A week at Prashanthi

Sai Ram!

This one's for a friend, Sai Prasad, a satsangi whom I call Saideva. :) He wanted me to write about my trip to Prashanti, although it meant just the darshan routine. So lets see how this turns out...

An old friend Bilgi called up a month or so back out of the blue, tracing my number through someone. Wanting to spend a week at Puttaparthi, he wondered if I could join as well. Its been 10 long years since I visited Parthi though I did have a few darshans at Bangalore and I did want to go since a while, but for some reason, like most of my trips, was waiting for the right time. I wasn't sure I could make it this time either, but there was a call and I booked my tickets to sync up with Bilgi's who had a friend along on our trip planned Sat to Sat. Due to his work schedule, we flew to Bangalore and asked for a cab to pick us up from Parthi. The drive was two and a half hours long with an additional lunch break of half hour. Roads are pretty good, except for a small rough patch.

We did try to check into the ashram but since they prefer families, we had to scout around outside. Bilgi was running around with an agent to look up some 5-6 lodging places until we landed ourselves at a place called Sai Vijayam on Chitravathi Road. It was quite a decent place to put up and so we stayed there.

We were late to line up at the evening darshan and so ended up in the 25-30th row in the darshan hall. We enjoyed the chantings of Rudram, Chamakam and  Purusha Suktam at 1700hrs, followed by Taittiriya Upanishad before the bhajans began at 1800hrs. I began conversing with an old chap sitting next to me about the chantings and he said, Swami came in the morning to give darshan! While leaving, we knew that Swami turns up usually in the afternoon darshan only. So as the first afternoon had to pass, the hall was full but Swami didn't show up. We returned back passing via stores, book stall and bakery. On return, we planned for the next day morning 'strategy' for a closer darshan, since we were 3 of us sharing a bathroom! Usually, when I share a room with anyone, I make sure that I get up way too early and finish of my bath before the others wake up. This time, Swami wanted me to sleep more. :)

Next morning, Gaonkar got up before 0400, followed by Bilgi and they went ahead for queuing up for Omkar at 0520hrs. I was to join them at nagarasankirtan if I could. And I did. We didn't expect the morning crowd to be thin and we went on time as I would 10 yrs back. It was a less crowded time of the year too, but after nagarasankirtan we found that even the darshan lines made up only 4-5 token lines, that too on a Sunday! We did make it to the first row in the darshan hall. We broke for breakfast as a routine, reserving our places in the darshan hall. On return from breakfast, the hall would fill up till some 15-20 rows and we would sit back in want of breeze, listening to Vedic chants till start of bhajan. This became routine too. The weather was pretty hot as it hadn't rained yet. At bhajan, we headed through a crowd filling less than half the hall to our front row! Bhajans went on but Swami didn't turn up. We had two dry sessions by now, the longest witnessed by the three of us. So we began praying for a good afternoon darshan. By the time we left the hall in the morning, it was filled up more and we thought that afternoon would be tough getting ahead in the rows. Bilgi got a little tensed up and decided that we ought to go ahead early in the afternoon. After our lunch at the canteen, we went back to our room and caught on our naps. We went in before 1430hrs for the pre-token queue, which had grown quite a bit, followed by 4-5 token lines. I remember we ended up in the 2nd row in the darshan hall. Swami did come out for darshan, but he went straight to the stage after the ladies side! This was a 3rd darshan of ours without close proximity of Swami, it was a long darshan lasting 45 minutes, but it was also distant.

On Monday morning, we pushed our morning start by an hour, because the crowd would thin down further on weekdays. I liked to get up in the morning there while still lying down or sitting up in my bed in chintan, while others finished their bath. I would get up from the bed when they were about to leave. After my bath, I'd join them, mostly with my seat reserved in the darshan hall in the first row. Swami didn't turn up for darshan and as we thought up the law of averages, we somehow calculated that we would get a close afternoon darshan. Bilgi took our mats and went ahead at 1400 hrs that afternoon to line up ahead in the pre-token queue. This too became routine. He would return to continue his nap before we all headed for the line up at around 1500 hrs. We got the first row past the tokens again. Swami turned up with his chair pushed by his students slowly through the entire crowd and we eventually got our first, close, first-line, darshan. This made up for earlier darshan 'losses'. :)

On Tues, we followed our morning routine of going directly for token line, hoping well for the first row thanks to other more lazy people who thought that Swami doesn't turn up in mornings anyways. Moreover, it was drizzling in the morning, and as I left the room, it started pouring to no end. Chitravathi Road was flooded. I started weighing out the odds of reaching late for darshan and inched forward from the sides, running some, pausing a bit and continuing. I was completely drenched by the time I entered the ashram gates and prayed at Ganesha mandir. I couldn't see sign of Bilgi and Gaonkar. Not finding their footwear on the side where we left them and since there were no queues outside, I peeked in the darshan hall, where they weren't. I headed to the canteen in the rains in vain. While returning back to the darshan hall, the downpour had turned down to a drizzle and I saw them walking towards the hall too. Seemingly, they were having coffee in the ashram at the Fresh & Honest stall! :) The hall was kind of empty and we still got our first row. Feeling a little feverish, I'd time to go back to the room and return with dry clothes on.

Swami did turn up, again to move about to the dais from the ladies side. We had a close darshan being in the first row on somewhat right side. He suddenly asked his student to get the car. We started working on our strategy for a 2nd proximity and ran to the gate as he got into the car. The gates were closed. Hah, we then took to the edge of the hall from where the car would leave and took his darshan while he left for the super-specialty hospital. Afternoon passed by empty yet again in eternal wait for Swami. We started looking at the brighter side of leaving the hall early for our shopping for books or in ashram stores. With Swami's darshan in the evening, we could leave only past 1930hrs, when the stores and bookstall closed.

Wed was dreaded because I started late from the room and as soon as I took a few steps on Chitravathi Road, something hit my hand. I thought it was mud or a stone that ricocheted off some vehicle, but up there was a monkey throwing feces, obviously. I went back to the room for a wash, but it occurred to me that I had been a little slack on my Hanuman chants and read this as a reminder towards that! I started off immediately with the same. Back at the darshan hall, Swami didn't turn up in the morning, but I did get to hear quite a few Hanuman bhajans that day, confirming my belief. :) Gaonkar too sided with me on this thinking since he thought that it was some special day of Hanuman that day, why else would there be so many bhajans for him! Meanwhile, I asked Bilgi if Swami could ditch the darshan both times and he said its possible. I reiterated if Swami had done that since our arrival as I couldn't recall. He said no. And with my big mouth, I seem to have had some stupid premonition; Swami didn't turn up both times. The first row went waste as we sat through waiting.

We were all charged up for the Guruvara and made an early start. This time around, however, they couldn't reserve a seat for me. We were some of the people who knew that one part of the students' side is open to all in the mornings. And thats why, however late you reach, you are bound to get a 2nd row. What my friends had done is that they moved my seat from the mandir side to the opposite side, while they remained there. I was still in the first row. :) That morning, Swami took a full round giving us close darshan as he passed by through our first row seats. I got a close darshan as Swami took letters and blessed padukas for a seva group bang opposite me. While he turned to get onto the dais, I ran towards the mandir side and got another close darshan from 2nd row there. :) It was a blissful morning, but of course. On return, our land lady asked us if Swami came in the morning. She knew there was a school function in the evening and so Swami may not come in the evening. We didn't get depressed right away.

As we started off in the afternoon, I told Bilgi and Gaonkar that we missed our darshan yesterday and it sync'd up with my asking if Swami could not come out of his abode both times. So I blabbered out that we would get an awesome darshan this afternoon too as Swami would give us 2 darshans in a day today. For some reason, the feeling was very strong. As we entered the bhajan hall, Bilgi ran ahead for a first row, while I was stranded at security behind a person who had his pockets full and being checked thoroughly. Gaonkar skipped from behind me into 2nd security check. I started telling the sevadal 'Sai Ram, Sai Ram' to hurry the checking. As I began my run in the hall, Gaonkar was just about to sit in the first row. Bilgi and I were not allowed in the first row as it just crossed the boundary. 2nd row was a little depressing on a Thurs, and Bilgi suddenly spotted a first row on the right. There were exactly 2 seats and we jumped. As Bilgi sat there and was trying to hold the 2nd for me, I ran seeing another chap heading at full speed for that seat too. I jumped with my mat and got the seat, brushing my hand against the other chap. As I looked back and said sorry, the guy had already rushed elsewhere. We had our first row yet again though the team was split. I told Bilgi on our early return from tea and back seat Vedic chants that Swami would come here in a car. He laughed while I insisted its possible. While the Vedic chants were still on, Swami's car moved in! As it moved slowly, it took a left turn after the ladies side towards the gate. Bilgi was on my left, he said "He's leaving". I uttered "No, wait" and we saw the front wheel move from left to right! It was blissful just watching that wheel turn. The small Toyota smoothed into our front and as it inched in front of us, I pulled out Bilgi's blank letters from my pocket, keeping one with me. Swami's side window was down and he looked straight at us, his stare saying "I know the letter's blank" and I conversed "this look is sufficient for me". Swami's car took a turn from the students side and moved out the gate. Gaonkar, Bilgi and I turned back blissful.


Fri was our last day there and the morning went dry as usual. Bilgi was praying for a great darshan, recalling that all his last darshans were a good look from Swami. I had had a good darshan on Thursday and was praying for others instead. In the afternoon, we entered the hall and split with Bilgi on the right side and Gaonkar & I on the left, all first row, but with a few others in between. I told Bilgi that he will have a close darshan and perhaps, padanamaskar today, the reason why he is segregated. I voiced this out to Gaonkar too. I saw pre-darshan Bilgi was lost in intense praying. I too prayed that he get a good darshan. Swami arrived and a lot of his staff got padanamaskar. There were a lot of letters collected by Swami's staff too. As he arrived close to Bilgi, the same seva group crowd that was blessed in the morning caused some commotion dropping letters, making a mess and I couldn't get much of Swami's view. As he came towards me, with Gaonkar on my left, the chap on my right with some wedding card got up and went towards Swami! He had some others who kind of joined him moving forward. The seva dal was sitting idle calmly and I knew I had to make do with a close darshan; the staff had rushed Swami ahead through our area. As he turned to go on to the dais, I prayed for that last darshan look at least and Swami looked at us from a distance. This was the end of my darshan as I would want it too. :)

Meanwhile, Gaonkar said that Bilgi must have given his letter. I responded "Bilgi has a strategy of giving a blank letter that I too follow. He wouldn't give his letter unless Swami himself takes it providing an opportunity of touching Swami's hand." :) After aarti as Swami was leaving, Bilgi turned up behind us as we all got up. I could see bliss on his face that overflowed. After the messy crowd, it seems Swami took two letters. One letter belonged to a poor man in ragged clothes who had taken the seat next to Bilgi when the earlier chap suddenly lost patience waiting and went left before Swami arrived! The other was very interesting. As Bilgi prayed to Swami with his mind conversing in its usual style, Swami looked at him and opened his fingers for his letter. Bilgi inched forward on his knees delivering the letter between Swami's fingers and as he returned back, he touched Swami's left leg and got his padanamaskar. :) All the while, Swami was looking directly into his eyes and Bilgi's narration overflowed that bliss onto us.

We had a closure of a wonderful trip, checking out early morning the next day to drive to Bangalore airport and return back to Mumbai. I'd like to say that Bilgi did all the darshan planning taking our mats along in the afternoon and mine in the morning. It is to him I owe my darshan proximities. To Gaonkar, we owe our thirsts being quenched since he got most of our empty bottles filled from a stall called Amruth. I mostly lazed indoors, shamelessly. Other than that, we did quite a hunting for our outside-the-ashram lunch/ dinners for change. Towards the end, we wandered upon an expensive place to have wonderful soup and Gaonkar recalled a great Gujarati thali joint for our last two day fills. :) I'd also like to mention that since I didn't carry chappals, I wore Bilgi's chappals there on the first darshan day and last. I did buy a pair from an outside stall that lasted a day and yet another pair of slippers from ashram stores that lasted 3 days before being stolen. :) I joked that Bilgi's pair would be discarded even by the thief, as they were getting torn. He discarded those there, while as they say, my pIdA was gone with my chappals, twice!


PS: Saideva, you didn't expect the blog to be this long & boring, did you? In case you reached this far, I can't say I didn't warn ya. ;)


Om tat sat
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