Impact of Hostel Life on Sai Students - By Smt. Pushpa Ramanna

Bhagavan’s vision is that the College at Anantapur should set an example by providing opportunities for the rising generations to know and practise discipline. Bhagavan reiterated: “You have been influenced in this direction already, by the homes in which you have spent the formative years, and by the society in which you have learned your attitudes, habits and prejudices. Here too, you influence each other, by your conversation and behaviour; you are trained to derive right conclusions, and to observe them accurately. All this will help you in understanding the culture of India and in benefiting by it.” (Sathya Sal Speaks Vol. VII, p.21)

Bhagavan’s expectation is that a Women’s College should take on the added responsibility of practising and preserving the essential values of Bharatiya Samskriti. Emphasis should be laid not only on scholarship and proficiency, but also physical health and mental equanimity.

Bhagavan stressed the crucial point: “Atmavidya is the only Vidya that can save, that can sustain, when man is tossed about on the sea of life. Life is not for mere living, it is for learning in the arena of the world the art of attaining liberation.”
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Anantapur Campus
The foundation for a separate College building was laid on the 7th of November 1969. It marked a significant and sacred phase in the history of Anantapur. Bhagavan said, “It is also a great day for those who yearn for the revival and growth of Bharatiya culture... My Sankalpa (plan of action) is to provide the youth with an education which, while cultivating their intelligence, will also purify their impulses and emotions and equip them with the physical and mental disciplines needed for drawing upon the spring of calmness and joy that lies in their own hearts. Their higher natures will have to be fostered and encouraged to blossom, by means of study, prayer and Sadhana.” (Sathya Sal Speaks Vol.VII, p.157)
Sri Sathya Sai at the Anantapur College Building Inauguration
The new College building was inaugurated by Bhagavan on the 8th of July 1971 for the revival of Dharma. This is what our country and the world so urgently need today. Bhagavan emphasized the need for this unique Institution which has been established not just to add one more to the already existing colleges.
President V.V. Giri with Sri Sathya Sai at the Inauguration - July 1971
Swami said in His discourse: “It was mentioned just now that this must prove to be the nucleus of a Women’s University – but, I am not enamoured of that prospect: I will be happy only when the Gurukula atmosphere is fostered and maintained uncontaminated. Women must emerge from this College armed with deep-rooted virtue and firm faith in the ideals of womanhood laid down in our sacred texts. Then only can they, as mothers, mould their children as bright, beautiful, virtuous, strong citizens of the world.” (Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. VII, p.491)

Life in the hostel started with only a few students and a few teachers. By the end of March 1972, there were about 60 students. The number of students increased with every year. The early years of our stay filled us with bliss as Bhagavan visited the hostel quite frequently. 

Though Swami stayed in His room in the College building, He would come along with the guests to the hostel to have His meals. Swami made all of us - students and teachers - happy by talking to us on a personal level. He lovingly told us that “Kattu, Bottu and Juttu,” i.e. the dress, bindi and hairstyle of the students should be simple. He said that ladies should be like Maharanis who do not come to the forefront. Their laughter should not be so loud that it is heard. His guidance is more than what a mother would give to her daughters.
Sri Sathya Sai Inaugurating the New Dining Hall at the Anantapur Campus Hostel - 1987
Swami insisted on teaching the girls vegetable cutting. While cutting vegetables, they should be conscious that they are ‘cutting the ego’ in them. Rolling chapatis was also made compulsory as per Bhagavan’s command, to make the students realize that while doing the job, they should feel their hearts ‘expanding’ to help others. Swami would, in His subtle way, teach us the value of time. ‘Time waste is life waste.’ During the free hours, the girls were taken to the hobby centre to bring out their talents in various ways. There they were trained in fine arts, stitching, embroidery, painting, and also using the scroll saw machine to cut and paint wall hangings made of plywood. The girls utilized their time for a good cause and learned many things. Gardening was another pastime for them. The coconut grove in front of the hostel came up entirely with the effort of the girls; watering and nourishing the saplings was taken care of by them.

Bhagavan’s idea of making the women self-reliant in all respects can be fruitfully carried out in a hostel like His. The roommates get together, allot days for cleaning up their rooms, and arranging the rooms aesthetically with a shrine for their regular individual prayers. In order to become self-reliant, it is essential that they involve themselves in the activities of the hostel like cleaning the surroundings (campus cleaning) on particular days, besides cutting of vegetables, rolling puns and chapatis; stitching and embroidering handkerchiefs, tablecloths, settee and cushion covers for the hostel and college. Work becomes worship when performed with such feelings. Team spirit develops, and when the teachers work with them, they feel that no work done is beneath their dignity. On Sunday afternoons the staff members residing in the hostel, used to take up cleaning of the utensils.

They used to visit the students’ rooms on Sundays and give away prizes for the best-kept rooms. Every act is sacred when offered to God with a pure heart. There is no discrimination among the students or teachers based on religion or caste or economic status. Caste and creed do not come in the way of their progress and blossoming into full-fledged citizens, ready to step into the world equipped with a well-balanced thinking power. 
Sri Sathya Sai Hostel, Anantapur Campus
Swami’s vision was to revive the Gurukula system of education where the students would be in contact with the Guru in various chores at the ashrams. Similarly, our students begin the sacred early hours of the day with the chanting of ‘Omkara’ and ‘Suprabhatam’. All the inmates of the hostel, the students and the teachers, chant the ‘Pranava’ and the Suprabhatam to awaken the Divinity within. This spreads holy vibrations all over. It invigorates the spirit in them to carry on their daily routine to their utmost satisfaction.
At the Hostel Prayer Hall with Vice Chancellor Dr. Somnath Saraf
Nagar Sankeertan is another important activity, though confined to the campus grounds. On certain occasions, when Bhagavan visited our campus and stayed for a number of days in His apartment, the balcony Darshan He gave us is still fresh in our memory. While we go around singing the sweet name of the Lord, we feel as if all Nature has woken up to hear the melodious singing of the young girls. The whole atmosphere reverberates with holy vibrations.

Swami initiated the Summer Course in “Indian Culture and Spirituality” in 1972. The experience of the first batch of students and teachers is incomparable to any treasure in the world. The close proximity we enjoyed with Bhagavan, with Him talking to all of us, directing us in all respects, and the delicious food we were given, are unforgettable. Swami arranged for eminent speakers to acquaint us with the rich heritage of our land. Each and every one of the speakers excelled because they lived what they spoke of. In spite of these valuable talks by the learned speakers, we waited only for the discourses of Bhagavan in the evening — which ended with His lovely melodious voice singing the Bhajans. For one full month we were nourished by His divine discourses, loving words, and benign proximity.

I would like to make a special mention of the Summer Course held at Ooty in the year 1976. It was like heaven on earth. Bhagavan made wonderful arrangements for our stay in a bungalow on a hill top. The regular classes were held in the mansion where Bhagavan resided. Swami looked into each detail Himself. 

On Bhagavan’s instructions the Culture classes on Thursdays commenced. Bhagavan Himself initiated the Culture classes in the library, with His sacred words of advice. These culture classes are intended to bring out the hidden talents, in each and every student. Whether it is through prayer talks, quiz competitions on Bhagavan’s life and teachings, song and dance competitions, Veda chanting, etc., the personality of the students is moulded well. The prayer talks, which impart a lot of knowledge pertaining to our scriptures or lives of the great men and women and. above all, the teachings and expectations of Bhagavan, help in transforming the students. The illustrative anecdotes by Bhagavan make an impact on the girls and make them understand the value of discipline for example, when the snake-gourd is tender, a stone is tied to it to make it to grow straight. The story of the mango thief, who as a child went unchecked by the mother, and later turned into a big robber, brings home the message that a child needs to be corrected early in life when a wrong act is performed.
Sri Sathya Sai at the Anatapur Campus Hostel during a Dining Session
Nutritious food served with ‘Brahmarpanam’, sanctifying it, keeps the students physically healthy. They are also provided food for the mind through spiritual activities. The two semesters of the academic year are punctuated with ‘Laksharchana’ in the college and the hostel. Narayana Seva performed every fortnight brings them closer to the needy since they go in batches for distribution of food packets. From the time Bhagavan started the chanting of Vedas as a regular practice at Prasanthi Nilayam, the girls in the hostel have been reciting the Vedas regularly in the morning after the Suprabhatam.

By the time they leave the sacred portals of the college and hostel, the girls are well equipped with good qualities, ready to face the challenges of life. The dress-code is taken care of as per Bhagavan’s injunctions as practiced at Prasanthi Nilayam. In order to bring home the fact that all the students are the same, and to develop an attitude of equality and simplicity, uniform saris are made compulsory for the students. This helps the parents as well in curtailing the excess expenditure on clothes.

The Sai Philosophy of Education goes beyond the merely academic: it aims at total education. It stresses upon the need to inculcate humility and a flawless character. As Bhagavan has often said, “The End of Education is Character.” It is not mere acquisition of degrees, unmindful of God. Devotion to God is the hallmark of the integrated personality of an educated person.

In this age of fast developments and the material attractions, the youth are confused in selecting the correct path. Human Values which were not spoken of but practised by the elders in the family have to be told these days! Reverence for elders and teachers is also on the decline, but the students living in the hostel are made to realize the value of this - by this good wishes flow from the heart of the elders to the youngsters. The old traditions are losing their value because of the individualistic ideas. In order to revive the old values, the life style in the hostel is based on the directions of Bhagavan.

With the inspiration derived from the Divine Discourses, the lives of the students residing in the hostel change a great deal. Bhagavan has said that whatever is expected of the students should be practised by the teachers as well. Practice is greater than precept. The students are inspired by the selfless dedication of the teachers here. The way they are taken care of - with regard to their food, health, behaviour, dress code, talking, walking and, above all, their studies, is truly remarkable. The weaker students get special attention from the teachers. The parents do not have to worry about their travel during vacations. All arrangements for travel by train or bus are looked into very carefully by the hostel authorities. 

We cannot naturally claim total success; but a great majority of the girls are living up to the ideals of Bhagavan and leading peaceful and happy lives, serving the society. Those who begin on a negative note also change for the better by the time they leave the hostel. 
Smt. Pushpa Ramanna with Sri Sathya Sai at the Anantapur Campus Hostel
In all the activities performed from morning to night. Bhagavan is the motivator. Keeping Him above everything, the daily routine is happily followed. Bhagavan had advised that leaders should give a good lead and not push from behind. The teachers give the lead by involving themselves in every task that is undertaken as a team as an offering to our Lord. Thus, after living in the hostel for one year, two years, three or five years, the students leave Bhagavan’s institution having fully blossomed into young ladies ready to spread the fragrance of goodness and become the messengers of His Divine Mission. Over the years, since the inception of the College, thousands of students have passed out from here. It gives us great pleasure to see the old students at Prasanthi Nilayam, along with their children. They have, with their humility and good behaviour, won the hearts of their parents-in-law sometimes bringing them also for Bhagavan’s Darshan. They have turned out to be good housewives and ideal mothers. The credit goes to the teachings they have imbibed at the Lotus Feet of our Lord. After all, they come to His Institution, not by chance but by His grace.

The greatest wonder is that not a single paisa is spent by the students on the total education received here. All the expenses during their stay are borne by Bhagavan. What remains is that they should shine as beacon lights. This is the only way they can express their gratitude to this Great Loving and Compassionate God of ours.

- Smt. Pushpa Ramanna
Former Warden, Sri Sathya Sai Hostel
Anantapur Campus

Source: Sai Vandana 1990 (65th Birthday Offering)

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