Sri Lanka’s contribution to the Sathya Sai Baba movement
Commmemorating the Swami’s 95th birthday
by M. Wanni Wanniyasekaram
Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba was one of the most respected persons in the spiritual world in his time. In an attempt to take His Legacy forward, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Seva Samithi was established 53 years ago in Sri Lanka and it has spearheaded this spiritual movement nationwide.
The Sri Lankan public first heard of the miracles and spiritual mission of Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, India, through the visit of Hilda Charlton, an American psychic who arrived in Colombo back in 1965. Upon hearing her stories about Sai Baba, many devotees including M Rasanayagam decided to call their friends to join and listen to the experiences of the Divine. On hearing and viewing the video clips shown by Hilda, a few enthusiastic devotees commenced conducting group bhajans at their homes mostly on Thursdays. K Thiyagaraja’s house in Wellawatta was used for this by many devotees who then went on to conduct Sai bhajans in Kandy, Jaffna and Batticaloa.
A delegation consisting of M Rajanayagam, CCS, a former Commissioner of Labor, Dr Nallinathan, C Balasingham.CCS and Kandiah Thiagaraja visited Puttaparthi to invite Bhagavan Baba to visit Sri Lanka. Accepting the invitation, Bhagavan requested the delegation to “first start regular bhajans. Then I will come.” In accordance with Swami’s directive Sri Lanka was the first country in South East Asia to establish Bhajan Centers in Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Batticaloa over five decades ago.
Karu Jayasuriya, the without national titles, but carrying military titles and decorations, Dr Bramadasan from the Eastern Zone, and Wanniyasekaram are the only surviving members of the organization from the time it began.
Invitation to Bhagavan Baba to visit Sri Lanka
The second invitation to Baba to visit Sri Lanka was extended by the then Minister Savumiyamoorty Thondaman who was accompanied on this mission by his Secretary, Thirunavukarasu and a few others. They were able to meet Swami and request Him to visit Sri Lanka. Swami accepted the invitation and nominated dates and time for His visit.
They thanked Swami and while Thondaman went to his home town in India for a few days, Thirunavukarasu returned to Sri Lanka and issued a press notification that Swami was coming here and the dates nominated for the visit. Devotees were very happy that arrangements were well under way and a reception committee chaired by Hon. A. Ratnayake, President of the Senate, was set up. Then Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike kindly agreed to receive Swami at the airport and preside over the public meeting marking the visit.
Meanwhile the Colombo-7 elite living in posh houses jostled with each other offering to host Swami in their homes during his stay. When Thondaman returned from India, they lobbied him to recommend their names. This became intolerable and Thondaman asked C. Balasingham to contact either Sri Kasturi or Sri Indulal Shah, Swami’s aides, and get a ruling on this issue. Balasingham contacted both these gentlemen who spoke to Swami. The ruling from Swami was “I am cancelling my trip to Lanka. I will visit only if the devotees want me”. This decision was conveyed to Thondaman.
The Third Invitation
In 2005 many of us visited Puttaparthy for Buddha Poornima (Vesak) celebrations in a delegation led by Karu Jayasuriya. It included Laksahman Kiriella, late Sivali Ratwatte, late Mangala Moonesinghe, late Dr. W. Rasaputram, Bradman Weerakoon, Lakshman Watawala, Mahesh Mallawaarachi, Janaka Weerakoon, Dr Bramadasan, Prof. Degamboda and myself. We extended an invitation by way of a well designed and worded card asking Swami to visit Sri Lanka .
After Karu Jayasuriya spoke extending the invitation, I prayed to Swami “Swami, Lord Buddha had visited Sri Lanka three times. Please visit “SAI LANKA.” He looked at us all with a gracious smile saying “There’s a passing cloud. Let that settle and when there is unity in the organization, I will come.”
This is the second time that Swami had spoken of ‘Unity’. When will that happen among us? When will anger and hatred leave us and we can sit side by side, shoulder to shoulder, taking forwards His sacred legacy for the benefit of our younger generation. Devotees carrying anger and hatred must reform themselves and leave room for younger people to serve Swami.
Among the national projects conducted by the Sathya Sai Organisation in Sri Lanka are:
Hospice; Sai School Manipay – Jaffna; Children’s Home – Vavuniya; Elders Home Hanwella – Colombo; Introduction of Sathya Sai Education in Human Values to Schools; Leadership training for all office bearers (temporally suspended with approval denied by the International Chair for the participation of overseas Resource Per
One of the Public Events conducted includee the Inter Faith Conference with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe presiding and two overseas guest speakers, Dato Jegatheesan a Senior Civil Servant from Malaysia and Dato Dr Ayothya Art Ong Jumsai, Ex Minister Of Education Thailand, held at the BMICH which was well received by the public.
Holy Vesak/Buddha Poornima in the Divine Presence
In 1996, a few Lankan devotees were at Whitefield on Vesak Poya day, bearing the traditional tray with lights to signify the importance of Vesak. Swami, blessed the devotees on the occasion of Vesak and granted their request to hold Vesak celebrations in His presence annually. This was well received by all the Buddhist countries in the Asia Pacific region.
Reoyka Hira, who was the former Zone Chair for Asia Pacific which includes Sri Lanka, who is presently a Member of the Central Trust at Puttaparthi suggested that we regularize this event by having a “Buddha Poornima Secretariat” in Sri Lanka covering all the Buddhist countries in South Asia. It was decided to offer the Chairman’s post to Hon Karu Jayasuriya, and the post of Secretary to me. This committee worked with perfect understanding, cooperation, and love until it was scrapped by Dr Goldstein and Dr Reddy in the year 2005. However, the program continued with the participation of other countries.
The organization extends its gratitude to Vidiyapathy Ravi Bandu and his team, Kalasuri Vasuki Jegatheesan and Shanmugampillai Viswanathan, former Director Tamil Program Rupavahini Corporation, for coordinating and organizing an annual cultural program to be staged in the presence of the Divine. For many years Sri Lanka hosted this special event which is at present shared by other Buddhist countries in our region.
A minimum of 750-800 devotees per year from Sri Lanka participated in this event. The Year 2005 was a special year for us with about one thousand devotees present. Swami was very free with the Sri Lankan group, mingling among the devotees collecting letters from whoever who gave them to him. He spent more than two hours morning and evening with us, enjoying the Bhajans sung by the Sri Lankan devotees conducted by Gamini Gunasekara. The overseas Bhajans were conducted by Letchu Chablani of Japan.
Every year distinguished VVIPS visited either Whitefield or Puttaparthi. Mrs. Bandaranaike participated many times as did President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the late Anura Bandaranaike, late Dr Seevali Ratwattea and his spouse, late High Commissioner Mangala Moonesinghe, late Central Bank Governor and Ambassador Warnasena Rasaputra. Bradman Weerakoon who recently turned 91 and had held high office spoke on ‘The Importance of Vesak” in the presence of Swami and devotees. This speech was well received specially by the overseas devotees.
CHAITHANIYA JOTI MUSEUM
A large Buddha Statue was gifted to the museum by the devotees in Sri Lanka. Main sponsors were Rev (Dr) Pannindara Thera, the Chief Incumbent of Sri Dharmaka Veshi Temple, Baudaloka Mawatha Colombo 7 and Dr & Mrs Sivali Ratwatte and their daughter Mrs. Lakmani Welgama. Transport arrangement were made by Mahesh Mallawaarachi and T.G.K. Krishnamoorthy in Tamil Nadu, who ensured the statue was delivered in God’s time.
PAINTINGS FOR THE MUSEUM
Sri Indu Bai requested me to find out from Senaka Senanayake whether he would gift three large paintings for the Museum. Indu Bai has met Senaka during his visits to Sri Lanka and knew his credentials. I promptly spoke to Senaka, who without hesitation agreed and completed the assignment on time. Sri Indu Bai selected two paintings for the Museum, and asked me to forward the third to “Swami’s Abode” with a note “Gift from the devotees of Sri Lanka”. This painting is seen in Swami’s lounge as you enter His Abode.
Sathya Sai Institute for Human Values (SSEHV)
In the year 1970 SSEHV was inaugurated by Dato Dr Auodiya Na Jum Sai former Minister of Education Thailand and the Founder Director Sai School, Thailand, Dr Teerakuiat Jareonsettaisn, or “Dr Judo” as he is popularly called, together with Sister Lorraine Burrows, Director of the Sai School Thailand.
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga came to know of the SSEHV concept that the Sathiya Sai Organisation was arranging to introduce in all schools under Swami,s guidance. She requested the Chairman of this Special Commission for Educational Reforms, Prof. Jayathilaka and Dr (Mrs) Tara De Mel, the former Secretary to the Ministry of Education and Member of the Education Reforms Commission to study this report and incorporate what is suitable in the Government Schools Curriculum.
Prof Sunanda Degamboda and Chandima de Silva were appointed Members of the Committee on Ethics and Value Education in Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Education in recognition of the work of the Education Wing of the Sai Organisation. This was based on the recommendation by Prof Jayathilaka and Dr( Mrs) Tara De Mel to the President.
Introduction to Education in Human Values in Schools
This concept was carried out very well in the Northern and Eastern zones. In one of the Divine discourses that Swami addressed was the introduction of the Sathya Sai Education in Human Values (SSEHV). Swami requested all countries must introduce this concept universally. Accordingly, this exercise was carried out very successfully in the North and Eastern zones.
Sai Mandir Anniversary Celebrations
“Sai Mandir” at Barnes Place is considered as a landmark Holy Temple for all Sai devotees in Sri Lanka and also for overseas devotees visiting Sri Lanka. Sixty four perches of land in prime residential area in Colombo was gifted to the organization by the late Mrs Meena Ratnam, fomer Deputy Mayor of Colombo, and her daughter Ms Raji Ratnam.
Sai Mandir, Barnes Place, Colombo 7 Sri Gopal Ghandhi (Grand Son of Mahathma Ghandi)
High Commissioner for India in Sri Lanka
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Children’s happiness with gardening
By Arjuna Hulugalle
On October 7th 2022, Homagama Subarathi Maha Vidyalaya in Godagama Homagama commenced their Home Garden Program, with the support of Nest, a Community based Mental Health organisation. The objective was to reduce the short fall of food in the diet of the children and to deal with malnutrition in the school population. Both the teachers dealing with Agriculture and Domestic Science have been involved in the initiative.
The outcome of the programme has many positive developments. Both the teaching staff and the children have shown great enthusiasm. Children’s happiness with gardening became evident. The students began to understand the importance of eating organic vegetables and the role of vitamins and minerals in their diet. Open air exercise which gardening brings with it has added to better health. The students have also realized that our country does not have to worry about hunger and malnourishment, if one uses available resources.
The first stage of the Subarathi Maha Vidyalaya program is to create a model garden in the school premises. Even classrooms are encouraged to be used for accommodating “grow bags” with various types of yams.The second stage of the programme is to make model gardens in the homes of 100 senior students with special interest in agriculture. The parents of the students are also drawn into this program.The third stage is for the 100 seniors to concentrate on the balance 2500 students and motivate them to set up model gardens in their homes.
The Model Home Garden in School
The School garden has a representative selection of vegetables but is concentrating on Dambala, Cabbage, Long beans of two varieties, Turnips, Occra and KankunA spice garden is being developed with three varieties of chillies, two varieties of kochchi, mint, celery and pepper.
Yams are being grown in “grow bags” inside cClass rooms. The varieties propagated are Kiri Ala and Bathala.Trees grown in the school premises are Delum, two varieties of Nelli and Murunga.
Model Home gardens of the selected 100 students
These are being trained for their tasks of developing their own model home gardens and also to motivate the other 2500 students of the school and set up Home Gardens in their own homes.Intensive training sessions have been conducted starting with Dr Lionel Weerkoon, a world renowned authority on home gardens and Dr Anuruddha Padeniya who spoke on the value of organic agriculture.
The students were given packets of seeds of bitter gourd, pumpkin, kankun, Occra, long beans, dambala, green chillies and beans. Those students who have space in their homes, were also given trees and plants to be planted in their own home gardens. The saplings included Murunga, Jack, Nelli, Del, Delum, Avocado, Orange and Divul.
The Role of the Parents and the past students
The Home Garden program is supported by the Parents and past students and soon will interact more with the community at large. Already, they have contributed towards a sprinkler system for the School Garden.In the long term the Home Garden program can grow into market gardening in the community.
Dance Epicure first Dinner Dance Theatre
A captivating evening of dinner and dance – Dance Epicure by ‘With My Feet’ brings UK champion dancers and the best of Sri Lankan talent to the same stage Dance Epicure, Sri Lanka’s very first Dinner Dance Theatre concept produced by With My Feet is all set to entertain and delight on the 2nd of April at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. The vision and brainchild of the legendary Naomi Rajaratnam, the uniquely curated evening of dance and gastronomy produced by the Colombo Dance Theatre will feature a roster of extraordinary international and local dancers paired with a night of culinary delight.
The latest initiative by Naomi, the Colombo Dance Theatre comprises of a company of elite international and local dancers woven firmly together by masterful choreography and a great love for dance. Dance Epicure will not only be the Theatre’s inaugural performance, but also the first of its kind in Sri Lanka; where artfully choreographed dance segments will be performed between a four-course sit-down menu. The highly anticipated event will feature the likes of world-renowned dancers – namely five-time undefeated UK National Latin American Champions Gunnar Gunnarsson and Marika Doshoris, as well as the formidable Nauris Kalva and Manuja Hughes, Blackpool Open Smooth Champions – sharing the stage with the best Sri Lankan dancers from Naomi’s own dance company With My Feet.
Naomi’s desire to uplift dancers from far-flung rural areas in Sri Lanka by providing them with the opportunities and spotlight they deserve has always been encapsulated in her dance showcases. It is with this vision in mind that Dance Epicure will also feature a heart-warming performance by the children of the Warehouse Project; an urban community solution in partnership with the Sri Narada Foundation. Additionally, as with all of Naomi’s shows, part of the proceeds from the event’s ticket sales will go towards the Dev Siri Sevana Elders Home in Welisara.
Commenting on the upcoming event, Naomi Rajaratnam said, “I am so honoured that some of the UK’s leading dancers have chosen to collaborate with us, and I am equally thrilled to be able to showcase the best of our Sri Lankan talent on the same platform.”
“The concept of a Dinner Dance Theatre has been on my mind for the longest time and I couldn’t think of a better moment to finally turn this dream into a reality,” she added. “The calibre of these world-renowned dancers paired with the best of With My Feet dancers is the perfect opportunity to offer a something truly unique to our Sri Lankan audience.”
The principal partners of Dance Epicure are Standard Chartered Bank Priority, Maliban Biscuit Manufactories, John Keells Properties, Sri Lankan Airlines, Shangri-La Colombo, Wijeya Newspapers and Capital Maharaja Group.
Tickets for Dance Epicure go on sale on Saturday the 11 th of March 2023 and can be purchased online at https://withmyfeet.com/. With My Feet social media pages will soon be updated with where tickets can be purchased offline.
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