"Be like a flute: a hollow reed straight, light, with no substance to hinder His breath. Then He will come and pick you up from the ground. He will breathe divine music through you, playing upon you with delicate touch."
Bhagawan has always likened His ideal devotee to a flute that has no identity of its own, but is completely His.
In case of Raviteja, an accomplished flautist and a former student of Bhagawan, the Creator not only blessed him with a flute in his hand, but also to play the melodious instrument in His proximity -- he is a member of the music group in Prashanti Nilayam.
The talented musician and former student had the great fortune of accompanying Bhagawan on His trip to Pune and Mumbai, and has shared his 'divine' experiences.
The whole adventure began on October 4, 2009.
Evening bhajans were on at Prasanthi Nilayam, and the mellifluous voices of Swami’s students were enthralling the devotees and had filled the whole atmosphere with divine vibrations.
Swami was sitting inside the interview room of the Mandir -- just as He sits in the 'inner room' of His devotee's hridaya mandir (hearts).
Suddenly Harish, who escorts Bhagawan in the Mandir, came running towards our bhajan group and signalled in my directionto sit outside the interview room.
Excited and afraid, I immediately stopped playing the flute and sat in the Mandir's portico wondering what would happen. I even considered if I should call my family as well for the interview.
After a while, Harish came back and indicated the number four with his fingers. I was confused by what that meant.
However, our bhajan group member Prabhakar, who was sitting right behind me, said, “Sir, Swami is calling the four of us into the interview room.”
That is when I realised that four of us -- Prabhakar, Arvind Sai, Nishikanth and me (all members of the bhajan group) -- had been asked to sit outside the interview room, and not just me.
Swami watched us as each of us entered the interview room and spontaneously burst into a beautiful smile to greet us. We quietly sat at His lotus feet with our eyes fixed on His 'Sundara Vadanam' (beatific face).
Suddenly, Swami drew out notes of Rs 500 and gave two of them to each of us.
Then with a twinkle in His eye and with a tinge excitement in His sweet and soft voice, He said, “Stitch new clothes for yourselves. We are going to Pune. They have built a new temple there on 200 acres of land on top of a hill. I will take you in the flight, direct from Puttaparthi to Pune."
Needless to say, we were very thrilled with this wonderful announcement and immediately began with the preparations towards Swami’s trip to Pune.
In the days that followed, Swami selected a total of 28 students, most of them being “music boys”. This was a clear indication to us that there may be a few music programmes scheduled for us in the trip.
So we, the music boys, began drawing up lists of devotional songs that we could present when Swami asked. The process was not simple -- it involved long practice sessions and intense discussions, mingled with, no doubt, some apprehension and excitement.
As October 28, the day of our flight, approached closer, we spent most of our waking hours in practising our songs, harder and harder.
We compiled many song lists by juggling the songs, the order of songs and the style of singing to suit the different kinds of audiences and locations. Above all, our priority was that the songs should be liked by our beloved Swami.
We also drew up a tentative order of songs that we could render in case we were asked to present a musical session on the spot.
Additionally, since we were on our way to 'Sri Sathya Sai Panduranga Kshetra' in Hadshi, we asked one of our brothers to write a song dedicated to the new mandir in Telugu. We set the tunes for the lyrics written and were ready to present it too at the earliest opportunity given to us.
Swami and we reached Hadshi on October 28.
We learned that a concert had been organised for the same evening where well-known singers Kavita Krishnamurthy and Nitin Mukesh would be singing among others. We anticipated that Swami would ask us to perform soon after their programme ended, but that did not happen.
The next morning, Swami inaugurated three temples at Panduranga Kshetra, and blessed with a discourse in the evening. We expected to be called for a programme that evening, however Swami decided otherwise.
We continued to practise our songs every evening, expecting to be called for a programme anytime.
Also, we were praying for an opportunity for some private moments with Swami when we could offer some of the songs.
We stayed in Hadshi for almost three days, and were asked only to sing bhajans on different occasions.
The morning of October 30 is very memorable for all of us, when we were rushed to the stage before Swami arrived and were asked to start the bhajans.
Swami arrived and sat on the stage for almost 45 minutes, as all of us sat next to Him offering our heart-felt bhajans at His lotus feet with complete devotion.
With a cool breeze wafting by, with thousands of devotees partaking the bliss of the nectarine bhajans and with Swami showering His love and grace on all, it was indeed a very satisfying morning.
In the evening of October 30, child participants from the television show Little Champs presented a programme, and we again waited for Swami's call. But I assume we were not destined to perform in Hadshi at all.
However, in the night, Swami sent a message to us saying that we should be ready with a music programme on November 1 to be presented at Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai. Swami had also specified that we were to present only classical songs and ones that contained ample “sargams".
As soon as we received this message, out excitement rose high and we decided to practise the songs the next morning before we left for Mumbai. Meanwhile, we compiled the final list songs that we would render and began our practice. However, with the tight schedule on 31st morning, we did not have sufficient time to practise all the songs.
On October 31, we reached Mumbai in the afternoon, and Swami gave darshan at the NSE grounds, Goregaon, for over 50,000 devotees that evening. Bollywood singer of fame, Sonu Nigam, performed at the darshan and Swami liked his performance, and also presented him with a ring.
Even then, we were expecting Swami to look at us and signal at us to perform right then. But this did not happen.
As students of Swami, we have learnt a significant lesson: One must always be ready to do anything that Swami wants, at any time. Swami may suddenly ask someone to speak, to sing a song or a bhajan, regardless of the situation or occasion.
If you shied away or offered excuses, you would have missed an opportunity of your life time to please God.After all, we are living only to please Him.
From then on,we were always prepared to present the programme, just waiting for His call. We carried our musical instruments everywhere Swami went, expecting Him to ask us for a bhajan session or music programme anytime.
At every spare moment that we got in Mumbai, we practised our notations, working on our song presentation techniques and were constantly involved in discussions on ways to improve ourselves. At the same time, we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our stay in the divine proximity.
On the night of October 31, we sat together for a thorough rehearsal – to fix the loose ends, finalise the improvisations and to finetune our renditions for the programme scheduled on November 1. Our practice session went late into the night as we thoroughly rehearsed every song.
We were excited, and also tensed; in fact we had a chilling sensation down the spine.
The programme was just 24 hours away, and we were anxious about performing in the presence of God, and thousands of His devotees in an open stadium.
The true cause of the anxiety was not the performance, but about meeting the expectations of His devotees as being 'Sri Sathya Sai Students'.
As we were representing ourselves as Swami’s students, we just could not afford to be anything less than the best.
On November 1 morning, Swami called our group member Aswath Narayan during breakfast session, and reminded us to be ready.
That morning, Swami gave darshan at Jamboorie Maidan, Worli, and proceeded to the Maharashtra chief minister’s bungalow. Swami then went Sri Gokul Das’s house, which is located near Brabourne Stadium, from where we were taken for a brief sightseeing tour covering the key places in Mumbai.
We were then taken to a nearby hotel for freshening up and were later brought to the Brabourne Stadium for the evening darshan at about 5 pm.
The stadium was packed with over 20,000 devotees eagerly waiting for Swami’s darshan. After reaching the venue, we went up the stage to arrange our instruments and microphones for the performance, after which we came down to sit in the places allotted for us.
Devotees from Mumbai were rendering bhajans, and the whole atmosphere was charged with excitement as Swami was expected to arrive any moment.
Swami came at about 6 pm and went up on the stage. As soon as He sat on His chair, Swami asked one of the organisers to announce that students of the Sri Sathya Sai University would be presenting a music programme.
We got up to take Swami’s blessings. As a prelude to the performance, Swami asked us to sing two bhajans before we began with the classical songs.
Accordingly, we began with the bhajans -- and this not only charged the atmosphere but also gave us a shot of confidence we needed.
Sri Ravi Kumar began with the classical session with the song 'Deva Namo Deva', followed by Sri Sai Krishna's song in Hansdhwani Raga and 'Shiva Shankari' by Aswath Narayan in Darbari Kanada Raga.
The singers got completely immersed in their songs, which touched all the notes perfectly. The microphones and the open stadium enhanced the sweetness and majesty of their voices, while the entire audience was lifted to a reverie.
To our and the audience' elation, Swami too clapped in appreciation after each song.
Every singer and every instrumentalist rose to the occasion and there was perfect harmony in every rendition.
After presenting five songs, we paused for Swami’s reaction. As if to say He was extremely happy, Swami said “Sing one more song... ” looking in the direction of Sri Aswath Narayan and Sri Srinivasan.
The two singers presented a Thillana in Ahir Bhairavi raga together. The fast pace, the rhythmic complexities, and the melodious improvisations in this Thillana left everybody in the audience stunned.
After this, Swami looked at all of us and said sweetly, “This time all of you sing together.”
Ravi Kumar then started the Qawali 'Tere Dar Pe Jo Bhi Aaya…” (O Sai Baba, you have answered the prayers of every person who has knocked your door...) and was joined by the other singers and instrumentalists as chorus.
The lyrics of Qawali, the purport of which is 'O Sai Baba, you have answered the prayers of every person who has knocked your door', was most suited on the occasion.
Swami too seemed to be emotional and was filled with happiness. Needless to say, the audience was ecstatic and kept tab with the beats.
After we had presented seven songs in total, Swami said “Enough”, and we all went up to Swami to surrender ourselves at His lotus feet in gratitude to the wonderful opportunity He had given us.
Swami was smiling all through and repeatedly said, “Chaala Baagundi” (Very nice in Telugu). He then blessed us with clothes and group photographs.
The next morning we left for Puttaparthi after a happy lunch.
As I look back now at the whole adventure that began on October 4, everything that happened seems perfect.
The whole music group is extremely satisfied, as we feel we have offered our best to God, and God too seemed very pleased with our humble offering.
Every talent is a gift from God. However the talent gets its true worth only when it is offered back to Him with humility and devotion.
And when God Himself expresses His satisfaction with the offering, what else does a musician need?
That, in itself, is the fruit and fulfillment of the talent.
(The writer has done his MBA degree from the Sri Sathya Sai University, and is currently serving at the Sri Sathya Sai Sadhana Trust, Sahayak Division, in Prasanti Nilayam)