Experiencing Sathya Sai Through Bhajans
I was born with multiple congenital heart defects and underwent open heart surgery when I was eight months old. A few hours before the surgery, I was placed in an incubator, ready to have the anesthesia administered. My mother wanted to open a bottle of Vibhuti when I grabbed it out of her hands. The Vibhuti fell on my chest, and to the amazement of everyone around, it formed the shape of OM! That was the assurance my parents needed from Swami that all would be fine. After the successful operation, I would wake up, eat, and sleep only to the sound of Sai bhajan.
When I was about four, I started asking my parents about the giant scar across my chest. My mother lovingly pointed to a picture of Lord Hanuman that she had intentionally hung on the wall behind my bed in which Hanuman is ripping open His chest, showing Lord Rama and Mother Sita inside.
My mother said, “Just like Hanuman opened His chest to show the entire world that Rama resides in His heart, you too have this scar across your chest as a constant reminder that Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba resides in your heart.” My mother also made me affirm every morning that just as Hanuman served Lord Rama, I would serve the supreme Lord, Sai Rama. Later, I learned that the idol of Hanuman situated at the northern end of the Sai Kulwant Hall was installed by Swami on the very same day I was born – August 31, 1995!
The idol depicts ‘Bhajan Hanuman’ – Hanuman in a trance, playing the cymbals, singing the glories of Rama. And I don’t think this is a coincidence, as I shall explain later.
Experiencing Tears of Joy
In 2003, I had my first opportunity to see Swami in physical form. Before the visit, my mother told me that seeing Swami would be a life-changing experience and that I would shed tears of joy. But I could associate tears only with negative emotions, especially since I had lost my grandfather earlier that year. During my first darshan, Swami entered the hall in His car. In the distance, I could only see the chandeliers creating a glare on the windshield. But as the car inched closer, Swami peered through and lit up something special in my heart. I burst forth in tears, and at that moment, I realized what it meant to have tears of joy. It is the strongest memory from my childhood, permanently etched in my mind. Every time I encounter a difficult situation, I try my best to reflect on the vision of the charming smile of Swami on that beautiful day, which would create ripples of happiness in my heart.
Inherently, I have always been attracted to and attached to bhajans. I would ask my grandmother to sing bhajans to me as I would fall asleep on her lap. I would demand bhajans to be played during every car ride despite my father wanting to hear other music. One day, when I was 9, I picked up a Sanathana Sarathi magazine from the pile lying on our kitchen table. At that time, the world was gearing up to celebrate the 80th Birthday of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. There was an article about the Sai Organizations in various States of India conducting 80-hour Akhanda bhajans leading up to Swami’s Birthday. Innocently, I thought, “I am turning ten this year. Maybe we could have a 10-hour bhajan session instead of the usual restaurant outing with friends and family.” Once again, my father dismissed the idea. Still, my mother cooked Prasadam (consecrated food offering to God) and invited local Sai devotees to join us for my birthday to offer bhajans to Swami. With humility and gratitude to Swami, I profess that, since then, this tradition of having bhajans on my birthday has continued – with up to 27 hours of bhajans for my 27th birthday this year! By His grace, it shall continue beyond as well.
Connecting with Swami through Bhajans
Bhagawan has always shown His presence in my life through bhajans in simple but profound ways. I always called water “Ganga” (holy water of the river Ganges, and Ganga, the divine consort of Lord Siva). Thus, the bhajan “Shambho Shankara Deva,” which ends with the repetition of “Hara Hara Gange Mahadeva,” became my favorite bhajan. Interestingly, Swami invariably blesses my family and me at critical life-changing events or turning points through this bhajan. Either someone else sings it at a bhajan session, or we randomly play a CD, and it begins to play.
I was at Prasanthi Nilayam in 2016 for the International World Youth Festival. Apart from participating in the SSSILP residential course, Swami blessed me to serve as an MC for the opening ceremony, lead bhajans, and enjoy satsang with hundreds of young adults worldwide. On the final day of that trip, I had a passing thought of wanting Swami to send me back home in a “nice memorable way.” As the Veda chanting started, there was sadness in my heart which only grew as the bhajans began. But just as my tears of sorrow were forming, the all too familiar “Shambho Shankara Deva” was sung as the concluding bhajan! I was overcome with emotion and cried comforting tears of joy and devotion, for Swami answered my prayer. This experience drove home the lesson that Prasanthi Nilayam is not a place we visit but a state of mind in which we can always find Bhagawan and connect with Him in our hearts!
Mr. Rushi Thanawala