Even as a child Swami sang devotional songs about God, making them up for his
friends and teaching them to classmates, who then took them home to teach
their parents. When he announced his true identity as avatar of Sai Baba, in
1940, he sang to those who had gathered about him `Manase bhajare, guru
charanam- dusthara bhava sagara tharanam...'
Since the beginning of his work, Swami has made bhajan an important aspect of
sadhana for his bhakthas. In 1942 there were no large crowds around Swami as
there are now, and every Thursday those present would join together for
bhajans under his leadership. There is a story told about those days, and
while I don't know if it is true in every detail, I find it plausible, for the
people are real, and they say the story goes like this.
At that time when Swami was still a young boy, Sri Seshagiri Rao, his daughter
Sunderamma and her mother-in-law and her six-year old daughter went to
Puttaparthi to visit a relative named Karnam Subbamma. This lady had figured
prominently in Sri Sathya Sai Baba's early life since it was she who had first
helped to organize bhajans when Swami first announced himself at the age of
14. The family was called in for interview and after materializing vibhuti for
the ladies, and sweets for the gents, Swami asked what Sundaramma wanted. She
was very shy, but Swami knew her heart, and said `Ah, so you yet want a son?
Yes, a son is coming. Be happy.'
That prediction soon came to pass, and the family became frequent visitors to
Parthi. On one of those trips to Puttaparthi, Sunderamma was alone in her room
with her baby boy who had a slight tempearture. After the thermometer was
inserted in his mouth, she sat for a moment looking at the child, and
recalling what Swami had said at their first meeting. ~Yes a son is coming- be
happy.~ In that reverie, she turned her face to the light from the window, and
looked outside at the monkeys nearby. In that quiet time alone she was
thinking about Swami's recent announcement that he would protect the devotee
as the eyelid protects the eye. Then suddenly she heard a sound of glass
breaking and turned to the child in his bed. The two-year old baby boy had
bitten through the thermometer and the mother saw the shards being swallowed
by the infant. Prying open the tender mouth, she saw blood and screamed. The
family was frantic as they rushed in to help. As if from next door Swami,
without a word, came to them and massaged the baby's stomach. He looked at
the mother and smiled. `Like the eyelid protects the eye,' she thought. As
quickly as he had come, Swami left. Picking up her child, the mother was
astonished to find the mercury and glass bits which she had seen in the mouth,
now under the baby boy's blanket in the bed!
After this, Sunderamma began regular weekly bhajan meetings in her own native
place, all with great dedication and without interruption for an entire year.
Her father, Sehagiri Rao, thought they should celebrate the completion of the
year of bhajan-singing in suitable style. Each member of the family thought
up a different way to celebrate the anniversary in befitting manner, but it
was Seshagiri Rao's idea that was adopted: uninterrupted bhajans for one whole
day and one whole night. They would begin by lighting a Jyothi in Swami's
honour, and then sing nonstop for 24 hours.
The decision having been taken, they got down to planning the performance at
their house -- which songs to sing, what prasadam to distribute, pooling of
resources to obtain the ingredients of the prasadam. (This was particularly
difficult as, in those days, there was rationing of rice and a system had to
be worked out for cash or kind to gain enough foodstuffs for the party).
After making all the preliminary arrangements, father and daughter went to
Puttaparthi to announce their intention to Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He was very
happy to hear of their plans and responded, "I have come only for the sake of
my devotees. Go ahead with the AKHANDA BHAJANS. I myself will come, and be
with you throughout the singing."
Sunderamma was startled at that, since up to that moment they had planned only
a very simple celebration. But, if Sri Sathya Sai Baba was himself going to
attend, then she felt she ought to make more elaborate arrangements. But
Swami told her not to fear, he himself would see that all went well. He asked
where she had planned the meeting, and then suggested instead she book a place
in town for the `akhanda bhajan', so that all those who wanted to attend could
do so more conveniently. He also advised her to ask other devotees to assist
in helping her make the arrangements. Sunderamma was in a quandary at this
unexpected turn of events. To cope with an occasion such as it was turning
out to be was a gigantic task in those days when even transportation was very
She did contact other devotees and together all arranged for the hall, but she
herself felt it was her responsibility to prepare the food for the group. She
calculated that about a hundred regular devotees might turn up for bhajans and
so had PRASADAM prepared for that number. Little did she know that the crowd
would continue to grow as the hours passed. As the crowd passed two hundred
persons, Sunderamma became anxious about how she would provide enough PRASADAM
to go round. At that late date it was impossible to acquire more food, all her
friends had already used what rations were available, and since rationing was
so strictly enforced, she feared that nothing could be done.
As the hour approached to begin the festivity, Swami entered the hall. In his
presence, PUJA to Sri Shirdi Sai Baba's and Sri Sathya Sai Baba's images was
performed under a gaily bedecked floral canopy. Sri Sathya Sai Baba
materialised a silver figurine of Sri Shirdi Sai Baba to keep beside a large
bust of Sri Shirdi Sai Baba especially made for that occasion. Then, with
circular movements of his hand, He produced 108 golden flowers for the PUJA.
After ARCHANA (Offering with MANTRAS) of rare flowers, Seshagiri Rao performed
PAADA PUJA (worship of the feet) to Sri Sathya Sai Bba and lighted the AKHAND
JYOTI (everlasting flame) at that first ever akhanda BHAJAN meeting.
Sunderamma then touched his feet and Swami sensed she had a question. He
lowered his head to her ear and said `Yes Daughter, what is troubling you?'
She requested Sri Sathya Sai Baba to come into the kitchen. He did as she
asked and in the kitchen he carefully looked at each dish she had prepared,
and so realized her concern that there was not enough food for all those who
had come. He then smiled at her and loudly said "AKSHAYA" thrice, sprinkled
water on the food and simply left the kitchen. Bhajans began immediately.
Sunderamma did not know what to think, but realizing she had done all she
could do, she surrendered to what must come.
Bhajans continued for several hours and as the evening progressed, devotees
would come into the kitchen for refreshment, and be served by Sunderamma.
That day from the food she herself had prepared for a hundred pesons, she
easily fed several thousand people, even generously. The pots containing the
PRASADAM simply never became empty! At last as the 24 hours came to a close,
Sunderamma entreated Sri Sathya Sai Baba to let the pots be empty and only
then did the food supply decrease.
Later when she told this story, Sunderamma said "Such was the nature of
Swami's blessing that it ensured an unending stream of food". The event was
truly remarkable. Many of the guests were totally unaware of this miracle, and
assumed foodstuffs had been provided by some wealthy devotee. That first
meeting where the Jyothi lighting was organized by Seshagiri Rao, has led to
the lighting of thousands of other JYOTIS on AKHANDA BHAJAN day in SAI SAMITHI
BHAJAN centers throughout the world. Though Seshagiri Rao is no more, Sri
Sathya Sai Baba Himself recalled his contribution on one such occasion, by
referring to him as "the devotee who was the first to light a JYOTI to Swami."
Even today Swami begins a discourse with a spontaneous poem which he sings in
Telgu. This love of song is reflected by devotees, who sing bhajans at all Sai
meetings. In memory of this long past event, once a year devotees around the
world sing together nonstop for 24 hours, glorifying all the Names of God-
from Siva to Allah, from Elohim to Ahura Mazda. Today is such a day. Starting
at 6PM your time, 24 hours of bhajans will be sung by Sai devotees in centers
around the world.
Jai Sai Ram!
(with thanks to Michael Goldberger for telling the tale so well)