Ritual and the Spiritual
Maha Sahasra Kalashabhishekam in Prasanthi Nilayam
On the 26th of September, 2012, the Maha Sahasra Kalashabhishekam held in the Sai Kulwant Hall at Prasanthi Nilayam. For those that do not understand Sanskrit, the term mentioned above refers to a ritual wherein a form of Divinity (the silver sandals of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in this case) is given a ceremonial bath with 1108 silver pots of water. The water contained in these pots arrive from all the rivers, places of pilgrimage and holy water bodies all around India. More than 1000 people participated in this event which had the theme - Samasta Lokaha Sukhino Bhavantu (May all the beings in all the world be happy).
The ceremony in the morning was grand and done completely in accordance to the traditional rituals. The Prasanthi Reporter carried a detailed article on the happenings of the day. My intention in writing this is to point out to something poignant and profound that Swami demonstrated. But before I come to that, I must briefly visit the pages of Prasanthi history.
Swami's powerful words
It was more than six decades ago that Swami began the Dusshera Yajna. A Yajna is the fire-sacrifice in which many offerings are poured into the holy fire. There were (and are) many who question the need for such rituals. There is a growing feeling among many that the ritual is unnecessary for the spiritual. But well, even the word ‘spiritual’ has the word in it!
Responding to the critics, during a divine discourse in 1962, Swami said,
“Some critics are raising a hue and cry that the Dusshera Yagna is the occasion when a good deal of cow’s ghee is wasted and a large quantity of sandalwood is burnt. Perhaps they value ghee and fuel higher than life. They calculate the price of ghee and sandalwood in rupees and paisa and cry about the cost of these purchasable articles, forgetting the joy that is attained through the Yagna. Well, each one of these critics has consumed, so far, many a bag of rice; what, may I ask, is the great benefit they have done for mankind? How is the world better for all the ghee that they have consumed? Do they at least lead joyful lives? Do their relatives lead happy lives on account of them? What is the criteria for condemning a thing as ‘waste’?
A farmer tills his field and scatters over it a bag of paddy seeds. To the ignorant observer this may appear a waste of precious grain. But the farmer knows that in due course he will reap a harvest of hundred bags of paddy. Likewise the offering of ghee and other precious things in the yajna with mantras will result in countless benefits in good time. People may notice only what is being offered. But they have no idea of the benefits that will follow.
The example of the farmer scattering seeds made a very strong impression in my heart when I was reading that discourse. Speaking on the same occasion, Swami mentioned the manner in which a Yajna benefits humanity. He said,
“As is the fire, so is the smoke. As is the smoke, so are the clouds. As are the clouds, so is the rain. As is the rain, so are the crops. As are the crops, so is the food. As is the food, so is the intellect. As the clouds these days are not formed by the smoke coming from yajnas, the food consumed by the people is not conducive to the growth of intelligence. When the smoke going up from the yajnakunda enters the clouds, you have sacred rain, which helps to purify the crops and sanctify the food that is consumed. As a result, the people are sanctified.”
Puttaparthi stands testimony to this Truth. The name of the holy hamlet is derived from the term “putta vardhini” which refers to a place full of anthills. A drought-prone, dusty and infertile land has today turned into a green paradise with abundant rains and hundreds of species of birds visiting it. The role of the Yajnas in this transformation, though subtle, is too coincidental to ignore.
The ritual leading to the spiritual...
And the 26th day of September in 2012 had another testimony forthcoming.
The rains had been poor in that year and the state of Andhra Pradesh was reeling under that stress. Since there was not enough natural water to irrigate the sown crops, a lot of electrical pumps to harvest the groundwater had been set up. And since power from the grids had been diverted to supply to these pumps, there had been extensive power cuts. That had led to loss of business for many. In short, just the rains failing had lead to a vicious cycle of problems. And the last week of September especially, had seemed like a second summer in Puttaparthi. That had been the intensity of the rain-drought.
The morning of the 26th had witnessed more than a thousand pots of water offered to God / Nature / Universe. In the evening, even as the programme began, there were loud thunderclaps. Lightning came in quick flashes and it began to pour down in all fury. The intensity of the rain was such that the giant screens which had been placed in the hall had to be retracted to prevent them from being blown away! It was 11:15pm at night and the thunder along with the rains continued, unabated.
Was this a coincidence? The morning sees a Sahasra Abhisheka (bath with thousand pots) to the Lord and the evening witnesses a Koti Abhisheka (bath with billions of pots) by the Lord?
I am not the one to immediately hail something as a miracle. Almost every time that it has rained in Puttaparthi, the preceding days there have been rains in either the city of Hyderabad or Bangalore (Bengaluru). That night, I immediately called up these two ‘rain-preceding’ cities and not a drop had fallen in these places.
Goosebumps erupted on my skin even as I got off the line, confirming from my sister in Bangalore that the day had been as dry as it could be. Personally, I am able to appreciate the fact that inculcating the spirit of sacrifice and love for the universe is the actual reason behind many of the rituals followed. The ritual indeed leads one to becoming spiritual.
© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya