Aum Sri Sai Ram
Morning prayers started at the later time of 05:50, taking into account the previous night's late visit to see our Anantapur sisters making the rice packets for Grama Seva. Since it was a Saturday, 21 Omkars and Suprabhatham were followed by prayers to Lord Rama and Lord Hanuman. Puppet Sir talked with us about the previous night's visit to see the rice production. He was impressed by the devotion of our Anantapur sisters and stated that they have great unity, and extended this statement to say that our UK group also has great unity. All brothers readily agreed with these statements. Puppet Sir then linked the purity of our Anantapur sisters to the idea of "100% involvement, 0% attachment": they make each rice packet according to the same specification and high standards, but then don't concern themselves with what happens to the packets afterwards, i.e. the loading of trucks and distribution to villagers. On a separate topic, Puppet Sir gave the analogy that for an individual's spirituality, they are the only one who sets the exam, takes the exam and marks the exam. This means the individual is solely responsible for starting their spiritual progress and evaluating it throughout their life.
After Pradakshina of the Maha Samadhi Mandir at 08:00, we travelled out for Grama Seva. On this occasion, the UK group was given a portion of a large village called Talamarla, in the Kothacheruvu Mandal, a 30-40 minute drive away. As soon as we arrived, we conducted Nagasankeertan alongside Sai students, which energised both us and the village. Logistically speaking, this was the smoothest day so far. Everyone had settled into their teams and was enjoying the sacred work! After all villagers had been served, a few brothers gathered some of the children together at the temple and sang 5-10 bhajans with them. It's fair to say the kids were incredibly cute!
On the way back towards lunch, we stopped off at the South Indian canteen and saw how the ladoos are made. Similarly to last night, we were all extremely impressed with the skill, efficiency and devotion of the female sevadals making the ladoos. For the cultural reason of avoiding use of the left hand to make food, these sisters form the ladoos with their right hands only! The sheer numbers also humbled us: each 3ft x 8ft table used to place ladoos before packing holds 1000, and there were maybe 20 tables squeezed into that room.
Afternoon Darshan started with 15 minutes of Vedam, including a group of about eight older primary school children reciting a section of the Bhirguvalli chant. They chanted with clarity and unity, so setting an example for us to follow in the UK!
Today's programme commenced with a speech by Miss Isha Sai, who is an Assistant Professor in the Biosciences Department at the Anantapur campus. She described and explained the significance of the three yagnas being performed in Prashanti during the Navaratri festival, i.e. the Veda Purusha Saptaha Jnana Yagna, Prashanti Vidvan Mahasabha and Grama Seva. She also elaborated on the purpose of life as stated by Bhagawan, including using the statement that man has to renounce all attachments and desires, which are only transitory, to realise his immortality.
We were then treated to a snippet of one of Swami's divine discourses from a Navaratri of years gone by. The main theme was that man must develop morality, but is (currently) struggling to do so. Without morality, spiritually speaking, all actions are in vain. However, if man recognises and acts with morality, he can accomplish anything.
The Sai students of the Brindavan campus then performed a music programme for 45 minutes, with what can truly be described as a large variety of solos and instrumentals that covered the Hindustani and Classic Indian styles. The highlight of the programme in many people's eyes was the last item, which was a spirit-raising solo rendition of a song titled "Chelo Bhoolaayaa, Aayaa Hai...".
Before dinner, we had the immense privilege of a private audience with Prof. Sri Anil Kumar: the well-known and even more well-loved translator of Swami's discourses in the 1990s and 2000s. He was on top form and mixed up hilarious anecdotes and mannerisms with some very profound points. One point, especially concerning people that struggle to learn Vedam chanting, is that "God also knows English!", i.e. learning Vedam is not necessary, since praying in any language is fine. He also rubbished the idea that only a chosen few are close to Swami. We are all close to Swami, but we must have conviction in that. He then described what constitutes individual service to others in daily life: speaking lovingly and with a smile; being a good listener and sharing the other person's pleasure / pain; and for Sai devotees especially, talking about how one's life has changed as a result of following Swami's teachings instead of talking about miracles that won't really engage the listener, e.g. of the type where Swami materialised a ring for the devotee.