Eighteen youth from the UK were very fortunate to join the annual Grama Seva Project 2013, organised by students and faculty of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. Grama Seva was held over 10 days and entailed the distribution of Swami’s prasadam in the form of food packets of pulihora rice (tamarind rice) and ladoos (Indian sweet) and clothing (saris and dhotis) to over 300,000 people from 150 villages around Puttaparthi, in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in southern India. In addition to these villages, staff quarters of the Super Speciality Hospital in Puttaparthi, Puttaparthi village itself, and the ashram were also covered by the Grama Seva teams.
The Daily Routine
Our daily routine consisted of the morning session at 4:30 AM in our prayer room. The session consisted of chanting Omkar 21 times, followed by Suprabhatam (morning prayer) and prayers to the presiding deity for that particular day. Puppet Sir (Sri Ajit Popat, our group leader), would then read the thought of the day and would expand on its deeper meaning. The group would then do visualisation meditation where we would mentally recreate Baba’s divine darshan. We would complete the morning session by doing Pranayam (breathing exercises) and then be briefed about the name, population and distance of the village(s) we would be visiting that day.
We would then proceed to Sai Kulwant Hall (main prayer hall in the ashram) where we would do Pradakshina (circling the mandir) at 8 AM whilst chanting Vedam (Hindu scriptures). We would then have our breakfast which had been packed and provided for us by Swami’s students. Following breakfast, the convoy of trucks would depart for the allocated village(s) and we would follow in our vehicles.
Upon reaching the each village, we were welcomed by Rangoli patterns in front of the houses and bhajans and aarti in the village temple. The villagers expressed their happiness at our arrival through the drawing of such patterns. In India, Rangoli creation is considered to be very sacred.
Going from house to house, working in pairs, we would distribute the food parcels and clothing, exchanging a few words with each householder – “Swami meeku prasadam pampincharoo” (Swami has sent this prasadam for you!
Having ensured that every house in the village had received Swami’s prasadam, we would return to the ashram. If the distribution of prasadam was over by midday, on our return, we would proceed to Poornachandra auditorium to witness the Yagna (sacrificial fire ritual) which takes place during Grama Seva.
Following the Yagna, as a group, we would have lunch in the form of the food parcels which were distributed to the villages. Following a short break, we reconvened at 2:15 PM for the afternoon session, which consisted of practising for our live musical performance. This would be followed by the spiritual exercise of the the contemplation on the meaning of Govinda Ashtakam (poem in praise of Lord Krishna) at 3 pm. Every year for Grama Seva an ashtakam is chosen for reflection (2012 was Mahalakshmi Ashtakam) to help focus the mind on spiritual activity. At 4:00 PM we would make our way to Sai Kulwant Hall to attend the usual prayers and during the Maha Vidhwan Sabha we would be blessed by speeches from eminent personalities and students of the various university campuses. A daily entertainment programme followed, which consisted of drama or musical performances by students or world celebrated artists. The afternoon programme culminated with aarti at 6:30 PM.
On occasion, there would be an evening session in our prayer room and would consist of speakers (Prof. G. Venkataraman, Sri K. Chakravarthi, Dr Sara Pavan) sharing their experiences with Swami and a Q&A session.
This year, we again had the opportunity to visit the kitchens where the food parcels were prepared for the following day. Churning out around 45,000 food packets every night, the processes involved were well-coordinated and executed. It took 4 tons of rice every day to make the pulihora rice along with other major ingredients like tamarind, salt, jaggery, ground nut oil, dal and curry leaves. The various stages of preparation were carried out by volunteers, teachers and students. Working through the night, the food was cooked and packaged, ready for loading onto the trucks the next morning.
We also had the opportunity to donate blood while visiting the Sri Sathya Sai Super Specialty Hospital (SSSSSH) in Puttaparthi. Given the number of operations carried out at the hospital, blood is always required.
In addition to the hospital, we also saw the Sri Sathya Sai Mobile Hospital (SSSMH) in action on one of the Grama Seva days and Dr Narasimhan, the Director of this Mobile Hospital, gave us an overview of the project. The SSSMH was initiated to serve the villages around Puttaparthi, who are unable to travel long distances to seek medical aid. Since its inception in 2006, over 500,000 patients have been served from the Mobile Hospital's 12 nodal points. These nodal points are covered from the 1st to the 12th of each month. Each node acts as an access point to 10 to 20 villages. Apart from General Medicine, some of the other specialities being offered that day were Radiology, Gynaecology, Cardiology, Paediatrics and Ophthalmology.
Heart Valve Bank was very fortunate to serve Raghav a boy aged 3 from Mauritius, by part sponsoring his Leukaemia treatment in India. Such an expensive and complex treatment was not available in his home country.
Two of the UK group were privileged to give an interview on Radio Sai whilst Puppet Sir gave a video interview on the importance of the Divine Avatar Declaration day.What Could Avatar Declaration Day Mean to Us? - Conversation with Mr. Ajit Popat - I What Could Avatar Declaration Day Mean to Us? - Conversation with Mr. Ajit Popat - 2
The climax of our stay was an HVB musical programme offered to our Lord by Maestro Pandit Satish Prakash and his group which was followed by bhajans from the UK boys. The renowned Satish Prakash is a talented shehnai (North Indian musical instrument) player who trained mainly in the vocal tradition of the Delhi Gharana with Ustad Chand Khan. He was also blessed by guidance from the great Ustad Bismillah Khan. The whole atmosphere was charged by his performance and the attendees were thrilled with the performance.
The next day we visited Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital in Whitefield and then to Brindavan. Located in the heart of Whitefield’s booming IT industry, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences stood out as an oasis of tranquillity in the hustle and bustle of the city.
We were later shown around the departments of Cardiology and Neurology. It was heart-warming to hear how passionate and inspired everyone working at the Hospital was. A recent addition to the Hospital was its Counselling Department which has been doing a very crucial service to the patients and their relatives coming there - realigning the mind to its peaceful and loving state before the patients undergo any physical treatment.
We then visited the nursing hostel, which was a token of love from Heart Valve Bank to our dearest swami. The resident warden gave us a very warm welcome and an account of the nurses’ joy derived from living in the hostel. It was nothing but a reflection of our master's boundless love.
After having lunch, we went to Brindavan where we were fortunate to enter Swami’s Divine Abode where He gave His famous Trayee sessions. What ensued was a beautiful Satsang with Vinay Kumar Sir, Puppet Sir and Sanjay Sahani Sir. Emotional, encouraged and enlightened, we left Brindavan thanking Swami for bringing all of us together at His Lotus Feet and praying that He be with us all the time.
Motivated by participating in Grama Seva 2013 and inspired by those who have been doing this for 10 years, brothers who came for the first time this year have pledged to make Grama Seva their annual service to the society.