Sombre is the mood as they trickle in and murmur their sorrow and sadness in little knots of twos and threes. It is Thursday evening and by 6 the mandiram in the heart of Cinnamon Gardens has filled up.
Young and old, men and women, very well known, not-so-well-known and unknown, people, they walk in, sit cross-legged on the floor and join in the soothing chant of the mantra while the sweet odour of joss-sticks fills the air……..
Sai ishwaraaya vidmahe,
Satya Devaaya Deemahee,
Thannoh sarvah prachodayaath.
The large stage before which they sit, the women on one side with their shoulders covered with shawls and the men on the other, is bedecked with flowers. It is dominated by three large, life-size heavily garlanded photographs of “our Swami”. A huge throne-like chair takes pride of place and the devotees tell us, the uninitiated, that Baba was seen in the chair the day the mandiram was opened 19 years ago, although physically he has never visited Sri Lanka from across the Indian Ocean in Andhra Pradesh where he lived at Puttaparthi.
On the walls of the mandiram also hang large pictures of the Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Jorashtra and another linked to Islam.
We are at the Sathya Sai Baba Centre down Barnes Place in Colombo 7 from where the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization through the apex body of the Central Council directs its activity.
Sombre is the mood here because their “mother” and “father” is dead. Do you know that Sai means mother and Baba means father, explains a devotee.
Sathya Sai Baba died on April 24 at the age of 85 of multiple organ failure and was buried amidst hundreds of thousands of devotees which included some Very Very Important Persons (VVIPs) from Sri Lanka as well. As a holy man, he was buried instead of being cremated, the Sunday Times understands.
Referring to the fact that Sai Baba predicted his own “passing away” from his mortal body at the age of 95, Central Council Chairman Prof. Sunanda Degamboda explains that although Swami was 85 years old, according to the lunar-month (27-day) calculation he was 95.
“Selfless love,” according to Prof. Degamboda is what the Swami preached and it didn’t matter what religion a person was from, be it Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Muslim.
There are 160 Sai Centres across the country where bajans praising his divinity are conducted while Sai devotees also engage in service under three major projects.
We are conducting educational programmes to promote the Sathya Sai human values all over the country, says Prof. Degamboda, pointing out that a 20-bed hospice is being run by them at Hanwella for terminally-ill cancer patients. The third is a home for 50 children whose parents cannot look after them at Vavuniya.
A Buddhist by birth and following the precepts set down by Lord Buddha up to now, this Professor of Industrial Management at the Kelaniya University says it was in 1995 that he got a “strange but natural urge” to see the Swami along with his wife and two children. “My inner conscience, however, argued why I should see him.
” But the family gave into this urge and did go to see the Swami in August 1995.
It was amidst a massive crowd of about 50,000 that they saw him for the first time. As he walked among the crowd, a radiance emanated from him while his face had a magnetic quality, says Prof. Degamboda with reverence. This prompted him to “look deep into the Swami’s life and philosophy” which he found didn’t contradict any religion.
Do you know that the Swami in his sermons draws from the Tripitika, the Bible, the Koran and the Vedas, asks Prof. Degamboda, explaining that he and his family were spiritually elevated and never gave up Buddhism.
His philosophy is “selfless love” where you don’t love just one person or thing, you are not materialistic. You love all human kind. “Dhana which is giving and forgiving is what the Swami preaches and not getting and forgetting,” says Prof. Degamboda. “Give dhana and do merit but don’t seek material benefits and strive to lengthen your sansara. Do good and shorten your sansara, is what he says.”
In 2007, he met Swami face to face when he presented a book that he wrote about him. “Love poured from his face. There was a radiation of love,” says Prof. Degamboda, according to whom there are nearly two million Sai devotees spread across Sri Lanka including many who worship him at home because people experience something special.
When the Sunday Times asked him about the allegations of paedophilia against the Swami sometime ago, Prof. Degamboda scoffed them off, pointing out that many are the false allegations against good men. He cited the examples of Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ.
The “Sai experience” seems special to many. “My uncle was saved from the brink of suicide by Sai Baba when he was a medico at Peradeniya University,” says 27-year-old Satyojathan from Wellawatte. Today, his uncle is a very successful doctor in England.
Overcome by emotion, with tears welling up in her eyes, Padma Godakumbura from Balangoda says both her parents are dead now but she doesn’t feel alone, for Sai Baba is with her. On the last day of a visit to Puttaparthi, Sai Baba came close to her and the most cherished possession she has is a photo of him with her.
“God is God, swami is swami,” says Ilanko Madawe from Wellawatte, explaining that Sai Baba is a living god. “My mother got his blessings and I am going again in August. He is living in my house.”
Vibuthi (ash) comes from the picture of Swami in my house, says Ilanko, adding however that in recent times it has not happened. He was fighting a case for nearly 10 years but not getting the deed, when he decided to go see Sai Baba. “When I came home after my trip to India, the deed was there.”
Extending her hand with the index finger displaying a large diamond ring, Sandhya Jayasinghe says it was created by the Swami for her husband. Her husband, Colonel Jayantha Jayasinghe had died eight months ago of a heart attack but had escaped a grenade in Eravur when he was fighting the war.
|Sandhya shows her diamond ring
“It was in 1987 that the Tigers lobbed a grenade into the vehicle he was in, but he escaped because it just didn’t explode. Then we didn’t know about Sai Baba. Later when we heard about him and went to see him he referred to this incident and said he saved my husband,” says Sandhya.
When her husband told him that he is a follower of god Kataragama, Sai Baba explained that he comes in different forms to different people, changing his appearance to suit that person’s belief, she added.
Now that Sai Baba has passed away, what of the future?
We will continue his good work because we know that he will come in the form of Prem Sai eight years later, says a devotee, with others agreeing.
His earlier life as Shirdi ended in 1918 but he came back as Sai Baba in 1926. Now Sai Baba has passed away but will announce his arrival as Prem Sai, his devotees are convinced.