by bhajans. Prasadam was distributed before Bhagawan received Mangala Aarathi.
Evening Programme – Pancha Maha Yajna – Dance Drama
A dance drama entitled Pancha Maha Yajna, a depiction of the significance and meaning of the ritual “Veda Purusha Saptaha Jnana Yajna” by the Bal Vikas children of Tamil Nadu was the highlight of the afternoon session.
It was a beautiful, colourful presentation, bringing forth the greater significance of the five major Yajnas, namely, Deva Yajna, Pitru Yajna, Athithi Yajna, Bhoota Yajna, Rishi Yajna with emphasis on the description given by Bhagawan, highlighting life incidents of some of the celebrated devotees, finally precipitating to the bottom-line – impetus on the core human value.
The drama began with a conversation between Sage Narada and Sachdeva, with the Sage explaining the importance of being on Earth, especially at Prasanthi Nilayam to witness the Divine play of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Dwelling on the importance of Deva Yajna, the storyline touched the life of Baktha Prahlada, a great devotee of Lord Narayana. His suffering at the hands of his demonic father Hiranyakashipu and subsequent blessings he received from Lord Narasimha Swami, driving home the value of Devotion and Loyalty was the central theme of the first scene…with Prema, Love for God being the bottom-line…the core value.
The scene moved on to the life of Shravan Kumar whose unsullied love; devotion and sense of duty towards his parents were put on show signifying the importance of Pitru Yajna. King Dasaratha, who was on a hunting spree, hit his arrow inadvertently on the young boy Shravan Kumar, engaged in fetching water for his blind parents who were travelling on a pilgrimage through the forest. Fated to die of the mishap, upon enquiring what he would wish the king to do in the dying moments, the noble son instead of requesting the king to try save his life wanted the king to be obliged in carrying drinking water to his parents. Shravan Kumar is remembered even today, as one of the noblest sons ever born!
This was followed by an illustration of the significance of Athithi Yajna, adoration of guests, with generosity and humility being the driving force and Peace being the bottom-line, the core value. The famous incident in the life of Shankara when the great sage visited the house of an old woman seeking alms was well portrayed in the scene driving home the value imbibed in it. The hapless woman who had nothing to offer to the great sage finally managed to get an amlaka fruit as an offering to the great Acharya. Deeply moved by the plight and haplessness of the woman devotee, Shankara chanted Kanakadhara Strotram and prayed Goddess Lakshmi to extend Her Grace upon the devotee…and there came raining wealth…Golden Amla fruits in the house of the woman.
The following scene was about Bhoota Yajna, heralding the greater significance of selfless sacrifice and greater concern for all beings…and it was the moving tale of Shibi Chakravarthi that was on display…a great episode highlighting another human value, Non-violence. The Gods, wanting to test the compassionate nature of King Shibi, assumed the form of a hawk and a pigeon…Chased by the hawk the pigeon would fall on the king’s lap seeking protection. The altercation that followed saw the hawk arguing with the king claiming the pigeon to be its food. The generous king most convincingly offered his own flesh to satiate the hunger of the hawk, a most exemplary act of selflessness. Being immensely pleased by this great selfless act, the gods revealed their true forms blessing the great King.
The last Yajna to be highlighted was the Rishi Yajna and the scene depicted the exemplary life of discrimination and wisdom of great Tamil Poetess, Avvaiyar…whose illustrious life and one pointed dedication for the Ultimate Truth was a great lesson to be cherished, great lesson worthy to be noted and imbibed on with the core message of the greater significance of discrimination and wisdom leading to Truth. The great poet in her unsullied, selfless dedication and love for God dared to pray to her chosen deity to take away her beauty so that she would not be compelled to marry.
Interludes between scenes narrated how Bhagawan in the present day prompts service activities to be done that had been signified by the great lives of these illustrious souls of Bharath. The drama ended on a high note, with Sachdeva having got enlightened with the wisdom imparted after witnessing the happenings at Prasanthi Nilayam expressing his gratitude for having been in Prasanthi Nilayam in His Divine Presence.
Bhagawan who sat through the entire drama presentation chose to pose for group photograph and gave away watches to all participants including stage assistants. Memorable day in the lives of Tamil devotees, wherein they won yet another great boon from the Divine, an extension to the already conferred Water – The Elixir Divine, incessant supply of water. Indeed, Sai Ganga would flow incessantly to this blessed land of Tamil Nadu, blessing her to bask in His Love and Compassion.
Programme on the morning of the 15th of April
15th April 2007, the day when the entire state of Kerala would reverberate with vitality and rejuvenated enthusiasm, welcoming the advent of yet another ‘Vishu’ signifying auspicious beginning. …And for those who assembled in Prasanthi Nilayam, there was no other auspicious sight, than the coveted darshan of Beloved Bhagawan. The land that is popular for devotion to Lord Krishna, celebrated the day in the presence of Sai Krishna…singing His glory in His immediate Divine Presence. Bhagawan came on stage after His usual round of granting darshan and lighted the lamp before taking His seat on the specially decorated dais. After a brief Veda chanting by the Bal Vikas children from the state, the stage was taken over by two little hearts, one followed by another, Bal Vikas children from Kerala, Master Pratyush and Master Vishal. What could one expect from such tender hearts? Having been in the Bal Vikas movement, it was indeed their tender feeling of love for Bhagawan that they had in store to share with the assemblage on the auspicious morning in the Divine Presence. One would wonder at the level of self-confidence, a rare possession of every Sai Student that helped them excel in any endeavour.
Master Pratyush, the first speaker, shared with the thousand odd Bal Vikas children from the state and other devotees assembled his idea about God…He said: “God to many is in different forms…to some He is a flute holding, yellow garbed, peacock feathered, mischievous, endearing Sri Krishna…to some He is the majestic bearer of bow and arrow…embodiment of all nobilities, Sri Rama and as for me the picture of God is a lovely orange robed, curly haired, lotus eyed, mesmerising embodiment of sweetness with immaculate hands and glowing feet…He is the King of all Kings…He is the Master of the Universe…He is our very own Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba!…declared the little one with conviction. The boy added: In our home every conversation either begins in Swami or ends in Swami; Swami is our pivotal force; our life line…being a Bal Vikas student, it is Swami’s stories, Swami’s teachings and Swami’s principles that I have spoken out in my school whenever given an opportunity. Vishu is the day that reminds us that when our thoughts have to be pure, words have to be pure and deeds have to be pure; all that Swami wants is to reduce our selfishness to abate our desires to foster our spirit of sacrifice to grow into noble human beings…all that Swami wants is our pure, steady and selfless love. There is only one Name… Sai, there is only one God…Sai and there is only one Goal…Sai”… concluded the little speaker.
Master Vishal, another Bal Vikas student from the state, talking about the Bal Vikas Movement, said: …to participate in Bal Vikas, we should be model children, …by putting into practise all that we learn from Bal Vikas classes. Swami wants transformation and not mere information…only from Swami we can imbibe inspiration for this. Talking about Bhagawan’s exhortation to revere parents, the boy said, “…when parents are happy, our Lord is indeed happy. Bal Vikas classes make one a role model in discipline in which Bhagawan lays deep emphasis…..Through Bal Vikas we become God’s loving children“. The boy concluded his speech with an earnest prayer…”Oh! Lord please bless us with abundant strength and grace and transform us to ideal children. We promise you Swami, to make our lives Thy message for we know that will make Thee happy…”
This was followed by devotional singing by Sri T.S.Radhakrishnan followed by bhajans by the Kerala troupe. Prasadam was distributed and Arathi was offered before Bhagawan retired to Yajur Mandiram.
Satyameva Jayate- Musical Drama
Great interest shown by Bhagawan for humanity to imbibe cultural ethics and human values exemplified by great lives on earth has been bringing forth role models of virtue, valour and character from past history and epics onstage at Prasanthi Nilayam in the Divine Presence over the years. The little Bal Vikas children from Kerala, enacted a musical drama entitled Satyameva Jayate, a poignant saga of virtue, character and sacrifice of highest order, the story of Rajah Harishchandra. Rajah Harischandra’s passion for Truth has given the world one of the most exemplary anecdotes of exceptional purity and core perfection, perhaps the only one of its kind in the history of mankind, whose life was a testimony to the values so dearly he adhered to. The drama as a musical and dance presentation depicted the selfless saga most convincigly in colourful and aesthetic dance form. …Wherein the King was forced to reliquish all his belongings, reducing to the status of a pauper; strictly adhering to the principle of Truth, he was never ready for any compromise. the King faced the greatest of the tests when his own dear wife brought the dead body of his son, seperated apart long ago, to be cremated. Even after recognising their identities, the king, who was loyal to his ‘master’ was not ready to budge, instead demanded payment for the cremation to be undertaken. Advised by his master Veerabahu, Harischandra was readying himself to kill his own wife Chandramathi. Sage Vishwamitra who arrived at the scene compelled the king to utter a single lie, so that Veerabahu could let her free enabling Harischandra to regain all his lost possessions. But again, the king who was committed to Truth and honesty was not ready for any compromise. He raised his sword to kill his dear wife. And Lo! The sword that was held aloft turned into a garland of flowers and there appeared all the sages and Gods showering benevolence and blessings upon the king. Yes, Truth has emerged triumphant in the end! Truth alone is victorious! Satyameva Jayate!
God was indeed moved! Pleased by the wonderful depiction, Bhagawan materialised a chain for the young lad acted as the son of Rajah Harishchandra. Bhagawan was most magananimous in granting group photographs to the participants. Memorable indeed was the session for these tiny tots who were privileged to enact a story so dear to the heart of the Lord Himself in His immediate Divine Presence.
Love Fills and Fulfills…
God’s strange ways are not known to anyone. The popular saying goes as, …man proposes and God disposes…but, here man proposed and God with His greater vision and boundless love reciprocated manifold…and it was this boundless love of Bhagawan that was there to experience for the thousand odd Bal Vikas children, 500 odd parents and other devotees assembled in the Sai Kulwant Hall on the 13th afternoon. The Vishu celebrations got underway on the 13th evening that was made doubly glittering by Divinity’s all encompassing Love…The programme commenced with a mridagam performance by Kuzhalmannam Ramakrishnan, noted mridangam artiste, who performed a gruelling feat of marathon non-stop 84 hours feat titled, ‘Rhythm for Peace’, which earned him a coveted entry in the prestigious Guinness Book of World Records, in May 2005, in the category of percussion instruments. The gifted artiste with astonishing feats on mridangam thumped a rhythm on the instrument, showcasing his talent, mesmerising the audience. Indeed it was a veritable musical feast that brought forth the finer aspects of the unbounded musical prospects of this classical drum of South Indian music. This was followed by a carnatic devotional session by the popular singer, Kavalam Sreekumar…With his melodious captivating devotionals setting an ideal background for a wonderful evening session, Bhagawan asked the Bal Vikas children to sing bhajans and what followed was a wonderful array of bhajans, poured out from those little hearts that continued for almost an hour… the children sang their hearts out and Bhagawan was on the stage, as embodiment of love and compassion, receiving the prayers emanated from those little hearts.. A visibly moved Bhagawan came down the ramp to the group of children, moved among them, conferring the blessing of Divine proximity. A small visually challenged boy who was on the harmonium was blessed by Bhagawan with a chain and one should have seen the expression of joy on the little face whose handicap never failed him to visualising His beloved Bhagawan. It was indeed an emotional scene for all who witnessed the act. God's uncanny ways to reach out His devotees! At the end Bhagawan distributed clothes to all the children engaged in bhajans and to the artistes for the session. This was followed by another set of melodious devotionals by the students from Institute…the evening that was originally planned to be a ‘yet another’ musical evening was finally transformed into a glittering Bhajan Sandhya and it was His love and glory that conquered the minds and hearts that were present in Prasanthi Nilayam.
Memorable occasion to cherish for the devotees from the twin states...Bhagawan was indeed reaching out!