By Mrs. Geeta Mohan Ram
The Beginning of Eternal Bhajans
It’s lovely to be here! Especially after the wonderful bhajans that we just had! With so many people singing with such devotion to Swami, it takes me back in time. Some of you may know the story of how the Akhanda Bhajans held in November every year was started in 1945 by my grandfather.
In 1944, bhajans were started in our home by the eight families that first went to Swami from Bangalore. And when they went to Puttaparthi, they used to sing these songs in front of Swami - Meera bhajans, Thyagaraja’s kritis, and other such devotional songs. There were no bhajans per se, and Swami would sit with them, in front of His own Picture and sing too!
I remember, as I was growing up - this was in the fifties - Swami would sit with us during bhajans and say: “Keep looking at that picture when you sing!” So we knew something was going to happen! And as the bhajans were being sung, if it were a Devi bhajan, we would see kumkum (vermillion) appear on the forehead of Swami’s Picture!
If it were a Shiva bhajan, we would sometimes see the garland detach itself from the Picture and take the shape of a little snake over the Picture! So, we would be so focused on the bhajan, because we knew something would happen on that Picture! He was teaching us to understand the words and focus on the bhajans.
This would happen regularly in those days in Puttaparthi, but when the families returned to Bangalore they would miss Swami so much and all the wonderful experiences from the bhajans. So they decided to hold bhajans on every Thursday for an hour every evening.
In the 1940’s there was a curfew; they were not allowed to go out because of the war (First World War). But somehow or other, they would very quietly take their flashlights in the dark and go to the bhajans! When this had gone on for almost a year, they all said: “You know, we have held these bhajans every Thursday in our homes for almost a whole year! Why don’t we have a 24-hour bhajan to culminate these days of bhajans that we started?”
And they wrote a letter to my grandfather, who lived in Puttaparthi, asking for Swami’s permission for the 24-hour bhajans. My grandfather was privileged to be with Swami and serve Him in those days. So, He asked Swami and replied with these words: “Swami is very happy with this idea! He said to call it: ‘The Akhanda Bhajan: 24 hours of Naama Smarana.’ Do it! And not only that, He wants to come too!” So that is how the Akhanda Bhajan started!
So Swami came and stayed in my aunt’s house. And this went on till 1974. He would come even after the Brindavan building was built. Every year, our eight families would conduct the Akhanda bhajans. Even as I grew, I saw that the crowds had grown, but it was still conducted by our eight families.
We pooled whatever resources we had and of course we started to rent halls later and Swami would always come and stay. And at that time, the bhajans would go on from Thursday morning till Friday morning. So He would come and stay with us and would arrive on Wednesday sometime during the midday, in time for lunch. And, of course, all the relatives would be at our house, getting the room ready for Swami and making other preparations. Other people would be organising a place outside where the bhajans could be conducted because more than 200 people would be attending.
Swami’s Love of Play
As soon as Swami came He would have lunch and say: “Where is the bhajan hall?” And He would immediately want to go with us to see the bhajan hall where we were getting ready. He would come and there would be all the youngsters putting up the altar and decorating it. The women would be sitting and tying the flowers to make beautiful garlands for the pictures; others would be sweeping and mopping.
Swami would make comments such as: “Oh! That’s very nice”; He would ask for His Picture to be moved into place and start helping the youngsters to put it up. He would enquire about the lamp we were lighting. And then, of course, everybody would sort of shoo Him away because you can’t really do what you are doing with Him so close!
On one occasion, my old aunt, who used to look after Swami when He was a small child, said to Him as if He were a child (but her devotion to Him was immense!): “Swami, will you come away and stop bothering these men who are trying to do the altar! Come and sit over here!” So He said: “Okay, then I will come and sit with you all where you are making the garland.”
There was a big pile of jasmine flowers in the middle of these women who were tying these garlands with so much devotion! One for Swami’s picture, another for Swami - a full length 4 feet one to garland Him after the Aarti - and so on. And Swami told them: “Show me how to do this…show me how to do this!”
It’s quite an art to make those garlands I must say! It’s not very easy - those of you who know - and He wanted to do it! And they showed Him once or twice and He tried to put the thread around it and the flowers fell off! He kept complaining and the children sat there and we were all laughing because He was saying: “You people don’t teach me properly! You’re hopeless teachers! Teach me properly!”
He tried to make one and it fell apart! The ladies told Him: “Look! You know what! You are not going to learn it!” And my aunt said: “In this Avatar, garland is not Your thing! Go away! Go do something else!” But Swami did not give up.
He started with one or two flowers and they all became upset with Him because He pulled the thread and it broke the stems! So all the flowers were getting wasted! Here they are trying to manage this whole Akhanda Bhajans in 200 Rupees - or whatever it was - and He’s pulling all the flowers apart! The ladies told Him “You’re wasting all the flowers!”
Then my aunt gave Him a little bowl filled with a few flowers telling Swami: “You could try with this! And if You can’t do it, then You need to stop!” So He sat there with a steel bowl of flowers in front of Him. And then, suddenly we would turn around and He was holding the longest, most beautiful garland you could imagine! In a minute, there was a 3 feet garland and He would say: “See! I am a quick learner!” This was how He would participate with us! He became a part of us!
So this is the Swami I grew up seeing - the Swami that joked with us, played with us. There was very poor lighting in those days, and we children would all eat outside on the sand and sleep there as well - we would just roll out a mat and sleep on the sand whenever we went to Puttaparthi.
The water that we had - to wash the vessels and all that – was carried from the well; where you now have the main Gopuram gate. The men would draw the water, and the women would stand in line and pass the water on so that everybody would have enough to wash their dishes.
The elders would just mix the rice and the sambhar in one dish and we would all sit in a circle, and each of us was given a little blob in our hand, and you ate it in your hand! That way they wouldn’t have so many plates to wash, the only dish that you had to wash at the end of the meal was your own hands!
We would all sit in a circle and this old lady, her name was Savitri Amma, would serve the food. Swami liked to tease her whenever He had the chance. She would sit in the middle and we would all sit around her. It would be very dark and she would sit there with a lantern and feed us! Swami would have had His dinner before us, and sometimes He would come out quietly from behind the buildings and sit amongst us youngsters - we were all very young - and He would cover Himself with a long gown!
He would have a little scarf over His head because His hair would give Him away! So He would be so dressed and hide, and this poor lady couldn’t see very well! So He would put His Hand out with the children and He would get fed too in the circle! She would be busy dishing out the food so she wouldn’t know! We would all be giggling because He would say: “Don’t tell her! Don’t tell her!” as He was eating! At the end of the meal He would say: “Mmm…Savitri Amma, you prepare better food for the grandchildren! What you sent Me today for dinner was not as good!”
She would get so upset and say: “My goodness Swami! Why did You eat this! This was morning rice! I had sent You fresh food in the evening! This was all the food that was left over here!”
She would go on: “Why did You eat this? How did You hide from me?” And He would take off His scarf and show Himself as her eyes were not good enough to make Him out! (Actually, I have a photo at home where He has got this scarf tied around His head with His hair all flattened!) So, we children thought this was our Swami – He would play with us, pull other’s leg and just generally have fun! That was the Swami I grew up with as a child!
A Marriage Truly Made In Heaven
Time passed and I finished my early education and wanted to do a Masters program. And when I asked Swami, He just joked and said: “No MSC…MRS!”
Then He told me to do a Montessori program and as is in many families in India, I had just finished my Bachelors in Science and many family friends and relatives would suggest many alliances to my parents to get me married off, so to speak!
Even Swami was all the time asking my parents: “When are you going to get Geeta married?” And I would always say: “I didn’t want to marry anyone unless they are a family of Sai devotees.” One day, when Swami had come to our house, He asked me the same question: “Why are you saying ‘No’ to whoever they suggest to you?” I said: “I only want to marry a Sai devotee, Swami!
Otherwise I am fine you know, I will be the way I am!” To that Swami said: “Well, then okay, what if I tell you to marry a lame man or a blind man? What would you do then?” I replied: “That would be fine as long as he is a Sai devotee - if you told me to marry him and I presume that you would have my best interest at heart, and you know that I would do it!” Then He said: “Okay, since you said that, then I promise you that I will get you married only to a Sai devotee.”
Then I said: “Well, I have one more condition and that is I want to live in Bangalore.” (When He is in a good mood, you know, why not put in a few things!) He said: “Alright!” And that conversation ended!
After some time, a letter came from my aunt who lived in Delhi who wrote: “We know a family here in Delhi who are Sai devotees, and their son is in Bangalore. If you want, I will find out more about the family and the boy.”
My father said: “Well, I am going to ask Swami about this.” So, we went to Whitefield that day - it was a Thursday - and my father in the car said: “I am going to ask Swami about this, and so is it okay with you?” So I told my father: “Since I am the person who’s getting married, I think He should be telling me and not you!”
My father got angry with me, and said: “You are turning out to be a real brat! Swami has no time to come and sit and discuss all of this with you! There are hundreds of people waiting in the darshan line to see Him! Secondly, marriage isn’t an issue that He will come and discuss with the youngster - with the person He is supposed to! He would discuss the issue with the parents as per the tradition; not with the girl who is going to get married! So He doesn’t have time to come and listen to all this!”
So I replied, rather upset, “Well, you know, how Swami manages His time is not my problem really! He is God; He should know how to manage it better! I am very limited! He is not!”
My father got angrier and arrived in Brindavan in a bad mood and my mother said: “You guys are starting this whole thing off on such a negative note! It’s never going to happen!”
It was raining heavily and that day Swami decided to give darshan in the car, because there were so many people waiting, and He didn’t want to disappoint them! He came out and stopped under the Sai Ram shed. Next, He got out and called us across.
As soon as we went close by - I can never forget this scene - He caught hold of my ear, you know - like I was a little child! And He said: “Ah! How I manage My own time is My business! I am God! I should learn better!” He repeated the whole conversation that had happened in the car! And then, even before my father could open his mouth, He said: “I know the letter came from Sunanda, your sister. You go back now to Bangalore - back to home. You call the boy’s parents and ask them to come.” (They were in Delhi ) “Ask them to come on Monday, and I’ll settle the marriage on Monday!”
My father said: “But Swami, I don’t know these people! I don’t know who they are! She still has to find out!” So Swami said: “You don’t know who they are! But I know who they are! You just go and call them!”
My poor father! The things that he’s had to do! So we come back to Bangalore, and he calls his sister and says: “You know, this is what Swami said.” And all the way back home, I get a lot of scolding from my father, “All because of your stubbornness! Look at this stuff! I don’t even know who this person is! I am going to call him up and say Swami asked me! Swami said: ‘Your son is supposed to marry my daughter!’ Who’s going to believe it?”
“We know they are Sai devotees, but we don’t know how long they have been Sai devotees – or whether this was an acceptable thing for them.” And I was actually laughing because I thought - well, you know, this isn’t going to happen - they are going to say “No”. I am happy that I am going to stay this way!
So father calls my aunt and she is shocked! She says: “I just know these people as acquaintances in the bhajan! I just can’t call them and say: ‘Swami said to marry my niece’, you know! How am I going to?” My father said: “Well, you call them and tell them whatever little you can, and then I’ll call them after that!”
So he calls them finally. And they are totally flabbergasted! They had never once spoken to Swami; they had never had any interview in their life. They were devotees who come to the bhajans, who had come to know about Swami by reading books and attending bhajans.
My husband’s father, Dr. Murthy, said: “Well, that’s all very nice. But you know, our son lives in Bangalore. We have to ask him! We’ll call him and then call you back, maybe in an hour’s time.”
So, they called us back. And they were even more shocked! Because when they called him and asked him, he said: “Well, if that’s what Swami said, I will marry her!” I think they were more shocked by what Swami had said! They said: “Okay.” Then my father said: “Swami has asked you to come here on Monday to see you all.” They said they will try and take a flight on Sunday.
On Friday, we go in the morning for darshan. Swami immediately comes to my mother and says: “So did you contact them? What did they say?” My mother said: “They said they will come on Sunday, Swami. We’ve talked to them. But, we have a problem! There’s a balvikas refreshers camp in Mangalore (which is about 200 miles from Bangalore!) she is one of the speakers.” We had to go in an overnight bus for the refresher camp and we were all supposed to come back that Monday morning.
So Swami was very sweet! He said: “You go!” to my mother, “But you give Geeta’s topic to someone else - one of the other teachers. Let Geeta stay back.” And the nice explanation He had for canceling my talk was: “If she comes in the overnight bus she will look very tired when the boy sees her on Monday morning!” So He was protecting my looks and everything! What can I say?
On Monday, the family arrived from Delhi. We don’t know how they look and they don’t know how we look - we’ve never met them! My father left a message with the seva-dal volunteer saying that: “If a gentleman announces himself as Dr. Murthy, send him over to the interview room.” As soon as they arrived, we gathered in front of the interview room and Swami called us in.
My in-laws had never, ever spoken to Swami at all! They had become devotees in the early 70’s; they had attended bhajans - my mother-in-law is a very good singer; she liked music, and that’s how they got into it. My husband had never spoken to Swami! And as soon as they walked in, Swami introduced them to my father.
And He narrated everything that my father-in-law had ever done in his profession till that day! Where he had worked, how many years he had worked as a professor in IIT, how many years he had started his company; everything! My father-in-law, an intellectual man with a Ph.D, just stood there with his jaws open! And Swami was just narrating everything - which village he was born - everything!
And then, He introduced my father and stated: “You know, Padmanabhan came to Me when he was a young man. I gave Geeta her name and she is like My daughter and I brought her up.”
And He gave all this beautiful introduction, playing the mediator between the two families. And then He asked them: “Are you all willing for this marriage? If so, we will talk about it!”
Then He called me and said: “You come with Me” and took me for a little walk down a path next to Trayee Brindavan. And I cannot forget the loving conversation we had that day.
He said: “Look! I know, you’ve said that you always wanted to marry a Sai devotee. I know, you’ve said that you will marry whoever I tell you to marry. But, now is the time for you to tell me if you don’t want to do it. If you don’t want to marry him, tell me now. You don’t have to go back and tell the elders that you won’t do it because I know; they will get very upset, because I have suggested this. You tell Me, and I will go back and tell them I changed My mind - if you don’t want to do it. But this is the time because once we go back there and you say yes, then there’s no going back once you give your word. So decide now!”
I replied with my mantra: “I will do whatever You say Swami. I will do whatever You say Swami!” And then He told me a very beautiful thing. He said: “You know, when we look at other people, we only see the outside of that person. We see their mannerisms, their clothes, and the way they speak. But, we cannot see what is inside them. But I can see what is inside that person! And I can tell you that he is a very God-fearing and God-loving person.”
So, we came back and He fixed our wedding, and we got married. So, that is how when we decide to follow the path and we really have that faith in Him, He will take care of us in every little way that He possibly can!