Mother and the Avatar

It took years for Mother to agree, even ostensibly, that `There is only one caste, the caste of humanity'. The new label `Harijan' that was pasted over the old names `Madiga', `Holeya' and the like failed to remove age long prejudices from the minds of people. It could not erase the `tattoo mark of sin!' Swami had told her that Harijan meant `God's children'. "So, you are also a Harijan", He said, "There is only one caste, God's children, everywhere". But village life still plodded on in the shadow of the pyramid of castes, the lowest engaged in the dirtiest of professions and the highest in the cleanest.

Mother sympathised with the helplessness and haplessness of the `untouchables' of the village and her face beamed with joy on occasions when Swami deputed her to distribute saris to hundreds of poor women from the villages around. "Never would they have dreamed they would own such costly saris", she would tell her companions, "and they will use these only on festival occasions and the marriages of their children". Giving them gifts in this manner was one thing. But going into their hovels, inviting them into the home, touching them, eating with them, this was quite another proposition. They remained unthinkable liberties for even the most radical among the villagers. She would be ostracised and blamed for circumventing a deep rooted taboo, and ushering in a disastrous social revolution.

Mother never questioned the pilgrims to Puttaparthi about their caste. To her they were all, all of them `touchables'. Hari's (God's) genuine jans (children); prying into their caste to calculate the degree of approachability and respectability was sacrilege, she felt. But where she and everybody else knew the caste of a person, how could that fact be by passed, ignored or circumvented? In the village, she had perforce to trim her sails in accordance with the winds that blew for or against a particular community, caste or group.

Mother found it increasingly irksome to live in her village home. She could not survive in that atmosphere of caste bred conflict. Gradually, her un-understanding subservience to custom and tradition was transmuted into conscious, meaningful adherence and joyful participation. Sivaratri, which had been an exercise in asceticism became, as a result of Swami's emphasis, a whole day spent in the sublime thought of God. Sankranti was welcomed less demonstratively and with much less expense of time and money but with a greater flow of love and fellow feeling. Every festival was extricated from the cocoon of correctitude and sublimated into an occasion to celebrate the blossoming of Love that is the core of the individual and the family. Holidays, redolent with reckless rumpus, were no longer extremely exhausting experiences for her. They became holy days, fragrant with the incense of prayer. Merry Dasara lost its adjective and changed into the worship of the Mother who guards, gives and guides.

Thus did prejudices and preferences deep rooted in society perish as they underwent ridicule by Swami. He had come, as He declared, to clear the ancient and authentic road to God, to free it from the weeds that throve thereon and the roadblocks that pundits have placed across.

Mother was happy beyond words that Swami accorded woman the honoured status of motherhood. During the Nine Days of Dasara women gathered in the Prayer Hall every morning and evening to worship the Cosmic Feminine as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Swami welcomed widows too, though such women, felled by misfortune, were not allowed by the orthodox to join the congregation of authorised women. Mother was very happy too that women were permitted, nay, persuaded, to recite the mystic syllable OM. She told Swami how happy she was at this, His singular Blessing to women of all castes and races.

During a discourse at Prasanthi Nilayam He had made the revealing announcement that He could not be classified on the basis of any known criteria. If He needs to be categorised, people could know Him as Sathya Bodhaka, a Teacher of Truth. Recitals of the Bhagavata Text that she had heard dilated on Sage Kapila, honoured as an Incarnation of Vishnu, and His teaching the Truth of Man, Nature of God to his mother Devahuti. Easwaramma too learnt the basic course for beatitude from the `son' in a similar manner. As a result, social prejudices, food preferences, spiritual goals, familial affinities had all quietly loosened their grip. She was surprised at her own transformation as she watched the devotees and listened to their stories of the impact of Swami on their attitudes and beliefs, and as she absorbed the lessons Swami conveyed to her and her daughters all the time through His words and deeds.

She found that she had transcended the pettiness and profanity of village life and she longed to spend her life, what was left of it, in Prasanthi Nilayam, away from the frothy frenzy of the village. And Swami agreed. She was allotted a single living room with a narrow kitchen and a narrower bathroom attached—one amidst the many such apartments in which ardent devotees were housed around the Prayer Hall above which Swami resided. She no longer had any complaints. She was grateful for even the slightest gift of Grace, even if it was but a jocular barb releases from His tongue on her language or behaviour.

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