Monday, 16 September 2013

6. ONAM at Prasanthi Nilayam: NOTES from the ANANTAPUR experience

1990 was a remarkable year for many Divine reasons. There were many blissful experiences with Bhagawan that I hope to cover eventually :) However one incident that comes to mind is the very significant ONAM festival of that year, when Bhagawan chose to grant a special blessing to the Anantapur students which continues till date. 

Traditionally celebrated as the visit of Emperor Mahabali on his annual visit to his erstwhile kingdom, Onam is a festival peculiar to the small state of Kerala situated at the south-western coast of the Indian peninsula. It is a harvest festival with the legend of King Mahabali and the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu in the background of the festivities. Primarily, Onam is a time for home-coming for all Keralites, whichever part of the globe they might be. Perhaps, one parallel to this unique, emotionally bonding  festival would be Durga Pujo in Bengal during the Navaratri/Dassera period

When I joined the campus, I was told by my seniors, that during Onam, usually all the Malayalee girls would get a chance to visit Parthi and have Bhagawan's darshan, though it was not a declared holiday in the Institute. I was very thrilled by this, for Parthi was after all my true 'home'. As luck would have it, that year and the next two years, Onam trips did not automatically materialise as I had thought. Exams intervened, and though we managed a 'half-trip', finally in 1989, we received a missive from the Registrar that nobody from Anantapur should visit Prasanthi during Onam. We (i.e. the Kerala girls in the hostel) were crestfallen and very perturbed because this was now 'official'. No more special Onam trips to see the Lord; the Institute had spoken! Our hostel warden, respected Jayalakshmi Gopinath ma'm, who sympathised with our plight but could do nothing, encouraged us to celebrate Onam in the Hostel that year, i.e. 1989. So dolefully, we did that and made the best of it. 
The Kerala  girls in 1989 with the warden in front of the Hostel
The 'attham', traditional floral decoration

That was the only year when no students from Anantapur could go to Prasanthi Nilayam for Onam. With the typical hyperbole of youth, we were lamenting at the cruel circumstance when Divinity was celebrating Onam (our 'only' festival, for the others it was not emotionally relevant) with people from all over the world and here we were, His own daughters, a stone's throw away, bound by 'unjust' rules. Most of us could not stomach it. Many representations went to the Principal till exasperated, and rightfully so (!!!) she conveyed to the warden that no one from the hostel was to pester her regarding this matter. Some desperate souls even wrote to the Institute and that was when the official 'ban' happened ! Gloomily and bleakly, we made a half-hearted show of observing the festival in the hostel, (see photos for the marked absence of gaiety in our faces!) and I remember how the warden instructed the cooks to prepare Kerala delicacies that day, to lift up our spirits.
A typical ONAM 'sadya' (feast) served on a plantain leaf
That year went by with all its lessons and 1990 dawned. As I said, it was a very wonderful year with a personal interview with the Lord for our batch, an exquisite Summer Course at Brindavan, a dramatic Gokulashtami (story for another day!) and so on. Perhaps Bhagawan's graciousness had emboldened our hearts  . . . The season of Onam approached and so did our hopes rise. We had just been called by Bhagawan to Prasanthi for Gokulashtami; the next week was Ganesh Chaturthi and the following week was Onam. Even today, my hairs stand on end when I recollect those sublime days and moments with Swami !
Two of us seniors called for a meeting of all the Malayalee girls in the hostel. We had to try for a Onam trip and we had to strategise. When all doors close and all human effort fails, then the Divine is the only recourse. It was at Anantapur that I learnt the efficacy of COLLECTIVE PRAYER. So we decided we would do just that and we would concretise it by writing to Swami every day, imploring Him to call us for Onam. Meanwhile some pragmatic souls wondered about the authorities and what about talking to them. I felt that since they had categorically told us not to irritate them, what was the point in aggravating the situation further. Also wasn't Bhagawan the CHANCELLOR of the Institute? So, let us address our letters to that highest authority, the head of the Institute. So far, so good, one would think.
But when I returned to my room, I was very uneasy. Disquiet haunted me. Something was not right in our approach. True, Bhagawan was the Chancellor of the Institute, but beyond that wasn't He our closest Friend, the soul-Companion over countless births? Why impose this official distance between Him and us? Swami was subtly teaching all of us a profound lesson! Yad bhavam tad bhavati (As is the feeling, so is the experience)That very day, I again called all my 'co-conspirators' (for a noble cause, though!) and discussed with them that we should write to Swami 'right from the heart', since He is the heart-dweller and not official letters, positing an artificial distance. And so we did that.
Ganesh Chaturthi arrived and we were preparing to go to Prasanthi. Meanwhile, Bhagawan had come in a few dreams of the diligent letter-writers and promised to call us. Though I was organising this endeavour, I wasn't actually writing to Him, though I prayed every day. Just as I was about to board the bus for Parthi, a junior of mine hurried up to me; she had a significant dream of Bhagawan that morning and I was in it too. The dream went like this:
Bhagawan was in a room and I was hesitating at the door with a pile of letters in my hand. He graciously calls me in, accepts the letters and tells me that all of us could come and see Him for Onam. Then as an after-thought, He added, "Come for TWO days"!
I believe Swami's dreams are His actual visitations, sometimes symbolic, sometimes prophetic. But 'two days' sounded a bit remote; that too the very next week with exams round the corner; anyway I was happy that Swami recognised me as 'letter-deliverer'!
During darshan, that Ganesh Chaturthi day, many letters were handed over to Bhagawan, pleading for our Onam trip. Not just us, the rest of the girls too (bless them all!) were 'recommending' our case through slips of paper saying, "Swami, call the Malayalee girls". Swami nonchalantly and swiftly collected all the letters and all the tiny slips of paper. But no one spoke aloud to Swami, as we had pre-decided; I did not want the authorities to feel that we were rebelling or trying to put anyone down. However, who can object to a silent prayer?
That evening we were in luck. Bhagawan called all of us into the mandir (Bhajan-Hall) for a campus Interview. We all rushed in and as usual I was somewhere at the back; Bhagawan's voice just reached us as He gave us all a Discourse. Then came the bowls of prasadam, the Arati was offered and then He would be gone. 
Suddenly, Swami paused, looked around and CASUALLY enquired in His soft voice, "How many Kerala girls are there ?!" Confused murmurs; He asked again and this time, many hands shot up; I felt too weak to lift mine and my class-mates had to prod me! Then directly looking at our Principal, respected Prof. Hemalatha ma'm, Bhagawan said, "Send them next week for Onam to Prasanthi Nilayam."  

Bhagawan speaking to us in the 'mandir'

I remember coming out of the mandir in a daze, as everyone congratulated us on our way back to our dormitories. It was so unbelievably exhilarating; so numbingly unexpected this downpour of His Grace! Can we ever be completely ready to RECEIVE when He finally answers the call? We keep praying for something and when the Lord answers, we blink in surprise. It is our readiness that is the criteria for prayers to be answered. Delays to prayers are often because, Bhagawan WAITS for us and not the other way round! Bhagawan had answered and in a trice all the anxiety, the despair, the uncertainty, were just washed away!
When we went back to the Hostel, we were summoned to make a list of girls who would be going the next week. The cordial atmosphere was unbelievable. From 'impractical rebels' we had become 'heroines' ! As Bhagawan has said somewhere, when God accepts and acknowledges you, the whole world will do the same. With Him you are a HERO and without Him a mere zero.
And so we returned the following week. Keeping my junior's dream in mind, I packed an extra set of clothes, though we had permission only for one day. We reached Prasanthi and sat for Bhagawan's darshan. I remember that Onam how He called one small child from the crowd, handed him a basket of sweets and then with the child following Him, went around the whole Darsan area throwing chocolates to all the kids assembled there. 

The next day, after the morning darshan (that usually got over by 7.00 a.m.), we were to leave by pre-arranged vans. We would reach Anantapur by 9.00 in time for college. I hung around, dawdling, hoping  secretly and in the process got some scoldings from the teacher-in-charge :(
We came near the vans with our luggage to find the driver missing ! As we waited, our teacher in high tension (she had to reach on time to sign in the attendance register) and we in abandon, the driver appeared, shaking his head. "We cannot leave now, madam; there is a BANDH (a shutdown) today" !!!!!
And that is how Bhagawan called us for "TWO DAYS' as He had promised in the dream ! Nothing is beyond the reach of prayer, except that which is beyond the Will of God. After that historic day, every year without fuss, the students from Anantapur came to Parthi participate in the Onam festivities, with official sanction.

ONAM in 2008

FAST-FORWARD to the year 2005:
It was Onam time and the State organisation of Kerala had come prepared with three days of programmes, involving children and professional artistes. Many devotees had also come to spend Onam in the Divine Presence. But Bhagawan was in a strange mood. He wasn't talking much and in fact He finally cancelled all the programmes that year, asking the Office-bearers to go back.
Was He not in favour of too many extravagant programmes? Was it due to the minor tsunami that struck Kerala a few days later and? Or was there some other reason? One can surmise but never gauge the causes why such things happen. All of them left, including the children. But devotees stayed back and sat for darshan on Onam day, in their traditional simple, white attire. I too was sitting amidst them. There was not a single decoration in the Hall. This had not happened for years, so the mood was sombre. Bhagawan came in the car, slowly surveying the Hall. In the middle, He stopped and spoke to a lady. Soon He came near me and as though in slow motion, the car stopped, the window rolled down and Bhagawan gave me an enquiring look. I got up and went to the window, where He asked me : "Why are they all sitting here?". I answered what He willed: "Swami, they have come here for Your DARSHAN." And the Lord's reply before the window rolled up was :"Aithe, MANCHIDI" (If so, GOOD) 

Were priorities being tested by God ? Why exactly have you come here? Is it for the sake of the Divine One or do you have  other motives? Whatever maybe so, the significance of DARSHAN can never be over-rated, nor taken for granted, even today,


  1. Your narration is riveting and delightful. Thanks for sharing these moments of nearness and dearness with our Lord. Looking forward to reading all the other experiences that you hope to cover eventually :)

    1. I certainly aspire to do so when He INSPIRES !

  2. Thanks for sharing this incident and making us re live those days of sada sai smaranam and sai dyasam!

    1. Wasn't 1990 a very special year ?!

  3. Sai Ram Chechi,

    How can I forget the inspired leader in you who motivated and inspired us? Every Onam was special. Thanks for the great writing. May He keep inspiring you! :)


    1. Sairam Krishna, where r u nowadays. Good to hear from you after a long time !


  5. Thank you. Yes, they are the blissful memories of our lives!


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