(15th to 19th February 2014)
In ancient India , Kings performed Aswamedha Yagya to expand their kingdoms through forcible conquests or states accepted the suzerainty and became vassals . Guruji undertook a cultural conquest spread over 5 days and won the hearts of the people through Divine love . The horse was replicated by a train.
This train consisting of 20 coaches including a saloon meant for Guruji was christened SRI SRI Express ( Anugraha Yatra). The journey covered 18 districts of Andhra Pradesh , where Guruji interacted with lacs of people . 4 major Satsangs were held at Produttur, Tirupati, Mangalgiri and the coastal town of Kakinada . Further he mingled enroute at several stations with thousands of people . The YATRA commenced at Kacheguda on the 15th of February , covered Telengana , Rayalseema and Coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh .
It would be a fair statement to make that Mahatma Gandhi had undertaken a similar journey by rail crisscrossing the country side spreading the message of peace, non violence, evils of consumption of Bachus and communal harmony besides exhorting people to take up cudgels against the tyrannical British rule. This Yatra too was reminiscent of the journey undertaken by the Mahatma. This was mentioned by those frail in body but strong in spirit senior citizens or offspring’s of those who witnessed the earlier event.
A chilly and wintry morning greeted us in Bangalore sometime in 2010 .As part of my protocol duty along with other senior railway officials we received Gurudev Express( a special train commemorating 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore) at Bangalore Cantonment Station . There was a fleeting thought in my mind that had Guruji been the Chief Guest of the function , the headlines and breaking news would have been GURUDEV RECEIVES GURUDEV . The seed of SRI SRI EXPRESS was thus sown.
Promptly a mail was sent to Guruji to travel by a special train in Karnataka showcasing various facets of Art Of Living , particularly Sudarshan Kriya and various Seva activities of the NGO .
Some tentative plans were chalked out to run the train , on the lines of Deccan Oddesey or Palace on Wheels .But perhaps the time was not ripe and the mission got aborted.
Meanwhile , I was transferred to South Central Railway , and along with Kishoreda( Advanced Meditation Course Teacher and among Guruji’s first disciples) kept requesting the Master to allot dates and travel Andhra Pradesh by a special train . But a mere request is not answered without a deep Sankalpa . It needs to be supported by a concrete action plan . Guruji was scrutinizing our seriousness and determination . Along the way , Kumar from Railways , Mani Naidu a devotee and entrepreneur and Ravi Bhaiyya a very senior teacher from Hyderabad joined the team and we kept persisting with our proposal . Between 2011 to 2012 we kept a request letter at the sanctumsanctorum during Shiv Ratri and Navratri Pujas seeking Divine blessings hoping that Gurudev would give his nod.
Finally , Guruji in a Teachers Refresher Meet agreed to the dates sometime in February 2014. But we were overcome by anxiety and feverishness which literally forced Guruji to advance the programme to November 2013. We did not anticipate poor response in bookings, inclement weather conditions and the agitation by the populace of Seemandhra against the bifurcation of AndhraPradesh . The Divine was aware all but gave us a long rope and in all his magnanimity changed the dates to the earlier planned February 2014. The super conscious mind had all along known the dates , but the ordinary mortal and mind did not comprehend the cosmic plan.
During the course of this historical Yatra , SRI SRI addressed 4 major Satsangs and several station side meetings .Our present day politicians who revel in road side shows , should have witnessed the fervor of the faithful and the casual onlooker at the stations where SRI SRI EXPRESS was provided a scheduled or an unscheduled halt .
The entire thrust of Guruji was a campaign against an unjust bifurcation of AndhraPradesh (keeping the sentiments of Seemandhra in mind) , forcible proselytization and the need for good governance not only in Andhra Pradesh but in the country as a whole. And Guruji skillfully and succinctly raised these issues during the entire Yatra without offending any particular group’s feelings or sentiments . He is an amazing wordsmith and at all Satsangs his simple message was that we keep changing our Gods and not the guards(leaders) who administer us . By changing Gods neither are we devoted to any faith but also betray our ancestors .Further by constantly reposing faith in the same Guards( political leaders) , the wheels of growth and development get fossilized and do not provide succor to the hapless population. Thus the need to vote for a better India. He was quite candid in mentioning that Lord Krishna could have comfortably played the flute for the Gopas and Gopikas of Brindavan , but plunged into politics to uphold Dharma .
Before SRI SRI EXPRESS embarked upon the historical tour several roadblock and knots were cleared by the grace of the Guru . So much so that Railways provided the Art Of Living with concession even though it was a commercial project as far as railways was concerned. To begin with there were a few of us involved in this Yagya . And we got caught in the vortex of ego and Gurumandal. Guruji purged it all by his grace thus a larger group was formed to execute the project .During the course of the preparation the AP Apex astutely led by Shri Ramachandranji head of the Andhra Pradesh Apex andShri Ravi Kumar formed select committtees to keep an eagle’s eye on each aspect of the project . These pertained to marketing , catering,logistics and operations, hotel arrangements, publicity et all.
Day-1 – Kacheguda to Yerraguntla
A special train consisting of 10 sleeper coaches, 6 air conditioned coaches( 2 each of ac three tier , two tier and first class) ,a pantry car , saloon for Guruji and guards van rolled into Kacheguda station of Hyderabad . 1000 travellers awaited Guruji’s arrival with a bated breath . Guruji was greeted by Nadaswaram and he literally floated to his saloon . The faithful could hardly believe their eyes and jostled with each other to have the glimpse of the Master .
Sri Sri Express( Anugraha Yatra) stopped at Mehboobnagar, Gadwal, Kurnool Town, Dhone, Gooty and Tadipatri before reaching Yerraguntla . Thousands flocked to have a glimpse of the Master . He was accorded a traditional welcome and people could scarcely believe that Guruji was amidst them and speaking on esoteric subjects like spirituality, pranayama, dhyana,yoga and topical subjects like bifurcation of the state, voting for a better and stronger India , perils of alcoholism among others.
Guruji who is pure energy personified sprang surprises on the passengers by boarding the train and meeting each and every devotee, celebrating their birthdays , commiserating with their problems if any and primarily making them happy . Devotees were dumbstruck that , Guruji like any ordinary traveller was traversing through the 20 coaches of the train . This is what they pine for , this is what they long for ! To have a glimpse of the master . Each and every traveller opined that they never had such an interaction with Guruji ever in their lives.
He interacted with the security personnel and the cooks of the pantry car . With remarkable presence of mind he mentioned that Indian Railways ought to have air-conditioned pantry cars in trains so that the food cooked does not get contaminated in any manner . His concern about the quality of food being provided to both nationals and internationals was indeed touching .
As the sun sank at Yerraguntla and shadows lengthened , the train chugged into the station . The IRCTC( Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation ) who were not only providing security and food arranged buses to ferry passengers to Prodottur , where the first of the 4 Mahasatsang was organized in the trip . Even though the train was running behind schedule a record crowd had turned up for the Satsang , where Guruji conducted meditation and spoke with effortless felicity and ease which perhaps only he can.
Day2- Renigunta- Tirupati
SRI SRI EXPRESS arrived early in the morning at Renigunta on the 16th.
Gurudev ( Narayan) left early in the morning to Tirumala and freshened up at Padmavati Guest house and was received by Shri Bappi Raju ( MP) , the Chief of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam .He meditated and was present during the Suprabhata Puja. What a mirror image of Narayana performing Puja to the Lord . At the crack of dawn , with a slight drizzle and incandescent bulbs still glowing provided the setting of Vaikuntha.
Guruji was felicitated by the priests of Tirumala with Vedic Hyms and incantations reverberated the temple. Meanwhile 1000 devotees travelling on the special train got ready in various hotels at Tirupati and reached Tirumala . Vaishali , State Teachers Coordinator of AP along with a senior bureaucrat made arrangements for the Darshan of Lord Venkateswara . It was quite a task to ensure that all devotees went in a group for the Darshan . Guruji , had other plans . He conducted a meditation for 1000 devotees , before they all could have Lord Balaji’s Darshan . In one stroke Guruji ensured the presence of all the devotees rather they going adrift. Corporates and Governments alike can learn a few lessons in skillful management of men,material and time.The devotees had never experienced such a powerful meditation nor a group Darshan of this nature .
Before the evening Satsang , Guruji paid homage at Goddess Padmavati’s temple at Tirachanur , where the incantation of the hymns were absolutely meditative and intoxicating .
This was followed by a massive Satsang at the University grounds . The meditation and Bhajans by Shalini and Srinivas held people spell bound . YesPlus activists enacted the jingle of Rail Yatra … Sri Sri to perfection . The jingle in Telugu which incidentally was the theme song of the Yatra indicating the places where Guruji would be visiting along with different facets of Art Of Living a rap song and proper marketing became a very big hit with public . Years back Ashok Kumar the legendary actor sang a similar kind of jingle in the film Ashirwad and is still a very popular number.
Day3- Renigunta- Mangalgiri
The day was Monday (17th) . The organizing team felt that something was amiss . How could the Master not perform Rudra Puja ? Gurudev( Shiva) reached Srikalahasti and was present during the Rahu, Ketu and RudraPuja . As soon as the train reached Srikalahasti , Guruji boarded SRI SRI EXPRESS .The devout saw the Divine energy spreading as he entered his saloon.
Guruji touched , Nellore, Ongole, Bapatla, Chirala, Tenalai before reaching Mangalgiri . Enroute he was greeted by enthusiastic crowds and the Master spread the divine knowledge and his deep concern to make India a strong country . There are a very few spiritual leaders who make such strong pitch not only to rejuvenate the country spiritually but also politically . He has no stakes. His only mission is to spread the gospel of truth and purity . Infact Gurudev is the Supreme Consciousness. He is purity, hollow and empty, sacred , he symbolizes Narayana and Shiva Shakti.
This energy made him visit each coach several times a day .And detrain at every station and address the devotees . On an average he would have walked around 8 kilometres daily without fail .And with enthusiastic devotees jostling and falling over him made the task even more arduous and cumbersome.
That evening a grand Satsang was organized at a resort called Hailand at Mangalgiri . The grandiose stage did not quite impress the Divinity . He specifically spoke about the need to ensure austerity and simplicity . He was quite candid in mentioning that such backdrops only act as distractions .
The 1000 odd devotees were housed at Hailand resort and suddenly problems of boarding and lodging cropped up . Guruji assuaged the devotees by uttering the word Toilets in his inimitable trademark style and disarmed all agitation and disquiet from the minds of the faithful . By his grace , despite purported lack of accommodation , every traveller was provided a place to sleep and to freshen up the next morning. It was again the energy and magic of the Master at work.
Day4- Mangalgiri –Kakinada
While the devotees boarded the train at Mangalgiri , Gurudev performed Puja at Narsimaha Swamy temple .
Gurudev in this segment of the journey stopped at Vijawada, Gudiwada, Akividu, Bhimavaram Town, Kovur , Rajamundhry and finally the train terminated at Kakinada . Thousands flocked at the stations and Guruji’ s grace simply flowed . Despite the crowds , the Master walked from one end of the platform to the podium in the circulating area of the station which was at a quite a distance.
Like a child , Guruji through his saloon transfixed his gaze at the bridge over Godavari river and asked questions about chain pulling , crossing of trains , speed of trains etc .
The journey culminated at Kakinada where Guruji addressed a massive gathering . 108 Grama Devatas , of coastal Andhra too were propitiated.
It would be pertinent to mention that , senior officers from railways travelled various segments of the journey who facilitated in the movement of the train . It was almost running like a Rajdhani or Shatabdi Express . Interestingly all these officers have done some course of Art of Living and are indebted to Gurudev for the change in their lives .
The dream journey culminated on the 19th morning at Kacheguda . While one can chronicle the physical aspect of the journey , it is next to impossible to gauge the spiritual energy received by the 1000 travellers , station staff enroute, staff on board , a few lac people who saw Guruji in the physical form . People were transported from the mundane to sublime in these 5 days and memories will be always etched to become better human. beings and contribute to the society .
The Journey has just begun and the next major event is the World Culture Festival at Delhi in March 2016. Artistes, philosophers, politicians , farmers , corporates and the devout would all assemble to celebrate “ Vasudaiva Kutumbakam.”
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