A Divinely Chartered Jaunt to Kodaikanal with Sadguru
Kodaikanal is the holy grail for the devotees of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It is a hill-station in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India celebrated for its cascading waterfalls, green valleys, forests, gardens and lakes. To escape from the sweltering summer, tourists flock to this idyllic town in the Palani Hills which forms part of the Western Ghats. It was Swami’s convention to take select students, staff and devotees every year during the months of April-May. In the subtle phase, Swami through Madhusudan resumed this tradition by taking the first batch of students, staff and devotees to the Hill Top Bungalow - now rechristened Sri Sathya Sai Anand Ashram - when the current mission burst forth to the outside world in May 2014. The practice is continuing every year thenceforth.
In the last two years, covid situation brought everything to a grinding halt with travel restrictions in place and regulated public gatherings. This fortunately or unfortunately slowed down the rat race the world was hankering on to. But the downside is that Sathya Sai Grama, Muddenahalli became a fortress having limited to no access to devotees. However, every cloud has a silver lining. Our beloved Sadguru Sri Madhusudan Sai envisioned to transform the ashram into a vidyā nagarī, a city where everybody is a Jīvanmukta (emancipated while still alive). Through Para Vidya sessions, Sadguru imparted the knowledge of upaniṣads lucidly. This made a tremendous impact on the young minds living there with an aptitude to discern between what is real and unreal, permanent and impermanent. The process is on and we will see the effort come to fruition in the coming years.
After pining for His proximity which had become sparse in the last two years, the half yearly alumni meet organized at Sathya Sai Grama on May 15, 2022 was grabbed with both the hands. It was also an occasion to learn, unlearn and relearn in the path of selflessness. The Alumni discussed and deliberated on the way forward in the post-Covid scenario and how we, the beneficiaries of free values-based education could pay it forward by supporting our alma mater provide quality education free of cost to rural children, an ‘investment’ in the nation building.
In a nutshell, three flagship programs devised by the Each One Educate One Foundation, an Alumni initiative to facilitate partnering and shouldering the responsibility inspired by Sadguru:
- ‘Each One Educate One’ provides free education by funding the schooling fees of beneficiary students.
- ‘Each One Embrace One’ takes care of the hostel and living expenses of the needy students in addition to school fees.
- ‘Each One Higher Educate One’ supports higher education expenses from UG to PG with no cost to the student.
In the special session for alumni, Sadguru elucidated scriptural injunctions on how to spend salary/income ethically. He said, 25% of our salary/income should be spent on personal/family expenses, 25% for parents’ well-being, 25% of it for a rainy day and the rest of the 25% should be earmarked for the needy. He went to the extent of saying anything more than our need is not ours. It belongs to those in need! Purification is achieved by selfless actions which is a prerequisite for knowing the true self.
After the session, when He came walking amongst the alumni/devotees, He saw me and casually asked if I would like to join Him in Kodaikanal. I immediately responded affirmatively. I was aware it was a coveted opportunity, especially this year since He had handpicked only a few devotees for the spectacle that is Kodai. In many ways I knew it was the culmination of longing for many births to be recipient of the highest truths in His immediate presence. In a couple of days, I also received a communication that my name was selected by Him for the return journey on the chartered flight from Madurai to Bengaluru with Him. My joy knew no bounds! I was on cloud nine! In seventh heaven!
The white clothes that were buried in my cupboard during the pandemic came out of the woodwork. Things fell into place and I was all prepped up to ascend the serpentine path towards the hill top! I reached Kodaikanal on the morning of May 22, 2022; sunny and pleasant. A car was waiting at the bus station to pick me up. It was aberrant as I was accustomed to tread the difficult path to see Him. But when you are His guest, it is but natural to be treated like royalty. After freshening up at the accommodation provided which had a breathtaking view of the dwellings on the steep slope, I was whisked to the Hill Top Bungalow as the session had already commenced.
The morning satsang takes place at a mid-sized auditorium erected at the foot of the hillock in the property. Tucked in the midst of pine forest overlooking the vast plains with a gorgeous view, cool breeze wafting gently stroking our faces; there couldn’t have been a better setting for imparting the highest truths of Advaita Vedanta.
With butterflies in my stomach, a racing heartbeat, I entered the simple yet elegant satsang enclosure which had glass panes built into the frames of the window giving a spotless view of the flora around the place. The assemblage consisted Sadguru’s ready-to-do-anything devotees from Singapore and a few other countries, University staff and students who were thin on the ground. Even as my mind was reeling in disbelief as to how I was able to land up here and where I fitted in, the Singapore devotees were shaking their legs, dancing to the tunes of their Master for the song ‘We are ready to do anything for you Swami’ on the stage that took the load off my mind! I later told myself I was not here to fit in any particular group of devotees but to stand out as His own.
I spotted two equal size photographs of Sathya Sai and Madhusudan Sai hanging on either side of the podium. The recent Hindustan Times article noted this change as a sticky departure from the earlier ways. On the contrary, I perceived this to be a long-awaited change for good that had to happen sooner rather than later. With the so-called “official” Trust trying to copyright Sathya Sai Baba by creating hurdles on the path at every turn, it was high time we shifted the gear and go full throttle unabashed. This isn’t a never-before-seen phenomenon anyway where the devotee is placed on an equal or sometimes even a higher pedestal than God. Besides, it’s no more the messenger but the ‘Message’ that should be adhered to. Nonetheless, the photograph of Sadguru in crimson attire with a sublime smile on the wall aroused in me a deep desire to enroll myself in His religion, the Religion of Self-Realization!
In the cozy confines of the 100+ year old Hill Top Bungalow built by Dr. Ida Scudder who established Christian Medical College & Hospital, Vellore, India, aesthetically designed interior with wooden flooring and rosewood ceiling panels, standing majestically at the highest point in Kodai hills where the evening satsangs would be held, we were exposed to the lofty ideals of leading a selfless and fearless lives with a tinge of shamelessness! One shouldn’t be ashamed to perform good action Sadguru stressed. Our scriptures assert,
कुरु पुण्यम् अहोरात्रम्
kuru puṇyam ahorātram
Do meritorious deeds day in and day out.
Sessions in Kodai are akin to rāsa-līlā of yore. Swami is in His peak form; extremely jovial, casual, loving but all the while aware of His ultimate mission - to make all of us like Him. The unrelenting zeal with which he painstakingly works on each of us despite all our follies is humbling.
A Sadguru is a Śrotrīya, the one proficient and well versed in Veda, a Brahmaniṣṭha, who is established in the knowledge of Brahman, and Āhetuka dayā sindhu, an ocean of compassion without a reason. Sadguru Sri Madhusudan Sai fits the bill perfectly to the textbook definition of the word. The longing for millions of births perhaps has resulted in making ourselves available to Him now. Or it is just His mercy. His compassion.
दुर्लभं त्रयमेवैतद्देवानुग्रहहेतुकम् ।
मनुष्यत्वं मुमुक्षुत्वं महापुरुषसंश्रयः ॥
durlabhaṃ trayamevaitaddevānugrahahetukam |
manuṣyatvaṃ mumukṣutvaṃ mahāpuruṣasaṃśrayaḥ ||
There are three things which are rare indeed and are due to the grace of God –namely, a human birth, the longing for Liberation, and the protecting care of an elevated soul.
(Vivekacūḍāmaṇi – Verse 3)
And we are extremely fortunate to have it all.
It was always a delight to see our Sadguru glide down the winding path from the Hill Top Bungalow spick and span, looking dapper in silk kurta, vesti and zari angavastram leading to the auditorium from his abode with His entourage; descending to pull us out of Bhavasāgara (the ocean of saṃsāra) by being a pointer in our mission of ascension!
In the Hill Top lawns, He had arranged a ‘Shoot-the-balloon’ game using rifle and pistol. All through the game, He was amidst us laughing, teasing and pulling leg. He would ask married contestants to visualize their spouse when shooting for better concentration! Naturally, Sri Narasimha Murthy wondered whom he should visualize. Sadguru’s wisecrack tickled our funny bone. He said you have so many to think and visualize across the border of Karnataka!! (For those in the know would get it easily!) Sadguru insisted Narasimha Murthy to sing an old Kannada cinema song that he was so fond of during his college days in a jest, but he got away by sticking to Bhavageete, a particular genre of music popular in Karnataka. Sadguru sat on a sofa chair donning sunglasses like a prince visibly relaxed, a short well-deserved sabbatical from building schools and hospitals! He looked charming. The one’s who could not shoot the balloon had to dance. This fear of missing the target and the repercussion thereafter made me hide right behind His chair so He wouldn’t take my name. But after He left to His abode when I tried my hand, I did hit the bullseye with ease. I had missed an opportunity being under His gaze for few minutes due to my timidity.
Sadguru intends to establish a new campus at Sri Sathya Sai Anand Ashram perched at the highest point in Kodaikanal. If that is His will, who can come in the way? It is to be recalled there were forces acting to foil the takeover deal of Hill Top Bungalow by Swami in the subtle form in the initial years, but it is worth noting the efforts fell flat!
In one of the sessions, Sadguru narrated a beautiful story of Radha and Krishna. Radha would go to the river to fetch water which was part of her chores. This daily running errand of getting water for their home is something that Krishna did not like because she has no time for Krishna. She is always busy. Krishna wanted to teach her a lesson and breaks the pot. Now there is no pot, no filling water and no going home! She can now be with Krishna all the time. We all have a big pot on our head, busy filling it all the time with no time to spare for Swami. When the time comes, He will break all our pots. If we have no time for Swami, He will make sure all the other things stop so that we have only time for Him and nothing else. If devotees have no time, what other choice does Swami have to ensure that they don’t succeed at anything that takes them away from Him? When you hear the call of the flute, drop the pot and rush towards the call!
Sadguru was also exemplifying the devotion of Radha to Krishna. Rukmini and Sathyabhama were the official wives of Krishna. But it is Radha standing beside Krishna who is worshipped everywhere. In fact, at Vrindavan, devotees only chant ‘Radhe Radhe’, the name of the devotee and nobody raises their eyebrows on why the name of Krishna is not chanted. A devotee reaches a stature where he/she outweighs the Lord and it is completely normal in our culture.
In many of the recent discourses, Sadguru kept emphasizing on the importance of realizing our true selves for liberation – not Bhakti or Karma, He said. They are just the means, not the end. Kodai sessions were a confluence of Bhakti singing interspersed with Jnana talks, an exercise in digging up the treasure which is within. The devotional rendering by Sumeet Tappoo, Kunal & Gayatri Ganjawala and the students helped us remove the debris from our hearts and minds that obfuscates our visions from seeing the reality of who we truly are. ‘Sojugada sooju mallige’, a Kannada folk song is Sadguru’s current favorite. Sadguru made a student with husky voice sing the song during every session. It is a real treat to hear the song in that particular boy’s voice.
ब्रह्मात्मैकत्वबोधेन मोक्षः सिध्यति नान्यथा ॥
brahmātmaikatvabodhena mokṣaḥ sidhyati nānyathā ||
By the realization of one's identity with Brahman alone is Liberation possible, and by no other means.
(Vivekacūḍāmaṇi – Verse 56)
Devotees wonder if the establishment of schools and hospitals in the current phase was Sathya Sai Baba’s Mission. Sadguru categorically refutes. It was Late Sri Madiyal Narayan Bhat’s desire and wish to establish schools in every district that was fulfilled by Swami in the current phase. He could not do it during his lifetime. Therefore, it was Narayan Bhat’s Mission facilitated by Swami using Sri Madhusudan as the instrument (the rebirth of Narayan Bhat) who is accomplishing it. Similarly, it was C Sreenivas’s Mission to establish a small hospital in Delhi that was identified and taken up by Swami. When the instrument becomes selfless, fearless and shameless; the result is infinite. The dream of a small hospital became a large pediatric cardiac facility near Delhi and is eventually turning out to be the world’s largest free chain of hospitals. What Sathya Sai Baba did not do, Madhusudan Sai is doing it now.
On a personal front, Sadguru ensured that my stay with Him remain afresh and alive in my memory and heart for perpetuity by going that extra mile in everything He did to show I was special to Him. Having said that, it does not make me distinguished in anyway. It only strengthens the point I am trying to make through the caption for this story. All through, His mercy and compassion came gushing like silver cascade! On an occasion, when He was retiring to His quarters, He saw me and asked His assistant to get some shawls. He gave three shawls; each for my mother, father and brother and made some personal remarks directed towards me in a lighter vein. As they say; when He showers, He pours! If I had some privacy, I would have held on to His feet and cried like a baby. But with all eyes on me, I did not want to be ostentatious in expressing my feelings. In the evening session, He again gave a shawl to be given ‘To that Amma who stays with You’! He made it a point to not disappoint even the house help who came home six decades ago, now part of our family and is living with us. To that extent He showed we are His own! If ‘compassion’ had a form, Madhusudan is, perfectly chipped and chiseled by His master! The only way I can please Him in return for all that He did is by becoming like Him. As the famous saying goes, ‘Your own Self-Realization is the greatest service you can render the world’. In one of the discourses, Sadguru expresses his dislike for Videha Mukti. He rightly asks, how does the world benefit by your liberation if you attain it after death? It has to happen here and now is what He expects. We had a descended master in the form of Sathya Sai and now an ascended master in the semblance of Madhusudan Sai to guide us on this path. If we still continue to be lackadaisical, there is no excuse.
The cuisine that was served to the guests at the dining suited every palate with an elaborate spread carefully keeping in mind the taste buds of Indian and western devotees. I would limit glorifying the food any further so as to avoid being misconstrued for making that arduous journey all the way up to the Hill Top only to hog the food rather than realizing the self!
Sadguru handed over an envelope with currency notes to all the devotees, staff and students for shopping at the Tibetan market near the Kodai Lake. It was a fun outing with His students.
All good things must come to an end. On the eve of the Kodai wrap-up, Sadguru agreed for a photo op with all the families individually. He was standing on the balcony upstairs in the backdrop of greenery that surrounds the ashram. When my turn came, I walked towards Him whispering to Him that I preferred holding His hands as the photo was captured, conveying subtly the deep-seated desire in my heart to hold on to Him at all situations in life, even during ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’, an exercise that He is notoriously well known for conducting often! The embodiment of magnanimity that He is, He readily agreed. The hands that serve relentlessly were the softest.
On the day of departure, instead of being sorrowful for the conclusion of an enriching spiritual retreat, I was excited for the maiden flight with Sadguru on a chartered ATR aircraft from Madurai to Bengaluru. The cabs were arranged for our transport from Kodai to Madurai with a pitstop at a five-star property for lunch. Sadguru was the last to enter the plane. He waved at all of us and sat in the first row along with Vinod Kumar, His personal assistant. Sadguru had beautiful things to say about him during one of the occasions. Vinod is like Nandi always watchful of Sadguru’s daily needs and requirements. He would know what Sadguru wants to eat at a given time and will ensure it is on his table. And rarely when Vinod gets on Sadguru’s nerves, he receives a threat of a punishment transfer to Bidar, the northernmost district of Karnataka, Sadguru jokingly revealed. His humorous side isn’t new to many of us. One of His talks addressing the Alumni (as Madhusudan and not as a communicator) around 2017 or 2018 comes across as the most hilarious talks I have ever heard of Him. When the flight was airborne and cruising towards the destination, Sadguru rose from His seat and started distributing chocolates. I was fortunate to get an aisle seat. Those on the aisle seat were farthest from the ‘world’ (window) and closest to God! Sadguru was benevolent enough to enable another photo session this time at an altitude of 25000 feet above the sea level!
With the flight making a touch down on the tarmac at Bengaluru International Airport which drew loud cheers and chants of ‘Jai Bolo Sadguru Sri Madhusudan Sai Ki Jai’, the curtains came down on the Divinely chartered jaunt with Sadguru.
Sadguru is back to doing what He does best; bring succor in the form of education, healthcare and nutrition to those in need. The three big-ticket projects in the anvil are; world’s first free medical college in Muddenahalli, a pediatric cardiac care hospital outside India in Sri Lanka and a pediatric cardiac care hospital within India in Siddipet, Telangana. Sadguru is a precious asset to the world in general and to me in particular.
Let us all aspire to ascend like Him – liberated while living - by serving selflessly, going through trials and tribulations on the path fearlessly and face the world shamelessly!
Jīvanmukta, we shall be!