My family's multi-generational journey with Swami began in 1964. At the end of a typical workday in Chennai, my mother's colleague mentioned that she was going to see Sai Baba and invited my mother to join her. Being raised in a conservative family, it was atypical for my mother to agree to go anywhere without her father's permission, let alone see a spiritual teacher. But on that particular occasion, she felt a strong urge to accompany her friend.
Face to Face with God
The moment she saw Swami, she felt an instant connection and knew she was face to face with God. Filled with newfound faith, she returned home to share her experience with the family. When she entered her home, she was greeted by anxious parents and reprimanded for returning late. My mother began to cry, explaining that she did not go to a movie or a club but to see Sai Baba. Seeing his beloved daughter in tears, my grandfather comforted her and promised the whole family would visit Sai Baba the next day. Thus began the eternal companionship with the Lord and integration of divinity into our family.
My mother, her parents, and her three sisters went to see Swami the following day. During darshan, as Swami passed by, my eldest aunt attempted to get His attention and began to say, "Swami." Swami interjected and said in Telugu, "Telusu-ley! Nee shoes akkada petti, ikkada vocchi koorchunnaavu. Swami neetone eppudu untaadu." [I know! You have left your shoes there (pointing to a tree), and you've come and sat here. Swami is always with you.] He then blessed her by touching her head and granting pada-namaskar (blessing to touch His holy feet). Even before she could tell Swami about her disability caused by polio, Swami, in His infinite compassion and omniscience, indicated He knew about her condition. To the family's utter amazement, my aunt was offered a position as a schoolteacher the following Thursday, giving her financial independence. She had suffered numerous rejections for employment. As a disabled daughter destined to be dependent, by His Divine will, she was able to support her aging parents.
Over time, each family member developed a personal connection with Swami. Free time was spent focusing on Swami, and vacations were spent in Puttaparthi. They joined the Sai Organization in different capacities. Eventually, the family became fully dedicated to Swami.
Thummi Flower Garlands
Back then, Swami would often accept and wear garlands that devotees offered to Him. During their visits to Puttaparthi, my mother and her sisters learned how to make Thummi (Leucas Aspera) flower garlands for Swami. These tiny delicate white flowers are a favorite of Lord Siva. The flowers had to be carefully plucked, preserved, and strung into a life-sized garland for Swami. The sisters were blessed with several opportunities to make these garlands for Swami during His visits to Chennai. Swami affectionately referred to them as the "Thumba Poo Sisters" (Thummi flower sisters). Every Sunday, during bhajans at the Sai Center (Samithi), which was in their home, they would make a life-size garland for the altar. To them, the act of making garlands was service (seva), expressing their devotion (bhakti), and spiritual practice (sadhana). During bhajans, they not only felt His presence but also witnessed several miracles and materializations.
While my mother and her sisters devoted their lives to Swami, my grandmother did everything to support them so that they could focus on their devotion. She ensured that every family member was fed and taken care of. After her household duties were completed, she too participated in the garland making. Once during Swami's visit to Chennai, He sent for my mother to come to the prayer room of the residence where He was staying. As she watched Swami being garlanded with the Thummi flower garland she and her sisters made, she heard Swami tell the other devotees, "Idi yemo telusaa? Thummi poolu. Shivudiki preeti". (Do you know what this is? Thummi flowers. Lord Shiva is very fond of them.) Swami then materialized Vibhuti for her and blessed her with pada-namaskar. Such is the joy of living in the light and love of Mother Sai.
My connection with Swami
Growing up with stories of my family's dedication and devotion inspired and accelerated my spiritual journey. My first recollection of Swami is seeing Him at darshan in Chennai as a child in the early 1980s. As Swami was gently gliding across a sea of devotees, it felt like He, who is beyond time, moved in slow motion. I witnessed His playfulness, love, humanness, and divinity embodied into one beautiful form. Even at that age, I knew He was God and that I could have a personal relationship with Him.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are going to my grandparents' home for bhajans with my parents every weekend. That sparked my love of bhajans. My mother had enrolled me in Balvikas (Sai Spiritual Education or SSE) classes held in the house where Swami stayed while visiting Chennai in the 60s.
Joining Swami’s College
Every year in May, devotees from Chennai were given the opportunity to volunteer for various services in Prasanthi Nilayam. One year, I accompanied my mother as a young adult and met some students of the Anantapur campus (Swami's college for women). I was amazed and inspired by the prospect of close darshan and guidance from Swami while getting an education. My strong desire to become a Sai student prompted me to write a letter to Swami. As He stood before me, I could hand Him my letter and bow at His feet. Shortly after, I applied and was accepted to Junior College (11th grade). However, I was so homesick that I returned home after just two weeks. Determined to join Swami's educational institution, I reapplied for the undergraduate program.
Swami’s Love and omniscience
By His grace, I was accepted on my second attempt but was, once again, homesick. This time, my mother convinced me to hold on to my dreams and surrender to Swami. She explained that she could only be there for me when she was nearby, but Swami was ever-present and always ready to come to my aid. It took the unconditional love of my mortal mother to lead me to the unconditional love of our eternal Mother. That same afternoon Swami showed His divinity to me in a mysterious way during the Summer Course in Brindavan.
Before the evening darshan, Swami sent for the women students and staff so He could bless us with sarees. Usually, Swami also allows for pada-namaskar, but on this occasion, we were asked not to take pada-namaskar. We were all very disappointed, but I devised a plan to get my pada-namaskar. The plan was while Swami would hand me the saree, I would "accidentally" drop it. Then, while picking up the saree, I would sneakily take pada-namaskar. I was all set with my scheme, and my turn came soon. But our dear Lord had His own plans. As Swami handed me the saree, He just wouldn't let go! As we had our mini tug-off-war, it was not until our eyes met that I noticed He was teasing me! How foolish of me to try to outmaneuver the Lord, only to be outsmarted! Although I felt I did not receive what I wanted, I was rewarded with an even more profound lesson and a blessing: He knows everything, and I am never alone.
Two months later, during Guru Poornima celebrations in Prasanthi Nilayam, I was seated in the front row with a tray of toffees and sanctified rice (akshatas) for my birthday blessings. Swami came out from the mandir and walked over to us. He allowed me to take pada-namaskar and blessed me with sanctified rice. He stated matter-of-factly, in our family's Tamil dialect, "Appa, Amma vandirukkaalaa? Good Morning sollu!" (Mother and father have come? Say Good Morning to them.) I was puzzled and had no idea what Swami was talking about. After darshan, as I was leaving the mandir, to my utter disbelief, I saw my parents standing near the coconut trees with their luggage! They had decided to come and surprise me for my birthday, not knowing that Swami had let the cat out of the bag!
Over the next three years of my stay at the Anantapur Campus, I was fortunate to witness glimpses of His omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.
The First Ladies’ Day
The first Ladies Day celebration in Prasanthi Nilayam in 1995 was momentous. It was held during my graduation, and it especially opened my eyes to the capability and leadership of women in the Sai Organization. As Swami emphasized the importance of women in spirituality and society, I realized the importance of living a life that embodies Sai values. Swami also gave me an opportunity to impart what I learned at His lotus feet to my children. My daughter, the fourth generation of Sai devotees in our family, has found her connection to Swami through teaching SSE, service projects, and working in healthcare
As I narrate and relive these experiences, my companionship with our dear Lord strengthens and deepens, as it is eternal
Ms. Anu Venkateswaran
About the Author:
Ms. Anu Venkateswaran hails from a family that has been in Swami’s fold since the 1960s. She attended and graduated from Balvikas (SSE) in Chennai, India. She graduated from the Anantapur campus of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. Currently, she is the SSSIO USA Region 3 Devotional Coordinator and serves as the President of the Northeast Atlanta Sai Center in the USA, where she also teaches Group 4 SSE.
First published in Eternal Companion Vol. 1, Iss. 6