Hari Om Sharan and Sathya Sai - Story of the Modern Day Abou Ben Adhem
Evoking God in people is also service
James Henry Leigh Hunt’s immortal poem, Abou Ben Adhem, holds a very strong and profound message for all of us. The poem speaks about a simple person, Abou Ben Adhem who sees an angel in his room recording the names of all the people who loved God. Abou never prays to God though he always loves and serves his fellow-men with all vigour and vitality. When he asks the angel about his name, the angel replies that it is nowhere on the list. The next night, Abou sees the same angel writing another list - the names of those whom God loved. Abou’s name topped that list!
Service is something that is very close to God’s heart. Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) has always stressed on the fact that hands which help are holier than lips that pray. And that is what makes me look in awe at people like Dr.Narasimhan who selflessly serve and bring medical relief to the distressed poor - free of cost! While this inspires one into service, it provokes within me a question.
What about the sages and saints - those spending their time in the Himalayas for instance? They are considered close to the Lord. Though they apparently do no great ‘service’ in the physical sense, they inspire love for God in people and that is a great service indeed. In fact, promoting love for God in people’s hearts is the Dharma that even an Avatar comes to establish. And so, those people that inspire this love for the Divine in people’s heart are considered as great servitors. They definitely figure high in the list of names of people whom God loves!
The case of Hari Om Sharan
Sri Hari Om Sharan (26 September 1932 - 17 December 2007) was a legendary Indian devotional singer and lyricist. He devoted most of his career in singing devotional songs in praise of Bhagwan Rama and Hanuman. While others singers of his era sought fame and fortune by singing Bollywood songs for movies, Hari Om Sharan stuck with bhajans and God. His simplicity is reflected in his singing and his lifestyle. He and his wife were easily approachable and were mobbed by followers at every mandir (temple) and every public concert. He was inspired to sing previously unheard compositions of Kabir, Kamal, Raidas, etc. Those who have heard him in his pristine days can never forget his very melodious voice and the impact it created on them.
He has often been considered a fakir or yogi, inspiring great love for God in the hearts of people through his singing. He has sung most of his songs and bhajans on Lord Rama, Hanuman, the Divine Mother and Shirdi Sai Baba. Just like Abou Ben Adhem was close to the heart of a God whom he never even considered as ‘known’, Hari Om Sharan seems to have carved a special niche for himself in the heart of Swami. I came to know of this very special story from a revered senior alumnus from the Institute - Sunam Gyamtso Tenzin.
60th Birthday Celebrations of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba
The revealing episode is set during the months preceding the 60th birthday celebrations of Swami in 1985. Sunam was one of the senior students of the Institute. Being a prominent member of the students’ music group, he was involved in planning a music programme for the Birthday celebrations. (Even today, he is a very vital member of the alumni music group and has been actively involved in the production of a dozen high-quality bhajan CDs by the name, Bridge Across Time).
Swami had been showing great interest in the programme and would interact with the students on a daily basis about the programme. The students were excited of course - it would be an honor and privilege to sing on such an occasion - 23rd November, 1985. But it appeared as though Swami was more excited about the programme. He would daily ask the ‘composers’ in the music group as to what new song was ready. Sunam was one such ‘composer’ and was daily subject to that question by Swami.
People often think that it is a great chance when Swami takes such interest in a programme. But putting up a programme is also a great responsibility because, being a hard taskmaster, Swami demands to see daily progress - and at a rapid rate at that! Thus, as Sunam told me, he was under great pressure to ‘come up with new songs’ on a daily basis.
An elegant solution
When Sunam faced this ‘problem’, he approached a senior devotee, Mrs. Ratanlal, to seek advice. She told him,
“I have an old book of poems. Those poems have lovely meaning. Maybe, if you have a look at them, you will be struck by some inspiration. Come home and I shall give you that book.”
Happy at this ‘coincidence’, Sunam went to her home and collected the book. It was an old and dilapidated book. Many pages had got torn. The book was in a terrible shape but its contents were simply invaluable. One poem in particular struck him -
Naam Ki Jyoti Jalayi Man Mein, Jeevan Safal Banaya
Vishayo Se Jinka Man Bhaya, Jhoota Janam Gavaya
Naam Ki Jyoti Jalao Man Mein, Paalo Shaashwat Dhaam
( Meaning: Those that light up their minds with the name of the Lord, become successful. Those that choose to get involved in worldly desires instead are simply wasting their lives. Attain the permanent abode by lighting you mind with the Lord’s name. )
Man Ko Bhaee Jag Ki Maya Prabhu Ko Kabhi Na Dhyaya,
Har Pag Mein Mera Man Ghabaraya, Sat Marg Na Paaya,
Sundar Jeevan Paakar Bhi Man, Moorakh Samajh Na Paaya
Maaya Ke Jhanjaal Jagat Mein, Ghere Mein Man Aaya,
Trishna Nahi Miti Vishayon Ki, Virtha Janam Gavaya
(Meaning: The mind, having been enveloped in the delusion of the worldly attractions, never thought of the Lord. My mind chooses to be fearful at every step rather than choose the path of Truth. The foolish mind does not realize this inspite of being gifted with a beautiful life. It simply gets entangled in the dense delusion of the world and its thirst for worldly desires never subsides.)
Lele Naam Hari Ka Ab Tu, Jeevan Jyot Jalale
Paakar Saar Prem Ke Man Ye, Anand Mein Ho Jaaye,
Aatho Peher Rahein Rang Raatha Peekar Naam Ka Pyaala
Sat Chit Ananda Roop Mein Ramkar Deha Bhaava Bisaraaya
(Meaning: It is time to take up the name of the Lord and enlighten your lives. Oh Mind! Enjoy bliss by obtaining the essence of life- love. Drink deeply into the Divine ambrosia of the name throughout the day and give up body attachment by getting attached to the embodiment of Being, Awareness and Bliss.)
He decided to add an opening verse to that poem, add a tune and present it as a new song to Swami the next day. He worked throughout the night and by the next day morning, the ‘new’ song was ready. The new lines that he sprinkled here and there in the song were:
Bhajore Parama Naam Sri Sai
Sai Naam Hain Prem Sarovar, Behti Amrit Dhara
Bolo Ram, Sai Ram, Bolo Ram, Sai Ram
(Meaning: Sing the Divine name of Sai for it is the ocean of Love, the ceaseless flow of immortal nectar. Say Sairam repeatedly.)
Apparently, Sunam had learnt the benefits of reusing and recycling materials!
A startling revelation
The next day, as was the routine, Swami called a few members of the music group into the interview room. Even as they settled in, Swami asked Sunam,
“What is the new song that is ready today?”
“Swami, this is a beautiful song and I hope you like it.”
Saying so, Sunam played that ‘song’ in the tune that he had composed as another student, V.Kumar sang it. Swami seemed to be listening to the song intently. He made no comments.
Even as the song was rendered, Sunam rejoiced. The song seemed to be making Swami speechless! He seemed to have liked it so much. There would be no need for any improvements or progressive iterations for the song. It looked as though it would be selected as is. It was chosen by Swami no doubt, but not before He made a statement that left everyone in the interview room speechless.
“Ay! By adding two lines in the beginning, can you call it a new song? I gave this song to Om Sharan in 1950. And you say that you made this new song?”
It was the October of 1985. After the interview, Sunam slowly leafed through the pages of the book. The name of the author had been somehow preserved on one of the pages. And it read - Brahmachari Om Sharan!
The king of bhajans and devotional singing had not been christened Hari Om Sharan then! He was simply Om Sharan with the title Brahmachari which indicated that he was still unmarried! But he had already come into Sai’s Sharan (refuge) by his noble decision to dedicate his life to singing the glories of God and springing love for God in people’s hearts! Though he knew not of this God who had incarnated in a tiny hamlet in South India, Swami had already placed him high on His list of loved ones!
(Phew! That was a paragraph filled with exclamation marks - and it deserves only those don’t you think?)
Never forget the inspiration
As Sunam concluded his narrative, I understood two things-
One was that inspiration is Divine. Inspiration is one of the languages through which God communicates with us and I have experienced this is a powerful manner.
The second was that God knows our thoughts even as they arise and I have experienced this too in a very powerful manner.
I shall stop here with gratitude to Swami for this inspiration and to Sunam for being an instrument of the Divine in bringing this inspiration.
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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya