Born in a devout family, where love for God and parents played a predominant role, it was easy for Ms. Sonal Khanna to attribute her life to the pure love that Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba personifies. It has been a journey from Shirdi Sai to Parthi Sai to perceiving the same love in the subtle form of Swami as well.
Sonal, along with her husband Mr. Abhinav Khanna are active youth volunteers of the Sai Hrudayam family in the UAE. The couple, along with their two sons jointly take active part in the Seva activities conducted in the Middle East region. They have also been blessed to be the hosts for Bhagawan during one of His Divine Visits to Dubai. Her story is a tale of how love for family, love for the followers of God, love for the people one serves, have all led her to the love of God, for He resides in all. Below, Sonal recounts her love for Bhagawan, who has never failed to respond to her prayers.
I was born in a God fearing and loving family. I always knew that I was blessed by Swami to have been born in such a family. My wonderful parents gave us unconditional love and always kept us close to God. It was never hard for me to believe in God’s existence. Since the beginning, I could feel His grace in the life of my loved ones and mine, protecting us all the time, just like the eyelid protects the eye. Our childhood was beautiful and blessed. While growing up, I was very attracted to Shirdi Sai Baba. I would always keep fasts on Thursdays and visit Shirdi Sai Baba temples. I also wished to go to Shirdi, which Swami too fulfilled. The few times, I visited Shirdi; I would pour my heart out in front of Him.
We would always see a photograph of Swami at my aunt’s house, who is an ardent devotee of Swami, but I never felt drawn towards Swami until 2010. At this time, I met someone who was working and doing really well, who had completed his education from Swami’s college. I wasn’t too convinced about it and had a lot of questions in my head. That gentleman got offended and asked me to search and collect information about Swami’s colleges before drawing conclusions. That’s exactly when my search for Swami began.
I searched about His college in websites and this time, when I saw Swami’s picture, it touched my heart like never before. There came an urge to keep reading and knowing more about Him. It was hard for me to believe that there is a living reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba as Sathya Sai Baba. I just prayed that if this be really true, then Baba should come in my dream, tell me about this phenomenon and make me believe. That very night, I had a dream of Swami where He was in the Abhayahasta (blessing) pose, with a golden halo around His hair. That was a life changing experience for me. Then it was just my Swami and a deep, heartfelt desire to have His Divine Darshan and as has been His habit, to fulfil every wish or prayer, this desire too was fulfilled.
In the very same year, in 2010, Swami visited Delhi and I got the opportunity to be in His Divine Presence. After seeing Divine Love in a form, my love for Him got deeper, and my heart felt a different kind of joy which it had never felt before. It was delightful to see Him in His orange robe for real; and my reaction too was similar to the way I used to keep looking at His pictures and videos online. Gradually, Swami started to create associations by sending people into my life, who have had some connection or love for Swami. This was the beginning of the first step towards spirituality, namely, being in the company of God loving people/Satsangis. My sister also started getting very attracted and attached to Swami. In 2011 when Swami left his physical form, there was so much pain and despair in my heart and I was so sad and upset that I would not be able to experience my God, nor be able to go to Puttaparthi, but Swami ensured that I discern Him within and He fulfilled my wishes, to make true of all that I had read about Him.
At this time, my parents started to look for a match and I had a strong condition that I should not move out from India as I was always very attached to my family. ‘Man proposes, God disposes’ and in my case Sai disposed my idea as He knew what was best for me. So, He made me get married to a lovely human being, Abhinav Khanna, who was settled in Dubai. I had to leave my people and everything and move to Dubai. It was a very big move for me as it was something I had never expected in life. I didn’t know what Swami’s plan for me was, but at every step I could feel Swami’s grace and protective hand on me. My husband who was a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba also started to feel a great attraction towards Swami. Just like iron filings to a magnet, Abhinav was getting drawn towards Swami.
In 2015, through one of my friends, I heard about Swami’s subtle form. Before we could accept or understand this phenomenon, we got an opportunity to experience Him, as Swami was visiting Dubai. Once we perceived Him, there arose no doubts or He made it all easy for us that we accepted Him with a complete heart filled with love.
The subtle form introduced us to yet another group of Satsangis or should I rather say, a new family - the Sai Hrudayam Family. This was like Swami’s beautiful gift to me. The void of being away from India was now getting filled with the unconditional love from all the members of the Sai Hrudayam Family. I felt that Swami wanted to teach and make me understand the reality of life, that I can’t always be under the umbrella of my dear ones. It was time for me to rely only on Him and after basking in His love, to provide the shade of an umbrella to others. No wonder He is called the Master Planner! By Divine grace, we were blessed with opportunities to be in close proximity with Swami, which I had always pined for. It just felt like a vivid dream. Many momentous events happened in our lives but we always felt assured of Swami’s love, guidance and ever protective hands around us.
Service had become the next hint card for spiritual development that Swami dropped on our laps. Seeing the members of our Sai family getting involved in a lot of community service activities, we for the first time learnt how Seva could give and spread a lot of happiness. It gives true meaning to our existence. The joy that one gets by giving joy to others is incomparable. I also slowly started to understand that even in the acts of service, Swami is the only doer; He is the Bhojan (experience/enjoyment), Bhojyam (experienced/object to be enjoyed) and the Bhoktha (experiencer/enjoyer). We are just mere instruments; but to be His instrument too, we need to have the humility and devotion. The service that we do is not for anyone else but for our own selves. Still a long way to go, but I am grateful to Swami to have at least created this awareness in me and for giving us the opportunities to be of service.
Swami truly answers every prayer, some prayers that even I would have forgotten, but He answers them all, at the right time. I always prayed to Swami that I should get married to a person who follows Him so that we could have the most important thing as common between us. I always imagined having big pictures of Swami in the house, conducting Bhajans and having Satsangs. When I got married to Abhinav, who initially did not have much of a belief in Swami, I could never imagine that my prayer would ever come true. Although, he never stopped me from anything and very much respected my beliefs and God, but I still never believed that what I prayed for could come true so soon.
Abhinav’s father suffered a major health problem in 2018 and it was life threatening. We all were devastated as he is the pillar of the family and the thought of losing him scared everyone, but Abhinav kept his faith in Swami and completely surrendered himself, assured that Swami would take care of everything. Swami’s unconditional love and compassion did save our father. It made me believe that Swami is with us and listening to us all the time. He is a Divine Mother whose love knows no condition or season and it pours on incessantly on all!
What does divine love do? Transform. After the above incident, there was a transformation of the hearts in our family. The first evident gesture was the family getting a chair for Swami to be kept at our house. What may seem like a tiny step for a devotee was actually a major step for my family as Sai had paved His way so silently into their hearts, without announcement, but taking a sure place in our hearts and bringing about a change in all of us. Rightly, called, Chittachora! This gradually led to the Archana way of rendering Bhakti to the Lord, in the form of doing Puja and Aarti everyday at Swami’s lotus feet. Swami’s love made Abhinav give up non-vegetarian food. Everything seemed unbelievable to me but I loved His play and felt that He was preparing us for something bigger, of which we had never ever dreamt of. My husband started supporting me in everything related to Swami. Father’s health had also improved. “O, Sai! What more can I ask for when you’ve blessed me without any asking!” A mere two months from the time father-in-law got ill to the time he got better, was all that Sathya Sai needed, to bring about the change in our family so that we all could understand the purpose of our lives. Life is temporary and uncertain and so, during our lifetime, we should spend it with love, kindness and selfless service to all.
After a few days, we got the happiest news of our lives. One, Swami had accepted the invitation of visiting Dubai. Two, He had blessed that the Satsang with our dearest Sai Hrudayam family would be conducted at our place. My happiness knew no bounds and I owe this to Swami’s grace and to the earnest prayers of our Sai family, as every member of Sai Hrudayam family is very selfless and loving. After we got this news, my legs and hands knew not where to go or what do to. I was excited beyond measures and it took me some time to even calm my heart and plan for the next step of preparing and decorating the house for the Divine. We counted days, hours and seconds eagerly waiting for the Divine Feet to touch all hearts at the residence.
A few years back, a friend had advised me to invite Swami to our home, but I was skeptical about it. I had seen the sacrifices that devotees all over the world do for Swami and I felt that I lacked the purity for Swami to visit our place. I still do not know the merit, but I know that it is Swami’s grace and compassion that He blessed us with such an opportunity and I wish to surrender wholeheartedly at His feet and do as He commands me to. This is just yet another leaf from His story, which has no end; narrating the extent to which Sai can go for the sake of the love He has for His devotees.
During the Divine visit, Swami treated and loved me like His daughter in front of my husband’s family. He had taken the place of a parent and was taking care of my in-laws just the way, a parent of an Indian married girl would act and do. Swami has bestowed unconditional love on our older son Ayaan and even named our younger one as Vishwas, during this Divine visit. I am overwhelmed and enchanted with the grace of our dearest Swami. Nowadays, before I undertake any task, I think of Swami and He corrects me that very moment and ensures that I do not do anything wrong. ‘Sarva Karma Sathya Sai Preethyartham’— my only purpose in life is to undertake every act to make Swami happy.
Sonal Abhinav Khanna
MiddleEast Region 2