Sathya Sai Baba And Colonel Joga Rao
Kudos From Swami
“All of you know him as Colonel Joga Rao, but I know him as Karma Yogi Joga Rao!”
These were the words with which Sathya Sai Baba decorated Col. Joga Rao after presenting him ceremonial kankanams (gold bracelets) and a silver salver, in front of the vast concourse of devotees assembled in the Hill View stadium to celebrate Bhagavan’s 65th Birthday celebrations.
Some people live with such courage, verve and an endearing joy of life that it is an inspiration to all around them. Colonel S.P. Joga Rao was one such person. His high-spirited personality and openhanded nature endeared him to everyone. His brilliance, commitment and integrity at work earned him plaudits from the mighty and the scholarly.
An eminent and vastly experienced engineer, Sri Joga Rao, will best be remembered for his yeoman contribution to the development of the Prashanti Nilayam and Brindavan ashram campuses and his close involvement in several of Bhagavan’s service projects.
He was instrumental in the establishment of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, a charitable trust under the guidance of Bhagavan, which has executed several mammoth welfare projects.
How Col. Joga Rao Came to Sathya Sai Baba
S P Joga Rao enjoyed a successful tenure as Chief Engineer of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), where he was responsible for much of its construction and commissioning. He also served in the armed forces where he rose to the rank of Colonel, and had been posted at many places all over India. Later he started a Civil Engineering and Consultancy Company along with a host of experts drawn from various fields of engineering, construction and management which was quite a successful venture.
But, all this was just a training ground for the stupendous tasks he was to accomplish under the guidance of the ‘Architect of the Universe’. Destiny was to crown his life with a long and sweet association with the Lord come in human form.
The divine call came in 1969. One day, Bhagavan visited the house of Sri Ramaswamy, a neighbour of Col. Joga Rao who was closely associated with service activities in Brindavan, Bhagavan’s ashram at Whitefield, Bangalore. Joga Rao, though a devotee of Lord Krishna from his childhood, had his reservations about men in ochre robes.
So, although his wife and he received an invitation to Sri Ramaswamy’s house to have Darshan of Bhagavan he was reluctant to go. He had already been annoyed when a few days prior to this, he found a photo of Bhagavan Baba in the altar of his house, which his wife had received from Smt. Ramaswamy. But, his wife persisted and so he went there.
Bhagavan spoke very lovingly to him and invited him to Brindavan. Baba’s gentle and warm demeanour touched Joga Rao’s heart and he was drawn to Brindavan soon after that. The devotional ambience of the ashram and the discipline there had a profound impact on him.
Bhagavan received him very affectionately. During the conversation, He casually mentioned to Joga Rao to associate himself with the construction work of the college building at Anantapur. The passionate engineering professional in Joga Rao responded positively and that marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
An Intimate Relationship…
In the Nava Vida Bhakti (Nine stages of devotion) outlined in the ‘Narada Bhakti Sutra’, the stage of Sakhya Bhakti is the penultimate stage before the final merger of the individual self with the Absolute. In this stage, the devotee experiences the relationship of an intimate friend with the Lord, sporting with Him and losing oneself in the bond of love with the Lord. Sri B N Narasimha Murty in Sathyam Shivam Sundaram V says, Col. Joga Rao was privileged, to enjoy such a relationship with Swami.
Recalling this unique relationship Sri Joga Rao had with Swami, Sri V. Srinivasan, President, Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organizations, India, recalls:
“Col. Joga Rao would intercede, to the extent that it was possible to do so, on behalf of many devotees with Bhagavan, which sometimes earned him reprimands from the Lord. He took them with a smile and would say to Bhagavan that He should extend his mercy to these people who were pining for His Grace. Bhagavan was also tolerant because He knew that Joga Rao was not asking anything for himself but only for others.”
He was a man with a fondness for eating and more prominently, for feeding others. Dr. Voleti Choudhary, a cardiac surgeon in Swami’s hospital, in an interview with Swami was witness to the Swami-Joga Rao relationship and this is what he narrates:
“In our later interview, Swami’s attention slowly shifted to playfully teasing the colonel, especially about his eating habits. Joga Rao mildly protested that he eats so much only because Bhagavan feeds him so much. I was very fascinated by the dynamics between Bhagavan and Joga Rao. Though he was 85 years old, Joga Rao responded to Bhagavan like a child being overwhelmed by the attention he gets from his loving parents.”
“Joga Rao, They Are Not Coming!”
Sri Joga Rao was quite often at the receiving end of many of Bhagavan’s “practical jokes”. Sri B N Narasimha Murthy, currently the Warden of the Brindavan hostel, and who has been associated with Swami for more than four decades recalls an amusing incident:
“When the document of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust was to be registered at Hyderabad in 1972, Bhagavan asked Joga Rao to coordinate all the related work apart from organising His visit to the city. It was obligatory that the members of the Trust be present at the time of registration. Therefore Joga Rao called up the Rajamata of Nawanagar who was at Bombay, to come to Hyderabad along with Sri Nani Palkhiwala and Sri Indulal Shah. The Rajamata conveyed to Joga Rao the same evening by telephone that she would be coming to Hyderabad with Sri Indulal Shah. She also informed him that Palkhiwala who had gone out of station would not be able to make it to Hyderabad. Since Bhagavan had had already retired by that time, Joga Rao could not convey the message to Him.
When Joga Rao went to the post office next morning along with Sri Prasada Rao, then the State President of Sri Sathya Sai Organisations of Andhra Pradesh, he found a telegram sent by the Rajamata to Bhagavan confirming her arrival. When they met Swami and handed over the telegram to Him, He read it and said, “Joga Rao, they are not coming!” Puzzled and bewildered, Joga Rao read the telegram again and again. According to the telegram, what Baba had said was right! Joga Rao showed the telegram to Prasada Rao; they looked at each other in wonder and stood speechless. But during their lunch with Swami, He laughed and gave them the telegram again. It bore the same words they had read at the post office!”
That was Baba’s way of playing a joke on them! Yes, of course, the Rajamata arrived at Hyderabad with Indulal Shah on time and the registration of the Trust was completed.
Selfless Service – Joga Rao’s Passport to Sathya Sai Baba
Col. Joga Rao once said to Swami, “I do not know how to do meditation or sing bhajans or do penance, but I can only do selfless service.”
Swami promptly told him, “That is why you are so dear to me; whereas everyone chants ‘Sai Ram’ ‘Sai Ram’ , I call ‘Joga Rao’, ‘Joga Rao’ so often.”
It was this selfless service and uncompromising zeal for excellence in work that earned him the confidence of Bhagavan. With Swami’s guidance, he set about improving the amenities for devotees in Prashanti Nilayam and Brindavan. He plunged with enthusiasm into the task of planning and constructing the campuses of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning at Prashanti Nilayam, Anantapur and Whitefield.
At the age of 85, when most people would rather spend their time in quietude reminiscing about the sunny days they had spent, Joga Rao dedicated himself to fulfilling the declaration Bhagavan made on the eve of His 70th birthday in His discourse on the 22nd November 1990, that in a year’s time a massive hospital would be constructed near Prasanthi Nilayam, that would bring top notch medical care to the poorest of the poor.
Courage, Capability, Efficiency and Joga Rao
Dr. Safaya, Director of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences since its inception, recalls:
“I remember when in April 1991, he showed me the stretch of land, which the Trust had acquired for building the hospital and its campus, I felt utterly frustrated because before me was a completely desolate, uneven and even a bit hilly, semi-arid land of nearly 100 acres. To clear this area and to flatten it would take several years! We had very little time and Bhagavan had declared that the Hospital would be built and be functional by 22 nd November, 1991. I had a strong urge to run away and go back to Delhi. It was Col. Joga Rao, who convinced me that all would be done on schedule and he did it. It stands before all of us now as a living testimonial to his courage, capabilities, and efficiency.”
But, there were times when Joga Rao himself was racked with doubts about the completion of the Hospital project. In the summer of 1991, Bhagavan was at ‘Sai Sruti’, the beautiful mandir overlooking the scenic lake at Kodaikanal. In fact, the foundation work for the building was just commencing at the time Bhagavan left Prashanti Nilayam for Kodaikanal. Joga Rao came to Kodaikanal after a three day stay at Chennai for some work in connection with the Hospital project. Sri B.N. Narasimha Murthy, Warden of the boys hostel at the Brindavan campus of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, who was sharing the room with him at ‘Sai Sruti’ says:
“He looked very tired and went to bed quite early that evening after dinner. When I woke up around two in the morning, one of the lights was on, and I found Joga Rao sitting on his cot with his hands clutching the forehead, and eyes closed. I could make out that he was very uncomfortable. I sat up and asked him, “Sir, can I help you? You seem to have a bad headache.”
“Yes, I have a headache; but it is a different kind of headache!” replied Joga Rao.
“Can I be of any help, sir?” I persisted.
“None except Swami can do anything to cure me of this headache!” Joga Rao sounded very categorical. More out of sympathy for me than anything else, he continued,
“How will the hospital building be completed before November? There are so many problems.”
That was his headache! There was nothing I could do about it, but I felt overawed by his concern and anxiety over the work that was very dear to Swami’s heart. He was working very hard to meet the deadline set by Bhagavan’s declaration about the hospital on His previous birthday. With these thoughts hovering in my mind, I lay down and slept.
Next morning during the breakfast, Swami asked Joga Rao, “Joga Rao, you didn’t have good sleep last night. Isn’t it so?”
“Swami, You know everything,” submitted Joga Rao.
“Why are you losing sleep over what I have promised?”
“Swami, sometimes I get worried.”
“Joga Rao, you have no reason to worry. Rest assured that the project will be completed on time. The land of Bharath is Yoga Bhoomi, Thyaga Bhoomi and Punya Bhoomi. Anyone undertaking any work in this great land with selfless intention will be successful without any doubt. Men, money and materials which are required for the completion of the work, will come by themselves. It is not only in the case of Swami, but it is so with anyone who is completely selfless!” declared Bhagavan. Those words of assurance cleared the clouds of worry and doubt from the mind of Joga Rao. Those who were witnesses to the divine scene in the dining hall in Sai Sruti felt truly blessed.”
A Revelation In the End…
In the end, as we all know, the Divine Will prevailed over all obstacles, and the magnificent edifice of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences that stands at Prasanthi Gram, about five kilometers from Prashanti Nilayam was inaugurated exactly a year after Bhagavan’s declaration, on 22nd November 1991, with four operations being conducted successfully on the very first day. Col. Joga Rao was to say later:
“Baba plans each construction work as a simple project and gradually develops it after careful scrutiny. If He wants a project to be completed by a particular date, it will be completed by that time. That is the power of His sankalpa (Divine Will). There may be any number of problems, but the project will be completed by the date set by Him!”
“I have already received the highest honour….” – Sri Joga Rao
It was this unshakeable faith in Swami’s divinity that allowed him to take up the implementation of Bhagavan’s project to supply pure drinking water to the water scarce district of Anantapur in 1994. The depth of his devotion to Swami can be understood from the fact that when he was offered a National Award to be received from the hands of the President of India in recognition of his services, he politely refused saying, “I have already received the highest honour from the Lord Himself. It would not be appropriate for me to even think of accepting any other award!” That is truly Karma Yogi Joga Rao.
It was in these and many other ways that Joga Rao experienced the divine nature of Swami. The greatest fortune conferred on Joga Rao by the Lord was to be His friend and devotee when He is on earth in the human form. The wonderful relation that this engineer enjoyed with the Avatar is unsurpassed for its charming intimacy. He was privileged to be witness to that astounding incident when Swami revealed His true form to a select group of devotees at Ooty, on the day of Mahasivarathri in 1978.
On the previous Mahashivaratri in 1977, observing the difficulties of the mammoth crowd of devotees surging forward to have a glimpse of the Lingodbhava at Prashanti Nilayam, Bhagavan had announced that He would be cancelling further public celebration of the festival and that the devotees could celebrate the holy day in their own places from next year onwards. The next Mahashivaratri was on Thursday, the 7th of March 1978 . Even as devotees were wondering where He would be on that sacred day, He went away to Ooty during the early hours of the morning of 4th March with a very small contingent of students and devotees. He left Ooty on the 7th and proceeded to Mudhumalai forest, which is on the way to Mysore . He broke journey at the guesthouse on the top of a small hill in the forest.
After breakfast, Baba walked on to the beautiful meadow in front of the guesthouse and posed for photographs with every member of the party. A Polaroid camera was used by a student to click the photographs. The photos were given to the members instantly. Finally, Baba asked the student to click His photograph.
The lower part of His orange robe had been caught in the twigs of a bush. Before the camera clicked, Smt. Ratanlal rushed forward to set right the folds of the robe. Everyone was astonished when Bhagavan shouted at her loudly, “Don’t touch Me!” and she retreated quickly. After the camera clicked, Baba held the photo coming out of the camera and gave it to Joga Rao. As he held it in his palm, the picture developed gradually. But what did he see?
In the place where he had expected to see Baba’s form in orange robe, there stood a young figure in the black and white photo. The form, which wore a white flowing garment, had three heads and six hands!
Each arm was holding an insignia of Divinity. The lower left arm bent at the elbow, was resting on the back of a majestic young cow. There were four dogs in the background. The face in the centre was that of Baba! It was the form of Lord Dattatreya as described in ancient Indian texts, the integrated form of the Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara! That was His real form! After all eyes had feasted on that incredible creation and all hearts had registered the rare revelation, the photo vanished. Bhagavan confirmed while speaking to the students at Brindavan the next morning that it was indeed His true form. He also clarified that Smt. Ratanlal would not have survived if she had touched Him then!
A Pair of Protecting Hands
Another instance, when Bhagavan revealed His Omniscience and Omnipotence to Joga Rao was recounted to us by Dr. A. Sudhir Bhaskar, professor in the School of Business Management, Accounting and Finance at Bhagavan’s University. Joga Rao was returning to Prashanti Nilayam after visiting some officials at Anantapur. But, even as they were hurrying back, they were caught in a heavy downpour. But, Joga Rao was eager to apprise Swami of all that had transpired and he prodded the driver on in spite of the reduced visibility. Just as they entered the Sathya Sai Taluk, their car entered a ditch and to their horror they were being swept away in the current onto one side of the road.
It was precisely at this moment they experienced as if there was a big tug and the car was moving in the direction of the road as if being pushed from behind. Joga Rao and another person seated in the back seat could see a pair of hands on the rear windscreen pushing the car to safety. To continue the incident, the car miraculously started and the party reached the Mandir safely and Col. Joga Rao came to know that Swami had enquired about him before retiring for the day. When the colonel went to “update” Bhagavan, Swami straight away said, “Joga Rao you should not have instructed the driver to drive car in the overflowing road. What would have happened if the car were to fall into the ditch?” The astounded colonel could only mumble words of gratitude. Later that day he remarked to the co-passenger “If you do Swami’s work perfectly, Swami will protect you”.
This protecting Hand of Bhagavan was to come to the Colonel’s rescue on many more occasions. Once, Joga Rao developed severe chest pain with all the symptoms of a heart attack. He was rushed to a reputed private hospital in Bangalore, where he was kept in the Intensive Care Unit. Meanwhile, during the afternoon Darshan at Prashanti Nilayam, Bhagavan told the students and a few elders who had gathered in the portico of the mandir, “Joga Rao is not well. I have to go to Bangalore and see him.” The driver got ready with the car; His departure to Bangalore was imminent. Baba went into His room, came out after sometime and announced, “I went and saw Joga Rao; he is alright. I sat by his side on the bed and he was upset that no chair was provided for Me!”
When Joga Rao’s son-in-law went to see him late in the afternoon, Joga Rao told him, “Swami came here and blessed me. He sat on my bed since no chair was placed for Him.” A few days later, after Joga Rao was shifted to a suite from ICU, Bhagavan travelled to Bangalore and visited him in the hospital.
Another instance concerns his eldest daughter, who had to undergo a hysterectomy. The doctors were contemplating removing one of her kidneys as they had the apprehension that it may malfunction. Joga Rao went to Prashanti Nilayam and met Bhagavan. Even before he could utter anything to Baba, He said, “Joga Rao, there is no need for removing the kidney. Be assured that everything will go well.”
He also materialised Vibhuti for his daughter and gave it to him. When he went to meet his daughter in the nursing home the next morning, she was beaming with smiles; she said, “Father, please give me the Vibhuti. Swami came here last night and said that my kidney would not be removed and that He would send Vibhuti for me!” Needless to say, everything was alright thereafter.
The Simplicity and Large Heartedness of Col. Joga Rao
Colonel Joga Rao’s lively and charismatic personality and the close relationships he formed with those around him are the stuff of legend. Dr. Narendranath Reddy, Chairman, International Medical Committee, had these words to say about Col. Joga Rao:
“He had child-like simplicity. Even though he was physically close to Swami, he would heartily talk and laugh with a child or old man, a millionaire or a poor servant, a scholar or illiterate with the same gusto and tempo. Even after having sumptuous lunch or dinner with Swami, he would not hesitate to invite himself for a tasty dish with devotees. His favorite was “pesarattu” (pancake made with whole green gram) from my mother. He used to joke ‘I eat and Swami digests for me.’ His favourite hobby was to feed his guests sumptuously with tasty dishes. He retained this zest for life even when he was physically ailing and bed-ridden and had to be physically away from Swami. Even then he would welcome devotees come to pay him a visit and regale them with his memorable experiences with Bhagavan.”
The Singularly Fortunate…Sri Joga Rao
On 31st August 2005, Colonel Joga Rao shed his mortal coil to be one with his beloved Swami. Bhagavan lovingly sent a silk dhoti to drape over his body on its final journey. Many are the tributes that have been paid to this blessed soul. Sri C. Sreenivas who has for years been on the council of members of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, said of him:
“The Grace, kindness and love showered and shown by Bhagavan to Shri Joga Rao in his long association will remain unparalleled. To be a recipient of Grace is a Blessing and good fortune. To have been a recipient like Sri Joga Rao was so rare and privileged that the Divine singularly chose to confer. His life will remain a memorable saga.”
In His discourse to the public on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba said:
“There should be many more karma jivis and karma yogis like Joga Rao in Bharat in the coming years. Everyone should become a karma yogi. That Karma gets transformed into Dharma. That Karma will sanctify human life.”
His life will always be a source of inspiration to all of us to dedicate our lives in the service of the Lord sincerely and selflessly.
- Hari S and
The H2H Team
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