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Ritual and the Spiritual

Aravind Balasubramanya has spent more than 2 decades with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He has studied under Baba and been His photographer.


Maha Sahasra Kalashabhishekam in Prasanthi Nilayam

On the 26th of September, 2012, the Maha Sahasra Kalashabhishekam held in the Sai Kulwant Hall at Prasanthi Nilayam. For those that do not understand Sanskrit, the term mentioned above refers to a ritual wherein a form of Divinity (the silver sandals of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in this case) is given a ceremonial bath with 1108 silver pots of water. The water contained in these pots arrive from all the rivers, places of pilgrimage and holy water bodies all around India. More than 1000 people participated in this event which had the theme - Samasta Lokaha Sukhino Bhavantu (May all the beings in all the world be happy).

The ceremony in the morning was grand and done completely in accordance to the traditional rituals. The Prasanthi Reporter carried a detailed article on the happenings of the day. My intention in writing this is to point out to something poignant and profound that Swami demonstrated. But before I come to that, I must briefly visit the pages of Prasanthi history.


Swami's powerful words

It was more than six decades ago that Swami began the Dusshera Yajna. A Yajna is the fire-sacrifice in which many offerings are poured into the holy fire. There were (and are) many who question the need for such rituals. There is a growing feeling among many that the ritual is unnecessary for the spiritual. But well, even the word ‘spiritual’ has the word in it!

Responding to the critics, during a divine discourse in 1962, Swami said,

“Some critics are raising a hue and cry that the Dusshera Yagna is the occasion when a good deal of cow’s ghee is wasted and a large quantity of sandalwood is burnt. Perhaps they value ghee and fuel higher than life. They calculate the price of ghee and sandalwood in rupees and paisa and cry about the cost of these purchasable articles, forgetting the joy that is attained through the Yagna. Well, each one of these critics has consumed, so far, many a bag of rice; what, may I ask, is the great benefit they have done for mankind? How is the world better for all the ghee that they have consumed? Do they at least lead joyful lives? Do their relatives lead happy lives on account of them? What is the criteria for condemning a thing as ‘waste’?

A farmer tills his field and scatters over it a bag of paddy seeds. To the ignorant observer this may appear a waste of precious grain. But the farmer knows that in due course he will reap a harvest of hundred bags of paddy. Likewise the offering of ghee and other precious things in the yajna with mantras will result in countless benefits in good time. People may notice only what is being offered. But they have no idea of the benefits that will follow.


The example of the farmer scattering seeds made a very strong impression in my heart when I was reading that discourse. Speaking on the same occasion, Swami mentioned the manner in which a Yajna benefits humanity. He said,

As is the fire, so is the smoke. As is the smoke, so are the clouds. As are the clouds, so is the rain. As is the rain, so are the crops. As are the crops, so is the food. As is the food, so is the intellect. As the clouds these days are not formed by the smoke coming from yajnas, the food consumed by the people is not conducive to the growth of intelligence. When the smoke going up from the yajnakunda enters the clouds, you have sacred rain, which helps to purify the crops and sanctify the food that is consumed. As a result, the people are sanctified.

Puttaparthi stands testimony to this Truth. The name of the holy hamlet is derived from the term “putta vardhini” which refers to a place full of anthills. A drought-prone, dusty and infertile land has today turned into a green paradise with abundant rains and hundreds of species of birds visiting it. The role of the Yajnas in this transformation, though subtle, is too coincidental to ignore.

The central 'display' is of the thousand pots filled with the water from rivers and holy spots all over India.

The central 'display' is of the thousand pots filled with the water from rivers and holy spots all over India.

The ritual leading to the spiritual...

And the 26th day of September in 2012 had another testimony forthcoming.

The rains had been poor in that year and the state of Andhra Pradesh was reeling under that stress. Since there was not enough natural water to irrigate the sown crops, a lot of electrical pumps to harvest the groundwater had been set up. And since power from the grids had been diverted to supply to these pumps, there had been extensive power cuts. That had led to loss of business for many. In short, just the rains failing had lead to a vicious cycle of problems. And the last week of September especially, had seemed like a second summer in Puttaparthi. That had been the intensity of the rain-drought.

The morning of the 26th had witnessed more than a thousand pots of water offered to God / Nature / Universe. In the evening, even as the programme began, there were loud thunderclaps. Lightning came in quick flashes and it began to pour down in all fury. The intensity of the rain was such that the giant screens which had been placed in the hall had to be retracted to prevent them from being blown away! It was 11:15pm at night and the thunder along with the rains continued, unabated.

Was this a coincidence? The morning sees a Sahasra Abhisheka (bath with thousand pots) to the Lord and the evening witnesses a Koti Abhisheka (bath with billions of pots) by the Lord?

I am not the one to immediately hail something as a miracle. Almost every time that it has rained in Puttaparthi, the preceding days there have been rains in either the city of Hyderabad or Bangalore (Bengaluru). That night, I immediately called up these two ‘rain-preceding’ cities and not a drop had fallen in these places.

Goosebumps erupted on my skin even as I got off the line, confirming from my sister in Bangalore that the day had been as dry as it could be. Personally, I am able to appreciate the fact that inculcating the spirit of sacrifice and love for the universe is the actual reason behind many of the rituals followed. The ritual indeed leads one to becoming spiritual.

© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya


Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 22, 2013:

@ Kalpana Krishna and Nita - Glad that the article was timely for both of you. Having the courage to follow one's heart is a blessing indeed because the voice of the heart is the voice of God.

May God bless you always... Sairam

Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 22, 2013:

@Mr.Happy - Don't know how I missed you comment for so long! :)

Thank you for sharing the experience of the story... God's grace always sees the Universe as a whole... so nothing is ever a waste. Therefore, the feelings behind the act behind so important. While putting pennies into a fountain, if one has faith and good-will, that is enough. As you nicely put it, what seems as a waste of currency for some, is life-giving food for another.

Thank you

Nita on August 22, 2013:

Scroll to Continue

Many of my Sai friends have stopped the rituals versus doing seva as a priority. However, Swami had told me in one of dreams to perform Lakshmi puja every Friday, which I used to until I fell ill and was forced to stop everything. Many of my friends questioned my dream and Swami's real teachings for many years, which I did not pay heed to! Recently, He appeared, asking me to re-start and I have, both the 108 names of Swami ritual on Thursdays and Lakshmi Puja on Fridays by His Grace! :-) Thank you for explaining and clarifying the doubts for all! Though, I have not known how to explain, I simply followed my dearest Swami's instructions!

Kalpana Krishna on August 22, 2013:

Thank you so much for such a wonderful article. We in our own temple have devotees that have questioned this practice and we were unable to explain the power of this ritual(yagna). I have always felt a bliss when they are performed. It is nice to have this explanation to tell other ignorant people about the offerings to the fire.

Jai SaiRam

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on March 05, 2013:

"A farmer tills his field and scatters over it a bag of paddy seeds. To the ignorant observer this may appear a waste of precious grain." - Very true.

The above sentence reminded me of a story about my sister from the time when she was a teenager and we first came to Canada. There is a habit here, or perhaps it may be called a sort of a ritual, that people throw change in water-fountains and make a wish. Perhaps this habit may have originated with a special fountain, or who knows ... nonetheless, especially here in Toronto, every water fountain (outside or in shopping malls, etc.) seems to have coins in it. Due to the fact that we were relatively poor, my sister has confessed to taking change from water-fountains on several occasions.

The seeds the farmer throws on the ground is food for the Ravens. : )

And I always seem to come back to my most favorite quote: "The truth is rarely pure and never simple."

Offerings are good though. I did not talk about the ravens and my sister to claim that offerings are bad. I just think it is quite understandable for someone's offering to seem like a waste by someone else, who has no knowledge of the offering made, or that the gesture of waste is not waste and it is an offering.

Alrighty, You have a great day!

Cheers! : )

P.S. lol I guess I just keep coming back (with the comments ...)

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on October 08, 2012:

"May all the beings in all the world be happy." - That is so very nice of You, to have such a beautiful wish. Thank You.

I am not sure if You intended to have a paragraph written twice, but the one which starts-off with: "It was more than six decades ago ...", seems to have duplicated itself.

"The ritual indeed leads one to becoming spiritual." - I had mixed feelings in the past about this because I was never really big on rituals. My grandmother used to take me to church when I was a kid and I struggled to keep still - I just wanted to run around ... I liked the chants and the Frankincense scent but I really did not enjoy the rest of the rituals all that much.

As time passed, I have come to realize that rituals do actually help. Many people also feel comforted to be part of certain rituals amongst others, as a community. Unity is good so if rituals can bring unity amongst people, why not? Of course, the intent of the ritual in that case, should also be good to begin with.

I love reading your articles! Always fun.

Thank You.

tpudayasankar on October 08, 2012:

Bro Arvind ur article is received in time to convince other sai devotees to continue abhisekams

poornimasrinath from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA on October 01, 2012:

This post is very informative and thanks a lot for quoting Swami's words. Is this the first time they performed abhishekam to Swami's idol or have they performed something of this sort before?

lrao on September 30, 2012:


Nice to read.... thanks for including Swami's words. Am going to forward to a friend who was recently discussing whether so much milk needs to be offered for abhishekam, etc. I will forward Swami's words to her....thanks.

During the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam too, I remember, it poured so heavily one evening (I think it was the penultimate evening), and we wondered whether it was due to the power of the Yajna....

JJ Morgan on September 29, 2012:

Aravind -- thanks for your enlightening writeup on this 'ritual and the spiritual'. For me who grew up with a different spiritual culture, your blog has been a delightful educational tool. Keep up the good work and you are a blessed soul sent to help spread our Beloved Bhagavan Baba's wisdom. Jai Sai Ram.

Saumya on September 29, 2012:

Simply wonderful. He is definitely taking care of His 'Janmabhoomi'. I initially thought that I might make only rare visits to Parthi after the Mahasamadhi. But now, I feel like visiting Parthi more frequently than ever before. It still holds the same memories and magic for me. Love you Prashanti Nilayam. Love you Swami!!

parwatisingari from India on September 28, 2012:

I choreographed a performance on Namdev, a couple of years back for Ashada Ekadashi, this was my re-entry to the world of creativity.

Baba had personally gifted me a sari.

Niranjan on September 27, 2012:

Wonderful hubpost... as always... just taking the liberty to add ... :)

spiritual = spirit + ritual i.e. ritual that is necessary for our spirit...

madhavi alapaty on September 27, 2012:

Marvellous article..thank you for putting this ritual into well known perspective for everyone. This is a prover theory scientifically too as we learn this scenario in our biology classes. But these one understand the concept behind these Yagnas and everyone settles for short cuts in life. We are planning a Lalitha Yagnam during the month of December in my parents town and hoping Goddess Lalitha will bless the people around that town with showers like it happened in Puttaparthi. thanks !!

Pooja on September 27, 2012:

really was a welcome downpour, so reminiscent of dusshera time in parthi :)

Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on September 27, 2012:

@Mayur - Indeed! These Yagnas are beneficial... It is up to us to recognize and realize that...

@ Venu - Must've started after my call! :) And must've been in another place compared to the place I called! :)

Venu on September 27, 2012:

Must say that it did rain quite heavily in hyd

Mayur Hassija from Madurai, India on September 26, 2012:

So well explained and came at the right time for me. In a few days, an Akhanda Gayatri Japa Yagna is to be conducted by the Sai org. in Madurai. I realize now how important these Yagnas are for the benefit of the mankind.

Shruti on September 26, 2012:

This Hub got me also GooseBumps…. I remember, every year during the 7 days of Dussera Yagnya, there would be downpour only in Parthi!….

Kavita on September 26, 2012:

Thank you so much for this lovely hub.

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