March 1940 marked a turning point. Sathya was allegedly stung one day by a scorpion, found in plenty in Uravakonda. His health became impaired and the village medics were consulted, but it did not help. Sathya’s behaviour also appeared to undergo a change, and He became an enigma to all. Convinced that Sathya had come under the spell of evil spirits, all sorts of quack remedies were tried but they were of no avail.
An exorciser was summoned but before he could get started, he heard a mysterious voice warning him; obeying the warning he promptly withdrew. Meanwhile, a frantic message was sent to Sathya’s parents in Puttaparthi, and they both rushed to Uravakonda consumed with anxiety.
Everyone was puzzled since Sathya was no longer the ideal and model school boy of the standard type. He was remote, withdrawn, and indifferent to worldly matters. If He spoke, which was rarely, it was always on spiritual matters.
At times He would burst into non-stop recitation of Vedic hymns He had never learnt. On matters philosophical and spiritual, He dared even to correct elders, acknowledged experts and scholars – all this was something He was never known to do before.
Sathya was then taken to other places like Bellary and Dharmavaram for treatment but there was no improvement. One more attempt was made and this time He was taken to an exorciser in Kadri, a mean and cruel person. Here, young Sathya was put through incredible physical torture, unimaginable even in the proverbial Hell. The witch-doctor was verily an agent of death, and when his atrocities mounted, Sathya was whisked away back to home in Puttaparthi.
Days and weeks passed, and Sathya continued to be “abnormal”. Came May 23, 1940, and with it a revelation. That morning Sathya was in a good mood, materialising flowers and sugar candy in plenty, and distributing them to all those who called on Him. Father Venkama Raju heard about this but was neither pleased nor amused.
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Suspecting trickery, he armed himself with a big stick, approached Sathya, and asked, “Who are You? Are You God, ghost, or devil?” The big moment had arrived and Sathya calmly replied,
“I am Sai.”
The stick slowly slipped out of Venkama Raju’s hand but he still remained puzzled. And so he asked: “What are we to do with You?” Sathya replied,
The father’s next question was, “When?” Came the answer,
That was when the worship of Sathya Sai first commenced.
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One Thursday, someone challenged: “If You are Sai Baba, show us some proof.” Sathya then asked for some flowers. A bunch of jasmine flowers were given to Him. He threw them on the floor; instead of falling randomly, they got neatly arranged to form the words “SAI BABA” in Telugu. Such revelations not withstanding, Sathya was forced to return to Uravakonda and resume school.
Looking back, one can see that starting from the very beginning and particularly from March 1940, Sathya had been gradually setting the stage for what was soon to follow. Right from the time He was a little boy, He had, constantly and consistently, displayed the Divine qualities of compassion, sacrifice, forbearance, and selfless Love.
Occasionally, He performed miracles to drop hints that He was indeed far beyond the normal. Repeatedly He demonstrated His ability to absorb enormous cruelty and physical punishment without any trace of hatred or rancour towards those ill-treating Him. And last but not the least, He constantly diverted the attention of one and all from the mundane to the Divine.
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Came finally the day to snap all worldly ties and launch the Mission He had incarnated for. October 20, 1940 was that day. On that morning, Sathya left for school as usual but within minutes He was back home. Standing on the doorstep, He flung aside the bag containing books and in ringing tones declared,
“I am no longer your Sathya. I am Sai. I don’t belong to you. I have My work. My devotees are calling Me. I am going. I can no longer stay here.”
Walking up to a neighbour’s house, He sat on a rock in the middle of the garden there while people flocked, bringing flowers. And then, most lovingly and compassionately Sri Sathya Sai Baba led the congregation in a bhajan that has now become very familiar to us. He sang:
Manasa bhajare Gurucharanam,
Dustara bhavasagara tharanam
O mind! Meditate on the Lotus Feet of the Lord!
That alone will help you to sail across the turbulent sea called life.
The Avatar had finally revealed Himself. Physically, Sai was still a fourteen-year old. Yet, such was His magnetism, and such was the faith of the devotees who flocked to Him that they had no reservation in accepting Him as a Divine Incarnation.
Baba now decided to return to Puttaparthi and make it the base for His Mission. The residents of Uravakonda gave Him a ceremonial and tearful send-off, and Baba was carried in procession. En route, He was joyfully welcomed and worshipped in all the villages that He passed through. Back in Puttaparthi He stayed with His parents for a few days and then shifted to the house of a pious lady named Subbamma, who always had abiding faith in the Divinity of Sathya Sai. Soon, Subbamma’s unostentatious abode became a pilgrim centre.
They came in large numbers to worship Sai, and patiently and tirelessly, Subbamma played hostess to them all. The crowds kept growing bigger and bigger, and a new residence had to be found for Sai. In 1944, Baba moved to a thatched hut in a vacant plot of land nearby. The plot was gifted to Swami by Subbamma. Later the hut was replaced by a tin shed with verandas on either side – this is the famous Paatha Mandiram (Old Mandir) of Puttaparthi folklore.
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Baba stayed in the shed while devotees occupied the veranda. There was a total absence of creature comforts and indeed even elementary conveniences that one takes for granted. Yet, for those devotees, sharing the same roof with Bhagavan Baba, was veritable heaven.
History repeated and Paatha Mandiram also began to overflow – Baba clearly needed a much bigger place to receive His devotees. Plans were made and in 1950, and what is now known as the Mandir (in Prasanti Nilayam), came into existence, in bare-bones form of course.
Once Baba moved to Prasanti Nilayam, the tin shed previously occupied by Him was replaced by a brick and mortar structure – the Paatha Mandiram of yore had now become the Pedda Venkama Raju Kalyana Mandapam (marriage hall); to this day, marriages are celebrated in this hall.
Every Avatar has a Mission. In 1958, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba revealed that His Mission would unfold itself in stages. The first sixteen years would be dominated by contact with individuals. Following this, attention would be given to groups. In the next phase, spiritual exhortation would be the dominant feature, after which service to humanity at large would become the principal focus.
Baba moves, lives, and acts like ordinary mortals do but His extra-ordinary Love (Prema), if noticed, would immediately reveal that He is nothing short of Divinity personified.