The Avatar descends for the ascent of man. In a myriad ways, by His teachings, by His leelas (miraculous acts) and by His example, He gives man a taste of the bliss that is Divine Love, and a glimpse of his own glorious Reality. As Bhagawan says, the Avatar behaves in a human way so that mankind can feel kinship with Him, but rises to His superhuman heights so that mankind too can aspire to reach those heights. And Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba has been tirelessly engaged in this very task for the past eight decades, applying the soothing balm of His Love to alleviate human suffering and leading man on the royal path to the Kingdom Of God. November 23, when we celebrate the anniversary of the descent of our Lord Sai amongst us, is an opportunity for mankind to pay homage to this embodiment of selfless love. This year, the birthday celebrations at Prasanthi Nilayam were held 18--23 November.
18th November: Rathotsavam
The Rathotsavam (Chariot Festival) at Prasanthi Nilayam is a tradition that goes back five decades to the early 1950’s. On this day, the students of Bhagawan, chanting Vedic incantations and singing bhajans, lead a procession with the idol of Lord Krishna on a rath (chariot) and the idols of Lord Rama, Lakshmana and Mother Sita on a palanquin, to the Old Mandir or what is now the Kalyana Mantapam, in the village of Puttaparthi. After worship is offered to the deities, the idols of Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita return to the Mandir. Later, in the evening, the idols are taken out in a procession in the village of Puttaparthi, amidst joyous celebration by the villagers.
19th November: Ladies Day
The 10th Ladies Day celebration commenced on the morning of 19 November with Bhagawan lighting a lamp in front of the portrait of Mother Eswaramma. A plaque was then unveiled by Bhagawan, inaugurating the Eswaramma Women's Welfare Project.
Dr. (Mrs.) Geeta Reddy, the Minister of Tourism & Sugar of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, was then invited to speak to the gathering. She began by expressing her gratitude on behalf of the State Government, for the Chennai Water Supply Project undertaken by Bhagawan, which has benefited the farmers of Nellore and Chittoor districts of Andhra Pradesh, and hailed Bhagawan as the champion of the poor. She also paid tribute to Bhagawan for championing the cause of women and recalled that it was Bhagawan who had first started a college for women in the economically backward district of Anantapur way back in 1972. She exhorted everyone to follow Bhagawan’s teachings so that we can make His Life, our message.
This was followed by a talk by Dr. Helen, a cardiologist by profession, who regularly heads relief teams to people in distress all over the world. She related her astonishing experiences in Bosnia, Iraq, and Sudan, where she felt Bhagawan's hand protecting her and aiding her. In Bosnia, Dr. Helen had been distributing food and relief material and also photos of Bhagawan to the war refugees. She noticed that some of them were holding the photos and discussing something among themselves. Through an interpreter she came to know that they were saying that the man in the photo had been coming to them to comfort them and had even been providing them with food! She expressed her amazement that Bhagawan who stayed thousands of miles away in India had appeared to those refugees in Bosnia and spoken to them. She concluded her talk with the message that it is the duty of the youth of India to stay on and serve their motherland and resist the lures of the materialistic West.
After the talks, there was a dance programme by the students of the Sri Sathya Sai School, Prasanthi Nilayam based on Bhagawan’s life story. This was followed by a violin recital by sisters Lalita & Nandini who enthralled the audience with their rendition of the compositions of Saint Thyagaraja and Saint Purandaradasa, as well as Sai Bhajans. At the end of the morning programme, Bhagawan presented the artistes and the participants of the dance programme with sarees and posed for photographs with them.
The evening programme at the Sai Kulwant Hall featured a music programme by the members of the Sai Youth Organisation of United Kingdom. This was followed by a concert by one of India’s leading singers, Smt. Anuradha Paudwal, accompanied by her son, Shri Aditya. She sang many popular devotional songs and compositions by Tulsidas and Mirabai, and Sai Bhajans too. The mellifluous voice of Smt. Paudwal had the gathering spellbound for the good part of an hour.
This was followed by a dance ballet by students of the Shri Rama Nataka Niketan, Secunderabad. The little children gave a wonderful display of their immense talent by performing such difficult routines as dancing with their feet wedged on plates and with lamps balanced on their heads. The audience greeted this programme with sustained ovation and Bhagawan too appreciated their performance and presented the participants with mementos. After accepting arati, Bhagawan retired to His residence.
The evening of 20 November saw the students of the Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva educational institution, Alike present a Yakshagana, a form of dance ballet popular in the state of Karnataka. The students depicted various episodes from the Ramayana culminating in the final vanquishment of the demon king Ravana.
On the evening of 21 November, Dr. Phil Heaton, the National Chairman of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization (United Kingdom) spoke about the five-day village service camp organized by 160 members of the Sai Youth Organization (United Kingdom) in four villages near Puttaparthi which benefited about 2300 villagers. Apart from organizing a medical camp in these villages, they also undertook community work such as renovation of temples, poor feeding and health education progammes. The camp was wholly self-financed with the money saved by the youth over the past nine months through the"Ceiling on Desires" programme. One of the youth members, Mr. Alexander Gifford, then spoke about the transformation that Bhagawan had wrought in Him ever since he had first heard of Him. His words, spoken straight from the heart, touched everyone gathered in the hall and were quite inspiring.
This was followed by two music concerts, first by a group from Brazil and then by Pandit Sri Narasimha who played a number of devotional songs in both Hindustani and Carnatic styles, on the clarinet. Bhagawan blessed the musicians and accepted arati before retiring to His Poornachandra residence.
22 November: XXIII Convocation of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning
The programme commenced at 2.45 p.m. with the ceremonial procession of the Academic Council of the university, with Bhagawan, the Chancellor of the university at the head, led by the Institute Brass Band. After Bhagawan inaugurated the convocation, gold medals and citations were presented by Bhagawan to the students who had graduated with distinction in their subjects. The Chief Guest Shri Maharaja Krishna Rasagothra, former Foreign Secretary to the Government of India and former Indian High Commissioner to United Kingdom, addressed the graduates. He opened his talk by declaring that Bhagawan's university is one of its kind, there is none like it in India or anywhere in the world. Nor is there any teacher, mentor and guide like Bhagawan. He congratulated the graduates and gave them a short commentary on the political and economic environment of the world into which they will be stepping after they leave the portals of the university. He exhorted them to be the catalysts of change to transform the world and thus be worthy of their Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
The Revered Chancellor, Bhagawan, in His benedictory address, said that God can be realised only by the path of Love, for Love is God and God is love. The transcendental Love that is not limited by name or form, that is Divinity, Bhagawan said. He emphasised the value of silence, both verbal and mental, for it is in the depths of silence that the voice of God can be heard. This discipline will confer on us the equanimity that will allow us to see the all-pervading Divinity.
Later that evening, in the Poornachandra Auditorium, the students of the university presented a drama titled "Chalo Re Man Apne Dham (Oh Mind! Return to your Source)", which conveyed the message that a life of sacrifice that is spent in service of mankind is the one that is truly worth living. Bhagawan presented the participants with mementos and memories to cherish throughout their lives.
23 November: 79th Anniversary of the Advent of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba
On the morning of 23 November, Bhagawan arrived in the Sai Kulwant Hall, bedecked in a shining white robe, and after granting Darshan to the tens of thousands who had gathered there, ascended the beautifully decorated dais. He blessed Dr. Michael Goldstein, Chairman of the Prasanthi Council, to address the assembly. He was followed by Dr. G. Venkataraman, former Vice-Chancellor of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, who praised the system of education adopted in Bhagawan's educational institutions which stresses the all round development of the student's personality and lays special emphasis on character building.
Bhagawan, in His Divine Discourse, declared that without imbibing human values, one's learning, wealth and position are all rendered worthless, for human values are the pillars on which the mansion of life is built. He said that every man must know the answer to three questions: Where has he come from? Where is he now? Where is headed to? We must realise the true purpose of our life and not allow ourselves to be swayed by circumstances and swerve from our chosen path. Bhagawan said that by His own example He is demonstrating to the world that the body has been given in order to serve society. He concluded His discourse with the Bhajan, "Hari Bhajan Bina".
The programme on the evening of 23 November featured a concert by the renowned Hindustani classical singer, Begum Parveen Sultana. She began with a Tarana in raag Hamsadhvani. She then went on to sing a few devotional songs composed by the musician saint Mirabai such as ";Payo ji maine.." and "Mere to Giridhar Gopal", and concluded with a Sai bhajan composed by her husband, Shri Dilshad Khan.
Thus culminated the 79th birthday celebrations of our beloved Bhagawan. The many thousands of devotees who had gathered in Prasanthi Nilayam for the festivities imbibed of the Divine Nectar of His Presence and Message and filled themselves with the joy and bliss that only God can give. The memories of these cherished moments with the Lord shall remain with us forever.