What do you do when the most beloved person in your life returns home after a long wait? Shed tears of joy? Sing and dance in ecstasy? Plead Time to stand still?
The people of Mumbai did it all, and much more, to express some of their inexpressible joy when their most beloved Bhagawan came visiting them for three days on October 31 -- after a long wait of nine years.
A city made up of seven islands, Mumbai is located in the west coast of India and is the second-most populous city in the world -- with about 14 million residents. The city is the commercial and entertainment capital of India, and contributes to about 70 percent of the capital transactions in the country. However, despite the apparent accomplishments, it was only the Lord's visit that completed it.
It was an unusual face of Mumbai -- a city generally known for its fast-paced life, financial hubs, Bollywood, glamour, mechanised lifestyle, and unfortunately, even terror attacks -- as people shed tears of joy and gratitude, and laid out a carpet of devotion to welcome the Lord of the Universe.
Bhagawan’s coming became a great leveller, as people across all ages, social classes and from all corners of the city -- from the posh south Mumbai to the slums of Dharavi -- gathered under one roof for three days, with the only urge to have a glimpse of the Almighty.
The Lord arrives...
At around 2 pm, as people at the fully-packed Dharmakshetra, located in the northern suburb of Mumbai, were craning their necks toward the gates, a booming sound emerged.
Over a 100 bike riders wearing Seva Dal scarfs zoomed through the Dharmakshtra gates, followed by Bhagawan’s car.
Soon, students from the Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Mandir, Dharmakshetra, began chanting Vedas, a group of traditionally-dressed boys and girls showered flowers on the car, a brass band of youngsters started with its tunes, while singers rented soulful bhajans.
The car went onto Bhagawan's residence Sathya Deep, where He retired after a hectic three-hour long drive.
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his family, and the wife and son of Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray visited Bhagawan to welcome Him to the city.
Four hours later, Bhagawan was at the Bombay Exhibition Centre in Goregaon East to bless a crowd of at least 50,000 people.
Renowned Santoor player Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, playback singers Hariharan and Kunal Ganjawala, percussionist Shivmani, actor Salman Khan’s sister Alvira Khan Agnihotri and BJP leader Shaina NC were among others who came to have Bhagawan's darshan here.
Leading playback singer Sonu Nigam climbed the stage with his family and music troupe and sought Bhagawan’s blessings, after which the singer presented a music programme.
Beginning with ‘Sai Baba Bolo’, Nigam went on to present a number of soulful songs into the evening -- not before asking Bhagawan’s permission to continue before every song.
After the performance, a smiling Bhagawan blessed the singer with a flower-shaped ring with five pearls.
For a singer, perhaps this was the culmination, as an elated Sonu Nigam later tried summing up his feelings. "It was a very different feeling... I cannot express it"; but that said it all.
At around 7.30 pm, Bhagawan left for His ardent devotee Indulal Shah's Khar residence and returned to Dharmakshetra two hours later.
He is everywhere...North Mumbai
Sunday was a packed day for the Lord.
Mumbaiites did not want lose a moment in the precious three days and wanted Him to visit every corner of the city, and the Compassionate Mother relented.
While in the morning Bhagawan presided over a business convention titled 'Ethics and the World of Finance', which was attended by many top industrialists and businessmen in the city.
Former Chairman of ICICI Bank K V Kamath, Chairman and Managing Director of the Union Bank of India MV Nair, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Kotak Bank Uday Kotak, Head of Deutsche Bank India PMS Prasad, Lok Sabha candidate and banker Meera Sanyal, Executive Director of SEBI Usha Narayanan, Executive Director of Reserve Bank of India VS Das were few of the prominent attendees.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who was also present, took the opportunity to seek Bhagawan's blessings for his second term in running the state.
In the presence of the Lord, all differences melt. Chavan and his political rival Bharatiya Janata Party leader Gopinath Munde shared the same stage, and the same views too.
Following the convention, the spotlight was on Jamboorie Maidan in Worli -- located in central Mumbai and around 18 km away from Andheri -- where over 15,000 devotees gathered for public darshan.
As requested by the city administration, Bhagawan's car was driven through the city's engineering marvel, the Bandra-Worli Sealink built over the Arabian Sea waters, before it reached the darshan grounds.
Bhagawan reached the Maidan at around 11.10 am and sat enjoying the bhajans sung by the local singers. After blessing the devotees and receiving Aarti, Bhagawan left the venue about 30 minutes later.
Next on schedule was the lunch at 'Varsha', the official residence of the chief minister of Maharashtra in Malabar Hill, south Mumbai.
This was the first time that Bhagawan had visited the official residence of a serving chief minister, and Ashok Chavan was chosen to be the blessed one.
Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, former Union Minister Shivraj Patil, and Mumbai Congress head Kripashankar Singh and his family, 'well-known ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas were present at the darshan. Chavan and his family had conducted a puja in the presence of Bhagawan and later served a lavish spread of Indian lunch.
Eyewitnesses said Chavan had requested Bhagawan to go around every room in the house so that his official house would be sanctified.
The evening darshan at Brabourne Stadium in Churchgate turned into an ethereal experience for an estimated 15,000 devotees present.
Under a moonlit open sky, the Lord sat on an exquisitely decorated stage listening to the divine melodies of students of the Sri Sathya Sai University, Prasanti Nilayam. The breeze in the stadium too seemed to be intoxicated in the atmosphere, as it gently swayed the Lord's hair.
The students offered a string of soul-stirring melodies to Bhagawan that left everyone wishing that the night would never end.
But there was another devotee waiting for Bhagawan's arrival. After about two hours, Bhagawan asked for Aarti and left the stadium for the Peddar Road residence of former state home minister Jayant Patil. Cricketing legend Sunil Gavaskar with family and Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee were also present alongwith the minister’s family members seeking Bhagawan’s blessings.
Following dinner at Patil's residence, Swami's motorcade, which had been tagged with 'Z' security, zipped through the traffic-cleared roads back to Dharmakshetra at about 10 pm.
Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, stood waiting at the gates of Anand Kutir to have Bhagawan's darshan and was blessed with an hour-long interview.
Never a Farewell...
After a whirlwind schedule on the previous two days, Monday had a relatively relaxed schedule for Bhagawan and his devotees.
After a brief session with old students at Satya Deep, Bhagawan came down to the bhajan hall Shanti Deep at about 12 noon where He blessed the organisers, teachers of the Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Mandir, Mumbai, and other volunteers.
He then proceeded to Jalan Mandap, the public darshan hall inside Dharmakshetra for a 20-minute darshan session. After the Aarti, Bhagawan raised both His hands in blessing, showering His grace on the waiting devotees.
At about 2.45 pm, Bhagawan left for Puttaparthi with his group of students and guests, escorted by the state Chief Minister till the Mumbai airport.
Devotees lined along the pathway of Dharmakshetra were blessed to see a smiling Bhagawan as the car glided out of the premises.
Unlike other farewells, here there was no parting; it was only a reunion at another level.
He came, He saw, He conquered
Three days flew by, and nobody had realised it. However, as evidence, He had left His footprints everywhere, in every heart.
There were miracles everywhere, life had changed for everybody -- for those who were fortunate to speak to Him to those sitting in the last row at darshan grounds; for those who had been devotees for years and for those who had come to see Him merely out of curiosity.
Prashant Gore, a musician from Sonu Nigam's troupe, said he had accompanied the singer to the Goregaon darshan grounds as he did to any other performance. However, he realised later this one was extraordinary.
"I am very happy I came here. I feel as if I have seen God today. I got to touch His feet on the stage before the performance, and He even blessed me by touching me on the head. I am thrilled," said an overwhelmed Gore.
For Sonu Nigam, Bhagawan's arrival itself was a miracle.
"I never got the opportunity to visit Puttaparthi, but I am very fortunate that Swami Himself came down to our city -- that too in the brief period when I am in Mumbai between two shows."
"I felt immense tranquility within. I am grateful to Swami for giving the honour to me, my family, and my musicians and for blessing us physically," he added, concluding that "Ek hi jeevan mein unhonen yugon ka kaam kiya hai” (He has done the work of eras in one lifetime).
Thirteen-year-old Gauri Tatkare, a Class VII student of the Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Mandir, Dharmakshetra, was "very excited" for she had seen Bhagawan for the first time, while her schoolmate Aarti Maitre, also 13, said she was "very happy" to see Bhagawan again, and that too on her school premises itself.
Bhagawan's arrival had given a welcome break from hectic life for 60-year-old real estate agent Jayantilal Solanki. A resident of central Mumbai's Lower Parel, Solanki said he had come to Dharmakshetra every time Bhagawan had come to the city since the 1970s.
For Tina Roopani, 22, a US resident who came to Mumbai to have Bhagawan's darshan, the geographical distance was nothing compared to the "peace and contentment" she had got after seeing her Lord.
But perhaps the most subtle and evident miracle of Bhagawan reflected in the eyes of every devotee present -- the eyes reflected peace, they twinkled with bliss and fulfillment, as if they had reached home.
As 72-year-old Raksha Dalal, a Balvikas guru since 1975, said it best. "He has gone back, but I know He is always with me."
(Author is an alumnus of Sri Sathya Sai University, Anantapur Campus, currently working with Rediff, Mumbai as Asst. Editor)