A magnum opus
Love is my form
There are millions of books that are considered as a good ‘one-time read’. Though they are gripping and interesting to read, very rarely will they be looked at for a second time. There are thousands of books that occupy pride of place in personal collections because they can be read and reread. Such books are called ‘Classics’ and they are evergreen in the sense that they hold relevance in all times - past, present and future. However, there are those select books that are revered and worshipped. Such is the inspiration and might in their content that even one who has no idea or acquaintance with them is also able to realise their speciality while perusing them. Whether they occupy the physical altars at home or not, such books surely are placed high in the altar of the heart.
And today, my heart pines to sing forth the beauty, bliss and beneficence of one such Divine Book - Love is My Form (LIMF).
For millions of people around the world, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba is the supreme Master, God and Guide. Their lives have been touched by the alchemy of His divine love in such a manner that even after His physical passing in 2011, He continues to be an integral part of their lives. And people continue to be drawn to Him and His teachings of the ‘oneness of all creation’ and the ‘ultimate reality that every being is inherently divine’. One visit to Prasanthi Nilayam or any Sai center across the world shows how vibrant His presence and message are.
And LIMF is a book about Bhagawan Baba’s early life - those first 25 years from 1926 to 1950 about which there is very little ’historical’ information. Of course, there is the description from another magnum opus, Sathyam Shivam Sundaram (SSS), compiled by the revered Prof.Kasturi, the person who named India’s radio broadcasting service as Akashvani (the voice from the skies). The difference between SSS and LIMF is that the former is mostly what Swami has revealed about Himself while the latter includes first person accounts of several people who lived with Him in the 1930s and 1940s. Another BIG difference is the inclusion of nearly 1000 photographs which bring alive the days from nearly a century ago!
A picture is worth a 1000 words
Puttaparthi was then a hamlet described as being a ‘stone’s throw from stone age’. It wasn’t even located on the postal map of India! In fact, I have many times wondered whether I would have ever chosen such a place to take birth if I were God! The best term to describe Puttaparthi of yore is ‘God-forsaken’. But, it is also the worst term for God did not forsake it.
The pictures in the book bring alive the Puttaparthi of the 1930s. They makes one realize how Swami built up His mission, bit by bit, all through hard work and perseverance. Just imagine, a person could reach London from Bangalore by flight faster than reaching Puttaparthi from Bangalore by rail and road! However, it is not as if LIMF is only a book of pictures. The narratives it contains are priceless. Here, I shall make a very humble effort to capture the infinite glory of Sai captured in the book.
(All images taken from the book LIMF)
The student days
The author has succeeded in obtaining all the school records of Swami that were maintained by the British administration! (Yes! India got independence from British rule only in 1947. By then, Swami had long denounced going to school.) Seeing the attendance registers and transfer certificates of Swami from schools at Puttaparthi, Kamalapuram, Bukkapatnam and Uravakonda indeed inspires love, reverence and a sense of thrill in the reader!
When I say experiences of the classmates of Bhagawan, I am also referring to the games he played with them, the pranks he played on them, the extreme patience and forgiveness he displayed and the supreme love that he showered. There are instances galore recorded in the cook and I don’t know where do I start from or where do I end. However, I will record the experience of scout leader, Abdul Khadar, who was keen to join the Indian independence movement. He asked his classmate Sathyam (as Swami was called then) about the same. Swami replied,
“You may join it if you wish. Whatever be the case, India will get Poorna Swaraj (complete independence) on the 15th of August 1947.”
It was then the year 1941! Even the Indian nationalist leaders had not yet started demanding complete independence from the British. They had hoped for a home rule with British overlordship!
It was when Swami was in Uravakonda, in a tiny shack, along with his brother, sister and sister-in-law that the ‘scorpion-bite’ episode took place. In fact, as Venkamma, Swami’s sister records in her personal diary, nobody ever saw the ‘scorpion’ that bit Swami. Everyone assumed that it must have been a scorpion sting. The doctors found no venom in Swami’s little body. Still, Swami seemed comatose. But that was not the Truth because, as one neighbor recalls, when he sat guard over Swami’s body to administer injections at regular intervals, the little boy opened his eyes, smiled and said,
“Don’t worry, Sai Baba will take care of everything.”
Nobody had even heard the name Sai Baba in that region. Then began 3 months of arduous torture for Swami’s body as he was taken from one exorcist to another. The book records all the details of the tortures from first-person accounts. It also records an amazing incident which took place when Swami was returning from the famous exorcist at Kadiri (recorded in Sathyam Shivam Sundaram as the one who made 3 cross marks on Swami’s scalp and poured acids on it). A snake bit Swami as he was brought out of the Narasimhaswamy temple (still exists) at Kadiri. Enraged, all the people killed the snake. Swami came out of his ‘coma’, picked up the lifeless snake and breathed life into it! As it slithered away, he told everyone that the snake was merely sticking to its nature. He then fell into coma again.
When Swami declared who He really was, nobody in the village believed Him. In fact, everyone considered him to be possessed by an evil spirit and wanted to drive him out of the village. That was the reason why, for a few months after the declaration, Swami lived in the hills surrounding Puttaparthi, Karnatanagepalli and Jankampalli! People spread rumors that Swami was meeting some ghoul or ghost in the hills and ‘recharging’ His powers!
The book records the great service and devotion shown by a few devotees who recognised Swami’s true nature. They were indeed the ‘truest’ devotees because they bore the brunt of people’s attacks, physical and otherwise, shielding their dear ‘little’ Lord. Reading these narratives, I had tears in my eyes - for the hatred that Swami faced and for the love that these devotees fostered! Foremost among these devotees was Karnam Subamma, the first wife of the village’s accountant - a big position in those days. It was her home that she offered to Swami as a place to meet devotees. She also cooked for Swami and would often go into the hills, searching for Him.
Therefore, these were also golden days for those devotees for they got the opportunity to experience great proximity - nearness and dearness - to Swami!
Sai Sannidhi - proximity to Sai
If one has to ‘see’ what it meant to enjoy the proximity of Swami, this book is a must. For the obvious want of space, am not able to capture all the images and experiences of more than 50 devotees who have offered their most amazing experiences with their Lord. A few pictures here will tell the tale I hope!
The Golden Memories of great proximity to Sai
The translated text of the Sale Deed of Old Mandir land
Document No.553 of 1945:
Executed jointly by Smt. Karnam Subbamma and Smt. Kamalamma, the wives of Sri Karnam Lakshminarayana, Brahim, the resident of Puttaparthi, and documented in the Sub-Registrar office, Bukkapatnam on the 20th day of July 1945 between 12.00 and 13.00 hrs., duly paying the requisite fee of 0.12, in favour of Sri Sathyanarayana, S/o Sri Ratnakaram Pedda Venkama Raju, Bhat Raju by caste, the resident of Puttaparthi, the temporary manager of Sai Baba Matam and handed over the schedule property worth of Rs. 50 as donation for the use of the devotees visiting to worship Swami, with all the Absolute Rights, and with a view to derive punya (merit) for themselves or their legal heirs. They will, however, not have any claim over the schedule property there from.
Bellary-Anantapur Division, Bukkapatnam Sub-Division, Puttaparthi Village. Survey No. 310.6.0.11 Acres and Cess 0.7.0
D Kushki 549 East 0.22 Acres Cess 0.3.0
East: Way, Venugopalswami Temple
West: Land as mentioned above.
North: Land as mentioned above and way
Total area 33 cents with the 1/4th right to use the water in the well situated on the schedule property land.
East West: 18 yards.
North South: 36 yards.
The first Mandir
Among the hundreds of experiences and divine stories embedded in the book, I thought that I must narrate the beautiful story of how the first Mandir came into existence.
Those were times when everyone in Puttaparthi and the neighbouring ‘big village’ of Bukkapatnam too were hostile to Swami. As mentioned earlier, Swami had no place to stay. At that time, Karnam Kamalamma went to the ailing Subamma to discuss a plan. She told her that if they did not do something immediately, they would lose Swami forever.
Her fears arose because of certain developments. A devotee by name Doddamane Sakamma was offering to build an ashram for Swami in Bangalore. At the same time, a few other devotees made similar offers from Madras (present day Chennai). In fact, Swami inaugurated the first ever temple to house a Shirdi Baba statue at Guindy in Madras, in 1949. The statue of Baba at Shirdi too came much later, in 1954! (The story of Lokanatha Mudaliar and his family which was instrumental for this temple being built at Guindy is another unparalleled tale of love that has also been captured in the book.)
At the same time, a certain Chitghanananda Swamy from the nearby Kothacheruvu town turned up at Puttaparthi. He asked the elders whether he could take Swami as his disciple as he was looking for a successor to manage his little ashram! (which still exists at Kothacheruvu). Fearing the worst, both the wives of the Karnam registered a piece of land in Swami’s name and offered it to Him. That was the place where a few devotees pitched in to build the first mandir for Swami.
The sale deed of the Paata Mandiram (Old Mandir which is today called the Pedda Venkama Raju Kalyana Mantapam after Swami’s father) is an amazing document to behold and it has been produced below. The translation is provided in the special box on the right.
It is amazing how the ‘sellers’ note that the land is to be “for the use of the devotees visiting to worship Swami, with all the Absolute Rights, and with a view to derive punya for themselves “.
The Old Mandir was inaugurated on the Vaikunta Ekadasi day, 14th of December, 1945. There was a ‘huge crowd’ of about 150 people. Swami took pictures with all of them. Each devotee who had the privilege of being present at the Grihapravesham (house-opening ceremony) had received a personal invitation card which Swami had himself prepared!!! (The invitation card is also presented in the book.)
A never ending saga
I could go on and on about this book! Till now, all that I have covered is not even 0.1 percent of the treasures the book holds. It also captures amazing experiences of devotees after Sathyam became Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Details of the hundreds of trips and tours that Swami undertook into the villages, towns and cities in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will fill the reader with awe. The sacrifices that Swami made will simply bring tears in your eyes.
I bought the book because I felt that I must know everything there is to be known about my dear Swami. As I read through it, I just was crying incessantly. I am convinced beyond doubt that “Swami’s life is His message.” All one has to do is get to know all that Swami did in His life - just read His Story - and one will learn a million lessons. Nay, one will learn all that one has to in life. There is no way that I can capture all that is in this book through a measly 'single article'! :)
(Well, I have decided that I shall make several articles time to time, based on the devotees' experiences recorded in the book.)
This is the modern Bhagawatham, the Bible and the Quran for the devotees. At the same time, it is a wonderful documentation of the His-Story of the Avatar. The book has been indexed and completed as a research work. In fact, Mr. R. Padmanabhan, a photographer whom Swami blessed with years at His lotus feet, has today become a titled Dr. R. Padmanabhan because of this Magnum Opus.
Some more magical glimpses from the book.
Interested in owning this magnificent book?
Needless to say, in my opinion, any devotee who wishes to relive the Sai Bhagawatham with the leelas, mahimas, pranks, glories and miracles of Sri Sathya Sai should possess this book. With its 600 pages of glorious experiences and more than 600 photographs capturing never-before-seen moments of the Sai Avatar, the Rs.2,500/- which it costs is really nothing in my opinion. Take it as a Rupee per photo of experience! It is a coffee table book printed in the highest quality paper. Little wonder that it weighs nearly 3.5 kilograms!
If you wish to obtain a copy of the same for yourself, please buy it at the Sai Towers store in Puttaparthi, which is located bang opposite to the Gopuram entrance of the ashram. Else, you could write to the following email id and place your orders.
Title: Love is My Form
Price: Rs. 2,500/- (packing and transport extra)
Weight: 3.5 kgs.
Dimensions: 12"(height) x 9"(breadth) x 3"(thickness)
You could also get this book via the Amazon(dot)com site. The only problem is that it is almost 4 times more expensive in that route. However, if you still wish to buy it that way, go to this link:
Love is My form.
(Of course, I know that not everyone can afford this book. But if I had a choice between a cellphone for Rs. 2,500 or this book, I would go for this book. If you are not able to purchase the same, keep a look out for more articles. For starters, you can begin with the 4-part series at the below link:
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My other blog is at aravindb1982.blogspot.in.
Krishnamohan on April 05, 2015:
There are photos in the homes of many devotees..........Ankamma,Thirumala Rao etc..........But nothing in details about these devotees.This more like a photo album.
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on February 17, 2015:
@Krishnamohan - I am really surprised with your comment! If you could guide me to a book with possibly more content on these early years of Swami (carefully documented with proof), I would be grateful!!!
Krishnamohan on February 17, 2015:
This book is full or rare photos.However it is very low on content.It seems to be a book written to make money,nothing else.It is overpriced.
granny on September 18, 2013:
That's not much money- thew rpblem is the postage. I'd love to have this- what are samithi's? it was 3600 Ruppees converted to mail the ltitle box- I know its easier when your India- Mumbai SWrinivasan has been postig parts of this- ayway I love the way its portrayed- I have always been intersted in the early
saigirish237 on August 26, 2013:
SAIRAM . I WANT TO MAKE A HUMBLE SUGGESTION. THIS BOOK CAN BE PURCHASED BY AND ON BEHALF OF SATHYA SAI SEVA SAMITHIS ALL OVER THE WORLD AND THE MEMBERS CAN HAVE EASY ACCESS TO IT.
sai devotee on August 06, 2013:
The book takes us to another world! couldn't keep it down,still has a magical spell on me..But Aravind what about the village and Chitravathi and Puttaparthi of this day..Every inch of Parthi should be like inside the ashram..it is our duty..have you seen the site uglyindian.com ?Can we not do something like that to make Parthi wonderful.hope Swami's boys will come up to take initiative
kish ranai on August 04, 2013:
Sai Ram Bro Arvind
Yes indeed this book is a true treasure. I bought this book several years ago and started reading from page to page including all the additional insets the author had. I did not finish after several months. It gave a true glimpse of Swami's life during His early years.
The photographs collection were truly amazing. You will never get to see these pictures elsewhere. Imagine His school registration, His house, His teachers, His family tree and many more.
The author I believe is the owner of Sai Towers and he has indicated that we will write the continuation of this volume. His target was about 5 volumes and I have been waiting for the continuation for more than 2 years.
Recently I was in Sai Towers and enquired about the continuation volume from one the staff and they told me that it will be out by end 2013. I am waiting to get this new volume.
To all this is a book I feel all should have or get the opportunity to read it online or borrow from someone who has a copy.
To My Guide and My Guru - My Swami
Om Sai Ram
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 04, 2013:
@raj - That is Padmanabhan's plan. However, the task is onerous and though drafting for the second volume is happening, it is quite slow. I guess everything comes in its own time when HE has willed...
Raj on August 04, 2013:
Are we anticipating a next volume of this book. I am in possession of this book and it is mentioned that this is first of the may volumes but I have not seen any, yet.
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 03, 2013:
@radhapriestess - Yes! I read your hub on easwaramma.... Nice and interesting. :)
@ S.V. Swamy - No! I don't think there is a digital version available as yet.
S V Swamy on August 02, 2013:
Sai Ram. Is a digital edition of the book available?
radhapriestess on August 02, 2013:
Some very fascinating stories of how it is in the beginning for someone who changed the face of India and the world in his actions. I wrote an article about his mother and her interactions with him. This book looks very interesting and will be on my list for future reading.
V.Sai Saraswathi on August 02, 2013:
Yeah! it truly is worth the cost. I too was apprehensive first when my husband presented it to me as our marrige gift. But going through the book is like living all those years with Swamy ....reliving .The special interviews with all the people associated with HIS story are so amazing .
It is like a Holy"Grantha" .Another six volumes are yet to come.The series will serve future generations for millennia to come.
Parmila Singh on August 02, 2013:
Thanks for telling about the book.The pictures are beautiful and touching of sweet swami.Enquistive to know more and the book and cover looks great
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 02, 2013:
@ SaiSarannaga - Sadly, this book is not available at SSSBPT. I too bought my copy from Sai Towers. I don't think this is in the catalogue. The "Love is My Form" mentioned there in the SSSBPT catalogue is a little booklet priced at 20/-. Not this book.
saisarannaga from Chennai in Tamilnadu, India. on August 02, 2013:
Sairam Aravind. Such a nice book should be made available in SSSBPT. It seems i have seen it in the book catalog. Am i correct?
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 02, 2013:
@Suman Srinivasan - The printing of such a book in itself will cost that much! :)
A Harry Potter book with lesser number of pages, lower quality of pages, much smaller-sized pages and ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOS costs about Rs. 350.
I feel that the cost totally justifies the material within. Printing photographs is indeed expensive. Of course, not everybody can afford to own it. :) I agree. If you wish, when you come to Parthi, I can lend it to you.
sumansrinivasan on August 02, 2013:
very happy to know about the book, if a discount is given, we will definitely buy a book, Swamis books are all so not expensive
Balasubramanya Subbarao on August 02, 2013:
It is a Treasure