It was Sunday, the morning of 25th October 2009. Just 3 days before the day of departure, we came to know about the inclusion of our names in the grand entourage of Bhagawan. Yes, it was the much talked about, much awaited visit of Bhagawan to Pune and Mumbai.
I loaded my I-pod and kept it ready in my baggage to listen to Marathi abhangas while travelling to my home pitch, Pune and Mumbai. This was the first thing I did after the ‘unexpected surprise gift’ I received from Swami.
And on the D-Day, 28th October 2009 – we were ferried straight to the airport and after the usual formalities, we boarded the aircraft and waited for Swami’s arrival. As soon as Swami came and boarded the aircraft, aircraft doors were closed and the engines started roaring. Simultaneously I too started listening to Vitthala abhangas - Hymns on Lord Vitthala.
The very first abhanga had the following lyrics. This hymn was composed by Saint Namadeva. Namadeva sings the Glory of Vitthala thus:
(Let us reside in Pandharpur, take holy dip in river Chandrabhaga and then have Divine darshan of Lord Vitthala – Krishna is called as Panduranga or Vithoba or Vitthala in Maharashtra)
We landed in Pune and started our onward Journey to Hadshi by bus. We were touching Hadshi by noon. Our bus took a turn to climb up on a steep road to reach Hadshi’s ‘Sri Sathya Sai Pandurangakshetra’. The same hymn started ringing in my ears in different words altogether but now without an I-pod. The meaning and the sweetness of the hymn remained same, only words underwent a little change;
Vitthala's statue at Pandharpur
(Residing in Puttaparthy, on the banks of river Chitravathi, taking holy dip and then having Darshan of Lord Sathya Sai – The Avatar of Kali age)
The State of Maharashtra has a hoary tradition for the last couple of centuries. Vitthala devotees (called as Varkaris) march towards Pandharpur in the month of Ashadh.They sing the glory of Lord Vitthala, carry Vitthala idols in palanquins and arrive in Pandharpur on Ekadashi day.(the eleventh day in the month of Ashadh)
But the Sai Varkaris take a route in the southern direction. First, they come to Dharmavaram by rail and continue the remaining 45 km journey to Prasanthi Nilayam by foot. All along the route, they sing the glory of Sai Vitthala. They conduct medical camps and other service activities in villages on the way and finally arrive at Puttaparthi on Ekadashi day. This tradition is going on for the last two decades.
There is river Bhima at Pandharpur which is also called as Chandrabhaga – crescent-shaped moon. Devotees take a holy dip in the river and stand in long queues to have the Divine darshan of Vitthala. The presiding deity, Lord Vitthala stands on a brick with hands on waist (that’s the reason why Panduranga is called Vitthala). It was Bhaktha Pundalika’s command to the Lord to go and stand on the brick and not to disturb him while he was busy serving his parents. The Lord was pleased to see Pundalika’s attitude of service to his parents. So, obeying the command of a true and ardent devotee, the Lord is doing a balancing act on a brick. He cannot step down from that brick, forget about coming out of sanctum sanctorum.
Taking pity on devotees who were unable to reach Pandharpur to have His darshan, particularly those who reside outside Maharashtra and for people staying in other parts of the globe, He started wondering how to give darshan, how to provide better infrastructure, good road, rail and air connectivity? How to provide clean drinking water and other amenities like a big shopping complex for their material needs and a book stall for spiritual needs, a state of art digital studio for posterity, medicare and educare, etc?
He chalked out an elaborate plan… He takes physical form. He chooses Puttaparthi as His abode and incarnates on 23rd November 1926 in the womb of Mother Easwaramma. And then as we all are a witness to this Divine drama for the last several decades, He Himself goes amidst devotees and gives Darshan. Devotees need not go to Chitravati river bed for a holy dip. Chitravati is now flowing in and at the doorstep of residents of Anantapur in the form of Sri Sathya Sai Water Project and has crossed all man made barriers to reach other districts of Andhra Pradesh and in Chennai too. This Divine act of the Lord has three-fold benefit, not just Darshan but Padasparshan, an opportunity to touch His Lotus feet and Sambhashanam too. We can talk to Him and He speaks to us! Oh what an opportunity which even the gods of the highest heavens would pine for!
And now acceding to the prayers of devotees from Pune and Hadshi, Lord Sai Vitthala has travelled 1000 km to Hadshi and blessed thousands of devotees who came there for His Divine Darshan. He visited Pune after a hiatus of 37 years.
Hadshi has a gift from the creator in the form of nature. Nature has ensconced this village in its green arms away from the hectic, city life of Pune.
One can say that God has decorated this village with jewels in the form of nature. What does a jeweller do while making an ornament? He leaves an empty socket at its centre. When the job is done, he picks a polished diamond and fixes in that socket. Only then this jewel is complete, it has value, it is worth keeping in the showcase. In the absence of diamond, the jewel has no value and the customer will not even look at it, forget about buying it.
Vitthala & Rakhumai idols at Hadshi, Pune
The same thing happened with Hadshi. Sri Sathya Sai Pandurangakshetra was ready by the year 2003. Swami had given a word in 2003 that He would come to Hadshi and bless one and all. Ornament was ready but the diamond was yet to be fixed. Days, months and years rolled by, but there was no sign of Swami’s arrival. But devotees never lost hope. That is adamantine resolve.
In His previous incarnation in the form of Shirdi Sai, He has told us to have just two coins of Shraddha (faith) and Saburi (Persevarance) in our spiritual bank account. Hadshi devotees had firm faith that Swami would come physically and bless the complex. Their faith and patience was rewarded multifold by Lord Sai during this visit.
Needless to state, God’s delays are not His denials (Allah Ke Ghar Der Hai Lekin Andher Nahi). There are ample examples in the history (should we say ‘His-Story’) right from Sabari in Ramayana. Recent visit to Hadshi is the latest proof to support these basic essentials of faith and patience for an individual on the path of spirituality.
Swami travelled to Pune and reached Hadshi on 28th October. Next day, 29th October happened to be Thursday and Karthika Ekadashi day. A day when Pandharpur attracts large number of devotees as in month of Ashadh. On this most auspicious day, He installed the idols of Ganesha, Shirdi Sai Baba and finally Vitthala and Rakhumai (Rukmini). It is not just a coincidence but the Divine Will and part of His Divine Master-plan.
Sri Sathya Sai Panduranga kshetra - Hadshi, Pune
So, the state of Maharashtra which is chosen by several saints and sages to take birth now has further blessings from Sai Vitthala who has now given this state yet another Pandharpur in the form of Sri Sathya Sai Pandurangakshetra at Hadshi.
Love flowed further to the west in the financial capital of India and quenched the thirst of millions of devotees residing in Mumbai by His darshan at city’s various stadiums and large grounds.
Now that Swami has done so much for us, being amidst us and teaching us to lead an ideal life by His own example, it is our duty to express gratitude to Lord Sai on the eve of His 84th Birthday through our thoughts, words and deeds.
Let us go back to the same abhanga with which we started. Namadeva also had the same prayer to Lord Vitthala in next two stanzas;
(Let’s chant the name of the Lord, Let’s bask in the Divine company. God does not reside only at Pandharpur or at Puttaparthi. Every individual’s heart is a Pandharpur or a Parthi-kshetra where God resides. Let’s have that firm belief and conviction and serve others. That is the only way to merge in divinity.)
(This life of ours is blessed by You Swami. There should not be any more birth and death. If it is still destined then You should accompany us and bless us all to redeem our lives. This is our only desire and this is our only prayer)
I fell asleep with same hymn ringing into my ears on the night of 2nd November when we reached back to Puttaparthy: Pandharpur of Andhra Pradesh.
(The writer, Nitin Acharya, has done his MBA degree from the Sri Sathya Sai University, and is currently serving at the Sri Sathya Sai Sadhana Trust, Publications Division, Prasanti Nilayam)