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Swamiji | The Saint and the Cockateel

The Saint and the Cockateel

by Don Pinnock / 10.05.2013

The email was rather cryptic. I’d written an article about birdsong and an Indian saint wanted to meet me. Evidently he loved the article and was passing through Cape Town. We made an appointment through his interpreter who spoke perfect English and I met him in a fancy hotel.

His Holiness Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji was dressed in a gold-coloured dohti, had a long white beard and sat cross-legged on the couch with a wonderful, all-embracing smile. He was in the country for a concert, he said, but I didn’t pursue that line of conversation. We talked about birds and it was clear he knew a lot about them.

I arranged for him to visit the World of Birds the next morning. He sat in the front of the minibus beaming at the spectacular view as we wound along the seafront from Kloof Nek to Hout Bay. At the bird park he strolled in the open aviaries chatting to cockateels and parrots. I wondered if he was a bit, you know, odd.

A particularly beautiful white cockateel attracted his attention.
‘Hello,’ he said.
‘Hello,’ said the cockateel.
That was rather sweet, I thought, someone had obviously taught the bird to speak. After a few more hellos, His Holiness said a few words I didn’t understand. The cockateel repeated them. I asked his assistant what he was saying.
‘It’s part of a raga, one of the melodic modes used in Indian classical music.’
Swamiji added some more phrases and the cockateel repeated them too – immediately. Even the assistant looked amazed: ‘He’s teaching it to chant ragas.’

The bird was clearly pleased with itself. It reached towards its new teacher with a foot, then turned upside down for a tummy scratch. Swamiji chuckled, gave it a tickle then moved to the next parrot for a lesson in Indian music.

In another enclosure a group of golden ibises was fossicking around. His Holiness stepped off the path and they gathered around his feet, perfectly matching the colour of his robe. There was about the scene something definitely St Francis of Assisi.

We drove back to town – he was on the way to the airport and Zurich, then India and Canada. I wondered why he flew around so much. Was he that enthusiastic about birds?

As I got out the minibus he stepped down, put his arm around me and looked into my eyes with unsettling intensity. ‘We have met before,’ he said. ‘When you wish, come and stay at my monastery as my guest.’ His smile was as wide as the sky. Then he pressed his hands together, gave a little bow and was gone.

Naturally the whole affair puzzled me, so I did what anyone would: I Googled him. Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji, it turned out, is more than famous, he is revered by millions of people around the world. He’s a renowned musician who specialises in creating healing music, performing to huge audiences wherever he goes. His concerts in the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Lincoln Centre in New York were sold out.

He has programmes supporting HIV-positive children, has created schools for poor kids, opened an old-age home in Hydrabad and built eight temples for ‘untouchable’ Dalit street-sweeper communities in Mysore and Hunsur. In India he’s revered as a satguru, a True Master of ancient lineage, a sort of guru’s guru. When he holds concerts at home tens of thousands turn up to listen.

Most importantly, it seems, he’s a musical master particularly interested in the influence of birdsong and music on humans as healing. The CD he handed me turned out to be extraordinary: 12 lyrical ragas woven with the songs of birds. It’s effect was almost instant disconnect from where I was and immersion into the embrace of pure sound.

I wish I had known all that about the old man while I was with him. But perhaps it was better that I didn’t. It’s far easier to talk to a man than a saint.

*Image © Don Pinnock.

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  1. mikey says:

    I like Don. It’s nice to read work by someone that doesn’t pretend to know it all.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Some experiences are exceptional and ever echoing with pleasant feeling and leave us amazed.We certainly know less about ourselves than the holy saints.And darshan itself is so much rare.Love and care they share cheerishes us. Nice to pen your experiences and sharing with many others. Thank u.

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  3. Lila says:

    You are a blessed soul. Very nice article.

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  4. Praveen says:

    Hi Don, Wonderful write-up of your encounter with His Holiness. I do hope that you will take up on the offer and visit the Monastery in Mysore. It’s a place unlike any other.

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  5. vasanth kumar vydyula says:

    sparkling narration. Thank u for sharing

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  6. Ravi says:

    Wonderful article narrating your experience with His Holiness on the visit to the Aviary. His Holiness says Music is a medium He uses to heal people of their worldly problems by soothing the tired nerves. You can download more Healing music albums from ITunes or such sites. Also please take up on the invite from His Holiness to visit the monastery in Mysore. It is a place beyond comparison. Thanks again.

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  7. Shruthi says:

    Hi Don, wonderful narration. The interactions between Sri Swamiji and birds is truly mystical and mazes those who have a chance to witness it. His center at Mysore is very unique and is a must visit. Hope you do visit the center sometime. Thank ou for sharing your experience.

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  8. Krishnee says:

    Hello Don,

    A treasure of an experience..relish it!. Wishing you a wonderful journey..now that you have met our Swamiji and thank you for sharing. .

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  9. Shiva Shankari. Ioolie says:

    Jaya Guru Datta Don! Wonderful Article. We look forward to see you at DattaPeetham.

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  10. Hanumanta says:

    Hi Don, I had a very happy feeling after reading your article. It no doubt was a powerful experience. I too have been listening to the Birds Zodiac cd. It really is transforming. Wishing you the best in your future endeavors with Sri Swamiji.

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  11. Harish says:

    Amazing experience Don, that album which you got was just amazing and your experience with His Holiness was mind blowing, you are so lucky to experience the divinity in person. Do visit Mysore and you will be more amazed.

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    Very Nice Jaya Guru Datta

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  13. Anonymous says:

    “its far easier to talk to a man than a saint” you’re so aware. great writing

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  14. Swarnaprabha says:

    We are really glad to know & read about this unique experience.
    Devotees of His Holiness, from around the world, have been following Him & His programs at South Africa through live webcast through yogasangeeta.org . But, we could’nt have possibly gotten to know & experience the joy our Master had & has when He works & meets bird friends, fulfilling His divine mission, if you would’nt have written about it. So, thanks again.
    Sure, this would have been a different experience for you, something that would’nt have been anticipated or imagined. So, opening the gates of imagination, pls enter the gates of our Avadhoota Datta Peetham at Mysore soon. You would love to stroll through the newly put up Parrot Park there.

    Also, sgs birds on youtube, puttugam.com, sgs shuka vana on facebook & dattavani.org will give you some more insight & I am sure You would enjoy going through them.
    All the best. Hope you have more such amazing experiences.

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  15. sumangala hegde says:

    Hi…That is the real divinity of Holy Man whom you met & experienced a tiny drop in His ocean of mysticism.Sri Ganapati Sachidananda Swamiji is a gift to humanity by GOD..He is the personification of Godlyness…wonderful divine being to know in our life`s time wish u all the best to continue the association..Thanx for sharing your experience Jaya Guru Datta

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  16. Aparna says:

    You are a blessed soul. We dearly call Him Appaji, which means father. Now that you have met and experienced our Appaji, you are blessed for life! Hope you will continue your experience by visiting Mysore Ashram. It is one of a kind, like heaven. Jaya Guru Datta (a phrase His devotees use to greet each other)

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  17. padmavathiburi says:

    jayagurudatta,om sri ganapathi sachchidananda satgurubyo namaha.

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  18. Venkat says:

    Hi Don Pinnock, Thanks for this article. Thanks for arranging Appaji’s visit to the bird park. Its truly amazing how he interacts with birds, animals and in fact with any being on earth.

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  19. Ambi says:

    So wonderful experience! Tears flowing down when read …”put his arm around me and looked into my eyes with unsettling intensity. ‘We have met before,’ he said. ‘When you wish, come and stay at my monastery as my guest.’ His smile was as wide as the sky. Then he pressed his hands together, gave a little bow …” He is the creator… how can HE doesn’t know!

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  20. Urmila Jithoo says:

    Dear Don,

    thank you for thinking of me and sharing that experience.
    Nothing surprises me anymore…..I think, as you do as well, that just staying open to all the wonders that open up to us, is the most amazing part of this journey , we call life.
    You blessed man…..I send you lots of love……Urmila

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  21. Aditya C says:

    A relation continuing from previous births, otherwise Swamiji is never ever interacts with a person so close. Millions try to be so close to Swamiji but almost never happens.

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  22. R Sandeep says:

    Hi Don Pinnock,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

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  23. Saraswati says:

    Hi Don! The story you have written is really superbbb experience and you are very very blessed same time :-)! I really liked your statement its easier to talk to a man then a saint in the end :-)! For many around the world He is a father, a mother, a brother, a best friend. You can see in HIM whatever you want and like and He will come to you in that way :-). But He is Divinity in human form. Please come and visit Avadhoota Ashrama in Mysore and enjoy a Blissfull stay :-)! Thanxxx again for sharing your wonderful experience with HIM. We all really enjoy reading it :-)! With Love, Saraswati the Netherlands

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  24. veda soniya says:

    jai guru datta (Victory to the first teacher, Lord Dattatreya ) Mr. Don
    You are so very fortunate indeed to have been in the divine presence of our Guru Swami Ganapathy. He said that you have met before and this is very significant indeed! His divine mother Jayalakshmi Mata before her passing instructed him to bring back all Datta souls together again, no matter where they are! Which ever part of the world you are the Guru will find you!
    Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful experience with us.

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  25. Narayan - Al Ain says:

    Dear Don,

    jayagurudatta, Thank you for thoughts and sharing that experience with this Wonderful Article.

    Narayan – Al Ain

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  26. Vinobha Devi says:

    Thank you for sharing your experrience.

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  27. Rama Krishna reddy, Dubai says:

    Hai don

    Wonderful narration of your great experience with Appajii. Hope you will be visiting Mysore Ashram soon. It is a house of divinity and peace

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  28. Pani says:

    Don, Its a great blessing and Please do Visit Mysore ashram take forward your friendship.

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  29. Siva says:

    Very Nice. You have opened your heart and shared your great experience in this Article. Please Visit Mysore when you get a chance and you are really blessed.

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  30. Calvin the Kif says:

    How I do like to fossick around like a golden Ibis. Pure Mahala Gold, thank you.

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  31. Don says:


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  32. Sharath Kumar says:

    Good article. Thank you for sharing your valuable experience with His Holiness Sri Swamiji.

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  33. vemulasrinivas says:

    Good article Don Pinnock The firs teacher lord Dattatreya [H.H. Sri Sri Sri Ganapathi Sachchidhananda Swamiji] met in your life, that day is very auspicious day to you, Swamiji’s mother & Guru Jayalakshmi Mata instructed him to bring back all Datta souls in the world at one place, that place is UNIVERSAL PRAYER HALL Dattapeetam in Mysore – India.

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