The Early Years

The Divine child became the pet of the entire village of Puttaparthi and the farmers and cowherds vied with each other in fondling it and feeding it and playing with its lovely silken curls. Its charming smile attracted every one. Like a lighted lamp, Sathya moved about the house and laughter tinkled in the street when he lisped his sweet vocabulary of sounds.

The little “Brahmajnani”

The villagers started referring to him as “Brahmajnani”, the knower and proponent of Brahman or Godhood. Even at a young age, Sathya was known for his extraordinary love and compassion towards creation and aversion towards harming any creature. His heart melted at human suffering. Whenever a beggar appeared at the door and raised his cry, Sathya abandoned his play and rushed in, to force his sisters to dole out grain or food. The elders in the house tried to deter him saying, “Look here! You may give him food; but, mind you, you will have to starve.” That did not daunt the child; he used to run inside and bring food to the hungry man at the door; and stay away from dinner or lunch, himself. Nothing and nobody could persuade him to come to his plate, which was left untouched!

While others relished non-vegetarian food, little Sathya would advise them to desist from such cruel habits. Whenever such food was cooked in the household, the boy used to run to the Karnam’s (village chief) house, for they were Brahmins and vegetarians and take the food offered by Subbamma, the aged lady residing there.

So distinct was his behaviour that a wag once nicknamed him “the Brahmin child”! Yes, it was a fitting description. Little did that wag know that, while in the previous body, this child, so laughed at now, had declared at Shirdi, “This Brahmin can bring lakhs of men on the White path and take them to their destination!”

The early school days

At the age of eight, Sathya was declared fit to proceed to the Higher Elementary School at Bukkapatnam, about two and a half miles from Puttaparthi. He had to start early, after a meal of cold rice and curds or cooked ragi (maize), rice and chutney, carry the afternoon meal in a bag, and with his companions make the arduous trek daily to Bukkapatnam.

Sathyanarayana was a precocious child, learning more things than any one could teach him and much quicker than most; he could sing all the songs and Sthotras (prayers) that were recited at the village operas. He even composed at the tender age of seven or eight, some touching songs for the cast, which were gladly accepted by them for public presentation!

The Pandhari Bhajan group

When he was about ten years of age, Sathya formed a ‘Pandhari Bhajan’ group in the village of Puttaparthi. The group consisted of about sixteen to eighteen boys dressed uniformly in ochre clothes, holding each a flag in the hand and wearing jingling anklets. They all danced to the tune of folk-songs and ballads, describing the yearning of pilgrims for Lord Panduranga’s Darshan. He also added some Bhagavatha songs of his own. It was noticed that he added to these traditional themes, songs on a pilgrimage to a new shrine of which no one had heard, and the majesty of a new Deity of whom they had not even the faintest idea, Shirdi and Sai!

Moreover, it was observed that when an infection of cholera swept like a poisonous miasma over the area and wiped out entire families in the surrounding villages, Puttaparthi did not feel the blast of death. Wise men told one another that the Divine Atmosphere generated by the Bhajan group was responsible for saving their lives.

At Kamalapuram

Sathya had to move to Kamalapuram with his brother Seshama Raju. His parents planned to give Sathya a college education, so that he may become an officer! And hence, they were prepared to part with their beloved son and send him to far-off Kamalapuram so that his studies could be continued.

Sathya was a quiet, well-behaved boy and the favourite of his teachers. Once, he sang the prayer song before the curtains went up on a drama in the town and those who heard his sweet voice spread the news that a ‘fine musician’ had come to town. Prayer songs at functions like public meetings became his monopoly thereafter. A merchant by name Kote Subbanna who sold medicines, tonics, glassware, umbrellas, etc came to know of Sathya’s talents and approached him for a ditty to market his new product. He gave him the necessary information and by evening, Sathya was ready with an attractive Telugu song, which was sung in chorus by his friends and him. They used to march along the streets, with placards in their hands, singing Sathya’s slogan-filled song and evidently enjoying their task!

A word may be said about Sathya and his involvement in the theatrical activities at school. Sri Thammi Raju, the teacher in-charge, once asked Sathya, who was only twelve years old then, to produce a play in Telugu. Sathya plunged into the work very enthusiastically. The drama was a great success, not only because the hero of the play was a little boy, a role enacted by Sathya himself, but, chiefly because it had as its theme the eternal sin of man – hypocrisy. The title of the play was “Cheppinattu Chesthara?” meaning “Do deeds follow words?”

Click here for the detailed storyline of the play

continue reading: The First Signs