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Sri Sathya Sai Baba Articles

  Sundaram - A Prasanthi Nilayam in Chennai
 

‘Once You Are Inside Sundaram You Forget Everything!’

“After my delivery of twin-boys I did not go straight home. I wanted to get Swami's blessings for our new family first. So I, along with my husband, took our children to Sundaram because we feel Swami’s presence is always there. Instead of going to Parthi, we can just sit and talk to Swami in Sundaram and He blesses us. Though the doctors advised us not to take the children out, we took them to Sundaram because we felt that it is the holiest place for our new-borns to visit before taking them home.”

This is what Mrs. Mona Duseja, a decade-old resident of Chennai and an ardent devotee of Baba, says with a beatific smile on her face.

Sundaram - The Abode of Bhagawan Baba in Chennai

Yes, Sundaram, the beautiful adobe of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the city of Chennai, the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu, India, is truly a ‘Prashanthi Nilayam away from Prashanthi Nilayam’ for thousands of Sai devotees. “Sundaram fills us with peace and strength,” says another devotee, Sri A K Kumar.

“Once I started coming to Sundaram,” he continues, “my life has totally changed! It’s a university, a temple, a rehabilitation center - it’s everything! Once you are inside Sundaram, you evolve, you forget everything! You are in total bliss, it’s so refreshing! You are filled with so much strength.”

This is the experience of every Mona and every Kumar who has stepped into the holy precincts of this hallowed abode of their Lord Sai in Chennai. Thousands throng into this heavenly abode on every Thursday and Sunday and if you are around after the evening bhajan session in Sundaram you can see that by the time they leave the holy precincts of this ‘heaven-in-Chennai’, their faces are red with emotion and radiating a rare kind of serenity and joy…it is as if they had had an audience with their Lord and all the travails and trials of life have just melted away… they are revitalized and invigorated with the power of the divine! They have been touched by His presence.

Why is Sundaram Special?

Sundaram, the magnificent edifice, which literally means “Divine Beauty” is special, indeed very special. But what is it that makes it so special? Why is it that all - from slum dwellers to sitting judges of the Madras High Courts, from street hawkers to top industrialists - make a beeline to Sundaram for the Sunday bhajans? Why do Sai devotees from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, etc. make it a point to visit Sundaram when they stopover in Chennai en route to Puttaparthi? Why is it that it is often hailed as “heaven in Chennai” and “a beacon of light” by social workers and statesmen as well as by agnostics?

It is to unravel and reveal the glory of Sundaram to our readers and also equally important, to celebrate the completion of 25 years of its existence, that we have this cover story. Sundaram is special simply because it is an indelible part of Swami’s glorious mission. It has not only housed the Lord whenever Swami visited the city after its existence, but also provided comfort and care to thousands of troubled hearts and mangled minds over the last two and a half decades. Miracles have happened at Sundaram. Minds have been moulded and the Lord’s presence felt every moment. We will tell you stories of all this and more as you journey along with us on this spiritual voyage of experiencing the sublimity that is Sundaram. Let’s start with the very beginning - how did it actually come about?

THE SUNDARAM STORY

The Beginning - Swami First Came To Chennai in 1945!

Not many will know that Swami’s physical association with Chennai dates back more than six decades now! Swami first stepped in Chennai, then known as Madras, as a nineteen year old young charismatic boy in 1945. Since then He has blessed the city of Chennai with any number of visits, sometimes staying for months together - as in 1950 when He stayed from January to March, or in 1954 when He was there from January to April. Between 1945 and 1997, Swami blessed Chennai with more than sixty-five visits, touched the lives of thousands and gave the opportunity of being His host to many ardent devotees like Mr. Hanumantha Rao, the Raja of Venkatagiri and Sri Venkatamuni, in whose residences Baba stayed in 1950’s.

 
Early visits of Swami to Chennai...

In fact, Chennai had become His temporary headquarters while visiting other places. Be it His visit to Rishikesh and Hardwar in July 1957, or to Tirupati in March 1960 or to Badrinath in June 1961, Chennai was the take off and return station. Even the first All India Conference of Sai Organizations was held in Chennai on 20 th and 21 st April 1967.

While all this was happening, Swami inaugurated “Sathyadeep” – His abode in Mumbai in 1968 and this was followed by the unveiling of “Shivam” in Hyderabad in April 1973.

The Longing of the Devotees for Sundaram

The devotees in Tamil Nadu longed for Swami’s blessings to complete the trilogy [of Sathyam, Shivam, Sundaram – the title of Baba’s biography] by having “Sundaram” in Chennai. This fervent desire to build an abode for their Lord was there actually even before Shivam was inaugurated. In 1970 itself, a little over six grounds of site became available, but the devotees felt it was not enough to erect an imposing structure. In 1971, by divine design, another six grounds of the very adjacent site along with a building became part of the ‘Sundaram site’. But no construction actually began.

Years rolled by. Though there was clear indication from Baba that “Sundaram” was certain to come, nobody knew when. In 1976, during Summer School in Ooty, when Swami materialized a medallion marking all the future Sai Centres, devotees could easily spot Chennai. Their happiness was tinged with sadness - happiness that it was sure to happen, but sadness over it not yet getting started.

The impatience of the devotees got the better of them and they renovated an existing building in April 1976 and even did a “Gruhapravesham” (house warming ceremony). This became the centre of the organization’s work but the building was not to be Swami’s abode during His visits. “Sundaram” had not yet arrived. Swami even remarked, “It is not Sundaram” with gentle irony! But after that Bhagavan took over.

The Blossoming of Sundaram

Those who were fortunate enough to be present in those days know how Swami’s involvement with the design and construction of the new edifice was comprehensive and complete. As the old timers say, “Swami shaped Sundaram brick by brick. He was in fact the architect, the engineer and the builder. Every detail – be it the doors, the imposing gopurams, the frescoes, the statue of Shiva-Parvati at the entrance, the lotus shaped Darshan balcony or even the gates and the visitors’ lounges – are all what He fashioned.” And Sundaram, true to its name, blossomed with beauty and splendour! And why should it not, with the Loving Lord blessing it with His constant loving gaze and caring touch!

Swami giving Darshan during construction of Sundaram (left) and guiding the devotees during construction...

The much awaited day finally dawned. On the 18th of Jan 1981, the “Kalasha Puja” (preliminary worship before inauguration) was done.

Scenes of Kalasa Puja one day prior to the inauguration day

 
The Kalasa being mounted....

Inauguration of Sundaram

On the 19th Jan morning, there was a grand welcome for Swami. Devotees had gathered since early morning and Sundaram was all decked up for the occasion.

Swami arriving for the inauguration of Sundaram on 19th Jan 1981
Swami on the Sundaram lotus-shaped balcony and (on the right) a view of Sundaram on the inauguration day


Bhagavan consecrated Sundaram as His “Mandir” on that glorious day when He made it His abode. It was a red-letter day in the history of Chennai and Sai devotees celebrated it in the grandest way possible.

 

Sweets were distributed, clothes were given away, all the workers were handsomely felicitated and there was joy all around. On the 55th year of His advent, the 55ft “Sundaram” paid her obeisance to her Lord with gratitude and reverence.

 

The divine rays emanating from Sundaram since then have attracted many spiritual seekers to this holy abode. If we have to describe Sundaram in one phrase, it is ‘Beauty with Sublimity’.

Literally ‘Sundaram’ – Every Detail is Beautiful


Once you cross the threshold of the two gates at Sundaram (one for gents and one for ladies) what welcomes you is a large expanse of sand just like it used to be in Puttaparthi years ago. This is the Darshan ground where the Lord moves among the crowd during His stay in Sundaram.

What was once a sprawling area of 30,700 square feet is now a trifle too small to hold the overwhelming crowd that throng on special festival days like Baba’s Birthday, Shivarathri, New Year, Christmas, etc. or during everyday Darshan sessions when Swami is physically present in Sundaram.

Be it the captivating idols of Lord Ganesha and Lord Subramaniam at the frontal corners of the building, or the beautiful statue of Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati to the left of the entrance to the small prayer hall facing east, or the ornate and exquisite teak wood doors at the Main Darshan Hall with intricate wooden carvings of various deities and religious symbols, or even the aesthetically sculptured two “Yelis” (celestial beings) on the outer entrance to the Main door - every detail of Sundaram is beautiful.

Sundaram is ‘vibrant’, yet ‘still’ and ‘silent’ in the serene peace that pervades.

"We Know Swami Is Always There in Sundaram" - Mrs. Mona Desuja

Anyone who has entered the rectangular-shaped main Darshan Hall, knows why it is compared to the mythological “Vaikunta” - the serene abode of Lord Vishnu. As one devotee says,

“A sense of peace engulfs you and you can feel the mysterious hand waiting to come to your rescue as you enter the Hall. One look at the breathtaking photo of Swami standing in a background of greenery with a gentle smile on His face and a fully blossomed rose clasped in His hands …combined with the stage décor becomes such an overwhelming experience! It is as is if Swami is beckoning you! It provides immediate relief.”

 

“Even though I am tied up with 3 children and take care of home needs, still I find time to go to Sundaram. Because I know my problems are solved in Sundaram,” says Mrs. Mona Desuja.

“My Swami is always there in Sundaram”, she continues and says, “And when I sit there and start chanting His 108 Names, I can feel that He responds immediately. I will know instantaneously that my problems would get solved as I see Swami smiling at me. We see to it that any good thing we do or any property or car we buy, we go to Sundaram first, even if it is very late in the night. If anything adverse happens then too we rush to Sundaram, be it related to our business, or our children’s health. We know Swami is there to help us. Sundaram has given me so many things in life.”

[On the left you see Mrs. Mona with the pictue of her twin-boys who were born with Swami's blessings]

It is not uncommon to find devotees’ cheeks wet with tears of joy and bliss during Bhajan sessions in Sundaram which happen every Thursday and Sunday evenings and also on special festival days. More than the quality of bhajans per se it is the sublime ambience of Sundaram radiating positive energy which touches the core of every devotee’s heart.

“It’s Like Stepping into a Temple of Peace.” – Dr. Mohan

As Dr. V Mohan, a diabetologist by profession, who has been visiting Sundaram for more than a decade and a half now, says,

 

“Many times when I have gone to Sundaram with a disturbed state of mind, the moment I enter Sundaram, it is like going into a temple of peace. In fact to be honest, I prefer Sundaram and Puttaparthi to regular temples (even though I may be biased in my opinion being a devotee of Swami) because I think the way things are conducted here is so unique! Everything happens smoothly without much noise, without much paraphernalia, without much fuss in doings things. You go there and sit in meditation and observe the rules and discipline and take part in the Bhajans and read the Thought for the Day and peace comes to you automatically! You are filled with positive vibrations. You feel like doing something more, your feel recharged completely after listening to bhajans and satsang. This has been a great source of inspiration to me. In fact, when we were deciding to move our house, we chose a house which was relatively near to Sundaram.”

SUNDARAM – ITS BEAUTY WITH SUBLIMITY

The Blessed Darshan Hall

Well, that is the extent to which Sundaram has influenced minds and changed lives. The 25-ft Main Darshan Hall, the focal point of all activity in Sundaram, with nine ornate windows, five entrances and embellished with symbols depicting all religions of the world is spacious and tranquil.

On the stage, apart from Swami’s picture in the centre, there is a beautiful statue of Lord Ganesha in the front as is in most Sai temples and also on either side of the dais are arched decorations of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu on glass with beautiful wall inscriptions of Dasavatar (the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu) on either side of Swami's picture.

Among the rarities that can be noticed here is the image of Lord Shiva holding a conch in one hand (generally Vishnu is associated with the Conch).

Incidentally, these glass panels serve as a door when Swami comes to the stage for giving Darshan in the evening during His stay in Chennai.

The stage also has the Lord’s ‘Padukas’ (Sacred Sandals) embedded in gold inside a golden lotus in the forefront and the usual cushioned chair with a foot rest - all dedicated for Baba.

“The arathi at the end of bhajan or other spiritual sessions in Sundaram is an electrifying experience”, says a regular visitor to Sundaram. “With the majestic chandelier being lit during arathi, the huge bell (made specially in Kumbhakonam) resonating with “Aum”, and nearly two thousand devotees joining in with great gusto and devotional fervor, the arathi is an indulgence of mysticism.”

Apart from the Main Darshan Hall there is also a small prayer hall with a beautiful picture of Swami in “Abhayahasta” (blessing with a raised hand) and an impressive wooden carved statue of Dakshinamoorthy (Lord Shiva) and also other matching architecture of Lord Ganesha, Lord Muruga and other deities. It is here that Bhajans are conducted on all days other than Thursdays and Sundays by groups from Sai Centres across the length and breadth of Chennai.

The Hallowed Shirdi Baba Temple

Another significant structure in the Sundaram compound which deserves a special mention is the “Shirdi Temple” located at the northern end of the campus. They say that the peace that pervades the atmosphere here is to be experienced to be believed.

It is special because Swami has blessed and spiritually charged this temple profusely by materializing a nine-gemmed flower-shaped jewel which He pressed on the forehead of the marvelous sparkling white Shirdi Baba idol. Besides this idol, there is also a miniature idol made of panchaloha (five metals) for the purpose of abhishekam (doing worship with flowers, milk, etc.) which is performed every Thursday and on all festival days. There is also a beautiful ‘shaligram’ (a lingam), again manifested by Baba, which is placed before the silver padukas (sandals) in front of the idol with a metal-snake hood over it. No one can be untouched by the soothing divine vibrations emanating from this place.

 


Shanthi Vedika – The Lord’s Durbar


“Shanthi Vedika”, the raised platform facing south in the open sands outside the main building is another important structure in Sundaram, because it is here that Swami usually gives discourses to the crowd when He is in Chennai.

With a beautiful sculpture of Garuda (vehicle of Lord Vishnu) holding the platform from below and its pillars decorated with symbols of all religions, this picturesque venue is where Swami has spent hours speaking to the devotees, seeing the performances of Bal Vikas children, distributing food and clothes to the poor and guiding the Sevadals during His numerous visits to Chennai.

 

SAI DEVOTEES AND SUNDARAM

“Sundaram is Like My Home” – Sri A K Kumar

Many longtime devotees now joyfully narrate how Sundaram actually brought them close to Swami. Sri A K Kumar who has been a devotee for more than two and a half decades now and regularly sings during the bhajan sessions says,

“My journey to Sai began in Sundaram in 1980. One of my close associates in my school asked me if I would like to sing in Sundaram. Then I thought, ‘what is so great about this place but maybe I will try to make it once a month, that too just for listening’ - but now Sundaram is almost like my home. You will not believe it, but one day I had to go to hospital for some registration and quite unknowingly I landed in Sundaram and went inside and only then I realised I was supposed to be heading somewhere else! That is the affinity I have for Sundaram.”

And this special relationship with Sundaram is because as already mentioned it is at Sundaram that many people have basked in His love and grace, as Kumar recalls,

 

“Whenever Swami comes to Sundaram, the first thing He does is He steps inside, comes near us, enquires about us and only then He proceeds. How can we ever forget the golden moments we have had with Swami…He used to spend so much of His time with us, almost play with us!”

“We Associate Swami with Sundaram” – Dr. Mohan

Speaking about His association with Sundaram, another longtime devotee, Dr. Mohan says,

“Several times when Swami has come to Chennai we had the good fortune to have the Darshan of Swami in Sundaram. So next to Puttaparthi, which we visit several times year, our association with Swami is at Sundaram. We associate Sundaram with Swami and all the good things, all the teachings which Swami stands for, and to us it is a great source of mental peace, inspiration and above all sets to us the right ideal.”

IN SUNDARAM - WORSHIP TRANSFORMS INTO SERVICE

So, Sundaram is not all about serenity, peace and beauty alone. It is a bridge between the devotee and the Lord. What is more noteworthy is how all this devotion to the Lord gets translated here into concrete action. To quote from Dr. Hiramalini Seshadri’s article “Sundaram – A Haven of Love and Peace” which appeared in the Hindu, on Jan 8th, 2006, a few days prior to its Anniversary day,

“The first Chennai organization to rush with food for those affected on that fateful Boxing Day, 2004; the silent hub through which a crore worth of relief materials were disbursed to the tsunami affected of Tamil Nadu; the on-the-spot agency that coordinated efforts to get water to parched Chennai through the Sathya Sai Ganga Canal; the venue for over 200 marriages of people of all faiths conducted totally free of cost with clothes and gifts to set up home for the newly weds;

the chapel that puts up the finest Christmas tree and manger in town; the Masjid from which men sally forth laden with eats and drinks to greet their Muslim brothers as they walk up from the Marina sands after the daylong Ramzan fast and prayers; the temple where upanayanams (Hindu thread ceremony) are done free for all, irrespective of caste and creed; the Veda Patashala (vedic school) where women are taught to recite the Vedas; the divine 'hospital' that has been conducting free weekly clinics for 25 years;
 
An article in the Hindu on Jan 8th, 2006
 
the NGO that has arranged for over 7000 cataract surgeries at Chennai; the 24 hour 'liquid love’ helpline that connects volunteer blood donors to needy patients and hospitals; the 'school' that not only helps slum children with lessons but imparts education in human values, and Sanskrit (later we will relate the moving story of how one of the kids, Durga, is now doing a degree in Sanskrit at QMC (Queen Mary’s College) and even teaches other slum children spoken Sanskrit!);

the centre where since 2002, at Baba's behest, Disaster Management Teams have been trained so that during calamities trained youth can plunge into disaster management rather than just hand out some relief (the tsunami saw exemplary disaster management by these teams at Nagapattinam and Colachal); the hallowed grounds where divine all-faith bhajans resound every Thursday and Sunday ; "Sundaram" is all this and more."

Sundaram – The Nodal Point of Sai Organisation Activities

Yes, Sundaram is much more. Sundaram is a synthesis of peace, love and more importantly, service. And it is this service, done with great discipline and dedication, which has made Sundaram a very unique spiritual centre. It has inspired thousands to feel for their fellowmen and extend their loving hand selflessly to other thousands who have no shelter, no basic education or healthcare facilities.

Every activity is done strictly according to the guidelines laid down by Swami from time to time. It is this disciplined approach to service and spirituality which has caught the attention of many. As one devotee says,

 

“The moment we started attending the bhajans there and got to see some of the activities taking place at Sundaram, a great transformation came in our lives because we realised not only the spirituality which pervades this place, but also the strength of the Organisation, its discipline and its character and the way things are done within the Sai Organisation really made a deep impression on us.”

With the Sai Organization spread in every district of Tamil Nadu, there are more than 700 Sri Sathya Sai Centers in the state and Sundaram is the nerve centre of this entire network. The concept of service was enumerated and emphasized by Swami by practice and precept in Chennai more than four decades ago. In fact, the first All India Conference of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations was held in Chennai in April 1967. And since then, service has been a continuous activity by the Sai Organization in Chennai, receiving added impetus in the form of better infrastructure and resources after Sundaram came into being in 1981.

“Liquid Love” – A 24/7 Supreme Service

Among the various service activities that go on continuously in Sundaram is the all-year-round-the-clock service of organizing blood donors for patients undergoing surgeries in the city hospitals. Rechristened as “Liquid Love”, this started in a small way on 6th Dec 1998 in Sundaram and now has an elaborate information counter and a data bank manned by three volunteers, 24-hours 7-days a week. With a need-based software and a database of more than 3000 donors comprising of all blood groups which is constantly updated, it serves on average 100 patients a month undergoing surgeries with some receiving 2-3 units of blood, including rare blood groups.

The way this service operates is this - the moment there is a request for a blood donor from any of the city hospitals, the enlisted blood donors are immediately contacted who readily volunteer to donate at the respective hospitals/blood bank with fervent zeal. Thanks to frequent interaction with the hospitals, there is excellent coordination and the needy are served at the required moment. A number of shields, trophies, and citations awarded by the Madras Voluntary Blood Bureau stand as testimony to the yeoman service being rendered by this set up in Sundaram.

In fact, this service is there even in the Railway Station in Chennai. Christened as Sri Sathya Sai Public Utility Services, this counter in the railway platform provides a host of voluntary services to people landing in Chennai from all parts of the world including first-aid, city info, etc. Many people visibly moved with this service say, ‘it is such a comforting feeling to know that there is always a “Sai Brother or Sister” in Chennai ready to help you in your times of need including arranging for blood, if required.

The Amazing Sai Krupa – Heaven for the Poor and The Sick

Another regular free medical service which is run every Sunday is at a place adjacent to Sundaram called “Sai Krupa.” With doctors from all disciplines of medicine treating several hundred poor patients every week here, this is a godsend for the underprivileged and the sick. And this was going on as early as 1977, that is, much before Sundaram came into being. Dr. Prabhu, Director, Advanced Nuclear Medicine Research Institute, Puraswalkkam, Chennai, who has been serving at Sai Krupa for many years now, recalling his first experience at the centre says,

“The Patients Come Here For Love” – Dr. Prabhu

 

“The very first experience was very encouraging and all the paramedical and the volunteers were so friendly with me. Motivated by the will to serve and through their love and affection I decided to come every week. I even shifted my residence to T. Nagar which is nearer to Sundaram, so that I will not miss any Sunday…. I came across a lot of patients, about 300 to 400, most of them suffering from various degrees of illness. One may get the impression that these patients are being cured by the medicines which we give. But actually this is not true. The patients who come here are not coming for the medicines that are being dispensed here, but for the love. It is really the love of our beloved Swami that heals them. Slowly we started getting higher medical specialists like cardiac thoracic surgeons, plastic surgeons, vascular surgeons, who started coming regularly. And this kept us motivated further and we kept improving our care to these people.”

Even If Out Of Station, I Do Not Miss Sai Krupa On Sunday ”– Dr. Kumari Menon

 

“Even if I am out of station I make it a point to come to Chennai on Sunday so as not to miss the Sunday at Sai Krupa,” says another doctor, Dr. Kumari Menon, a pediatrician in Vijaya Hospital, Chennai who has also been associated with Sai Krupa for decades now.

“I remember” she continues, “once there was a child who had obstruction in sebro spinal fluid in the brain. We had done a shunt (bypass) for the child. The child used to come to Sai Krupa every Sunday for regular check up and by Swami’s grace was cured without any complications. On one of the occasions, I remember, we had lunch with Swami. While interacting with us, He said, ‘it is better to go and serve in the door steps rather than waiting for the patients to come.’ And so, we started Grama Seva (serving in the villages). We not only were attending the patients there but also were giving them much-needed health education.”

The commitment of the doctors and their dedication to Sai and the service camps is exemplary, to say the least.

How Is Sai Krupa Different?

How is it different serving in Sai Krupa than in their regular hospitals?

“Sai Krupa is more like a family,” says Dr. Prabhu. “Here, doctors not only give the required medical help but also patiently listen to all the difficulties of the poor patient. The very act of listening to their problems and pain cures 90 % of their illness.”

In Sai Krupa a concerned effort is made by all the doctors to understand the patient first before prescribing anything. Keeping their sensibilities, rural conditions and other factors in mind, a lot of thinking is done as to how the medicines are to be dispensed, how rural camps should be organized and how to better understand the pains and suffering of this often neglected and poor section of the society. And all this has resulted in better care to the patients and their numbers keep increasing every Sunday.

 
A dentist busy in Sai Krupa...
 
Sevadals serving at the Sai Krupa dispensary...

This Is How Sai Krupa Grows…

In fact, impressed with the purity of the cause, many more doctors have joined Sai Krupa lately. Dr. Prabhu mentions about three of his friends. One is Dr. Jayavel Rajkumar, a plastic surgeon at the Madras Medical College (who in his younger days somehow was not influenced by Swami though he saw Him a couple of times, but is now a regular at Sundaram). “Similarly, Dr. Sundar, a Cardiac Thoracic Surgeon who has worked in the United Kingdom as a consultant for more than 9 years,” Dr. Prabhu says, “called me up one day and said, ‘Prabhu, I will be happy to do some work for poor people’. And I said, ‘why don’t you accompany me every Sunday to Sai Krupa’. He liked the idea but could allot only one day a month. But now Dr. Sundar is helping diagnose cardiac patients every week in Sai Krupa, unless he is out of station.”

The third on Dr. Prabhu’s list is Dr. Raghunath, a vascular surgeon with 13 years experience in UK , who is a consultant at Apollo Hospital. Like Dr. Sundar, Dr. Raghunath too was looking for something like Sai Krupa and after coming to know of it, visits regularly to see the patients. In fact, Sai Krupa, as somebody remarked, is now almost a super specialty centre!

Striving continuously to improve their services, the doctors at Sundaram have also recently started a “Young Adults Health Care Programme” to guide the youth in the villages who suffer from alcohol abuse, drug abuse, anemia and improper health education. The idea is to make the youth physically, mentally and spiritually strong so that they can be socially productive. All media – from charts to audio-video CDs – are being used to effectively communicate health education to the youth.
 

 

The Doctors serving in Sai Krupa also voluntarily participate in the Public Utility Services at the Central Railway Station. “This gives an opportunity to interact with passengers with varying difficulties. We were able to guide them as to where to seek medical attention, apart from rendering first aid services,” one devotee-doctor says.

Years ago when Dr. Rama Devi, now retired Director and Superintendent of the Government Children’s Hospital, showed her stethoscope to Swami to bless it after she completed her medical education, Swami said “Praja Seva Chei Bangaru” meaning “Serve the people, dear one”.

And this is precisely what Dr. Rama Devi and all the doctors at Sundaram are engaged in - unmindful of their personal comforts and heedless of luxury.

Seva in Sundaram is not restricted to blood donation and a medical centre at Sai Krupa alone. There are a lot of other health camps being conducted at regular intervals like the screening camp for Auto-rickshaw drivers, Geriatric camps, Eye camps, Pediatric camps, etc.

Special Medical Camps For Auto Rickshaw Drivers

Recalling his first experience at the auto-rickshaw driver’s camp, Dr. V Mohan who screens the drivers for diabetes says,

“I was a bit surprised initially, because I thought that these young auto rickshaw drivers are young and poor, but not obese. They also seemed physically active and so I thought that it would be a waste of time to screen these people for diabetes, even though the rest of the camp would be very useful since their blood group was being tested and they were also given a small pass book containing information about their blood group and blood pressure. But we were greatly surprised to find that in the first camp we conducted, we found that out of all the drivers screened, 7% of the drivers screened had diabetes! And then, the then President of the Tamil unit of the Organisation, appealed to us as to whether we could take on these drivers for further free treatment and we agreed. And drivers screened at the camp, who have been identified having diabetes, are welcome to our centre and we offer life long free treatment.”

Such lifelong treatment is now offered to several hundred drivers who have been diagnosed with the disease out of nearly 10,000 auto-rickshaw drivers who have been screened so far in such camps conducted at regular intervals. “I am happy to say that we are offering them free lifelong treatment and they come to our centre. Even though their follow up is not regular, quite a large number of them have been retained for follow up and they continue to receive good diabetic control,” continues Dr. Mohan and adds, “before this, their sugar levels were not controlled and used to be at 400 to 450 levels and the worse part of it was they were totally unaware of it! This not only posed a danger to themselves but also to the passengers of the auto-rickshaw they everyday ferried in the busy streets of Chennai.”

How Have The Auto-Rickshaw Drivers Responded?

How has this service affected the lives and mindset of auto-rickshaw drivers? “The transformation that has come about in them is very encouraging,” says Dr. P Rama Devi, “Many drivers who used to drink water from any street corner now carry boiled water, thanks to the pep talk on health in the screening camp.”

 

Dr. Hiramalini Seshadiri, a Rheumatologist and writer, has another interesting incident to narrate -

“I had to dash down from hospital to Sundaram once. I took an auto-rickshaw which true to Chennai tradition had no working meter. I was hoping the driver wouldn't fleece me. To my amazement he charged me most nominally. The surprise must have shown on my face for the driver said with a shy smile, "Amma, you ‘Sundaram’ doctors arranged for my mother's free eye operation and I myself had a complete free check up here."

Needless to say, Dr. Seshadiri was moved and silently thanked Bhagavan for giving her the opportunity to be part of Sundaram.

One may ask why only auto rickshaw drivers and not others? Dr. Mohan, who leads the diabetic screening camps, answers this doubt,

“Unlike train drivers, bus conductors and so on, who have ESI (Employee State Insurance) and other benefits, auto rickshaw drivers are one group of people who do not have any benefits. And when this project was presented to Bhagavan, the All-knowing-One had not only directed us to go ahead with the project but also said that it was a very good project. And no wonder,” says Dr. Mohan, “ - it has been a very satisfactory experience for all of us.”

The Importance of Health Screening – One Youth’s Tale

But having stated that, the Sai Organisation in Sundaram does not restrict itself to auto-rickshaw drivers alone. They also conduct a number of other camps for various other categories of people which includes even the Sevadal Volunteers of the Organisation. Recalling a particular case of a youth who was screened at Sundaram, Dr. Mohan says,

“I still remember at one of the camps organised at Sundaram, a young man of 22 years had his blood tested for sugar for the first time, and we discovered that he had a blood sugar level of 350. He was shocked and angry. He complained that the instrument was wrong. He could not believe he could be diabetic. We checked him again and showed him that his blood sugar was really very high. Then we went on to check his blood pressure and that too at around 170 by 110 was very high. Of course, this could also be because he was very excited, apart from the fact that he had a history of blood pressure.

But, this only upset him further and he just broke down and blurted out, ‘I walked in as young man of 24, and now you tell me I have blood pressure and blood sugar’. He was inconsolable.

 

It took a lot of patience and kind words on our part to explain to him what would have happened if he had not come to the camp? He would have been walking around with the very high blood pressure and blood sugar and probably would have had a stroke or a heart attack.

Slowly, the message did go home and he started visiting our centre regularly and by His grace soon we were able to bring his blood sugar down and his blood pressure was also brought under control. And this is just one example of the numerous instances of how Sundaram, serving as a nodal unit to reach out to society, has benefited hundreds of people with diabetes, blood pressure and similar ailments.”

The Vision Restoration Project

And as just mentioned it is not only diabetes or blood pressure, there have also been many eye care camps and notable among those is the ‘Vision Restoration Project 2000’ which was undertaken during Baba’s 75th Birthday to conduct 75,000 cataract surgeries in the state of Tamil Nadu. However, sensing the great need for it among the poorer sections of society, this project is being continued even now and in the last three years more than 7,000 surgeries have been performed in the city of Chennai itself!

Sai volunteers go to each and every slum in the city, identify the patients and convince the uneducated about the need for the surgery and personally bring them to the Voluntary Service Camps. Then, apart from the collective prayer that they do for their speedy recovery after their surgery, they also provide instructions and medicines for post operative recovery and even carry out the necessary follow up by visiting the patients frequently at their living areas. Dr. (Mrs.) Mohan, an ophthalmologist who is very much involved in all camps connected with eye care says, “This has been a very satisfactory experience for all us.”

And Dr. Mohan, on his part, minces no words when expressing his deep interest in the service camps in Sundaram. Expressing his gratitude to Swami for the opportunity, he says,

“We have been very fortunate to be blessed and be involved in Bhagavan’s movement and we also have been very happy that Sundaram has been the nodal point for us - Sai brothers and sisters in the medical fraternity - to come together and contribute that little bit to society, though lots more needs to be done.”

Responding Timely to Disasters, Such as the Tsunami

Is it not heartening to see so many distinguished doctors taking to selfless social service inspired by Swami? And that was only a glimpse of the Medical Seva being rendered by doctors operating from Sundaram. But service in Sundaram has much more to it. For example, the service done during natural disasters. The moving saga of service done by Tamil Nadu sevadals during Tsunami in December 2004, is another grand and inspiring tale by itself and we have already done a special issue entirely on this in March 2005. [Please go here to download the Tsunami issue].

Sundaram was the central hub in the mega operations that were undertaken on that occasion to disburse food, clothes and other basic necessities worth over a crore of rupees. Procuring all the materials, properly packaging and finally shipping 5,000 boxes of relief material to the affected location in Nagapattinam – every activity was coordinated from Sundaram and done with meticulous planning in record time. There were hundreds of Sai volunteers who worked in the open sands of Sundaram forsaking food and sleep for days to see to it that the work was completed at a swift pace. Dr. Prabhu who was a witness to the stirring service that was done by the youth during Tsunami, recollects that,

“On December 26th which happened to be Sunday on 2004, when we came to our regular service at Sai Krupa, we found that the Young volunteers were very active and running around busy with numerous tasks. Our Sundaram volunteers were, in fact, the first people to jump to rescue the affected people in the Tsunami. They quickly organised the food and other relief materials and systematically distributed them to the affected, long before the other agencies could step in. And all this was done very quietly, without publicity. The intention was only to serve and nothing else.”

 
Sai Youth busy during Tsunami...

Continuing further on how he became involved in the Seva, he says, “When I was reading the newspapers I was thinking whether I would get an opportunity to see how people have been affected at Nagapattinam. And just then there was a call from Sundaram, that I should go and take care of the volunteers who were serving at Nagapattinam. This was an enlightening experience. I was able to see in person how, well-to-do people were rendered homeless in a matter of a few minutes and how our Seva dals were active at the ground level.

Our job was primarily to take care of the Seva dals, especially the young boys who have not been exposed to any sort of difficulties during their career and now they were doing an immense amount of distribution of relief materials to the public. The relief material was very neatly packed at Sundaram, transported and the distribution at the end point was organised in such a way that there was not a single untoward incident. There was no requirement of any police or security personnel help and the way our volunteers conducted themselves is a really educational experience for any organisation.”

Like they say - success begets success - and in Sundaram selfless service propels you to do more and more service for the needy and grief-stricken. And now there are regular Disaster Management Training programmes conducted in all 23 districts of Tamil Nadu for the Sevadal youth and ‘Disaster Awareness’ programmes being planned for college students.

Disaster Management Training in Tamil Nadu
Innovative Floats - Empty Tins
Innovative Floats - Drum Raft
Sliding Stretcher Method

Thus, Sundaram has been the divine ground which has inspired hundreds and thousands to practise “Love in action” just like Baba does and more importantly, has sustained and augmented their passion and devotional fervor every passing year. No doubt, it has brought fulfillment in the lives of many and as Dr. Rama Devi says, “Sundaram is a Beacon of Light to people who have really lost their way. People who cannot afford to go to Puttaparthi, or do not have the capacity, physical health and opportunity, come to Sundaram to reinforce themselves.” Sundaram is truly a spiritual garage-cum-citadel. Dr. Rama Devi, incidentally was the first sevadal to be selected by Swami way back in 1970s.

SUNDARAM’S PRIDE - THE SUNDARAM SAI BHAJAN GROUP

Sundaram Bhajans – Indelible Part of Sai Devotees’ Lives

It is not only the continuous selfless service aspect which is appealing about Sundaram. There is also another very fascinating facet of Sundaram, an aspect which has made Sundaram a household name the world over, where ever there are Sai devotees and that is the Sundaram Sai Bhajans. Known for their quality, purity and melody, the Bhajans of Sundaram have literally taken the spiritual practice of chanting the Lord’s Name with music and feeling to a new level.

If today, thousands of devotees are able to learn and sing Sai bhajans in their Sai Centres, it is because of the dedicated work of a group of trained men and women often known as the “Sundaram Bhajan group” who have been picked, nurtured and guided by Swami Himself during His numerous visits to Sundaram. It is this group which apart from singing in the holy Darshan hall of Sundaram on all Thursdays and Sundays, also has been regularly releasing bhajan cassettes and CDs since 1985. Till date, 56 volumes of Sundaram Sai Bhajans in Audio cassettes and 19 volumes in Audio CD have been released.

 

It will not be an overstatement to say that Sundaram Bhajans are an indelible part of the lives of Sai devotees. To get a real feel of it let us read what Dr. Mohan has to say.

“Sundaram has always been a place which has fascinated me because of all the bhajans that I attend; I think the Sundaram Bhajans are very dear to me and somehow it appeals to the heart,” says Dr. Mohan who has a large collection of Sundaram cassettes and never misses to pick up every Sundaram cassette or CD that is released.

“The only music I listen to now ever since I stopped listening to any music eight or ten years ago,” he continues, “are these bhajans and they go on almost throughout the day. In the morning when I get up I hear the bhajans and whenever I am in the car it is this which is put on; and again I hear it in the evening and even in my office I have some instrumental Sai Bhajans going on! So virtually throughout the day it is Sai Bhajans which rule my day and mostly these are the cassettes bought from Sundaram. And I am deeply grateful to Sundaram for these lovely bhajans,” Dr. Mohan concludes.

Why are Sundaram Bhajans Special?

To have a live experience of how these bhajans are influencing hearts and transforming minds, all one has to do is to visit Sundaram on a Sunday or Thursday. The number of people lined up to go inside Sundaram on these days is astounding!

As Dr. Hiramalini Sheshadri says,

“From top industrialists to locals and nearby slum dwellers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen…all make a beeline for “Sundaram” for Sunday bhajans. Parking is a real problem on Sundays and when asked what draws them to Sundaram, the near unanimous answer is – they get ‘peace of mind’.”

 

And why not? ‘Love as feeling is peace’ Swami says and Sundaram is suffused with divine love coupled with genuine concern and discipline. Swami has visited Sundaram at least ten times after its inauguration and five of them in consecutive years. In every January from 1981 to 1986, Swami was in Sundaram and in each of these visits He spent a lot of time with the members of the Sundaram Bhajan Group. In fact, it is He who has literally composed the group and all the artists in the group are ordinary people who have blossomed into divine instruments, touched by His constant love and care.

“Bhajan Singing is Part of One’s Life” – Dr. Devanathan

Take for instance, the case of Dr. Devanathan, a very senior member of the Bhajan group who has been associated with Sundaram Bhajans almost since its inception. Recalling his first tryst with singing, this Ph. D from IIT, Madras , says,

 

“I have had no formal training in music except that I had inherited a genetic characteristic of an affinity for music from my parents. But then, thanks to His grace, I did get a chance to get myself tested at Brindavan during the Summer Course Programme in May 1978. I was surprised and also a little nervous when I was asked to sit on the stage of the huge auditorium that was just inaugurated by Swami in the Brindavan campus. There were a lot of judges sitting and I was asked to sing. I was really nervous. It was a pleasant surprise for me when I heard that I was the only person who was selected in the very first round and was even given a clean chit to go and sing in Swami’s presence every evening during bhajans!”

But the story does not end there. Another beautiful thing which happened as a sequel to this, in Dr. Devanathan’s words, is this:

“In the year 1979 when Swami was talking to a group of people, He waved his Hand and materialized Vibuthi. While He was giving Vibhuti to everybody present, when He came near me He took a small quantity and rubbed it on my throat. I was thrilled! I feel that was the beginning of a long stint in bhajans. Bhajan singing is not a special talent or career. It’s part of one’s life.”

“You Sing, I Will Listen” – Swami

Truly, for the Bhajan singers and other artists of Sundaram, Swami is their life and Sai bhajans their life-breadth. Every member of the Bhajan group has moving anecdotes of how Swami has touched their lives and motivated them to dedicate their lives for this noble endeavour.

“I remember the first bhajan session when I sang in front of Swami,” says Mr. A K Kumar, “Actually, I was frustrated. I was waiting for the bhajans to start but everything else was happening except bhajans. There was a lot of activity going on and I was thinking my coming here has become totally pointless. A waste of time. And just then Swami came in. I did not know that. I realised it only when I turned around after feeling a tap on my back and saw Swami there! And most wonderfully, like a small child, He said in Tamil, “Yenna innum bhajan aaramikkalaya” meaning, “You have not started bhajan yet?”

 

At that very instant I knew he knows what is going on in everybody’s heart. The merciful Lord, then came near and very sweetly said, “Ni paadu na kekkaren”, that is, “You sing, I will listen”. I was obviously overjoyed. And after I finished singing Swami refused to move. I did not know what to do! Swami’s plan, I guess, was to stay only for 5 minutes. But He was there for about 40 minutes! Later, people came and thanked me for making Swami stay for so long. But we know it was all His divine plan and play!”

Singing Under His Loving Care And Guidance

Swami has not only encouraged the singers at every step, but also corrected, guided and given very clear instructions on the procedure and conduct of the bhajans to the members on numerous occasions. “There are several instances that I can recall with nostalgia” says, Dr. Devanathan, “when Swami spent a lot of time with the bhajan group at Sundaram. There were occasions when He made corrections to our singing and perfected the way we rendered a particular bhajan. To quote an instance,

“It was the year 1985. Swami was seated on the chair in Shanti Vedika and it so happened that I had commenced singing the bhajan Brahmanda Nayaka Baba. It is a Hindi bhajan and one of the lines in this bhajan goes “Ayodhya nagari tumne banaye, dwaraka nagari tumne banaye, shirdi parti tumne banaye”. This apparently was not the correct version of the song. I had sung it as “banaye” in every phrase. Swami took cognizance of this and while I was singing He was making gestures to me, nodding His head and pointing out a finger and trying to tell me something. I just could not get what He was trying to tell me. That night after making a visit to one of His devotee’s residences, on his way back, Swami drove into Sundaram. Swami got out of the car and came straight to me. In fact, He was looking for me in the crowd. He then called me and said, “Can you sing the song again?”

I started singing the whole bhajan and He said, “It is not that way, it is ‘Ayodhya nagari tumne banaye, dwaraka nagari tumne baithaye, Shirdi parti tumne basaye.” It is banaye, baithaye and basaye.’ When we look at the meaning of this line, there is a very strong message in this – ‘Ayodhya was made by Him and Dwaraka was spoken of by Him while Shirdi and Parti were established by Him.’

Just to demonstrate how much interest Swami used to take in His earlier visits in correcting and guiding the singers, Dr. Devanathan recalls another experience and says,

“It was in the year 1990. I was rendering the bhajan, “Sai Hamara Hum Sai ke, yisa prem hamara” in Abbortsbury, Chennai. Swami was moving among the huge crowds that had gathered that morning and I thought the bhajan was really getting lost in the din. But at the end of the bhajan, after Swami took the arathi while He was walking down, He again beckoned the bhajan group to come. When we went near, He asked me to render the whole bhajan again. He listened to it very patiently and then said ‘You are cutting of the hamara too quickly. It should be “Sai hamara hum sai ke yisa prem hamaraaaaa’. ‘We are yours, we belong to you’, that was the meaning of the line and Swami wanted the stress at the appropriate place. But the whole exercise did not stop at that.

The next morning when Swami came out and He was about to leave for Bangalore, bhajans had just begun. Swami came straight to me and asked me to begin the bhajan once again! He stood beside me again, watched me sing the entire song and finally said ‘Yes, correct’ and only then He walked away with a gentle smile on His face.”

 
Swami listening to rendering of Sundaram Bhajan Group in Prashanthi Nilayam, April 2005.


Guidelines from Swami for Bhajans

So that is the kind of involvement that Swami has with the Bhajans and Bhajan group of Sundaram. From time to time in numerous interviews that He has given to the group, He has spelt out very clearly a number of directions regarding the conduct of bhajans like –

  • “When you practise, practise with a full throated voice.”
  • “You should all disperse immediately after the bhajan. You should not reveal your identity to any of the devotees. That would be a distraction to them. So make sure that people return home with the same vibration that existed during the bhajan.”
  • “You should be pure and good as you lead the bhajans. Unless you are pure, unless you have your heart filled with devotion and love, how could you expect the vibrations to flow among the crowd that follows the bhajan?”
  • “Once you are in bhajan do not think about what others say, stay fixed to Me and Me alone. In that way you can practise well and you can sing well too.

There was also an interesting interview when Swami taught the members of the group what effective communication is and how should the singers and other musicians communicate with each other during bhajans. Dr. Chandrasekhar, a tabla player in the group who was present in that interview goes down memory lane and says,

“I think it was the year 1993. The whole Sundaram Bhajan Group was called in for an interview. In the interview room Swami was talking to us on various topics, but suddenly He asked, ‘What is communication?’ and then looking at me He said, ‘Tabla, tell me what is communication?’

I just didn’t know what it is because He was talking about various other subjects and I was wondering why is Swami suddenly talking about communication. I could not really understand. So I did not know what to say. Then Swami again asked me, ‘Do you think what you do is communication?’ I had absolutely no clue what to answer. Then He came to the crux of the matter and said, ‘Look, while singing you show your hands. What is it for?’ and mind you, we do that at Sundaram during the Thursday and Sunday bhajans in front of Swami’s photograph and Throne. But Swami was asking us in Brindavan about it.

 
Swami with the Sundaram Group in
Prashanthi Nilayam, April 2005

In fact, I have been doing that from 1984. And in 1993 Swami asks, ‘what you do by showing hands?’ Well, while playing tabla you show hands. I told Him that we try to tell the Shruthi or the pitch. Then He said, ‘Is that the way to communicate? See communication is this. When an ant bites you at the feet, immediately the nerves take information to the brain. The brain sends some commands to the hand and the hand removes the ant. Now this sort of communication takes places from the feet to the brain and from the brain to the hand. Does anyone other than you know about it?’ I said ‘No’.

Then He said ‘Communication should be like that. When you communicate to someone the other devotees should not know what it is. When people sit for bhajan they look at you and see how you make faces. How you show your hands. When you assemble for practice before the bhajan, at that time itself write down on a slip of paper who is going to sing what and at what Shruti and then pass it around.’ This was a revelation to all of us in the group, not only because He was telling us how to communicate with each other in the group during the bhajan session, but also indirectly revealing to us that He is there at every bhajan session that happens at Sundaram.”

SUNDARAM IS A PLACE OF MIRACLES TOO!

The invisible presence of Sai in Sundaram is an experience which many in Sundaram can vouch for. There are even people who have actually seen Him seated on the throne! And no wonder there are so many miracles that have happened in Sundaram.

No Surgery Needed For Mariappan

When 10-year old Mariappan was diagnosed with having a hole in his heart which needed immediate surgery, he and his mother who lead a hand-to-mouth existence, were devastated, to say the least. They knew that they could never afford the surgery. Their only refuge was Sai and so they came to Sundaram to surrender themselves to their Lord through prayer and devotion. In the meantime, the Sai devotee doctors at Sai Krupa advised them to get the surgery done at Swami’s Hospital in Whitefield and even sent him to a city Cardiac Diagnostic Laboratory for preliminary tests and scans. What the tests revealed startled everyone! There was no hole there! Mariappan’s heart was found normal and there was no surgery needed!

Glaucoma Gone!

And this is no isolated incident. There is the incident of the devotee whose scheduled glaucoma surgery was called off after he prayed at Sundaram the day before the surgery; the eye simply turned normal! The patient had in fact, deposited the amount in the hospital for the surgery the previous day, only to ask for a refund the next day! And now coming to what happened very recently, Mrs. Hyma Ramakrishna narrates how her sister-in-law’s cancer was cancelled after she sent her Swami’s blessings from Sundaram. Here is the interesting story in Mrs. Hyma’s own words,

And Now Cancer Cancelled!

“At 6.00 AM on September 29th 2005, I attended the 81-day continuous Homam (sacrifice) being performed in Sundaram to mark Bhagavan’s 80th Birthday. But I was there with a very special request to Bhagavan – to help out my sister-in-law Gita who was in the midst of very intense treatment for a very rare type of cancer. And that day was Gita’s Birthday and I committed Gita to Bhagavan’s Divine Care and prayed for His Mercy to ‘Cancel her Cancer’ as He has done for several devotees in the past.

As the Homam was going on, the vibrations were so intense and as I sat there with eyes closed, I felt Bhagavan’s presence right there. After the Homam was completed I was given vibhuthi to be sent to Gita, who lives in New York. The next morning I sent the vibhuthi by post to New York and it reached Gita in a week’s time. Gita applied the vibhuthi everyday and she called me to say, she felt immense strength. I was happy but it did not end there.

Gita was scheduled to take 12 courses of chemotherapy spread over a period of 6 months. After every course, her energy level would go down tremendously. The 11th course took a toll on her and she started feeling very low. As I prayed to Bhagavan beseeching Him to grant Gita energy, I felt a strong message coming through, that Gita need not go in for the 12th course. I called Gita and my brother Ramaswamy and conveyed this to them. But the doctor advised Gita to complete the 12th course. When the 12th course commenced, Gita developed high fever and the doctor had to stop the course immediately. Gita and Ramaswamy too at that time were convinced that it was not God’s will to go through the 12th session.

 
A part of the letter written by Mrs. Hyma Ramakrishna narrating her Sister-in-law's miraculous healing

In the first week of February 2006, Gita had a complete Cat Scan and colonoscopy done. And you will not believe it, there were no traces of cancer in both the investigations! I thank the Lord for His immense grace.

CONSTANT SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY AT SUNDARAM

Stories of grace and divine love flowing out to devotees from Sundaram like this are many. The purifying divine energy prevalent in Sundaram is an experience shared by everyone. Apart from the bhajans there are always a number of spiritual activities that devotees in Sundaram are always engaged in like chanting the 1008 Names of the Lord; conventions on Vedic Literature and Learning; Akhanda Bhajans (Continuous bhajans for 12 hours, 24 hours, etc.) on special occasions; regular study circle meetings conducted by and for the legal fraternity comprising of Supreme Court and High Court judges; there is another meeting held for High Ranking officials and bureaucrats (you will be surprised to know that more than 50 to 60 IAS officers regularly attend this study circle); while a third is for doctors from various disciplines.

 
Sahasranamam - Chanting 1008 Names of the Lord collectively in progress in Sundaram...

In addition there are also Mass Marriages conducted for poor couples, Mass Upanayams (thread changing ceremony) for young children, and ceremonies honouring elderly couples aged 80 years and above, etc. Sundaram is a hub of Spiritual and Service activity and this is what makes the ambience in Sundaram so divine and pure. And these positive vibrations coupled with divine grace and the devotees’ prayers create miracles. There is the instance of a devotee doctor who had been suffering from arthritis for years and who after participating in the in the Sai Sahasranama Koti Archana (Chanting of Sai’s name a crore times) on a few occasions started feeling better and to his amazement even found that he was able to squat on the floor which he had not done for years! “Is this not a miracle?” he asks.

How Sai in Sundaram Draws Devotees?

In fact, more than these miraculous instances of healing, what is more significant is the transformation in the heart that Sundaram has been bringing about in the young and the old. There are many who have come to Sundaram as skeptics and returned home as devotees. There are hundreds who have decided to never touch non-vegetarian food again, thanks to one visit to Sundaram. Ten years back Mona Desuja’s husband never believed in Swami, but because of Mona’s insistence and inclination, he promised to take her to Sundaram one particular Thursday. But in some way, tied up with his business, he could not return home on time that night. It was 9 PM by the time he returned from office and Sundaram regularly closed at 8 PM. But He somehow wanted to go and told Swami mentally, if he and his family have His Darshan that day, he would follow Him blindly. And guess what? When he reached Sundaram way past 9 in the night that day, the lights in Sundaram were still glowing! Mr. Desuja had Swami’s Darshan and needed no more assurances. For the Desujas now, Sundaram is another home.

They say,

 

“We did not have a penny to start 10 years back. We used to go and talk to Swami in Sundaram and Swami used to come to our rescue mysteriously. We used to suddenly find new clients or business proposals and He used to even arrange finance and all other requirements for us. It is He who has done it all for us. We sit, relax and talk in Sundaram to Swami about our problems and our problems get solved immediately without saying! Any business which is going in losses, when we talk to Swami in Sundaram sells in double the prices!”

The great sense of gratitude and reverence in Mrs. Mona’s face is really moving. She now regularly helps in the cleaning of Sundaram and participates in all the functions at Sundaram.

SUNDARAM – THE GREAT MOULDER OF CHARACTER

How each individual is drawn into Swami’s divine umbrella is fascinating. What is more wonderful is how little children coming to Sundaram are blossoming into beautiful divine instruments, thanks to “Bal Vikas” - the Child Development Programme in Sundaram. Inculcating love for God and all good things in life at an early age in children is perhaps the noblest and most satisfying contribution of Sai devotees in Sundaram. There are regular classes held on Sunday and other holidays where the immortal vales of Truth and Love are taught to the children through various innovative ways by dedicated Bal Vikas teachers.

 
Swami with Sundaram Bal Vikas Children....

In fact, some of the very senior members in Sundaram are actually products of the Bal Vikas Programme which like the Service activities in Chennai started much before Sundaram came into existence. Talking about the Bal Vikas programme of which he himself was a former student, Dr. Prabhu, says,

“I have two girls - the elder one is 7 years old and the younger one is 4 years old. Both of them have been regularly going to Bal Vikas like I used to. And what my parents have given to me is my duty to give to them so that they also enjoy the happiness and bliss that is contained in the Bal Vikas programme. And these children are very much happy and are able to sing bhajans very regularly and they have also been coming to Sundaram.”

But more than this what impressed Dr. Prabhu is their love for Swami. Citing a beautiful incident, He says,

“The amazing thing is that during the New Year, both these children got up at 3 o’clock in the morning and were promptly ready by 4 o’clock dressed in white to leave to Sundaram, to participate in the morning prayers - Suprabhatam and Nagarsankerthan. This is what really moved me, because none of them get up before 6 o’clock in the morning. And the day before, I mentioned to them that if they get up early I would be taking them to Sundaram. And they were up on their own early morning that day! So that shows the involvement of the children and the love and affection they have towards Swami and how Swami personally takes care of these children in their upbringing.”

Mrs. Durga’s Stirring Story

Yes, once God enters into their lives, the children transform into gold. They glitter and shine radiating His love and grace. Ms. Durga hailing from a very poor economic background whose mother worked as a servant maid to make both ends meet, is in her final year of graduation now pursuing a major in Sanskrit language in Queen Mary's college in Chennai! But this is not what is special about this brilliant girl who never missed the Bal Vikas classes in Sundaram. What is amazing is that she is now teaching Sanskrit to even slum children! Apart from this she now takes Sanskrit courses in Sundaram and with much humility and gratitude says,

“Swami has given me an opportunity to take Sanskrit class at Sundaram called ‘Dhasa Dhina Shibiram’, to see how much I am capable of. This class is for ladies and I took the class continuously for 10 days. Many of them told me, ‘We had an interest in speaking Sanskrit but we were not able to do it. Now we are lucky to learn from you.’ But for Swami’s blessings, this achievement would not have been possible.”

Ms. Durga has also been selected through her college for a first class course called, “Pradhana Deksha”. She passed in First Class in an exam conducted by New Delhi recently. And studying under her guidance 30 adults have passed in the Adult education programme. For this child who grew up in extreme poverty without a father, Swami has been the only source of strength.

 
 
Ms. Durga, an illustrious former
Bal Vikas Student

Says Durga,

“I have no father. I have only my mother. My mother is a servant maid. Previously we lived in a hut. During rainy seasons there used to be severe leakages in our house. Whenever there was a thundershower, we had a fear that our house might fall. My mother used to pray to Swami saying, ‘I am going for work. You only have to look after the children. You have to protect our house’. We always got the feeling that we are in the safe hands of Swami. We saw houses which were in good condition, getting shattered in front of our eyes. But our house, which was also in a poor condition, always withstood the thundershower, purely because of Swami’s grace.”

 
The Bal Vikas Children performing...
 
A Bal Vikas class in progress...

There are scores of cases like this where Swami has become the centre of children’s lives. At Sundaram no stone is left unturned to see to it that the children get ample opportunities to grow into ideal citizens. When Swami is physically present, it is they who occupy the prime place in front of Swami in the Main Darshan hall, they learn to chant Vedic hymns, to act, to sing, to dance, to speak, etc. at Sundaram. And every time they have performed before Swami, Swami has showered them with gifts and much love. Almost every year they perform a full-fledged play in the divine presence taking stories from ancient Indian epics and other saints, be it the story of Prahalada, Ambareesha, Kanakadas, Shakubai or Lava-Kusha. In Sundaram, they are an indelible part of any celebration.

 
Swami interacting with the Bal Vikas boys after a performance (left) and distributing prasadam

For the elders in Sundaram, it is really heartening to see how so many former Bal Vikas children are now occupying high positions in society and are role models in their own professional and personal life today. It gives them a great sense of fulfillment.

CELEBRATING THE SILVER JUBILEE

‘Sundaram has been a great catalyst propelling thousands towards a Life Divine – a life of selfless love and service. And this has been possible because the soul inspiration has been Bhagavan.’ This was the sentiment that was expressed by dignitaries who graced the occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of Sundaram on the 18th of January 2006 in the prestigious historic hall, The Music Academy in Chennai. Incidentally, it is at this venue that Swami has delivered discourses to the people of Chennai during His visits in the earlier years.

The Governor of Tamil Nadu, Sri Surjit Singh Barnala who was the Chief Guest for the occasion lauded the exemplary activities of Bhagavan and keeping aside his prepared speech, in a very cordial tone said,

“I See An Army of Peace” – Governor of Tamil Nadu

 

“I have myself seen the massive water project in the drought prone, water starved district of Anantapur (in Andhra Pradesh). I was so impressed that I wanted to convey my appreciation in person to Bhagavan. So I went to Prasanthi Nilayam. I felt greatly honoured when Swami spent an hour with me when thousands were waiting outside for His Darshan! To this day, I cherish that audience with Swami. He even presented me a ring and it is my most precious belonging and souvenir.”

The governor also made a special mention of the Sevadals – the dedicated Sai Volunteers of the organization, and said,

“I admire the devotion and dedication of the Sai Youth and the numerous sevadals, both men and women, who are present all around the hall.” Comparing them to an ‘army of peace’ he said, ‘they could do anything due to their commitment to serve.”

 

The governor also earlier graciously released a colorful book titled “Sundaram – The Abode of Bhagavan” and also a DVD, a video documentary on Sundaram.

The Governor of Tamil Nadu releasing the DVD of a documentary on Sundaram
during the Silver Jubilee Celebrations in Chennai

“I Am Impressed” - Chief Justice of Madras High Court

 

Another important dignitary who presided over the celebration as the Guest of Honour was the Chief Justice of Madras High Court, Sri. A. P. Shah. Though he has had not much exposure to Sai organisation and its activities and has even never seen Bhagavan physically, Sri Shah said that he is more than convinced of the exemplary service projects being undertaken.

Praising the services on the medical, educational and socio-care front, Sri Shah said,

“The spiritual aspects too impress me and in particular, the words of Bhagavan ‘A Christian should be a true Christian, a Hindu, a true Hindu and a Muslim, a true Muslim’. He also mentioned that he went through the five-volume 80th Birthday souvenir set and was very happy to learn of Swami’s mega service projects.

Before the talks of these two dignitaries, the Hall reverberated with Mutli-faith Bhajans sung by the ‘Sundaram Bhajan group’. And later, Sri G K Raman delivered the welcome address and Sri V Srinivasan, All India President of Sai Organisations, in his keynote address spelt out very clearly the various activities and the mission of the Sai organization and Sundaram. The programme concluded with Sri Ramani, the State President of the Tamil Nadu Sai Organisation giving the vote of thanks.

Marathon Celebrations…

Well, this is only one of the major events that Sundaram had organized to celebrate its Silver Jubilee. There were many more, apart from various other service projects, spiritual activities and Bal Vikas programmes coinciding with Swami’s 80th Birthday celebrations; there were 80 concerts in Sundaram by leading artists from Chennai like Ms. Sudha Raghunathan, Sri Madoline Srinivas, the Bombay Sisters, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Lalgudi Krishnan, to name just a few. For everybody, performing in Sundaram is a blissful experience and a privilege. For, there is something special about this place which stills the mind and confers peace so effortlessly.

 
Bombay Sisters (left) and Ms. Sudha Raghunathan performing in Sundaram celebrating
Swami's 80th Birthday and Sundaram Silver Jubilee celebrations
 
Bal Vikas Children performing during the Silver Jubilee Celebrations

 

SUNDARAM – A PRASHANTHI NILAYAM IN SPIRIT

For over 25 years now, Sundaram has been the lighthouse which has shown the path for enlightenment to hundreds of spiritual aspirants, it has been a divine channel which has given proper direction to hundreds of youth on how life is to be lead in a meaningful way. It has been a superb medium for the devotees to communicate with their Lord and seek answers. It has been a reservoir of peace bringing comfort and solace to many troubled hearts and souls. It has been a centre for spiritual awakening.

To put it in a nutshell, it has been a “Prashanthi Nilayam away from Prashanthi Nilayam.”

 

- Heart2Heart Team

We are grateful to Mr. Ramani, Mr. S V Iyer, Sri Sai Shravanam and so many other Sai Youth and Sevadal of Chennai for their active cooperation and inputs in the making of this story.

Source: Radio Sai E-Magazine, March 2006
http://media.radiosai.org/Journals/Vol_04/01MAR06/coverstory_sundaram.htm

 

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