The message of the fallen Kalpavriksha - Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya
The death of an icon
The morning of the 21st of May, 2011 turned out to be one that brought me a very painful news. A special tamarind tree in Puttaparthi, the divine hamlet in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh which serves as the abode of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, had been uprooted and fallen the previous night! For more than 75 years the tree had been revered as the Kalpavriksha (the wish-fulfilling tree) and it always held on its branches thousands of letters containing the desires of many people which had been tied to it with pieces of string. It had been closely associated with the Master who gave it it’s “wish-fulfilling” status - Bhagawan Baba - right from His childhood. It’s death seemed to mark the end of an era.
Innumerable were the times when Sathya (as Baba was known then) as a ten year old would climb and play amidst its luxuriant branches. At that time, it was the only tree atop a barren hillock that overlooked the pristine and beautiful Chitravati river. Sathya, the celebrated leader or Guru to his classmates, would challenge his friends in a race to the top of the hill from the river bed. The finish line invariably would be the tamarind tree atop the hillock. Sathya would actually allow his friends to have a lead start of a few minutes. And yet, even as they huffed and puffed to the top of the hillock, Sathya would already be seated on the branches of the tree smiling at them. Then, he would ask the boys what fruit they wanted - mangoes, apples, bananas, grapes, figs - and pluck that fruit from the tamarind tree! when asked how he did so, he would reply,
“There is a goddess who supplies me all these.”
The tree soon came to be known as a Kalpavriksha among Sathya’s friends.
Since then, the tree had been witness to many astounding and wonderful leelas of the young Sai and all these have been well documented in the book Anyatha Saranam Naasthi (There is no refuge for me other than you) by Smt. Vijayakumari in the pages 52-56.
In the later years, the whole hillock had been transformed into a green paradise with many many trees, shrubs, bushes and grasses covering it. However, the Kalpavriksha stood tall as the crest jewel among them all. It drew increasing droves of devotees who felt that it was a good substitute to ‘post’ their letters to Swami in case Swami did not accept them during the darshan rounds in Prasanthi Nilayam. They would come to the tree and tie their petitions and prayers to a branch of the tree with a piece of string and then walk away comforted that their problems would be taken care of.
It was the news of the crash of this iconic tree that evoked a sinking feeling in my heart on the 21st of May 2011.
The catastrophe adds salt to emotional wounds
The previous night had seen thundershowers and pouring rain in Puttaparthi. At home, a bottle filled with about 200 ml water had simply flown off the dining table, falling to the floor with a thud. Such was the intensity of the winds that the rain seemed to be pouring in from the sides rather than from above! We had shut the windows to prevent the house from getting all wet with the splash water. However, that too had seemed scary for the window panes rattled hard under the rapping rain. The storm that had started in the early hours of the night had carried on throughout the night, into the early hours of the morning. As the sun rose in the eastern skies, it made possible an estimate of the havoc wreaked by the storm. The worst news was about the collapse of the dear tamarind tree.
Armed with my camera, I rushed down my building, hopped onto my bike and sped to the foot of the hillock overlooking the river. I panted my way up the 250 odd steps to reach the spot of devastation. A security cordon of the Seva Dal volunteers had been made around the tree stump. The whole tree had fallen on the tiny shops under it like a giant. In place of the magnificent tree, there was just a bleak, 5-feet long stump now with a few twigs and leaves on it.
I waved my ‘Staff’ badge and got through the cordon. But as I raised the camera to my eyes, I realized that I would not be able to take pictures. My eyes were welling with tears - and with a profusion of them too! My heart seemed to scream out in unbearable agony. The memories of the 24th April, 2011 came flooding me - the day when my beloved Swami chose to leave the physical form!
I screamed inwardly,
“Swami! This is unfair. You are leaving us with nothing to hold on to! Without the slightest hint, when the whole world was expecting and praying for your recovery, you chose to depart from the earth taking Mahasamadhi. Within days of that, a number of devotees who had been with You for decades left for the heavenly abode too! And now this! Why Lord? Why?”
It was too much for me to accept. Was Puttaparthi, the land hallowed by the touch of my dear Swami, to collapse slowly but surely after the physical passing of the Lord? Would its fate be like the fate of Mathura, the kingdom of Lord Krishna that simply collapsed after His departure from the earth?
Wiping away my tears, I took out the camera. I had a duty to perform - record the passing away of the dear Kalpavriksha just as I had to cover the ‘funeral’ rites of my dear Swami. Definitely not something I would have ever wanted to do in any number of lifetimes but the nature of duty is such. That is why Swami elevates it to the level of divinity saying,
“Duty is God.”
Having taken some pictures, I looked at the fallen Kalpavriksha and asked a question,
“Why did you have to go now? With you leaving, the world suddenly seems empty. Things will never be the same again. Did you too miss Swami so much that you wanted to leave the earth? With Him leaving, all of us lost the Kalpavriksha of our lives. And you seem to accentuate that feeling with your departure...”
I slowly walked to the stump and offer my prostrations to it. Then, I slowly plucked a few leaves from the fallen tree for me to preserve at home. It felt so much like deja vu - I had picked up a piece of tile from the spot where my Master’s body had been buried too. Pocketing those leaves, I returned home.
Scenes from the 24th of April 2011Click thumbnail to view full-size
The second visit... and a second coming
Several days passed. The summer had just finished its peak beating of Puttaparthi and the first signs of the monsoon rains were seen in the south-western skies.
Rains usually have a very nice effect on me. The sights, sensations and smells that they bring along refreshes and rejuvenates me - especially at the end of a hot summer. ( And it gets real hot in Puttaparthi during the summer.) This time however, that beautiful and magical feeling was gone. It had been replaced with the sad memory of the previous, unseasonal rains that had uprooted the mighty Kalpavriksha. The memory egged me to visit the spot where the tree had stood once again. I felt like paying my respects there.
I traced the same route back to the Kalpavriksha. My idea was to visit that little temple that had been made long ago under the trunk of the same tree. That at least would still be there I thought. As I went to the temple and prayed, I looked at the the stump of the tree that still protruded from the ground. I had expected it to have withered by now.
But I was in for a very pleasant surprise.
From what I had considered as a dead stump, a fresh and lively shoot had sprouted and was growing rapidly towards the skies. The leaves were tender and young but the shoot itself seemed quite sturdy already. The shoot also exhibited multiple tips, each of which had the potential to grow into a branch. Was I thrilled!
I almost hugged the tree and fondled its leaves tenderly amidst my palms. My Kalpavriksha was not gone! It had simply ended one form to take another! The form might have been different but the joy it gave me was the same nay more than what the previous one had. The added joy was simply because the brief absence of the Kalpavriksha had taught me to treasure it and cherish it even more.
And then, the Kalpavriksha seemed to speak to me,
“My child! I will never ‘leave’ and go. Whatever happens is for the good only. The world, by nature, is ephemeral and transient. Nothing belonging to the world, therefore, can be permanent. But I am not of this world and in my cosmic form shall always reside in your heart. The next time you desire to see me, just look into your heart for I shall be there forever as I have always been there. Change is inevitable and you should not fight against it. Change is the only changeless thing in this universe. What happened that day was nothing more than a change. I am still here, in a changed form - that’s all!”
I felt that day that the Kalpavriksha had spoken for more than just itself. It seemed to have spoken on behalf of my Lord and Master too!
I again broke into tears - tears of joy though. I could hear Swami’s voice echoing from my heart. He seemed to be telling me that He had not left. He had merely effected a change in form - from Parthi Nivasi (one who resides in Puttaparthi) to Hridaya Nivasi (one who resides in the heart). Even as I stood rooted in the spot, a cool breeze brushed against my face and the sweet scent of wet earth pervaded the atmosphere. The first few drops of the monsoon rain fell on me and I opened my arms wide to welcome them.
I was reminded of Swami’s answer to the question -
How will I know that God is near me?
Among the several beautiful ways that one can know God is close by, one of the ways was this:
When I sprinkle your face with rain; and wash the earth, the dry brown leaves.
The first smell of clean rain
I am cleansing you
Think of Me.
The Kalpavriksha today...Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya
Swami has never considered the death of the body as ‘death’. Death, according to Him is something else as He outlined in His discourse on Vijayadashami of 1953.
There are four types of persons: the ‘dead’, who deny the Lord and declare that they alone exist, independent and self-directed: the ‘sick’, who call upon the Lord when some calamity befalls them or when they feel temporarily deserted by the unusual source of succor: the ‘dull’, who know that God is the eternal companion and watchman, but who remember it only off and on when the idea is potent and powerful: and lastly the ‘healthy’, who have steady belief in the Lord and who live in His Comforting Creative Presence always”.
That gives us a hint on how one becomes healthy and ‘deathless’ and also how one joins the ranks of the living dead!
Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya (Lord, lead me from death to eternal life)
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