The Land of Peru – Rich and Luscious
The land of Peru is perhaps the most richly endowed by nature in the South American continent. While the 30 to 150 km wide and 1500 miles long coastline by the South Pacific Ocean has valleys and barren deserts, the Sierra (highlands) plows from north to south by the mountains of the Andes and displays high snow-peaks filled with countless lakes and lagoons. And the amazing Amazon jungle, on the other hand, characterized by extensive tropical forests and deep rivers with abundant vegetation, is home to innumerable species of wildlife. Thanks to these matchless triumvirate geographic regions, today Peru holds 80 of the 104 existing ecosystems in the world. No wonder it is in this land that the greatest South American civilizations flowered and flourished.
The Cradle of Ancient Civilisations
Though the Inca Empire that emerged and established itself on the Andes in the 15th century is the most famous, many other civilizations existed thousands of years before the Incas. The semi-desert coastal strip of Peru, which extends from the seaboard to the foot of the mountain range of the Andes, has been witness to the continuous flourishing of many pre-Incan cultures. First was the Sacred City of Caral, the oldest town of America, believed to be 5000 years old and the “Mother City” of the world’s first great civilizations. This metropolis of tens of thousands of people was a city of pyramids and monuments at a time when Egypt and Mesopotamia were still in their infancy.
The Royal tombs of the Lord of Sipan, discovered on the north coast in 1987, is considered to be the richest haul found in the occidental hemisphere. These tombs are an expression of the Mochica culture, which was renowned for its pottery and metallurgy. The Lord of Sipán is a mummy found by Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva; the tomb is in Sipán's Huaca Rajada. Some archaeologists hold it to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the world in the last 30 years, because the main tomb was found intact and untouched by thieves. The “huaca” is a mausoleum built by the Moche culture that ruled the northern coast of Peru from the time of Christ to 700 AD, again, many centuries prior to the Incas.
If that was in the north coast, in the south was the Chimú culture, whose greatest expression preserved to this day is the adobe construction of the Chan Chan urban complex. This 20 square kilometer vast mud city of Chan Chan (which in the ancient Mochica language means "sun-sun"), is the largest pre-Columbian city in South America built between 850 BC and 1740 BC, and it was also the imperial capital until the Chimús were conquered by the Incas in the 15th century. It is estimated that 30,000 people lived in this world’s largest pre-Hispanic mud-brick citadel.
The Sierra, a ‘Stairway to Heaven’
But this is not even 10 percent of what this fascinating nation is made up of. They say, “The mountains in Peru are so pervasive that it is almost impossible to imagine a landscape without soaring peaks looming in the horizon." In one locality, straddling an area between 50-150 miles, there are 174 peaks over 16,000 feet high and 39 in excess of 19,000 feet, while the average is 14,000 feet!
Peru’s Andes around Cusco, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas, was once upon a time the centre of the earth for the Inca Empire. It is in these mountains that the powerful Inca civilization rose, its vast territory covering a portion of current Colombia, nearly all of Ecuador, a great part of what today is Peru, all of Bolivia, the northern part of Chile, and northwest Argentina, encompassing a total area of nearly two million square miles. The empire was called “Tawantisuyo” in the Quechua language, which means ‘Empire of the Four Regions’. Today, this city of Cusco is recognized as a Cultural Heritage of the world and an Archeological Capital of America.
The Incas left noteworthy examples of their labor, such as great impregnable fortresses, temples, and palaces. They solved the agricultural problems set by their enormous population, by building terraces on the side of the hills, where cultivation was almost a miracle, and their irrigation works, hanging bridges, and roads exist even today! But question marks remain about the huge blocks of stone, perfectly cut under the Incan structures. For example, there is one such stone weighing an estimated 80 tons, and not native to the area, at Sacsayhuaman. (Mind you, the largest modern crane can move at most 60 tons).
Some of the most remarkable buildings are at Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachay, and Ollantaytambo. And the most wonderful ruins are, of course, the world famous Machu Picchu, popularly known as the ‘Lost City of the Incas' located over the majestic Urubamba Canyon, surrounded by savage and splendorous nature. In fact, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee called this stone city "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization". Till today, it remains a mystery how such huge stones were moved to this inaccessible site.
Also on these majestic mountain ranges is the highest peak of the Peruvian Andes, Huascarán, at 6768 m. There is also the Alpamayo at 5,947m, considered the world’s most beautiful mountain at a show celebrated in Munich in 1966. The Titicaca Lake, the highest navigable lake in the world, at 3,821 meters above sea level, is located in the South of Peru, in one of the coldest areas of the country. At this altitude, the lake shines an iridescent blue through the clear sunlight — a beautiful complement to the red and brown-hued hills of the altiplano (southern highlands).
Tiahuanaco and Chavín on the mountains, and also Paracas on the coast, are some of the names of the other cultures that flourished thousands of years ago. They were masters in the arts of textiles and pottery. Some worshipped an unknown and all-powerful God, and others —the majority— worshipped mythological beings. They were also knowledgeable in the sciences of measuring time and astronomy.
Peruvian Jungles – Breathing for the World
Now coming to another most exciting natural treasure of Peru, the Amazonian Selva or rainforest. Covering an area of 756,866 square kilometers, it is one of the main lungs of the world, making up 10% of all the world’s forests. In fact, it is responsible for 50% of the renovated oxygen on Earth, and its hydrographic basin contains over 1000 rivers and lakes, no less than one fifth of the fresh water reserves on Earth. The Peruvian Amazonia, truly, is a wild symphony day and night, and one of Nature's favourite shows, filled with the most exuberant flora and fauna known to man: millions of noble centuries old trees where nearly 15,000 species of animals live; among them 1,800 bird species, 2,000 kinds of mammals, and 1,500 types of fish. It is a natural space full of color and enchantment inviting endless exploration and unlimited excitement.
Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest, is the most populous city in the world that cannot be reached by road. Located on the Amazon River, it can be reached only by airplane or boat. There is no end to the mysteriousness packed in this priceless terrestial treasure on earth.
Lima – The Heart of Peru
Though Iquitos has long been a major port in the Amazon Basin, the most significant port-city of Peru has been Lima. It was the capital and most important city even during the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru (mid 1500’s to early 1800’s), which was an administrative area encompassing most of Spain's possessions in South America. In fact, the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro, who founded this city, called it the ‘City of Kings’. In 1988, the Historic Centre of Lima was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to the large number of historical buildings dating from the Spanish colonial era, from the monumental Plaza Mayor, with the 16th century Cathedraland the Presidential Palace, to the catacombs of the Saint Francisco Convent and any number of awe-inspiring museums.
Today nearly one-third of the nation's population lives in this one metropolitan area, which is undoubtedly the country’s cultural and economic hub. Not only this, it has now become the culinary capital of South America with its most delectable cuisines that combine Inca and Spanish culinary traditions, including many African, Asian, French, Italian, and Muslim cuisine features and dishes.
Not only Lima alone, indeed, the whole nation for centuries has revered food. Food is verily divine for all Peruvians and is part of every celebration, whether it is at birth, adulthood, or marriage of a child or any other event of significance. Blessed with lands and seas of great abundance, Peruvians have appreciated this God-given gift for centuries by cooking, eating, and creating just like the gods. But this alone is not what draws tourists to Peru in increasing numbers every year. (Tourism, by the way, is now the largest foreign currency-earner in Peru).
Gratifying Love for God
What truly fascinates people about Peru is actually a combination of various sublime elements from geographical remoteness to highly bio-diverse, self-sustainable microenvironments, from large numbers of indigenous peoples who maintain traditional beliefs and practices to hundreds of festivals dedicated to the patron saints of Peru; and most importantly, the nations’ precious wealth: the pleasing personality and mannerisms of Peruvians. The people of this ancient land have inherited sublime traditions expressed in their diverse cultural manifestations.
And the divine was, perhaps, so touched with the pure love of Peruvians that He made Himself known to these groups of pious people nearly three decades ago when many countries in South America were still blissfully unaware of this descent of the same ‘Lord of Miracles’, albeit now in a different but delectable form.
So how did this actually happen? Were there any mysterious healings and visions? Who were the fortunate ones to be first touched by the love of Sai in Peru? And what impact did it have on them? Now you will relish this fascinating story, which we are sure is more thrilling than all that you have read about Peru till now.
Sai Baba Comes To Peru
All the devotees keenly studied the rules and understood their import and then gladly signed up as the members. They started singing devotional songs and attending Sai meetings. Finally on 27 May 1980, 52 members had signed the constitutional act in the home of Senora Dina de Alessandrini. Filled with positive vibes and each member so enthusiastic and ecstatic, it was a sight to see when every devotee, with joy brimming on their faces, received a key to the house that was rented for the centre, so that they could visit at any hour convenient for them.
“Miracle in Lima ”
While the Sai mission was just taking shape, in 1979, Bhagavan assured the Bravos that their small son, Walter Jr., would be cured of his sickness. He had in fact materialized a medal with His image and also had given vibhuthi for their son. Mrs. Bravo asked Swami what they should do once the vibhuthi is all used up. Swami, in His inimitable way, responded, “Don’t worry, you will never be without it.” All she could understand from this message was that they would have to return to India to replenish it from Swami once the supply went low.
Their group translated this book from English to Spanish and started discussing it in their regular study circles. Later, when they saw a film on Swami, their faith in the Divinity of Baba only strengthened. Dr. Bravo was now convinced; he had found his spiritual master. All he wanted from now was to understand and assimilate His teachings. He tried to identify with Bhagavan’s message: “You are not the physical body or the mind; you are verily divine.” “The problems that you encounter should not allow your faith in God to diminish even a little. Always strive for the bliss of being close to God, without worrying about the difficulties or the triumphs of life’s journey.” These inspiring words of Swami had an indelible impact on his life and thoughts, and that is how this founding member of the Sai Organization of Peru transformed into a beautiful being with strong faith in Swami and became a precious instrument in His divine hands for the Sai mission in Peru.
The Amazing Healing of Juana De Torres
Swami, personally, in His own mysterious ways, shaped every devotee in Peru. Juana de Torres, another founding member of the Sai Organization of Peru, who also served as the first president of the Sai Foundation of Peru, narrating her story, says,
As the days passed, my health got from bad to worse, and now they were giving me oxygen as I was unable to even breathe comfortably. The doctors decided to do a bypass surgery to clear my liquid-filled lungs. I discovered that if they didn’t operate immediately, I could die of asphyxia. But it was during these trying days that I felt closer to God than ever before. I just dedicated all day to my personal sadhana. I spent every moment with Him.
“Then, one morning during this difficult period, when I was in the hospital listening to bhajans, meditating and reliving my trip to Prashanti, I suddenly felt His presence. He was looking at me with such tender loving eyes. It was completely suffused with bliss. With that one compassionate look, He had said everything, He had filled me with love that was powerful and peace-giving. I could not contain myself, I started to cry. Those were tears of ecstasy and bliss. It was at this time, that my brother came in with few others who had come to donate blood. When he saw me crying, he said, ‘Little sister, please don’t cry, you will soon be well.’
“I remember, I told him that those were not tears of sadness, in fact, I was radiating with happiness and joy. And then, in a few minutes the doctor came. ‘The tests show you have Hodgkin’s disease,’ he said. ‘No need to worry, it can be treated and we will start the treatment tomorrow.’ I let the doctors treat me for a short time but I was anxious to return home and to be able to plan a trip to see Swami. I was sure that Swami had cured me.
“At the end of January, 1992, my long dreamt desire materialized, I was in Puttaparthi. In the first darshan itself, I was able to give Swami a few letters, and in an instant His eyes met mine. What a moment it was! I could clearly see His eyes say, ‘So, now you have come!’ In a few days Swami called the Peruvian group for an interview. One from the group asked Swami in English about my health and Swami immediately said, ‘Yes I know, she has nothing now; she is completely well, and I am taking care of her.’ And such is His love that even now, in 2007, I am enjoying good health and so happy with my spiritual sadhana.”
The First Centres in Peru
So, it was through such experiences of His pure love and compassion, that devotees started growing in number in Peru. It was He who was allowing His beautiful mission to unfold slowly and steadily. Devotees started singing bhajans, as a guideline they had in those days only one cassette, which had songs sung by Baba Himself. Some started translating His discourses from books, and many gave away these copies freely to anybody who was willing to listen.
Gradually after the first centre in Lima, the capital city, and many additional centres sprung up in the interior of the country, all started and run by self-inspired dedicated devotees. In 1991, the Central Council of Latin America decided to name the first Coordinating Committee. On 29 April, 1991, senior members of the Organisation —Leonardo Gutter, Nassin Michaan, and Carlos Rivas— established the first committee in Peru. It was composed of the presidents of the Sai Centres of Barranco, Cercado de Lima, Cipreses, Jesús María, and Trujillo, as well as the groups of Salamanca, Monterrico, Arequipa, Trujillo, Talara and Chiclayo, and Cajamarca. While Barranco is a beautiful district, Trujillo in the northwest is called the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its very sunny and pleasant weather year-round and Arequipa in Southern Peru is the nation’s second most important city after Lima. Love for Sai slowly had blossomed along the whole stretch of the nation. And His miracles and presence were now felt more than ever before. Litu Daryanani, recalling a life-saving incident from the early nineties, says,
Saved From Terrorists…By Sai
“This was the period when terrorism was on the rise in Peru, and the miscreants would harm innocent civilians by detonating car bombs. So, on the July 16, around 9.00 pm when I was in the kitchen preparing dinner while little Aarti was asleep on her cot placed just next to the big glass windows, I heard a small explosion. I immediately went to my room and looked out of the window to understand where the sound came from. But shockingly, there was another explosion, now a loud one, and it seemed as if it came from the hotel that was right across the street.
“I heard loud shouts ‘Fire! Fire!’ I thought the hotel has caught fire. Without wasting a second I turned around, lifted Aarti out of her cot and walked toward the main door of the house. As I ran out, I could see all the big glass windows of our apartment breaking and falling in. I could hear the sound of ambulances, fire brigades, and the most pathetic cries of people. It was so weird and frightening; I did not know what had caught fire. In a state of shock I hurried toward the entrance of the building just to be out of this whole scene and take Aarti to safety. And in the lobby, I saw my husband, who had just arrived.
Swami Always Answers
Once Sai enters our lives, we are never the same again. And Swami’s love in Peru was doing wonders. So many —young and old, men and women, children and adults— by some mystical design were coming into the Sai fold. Narrating his experience, Billy Escalante, a young adult, says,
“One night, after I knocked on their door, I heard the brother-in-law coming to open the door, and then he slammed it right in front of my face. I was so upset. I did not know what to do except pray to Jesus in this way, ‘Oh Lord, if it is alright to study Sai Baba’s teachings and to follow Him, have my brother-in-law look at me in my eye, embrace me, and say that I am a good man.’ I had just finished this prayer, and to my amazement the brother-in-law returned to the door and opened it. Not only that, he looked at me, gave me a fraternal hug, and said, ‘Billy, you are a good man.’ I was dumbstruck. It was seeing something that I thought was surely impossible. At that instant, I had got my answer; I decided that I would love Sai Baba.”
After Billy and Mayte were married, they entered the Sai movement with vigour and were later blessed with their first child, a sweet girl. But because Billy was just getting started in his career, they did not have enough resources to lead a comfortable life. At times, it was so bad that there was not enough money even to buy milk for the baby. During these trying times, as Billy was walking down the street, one day, he thought to himself, ‘How is it that the birds and animals don’t work and yet God provides for them, and here we, who are God’s children, don’t even have money to buy milk for our baby.’ And then, just as he was passing under a tree, several ‘soles’ (Peruvian bank notes) came drifting down to the sidewalk, just like dry leaves falling off the tree. Of course, they were exactly enough to buy just one large tin of canned milk for the baby.
Thy way Swami listens to the prayers of His devotees and answers each one of them so beautifully is something that can never be understood or explained; it can only be felt and experienced. And every devotee of Sai has their own beautiful little story of His love and Grace. We read how Swami saved Aarti from terrorists when she was only few days old; now Aarti is a cheerful young adult in her early twenties with her own sweet experiences. This is what she narrates:
“The buffalo banged against the rickshaw, right were my mother’s leg was. Then, it moved away. In shock, we stopped the vehicle and got down to see the damage. To my astonishment, mum’s leg was intact and the only sign of the encounter was a deep dent in the rickshaw. The metal was bent inward, like it had been made of cotton. My mom looked at me and saw tears in my eyes. She asked me what was wrong, and then the realization hit her, as to how we had been saved. I had been reciting the Gayatri Mantra.”
Motivated Sai Youth Show the Way
Like Billy, Aarti, Mayte, so many young souls felt His presence in their lives and the Sai youth movement in Peru gained momentum. In November 1996, the first youth group of the Sai organization was formed. And from then on, they actively played a major role in all the activities of the Sai Centres. For many years now, they have adopted a marginal community called Virgen de Cocharcas, and everyone gets involved to serve in this project. They regularly offer a vegetarian lunch, present human values dramas, and on some festivals distribute clothes and toys.
The Sai youth of Peru have also organized regional retreats for young people from other countries in South America, which has inspired everyone, and helped to gain experience in the organization of large events. Here are some pictures of this and other retreats for all age groups, in addition to public meetings.
Education in Human Values Captures Hearts
With the youth’s active participation, as well as the growth and the commitment of members of the Organisation, Bal Vikas classes too started in 1996. Also, a few teachers from the Hogar del Niño Jesús college participated in a seminar on human values that was offered by few members of the Organization. This seminar had a profound positive impact, and the teachers seemed very interested to implement in their own settings. Some of them even named their classrooms by names of values like Truth Classroom, and Love Classroom.
Based on this success, workshops on Education in Human Values were now conducted not only in Lima but also in the interior provinces. All the courses for teacher training are offered free, which continues till date. What is more encouraging is that the Ministry of Education of Peru has given their approval for this training, and with their support, there is now a solid group of teacher trainers. With requests flowing in from every part of Peru, seminars on EHV has become a continuous affair in this country.
The Sai School in Arequipa
To help disseminate Swami’s message in a more organized manner, the Sai Foundation of Peru was formed in 31 October 2001, with Juana Torres as its first president. And four years later saw the blossoming of the first Sai School in Peru. In 2005, in the district of Tiabaya, about 1000 km to the south of Lima, the school embarked on its mission to hone young minds in the right direction. The whole project actually started in February 2003, when 14 devotees from Arequipa, Southern Peru, were in Prasanthi Nilayam and received a notice that a property that had been in litigation for 40 years had been now returned to its owners. This building was destined to become the Sai School. Now, the free school also has a medical clinic, which serves the children and their parents without any charge. And one devotee from Arequipa, who had undergone Human Values training in the Institute of Sathya Sai Education in Thailand, became the director of the new school. Once the divine wills, all resources – men, money, and material – fall in place so wonderfully.
Today ‘Educare’ is being imparted in this school and the Sai youth are leading the way. To know to what heights the divine can raise man’s consciousness once He touched his soul, here is the moving story of Walter Bravo Jr., whom we mentioned earlier in this story.
A Touching Testimonial
Walter Bravo, Jr., was a unique soul, who had grown up from a little boy who had gone to see Swami in 1979 and was able to attend university and graduate in spite of his difficult physical situation. He left this incredibly touching letter for his family and devotees prior to leaving his body and merging in Sai in 2006, which stands as a testimonial to the divinity within him and is a lesson for every devotee on self-surrender and self-realisation. The letter says,
Love All Through Selfless Service
The metamorphosis that Baba can bring about in an individual is mind-boggling. And everything happens because of His unconditional love and all-encompassing compassion. Once an individual is transformed, his ego begins to diminish and he wants to serve, and that’s how many service activities have started in this country. For many years now, there have been regular services like visiting the homes of the elderly, of the blind, as well as homes run by the sisters of Mother Teresa. Devotees also visit psychiatric hospitals, maternity hospitals, and the marginal communities of Balneario de Ventanilla and Virgin de Cocharcas.
The youth, especially for the last eight years, have been serving these poor communities in many different ways. They visit them every week and offer prepared food, distribute clothes, give baskets for new born babies, supply medicines, gift toys to the kids, arrange Christmas parties and recreational activities, also present tape recorders to the blind, furniture and school supplies for students, organize human values dramas, and also more importantly, educate them on personal hygiene such as bathing, hair cuts, trimming nails, and dental service.
Selfless service, their unflinching faith on the divine, their zeal to spread human values and spread His word and message through public meetings has brought so many people into the Sai fold in this country and conferred them with comfort and peace. To date, the Peruvian Organization has been operating for three decades with its current headquarters in Lima. There are four centres in the capital city of Lima, and many others in important cities like Arequipa , Cajamarca, and Trujillo. But if there is one activity that the Sai group loves to do, that is singing His name passionately. The Peruvians love Sai bhajans, and they have been blessed with sublime experiences too.
Today Swami’s glory is sung through the length and breadth of this divinely blessed country and one knows for sure in times to come every Peruvian will rejoice when he realizes that the ‘Lord of Miracles’ he has been worshipping for decades is now here on earth, and all they have to do is open their hearts to the Pure Love of Sai and fill themselves with inexplicable bliss.