Evening and Morning: Prashanti Nilayam

After spending a rather fruitless day trying to repair the corrupted registry on my laptop, I gave up and said, “I surrender to you Swami” and got ready for evening bhajans and darshan. “Good. Go! Take darshan, and I will tell you what to do…” said the inner voice. So I went.

It is interesting, the moment you walk into the ashram, you can feel the sheer frustration slipping away from your shoulders.


Twilight is approaching. I take my place in the darshan hall, throw the cushion down, and just breathe in Swami’s love and grace. Breathe, Breathe, Breathe, and come to rest. Leave the day behind, take in the ambience and the peace of this place. Joining the queue, a slow walk to the Samadhi. Lights are on, I take another good look at the Samadhi itself as we shuffle forward slowly. Sitting back in Sai Kulwant Hall, I experience what I now think is some optical illusion – way back in the darshan hall, the Samadhi appears to have rounded corners, and somewhat circular. I don’t know why I see this, but when I get right up close it is actually rectangular, quite high – where I said it appeared to have a red inlay, is actually an gold-edged embroidered orange sheet laid along the entire length of the top, and a very big yellow garland is laid on top of that (sheet) (I don’t think I have the right word here).

 

The Samadhi sometimes appears to be circular, from the rear of the darshan hall …

Men stand and watch the fellows at the front, kneeling at prayer. A seva dal quickly moves in and wipes the edge of that platform with a cloth; then we are allowed to approach and kneel at prayer. I kneel and make a quick prayer, get up quickly and move to the benches where I remain in prayer for a few moments longer. An interesting thing happens every time after I do this – no matter whom I speak to or interact with, love pours out. Felt, palpable love, just infusing every word, every action. It just sort of arises from within, seeming to circle up from somewhere inside me, and emerges, suffusing, colouring, filling all that I say and do with Love. Is this what it truly means to be a devotee? Is this experience of pure love – within and outside the ashram – a glimpse of life as it should be, life as it could be, nay, must be, and life as it will be in the forthcoming Golden Age?

Or does this make the Golden Age a moment of NOW … … … … a grace, a gift, a blessing, a fullness of pure love that lets me live in NOW, the only moment?

The inner voice piped up, “Go for a walk around the back, you will enjoy it and meet someone”.

Never forget where you put your chappals. In the dark, they can be hard to find. Walk up and down the shoe rack, “Why do I do this”?, I wondered. Look up and watch the pigeons avoid the bats in the dark. Watch huge bats flying around. I must have borrowed some of the radar the bats have, for I suddenly found my chappals (sandals) quickly. Walk that footpath that goes in front of West Prashanti. Glance over at Yajur Mandir, a lady slips off her chappals and prays where Swami’s room was. Outside lights are on, no inner lights. Ladders on the walls between the two buildings, there might be come cleaning or repairs going on, I surmise.

Walk on, behind the original (old) shopping centre. Glance at dark accommodation rooms. Walking up past the maintenance centre, I see silver tassels on the umbrella over the Ganesh idol beside the footpath. The light inside the umbrella over Ganesh really highlights the tassels. Look over, aquamarine blue and light green lights alternate on Lord Buddha, in the garden shrine. Further up into the garden, a lamp post stands like a sentinel, casting its brilliance onto the Golden Lord Jesus.

Further along the path, I pass seva dals sitting quietly out front of the South buildings. Turn and follow the path down to the North Indian canteen, I see the Western Canteen is open and meals are being served. So many Russians, Byelorussians and denizens of Georgia are here at the moment. (A fellow who runs an internet café told me they speak not one word of English – Russian only, and use Skype and instant messaging a lot.) Dinner in the North Indian canteen, good tucker as they say in the Outback. The walls, they are full of pictures of Swami. Lots of pictures of Swami’s eyes everywhere, I think I counted about eight or nine of these pictures.

Outside, after evening meal, I see a whole lot of stalls, small coffee stalls and so on. I wander down the path looking for the familiar coconut stand, yes, there it is down the end of the path, and yes, there are the thousands of used coconuts up against the wire fence. Seeing the coconuts recalls an incident back in 1993. It was about this time of year, March going into April, like that, and Prashanti Nilayam was really hot all night long. Swami had moved to Whitefield, so the convoy of taxis was on. Somehow, word passed among the taxi drivers that Swami had stopped at one place where there was a crossroad, and just beyond this, was a rather large coconut stand. The story goes that Swami got out of his car (the red ADA 90 Mercedes Benz, for those who remember) and politely asked a huge, bare chested man with sweeping moustache and bandanna, for a coconut. The fellow seized a coconut and lopped the top off the coconut saying Sai Ram, Coconut! and gave it to Swami. Swami took a sip of the coconut, put his hand in his pocket and gave the fellow a crisp, unfolded, brand new 100 rupee note. Swami finished his coconut, and journeyed on. We are in a taxi about half an hour behind Swami, and our taxi driver had come back from a chai break and told us Swami took one coconut just ahead. Would we like to stop and take a coconut there? Yes, was the enthusiastic reply! When we arrived and got out of the car, it was like entering another reality, the air was crackling, you know? There was a small crowd, and the place was filled with divine shakti, you could just feel it in the air. I very timidly said to this fellow wearing a green bandanna and holding a wicked looking scimitar, Sir, one coconut please! He turned and seized a big green coconut and with a single motion, lopped the top off it, roaring “Sai Ram, Coconut” and presented it to a rather frightened me. But the power in his “Sai Ram, Coconut”! overpowered me, I could feel the divine presence, a waft of vibhuti-like incense passed me as I took the coconut. I will never forget that fellow. Taught me a lot, doing everything with the divine name.

Back in Prashanti Nilayam, on the path leading from the North Indian canteen, glancing down at the coconut stall. My eyes wander over to the new stalls I have not see before and I walk along, having a bit of a gander. I see people eating ice creams, cups and cones, so I wander down further to see where these ice-creams are being sold. I join a queue only to arrive at the front and be greeted profusely by an old friend behind the counter who is serving. He reaches over the counter and gives me a great big hug and proceeds to tell everyone working in the shop about this wonderful Australian with whom he did so much seva over many years. We served here, we served there, we are good friends, we did seva together. All smiles, I asked, “What do you recommend?” He told, it is all good ice cream, take any flavour, and pointed to a menu board. I chose Jamaican fudge, passed the money over and bid my farewells, and sat down to savour this really nice ice-cream cone. Relaxing in the dark, I thought back to the years gone by and the service we had done together, this canteen, that canteen, darshan hall, this store, that store. Yes, we went back a long way.

Into the darshan hall the next morning, I take my place and listen to vedam. Vedam ends with all these Gayathris … so I pay attention to all the different Gayathri mantras. I heard Vighnesh Gayathri, Narayana Gayathri, Rudra Gayathri, Devi Gayathri, Sai Gayathri and a few more I didn’t recognise. Bhajans begin with Vighneshwara; toward the end Hare Rama, and finished with Hara Shiva Shankara which the assembled devotees really belted out – a popular bhajan – with fast, fast clapping along. I spotted a friend from Hoppers Crossing Centre and after our prayers and namaskars, we chatted quietly for a few moments. Take darshan of the Samadhi, and this time, I finally spotted the baskets for devotees; three baskets – one for letters to Swami, one for Wedding Invitations, and one for flowers.

I turn to leave and a seva dal guides me to go up onto the Porch. Another seva dal guides me to enter the mandir proper, the temple within – I haven’t been inside the mandiram itself for many, many years, so this was a proper surprise. Walk in, I am guided to walk to the front where I take a quick look at Swami’s chair, the two full length pictures of Shirdi Sai and Sathya Sai on the shrine, look across to the Gold Sheshanaga, Anantha, upon whom Lord Vishnu reclines; then to the back to the bas relief of blue Krishna, charioteer for Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshethra. I take my time looking at this, I have not seen it for many years; it is more stark and realistic than what I had held in my mind’s eye for all those years. Dark blue Krishna.

The seva dals guide me to exit the mandiram, and on the way out, I am given a rather large handful of flower petals which I decide, can go on a guru shrine.

Leave the darshan hall, find my chappals a little more quickly than last night and I spotted Chiranjivini Rao circumambulating the Ganesh Temple at the front gate. I check in with the inner voice if it is appropriate to speak with him, and a soft, gentle voice replies, “Yes”. (For those of you who don’t know, Chiranjivini Rao was ashram secretary for (about) 25 years and was recently retired from this position. Sri Chakravathy now holds this office.

Why did I want to speak with him? Regard this image below:
Last rites for Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Sai Kulwant Hall


Chiranjivini Rao with Ratnakar, Sai Kulwant Hall

You see Swami’s nephew Ratnakar seated before Swami’s body. Immediately behind is a small fellow – this is Mr Rao.

You will probably recall, understandably, that Ratnakar was overcome with grief and stumbled several times during the obsequies for Swami. Chiranjivini Rao was behind Ratnakar at every moment, hand on his shoulder when needed, and helped Ratnakar, keeping a hand there, gently, and each time Ratnakar broke down, Chiranjivini Rao would lean forward and speak the prayers with him, solidly helping him come back to his duty, and providing an incredible steadiness, firmness and enabled Ratnakar to move forward. While watching these rites, I saw Chiranjivini Rao helping Ratnakar many times … many times, and I was in awe of the wonderful service he was doing, right through those last obsequies.

 

After Darshan, you see all these people walking around the Ganesh Temple which is immediately adjacent the darshan hall. I spotted Mr Rao doing same as I left.

After letting him complete his circumambulation, I walked up to him and took his hand gently. I told I wanted to thank him for his seva during the obsequies for Swami – how he was there for Ratnakar, how he helped Ratnakar at every moment, how he … he didn’t let me finish, he had this wonderful smile, he held my hand very firmly and put his hand on my shoulder and said “God bless you” … … God bless you” and smiling at me. I told him I wanted to thank him for his loka seva not only to Ratnakar but to all devotees around the world, watching the obsequies for Swami … and he smiled and stopped me talking; “All I want to do is to serve; All I want to do is to serve the Sai Brothers and Sisters everywhere” He had an incredible smile as he said this, his eyes were bright, he put his hand on my shoulder again, and once again I thanked him. He said, “All I want to do is service; if I can serve, then I am happy!” He smiled and let go of my hand, and we went on our ways.

So for all of you reading, I gave thanks to Mr Rao for his service that day.

Sai Ram from Prashanti Nilayam.

 

 

© Chris Parnell

 

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