IN 2007, SAI DEVOTEES OF THE SSSIO, USA, REGION 3 HAD THE GREAT FORTUNE TO EMBARK ON A PILGRIMAGE TO PRASANTHI NILAYAM to present a musical program to Swami, “From Sai to SAI.” We hoped to offer this program to Swami whenever He permitted us during our scheduled visit from June 22 to July 5.
The ‘Journey to Sai through SAI’ program activities commenced around June 2006 in the southeast USA (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and St. Thomas/Virgin Islands). A few dedicated devotees took the lead and planned the first-ever pilgrimage to Prasanthi Nilayam to unite the entire region as one big family. During the early stages of preparing for this journey, the devotees discussed the reasons for undertaking the pilgrimage and concluded that the real pilgrimage was toward Sai consciousness at an individual and group level. Though a significant milestone, the outward journey to Prasanthi Nilayam was only complementary to the journey toward Sai consciousness which could be achieved only through the triple path of Service, Adoration, and Illumination. Thus, inspired by Bhagawan, the pilgrims adopted an apt theme for the pilgrimage, “Journey to Sai through SAI–Service, Adoration and Illumination.”
Preparatory Sadhana for the Pilgrimage
Subsequently, several activities involving Service, Adoration, and Illumination, were designed. We increased our commitment to existing service projects and took up new initiatives and medical camps locally. We intensified our devotional activities by group chanting and special bhajan sessions to encourage increased participation at Sai centers. We also organized special satsangs and increased involvement in regular study circles. Thus, after kindling the fire of sadhana for over a year, we finally arrived at the sacred abode of Lord Sai on June 24, 2007.
An Unforgettable Day
On July 2, 2007, the program began with great devotion and zeal. A few of us presented a large invitation card to Swami signed by all the devotees who came on the pilgrimage. Swami looked at the invitation and enquired about someone who did not come but signed the card anyway, thus showing His omniscience. I was blessed with the unique opportunity to record and edit the pilgrimage video and felt very fortunate for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
With much gusto, we sang in unison, and the audience joined in by clapping in rhythm. The songs comprised an eclectic selection of English, Spanish, Hindi, and Native American songs, with medleys and blended western music and bhajans. Swami’s countenance was radiant, and countless smiles lighted up His face making us happy. The program lasted approximately 40 minutes.
He allowed the group to sing additional bhajans after the regular program ended. Flooding the hall with infinite love, He blessed the program participants by distributing saris for the ladies and cloth for white suit for men. Swami even talked with some of the people while distributing the gifts. Some people commented afterward that they were surprised that He allowed the program to be extended beyond the scheduled time limit since He was not giving long Darshans those days.
An Unexpected Group Interview
Swami called our group for an interview in the bhajan hall on July 5. Several people were absent from the interview because some had made travel arrangements to return early to the USA, while others went shopping or were busy with other activities. So, out of 300-plus participants, only 64 devotees were blessed to be present for the interview. I learned a lesson that during a pilgrimage, our focus must be ONLY on Swami because He can ‘call’ us at any time, and we must always be prepared.
Swami told us the exact number of devotees present in the interview. He said several people would be disappointed to have missed the opportunity for an interview, but He told us to let them know, “My love is with them.”
Then Swami started talking to the entire group, asking some of the ladies, “Where is your husband?” He asked one of the ladies first, and she replied, “You know, you know.” Swami then asked another lady, “Where is your husband?” She replied, “You know, Swami, I’m single.”
At this point, my wife Gabriela started lifting her hand, saying to Swami, “I am married, Swami,” while someone behind her was trying to pull her back, telling Gabriela not to interrupt Swami unless He asked her.
Swami then looked to Gabriela and asked, “What is your name?”
She told Him, “My name is Gabriela.” Very slowly, He repeated the word ‘Gabriela,’ mimicking a similar word in Telugu (Gabara), which means ‘you worry too much.’
Meanwhile, a few Telugu-speaking people in the audience were laughing. We did not know about this until several years later.
Swami then asked my wife, “Where is your husband?”
I was sitting across her on the men’s side, and she pointed at me. Swami asked her my name. She mentioned my name, and He asked us both to sit in the front beside Him. Then He asked Gabriela, “Do you have any children?”
Gabriela replied, “No. But I am very happy, Swami.”
He asked me, “What do you do?”
I told Him that I worked for a cable television company, and He replied, “You do other things.”
He had asked me the same question before in an interview in 1997, and at that time, He told me, “Sometimes up; sometimes down, but stay there.” I know Swami does not waste words; His words have a deeper meaning. I am still trying to figure this out and need to go deeper to understand its meaning.
He asked Gabriela, “What do you want?”
She told Him, “All I want is your love.” Swami made a gesture and told her, “You already have my love.
He asked her again, “What do you want?” At this point, she did not have an answer, so Swami asked, “How is your husband?”
She said, “He is good.” Swami said, “Very good husband.”
While we were outside, somebody asked me, “Do you know what Swami did inside?” I was a little surprised by the question. He then added, “Swami performed your marriage ceremony!”
Culmination of Prayers of Lifetimes
Swami looked at me and asked, “How is your wife?” I was hesitant, and Swami looked at her sternly and said, “You fight with him too much.” Gabriela promised Him that she would not fight with me anymore. At this point, everybody was laughing. As He was speaking to us, He materialized a medallion. While holding the medallion in His hands, He was pronouncing some mantras which I did not understand or recognize.
My wife looked at the materialization intensely and thought, “If this is for me, I want the chain to be a little longer.” She then saw Swami extending the length of the chain. She saw this and had another thought to keep the thickness of the chain the same. Swami finished materializing the chain with a medallion and showed it to everyone in the Mandir, who clapped with joy.
Then Swami showed us the medallion and asked us who was the figure in the center. It was the figure of Mother Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth). Then He pointed to the side of Mother Lakshmi and asked, “Who is this?” It was an elephant. But we were both hesitant to answer as we did not know the elephant’s name. Swami said, “This is Sai Geeta,” and pointed to the opposite side of Mother Lakshmi and asked us the same question, which we could not answer. Then He said, “Another Sai Geeta.”
Swami then told Gabriela, “I am giving you everything here.” Swami gave the medallion to me so I could put it on her. After this, He signaled both of us to touch His feet, which I was not allowed to do in our first interview, although it was my sincere wish. I was overjoyed to be allowed to touch and kiss His feet. I got His left foot and Gabriela His right foot. I felt His foot was a little hard, contrary to the description by others who told me they were soft like petals. I remember this sensation even today as I write about this experience that I hold dear.
After we both lifted our heads, Swami put His hands on our heads and blessed us. He signaled one of the students to bring a container with Vibhuti packets. He gave each of us several packages and told me especially to keep them with me at all times.
Next, Swami motioned for families to come and take padanamaskar (saluting the feet). When they approached Swami, He would lovingly ask them personal questions and enquire about their professional life. He waited patiently for each person to offer pranam (salutation at His feet). Swami would sometimes smile at the young boys and say, “Come on, boy!” He would also ask them their names, how old they were, and what standard they were in. After the men were done, Swami called the women to come up one at a time, sometimes talking to them about personal matters and giving them vibhuti packets. Afterward, Swami blessed a couple of large bowls full of prasadam of strawberry-flavored wafers, which the volunteers distributed to the devotees.
Swami then turned to the group and said, “Are you happy?”, “Yes, Swami, Yes!”, “We love You,” “Thank You, Swami,” we responded in unison! Swami held up His hands, smiled, and said, “Very happy.” After blessing everyone, Swami advised everyone always to repeat, “I am God, I am God. I am God.”
Everyone went out of the Mandir Hall. While we were outside, somebody asked me, “Do you know what Swami did inside?” I was a little surprised by the question. He then added, “Swami performed your marriage ceremony!” I had prayed to God to find the right person to marry. This was a long time ago, before I even knew of Swami.
I felt Swami rewarded us with the opportunity to perform our program in His divine presence since the group was united in doing service activities, bhajan practices, and sadhana. For the pilgrims from the southeast region of the USA, it was perhaps the culmination of prayers of lifetimes. The Lord blessed us with grace beyond our imagination and filled us with boundless bliss.
About the Author:
Mr. David Yoder was born and raised in Venezuela. He has worked in the Television and Cable industry for over 30 years. A Catholic school student who keenly studied different religions and philosophies since age 12, he saw Sri Sathya Sai Baba for the first time in 1994. He has been blessed with several interviews with Swami and has served in various capacities in the SSSIO, and presently serves as the President of Region 3, SSSIO USA.
First published in Eternal Companion Vol. 2, Iss. 2