Two years ago, it was my privilege to have with me 75 days at Puttaparthi an old and learned Sanyasin, called Amritananda. He had accidentally seen a picture of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba at Bangalore, on his way to Sringeri for Navaratri. He was captivated by the sweet beauty of that picture and expressed a desire to have His Darshan. He came to know that I was coming to Puttaparthi the next day and so, he sought me out and accompanied me. His plan was to stay for not more than 3 days and then proceed to Sringeri.
Swami Amritananda was 85 years old; he had taken Sanyasa from His Holiness Sri Sri Narasimha Bharathi of Sringeri, during the Kumbhabhishekam celebrations for the Sankaracharya and the Saradadevi temples at Kaladi. He had later spent many years of study and austerity at Sringeri and, as per Sri Sri Narasimha Bharathi's command, spent many years with Ramana Maharishi at Tiruvannamalai. From there he had gone to Rishikesh, Dwaraka and Puri and had spent many years in the Himalayas, engaged in japa and dhyana. He was a great sadhaka and seeker, eager to have the Darshan of great souls and to prostrate at their feet. He had practised yoga too and his scholarship had won him the appreciation of pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Bala Gangadhar Tilak.
I was naturally very much interested, in this great person; for he could quote instantaneously from the Vedas, Upanishads and Sastras. He had also a large repertoire of stories and anecdotes of his stay with Gandhiji and Vinobhaji and with almost all the famous religious leaders of our land.
Swami Amritananda was, as I said, anxious to proceed to Sringeri for Navaratri but, within a day or two of his arrival, he felt that Puttaparthi was just the place where he would, like to spend that year's Dasara, with his usual special japa, etc. He described the magnificent scenery from the bathing-ghat at the Chitravati as reminding him of Rishikesh itself. He felt elated and exalted by the Bhajan and, in spite of his old age, he sat through the two sessions every day and never failed to derive supreme pleasure out of it.
Bhagawan gave him Darshan practically every day and I came to know that Swami Amritananda asked Baba a large number of questions on yoga and on advaita, to each of which Baba gave him convincing answers. After each such interview, the Swami used to come to me, with a happy smile, and tell me, "Wonderful! This Baba explains Advaita as no one else has done so far. Oh! I have never met any person who could explain yoga so clearly to me." I remember, one day, his coming to me with unusual joy and he could not but share that joy with me. He asked me to sit close to him and he patted me on my back. He said, "Even if you are offered a palace as a present, do not accept it; remain here at Prasanthi Nilayam. He is Siva Himself."
I was indeed thrilled. "For 32 years," he said, "I have travelled all over the Himalayas just for this Guru and now, at last I have won my race. A girl in that Bangalore house first told me about Sri Sathya Sai Baba Whose picture I saw at Bangalore. My namaskarams to that girl. Having had His Darshan, I know I have no more birth. But if I take on another birth, I shall not forget that girl and the timely direction she gave me. I owe a great debt of gratitude to her."
That was what the 85 year old Sanyasi said that day, with tears of joy streaming from his eyes. He told me that Baba had Himself referred during the interview about the Ganapathi Homa he had performed 78 years ago for 41 days; Baba revealed the elaborate mantram with which the Homa was done by him; Baba assured that, at last, on that day, he had realised the fruit of that Ganapathi Homam; and Baba vouchsafed him a vision for which he had wandered, struggled for years and years.
No wonder Swami Amritananda decided to stay on. I know he discussed with Baba the scheme he had, to construct a Veda Pathashala in the North; he understood from Baba that his asthma was the result of some mistaken yogic practices which he had gone through at Skandaguha at Tiruvannamalai; he clarified some points in the Ramana Gita, (in which incidentally Swami Amritananda's name occurs as Amritananda-yathindra.)
When finally the Swami had to leave Puttaparthi, I accompanied Swami Amritananda as far as Bangalore. All along the journey he was speaking in glowing terms of the Avatar he was privileged to meet and congratulating me on my great luck and dilating the great opportunity for self-realization that I had come by. I also came to know that there was a deeper, meaning to his joy. For he revealed to me that Baba had given him an assurance that, wherever he might go, in whichever place he might be in his last days, He would vouchsafe His Darshan before his death.
I am sure that when after about 10 months Swami Amritananda shoved off his mortal coil at Thirukkazukunram, he must have had that supreme Darshan and he must have closed his eyes with the sweet beauty of Sri Sathya Sai Baba encased within the lids.