I observe Swami closely as he speaks with some men. His head moves in that little nod, his whole expression rises as the dialogue continues, his visage takes on a most open and inviting aspect. It is difficult to communicate this, it is almost as if his eyes sparkle, he opens up who he is somehow as he asks different men questions. His eyes, eyebrows, face, lips, and expression seem to transform to a really close friend who is really, really interested in what you have to say …
The inner voice told, “Come at 2PM, you will get a surprise”… All morning, I had been observing the familiar red and cream Andhra Pradesh buses arriving; Canteen Avenue was solid packed with people as I moved toward the mandir. I encountered a surprise all right, there were no lines and the hall was half empty; “Where are they all?” I asked myself. I took my place. I read a bit and reflected on this morning’s darshan. I was determined to empty my mind of thought; drat, the mind wandered everywhere. “Perfect” said The Great White Lion (Arthur Hillcoat) when he came and spoke with me last night. Everything is perfect. He leaned over to hear me. He told, “I spent three thousand dollars on a hearing-aid and I lost it. I have another one here, it is not working”… “Everything is perfect, you know!” He smiled, and trotted off to Chitravathi Road.
I ceased reading at a quarter to three. Wait for Swami to come out. So-hum, no luck at stillness. Music starts, the man beside me gets up on his haunches and leans on me to see Swami. I don’t mind little boys all over me to see Swami. But not this bloke, I turned and said, “Get down, there are men behind you!” and oh, I had taken my attention and my vision from Swami. Oh, how could I do that? I thought. At that point I put the man out of my mind and let him lean. I was here to take the darshan of Swami, no matter what others did.
Swami moves slowly through the women’s lines, taking many, many letters. Stops frequently to talk with women. I lose sight of Swami as I am sitting in a bit of a well and wait for Swami to come into view. Hands go up in pranaams as Swami crosses over to the mens’ side. I am much closer to the front now, I observe Swami closely as he speaks with some men. His head moves in that little nod, his whole expression rises as the dialogue continues, his visage takes on a most open and inviting aspect. It is difficult to communicate this, it is almost as if his eyes sparkle, he opens up who he is somehow as he asks different men questions. His eyes, eyebrows, face, lips, and expression seem to transform to a really close friend who is really, really interested in what you have to say, and replies to you with frankness and ingenuity. It is like an intimacy or a love in action – if we paint a picture with words – what it’s like to experience Swami communicating like this.
He moves along a little and turns to face the sea of men down the hall. A half smile comes to his lips as he raises his hand palm upwards, and raises it little by little, as if he is lifting us all up by his love and grace.
Swami turns and moves on. The music breaks into to a repetitive raga that seems most appropriate as Swami stops to take letters. Moving up toward the garage, I again begin to feel a vibration and see first, a golden colour around Him, then a light blue colour around Him. It is brief, flashing, gone. Swami reaches the top of the path and turns the corner. He pauses and takes many, many letters.
When the madding crowd leave, I get up and move toward the front. Interviews proceed. I focus silently on the form and abandon Hamsa Gayathri and begin to repeat his name. I was surprised this morning; I silently observed that my mind automatically started up the Hamsa Gayathri (So-hum) as I walked into the darshan hall. I sit and observe distractedly. Mind wanders slightly; I take his name and form silently for some time. Some distractions again. Not peaceful. “How do I do this?” I thought. “Seek Me in your heart” came the answer.
OK, I decided to ponder what form that might take. I will explore this. I am more contented.
Walking the ashram at night. Devotees slip off their chappals, and say silent prayers on the path beside the garden backing onto Poornachandra. Crowds around the water fountains. Lines in front of the Himachal Pradesh Apple Juice stall. Shaminas erected between West 4 and West 5. They look like temporary bookstalls. Ashram dogs prance playfully while devotees sit around the lawn in front of the roundhouses, savouring the evening sweetness. Dark has descended, buses move slowly through the crowd with twin headlights piercing like huge torch beams through the throng in Canteen Avenue. Sweet smell of bread coming from the bakery. The Indian canteen is dark.
More buses arrive; boys get on the roof and lower bags. A bus reverses slowly past the closed bookshop. I sneak across the front of the bus and encounter the Sita-Ram shrine which is built into the rear wall of the darshan hall, below the floor level. An adorable little Hanuman kneels with hands joined in prayer as searchlights softly illuminate Lakshmana, Rama, and Sita. A veritable scene of soft light and beauty. An Indian woman moves forward to toss a garland over the fence expertly. Looking up, I see the top of the shrine has an Idol of Hanuman carrying the Sanjivini Hill. Moving along the side of the darshan hall, I look inside and see many people inside at work on scaffolds and ladders adding decoration upon decoration. More and more bunting has been added; Huge orange Chinese lanterns are being lifted up the scaffold and attached to the roof. I spy a spread of children seated in the middle practising some songs, surrounded by adults. Aha! I am going to come early, tomorrow, I think to myself (these could be famous last words…) as I leave.
ALMOST famous last words. The skies move from early morning grey to faint blue. I arrive as the women commence Nagarsankirtan, trekking around the ashram beginning from the Ganesha Temple. We cannot move; then men arrive and queue before the Temple. With a loud vibrant chant they commence ‘Jai Jai Jai Jai Ganapathi deva’ and commence their walking and singing; this purifies the vibrations and the atmosphere. I go up the hill once again and join lines. I am only there one minute, and we start moving. I speculate on the huge Australian gum trees beside me. Are these really gum trees? I take a good look at the leaves; yep, Aussie brand.
Going down the side of the darshan hall, palm leaves have been tied to the gates; I see a large expanse of empty spaces at the front on the mens’ side and oh, about half of the space is reserved (I recall students from Whitefield arriving last night … the spaces will be for them … ditto on the women’s side as Anantapur College students will be here also). In the centre of the darshan hall, there are some ‘clouds’ suspended from the ceiling that have “Be good, see good, do good” and similar aphorisms scribed on them. Bunting, flowers and palm leaves decorate the front of the mandir. Pennant flags hang from pillar to pillar and diamond shaped boards with rangoli and other spiritual motifs hang on all the fences. It is a gaily decorated mandir today. In the very centre of the mandir is a simple painting (what I later learn) of Kabir, on a plain yellow background. I soon learned that today is Ashadi Ekadashi, a celebration of Sant Kabir. The reincarnations rendered by some authorities are like so:
It is known that Shirdi Sai told his devotees occasionally that in his previous life he was Kabir. Today, the devotees of Maharashtra are celebrating this festival and honouring Swami in one of his previous bodies.
As I continue walking the path to the mandir entrance, I begin to ponder exactly where I will end up sitting. Anywhere I suppose. Aha, once inside I have to traverse the BACK WALL to get across the hall and find a spot to perch. ‘Seek me in your heart’ comes to mind, and I think, Oh, what a darshan I am going to have. I sit, on the far inside left corner. I surmise I will only see Swami when he walks the men’s side. I am partly correct. So-hum, I begin to focus. Oh, what is the difference? What is between me and You, now, I think, as I watch the students enter and take their seats. Staff and officials move onto the verandah. I ponder these words and observe people are talking, buzzing, and chatting, fidgeting, stand up, sit down, people who only attend and become silent when Swami emerges. What is a wall or two between Swami and myself? I cannot see him with my eyes, yet I am in His presence here. Everywhere. Slightly focussed, I return to So-hum.
6.45, Swami comes out. Takes no letters. Walks very slowly, oh so slowly, step by step. Occasional hand movements. I see Swami very briefly through the cracks in the fence on the women’s side. Crosses to the mens side. Moves slowly. I see that East Prashanti building has many women upstairs on the balconies. (Older devotees from the 1960 – 70’s era live in this building). Swami moves slowly. All the darshan hall lights are on, every chandelier illuminated and dropping light onto Swami as he moves. On the mens side now, walking up that path to the garage, Swami pauses. He turns towards East Prashanthi and walks toward the gate slowly. Gate is opened. Swami walks right out into the East Prashanthi walkway (adjacent the darshan hall) and gives darshan to all the devotees trapped outside the hall.
He remains out there for several minutes, and returns to the hall. He takes his seat. Devotees from Maharashtra wearing their distinctive Nehru Caps enter with music and song. Children assemble and floats come into the hall. A presentation of human values consisting of song, dance, discourse and acting commences. It goes for nearly an hour. It is a mastery of coordination, rehearsal and choreography. It is a peerless presentation; many students get up to go to the side of the mandir for a better view and take photographs. Swami sits in his chair head resting on his hand, and watches. Occasionally pats his lips with a kerchief. Tilts his head, finger on cheek, watching. I recall the lead actor speaking on what our lives need: Duty, Devotion, Discipline, Discrimination, and Determination. Crowd applauds. Presentation ends with three times Sai Gayathri. Children’s voices sound so sweet singing the mantra. Swami gives double handed abhayahasta blessing to children at the end of their singing. Swami hands out prasadam to all children participating, and grants padnamaskar.
Students run out and come back in with prasad (blessed food). Distribute to all devotees. Bhajans commence.
Afterwards, I obtain a leaflet, which explains the morning’s events and the story of Kabir.
On the reverse is:
Born in the end of the thirteenth century, Sant Kabir was an ardent advocate of Hindu-Muslim Unity. There are different stories about this birth. One of them is that he was found to a couple called Niru and Nima, inside a shell floating on the river Bhagirathi. Brought up in the weaver Muslim family he used to go to Mosque and sit for Namaz and even went to Kaaba on Haj. He equally respected Hinduism. He passed most of his lifetime in Kashi where he meditated and worshipped God and interacted with Sadhus and Sanyasins. He worshipped Rama and always chanted his name. However, he was against blind faith and hypocrisy. He used to criticise Hindus and Muslims equally for their adapting wrongful practises in the name of religion and not realising that God is all pervading and that God resides in the heart of man. Sant Kabir will always be remembered for creation of short poems called DOHA through which he endeavoured to educate the people against all social evils and yearning for God within.
On the surface of things, it seems Kabir’s relentless efforts failed to evoke any response from the Hindus and Muslims who continued to fight against each other, even after his death. Hindus wanted his body to be cremated whereas Muslims wanted his body to be buried. It is said that when the veil was lifted, the body was found changed into flowers, which were shared equally, between Hindus and Muslims who then probably realised Kabir’s message of UNITY, PURITY AND DIVINITY.
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