The Lord must have already heard them singing! With the advent of Christmas there is a western populace camping in Prasanthi, uniting untiring efforts of many a hundred, tuning their vocal cords, perfecting hands on instruments, all for a final presentation, singing His Glory on the auspicious Christmas Eve, in His immediate Divine Presence.
Yes, it’s Western time again at the holy city of Puttaparthi. During this time of year, we begin to sense a change in the air. The weather begins to change and one gets the feeling that Christmas is in the air bringing great sense of expectancy.
…And in Prasanthi Christmas adorns a new colour. No folks, not Country and Western but Western Carols for Christmas. It’s the time of the Blessed Birth of the Baby Jesus. That means that the “Westerners” get a chance to strut their stuff for their Beloved Bhagawan. In fact, the westerners get to have their hands on everything related to Christmas, though the term westerner get a different meaning and should be viewed from a broad global perspective.
The fortnight that is passing by marked a steady progression with the D-Day preparations getting geared up thinning the counting down numbers.
While an international Western Choir with a strength of over 8-9 hundred has been gearing up singing and sweetening ‘their’ love for The Lord, ably guided by wonderful Sylvia Alden from the United States, another International Choir comprising over 170 children has been practising under ever familiar Alma Badings from the Netherlands, singing His glory on ‘their’ way to present a perfect Christmas eve to the Lord in physical.
On a wintry afternoon on December 19 when one would prefer to stay outdoors warming up beating the chillness in the weather, the double decker auditorium next to the Book Centre was as active as in a warm fresh morning. One could hear two majestic voices, of two lady conductors, breaking the pin-drop silence, taming their wards to sing with devotion, sing with discipline and sing with all the sweetness they have in their hearts to make the Eve a most memorable one. While at the ground floor, Sylvia Alden was at her humorous best cracking instant jokes parading the folks to sing along the popular Ganesha Bhajan, “Ganesha Sharanam Sharanam Ganesha....”, at the one-up floor, Alma Badings was donning the role of a stricter, stressing on melody making her little ones to sing “We Love You Sai Maa….”.
In the meanwhile, a group of over twenty-five children from the Latin American countries is having routine rehearsal sessions elsewhere, for a drama entitled “Christmas comes to my heart”, the official Christmas drama by International Children.
Shed No. 32, the work sphere for the decoration team is vibrant with devotion and dedication, energy and enthusiasm, with over 100 men and women from Atlanta Centre, United States busying themselves with “Decorating Divinity”, responsible for decking up entire Prasanthi Mandir and Yajur Mandiram for the Christmas occasion. “We are ready and are waiting for Swami’s instructions”, says Tom Lahey, Australian born International Christmas Decorations Director, talking about the teams readiness and preparations. Apart from the main venues, Prasanthi Mandir and Yajur Mandiram, the team also had plans to decorate the canteens, western and northern, the hospitals, book-stall, mini-temples inside the ashram. The main team of 115 odd from the Atlanta centre is ably supported by another 40 odd volunteers from across the globe making it a unique International Team.
The entire Christmas Preparations by the overseas team have the back up of a group of dedicated volunteers from various overseas countries.
Celebrating its Silver Jubilee, Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Vihar, Visakhapatnam came with complete strength totalling over 550 including teaching staff and some of the alumni, making the auspicious occasion a most blessed one in His presence. The students from the school had a dance drama presentation “Sai Kiranaalu”, portraying Sai students as role models serving the society, essentially practising His message in their lives.
A group of over 350 from Singapore was blessed to perform in His presence a most innovative theme based on a Divine Discourse delivered over forty years ago, precisely on 14th July 1966 on the occasion of the inauguration of a branch office of State Bank of India in Prasanthi Nilayam. The presentation, Bank Balance, was a clarion call to the present generation exhorting them that a deposit with spiritual bank would be the most viable line of action towards achieving peace and happiness.
The fortnight also witnessed a high dignitary visit, with Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) of Nepal Chhatraman Singh Gurung showing up in Prasanthi Nilayam accompanied by his wife, seeking Divine blessings. Escorted by a group of high ranking Indian Military officials from MEG Centre, Bangalore, a protocol gesture, the Chief of Staff arrived at Prasanthi Nilayam by a special Indian Air Force Aircraft on Dec 16 on a day visit. The couple was blessed by an interview upon which the Army entourage was blessed with Vibhuti Prasadam and Paadanamaskaars. Bhagawan later materialized a chain for Mrs. Gurung while blessing the women in the group.
Another diginitory visit during the fortnight was that of Sri Lankan Defense Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse.
A group of over 400 youth from Haryana, a Parthi Yatra group from the Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh were in Prasanthi for Divine Darshan apart from many mini groups from the western countries, a regular happening during the advent of winter season in Puttaparthi. A group of over 140 office bearers from Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, Kerala had a two-day orientation session during the second half of the fortnight in Prasanthi Nilayam. Another big contingent of over 1200 devotees from West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, representing Sathya Sai Seva Organisation, West Godavari Samithi was camping in Prasanthi when the fortnight was passing by.
Though the ongoing statewide agitation had its toll on the influx of devotees, as state-run bus services stopped plying with an increasing number of incidents involving road blockades, an ever exuberant Prasanthi never stopped attracting devotees and the week running into Christmas has been experiencing good inflow, making the ashram bubbling with festive fervour.
The construction work for the new set of dormitories is in progress with the dismantling of the first set of two existing sheds at the western end of Prasanthi Nilayam compound, levelling the ground to raise the new construction.
Rose Beneficiaries for the second half of the fortnight were, Prof. Muralidhar Rao, Mr. Swami Sastry, Mr. Ramabhadra Raju, Mr. Janardhanan, Mr. Mishra, Mr. PV Subba Rao and Mr. Ram Mohan Rao, all from Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School, Prasanthi Nilayam.
After the “Group of 120” visiting in November, a second batch of staff, exclusively doctoral staff with families, from the twin hospitals at Whitefield, Sri
Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences and General Hospital was here, this time with a strength of over 200, relishing Divine Darshan during the weekend. …And sunday, 20 Dec was the marked day for them as the contingent was blessed to bask in His Divine Love. Bhagawan, coming out bit early at 4:30 spent almost an hour in the packed Bhajan Hall moving among them, granting Himself with darshan, sparshan and sambhashan ending the session with a twenty-five minute “Divine Discourse” in Kannada. It was more of a discourse with counseling tips for the doctors to serve devotees efficiently. The group visit, second in the series that began last month, was at the instance of Bhagawan, as guests of Divinity. The group also had special awareness lecture sessions wherein speakers of eminence of the ranks of Prof. G. Venkataraman addressed them on Bhagawan’s Mission and Vision. The group was lead by Dr. A.S. Hegde, Director, SSSIHMS, Whitefield, Bangalore.
As the Christmas day is coming closer, Prasanthi is bound to get into higher gears witnessing frenzy of activities making the occasion a grand affair. …And Prasanthi offers one of its kind occasions for the lovers of Jesus, celebrating Christmas in a style typical of Prasanthi. Long ago, dating back sixteen winters, there was an overseas devotee from Qutar, returning from Prasanthi Nilayam via Dharmakshetra, Mumbai, who had his comments on the typical Christmas celebrations in Prasanthi Nilayam. He said: “Yes, I had a typical Christmas, a Christmas with 21 Omkars”.