Grama Seva 2015
Twenty-seven privileged youth from the UK were very fortunate to join the annual Grama Seva Project 2015, 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 ‘Annam’ (food) packets of pulihora rice (tamarind rice) and ladoos (Indian sweet), along with clothing (saris and dhotis); this, to over 500,000 people from a collection of 150 villages around Puttaparthi, in the Southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. In addition to these villages, staff quarters of the Super Specialty 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 a 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 in which Sir would expand on its’ deeper meaning, elaborating upon those deep spiritual concepts and the practicality and benefits associated with them, in this day and age. The sessions would conclude with being briefed about the name, population and distance of the village(s) we would be visiting that day, after which we would proceed towards the Sai Kulwant Hall (main prayer hall in the ashram), for 8am.
Upon reaching the Holy Sanctum of Sai Kulwant Hall, we would do Pradakshina (circumambulation of the Mandir) whilst chanting Vedic Hymns. 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 each village, we were welcomed by an array of Rangoli patterns in front of the houses, accompanied by 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. Prior to conducting the Grama Seva at each village, we would chant vedam and/or participate in Nagasankeerthan, sometimes accompanying the students of the SSSIHL.
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.
Upon our return from the morning Grama Seva, the group would have lunch together in the form of the food parcels which were distributed to the villages. After resting, the group would reconvene at 2:15 PM for an afternoon practice session (this was in preparation for our musical offering as well as an offering of Vedam, which was presented on Dassera Day, 22nd Oct). After practice, the famous ‘afternoon session’ would commence (3 PM); this year’s focus being on ‘The Divine Assurances of Lord Krishna, from Srimad Bhagawat Gita’. The discussions throughout the two weeks meandered between the ‘Law of Karma’, Bhakti Yoga -12th Chapter of Bhagawad Gita, and the overriding theme of Samarpanam.
At 4:00 PM we would make our way to Sai Kulwant Hall to attend the afternoon/evening Vedam and Bhajan session, followed by Mangala Aarti. It must be noted, that during this festive period of Devi-Navaratri (Dassera), the Ashram is full to the brim, with a constant influx of devotees from all parts of India, as well as overseas. What adds to the uniqueness of this occasion, and perhaps differentiates it more so than any other festive occasion in Prashanthi Nilayam, is the constant stream of activities and functions that take place, such as Veda Purusha Saptaha Jnana Yagna (a sacrificial fire ritual, conducted from the 4th day, which is performed for the prosperity of the World – Loka Kalyanam), as well as the Prashanti Vidhwaan Maha Saba - an array of speakers that consist of scholars, faculty and senior students, delivering talks of various spiritual subjects, ranging from Advaita (Non-dualistic) philosophy, to Devi Bhagawatham, and the sharing of their personal interactions with the Divine Master, and the wonderful lessons learnt thereof. Some evening sessions in Sai Kulwant Hall, would consist of (after the speeches) various cultural programmes, be it musical offerings from the various campuses of SSSIHL, drama skits, or musical programmes by World Celebrated Artists. The afternoon programme culminated with aarti at 6:30 PM.
We also had the great fortune of having regular evening sessions in our prayer room), which consisted of various illustrious speakers from the Sai World (Prof. Anil Kumar Sir, K.S. Vedanarayanan Sir, Sri Sudhir Bhaskar, Bishu Prusty of Radio Sai, and Dr. Deepak Anand, to mention a few), sharing certain gems from their bountiful experiences with Swami, with some speakers indulging us in deep thought-inspiring Q&A sessions.
The Divine Radio Interview
On one such occasion, after returning from Sai Kulwant Hall after the evening session, we visited the Radio Sai studios, where five of the brothers from the group participated in a live interview with brother Bishu Prusty (Bro. Prusty was one of our speakers, and is an alumnus of the SSSIHL, currently serving within Radio Sai). In the interview, the brothers recounted some of their personal experiences with Swami and of the Grama Seva, and the impact that Grama Seva had had on their respective lives. The interview lasted close to 90 mins (finishing at 10.30 PM), after which we retired for the night, in anticipation of another day at Swami's divine Lotus Feet.
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 (of the Anantpur campus). Working through the night, the food was cooked and packaged, ready for loading onto the trucks the next morning.
The following day after returning from Grama Seva, we stopped off at the South Indian canteen and saw how the ladoos are made. Similarly to the previous night, we were all extremely impressed with the skill, efficiency and devotion of the female sevadals in making the ladoos. For the cultural reason of avoiding use of the left hand to make food, these sisters form the ladoos with their right hands only! The sheer numbers also humbled us: each 3ft x 8ft table used to place ladoos before packing holds 1000, and there were approximately 20 tables squeezed into that room.
The brothers also had the opportunity to donate blood while visiting the Sri Sathya Sai Super Specialty Hospital (SSSSSH) in Puttaparthi, which was required for a major case planned for that very afternoon. We were also most fortunate to receive a talk from Dr Voleti Choudhary, the hospital director. He proved to us that, despite Swami no longer being present in physical form, his mission continues to grow at full pace with the news that the hospital had recently undergone its first ever inspection by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and ranked among the very best institutions in the entire country - providing care of the highest standard, completely free of charge.
The climax of our stay was an HVB musical programme offered at the Divine Lotus Feet of our Beloved Lord (on Dassera Day), by Sister Roopa Panesar (Sitar), Kaviraj Singh (Santoor and vocal), Pirashanna Thevarajah (Mirdangam and Moorsing) and Zuheb Ahmed Khan (Tabla). The performance was extremely well received by the assembly in Sai Kulwant Hall, captivating all, from the Tiny Tots of the Primary School, to the elderly present there. The entire atmosphere was charged by their offering, which no doubt left the vast number of devotees thrilled, energised and filled with joy. The programme for the evening was concluded by a Medley performed by the UK boys, followed by Aarti. Two of the UK boys were fortunate to perform Aarti and a further four had the wonderful opportunity of offering flowers at the Divine Lotus Feet. Sister Roopa also had the opportunity of offering the same on the ladies side.
The icing on the cake was the dynamic ‘Puppet’ show, which Sir delivered on the afternoon of 23rd Oct (in Sai Kulwant Hall). It was a talk filled with dynamism, wisdom and humour. The theme of the talk centered on the attributes of the loving Lord and "adesh, upadesh and sandesh". Once again, the Devotees present in the Sai Kulwant Hall were treated to a true masterclass of oration, which can only be attributed to the Divine Master – the Divine Master who constantly pulls the strings of each and every one of us, as well as the strings of the entire Cosmos, enjoying the Divine Leela of life unfold before our very eyes.
Thus ended Grama Seva 2015 - another beautiful and unforgettable moment at the Divine Lotus Feet.