The Wonderment of Sai Baba.

This is the story of the Lord, come in human form. He was born at sunrise on November 23, 1926, in a quiet little village called Puttaparthi in Southern India. Puttaparthi has carved a niche for itself in the hearts of the people of the area because of the inspiring legends that sanctify its memory and surround its name. Putta is the native word for "an anthill in which a snake has taken up its abode," and Parthi means "multiplier." These words are part of an exciting legend that explains the origin of this place-name.

Long, long ago the village was known as Gollapalli or "Home of the Cowherds," a designation reminiscent of the playful boyhood of Krishna, the Cowherd Lord. Gollapalli was a place redolent with the music of the flute and the laughter of the cowherdesses. It was the abode of prosperous cowherds, for, the cattle of this place where sleek and strong. The cows yielded copious quantities of milk, thick and sweet beyond compare; every home was rich in butter and ghee. However, one day a cowherd noticed that his favorite cow had no milk in her udder when she returned from the grazing grounds on the hills. He became determined to find the solution to this mystery by watching the cow's movements. Later, hiding himself from view, the cowherd observed the following astonishing behavior. The cow, leaving her calf to wander about with her sisters, walked out of the shed and proceeded in a beeline to an anthill on the outskirts of the village. The cowherd followed her to this rendezvous, only to witness an even more astounding spectacle. A cobra issued forth from the mound, raised itself on its tail, applied its lips gently to the cow's teats, and gleefully drank all the milk! The cowherd, enraged at the loss to which he was subjected by this wily trick, lifted a large stone over his head and, taking good aim, heaved it directly on the cobra. Writhing in pain, the serpent threw an angry curse on all the cowherds of the village; the cobra's last words foretold that the place would be full of anthills which would multiply endlessly and become the homes of snakes.

And so indeed it happened! The cattle declined in health and in numbers; they could no longer be raised successfully at Gollapalli. Anthills spread all over the place and the name was soon changed to Valmikipura, meaning "anthill city" in Sanskrit. This gave some satisfaction to the elders of the village since Valmiki is none other than the immortal poet and saint who wrote and sang the great epic poem of Sri Rama and showed mankind the Path to Perfection. The "anthill city" is called Puttaparthi in common parlance. The villagers still show, as proof of this tragic legend, the very stone, thick and round, with a slight jam on one side, which the enraged cowherd aimed at the wonder-snake. The stone has a long reddish streak which is pointed out as the mark of the cobra's blood. This stone became an object of worship, probably in an effort to avert the curse and help the cattle to prosper. It is looked upon as a symbol of the Lord of the Cowherds, Krishna. The village chieftains built a temple where this stone is installed, and generations of men and women have reverentially bowed before it.

Strangely enough, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba revealed a feature of the stone some years ago. He directed some people to wash the stone and to smear sandal paste on the jammed side. When this was done, they could discern the clear outline of a sculptured picture of Krishna leaning on a cow, with the captivating flute at his lips. Local rustics swear that they can hear the melody of Krishna's Breath passing through the straight and hollow reed in the sculpture. From that day the curse lost its evil power and cattle began to thrive once more at Puttaparthi! The bastion of the old Fort, which still raises its hoary head in the eastern part of the village, is evidence of Puttaparthi's mastery over the surrounding area and the power and majesty of the chieftains of the place.

"With the Chitravathi River descending the gorges and flowing as a moat on one side, set like a green gem in a ring of hills, with temple bells pealing on all the eminences around, enriched by the reservoir built by King Chikkaraya, adjacent to the town that bears the name of Bukka (the far-famed Emperor of the City of Vijayanagara), Puttaparthi is the abode of the Goddess of Fortune and the Goddess of Eloquence." Such is the eulogy showered on this place by an anonymous poet of the past. Puttaparthi was the cradle of poets and scholars as well as heroes and philanthropists.

The Raju family to which Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba belongs was noted for its piety since the days of the renowned sage Venkavadhootha. Not only did the Rajus build and endow Gopalaswami Temple, but the devout Sri Ratnakaram Kondama Raju, grandfather of Sathya Sai Baba, dedicated a temple to Satyabhama, a consort of Lord Krishna. This homage is seldom offered in any part of India to such a deity. Kondama Raju used to say in explanation of this unusual tribute to Satyabhama, that he was inspired to erect the temple because of the events that occurred during a strange dream. Tears of joy would run down the wrinkled cheeks of this centenarian, Sri Kondama Raju, whenever he recollected that enthralling dream experience.

In his dream Kondama Raju saw "Satyabhama alone, expectant, and forlorn, waiting anxiously for her Lord who had gone on an errand to bring to her from Paradise the much coveted Parijatha flowers. The minutes increased to hours and the hours to days, but still there was no sign of Krishna! Satyabhama broke into tears. There ensued a raging storm bringing thunder, lightning, and a heavy downpour of rain. Fortunately her eyes fell on Kondama Raju who was passing near the place where she stood. She asked him to provide some shelter." This dream led to his determination to build a temple for the Consort of the Lord.

Kondama Raju lived out his hundred and ten years of earthly existence in the contemplation of the Lord. He was a master of music and the histrionic art. He knew by heart the Lepakshi version of the entire Ramayana, the Great Epic poem in Sanskrit about Rama. This version was a series of songs composed by a poet from the City of Lepakshi. They depicted the incidents in dramatic imagery and artistic luxuriance. Kondama Raju played the role of Lakshmana, the devoted brother of Rama, in all the Ramayana plays enacted at Puttaparthi and other villages. Requests for him to play this role were received even from far-off places. His depiction of the steadfast devotion and unquestioning dedication of Lakshmana touched the hearts of all who witnessed his performance. He appeared hundreds of times on many stages until age prevented him from further repetition of the role. He was a strict vegetarian, prone to observe the holy vows of the Hindu calendar. His cottage, a short distance from his sons and grandchildren, was a veritable abode of holy homage. He took delight in gathering around his cot the children of his sons and relating to them the tales of Gods and God-men. The children loved to be with him, for he made every character and adventure live before their eager eyes through the enchantment of song and drama.

We can be certain that among those children it was his grandson Satyanarayana (the birth name of Sathya Sai Baba) who was his favorite, for the little boy could sing in a charming musical voice and could give even the venerable old gentleman a lesson or two in the art of drama!

There was another reason why Kondama Raju exhibited special affection for Satyanarayana. The little boy disliked non-vegetarian food and would not stay even in the neighborhood when such dishes were being prepared. At the tender age of seven, he was also a remarkably good cook! He was so intelligent and resourceful that he was able to prepare the most tasty dishes from the meager larder of his grandfather's cottage. All this he did most willingly and very quickly! (Sai Baba says that He would go into the kitchen of the old man and complete the cooking - rice, curries, chutney and all - in much less time than was needed by the mother, even when she had her daughters helping her to finish her cooking assignment at her own place!)

In his later days Sri Kondama Raju was visited by all the devotees who came to seek the blessings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and when the revered old man struggled to stand erect to accept their homage, one could see a twinkle of joyful gratitude in his eyes that the Lord had taken birth in his family. He lived until 1950 and passed away peacefully singing to himself aloud stanzas from the Ramayana. Truly a life worthy to be recorded in the annals of saints.

Sri Kondama Raju's wife, Sri Lakshamma, had died about twenty years earlier. Her life was regulated by the religious calendar with its rotation of Holy Fasts, Vows, and Vigils. She observed these very punctiliously, despite the worry, expense, and inconvenience. Her aim was only to become worthy of the blessings of the Divine Forces which the scriptures promised in return for the regimen.

Sri Kondama Raju had two sons named after the sage Venkavadhootha. They were called Pedda Venkapa Raju and Chinna Venkapa Raju. They inherited their father's musical, literary, and dramatic capabilities, as well as his piety and simplicity. Of the two brothers, the younger was gifted with a greater variety of skills which covered the fields of literary composition and the preparation of drugs and talismans with the aid of traditional formulas.

Once Pedda Venkapa Raju was taken by his parents to a village named Kolimigundla, in the Kurnool District, where they had some lands which had been given on long lease. While enroute, and as they were entering the Parlepalli Forest, some good men warned them to take a strong protective escort, because two days prior a family of six had been murdered in the forest by robbers and assassins.

The visit was primarily intended to acquaint Pedda Venkapa with the area and the tenants, but his father had a second aim in mind. He desired to bring his distant relatives, Subba Raju and family, nearer to Puttaparthi where they would be safe from the danger they faced daily as they went to earn their living near the forest. In order to persuade Subba Raju to move to a village on the bank of the river Chitravathi, opposite Puttaparthi, it was necessary for Kondama Raju to offer him a substantial "bribe!" This was nothing less than the "acceptance" of Subba Raju's daughter, Easwaramma, as bride for Kondama Raju's elder son, Pedda Venkapa. Thus came about the auspicious marriage of Pedda Venkapa to Easwaramma.

This divinely inspired union was blessed with a son, Seshama Raju, and two daughters, Venkamma and Parvathamma. Some years passed and Easwaramma longed for another son. She prayed to the village gods and observed Satyanarayana Puja, a special vow to win the favor of the Lord, in the Name and Form of Satyanarayana, and she faithfully kept a number of other rigorous vows which required vigil and abstentions from food.

Baba's Parents: Pedda Venkapa and Easwaramma


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Written by N. Kasturi M.A., B.L.