Devotees throng Sai Baba's abode
At the break of dawn on Tuesday, exactly a year after Sathya Sai Baba’s demise, a host of people began making their way towards Prashanthi Nilayam to attend the Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam.
Many others made their way towards the stadium, where the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (SSSCT) had organised “Narayana Seva”’, involving distribution of free food and clothes.
But both put together did not make even for a fraction of the crowd that had turned up here the same day, last year.
A sense of disaffection seemed apparent here with many locals giving a miss to the Mahotsavam, not a common sight in the past. “Earlier, even routine events drew people in droves,” a local policeman said.
These are indications that the wish of the trust or the vision of some ardent devotees that Puttaparthi will transform into a major pilgrimage centre is far-fetched.
Puttaparthi has two worlds now, one inside Prashanthi Nilayam and the other outside of it. The place also has two kinds of people: one, the followers of Sathya Sai Baba and the other victims of the human tendency of being conformists.
Within Prashanthi Nilayam there is this sense of calmness that appears almost unnatural. The scene within Prashanthi Nilayam on Tuesday was mostly on expected lines with the Seva Dal taking charge of discipline.
Not that many of those who attended needed disciplining, everybody seated on their markings and in complete agreement with every sound that originated from the dais.
And, while most of the people who agreed were devotees of Baba, there were many attempting to conform with the ways of Prashanthi Nilayam, conform with the way the devotees, who outnumber them within the ashram, conduct themselves.
Andhra Pradesh Governor E S L Narasimhan, ministers Raghuveera Reddy. Geeta Reddy, singer Bombay Jaysree and many others took part in the celebrations. Narasimhan narrated several of his personal experiences with Baba and urged the government in particular and people in general to follow the footsteps of the godman and serve humanity.
A book on Baba, authored by G Venkataraman was released at the event and the author said: “This book was written, edited, printed and published by Bhagwan.” The gathering applauded in unison. Narasimhan, who released the book said: “…This book was released by Bhagawan.” Yet another massive applause followed.
Venu Srinivasan, in a bid to instil confidence among the devotees shared some anecdotes and claimed that Baba was omnipresent and that he still manifests himself to those who believe in him and pray. All this was accompanied by Bhajans. And, while all this was happening, inside the ashram Puttaparthi was busy wooing customers, having small discussions with little place for spirituality. The conformists are not outnumbered here, the devotees are. But devotees do not conform with the world outside.
“That is because of Baba,” said, Lakshmamma, one of the devotees. Overall, like many devotees of Baba believe, this is just testing time. “Puttaparthi will reclaim its glory,” the devotee claimed.