Sai Baba Sri Sathya Sai Baba

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Sri Sathya Sai Baba Service Activities

  Sri Sathya Sai Baba Water Project
Water, the Elixir of Life

Source: Radio Sai E-Magazine, December 1, 2003

From My earliest years, I have been concerned about providing three primary requisites for our people. Free education, free medical aid, and free basic amenities like drinking water. Education is for the head; medical care is for the heart; and pure water is for the body. These three cover the main requirements of life. To provide these three gives one the greatest gratification.

- Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

THE DIVINE GIFT OF WATEREighty percent of the human body is nothing but water. A human being can survive without food for many days but without water, no one can survive for more than a few hours. Water is one of the greatest gifts of God, given by Him out of compassion not merely for mankind but to all beings. God not only created water but also set up an elaborate system to bring throughout the year, trillions of tons of water from the sea to inland areas. As if this was not enough, He created lakes for storing water, and rivers for transporting it. In addition, He has arranged also for underground storage, including in huge aquifers.

POLLUTED WATERMan hardly bothers to appreciate all this. Even if he does appreciate the physical nuances of the water cycle, he is not prepared to see the Divine Hand behind. Instead, driven by greed and selfishness, he constantly misuses and mismanages the Divine gift called water. Thus, many regions of the earth are parched and dry, though they do not have to be so.

THE DEPRIVED REGIONSThe western part of peninsular India receives heavy rains during the monsoon season but vast tracts of land in the rain shadow region regularly suffer from water shortage. During some years, the water shortage escalates into a heart-rending drought. Foremost among the drought-prone districts of South India are Bellary, Anantapur, Cuddapah, and Kurnool. Because they are also economically backward, they are known as backward districts. Swami jocularly says that 'back' in backward means Bellary, Anantapur, Cuddapah, and Kurnool! This drought-prone region is collectively known as Rayalaseema. People here depend almost entirely on well water. Unfortunately, there is a serious problem with the ground water [if it is available!] - it has too much fluoride. This causes serious physical disabilities, like bone deformation, for example. [In the state of West Bengal and in neighbouring Bangladesh, the ground water is heavily contaminated with arsenic; over a million people have been affected by this problem.] For over a hundred years, right from the British days, the people of the Rayalaseema region have been clamouring for drinking water but their plea always fell on deaf ears. Even in Independent India, this remained the situation for nearly half a century, until Baba stepped in.

THE PLIGHT OF RAYALASEEMA 1It all happened this way: On the morning of 22nd November, 1994, there was a special function in the Poornachandra Auditorium to honour the distinguished surgeon Dr. Venugopal, who, besides winning many laurels for his surgical achievements, had helped the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences [Super Speciality Hospital in Puttaparthi] in numerous ways. He it was who had performed the first cardiac surgery there on the day of its inauguration on 22nd November, 1991. Present in the Poornachandra Auditorium was Mr. P.V.Narasimha Rao, the then Prime Minister of India, who, incidentally, had inaugurated the Super Speciality Hospital three years earlier. In His Divine Discourse, Swami made a direct reference to the perennial drinking water problem in Rayalaseema. No one knew at that time that this would mark the beginning of a new mega project of stunning proportions. Swami threw a direct challenge to the Indian Government to do something about the drinking water problem, offering all possible help from His side, if the Government embarked on such a project.

THE PLIGHT OF RAYALASEEMA 2I wish to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the age-old drinking water problem that is affecting most parts of Rayalaseema, especially the remote villages, where people have to walk several miles to get a pot of drinking water. This needs immediate reversal. Rivers are gifts of God. In rivers like the Krishna and the Godavari, a lot of water is allowed to flow into the sea. There is no point in every State claiming rights over the river waters and quarrelling with each other over riparian rights. The waters of the Krishna and the Tungabhadra rivers can be harnessed to supply much-needed water to Rayalaseema. If there is constraint of finance, Swami is ready to help, in fulfilling this dire need of the Rayalaseema people.

MILES TO WALK FOR A POTFUL OF WATERMountains may move easily but Governments do not. Swami was well aware of this but for His own reasons He chose to first remind the Government of its obligations. A few months passed, and nothing happened from the Government's side - no surprise in that. Baba then quietly told the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, "Let us do the project;" and then set what seemed an impossible timetable. The Trust Members were all stunned. They wondered: "It is one thing to build a hospital, or even an airport. But to provide drinking water to the entire District of Anantapur with a population of over a million and having so many hundreds of villages scattered over hundreds of square kilometres? And that too in such a short time? Where was the money for all this? Where was the manpower, expertise, ?, etc.?" This is the way humans tend to look at issues and problems. With Bhagavan, it is quite different. He simply said, "Where there is a will, there is a way. Haven't you heard that faith can move mountains? I will demonstrate that good work combined with Total Purity would always find fruition. "

AFFECTED BY FLOUROSISPlans immediately began to be drawn, and miraculously, things started rolling. The devotees were all amazed but there was no shortage of sceptics. In the Government, it takes years to consider taking up a project, more years to study it, still more years to plan it, then more years to find funds, and dozens of years for execution. So, how is Baba going to do such a giant project and that too in such a short time, as He had promised?

CONSTRUCTION IN PROGRESSIt was the 9th of July 1995, and the Gurupoornima festival was being celebrated in the Sai Kulwant Hall in Prasanti Nilayam. Barely a few months had passed after all the Poornachandra Hall function just described and already, a function was being held to mark the token beginning of the supply of drinking water to the people of Rayalaseema. Fluoride-free drinking water was being provided to the neighbouring village of Bukkapatnam, and Baba was to remotely inaugurate the water supply from the Sai Kulwant Hall, using the instruments of modern telecommunications. After the usual speech making by the concerned officials, Swami pressed a button. By remote control, the pump in Bukkapatnam started working and drinking water began to flow out of a tap there. A microphone placed near the spot picked up the loud cheers of the villagers present, and soon village elders spoke words of thanks into the microphone. All this was heard by the thousands assembled in the Divine presence in Prasanti Nilayam. One of those who spoke on that occasion was Mr. Kondal Rao, then Secretary, Panchayat Raj Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh, and Technical Advisor for the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project. Mr. Rao informed devotees that all this was just a curtain raiser, and great things would follow soon. Legend has it that Lord Siva sent down the Ganges in response to the prayers of Bhageeratha. Now in the Twentieth Century, one was witnessing such a miracle happen right before one's eyes. The people of Rayalaseema were all the time praying to the Government but nothing happened. God heard the prayers and decided to answer them, though they were not addressed to Him.

BUKKAPATNAM GETS WATERThe tempo now quickened and things happened with amazing rapidity, with Swami taking direct charge and monitoring progress literally on a day-to-day basis. The going was not always smooth. Many devotees wondered why this was so. Was not God in charge? Yes He was, and if He so willed things could have happened with a mere wave of His hand. But this was not the way He wanted things done. The project was being done partly to teach man many lessons. One lesson of course is that man must do his best to help others. Another lesson is that he must not mind obstacles that come on the way, but march resolutely forward towards the goal. The impossible becomes possible if one has firm determination.

For a brief period, there was money crunch. He who is known to create gold and even cash now borrowed money from a bank! All a part of the never-ending Divine Drama! There were a host of other problems too. But nothing bothered Him. He was always calm and His usual self - ever a perfect demonstration of equanimity. It was not so much His management of the difficulties as the magic of His Prema that amazed everybody. The Government of a State where Marxists were in power, did not hesitate to waive taxes on pipes and other products procured from their State. The Railways gave priority in moving various items, especially steel and cement, to the work spot. So on it went. In between, Swami made several aerial surveys over the entire District. So considerate was He that He squeezed these surveys between the morning and evening Darshans, and the devotees in Prasanti Nilayam never even knew that Baba was out touring during the day while they were having their siesta. In more ways than one, Swami showed how projects must be executed, with constant direct personal supervision from the top, and incessant attention to the minutest of details.

INAUGURATION BY THE PM, 18TH NOV 1995Months quickly rolled by and soon it was November. On 18th November, 1995, there was a meeting in the Poornachandra Auditorium. Once again, Mr. P.V.Narasimha Rao, the Prime Minister of India was present. And he was going to inaugurate the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project! Exactly one year earlier, he had been asked in this very hall to do something, and now, not only had he been spared the chore but actually asked to cut the ribbon so to say, and make a speech in the usual manner! Mr. Rao was naturally stunned and totally overwhelmed. He said that 'Anantapur' had become 'Anandapur' or a 'city of bliss'. Most appropriately, he quoted from the Bhagawatham that describes the story of Krishna. One day when Krishna was a small boy, His foster mother Yasodha was told that Krishna had been eating mud. Yasodha ran to Krishna and asked Him, "Krishna did You eat mud?" Krishna just smiled, rolled His beautiful eyes, and shook His head to signal no. Not believing what Krishna was saying, Yasodha asked Him to open His mouth. He did, and what did she see? The whole Universe, including herself looking into the mouth of Krishna! Yasodha then exclaimed, "Is this an illusion that I am seeing or a part of the Lord's mysterious Creation?" The once remote hamlet of Puttaparthi already had a number of things to boast of - several schools, a Bus Stand, a University, a Stadium, a Planetarium, an Airport, and a couple of Hospitals, including a Super Speciality Hospital. No village in India, especially one located in a dry and backward District, could claim even a fraction of what Puttaparthi had. What was more significant, both education and medical treatment were available completely free to all that came, irrespective of caste, creed, and status in life. As if all this was not enough, Swami had provided pure drinking water to almost an entire district! No wonder the Prime Minister had to dip into His Story itself, for the right words for the occasion. In His Divine Discourse delivered on the occasion, Swami mentioned that though the Project had been completed in a substantial measure [within the incredibly short period of just one year], there were many things that had to be wrapped up. He assured the people that all these would be attended to shortly :

SWAMI ON 18TH NOV 1995All the natural resources of the country must be enjoyed equally by all the people, regardless of caste or community. There are many rivers in the country that flow across State boundaries. Bharat is not lacking in water or other resources. We have perennial rives and vast areas of fertile land. But these resources are not being fully used. The Nation's great rivers like Kaveri, Ganga, and Krishna should be treated as National property. There will then be no room for inter-State disputes. The waters of all rivers should be used for the benefit of all people. It is because of lack of unity and the assertion of separatist claims, that a lot of the river water is going waste. If if the Prime Minister endeavours to promote a national approach to the harnessing of river waters, the Nation will prosper. The States too are prone to promote their claims over that of others. They all should adopt a co-operative and fraternal attitude towards each other and behave as good neighbours. If this is done, there will be no shortage of food or water in the country. People should develop this co-operative attitude. ??

THE PRESIDENT SHARING IN THE JOY 23RD NOV 1995With regard to the water project, it should be noted that much was accomplished in a short period. In the execution of the project, changes had to be made in response to the appeals of people in different villages. Because of this, the entire project has not yet been completed. Some villages are yet to get water. This should not cause disappointment. Whatever may happen, all villages will get water and the project would be fully carried out !

CARRYING WATER TO THE REMOTEST PLACESSuch was the uniqueness of the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project, that the then President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, an ardent devotee of Baba, also wanted, in some manner, to be associated with the inauguration ceremonies. And so, on Swami's Birthday that followed a few days later, the President symbolically signalled the achievements of the Water Project by opening a tap [specially set up on the stage in the Hill View Stadium], and collecting the water that flowed out. The Lord had granted water, even without the people praying for it directly to Him.

THE RESERVOIR (OF JOY)Meanwhile, seeing the miracle, many villages and even towns that originally had not been included in the scope of the Project began to clamour for Sai Water! Swami never says no, and all these late entrants also were duly accommodated. At last, safe and assured supply of drinking water was no longer a mirage or a dream for over seven hundred parched villages [and a few towns as well] that had suffered for over a century. The statistics of the Project are most impressive. For example, the record books said that the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project was the largest social benefit project undertaken anywhere in the world by a private charitable organisation. However, records are no so important as Baba's Love. It is His Love from which the Project was born, and it is His Love again that saw the project to its completion. His Love came to hundreds of thousands in life-giving liquid form. And it was available to one all without distinction, including those who had never seen Him.

PURIFYING THE WATERSwami's attention to details is legendary. The question arose: "After the Project is completed, who would operate and maintain this large system?" Swami was quite clear about what had to be done in this respect. He said, "The Central Trust will operate the Project and maintain it for about a year or a little more, till things settle down completely. After that, the entire water works would be handed over to the people of the State. In between, people who were to take over would be trained properly."

HANDING OVER TO THE GOVERNMENT, OCT 1997October, 1997. After a break of a few years, Swami had arranged for the performance of a Yagna [a holy Vedic ritual] in the Poornachandra Hall, at the time of the Navarathri Festival. On 11th October the concluding day, after the religious ceremonies were over, a special function was arranged in the Sai Kulwant Hall, to mark the formal transfer of the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Supply System, to the people of Andhra Pradesh. The person receiving on behalf of the people was the Chief Minister of the State, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu.

The function was simple. The speeches were few but the praise for Baba was lavish - naturally. There was also an expression of deep-felt gratitude, and the water works now formally became a property of the people. In His Discourse, Swami said: "You all are praising Me, but what have I done? Whose money has been spent? Who has given the money for the project? It is all people's money. People's money has been spent for people's welfare. What is there in My hands?" At this point, Bhagavan raised His hands high and showed they were empty. Then He softly whispered, "Everything is in these hands!"

THE THIRST IS OVERThe curtain had come down on the historic Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project, or so people thought. Not quite, for it set a new and continuing trend. People now began to realise that providing drinking water is an essential social service. Spurred by Baba's inspiring example, many began to organise efforts on scales affordable by them. For example, one devotee hailing from Chittoor District started mobilising people in various villages to tackle the problem there. Another devotee spearheaded a similar drive in Kolar District in the State of Karnataka [Kolar is close to Whitefield]. There are many other such local efforts. One presumes that in the years to come, such schemes would multiply both in number and in magnitude.

Meanwhile, Baba has mounted a major thrust in the northern Districts of Andhra Pradesh, particularly Medak and Mahboobnagar, Phase II, one might say.

ATP STATISTICSThe Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project must be viewed in its entirety and not merely in terms of statistics, impressive as they are. It is not merely an illustration of how the drinking water problem, present in many parts of the world, must be addressed. Nor is it just an example of how projects must be boldly pushed with dynamism and energy. There are a number of things the project represents. Above all, it is a touching symbol of God's Love for His children. Equally, it is a stirring lesson for man how not to run away from society's problems but face them squarely and head-on. As Swami often says, "Good work is always God's work." If man takes a small step in doing good to his fellow beings, then God will shower His Grace and magnify that small step into a giant leap. All it takes for man is firm faith in God, strong determination, and one small step of Pure Love.

MAHABOOBNAGAR STATISTICSThe Sai water projects constitute a major milestone in the history of the Sai Avatar. While Divinity is the common aspect of all the Avatars, each Incarnation is unique in its own respect. Where the Sathya Sai Avatar is concerned, Selfless Service to humanity at large, born of Infinite Love and Infinite Compassion are the unmatched Hallmarks. Swami constantly tells us: "Love All, Serve All". He is doing precisely that all the time, and every second of His life is His Message. 


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