The Story of Sathya Sai Students Literature - By Dr. Shashank Shah

The Sai Publications Division of the Sri Sathya Sai Hostel is not just a Self-Reliance Department. It is a Mission; an eternal mission of spreading the Message of the Master received by the Sathya Sai Students.
For aeons, it has been the most solicited opportunity for saints, seers, sages and scholars to compile and share the Message of the Avatars, Prophets and Masters. The word of the Guru is verily His form. To practice and preach it is indeed His veneration. The students at Sai Publications are indeed blessed that we had this opportunity of collating and publishing the Message of our Revered Founder Chancellor, especially the Message for His students and the world youth. We are doubly blessed as almost all the series of books that were initiated and published by us were personally blessed by Him. There couldn’t have been a more satisfying opportunity for the students while at the University.

The Evolution of Sai Publications

The journey of compiling His Story and Message began with the establishment of the Colleges at Brindavan and Prasanthi Nilayam. One of the first set of publications by the students were the series of books titled ‘Golden Age’. These were initiated by the Kingdom of Sathya Sai, the erstwhile alumni association of the students of the Sathya Sai Colleges at Brindavan and Prasanthi Nilayam. The first volume of Golden Age was released in 1979, and the second one in 1980. Both these volumes have articles by students, faculty and eminent Sai devotees. Swami personally released both these volumes, the latter being released in the Poornachandra Auditorium on the occasion of the 55th Birthday in November, 1980.
Sri Sathya Sai Releases 'Golden Age' on His 55th Birthday at the Poornachandra Auditorium (From an archival video footage)
The first compilation of experiences of students at our Hostel began in the year 1984. Sri Ram Mohan Rao, English Teacher at the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School was blessed with the onerous task of leading this initiative. During the Birthday season of 1984, Swami blessed the very first volume of Sai Chandana – our Hostel Magazine. Swami not only named it, but also became its chief patron. Season after season, on almost six occasions every year, students would compile the magazine with articles, paintings and sketches, both in English and regional languages and offer it to Swami. 

Swami would invariably bless it, seldom give His autograph on the issue, and on many occasions take the volume with Him so that He could physically go through the articles written by His students on their experiences with Him. Many students who have had the opportunity of serving Swami in His residence have been witness to the keen interest with which Swami would go through the Sai Chandana articles. He would keep it on the table, next to His chair where He would customarily sit and read devotees’ letters. No doubt, it is only because of His interest in this magazine that in 2015, we completed 40 years of Sai Chandana with a mind-boggling collection of over 4,000 articles of students’ experiences with Swami compiled over the years.

Given that we always look for opportunities to make new and innovative offerings to Swami, the students and teachers at the Hostel decided to prepare special compilations of students’ experiences with Swami on the occasion of His landmark birthdays. Thus began the journey of ‘Sai Nandana’, again named by Swami, and released for the first time on His 60th birthday in November 1985. And the journey has continued since. The Sai Nandana for the 90th Birthday was offered at the Mahasamadhi in November 2015. These seven volumes collectively have 525 articles written by Sai Students and Hostel teachers. Sai Publications has recently released in print limited edition volumes of the earlier Sai Nandana books so that those who were not even born during those years can benefit from reading about the joyous moments that students of that era were blessed to spend with Swami.

The Musical Journey Begins

Sri Sathya Sai reading the Vandana Book
at Kodaikanal - 2005
Around the year 1995, Swami made singing of group songs by students of His educational institutions a regular feature at most festivals celebrated at the Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir. Important among these festivals are Shivaratri, Guru Poornima, Krishna Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Devi Navaratri, Birthday Celebrations and Christmas. A mix of Stotrams and Group Songs in Hindi, English and Telugu were sung on these occasions. Many of these songs were Swami’s own compositions. Many others were compositions of students themselves, offered at His Lotus Feet to win His Grace and Blessings. It became necessary to have a book where all of these could be compiled and referred to by all students of Sri Sathya Sai Educational Institutions. Thus began the journey of Vandana (Students Prayer Book) and also of Sai Publications as a self-reliance department at the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus Hostel.

The first edition of VANDANA was about 60 pages. In 2011, when we printed the seventh edition it had increased to 350 pages with nearly 350 songs! The number of compositions and the variety have expanded over six times, just as a river expands in volume as it takes along water from all rivulets through its journey to the final destination of mergence in its goal – the ocean. 

Dr. Sailesh Shrivastava from the Higher Secondary School has been instrumental in guiding the musical journey of the Hostels, especially mentoring students in their compositions and singing. He has penned the Foreword to the seventh edition of Vandana sharing his experiences with Swami and how Swami moulded the music group students to reach the levels of excellence that they now display so effortlessly.

Capturing Conversations of Swami and Students
Capturing the conversations between Sri Sathya Sai and His Students
In 1991, with the initiative of Sri M. Sainath (then research scholar and subsequently faculty member in the Department of Physics) began a new project. This was called ‘Thus Spake Sai’. Ever since the Institute started in 1982 and even before, Swami used to interact with students in the portico and verandah of the Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir for a couple of hours almost every day, covering varied aspects of His Message for students and the youth. However, since Swami would be casually conversing with select groups of students, those sitting at a distance could not hear Him. It was thought that none should miss His words of wisdom. To make this happen, the ‘Thus Spake Sai’ columns were compiled on a daily basis (from 1991), based on the interactions that students were blessed to have with Swami in the Mandir. Select students from Sai Publications had the opportunity to sit near Swami’s chair in the Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir portico. They would make running notes while He spoke. Later, they would cross verify the exact wordings that He had used while interacting with the concerned individuals – staff and students. Swami would interact with students, staff and senior devotees in various languages including Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, English and Hindi. While compiling the notes, students would attempt to get the exact translation of His words so that nothing was missed out. Purely personal conversations were excluded from these compilations. These handwritten notes were typed, formatted and displayed on the Hostel notice board after senior Hostel teachers edited and proof-read the contents. This continued from 1991 to 1999. 

Around 2000, when Sri Deepak Anand became the Coordinator of Sai Publications, it was decided that these should be published as a book. Thus came the two volumes of ‘Heart to Heart’ covering the decade 1991 to 2001. Brother Sai Roopak, student of the MFM programme (2000-2002) played an important role in these compilations.
Dr. Deepak Anand with Sri Sathya Sai
Sathya Sai Message for Business Management

Another book that was published around the same time was Man Management. Right from 1986 when the Business School was established by Swami at Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, He had addressed many batches of students on diverse topics relating to Business and its Management based on Indian Ethos and Values. The batch of students between 1996 and 2000 put in a lot of efforts to compile these Discourses from various audio and video recordings and put them together in the form of a book. Prof. Kumar Bhaskar of the Faculty of Management and Commerce guided this compilation. 

My Journey with Sai Publications

I joined the Hostel as an MBA student on May 30, 2002. Having been fascinated by Swami’s literature since Class XI and having read over 50 books on Swami’s life and message, I was very much interested in associating with the Sai Publications Division. Between 2002 and 2007, I was assisting Dr. Deepak Anand for some of the projects that came up during those years. Two of them are very vivid in my memory. 

One was the 80th Birthday issue of Sai Nandana. During the vacation season in 2005, we were all staying with Swami at the Brindavan Campus. That year, we returned from a coveted visit to Kodaikanal on the 7th of May. Sri Ram Mohan Rao was also there, and he suggested that I should assist him in the final editing and compilation of the Book. It was a God-given opportunity to sanctify my vacation. We were able to complete the project in time and offer it to Swami on the occasion of Guru Pournima in July.

The second project was the compilation of the book titled ‘Fragrance: A Tale of Love’. On August 22, 2005, Swami’s Business School was entering its 20th year. To commemorate this landmark event, the Business School had planned ‘Reconnect’, a grand alumni meet. Over 500 students from 19 batches had come to Prasanthi Nilayam along with their family members to receive Swami’s blessings. The event was a grand success and was, in some form, the beginning of the annual alumni meets that are now held on January 1st for alumni of all batches across campuses in Prasanthi Nilayam. For this occasion, it was felt that it would be an ideal offering to Swami if students of all the MBA batches from 1986 could share their experiences of how Swami’s Message on Business and Management helped them to practice the profession in its letter and spirit. To mark Swami’s 80th Birthday, 80 alumni penned their experiences. Sri G S Srirangarajan (currently Director of the Brindavan Campus) initiated this project. I had the opportunity of assisting him in the editing and compilation of the book which was released by Swami on this occasion. For the benefit of the world at large, the book is now also available as an e-book titled 'FRAGRANCE'. 

Dr. Deepak Anand completed his role as the Coordinator in 2007. In June 2008, Dr. Siva Sankara Sai, then Warden, guided me to lead the Division. Honestly, I had little experience in leading a self-reliance department until then. I was always associated with specific projects and not with day-to-day functioning. I was quite hesitant to take up the role as I was in the thick of my PhD work. However, thinking of it as an opportunity given by Swami Himself, I started my second innings at Sai Publications, albeit in a new role. 

One of the first things we did was to get a legal identity for the Division. Following a detailed procedure, Sai Publications was registered as a Publishing House by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.

Being Coordinator: Opportunity of a Lifetime

The culmination of the Third World Youth Conference of the Sri Sathya Sai Organisations at Prashanti Nilayam in July 2007 highlighted the need for documentation of Swami’s Message for the world youth, especially His students. While Swami gave hundreds of Discourses to His students on innumerable occasions at Prasanthi Nilayam, Brindavan and Kodaikanal over the previous three decades, there was limited chronological or thematic documentation. The only Discourses available were those given during the 16 Summer Courses in Indian Culture and Spirituality held at Brindavan between 1972 and 2002. However, besides these, Swami had given several Discourses to Students at the Institute and Hostels at Prasanthi Nilayam and Brindavan, on special occasions at the Sai Kulwant Hall and Trayee Brindavan, and of course during the most coveted Kodaikanal visits. Majority of these Discourses were for an exclusive audience and were not documented in a book form. This is where the Journey of ‘My Dear Students’ began. The students of Sai Publications embarked on the onerous task of compiling these hitherto unreleased Discourses which contained a treasure chest of His Message to His students and the world youth at large. It was a collective decision to offer a compilation of 108 such Divine Discourses on the occasion of His 85th Birthday in November 2010. 
Sri Sathya Sai Releases My Dear Students Volume 1 on Children's Day - November 14, 2008 in the Sai Kulwant Hall
The very first volume was released by Swami on November 14, 2008 (Children’s Day) and the eve of Sahasra Poornachandra Darshan Mahotsavam. Given that thousands of devotees and hundreds of priests had gathered at Prasanthi Nilayam for this function, we thought that Swami would just place His Abhayahasta on the book thereby marking its release. But we were overwhelmed when He called us, blessed the book, went through the eight collages while we explained the choice of photos and He gave His ‘comments’. Finally, He showered Akshatas on all of us. And there began the journey of compiling the rest of the volumes. 

Volume 2 was offered on September 25, 2009. It was the Navaratri Festival. One evening during the Prasanthi Vidwan Mahasabha, we were sitting before Swami in the first block. We wanted Him to release the book during these auspicious days and so we took the ‘chance’ of being there in spite of His ‘busy schedule’. But to our joy, at the conclusion of the proceedings of the Sabha that day, He called us on the dais, pulled the ribbon marking the release of the book and even went through all the collages while we explained the contents of the book. At the end, He gave us the coveted Padnamaskar. 
Sri Sathya Sai releases My Dear Students Volume 2 during Navaratri 2009 and blesses students of the Sai Publications Division
On the eve of Guru Pournima in June 2010, Swami similarly released Volume 3 of the Book during Darshan time. Volume 4 has an interesting story. It was during the Navaratri season of 2010. We were sitting in the verandah along with the books for blessings on October 9, 2010. We thought – “What better time to have His blessings than during the days when Divinity is worshipped as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati.” This volume had 18 Discourses, the last one being a Discourse given by Swami in January 1983 in the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus Auditorium on the four Mahavakyas from the four Vedas. We were thinking whether to include this Discourse as it was quite ‘heavy’ in terms of content and whether students would be able to relate to it. Finally, we decided to include it as the last one in this volume. When Swami called us in the verandah, He went through the table of contents of the book and straight went to the last discourse. As we opened the page, He put His finger on each of those four Mahavakyas while I repeated those four Divine aphorisms. As I look back, it was the Divine initiation on the highest path of Self-enquiry as prescribed in the Vedas, which He wants each of His students to commence while at the Institute. 
Sri Sathya Sai releases My Dear Students Volume 4 during Navaratri 2010 with students of the Sai Publications Division
The last volume of the My Dear Students series was ready for release on Ugadi Day – March 30, 2011. However, Swami had planned otherwise. Hence, we were not able to offer this volume to Him physically. It was released by Sri Nanjundaiah, Former Controller of Examinations at our Institute and the Translator of Swami’s Discourses into English, on the final day of the Summer Course in June 2011 in the Poornachandra Auditorium 
Thus, culminated the 36 month long journey – a very momentous and enjoyable one. The icing on the cake was that during the World Youth Conference held in Prasanthi Nilayam in July 2011, the full set of five volumes of My Dear Students was given as reading material to all the 500 delegates from across the world by the Sathya Sai International Organisation. We had come back a full circle. What started with the World Youth Conference in 2007 completed its journey on the same occasion in 2011. 
Sri Sathya Sai releasing Man Management on August 23, 2009; Also seen are Prof. U.S. Rao, Dean; and Prof. R. Kumar Bhaskar, Editor
Similar is the story of all other titles that were blessed by Swami. Whether it is the revised and enlarged edition of Man Management that Swami released on August 22, 2009, on the 23rd Anniversary of the Management Programme in the Sai Kulwant Hall; or the Book on the Sri Sathya Sai System of Integral Education that Swami released on the eve of a visit by the Team from NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) in September 2010. In fact, Swami spent full 20 minutes going through each and every page of the book inside Yajur Mandiram when the Vice-Chancellor formally presented the copy to the Revered Chancellor!

I would like to make a special mention of the Digvijayam books, a special and first of its kind compilation on His Life and Journeys between 1926 and 2005. This project was undertaken in collaboration with the Chaitanya Jyoti Museum and was scheduled to be released on His 85th Birthday. For this purpose, we worked over time and some of our students stayed back at the Hostel during the vacation to complete the project in time. This set of books has over 36 collages with over 400 rare photos of Swami and over 600 pages of written material. It was a lot of work and the time was very limited. On top of that, my PhD defence viva was scheduled within a fortnight! But by His grace we finished all of it in time. However, due to some unforeseen circumstances, we could not offer the book to Swami on His 85th Birthday. The book then remained in ‘cold storage’ for a couple of months. Finally, an unexpected opportunity emerged on the eve of Maha Shivaratri. It was March 1, 2011 and the venue was the Bhajan Hall at Prasanthi Nilayam. We were sitting with great expectations that Swami should release the book this momentous day. And surely so, He came to the Bhajan Hall after the programme was over. He pulled the ribbons and glanced through the books and blessed the members of the team of students along with Col. Bose from Chaitanya Jyoti with Padnamaskar. Little did we know that it was the last time we would ever get an opportunity to go to Him physically to offer our books. That was the last book released by Him in His Avataric life. And what a message it was – the book was titled – Digvijayam – The Glorious Journey of the Sathya Sai Avatar. A perfect literary finale...
Sri Sathya Sai Releases Sri Sathya Sai Digvijayam on March 1, 2011 in the Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir Bhajan Hall - Also seen are Col. Bose and Dr. Aman Jhaveri
In April 2011, when Swami was in the Hospital, I had a dream. I was sitting in Sai Kulwant Hall and editing one of our books. Without my notice, Swami came from behind and was observing what I was doing. As students sitting around started looking at me, I realised that someone is standing behind me. I turned around and was surprised to see Swami standing there with a sweet smile on His face. He looked in to my eyes and said – ‘You must ensure that every word of My Message is interpreted and understood correctly by those reading it.’ This was an important message for me that Swami wanted us to continue the Publications work even after He wound up His earthly sojourn. 

Thus, we continued our work at Sai Publications with renewed vigour. All the students now wanted to use this opportunity at Sai Publications (like all other Hostel Departments) to express their gratitude to Swami for all that He had done for them. And so we started a number of projects. The Heart to Heart series was revised and expanded as ‘Students with Sai: Conversations’ in three parts – 1991-2000, 2000-2001 and 2001-2004. Thus, some of the most valuable conversations between Swami and His Students have been compiled in 1,000 pages as a supremely useful compilation on the catalytic impact of Swami on the inner transformation of His Students. 

The erstwhile six part Sai Nandana series (from 1985 to 2010) which were out of print were also revived and now made available in print and e-versions. These together have 435 experiences of students from different batches over a quarter century. They stand a testimony to their gratitude to Him for providing them a life-transforming experience while studying in His Institutions. 

Sai Vani, a book named and released by Swami on 28th December 1995 was revised and enlarged into a two-part series: Sai Vani: Avatar on Avatar Purushas and Avatar on Mahapurushas. The former focused on Swami's Discourses on the Life and Message of 8 Avatars; the latter focused on Swami's Discourses on the Life and Message of 6 Prophets, 4 Acharyas and over 20 contemporary saints. These are meant for students of the Sathya Sai Educational Institutions, the Bal Vikas programme in India and the Sai Spiritual Education programme globally.

For the first time, and due to the enthusiasm of the Telugu Team at Sai Publications we offered three parts of My Dear Students in Telugu titled ‘Priyamaina Vidyaarthulaara’ on Mahashivaratri between 2012 and 2014. Late Prof. CLN Murthy, Faculty of Sanskrit and Dr. Jagadeeswara Rao, from the Department of Chemistry, helped the members of our Telugu Team for these projects. 

Volume 3 of Sri Sathya Sai Digvijayam covering the years 2006 to 2011 of the Avataric life was offered to Swami on the Mahasamadhi Day in 2014. With that, we successfully documented 85 years of the Avataric sojourn with most published details available in a chronological format in nearly 1,000 pages. This compilation would be very useful for students of Sathya Sai Life and Mission in the decades to come.

The Sathya Sai with Students Blog

As technology and social media became the media of communication and information sharing across the globe, the Sai Publications Division embarked on the journey of setting up its own Blog - Sathya Sai with Students. On the auspicious day of Ganesh Chaturthi - September 18, 2012, the Blog was launched by then Warden - Dr. Pallav Baruah. It aimed at sharing the Sathya Sai Message for Students and World Youth in 7 categories:
i. Discourses to Students
ii. Experiences of Students
iii. Conversations with Students
iv. Management Lessons
v. This Day That Age
vi. Songs for the Soul
vii. Videos

Over the next 5 years, over 1,200 articles are uploaded on the Blog in these categories. We are overwhelmed that in these years, the Blog has been visited nearly 25 lakh times (2.5 million visits) from readers across 5 continents. The top 10 countries include: India, USA, UK, Russia, UAE, Canada, Nepal, Australia, Malaysia and South Africa. This means that over the last 5 years, every minute, someone, somewhere in the world has accessed the Blog to benefit from the Sathya Sai Students Literature.

On the New Year Day 2013, Professor Vishwanath Pandit, former Vice Chancellor launched the Facebook page of Sathya Sai with Students in the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus Auditorium in the presence of hundreds of alumni. Since then, there have been nearly 30,000 followers on the Facebook page, with an average viewing of articles by nearly 3,000 to 5,000 social media buffs every single day.

The Journey Continues...

Every single day of this journey, we have experienced His Divine Grace working through each one of us. There was a time when we offered to Swami a book every month between June 2010 and March 2011 – 10 books in 10 months, and Swami personally released each of those books! How was it humanly possible to work on a book every month over and above our normal Institute, Hostel and Mandir schedules and academic commitments? This was possible only by His bounteous Blessings. 
A snapshot of some of the Sai Publications Books
I would be failing in my duty if I do not mention here the pivotal role played by our Former Warden, Professor Siva Sankara Sai, in nurturing this Department, and all others too, during his 17 year long tenure as the Warden. He was someone each one of us could go to for guidance, problem solving, and ideas. He was always available with a smile and words of appreciation all through this journey.  

We were also blessed with a fantastic team of students and colleagues at Sai Publications from whom I learnt a lot. They set a great example of working as a cohesive team in decision making and execution. Our team, which consisted of 15 students when I started in 2008, expanded to 45 students in 2011-12 when we were at the peak of our projects. Each of the students have done a fantastic job of channelizing their talents and skills in spreading Swami’s message through His Books. 

Learning at Sai Publications
The Dynamic Team at Sai Publications - 2012 Batch
For its team members, Sai Publications provides a wide breadth of activities to choose from. This ranges from designing cover pages, collages and greeting cards, to managing logistics and distribution for nearly 50,000 books; from editing and content management for nearly 30 books (both print and e-formats), to managing a blog and other social media interface for the Sai Students literature. 

But the unique facet of the Division is its culture, which like the River Saraswati, is an undercurrent, not very visible, but yet very palpable. Our Team was a family, where each worked with the other, and all worked for God. It was a rare combination of brotherly love and professional commitment, of fraternal warmth and performance orientation, of dignity of labour and respect for ideas. The virtues of teamwork, cooperation, time management, mutual respect, blend of authority and responsibility, and making personal priorities subservient to the larger organisational vision and mission, which are all so sought after in the corporate world today, were imbibed by the students associated with the Division. 

Above all, we learnt the joy of selfless service without the sense of doership. And this is true in case of all other Self-Reliance Departments of the Sathya Sai Hostels. The ideals of the ancient Gurukul System come alive through this model as practiced in the Sathya Sai Educational Institutions. 

To sum it up, Sai Publications has played three major roles in the lives of its Team Members: 
i. Developing personal competencies which stand them in good stead in life; 
ii. Contributing to society at large by publishing and disseminating noble and inspirational literature; and 
iii. Connecting with the Master by developing greater clarity of His Mission while working on His Message. 
With Prof. Siva Sankara Sai, Sri Sooryanarayana and Students of Sai Publications - 2013 Batch
To have had the opportunity of leading such a division for six long years has been one of the most fulfilling opportunities of my life. I remain ever grateful to Swami and to the elders of the Institution for giving me this noble opportunity to optimally sanctify my time and my stay at the Hostel. The memories of working with my Team members while at Sai Publications will remain the most cherished ones for a lifetime.

- Dr. Shashank Shah
Coordinator and Editor (2008-2014)
Sai Publications Division
Prasanthi Nilayam Campus Hostel
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning

Source: Loving HIM 

1 comment:

  1. Pranam at the lotus feet of SAIbABA. Students are real followers of Bba who meticulously adheared to dixcipline and devotion. Serving at the feet of Sai Institutions is a rewarding experience. SaiBaba garu inspired and motivated several laks of studets, The analysis and highlighting these achievements will further help in spreading Sai devotion. This effort of Sai students is a real "Arpana ". May Swami energise you all. SaiRam


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