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Book Review: On Philosophising, Philosophers, Philosophy and New Vistas in Applied Philosophy, by Dr. Sharmila Jayant Virkar

A little bit of context before you begin reading this book review. I have recently enrolled for an MA in Philosophy at the University of Mumbai. Philosophy is something I have been getting interested in, over the past few years, as those of you who have been reading my blogs and Instagram posts would know. During the pandemic, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do next, and this is what I eventually came up with. It has been a challenge, getting back into academics as a student at this age, especially in a subject I have no academic background in. However, it has also been very exciting, especially thanks to my wonderful classmates (who, surprisingly, are of all age-groups, including some quite near my own) and my teachers, who have been very supportive and understanding. How well I will do is something that remains to be seen, but so far, I am enjoying this new journey and look forward to where it leads. Now that you know the background , you probably get an idea of how

Prashanti Nilayam - Abode of Supreme Peace

Situated in the deep interior of Andhra Pradesh, in the Anantapur district, is a small village by the name of Puttaparthi. It would have remained in oblivion for ever, had it not been for Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who was born in this little known village, and decided to make it his home for ever, notwithstanding all his popularity and his far reaching activities.

Today, Prashanti Nilayam, his ashram is truly an abode of supreme peace, embodying the ideals he propagates, and attracts millions of people from every remote corner of the world. While once, years back, swami sat on the sands and spoke to his friends and the few who followed him about life and how to make it worthwhile, today, as he sits on his wheelchair and discourses in the beautifully decorated Kulwant Hall, we have to crane our necks to get a better glimpse of him.

While I am a comparatively new entrant into the fold, my genes did show the way, for my grandfather had a deep respect for Baba. My in-laws, however, have a much stronger bond with Him, for they have been his devotees for the last 3 generations, Samhith being the fourth. My husband escapes there as and when he has the chance, and comes back much more relaxed and happier than ever. It is almost like a second home for him – he studied in the college there…… now Samhith follows in his footsteps, wanting to bunk school and go along with him!

When our trip plans changed, and we were unable to get tickets to return to Bombay from Tiruppur, we found that a few tickets were available to Puttaparthi, and jumped at the chance to have darshan of Swami. Earlier, we had to make the journey to Puttaparthi from either Bangalore (120 Kms) or from Dharmavaram (40Kms). Today, the Sai Prashanti Nilayam Railway station is the nearest to the ashram (8 Kms), and has made travel much easier. There are also plenty of buses available from Bangalore and Chennai. There are also special trains running from Bangalore and Chennai. Many trains passing via Dharmavaram from Delhi and other states have been diverted to include Prashanti in their route.

There are also plenty of options for accommodation. While the ashram accommodation is certainly the best, it is also much in demand, and during festivals and crowded times, it is difficult to get rooms. There are, however, plenty of hotels and lodges outside the ashram, catering to all budgets.

Once at the ashram, your day is packed with activities. The day is greeted with Aumkaram (Chanting of Om) at 5:20AM, followed by the chanting of the Vedas and Nagar Sankeertanam (singing of bhajans while walking around the ashram). This is followed by darshan of Baba, when he comes to the Kulwant hall and gives interviews to the chosen few, and blesses the others by his presence. Earlier, this used to be early in the morning, and Baba used to walk around, talking to people as he moved among the rows and rows of people waiting for him, but today, age has taken a toll (He is now 83), and he comes in a wheelchair, and doesn’t mingle with the crowd, going straight to the dais where he sits for a while – sometimes a few minutes, sometimes as long as a couple of hours. This is followed by bhajans at 9:00AM, brought to an end by the Aarti at 9:30AM

A similar darshan takes place in the evenings (these days between 3 and 4 PM), followed by bhajans at 5:00PM and aarti at 5:30PM.

In between this, there are lots of things to do – there are lectures and discussions on spiritual topics, there are study circles, there is a library open to all, there is a shopping centre and book stall where one can spend hours and get stuff for a steal (all goods are at subsidized rates – these are actually meant for the ashram residents, most of whom are volunteers, but all visitors are free to make use of the bargains!)

There are also lots of places to see – places connected with Baba’s birth and childhood, with incidents which took place after he proclaimed himself to be an incarnation of Shirdi Baba. Baba’s personal elephant is Samhith’s favourite – he wants to see her at least once every time!

If you still have time, you can wander around, looking at the beautiful and up-to-date colleges, hostels and hospitals that Baba has built, in what was once a one-horse town! You will find it hard to believe, but all these are run free of cost! At specific times, you are even allowed inside the hospital and the newly constructed Indoor Sports Complex. It is a fascinating tour!

There are, of course, a few restrictions – the whole ashram is run on the concept of segregation of sexes. While, of course, a family can live together inside the ashram, men and women have to go for all activities separately, including darshan and food (yes, there are canteens catering to every kind of palate, all extremely subsidized). Another issue is that of silence. Since the darshan time is not certain, we have to wait in the hall for quite a while, sometimes hours, and it is a rule to keep silent during the whole time. It is not an easy task, and there are hundreds of volunteers, whose sole task is to keep the crowd quiet and controlled. At times, I feel sorry for them! Anyone who reads my blogs would know that my son is certainly not one to keep quiet, but surprisingly, this is the only place on earth that he sits still for hours at a time. We have been taking him to Parthi since he was just 6 months old, and not once has he caused anyone to reprimand us! This will give you an idea of the kind of atmosphere the place has- one of peace and tranquility, as the name suggests. To me, that is the greatest attraction this ashram has to offer – for every time I go there, I find myself at peace, relaxed, and ready to face the world when I get back!

I shall not waste words writing more about Baba or about the ashram, for there are plenty of websites giving all the information. Here are links to a few of them –

The Sathya Sai Central Trust: http://www.srisathyasai.org.in/
Radio Sai Global Harmony: http://www.radiosai.org/
Sathya Sai Books and Publication Trust: http://sssbpt.org/

If anyone has any questions about Prashanti Nilayam, I will be too happy to answer. Leave a comment with your e-mail address, or send me a mail here.


I apologize for having no photographs of Puttaparthi to attract you with. Cameras are not allowed, nor are mobiles, for that matter. One is allowed for darshan with only a small purse with nothing but money and keys… no water or foodstuffs, or handbags. Only those with small children are allowed to carry some water/milk and biscuits for the children.


Comments

  1. Nice Blog! I will keep coming back to look for more posts!

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  2. Thanks for sharing a great post!

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