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Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Sathya Sai - an incident with insight on brutal deaths

The Father of the Nation, a soul par excellence had a horrific death when three bullets were pummeled into him from point blank range.

The Father of the Nation, a soul par excellence had a horrific death when three bullets were pummeled into him from point blank range.

When death arrives as a brutal end

Everything in the world arrives with an expiry date. There is nothing surprising about that. It is a fact that everyone is aware of; that everyone accepts. A loaf of bread goes stale, a batch of medicine becomes defunct and a piece of technology gets obsolete. When this happens, all the three are discarded ruthlessly and we move on. And yet, when that same expiry date arrives for a person, especially someone that we love, our whole world seems to change in ways more than one!

One of the most poignant and powerful is the experiences that the death of the loved one brings has been given a special term by the scriptures -Smashana Vairagyam (detachment of the crematorium). It is an automatic detachment that anyone attending a funeral experiences. The detachment overpowers the individual as a powerful reminder of the temporary nature of everything that we see around. In its wake, the problems that seem to torment us, differences that we promote, negative feelings that we harbour - all just melt away into relative insignificance. That is when one is lost in awe of the Creator and gets inspired to make his/her life worth something.

Having been blessed to come in contact with my Master and best friend, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, my understanding of death has undergone a definite transformation. I have come to realize that death is just a dress of life and I actually seek the kind of death that the people described in an article by the same name achieved. Such a death ensures one an entry into that world where there is no death because in that world, there is no birth.

Though I have come to accept, and in some measure even celebrate, death, one aspect used to keep bothering me. This bothering thought got triggered with Himalayan proportions recently when I was intimated about a tragedy. It was shocking to hear about the death of a dear Sai-sister from across the globe in Trinidad and Tobago. What was even more shocking was the fact that she had died succumbing to horrible injuries of a brutal beating that her ex-husband inflicted on her. The man was gone too, having shot himself after committing the beastly and dastardly act. And all this was after the woman had tended him out of several illnesses that struck him even after their divorce and separation. How could God or fate ‘reward’ such love and positivity in such a horrible fashion?

I must confess that this question really tormented my soul and and almost threatened to shake the very foundations of the Karma theory that is the basis of all my actions.

Are life and death but mirror images of each other?

Are life and death but mirror images of each other?

Root of the question

Though this ‘unfortunate’ event triggered this thought in me, such thoughts have arisen in me long before too. And that happened when I was pondering about the death of the Father of the Nation in India, Mahatma Gandhiji. For those that are unaware of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, let me say that you have missed one of the most phenomenal beings ever to grace the face of this planet. He was a being who inspired the great Albert Einstein (if you are unaware of him, make the number of your ‘phenomenal’ misses as 2) to say, “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”

Such a Mahatma (great soul), who could be considered as the single greatest influence responsible for freeing up the Indian nation from the clutches of the British Empire, lost his life in a shocking manner. Gandhi was assassinated in the garden of the former Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti) at 5:17 PM on 30 January 1948. Accompanied by his grandnieces, Gandhi was on his way to address a prayer meeting, when his assassin, Nathuram Godse, fired three bullets from a Beretta 9 mm pistol into his chest at point-blank range. The great soul breathed his last calling out, “Hey Ram, Hey Ram, Hey Ram”, the name of the deity whom he worshipped all his life.

It is said that the manner in which a person lives his/her life is reflected in the manner in which he/she dies. While this saying has been shown true in several noble and wonderful people having glorious deaths, I wondered how it could go so wrong in the case of the Mahatma. And more recently, I wondered how could this saying go so awry when it came to the case of this sweet, loving and ever-smiling Sai-sister.

The Mahatma’s sudden death and the terrible manner in which it came about, shook the whole nation. Even the great spiritual master, Ramana Maharshi was quite shaken by the news. As is the norm with the insensitive, rumor-mongering, hounding and sensationalizing press in India (at least a large proportion of it), even the Maharshi was requested for his views on the tragedy for ‘publication’ by a news journo. He is recorded to have replied in a choking voice,

“For the Mahatma’s death in this tragic manner, every person’s heart is mourning. What is there in particular that I could say? Who is there who is not grieved? If I say anything, you will publish it and then, one after another, people will come and ask me. What is the good of it?”

When a supreme master himself was grief-stricken and shaken, the reader can only empathize with me for having this question bothering me though decades have passed since the Mahatma left the earth.

“How could God give such a terrible end to such a terrific life?” That was my question. As it is oft repeated by spiritual masters, “There is no right answer. There is only the right question.” I think this question of mine was the right one though I cannot guarantee that the answer I received is the right one for all. It is definitely the right one as far as I am concerned and I wish to share this discovery.

The whole nation was shocked at the death of Mahatma Gandhi. Here is an aerial picture of the funeral at Delhi.

The whole nation was shocked at the death of Mahatma Gandhi. Here is an aerial picture of the funeral at Delhi.

How the ‘dreadful’ 30th January 1948 was not actually what it seemed to be

The Universe/God holds all the answers that one possibly could search for. However, the answer is not revealed till the seeker is ready to receive the answer. And the readiness of the seeker is revealed in him/her asking the right question. The ‘answer’ for me came through the knowledge of an incident that occurred on Martyr’s Day in 1948. The 30th of January 1948 was not called Martyr’s Day but every subsequent 30th January after that assassination of the Mahatma has been called so. The happenings on that day in the then remote village of Puttaparthi bear great significance. Th following episode has been documented by the long-standing devotee of Bhagawan Baba, Sri.Bala Pattabhi in his book, Sri Sai Leelamritam. It has also been narrated by a witness, D.N.Krishnamurthy in an interview on 19th May 1998 to Dr.R.Padmanabhan. (Dr.Padmanabhan got the honorary doctorate for his epochal work, Love Is My Form, documenting the first 25 years of Baba’s life.)

Swami (Bhagawan Baba) had taken a few people to the banks of the Chitravati river. This was something that everybody eagerly looked forward to because many were the miracles they would witness on the holy sands. However, that day was to be a different story. It was early in the evening when young Swami suddenly rose on His feet. Without a word or explanation, He began to run westward towards the Old Mandir. Rushing into His little room, He bolted the door as all the other devotees sat outside, wondering what had happened. Though He came out of the room once or twice, He spoke to none and appeared pensive. It was at about 7:30pm that Swami walked out of the room and joined the devotees. He told them that ‘Mahatma’ had passed away and that was the reason why He had ‘cancelled’ the Chitravati session and everything else that evening.

The word ‘Mahatma’ means great soul. The devotees who had gathered in Puttaparthi thought that some saintly soul had passed on and Bhagawan had visited him to bless him. It was only 2 days later, when a young Bala Pattabhi went to collect mail from the neighboring big village of Bukkapatnam, that he brought a copy of The Hindu newspaper. The newspaper carried the news of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination at about 5:30pm on the 30th of January - exactly at the very time when Swami began running and behaving in the strange manner! That was when the devotees realized that Swami had mentioned a name - Mahatma - and not some saint or sage.

Ah! Was I thrilled at this grace of God! Sathya Sai is a silent worker. And this was another instance that reinforced this conviction in me. God silently does a lot for us, never seeking credit or approbation. So silent is His work that on many occasions we do not even come to know of it. It is only His love and mercy that reveals His hand in events when it is necessary to bring solace to a soul. I feel that is precisely the reason why Swami ensured that this experience is recorded, preserved and passed on - for it arrives as a solace to many.

The Solace

Now, I know that I do not know everything. That is a good beginning because misunderstanding arises from a narrow-vision or viewing from a single perspective. I was thinking that Gandhi had been rewarded with an unfair death because of my lack of knowledge of facts. Now imagine this - Even as Gandhi prepared to come out of his last ever prayer session, the Lord rushed, leaving behind whatever He was doing. He rushed for He had to receive the soul that was coming to His abode. What greater death can one choose? Such a death indeed proves the saying that the manner in which one dies is testimony to the manner in which one lives.

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Today, when I think about the death of this sweet Sai-sister, I remind myself the same truth - that I do not know the whole story. I do not know what God intended for the soul and how God received the soul. I just see from my limited perspective - a murder - just like I saw in Gandhi’s case - an assassination. Just because God chooses not to reveal at the present time His Masterplan, it does not mean that there is no Masterplan. Knowing the noble manner in which this sister lead her life, I am sure that she has been accorded her due by the Lord. That is my faith.

And for those that question that “rationality” of faith, I have only this to say.

“How do you know that some lady is your mother? Because she and your ‘father’ said so? What if they are lying (as it happens in many cases)? So you have birth certificate records. What if they are forged? Of course, there are the paternity and genetic tests. But how do you know that the machine that does the test is right? Do you place your faith in it? How can you believe that the scientist who has founded this method of testing is right? Couldn’t he have been fooling everyone? Can you believe a method just because all the hospitals in the world use it? Is that scientific? If you see ‘rationally’ there is no end to doubt unless you have all the knowledge in the world. And that is possible only if you are God! Till then, you have to start off with faith. You accept someone as your mother and see your faith getting reinforced by her loving and caring actions. That is how even the scientific world works - with ‘faith’ at the basic level, faith in an axiom.”

May you rest in peace Sister Dian. I know for sure that you rest in the lap of God with a smile on your lips. And I know that from the beautiful fragrance that your life is in the lives of all those people who came in touch with you. Even as I type this, a soft voice from within reminds me that you left the earth in the time of the Uttarayana, the holiest of holy times for any soul planning to leave the earth. Even the great warrior of righteousness, Bheeshma in the Mahabharata, waited for 56 days with hundreds of arrows embedded in his body for this very period to give up his body. Yours indeed has been a blessed life sister Dian.


If you enjoyed this, you will also like the following:

1. Anna Hazare and Sathya Sai

2. Building homes the Sathya Sai way: An unbelievable service of love in Trinidad & Tobago

3. Why are some prayers not answered? - A theory

4. 3 poignant stories of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba full of insight

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© 2014 Aravind Balasubramanya


Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on October 08, 2018:

@B K Misra - Thank you for the interesting episode and your words of wisdom.

Agreed that Smashana Vairagya is temporary. But the impact and intensity is very high at least for those few hours/days.

Swami has delineated 5 types of temporary detachments - powerful but not lasting long enough. They are Smashana Vairagya, Prasava Vairagya, Udaar Vairagya, Abhaava Vairagya and Purana Vairagya.

B.K.Misra on October 03, 2018:

It is reported that some years before his death Mahatma Gandhi told Dr. Sarojini naidu, his personal physician, that if he died of fasting, take it that his life was a failure, but if he died of a bullet be sure his life was a success. Dr. Naidu was so stunned that she didn't ask for an explanation, and Gandhi didn't say anything further.

And Arvind, smashan vairagya is always said with the tongue in the cheek, for it means a momentary detachment you feel when you see someone dying. It can be assumed out of frustration. So when someone's detachment is not genuine, but a feigned face, we refer to this phrase. Swami has also mentioned in at least 2 discourses how people suddenly get smashan vairagya when they lose someone dear or lose their money, but that never stays.

Rajinee.S on February 09, 2018:

Great article. Thank you.

Prabha Acharya on January 31, 2018:

Very beautiful article Arvind. It's all about faith. I always think when we r travelling by flight, train, bus, car (as passenger) or scooter (as pillion) - we place 100% faith in the driver/ rider without even knowing them. Only with our life, we tend to not be able to repose that 100% faith in the Lord and live Bindaas.

Deva on January 30, 2018:

Thank you Brother.

Karan Dewan on January 29, 2018:

When I first saw the movie Gandhi as a kid which ended showing his assassination, I was really troubled...I wondered why was it that good people had to go through such didn’t seem fair! The next day afternoon I was watching one old video of Swami giving a discourse in Brindavan, selected at random from my cabinet that had all my VHS tapes (those days every afternoon I would see one video of Swami

Karan Dewan on January 29, 2018:

When I first saw the movie Gandhi as a kid which ended showing his assassination, I was really troubled...I wondered why was it that good people had to go through such didn’t seem fair! The next day afternoon I was watching one old video of Swami giving a discourse in Brindavan, selected at random from my cabinet that had all my VHS tapes (those days every afternoon I would see one video of Swami

Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on October 26, 2017:

@Dr Ashok Saraf

Interesting incident. I have never come across Swami narrating this anywhere. If you know the reference, maybe I can try researching more.

Karma and its effects are too complicated for us to understand completely.

Dr Ashok Saraf (kolkata) on October 26, 2017:

I had read in some good place swami saying that Gandhi ji died a violent death because of of a sin he had done earlier.sai explained that when mahatma was in sewagram? His ashram mates told him that there was a seriously ill cow,for which there was no treatment & was suffering badly,they wanted gandhijis permission to put cow to permanent sleep- kill to relieve her misery.mahatma firmly said no & scolded them for even having such bad thoughts.They kept pestering mahatma daily for permission and mahatma kept saying no,after few days this time mahatma kept quiet.Ashramites took this as " Maun sammati".(silent yes) & killed the suffering cow.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on August 11, 2015:

Sai Ram

a difficult topic but handled very well.

It reminds me of Sai's descriptions of how similar both bad and good events are. This is a mystery to all of us but the answer can be glimpsed by Swami's kind explanations. All is one, even bad events and good events.

madhusudanvithal.nori on October 02, 2014:

A thought provoking article, thanks a lot dear Aravind, Sairam.

Shalini Mohan on October 02, 2014:

SaiRam Arvind,

Your articles are sensitive,thought provoking and so beautifully articulated.May Swami bless you to continue this work.Strangely I had been praying to Swami -that I wish to know how he guided his students and their experiences.Every time you post an article my wish is granted....

Anand on February 02, 2014:

I can add a piece of information which would of interest to you:-

Kurumaddali is a village in the Krishna District of Andhrapradesh, which is known for Ramavadhoota Sri Mala pichamma(1870-1951). On a day, Amma was found in a pensive mood and locked herself in her hut and did not come out for a long time, No sooner was she seen than she was asked for her mood and that day incidentally was 30th january 1948, and amma replied "Mahatma is going to die today". She added that he is going to be shot dead which is the result of the prarabdha karma, where, in one of his previous births he shot dead a calf and separated it from its mother cow and now he should undergo the same fate.

Dr Sanjay Aggarwal Solan H P on January 25, 2014:

Sai Ram Brother, Death is a dress of life- a dress designed perfectly by the designer of life. The celeb shows in heaven do feature heroes like you & me. Unique articles like this one gives us food for thought. The mind starts running cats & dogs. Swami has set a perfect time - Mukti , the lamb. May He give you more energy to keep guiding all of us.

Chandni on January 19, 2014:

That was a very moving story.. And it really helped me answer a similar lingering question for myself as well. Thank you. Jai Sai Ram.

Ramamani Velamuru,Hyderabad on January 16, 2014:

Sairam Brother,

Very thought provoking article. I'm experiencing smashana vairagyam right now after the sudden death of my father on 8th NOV 2013 due to cardiac arrest. Though he is 86yrs old & without much health related ailments, his death brought much void in our lives. He was such a noble being that he attained sunayasa maranam [ death without any pain]. When all of a sudden he started gasping for breath,we have put vibhuti on his forehead & into his mouth chanting SAIRAM. Within 10 mins he was gone. No pain at all.

Coming to MAHATMA'S part of the story, recently my younger daughter, who is 8 yrs old, asked me whether GANDHIJI & SWAMI know each other or did they met? I only replied that SWAMI mentioned about MAHATMA many a times in his speeches. I too read somewhere about the strange behaviour of SWAMI at that moment.

Anyway ur articles r very inspirational & soothing . Keep going.

Loving Sairam.

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