Welcoming The New…

Year 2012 is wearing out and a new 2013 is just a few hour away…For western devotees who are flocking to the Abode Of Peace, some who are permanently and happily settled in Puttaparthi, Nearfars, Prasanthi is indeed something extra special, Christmas and New Year as well extra special compared to the occasion in the far west. With 2013 unfolding Ms Sue Kelly Christie meeting a cross section of westerners, sensing their pulse for Prasanthi and Bhagawan…

Hello Dear Readers, take a stroll with me as we celebrate and welcome in the New Year in Prasanthi.  New Year in Prasanthi Nilayam is a continuation of the Lord’s Blessings, following as it does, a sparkling array of hymns, plays, bhajans, dance displays, and musical  appreciation of the glorious Lord which preceded this marking of the New Year 2013.

Swami often referred to His foreigners so charmingly as His Far Nears. Well, some of them now are His Near Fars, as they now reside here in Parthi virtually permanently, when weather and visas permit.

Christmas is a big magnet event even though the even bigger magnet of Sai Baba’s form is no longer on view.

We felt it would be fun and interesting for you to meet some of these fascinating “Nearfars.”  I set about searching some out for your delight and edification, to get their views about being here, in India in this most sacred Abode at this reverential time of the year.

Firstly, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Roy Christie a veteran journalist, critic, author and husband of note. Also now a resident in Puttaparthi for nearly five years. Roy who is 82 years young, gave me these thoughts: “In the context of Sai Baba’s teachings the New Year is not just a calendar milestone but offers us another opportunity to focus on raising our spiritual awareness. I find it useful to bear in mind that Swami has told us that our entire Cosmos is but “a flake of froth on the Atma.” When we realise how vast and immeasurable is Creation, pettiness and small-mindedness in our human relations become truly ridiculous.The power of love releases the Divinity in us all.”

Australian Penny and her husband of 35 years Renato.  Penny and Renato Ciammaruconi are a charming couple who reside in this Divine Abode.  Penny first came to India in the 1970s and she has such a passionate love for India that she only really feels at home here and always wanted to live in India.  She told me how she felt about being in India for Christmas and the New Year.

“In the West I found the whole Christmas experience to be quite sad, and wasn’t really looking forward to it. You know all the drinking and partying yet forgetting the true meaning of Christmas. But then, when I came here and saw all the wonderful children celebrating Christmas it was so heartwarming.  Of course the Christmas that really stands out in my mind for me, was the one where Swami came out on the balcony all dressed in white, that was quite thrilling and shall live on in my memory forever.  Hopefully next year we shall also be here again.”

Renato is an Italian by birth and a wonderfully flamboyant character and he tells me that most of the attention he had from Baba was in public.  In fact, probably Renato’s best Christmas gift was on the 26th December, 2009. Swami was giving darshan. He came past Renato’s row and Renato asked Baba if he could please take Padmanaskar. Swami said take.

Then, said Renato: “I felt myself being prompted, ask Him for a ring”. So I said “Swami, can you make a ring for me?”  And to Renato’s utter amazement Swami performed His characteristic swirl of the hand and lo and behold made him the most beautiful gold ring with Swami ‘s image engraved upon it.

Renato looking lovingly at this Divine Christmas present from the Divine Christmas Presence and told me, his joy reflecting in his lively Italian eyes, “You know, when you look at this ring, the expression keeps changing.”

I am sure when He sees the Love for Him that Renato exudes, Swami’s expression is one of Divine Love for His devotee Renato.
Another lovely couple I caught up with whilst whizzing along the Parthi roads:

Don McDonough and his lovely wife Janneke. They have been resident in Puttaparthi since 2007, coming to settle here from their native South Africa.  Janneke is a stalwart worker in the Western canteen, also a heartfelt bhajan singer.  Don told me of his feelings living here in this most sacred of places, and celebrating Christmas here:

“As I was walking along the streets of Puttaparthi earlier today, I was held in awe, as I felt what it must have been like to walk upon the streets of Ayodhya in the days Of Lord Rama and Dwaraka in the time of Lord Krishna and now of course to be able to walk along the streets of Parthi, the Birthplace of Lord Sai.”

“I also had an overwhelming feeling, whilst sitting in the ashram yesterday and realising that no matter who walks in through those ashram gates, they must have done so much to attain that right. Sitting inside the Sai Kulwant hall and seeing all the people having darshan of the Sanctum Sanctorum and realising that all of the people here are earning and receiving and benefitting from Grace. The Grace of the Avatar! The heartfelt feeling I have, not only about being here for this Blessed Christmas and New Year but being able to actually live here, is one of extreme gratitude.”

Another Lovely and charming Nearfar is Moira Rowe from Devon, which is a beautifully picturesque part of England.  Mo initially came here to Party, with a group from Bristol – she told me she had been searching for almost 20 years. She first came to India to visit a spiritual guru, who told her ‘You need the Divine male energy ‘– So when she went back home to Bristol she again went searching and found herself in a Sai centre there. On her very first visit there, she saw a full length picture of Sai Baba and she knew this was it – then, she saw beautiful oranges and pink colours radiating out of Baba’s photograph.

Right there and then, on the spot she joined a group of nine others who were coming to visit Swami and that was it. Since 1995 Mo has been celebrating every Christmas and New Year here.  On her very first trip she has been graced with three Interviews with Baba.

I asked her how she felt about the New Year 2013. She said: “The New Year I feel very positive about and know that there will be a beautiful shift in energies and a raising of consciousness.”

Nora Espinoza is another fascinating Nearfar- she hails from Venezuela. She first came to visit Baba in 1989 and has also had three interviews. In one of them Swami told her: “I am very, very happy that you are here at Christmas singing and praying with the Lord, not smoking, drinking or wild partying but celebrating the birth of Christ here with the Lord, it makes me  Very , Very Happy!”

My own New Year philosophy is this; In the west, the prospect of the New Year seemed to always fill me with a little dread. So, the fact of being a performer meant I usually had a show somewhere, which was a gift in itself.  There is so much pressure, albeit subtle, placed upon everyone to celebrate and embrace this New Year as if the mere promise of something new was the guarantor of happiness, then you awaken on the second and everything is still the same.

Being with our Lord however, certainly changed all of that.  He brings about a change, but not a superficial amendment, rather a deeply spiritual awakening, to alert you to the God within your very being.  Once this is realised, then indeed every day is New Year’s Day. Give up thinking for my New Year’s resolution – just gets in the way on the road to God’s Blissful Love.

Two Buddist monks talking, one turns to the other and says, You really are absolutely thoughtless –  hearty congratulations!

So that’s my New Year’s resolution – to give up thinking!

And let us leave the Beloved Lord’s words upon all of us here fortunate to be living in Puttaparthi for the Blessed Birth of the Lord and bringing in the New Year, the Year of Our Lord, 2013.

As Swami told some of His beloved devotees in His Interview room:  “I am Very, Very happy that you are here with the Lord celebrating the Sacred Birth,Very, Very Happy!

May Swami bestow His Blessings and Love Divine upon us all now in 2013 and always.  And may YOU always be Very, Very Happy – New Year… Bring on 2013!

II Samastha Lokah Sukhino Bhavantu II