The achievement of a saint or a God-man is gauged by the number and greatness of the God-men he has made. And Sai Baba has amply fulfilled his promise, “This is a pure brahmin, a white brahmin. This brahmin shall lead lakhs of people to the subhramarga. This is a brahmin musjid.”
“Guru is God or the Self. First a man prays to God to fulfil his desires; then a time comes when he does not pray for the fulfilment of a desire but for God Himself. So God appears to him in some form or other, human or non-human, to guide him as a guru in answer to his prayer.”
“He who has earned the grace of his guru will undoubtedly be saved and never forsaken, just as the prey that has fallen into the tiger’s jaw will never be allowed to escape.”
These words of Bhagawan Ramana Maharshi are a graphic summary of how Sri Sai Baba transformed Sri Kasinath Govind Upasani Sastry into Sadguru Upasani Maharaj, the famous saint of Sakori. The whole process of this spiritual alchemy is thus a spectacle of Sai Baba’s efficacy as a Sadguru, a witness to what he does to one who surrenders to him completely.
Upasani Baba Maharaj
Kasinath was born on 5th May, 1870 as the second of five sons in a Maharashtra family of priests famous for its piety and learning. He was backward in studies and the harshness of teachers created in him a permanent aversion for the school. Endowed with a sturdy physique, he appeared to have had a great disregard and detachment for his own body. As he grew up he was more and more attracted by the spiritual side of life and observed all the austerities enjoined by scriptures meticulously, sandhya, (twilight meditation), worship of Sri Rama and Maruthi, yoga asanas and breath-control , and reciting Vishnusahasranama. He often resorted to the burial ground for his devotional practices. At the same time Kasinath was painfully conscious of his uselessness to his family as a bread-earner and opposed all proposals of marriage. But his elders forcibly married him to a girl of eight, named Durgabai, in the hope that it would render Kasinath more responsible in his ways. Married life only further hurt his self-esteem. One morning he deserted his home, and reached Nasik, eighty miles from his home, on foot. But soon he regretted causing anxiety to his aged parents and so wrote home. Two months later, a letter alleging his mother’s illness brought him back.
Not long after, his wife died but soon he was forcibly remarried. He felt miserable and again left on his travels. Mostly he was in Pune where he lived by rendering menial service or begging. He often tried in vain to quench his hunger with water and margosa leaves and slept on bare earth. But all the while he sought the company of holy sadhus. Then one of these, a celebate sadhu, impressed upon him the merits of celibacy and devotion to Lord Siva. In one of his moods of depression, an old Marathi lady had taught him the verse which meant, “Maintain your life, even with water and other things, if needed. Love God and bear your lot. Be patient in misfortunes and spurn the smiles of fortune. Break the bonds of desire. (But) Never leave the company of saints.”
After sometime he made for his home town to Satana. On the way he saw in a dense wood, a hill with a cave, very difficult of access. He decided to enter the same and there fast unto death. He climbed a neighbouring tree and leapt from its branch into it.
The cave was four or five feet high, nine feet long and four feet broad. He devoted his time for the repetition of the Lord’s name. Soon he attained a high state of mystical trance, i.e.,samadhi. When he woke up from it he was surprised to see someone standing by and flaying him alive. His skin was coming off like the slough of a serpent. The shock of the vision had brought him to normal consciousness more fully and he found that there was no one there and his skin was intact. He experienced a keen thirst. His throat was too parched to cry for water and there was none to help him even if he did. His body was too stiff to move. Only his right forearm was free. He again fell into a trance state. Soon there were clouds and a heavy downpour. Water streamed near him in the cave, by the time he regained normal consciousness. With his right hand he slaked his limbs till they were restored to their natural condition.
Three days passed when he had a vivid vision: Thirsty, he was approaching a stream for water. Two figures, a Moslem and a Hindu, were by his side. They pulled off his old skin and displayed to him a shining body within and said, “Why do you want to die? We are behind you and we won’t let you die.”
He realized that fate would not let him die. Weak as he was, he crept to the edge of the cave, and moved along one of the branches of the banyan tree, swung himself by it and dropped down on his legs. Surprisingly enough, even this fall from such a height in such a weak condition of the body left him unhurt except for a small swelling and pain. He crawled for five hours to reach the huts of tribals two miles away. They fed him with milk and wild rice. When he was a bit strong, he sold fuel at Nasik and gave the money to the tribals. He returned home on 22nd of July, 1890 and learned that he was in deep samadhi state for many months on end.
Within three weeks of his arrival at home, his father died on 8th August,1890 and he performed the last rites. His grand-father was laid up and young Kasinath had to attend on him and this inspired him to take to the medical profession. His grand-father passed away in 1891, leaving his family in debts. They had to live henceforth by the generosity of late Sri Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak. At this time Kasinath’s second wife died and Kasinath left for Sangli to learn medicine and Sanskrit. Later he became a prosperous doctor in Amraoti but his spiritual discipline continued. He invested his savings on a huge estate which resulted in a total loss and he was constrained to return to Amraoti. But his practice did not revive and so he gave it up and set on, with his third wife, on pilgrimage.
The couple visited a temple of Gowri Shankar in the midst of a jungle on the banks of river Narmada and worshipped the omkaralinga there. Kasinath started practicing breath-control. Once he lost all consciousness and his wife was terrified. She revived him by splashing water on him, but his breathing could not be restored to normalcy. Even when he massaged certain muscles of his body, he could only breathe with difficulty. But off and on it used to be suspended, especially when he tried to sleep or eat. One visible effect of this trouble was that his belly grew big. He went to doctors in Nagpur and Dhulia in search of a remedy in vain. Finally he concluded that only a great yogi could cure him and started in search of one in April, 1911.
Yogi Kulkarni of Rahuri received Kasinath worshipfully and assured him that he had attained a great state in yoga practice and asked him to see aulia (a powerful Moslem saint) Sai Baba at Shirdi who is above distinctions of caste or creed. But the brahminic pride of Kasinath searched for a Hindu yogi instead. An old man met Kasinath on the road to Rahuri and told him, “Drink water as hot as your tongue can bear. Avoid cold water; and you will recover!” Kasinath brushed it aside and started on his trek to a Hindu Yogi, Phatak Maharaj at Moregaon. On the way, at Jejuri, he suddenly gave up all concern for his body and spent a week in samadhi in a lonely place. On the eighth day, when he made for a stream for drinking water, the old man that met him at Rahuri suddenly appeared before him and admonished him for neglecting his advice. He commanded him to take hot water in the nearby village and vanished as mysteriously as he had appeared. Amazed at the incident, Kasinath heeded the warning and, within three weeks his condition improved greatly. But fearing a possible relapse of the trouble he visited Sri Narayan Maharaj of Khedgaonbet, a famous saint. The Maharaj received Kasinath with honour and gave him betel to chew and told him that the later was ‘thouroughly lined with gold internally and externally’ (i.e., he attained a high state in yoga and he needed nothing). These words were too mystifying for Kasinath and so he revisited the Maharaj the next day. Again he was told that his business was already finished and that there was no need for him to visit the Maharaj again and again.
However, Kasinath, on his way home, visited Yogi Kulkarni again, who repeated his earlier direction. Accordingly, he reached Shirdi on 27th June, 1911. In a trice his complaint vanished! After two days he sought Baba’s permission to return home. Baba put him in a tight corner by asking him either to stay away at Shirdi for good, or to return there again after eight days. Kasinath was not prepared for either of the alternatives. Baba then declared, “Well, go if you like. I will see what I can do.”
Kasinath was mystified to see that during the next week, instead of rushing home, he had been slowly moving about within fourteen miles of Shirdi. On the eighth day, at Kopargaon, pilgrims to Shirdi pressed him to take them to Sai Baba and he did. On seeing him Sai Baba smiled and asked him how long it was since he (Kasinath) took leave; Kasinath humbly conceded that it was the eighth day! Sai then ordered him to go and stay in the building built for devotees there. Probably Baba’s powerful will had a subtle effect on Kasinath. For, contrary to all his plans, he did meekly obey Baba’s order.
In course of time, the experiences of various devotees of Sai Baba cultured faith and devotion in Kasinath. The finishing touch was however given by Baba on one day. Kasinath was sitting in the mosque along with other devotees. Sai then told the gathering, with a smile on his lips and glancing at Kasinath off and on, that once he saw a pregnant woman who did not deliver the child even after years of pregnancy; he later advised her to drink only hot water which will help her in an easy delivery. The lady ignored the advice and approached a stream for drinking water; Sai Baba, fearing that ‘she’ would unnecessarily ‘die’ along with all the infants in her belly, again approached her, admonished her to take hot water from the neighbouring village. So she did and so she got relief thenceforth.
Kasinath realized that it was, indeed, his story and the old man who advised him to drink hot water once at Rahuri and later at Jejuri was Sai Baba himself! He realized the truth of Sai Baba’s characteristic statement; “I will not allow my devotees to fall; night and day I think of them” and “I will never leave anyone in the middle”. To clear the remaining doubts in Kasinath’s mind, even while he was so wondering, Sai Baba addressed him thus; “There is rinanubandha (connection through former karma) between us. Our families have been closely connected for thousands of years. So we are one.” Tears of gratitude rolled from Kasinath’s eyes.
Once Sai Baba said, “Two birds lived on a tree on the verge of a well. One of them fell down and was about to be drowned. The second one jumped down and saved it, thought it nearly lost its own life in the effort.” This closely corresponds to what Baba said to Sri Upasani’s brother.
The latter visited Tapovanam at Rishikesh in 1898. There he met a sadhu who said, “There was a tree. Two persons went up. One fell down. The other went up!” When asked of the significance of his statement, the sadhu simply said, ‘You will know’. In 1912 Upasani’s brother visited Sai Baba at the mosque and Sai Baba literally repeated the same statement. Thereby Upasani’s brother realized that Sai Baba must have appeared before him at Rishikesh in the form of that sadhu, but he did nothing more to know the details of the incident of the two birds or two persons.
Kasinath stayed in the village shrine of Khandoba and kept alone most of the time. Sai Baba said, “He must sit quiet in the temple doing nothing.” He told Kasinath, “Have nothing to do with anybody. Your future is excellent. No other has such a future.”
In short, Sai Baba showed a marked favour to Kasinath and this made several of the devotees jealous. But the annoyance caused by the jealous devotees of Sai made Kasinath long to go away from Shirdi. He sought Sai’s permission through Shama again and again. But Baba always said that he had to ‘clear his account’ with Kasinath and did not permit him to go. He told the devotees, “Everything I have got has been completely given to him.” He also told Kasinath finally one day in 1911, “Hereafter you need not go to me frequently. Come to me only occasionally. You should not however, talk to me. Nor will I talk to you. After four years you will have the full grace of Lord Khandoba.”
Why did Baba say that Kasinath would win the grace of god Khandoba and not ‘my grace’? Baba always identified himself, spiritually, with the chosen deity of a devotee. During the early years of his wandering, Kasinath was impressed with devotion to Lord Siva and the ideal of total celebacy. So Baba had put it this way. Baba’s words imply that He is the supreme Self which answers the devotee or a seeker in the form he chose as the object of his devotion.
Kasinath still longed to return to his sweet wife and petitioned to Baba occasionally for his permission, but Baba somehow managed that it did not come off. In January, 1912 Kasinath’s third wife died and he was very much upset. Baba consoled him saying that he himself took care of the peace of her soul and added, “I am fully responsible for you.”
The period of four years was very eventful to Kasinath. It is punctuated with the bitterest tears and the sweetest joy. Once, for example, Sai said to Kasinath, “I shall be coming there (to the Khandoba temple), but if I go over there, will you recognize me?” Kasinath used to cook his own food, offer it first to Sai Baba and then partake of it. One day, a black dog followed him and craved for the food but Kasinath thought of feeding it only after offering it to Sai. On his arrival at the mosque Sai said, “Why come so far? I was there!” Kasinath could not understand it. Sai explained, “I sat there looking at you till you finished cooking.”
Kasinath said, “But there was none except a black dog!”
“Yes, I was that!” replied Sai Baba.
Kasinath decided not to repeat the error of not recognizing Baba when he visited him. But the next day he found a sudra (low caste) beggar staring at his broth yearningly as he cooked. Being caste conscious, Kasinath drove him away with harsh words. But when he brought the meals to Sai, the latter was furious and refused to accept the offering because he (in the form of the sudra) was driven away without food. The words of Sai, “Wherever you may look, I am there”, were deeply impressed on Kasinath’s heart. Henceforth he lived in a keener awareness of the omnipresence of his Guru God.
There were bitter times too. For instance Sai Baba took away all the money that Kasinath had brought with him demanding dakshina from him repeatedly. His clothes became rags in course of time, but Sai never allowed him to put on the new cloths which his brother had sent him. Baba was teaching him practically the significance of his own statement, “What man gives never lasts; what God gives never wears out.”
Kasinath sometimes experienced extreme aversion for food and he used to throw it away to dogs and other creatures. Sometimes he saw Sai Baba when the latter went out of the Dwaraka Mai on his daily rounds. Baba always assured him, “I am always with you, you need not fear anything. The more you suffer now, the more excellent and happy your future will be.” Pivoted on such trust in his
guru, he stopped eating altogether for one year during 1913-14. Strangely enough, though he was lean and without food, he was doing hard work like grinding or working in road-laying or ploughing fields! On a full moon day in July-August, 1913 Sai Baba indicated the nearing completion of his spiritual dispensation of Kasinath when he ordered his devotees to worship the latter in the temple even as Sai Baba was worshipped in the mosque.
The spiritual training Sai Baba gave to Kasinath was mainly through a number of significant visions which served in wiping out human fragilities like lust, greed, etc., from his heart. For instance, once Kasinath had a vision that he entered a house. Sai Baba who was seated inside beckoned to him with a view to whisper some instruction into the former’s ear. When he was about to do accordingly, a shabby counterpart of Kasinath himself pulled him away and asked him not to heed Sai’s words. After repeated warnings to the shabby figure Sai Baba beat him, took him to a stream and burnt him on a pyre. Then Sai returned and told him that the shabby figure was the personification of his (Kasinath’s) sins; “You are now free from sin. By our united effort much is to be accomplished. “You will yourself understand everything without any word from me.” Then Sai Baba’s guru prostrated before Kasinath to the latter’s amazement. Thus ended the vision, proclaiming the flowering of Kasinath into a full-fledged saint, Sri Upasani Baba Maharaj. Similarly, on another occasion, Sai Baba showed the glowing person of Upsani Maharaj’s spiritual glory to him. Upasani Maharaj then asked Sai, “If this figure is the form of my virtue and if the one you destroyed earlier was of my sins, who, indeed, am, I?” Sai said, “You are beyond these two; that which constitutes ‘me’ constitutes ‘you’. There is no difference between you and I.”
This transformation of Kasinath into Upasani Baba was not a mere subjective experience. His inner glory started revealing itself in a large number of miracles which his visitors had witnessed. Sitting in the temple, for instance, he would describe everything that happened at the mosque. He knew the innermost thoughts of all and their past, present and future. One Narahari from Nevasa visited Baba with a few others. But he did not bow to him as he seemed a Moslem fakir. Sai glared at him and he at once left the mosque. He learned that a Hindu Sadhu, Sri Upansani Baba, was at Khandoba temple and visited him. When he bowed to him, Sri Upasani Baba drew his feet back saying, accusingly, “Oh! You are a high caste Hindu and Sri Sai is a Moslem to whom you should not bow down! Then what have you got to do with me?” Narahari realized his folly. Sri Upasani and Sai Baba are one and the one knew what was happening to the other every minute!” In short, Sai Baba moulded Upasani Maharaj into his own likeness and once told him. “You must plant trees that will live for many centuries – from which people will derive benefit”, implying that thousands will spiritually benefit through him.
At the end of three years of his discipleship in July 1914, one night Sri Upasani Maharaj took silent leave of his Master and left for Nagpur. He later went to Kharagpur, Varanasi, Allahabad and other places where, crowds flocked to him. Countless miracles manifested themselves to his devotees. He visited Baba in the years 1915 and 1916 and, in 1917, he finally settled at Sakori, a hamlet a few miles from Shirdi. Sakori today is a great spiritual center. Sri Upasani attained maha samadhi on 24.12.1941. A big samsthan (or institution) has taken shape there to meet the needs of the seekers who go there for Light.
In the blossoming of Sri Upasani Baba we find the best demonstration and instance of the truth of Sai Baba’s promise to humanity. “This brahman shall lead lakhs of people to the subhra marga.”
The quickest and perhaps the only feasible way to do so is to make as many as possible of perfect saints of his own stature so that each would in his turn, become another center for a similar chain of spiritual evolution of mankind. While he established Upasani Maharaj as the luminary in the spiritual firmament, this off-shoot of Sai’s force, in his turn, established another powerful spiritual center in Sri Meher Baba.
There is prevalent, a misconception that when a Sai Baba has given away all his spiritual treasure to Upasani Maharaj or Upasani Maharaj to a Meher Baba, the giver himself loses all his spiritual power and becomes inferior to the receiver of it. This has created an unhealthy sense of rivalry between devotees of the Masters which is harmful to whatever spiritual seedlings have been planted in their hearts by their sadgurus. Nothing can be far from truth; for spiritual power increases by being given, in contrast to the material wealth which is lost by giving. The truth is that when a perfect master like Sai Baba makes another his equal, the two become one in spirit and the same Universal Power of God can be contacted through either of them. For instance, if a Hindu visitor to Dwaraka Mai has an inhibition that Sai Baba was a Moslem and so not worthy of worship, Upasani Maharaj, even while sitting in the Khandoba temple, feels the pinch of it and refuses to accept the worship from that devotee till he overcomes that inhibition and worships Sai Baba freely. The phenomenon operates the other way too. Sai Baba did order his devotees to go and worship Upasani Baba also in the Khandoba temple. “That which constitutes I, constitutes you. There is no difference between you and I”, said Sai Baba to Upasani.
Indeed this spiritual identity extends to all realized saints. Any devotion or disrespect shown to one of them amounts to doing the same to all others and to all their spiritual descendants.
We have a parallel anecdote in Islamic lore. God, after having created Man, commanded the angels to pay homage to him (Man). Many of them did so; for they know that in rendering obeisance to man they were obeying God’s order. Secondly it constitutes acceptance of the fact that God can make any of His creatures as great as He wants to, by His mere will. Some angels of course did not obey the Lord on the ground that Man was an inferior creature being made of clay, while they themselves were superior residents of heaven, and they were made of fire. These angels had to pay for disobeying Lord’s command. The homage paid to Upasani, if it is true homage, does not imply disregard for Sai Baba. Quite the contrary!
Merwan was the second son of Sheriarji, a devout Parsi. Sheriarji was a great seeker after Truth who wandered as recluse for eight years in Persia and for ten years in India. Having learnt in a dream that he was not destined to get what he wanted, he yielded to the persuasion of his sister and married Shirin Banu in 1879. His second son, Merwan was born in Pune on 25th of February 1894. Strangely enough, even as a boy Merwan was found sitting alone for hours in the Tower of Silence where the Zoroastrains leave their dead to be consumed by birds. At school he was an active boy, interested in sports and a keen lover of poetry and music and a good conversationalist.
One day in May 1913, Merwan was riding his bicycle when an old Moslem woman saint named Babajan beckoned to him and when he approached her, she embraced him and kissed him on the forehead, between the eyes.
Hazarat Babajan, as she was called, was a great Sufi saint. She fled from her home in Baluchistan to avoid marriage and led the life of a wandering ascetic in search of God. After some time, she met her master who made her perfect. She lived in the Punjab till about 1908 when
she moved on to Bombay. In the fullness of her realization she used to say that she was God for which some orthodox soldiers of the Baluchi regiment buried her alive as a heretic. Some years later the same soldiers found her very much alive by the side of a road in Pune. They bowed to her in amazement. This incident spread her fame far and wide.
Soon after his encounter with her, Merwan visited Hazrat Babajan everyday. One day, she said, of him to the other devotees, “This child of mine will one day cause a great awakening in the world and would do immense good to mankind”. No sooner did he return home than he began to experience strange ‘electric shocks’ all over his body and then became unconscious. For three days he was like that, speechless and not seeing anything even though his eyes were wide open. Later he slightly regained his consciousness. Change of residence or medical aid could not help him. But during the course of one year he recovered much and felt the need to find someone who could help him to gain complete recovery. An impulse to travel extensively added to this. Accordingly, he visited places and incidentally he also visited spiritual masters like Sri Narayan Maharaj of Khedgaonbet and Hazrat Tajuddin Baba of Nagpur. Later he visited Sri Sai Baba at Shirdi who directed him to Sri Upasani Maharaj.
At that time Sri Upasani Maharaj was at Shirdi and was passing through the climax of his spiritual progress
when he seemed a lunatic to common folk. In December 1915, when Merwan approached Sri Upasani, the latter grew furious, and flung a stone at him. The stone hit Merwan at the exact spot where Babajan had kissed him. This marked the second turning point in Merwan’s metamorphosis into Meher Baba. Merwan henceforth visited Upasani Maharaj off and on. Though as a normal lad he had to obey his mother’s demands that he should run a tea shop, his devotional life continued and even swallowed up the worldly occupation.
In 1921, he stayed with Sri Upasani Maharaj for six months. Most of the time Sri Upasani was alone with him and both were silent. Towards the end of the period, Upasani Maharaj declared to his devotees even as Sai Baba did “I have given my charge to Merwan. This boy will move the world. I have made Merwan perfect.”
The later life of Meher Baba was characterized by unbroken silence, his contacting a large number of god-intoxicated saints in various countries. Off and on he went into seclusion and fasted. He distinguished himself in his service of the lepers whom he bathed with his own hands and clothed. He met his guru Sri Upasani Maharaj again on 17th October 1941, prostrated before him and spent half an hour with him alone. This was their last meeting before Sri Upasani Maharaj left off his body on 24th December, 1941.
Meher Baba himself took mahasamadhi in 1968. He has a very large band of devotees. The words of Meher Baba relevant to this context are, “You will never be able to understand thoroughly how great Sai Baba is. He is the very personification of Perfection. If you know him as I know him, you would call him, the Master of Creation.”
Sri Sai Sharananandaji
Shri Sai Sharananandaji was an ardent devotee of Sai Baba and was immensely blessed by him. He is revered as a Satpurusha by a large number of people. The writer of this book had the good fortune of being blessed by him at Shirdi. He is indeed one of those rare souls who ever bask in the constant spiritual proximity of Baba. He is the author of the famous book ‘Sai the Superman’. An outline of his spiritual life and his experiences with Baba were summarized by him in his article entitled “The teachings of Shri Sainath” in the Souvenir published on the 50th Anniversary of Shri Sai Baba’s Mahasamadhi. I quote it in toto from it for the benefit of the readers:
“On the Datta Jayanti day of 1940 A.D., my father took me to Malad to pay respects to one Balkrishna Maharaj, a disciple of Sri Akkalkot Maharaj. My father had taken with him two books, Eknath Bhagawat and Life of Shri Akkalkot Maharaj for the holy touch and blessings of Balkrishnaji; the said Maharaj, instead of returning the book to my father as desired, handed over the books to me, asking me to read the same. My knowledge of Marathi was limited; so I could not understand Eknath Bhagawat but I read the Swamiji’s life without any difficulty. I then expressed my desire to see such a saint if such a rarity could be found. Some months after this my father heard of such a saint, Shri Sai Baba of Shirdi and went to Shirdi.
Till I attained the age of 18, I recognized the necessity of performing sandhya, panchayatan puja for me; but thereafter, I substituted in their place, reading of prayers and spiritual books. Thus I read Life of Shri Ramkrishna Paramhamsa, In Tune with the Infinite, Out from the Heart, Banyan’s Pilgrims’ Progress, Life of Swami Vivekananda and other books. About this time my professor of Philosophy introduced us to… Kant’s reality. He pointed out that it was beyond Time, Space and Causation… I asked myself, if as Kant propounded, the reality was formless, attributeless, how could it have assumed a human form for the purpose of saving its devotees and destroying its enemies as Shri Rama and Krishna have done? Are these puranas and other books, about the two incarnations mere legends? Professors and comrades and clever students could not satisfy me. My father therefore advised me to go to Shri Sai Baba for solving my difficulty. Soon after my final L.L.B. examinations on 10.12.1911, I left for Shirdi, reaching Kopargaon at the early dawn.
After ablutions in the Godavari (at Kopargaon), we started again and soon Shirdi was sighted. Shri Baba was seen coming with a leper, a water pot in hand. Our tonga stopped and we got down for darshan. As I prostrated myself before Baba, He said, “God does exist; why do you say He does not exist?” Then he asked me to move aside. This one sentence of his, on my first sight, inspired me with faith in him and I determined from that moment, “Come what may, I should, with Baba’s help, see Him face to face, talk to Him and consecrate my life to Him.” Shri Balabhau Chandorkar, brother to the well –known devotee of Baba, took me, to Baba for puja. I prostrated before Him, garlanded Him and offered prasad and some dakshina. Baba’s upadesh was only one worded, “daksha”(“Be Careful”).
On my waking from my noon nap, my memory went back to 1898 when I was studying Gujarati V standard at Kaira (in Gujarat) and when a fakir usually met me and cracked jokes at me, I felt that Baba’s face was exactly like his. So Baba was an old acquaintance of mine. I felt Shri Baba confirmed this impression when Shri Dikshit tried to introduce me to Baba. He stopped him from doing so by saying, ‘Don’t try to introduce him to me. I know him since he was a mouse-like infant.’ On my telling my mother (of it) she said, “Baba is right. A fakir had appeared and saved you by his holy ashes from a certain death when you were an infant.’
After about a week I obtained Baba’s leave to return home. Baba gave me a handful of udi, and I started, but Baba had so contrived things that on my reaching the Godavari, the bullocks of my cart ran back to Shirdi, and I was again there. Construing this as Baba’s wish that I should stay at Shirdi for some more days, I did so.
In July, 1912, I went to Shirdi for the Guru Purnima on the advice of Shri Dikshit. There, one night, Baba, appeared in my dream and said, ‘I love you very much’ and as if to confirm what he had stated in the dream, when I went to the chavadi for kakad arti, He gave me a smiling look.
Returning home and continuing the same daily routine of puja, (after) reading four chapters of Shri Das Ganu, one night Shri Baba appeared in my dream and said, “Go on chanting ‘horse, horse”. I wrote to Shri Dikshit at Shirdi about this and informed him of my interpretation of the same. At the same time I requested him to inform Baba of my interpretation and ask Him if it was correct. On knowing that Baba meant by ‘horse’ the same mantra, I started chanting it and lo! Within a few days Baba visually appeared to me everywhere in all beings, living and non-living.
I then started keeping term as an articled clerk to Jehangir Gulabhai& Bilimoria for a Solicitor’s test. Thirteen months after, with the Master’s permission I went to Shirdi but on the expiry of my vacation leave, Baba declined to permit me to return. I had to stay there for eleven months to get rid of T.B. symptoms which I had grown. On return, the solicitors insisted on putting in terms afresh. On petitioning to the High Court, the Chief Justice was pleased to order that only the residue of the term should be filled in by me.
During this period Shri Baba sent me to Radhakrishna Aayee. I could see that through her deep, intense love and complete dedication of body and mind to Baba’s service, she had acquired several siddhis, yogic powers, so many that anyone could be inclined to believe from his experience that all her utterances were Baba’s. She was very fond of Tukaram’s Abhang’ and ‘Gita Govind’. She showed me the easy posture for and the way of dhyana (meditation). She also drew my attention to the learned commentary of Eknath Maharaj on ‘Bhagwat’ (11.36) and rightly stated that it contained the complete summary of the whole of his book. She never failed to recommended me to Baba for His grace. She detested publicity.
As to my spiritual progress during this period, I started reading the Jnaneshwari. I was able to complete a reading through His grace. Then He asked me to read the same over and over again. I went through the whole of the Eknath ‘Bhagawat’. On reading the Vasishtha Gita, I felt inclined to start pranayama…but every time I started, Baba sent for me disallowing me to continue the same. I therefore dropped this altogether. On the morning of the Guru Purnima, when he was all alone I went to Him. He quoted Eknath “Not an iota of space is devoid of Me”, and immediately thereafter asked me to take udi and go away. The same day after arti, Shri Aayee called me and said, “Here is the prasad received from Baba for you” and so saying she took a mango, cut it into pieces and with them she gave me a few bajri bread pieces soaked in milk and asked me to do justice to the same. When I had finished doing so, she took up my cup and washing the same herself drank that wash.
It was during this period that I had served Baba as His errandboy for fetching dakshina from devotees he would name: He also was pleased to ask me to fetch from Shri Jog’s house His noon bhiksha and milk from another devotee for several days.
When I visited Shirdi in 1916, on the first night, I was at Radhakrisha Aayees’s for supper; while at it, she gave me a few handfuls of rice, pulse, bread, vegetables, each time numbering the elements of which each was composed.
She thus counted 45 to 50 such elements and said; “You must have such a thorough knowledge of them and not mere book knowledge.” My loss of appetite disappeared from that very night and I also regained my sleep by a mere touch of her right hand.
Though I asked Baba several times if I should continue my studies for a solicitor’s test, He always said “Yes”. He was not for my renunciation. So, continuing my studies I passed the solicitor’s test and practiced as such for sometime. My health, however, forced me to leave Bombay and take a quieter line. However, when all my near and dear relatives passed away leaving me alone with my wife and daughter, Baba Himself inspired my wife to ask me to fulfill my long-standing desire to renounce. Baba immediately arranged for the performance of the necessary ceremony at Dakore, of the donning Gerua (ochre) clothes. I felt that till Baba Himself gave me Mahavakyopadesh my renunciation was incomplete. So, six months later in January 1954, while I was at Talod, staying all alone in Shnakar’s temple, He arranged for supernatural Garba dance and immediately thereafter He opened my Upanishad and asked me to read where He had opened it. On reading it, I was convinced that the Mahavakyopadesh I wanted was there. He also named my guru and Param guru indicating thereby He was my Paratpar guru. Since then I have been feeling that Baba is always with me, ever ready to guide. He is directing me to take up proper activities avoiding the improper ones. Om Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!”
How closely Baba watches over the comfort and convenience of Shri Sharananandaji can be seen from a miracle that is narrated by Sri D. Manganlal Pourohit of Ahmednagar. In 1963, Sri Manganlal started on a pilgrimage to holy Kedarnath along with Sri SaiSharananandaji and Smt.Gouribahen.
The party was to proceed from Mathura to Hardwar by bus and it was necessary to reserve their seats in the bus three days in advance. If they could not reach Hardwar by 26th of June, 1963 they would have to cancel all their subsequent programmes. But they had no hope of securing seats in the bus just a few hours before departure time. Yet, as a last effort Sri Manganlal went to the bus stand at 8 p.m., and the bus had arrived. Sri Manganlal asked the conductor for tickets to Hardwar for the morning bus.
To the utter surprise of Sri Manganlal, the conductor spoke to him as familiarly as an old acquaintance and
said,“Are there a Swamiji and an old lady traveling with you?” and then issued him three tickets for Hardwar. He said, “At Aligarh, an old sadhu gave me these tickets and told me to deliver them to you; he said that you would be meeting me at this bus-stand at 8 p.m. i.e., now.”
Who could that old sadhu be? Shri Sai Sharananandaji was travelling. It could only be Sai Baba who assisted the party. This amply proves what Shri Sharananandaji said to me when we met him at Shirdi in 1976, “Sai Baba is always with me. I feel his presence and I even hear his words.”
During his very dynamic life of intense prayer and devotion, thousands of suffering people were afforded solace and succour by Swami Sai Sarannanadaji. The saga of his spiritual ministration came to a peaceful end in 1982.
If today the glory of Sai Baba has spread all over India, the sole agent of it is Baba himself. Still, the man chosen for the work is Sri B.V. Narasimhaswami.
Narasimha Iyer (born in 1874) was a famous lawyer in Salem. Of exceptional concern for human values, he realized how many poor families are reduced to misery through litigation. So he preferred to settle their disputes amicably and never accepted a suit which was not morally right. His integrity and leadership won him high positions of esteem and power. He devoted all his energies for the Indian freedom struggle that was led by Gandhiji. Yet he was assiduous in religious life, both personal and public.
In the year 1921, the sudden death of two his children by drowning, was a turning point in his life. Any other man would have turned a disillusioned athiest, under the impact. He renounced all worldly activity and set on his quest for a sadguru. He had his formal initiation from the Shankaracharya of Sringeri and took the vow of vanaprastha (retirement). He lived for some time in a cave in the presence of Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi when he composed his work Self Realization, the standard biography of the Maharshi.
Realizing that his heart was inclined more towards the path of devotion, he left for Pandharpur in 1932, with the blessings of the Maharshi. Worship of Lord Vithal and bhajan did not quench his yearning. He visited Sri Narayana Maharaj of Khedgaonbet, cryptically introduced himself as a dealer in precious stones, in search of the very best. The saint reflected a little and directed him westwards. Swamiji first lived with Sri Meher Baba for some time and then with Sri Upasani Baba. Then he heard of Sai Baba and reached Shidi in 1936. Even at the very sight of the Baba’s samadhi (tomb), he realized that he had contacted his Sadguru par excellence. He realized the truth of the words of Swami Ramadas, “A jivan mukta’s body is full of divine light, power and joy. Even after he sheds it, his power remains in every particle of the dust. They give out spiritual radiance.” He records, “I have surrendered my all to that living Chaitanya (Spirit).” Henceforth, it was Sai Spirit that lived in him and not he. Every breath, thought and act of his bore the fragrance of his devotion to the guru and perfumed our whole land. His tireless spirit sought out the devotees who lived with Baba, gathered their experiences and composed articles and books in different languages. In 1939, he established the All India Sai Samaj in Madras. He toured the length and breadth of the country establishing devotional groups everywhere.
On one of his later visits to Shirdi, when he was in deep meditation near Baba’s samadhi, a stranger gave him Rs.11,455/- for Baba’s work and disappeared in the crowd. The work grew and a fine Sai Mandir, a school, a free dispensary, the journel Sai Sudha, the vast Sai literature in diverse langages and the printing press are to be his material body to continue his work even today.
Innumerable were the miraculous cures Sri Narasimhaswami had effected and personal problems of devotees were solved through mere blessing. Let us note a few cases. Two devotees wished to see him the next morning. That night they saw a sadhu in red robes going past their place and followed him, but he mysteriously disappeared. Next morning, the Swamiji showed them a picture of Baba in red garments. The sadhu they had seen was, indeed, Sai Baba! Similarly, the famous Sai devotee of Andhra, late Sri B.V.Hanumantha Rao had a dream in which Baba told him to be his ‘official biographer’. The next day, when he met Sri Narsimhaswami, the latter requested him to translate all his Sai literature into Telugu which he did.
In spite of being such a perfect vehicle of Baba’s grace Swamiji never claimed to be anything more than a humble devotee. He never said, “I bless you!” but always said, “Baba bless you!” The magnificent saga of his earthly existence came to a peaceful end on October 19,1956. Yet his spirit is active.
“Once I had some problem in the Office which made me feel the absence of the Swamiji,” writes his devotee, “Next
morning, my wife told me that Swamiji appeared in her dream and said, ‘Why does O.V.K. think I am not here? I am here. He will get through the event successfully.”
Sri Radhakrisha Swamiji
The mantle of Sai Baba’s apostolic work next fell on late Sri Radhakrishna Swamiji from the hands of his guru, Sri B.V. Narasimhaswami. The second apostle was, even from his boyhood, very deeply religious. Nurtured in close contact with such spiritual stalwarts as H.H.Shankaracharya of Kanchi, he was initiated by Sri Narayan Maharaj of Khedgaonbet with the Dutta Mantra in 1927. He poured over the life histories of great saints and even contacted some, like Bhagawan Ramana and Seshadri Swamy. He met Narasimha Swami in 1942 but wondered how the latter despite living with a sage like Bhagawan Ramana could be drawn to Sai Baba whom he had never seen but finally surrendered to him and took as his life’s motive the propagation of Sai Baba’s teaching. Finally he founded the Sai spiritual center at Bangalore and ably attended to the maintenance of the All India Sai Samaj in Madras. Many were those drawn to Baba through his magnetic personality and profuse miraculous experiences. For instance, when he was busy in Pune, some people had seen him at Shirdi too. Many were those that were released of their suffering and ailments with his blessing. Yet like his guru, he never claimed to be anything more than a humble, devotee of Baba and a disciple of Sri Narasimha Swami.
After leading such a life of spiritual fullness, Sri Radhakrishan Swamiji attained Mahasamadhi on January 14,1980. The Sai spiritual center in Bangalore, with its newly installed statue of their immortal apostle is a standing memento to his invaluable services to mankind, a beacon light for many to follow.
Sri Kesavayya realized the spiritual excellence of Sai Baba in a short time, through his own experience, without studying any books. The grace of Sri Sai Baba having entered the heart of Sri Kesavayya, has been sanctifying the lives of thousands of people, affording material and spiritual comfort to them. Sri Sai Baba’s choice of an ordinary Government Employee as the fit recipient of his grace is not without sufficient reasons. In fact, the whole life of Sri Kesavayya amply proves that he deserved it.
Sri Kesavayya was born on 1st of July, 1899 as the second of four children of a Vaishnavaite couple, Sri Balaiah and Smt. Sanjeevamma who were devoted to Sri Rama. Young Kesavayya readily imbibed all that he heard, of the daily reading of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata and the Ramayana. The family lived at Pamidi on the banks of the sacred river Pennar. The place was sanctified by the austerities of several great saints in the long past and by the existence of several ancient temples that were established by them.
The day on which young Kesavayya was born happened to be a new-moon day. The traditional belief of the people was that such a one would become either a thief or a great yogi. Soothsayers and sadhus assured the agitated parents that their son was sure to blossom into a great saint. The passage of years held forth enough promise grounds for the parents. Even at an early age he used to spend hours together in rapt meditation in the temples. Such was the subterranean spring, so to stay, of young Kesavayya’s otherwise normal life.
Among his teachers at the middle school was one Mr. Lekklar who was strangely drawn to the boy. Young Kesavayya spent much of his time learning about Jesus Christ from his revered teacher. No wonder that at the tender age Kesavayya was blessed with as divine vision of Jesus the Christ. So too, there was a Moslem who was much attracted by young Kesavayya. He used to tell the boy about prophet Mohammad and his teachings. Shortly after, the boy had the vision of Prophet Mohammad too. Young Kesavayya was not much interested either in playing with other lads, gossip or even in running after sweets and other daintees. He was made of a different metal.
The boy was so advanced in his devotions that the gift of prophecy was already manifesting itself in him. Lekklar is said to have testified that the young boy prophesied the end of the British rule in India and the dawn of Indian Independence. At a time when the name of Congress was not known to the common-folk he prophecied that the Congress Party would rule India for a long time.
After completing his high school studies at Ananthapur, Kesavayya joined as a clerk in the District Registar’s Office at Anantapur in 1923, and within a year, he was married to a girl named Govindamma. In 1933 Sri Kesavayya was confirmed in the post of Sub-Regisitrar. As an official he had won the respect of everyone by his honesty and competence. He never uttered a lie nor did he ever accept bribes. He was known for his fearlessness. Yet he was kind and sympathetic in his duties towards the poor.
In 1918, on the holy day of Vijayadasami Sri Sai Baba shed his physical body. About the same time Sri Kesavayya and his mother Sanjeevamma were both laid up with illness. And on that day his mother passed away. Strangely enough there spread a rumour in the village that Sri Kesavayya had passed away. From that day onwards Sri Kesavayy’s health rapidly improved.
However, on his part sadhana (or spiritual discipline) was not conscious. He himself tells us, he felt no spiritual urge in him before the 1st of July 1939. He was as westernized in his dress, habits and ideas as any other young man of his age. He even questioned how God could be dwelling in stone idols and how offering of coconuts to them could be of any use. Was it not better, he asked, to use that money to help the poor instead?
The Call of God comes in the most unexpected of ways. In 1939, his elder daughter was seriously ill. Elders advised him to go on a pilgrimage. Accordingly, he started on his pilgrimage in the South from holy Rameswaram. His visit to the temple of Ramalingeswara proved flat in terms of spiritual experience though aesthetically he was much attracted by the sculpture and the architecture of the temple. Later he visited Srirangam, Madurai and Kanchi with no better result. Finally he visited the temple of Lord Subrahmanya at Palani which proved to be his Bodhi tree.
After worshipping the Lord with vibhuti (or sacred ash) Sri Kesvayya closed his eyes and bowed to the deity with great devotion. As he opened his eyes, in the place of the idol he saw a glorious, unearthly, light which thrilled his whole being and seemed to draw him most powerfully to itself. At the height of his ecstasy he lost all consciousness for a time. When he regained his normal consciousness for a time he felt extremely weak. When he later revisited Rameswaram, the sight of the idol of Lord Ramalingeswara moved him to ecstasy. He thus realized that the idols in temples are not mere stones but are the manifestations of the Lord Himself. The two mystic experiences opened up the springs of mystic power that lay dormant in him. Henceforth, whenever he looked at any one he could clearly ‘see’ everything about the person’s past, present and future. And he could hardly restrain himself from speaking out what he saw. If he foresaw any impending misfortunes in store for the other person, he could even avert them.
By May 1939 Sri Kesavayya concluded his pilgrimage and returned to Dharamavaram. In about a month’s time Sri Sai Baba graced Kesavayya with his darshan (or vision).
Sri Kesavayya first heard of Sri Sai Baba from the famous lawyer at Anantapur, Sri M.Malli Reddy. The latter often visited Dharmavarm where Sri Kesavayya was working and the two used to meet often.
Sri Kesavayya’s intolerance of any trace of corruption in his office exposed him to the hostility of his fellow-employees; and when he met Sri M. Malli Reddy, he often gave vent to his vexations. Though the lawyer from Anantapur was a devotee of Sri Sai Baba for long and though he was acquainted with Sri Kesavayya since 1930,
it never occurred to him to mention the great saint’s name or glory to his friend. Everything has its own ripe moment.
In 1939, one day Sri Kesavyya accompanied Sri Malli Reddy to the railway station to see him off and was pouring out his countless vexations till almost the train started. The latter who, till then remained a helpless listener suddenly had a flash of an idea and said, “Mr.Kesavayya, your are suffering too much; why not resort to the worship of Sri Sai Baba?” The train moved leaving no time for him to say anything more. In those days Sri Sai Baba’s greatness was not so well known and Sri Kesavayya himself had never heard of him earlier.
But ever since he heard the name of Baba he went on thinking who that Baba was. He and his wife decided to worship Baba’s picture. That night Sai Baba appeared in his dream for a few minutes. The next day when he was still thinking of writing for a picture of Baba, he received a copy of it from the Sai Samsthana at Shirdi! And after two days he received a packet of udi too. How could the Samsthan know about Sri Kesavayya and his address? How could they send him the picture and udi? Undoubtedly it was one of Baba’s miracles. It was too short a time for Sri Malli Reddy to have written to the Samsthan on his behalf.
The next day, when he was putting on his usual western dress Kesavayya heard a mysterious voice, “Why all this show for you?” This effected a strange transformation in him and he at once changed over to the use of the dhoti. All his colleagues wondered at the transformation of Sri Kesavayya.
About this time he again met Sri Malli Reddy who was pleasantly surprised to hear about his dream experience. He said, “You are blessed indeed! Not every one can have the darshan of Baba even in a dream. Undoubtedly you must have been his devotee in your previous life.” Henceforth Sri Kesavayya started worshipping Baba. Within a short time all his troubles vanished like mist in sunlight.
As days passed devotees started flocking to Sri Kesavayya for succour, and Baba’s grace reached them through him. Nearly seven years after his miraculous experience, Sri Kesavayya began sharing the illness of his devotees in curing them. In 1948 he had an attack of tuberculosis. On 10th of June he came to Madras for treatment and stayed there for good. Inspite of his illness he went on curing the sick with the udi of Sai Baba. Doctors examined him and found that his left lung was completely useless and there were no indications of any possible cure. Sri Kesavayya himself gave up hope of his recovery at one stage and made all arrangements for the subsistence of his family after his impending demise. Having centered his mind firmly on Baba he lay on his bed calmly, looking at the guru’s picture.
On 29th of April 1949, at about 11.30, Sri Kesavayya clearly saw the attendants of Death entering his room. Unpertrubed, he said to them mentally, “You may take me away after securing the permission of Sai Baba!” At once Baba appeared before him and drove them out. The very next moment loud wailing was heard from the neighbouring house. An ailing person in that house had passed away! Sri Kesavayya’s condition rapidly improved. Dr. Veera Reddy who lovingly attended on Sri Kesavayya had remarkable experience regarding the latter’s powers of prophecy and soon became one of his intimate devotees.
Many were the mystic visions of Baba with which Sri Kesavayya was blessed. In one of these, Sai Baba gave him holy water and in another, Baba blessed him by keeping his hands on Sri Kesavayya’s head. Baba often indicated coming dangers to him and helped him in tiding the crises.
There were other remarkable experiences too. When he visited Shirdi in 1943 he had a wish to go to Pandharpur. He took lots with the help of chits to know Baba’s direction in the matter. As the response was in the affirmative he proceeded on his journey. A stranger met him at Dhond and accompanied him to Pandharpur and took him to a choultry in a tonga. He even paid for the conveyance! After making all the necessary arrangements, he said to Sri Kesavayya, “Whenever you think of me I shall come to you.” And he went along. Who could he be?
Today, as a monument of Baba’s grace a magnificent Sai Temple has taken shape at Shenoynagar in Madras. Sri Kesavayya inaugurated The Sai Mandir at Vidya nagar on March 12, 1981 and later attained mahasamadhi on 7th August, 1981.
There are many more of the offshoots of Baba which bear testimony to the fact that Baba is a living spiritual force, ready to alchemize every heart that opens itself to him. The more fortunate of these guard against the snares of craving for fame and wealth but there are some who succumb to such. Baba had already sounded the caution in his parable of the mango-tree in blossom. Many fall off and very few reach the state of fruition.