Face in Focus

Coffee-Podi Sakamma - lady with a heart of Gold

Surrender to the Lord and unshakeable belief in Him,  it was this that carried Sakamma in her journey through life. She devoted her whole life to the service of her divine lord. 

      Could we say that she was one of the founding figures of Prasanthi Nilayam ashram? Surely nobody would grudge the old and humble lady for her devotion and contribution. Few devotees of today or even of those bygone days can be compared to her in devotion and service. Coffee-podi Sakamma was really adorable.

Doddamane Sakamma was originally from Bangalore. This Coorgi lady was the third wife of Doddamane Chikka Basappa and resident of Basavanagudi, Bangalore City, then of Mysore State. She was a coffee planter and philanthropist who was honoured with the title Lokasevaparayani (one who is devoted to service of society) by then Maharaja of Mysore. The Imperial government awarded her the title ‘Kaiser-e-Hind’ (‘Jewel of India’). She was also nominated by the Late Maharaja of Mysore to be the first lady representative in the Royal Mysore Assembly.

This elderly, healthy, active and good-hearted lady was one of the first few devotees from Bangalore. Baba spent many months in her house. She spoke Telugu fluently. She treated Baba as her child and cooked food for Him.

There is an interesting story reported by Sri Kasturi in ‘Sathyam Sivam Sundaram’ of how Sakamma had come to know of Baba. One day as she was engaged in worship she was informed that she had two unknown visitors who insisted on seeing her immediately. One turned out to be a tall fair old man who looked more like a sage and the other a very young teenaged boy at the wheel of a car with the unusual nameplate of ‘Kailash Committee.’ Sakamma invited the old gentleman inside and offered him the necessary hospitality. The sage requested the lady to become a member of the ‘Kailash Committee’ by donating a sum of one thousand rupees. Sakamma signed the declaration promising to pay the said amount. The sage, however, prevented her from paying the sum, saying that he would collect the same when required. The two left soon after, almost disappearing in their car. Years later, Baba appeared once to Sakamma as the same teenaged driver and once as the sage of the mysterious visit. Baba surprised Sakamma by asking her to pay her promised one thousand rupees and even described the incident in the minutest detail. Since then Sakamma was a regular visitor to Puttaparthi and spent months in the divine Presence.

It was Sakamma who could compel Baba to rest in the afternoons, pleading with the others not to disturb Him during such times. When Baba was busy with his devotees, He would not pay heed to food. Sakamma would pick up courage and affectionately drag Him away, pleading with Him to eat.

Baba often made fun of her. He would roll His big eyes and say that He had fever. Sakamma would become greatly concerned and she would start perspiring. With great care, she would feel His body, touching His tender cheeks. She would rush around to bring herbal medicines. He often fooled her by running away to play with others, even when she thought that He was actually sleeping in the other room. Sometimes, while she was searching for Him everywhere, He would be hiding right nearby.

Once when Sakamma was in Coorg she lost a nine-gem ring. It was stolen by some of her relatives. Baba asked her for more details about the ring, materialised the same ring and gave it to her.

She had pleaded with Baba to wear a red robe so that He could easily be distinguished in a crowd. Besides it hurt her maternal instincts to see the hardly twenty-five year old Baba dressed in a white robe.

Sakamma had also pleaded with Baba to move away from Prasanthi Nilayam and open an ashram in Bangalore. But Baba had promised Mother Easwaramma that He would not shift base from where the avatarhood had first began. Along with a few others, she then generously contributed to the construction of Prasanthi Nilayam, sending carpenters from Bangalore to do the woodwork. In fact in the deed for the Prasanthi Nilayam land that she offered Bhagawan, she had put down such clauses that hold good even today. She also provided funding for a Radio Park and Public Library at Bukkapatnam.

Although her relatives were not pleased with the young Baba, she was not to be deterred. Women at that time were mostly without power, but she managed to outwit the relatives and have her way. Whenever Baba stayed with her—either at Bangalore or at Mysore, for any length of time—she took care of Him.

When she took ill and was hospitalised for a few months in 1950, Baba went to the hospital in Mysore to see her. She died at the age of 75, in May 1950. Like Subbamma (who did not live to see the Puttaparthi Mandir finished, although she had provided land for it), Sakamma, too, did not live to see the inauguration of Prasanthi Nilayam (a project that she had helped to envision and fund).

Even today Bhagawan remembers her with fondness. The heart of the avatar suddenly wells up with the feeling of a child towards its mother whenever He talks of her. He refers to her as coffee-podi Sakamma which means the Sakamma of the coffee powder fame.

R. Padmanaban   
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