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PART IV – SECOND AVATAR: SHRI NARASIMHA SARASWATI
SHRI NARASIMHA SARASWATI
CONTENTS: BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE / RENUNCIATION (SANYASA) / WANDERINGS TOWARDS SOUTH / IN OUDUMBAR / IN NRISIMHAPUR OR NARSOBAWADI / IN GANAGAPUR / HELPING THE DEVOTEES / PRELUDE TO SAMADHI / CALENDER OF EVENTS / A COMMENTARY / BIBLIOGRAPHY
Shri Narasimha Saraswati (1378-1458 A.D.) was born at a place called Lad Karanja in the Akola District in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Karanja station lies on the Murtijapur-Yavatamal section of the railway. This place was identified as Shri Narasimha Saraswati’s birthplace by Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati (Tembeswami) during his visit. He felt the presence of Shri Narasimha Saraswati in one of the castles (Wada) there, which was later confirmed by a vision. A temple called Gurumandir has been built there and is active in religious and social welfare activities in the North Maharashtra (Vidarbha) region in the past 70 years.
In the Gurucharitra Saraswati Gangadhar has used the character of Siddha said to be a yogi disciple of Shri Narasimha Saraswati to narrate the life story of Shripad Shrivallabha and Shri Narasimha Saraswati to an aspirant devotee Namadharak who is no other than Saraswati Gangadhar himself. (People who begot children by the grace of Shri Narasimha Saraswati used to name them after him. Namdharak means "holder of the name of the Guru").
His Birth Ambica, the woman who had received the boon from Shripad Shrivallabh that she would conceive a great son in the next birth, was reborn as Ambabhavani in a Brahmin family at Lad Karanja. She was given in marriage to Madhava, a Brahmin and a devotee of Shiva living in the same village. By the traits carried from earlier birth Ambabhavani continued her Shanipradosha vrata. In the course of time she gave birth to a son who instead of crying uttered the sound Aum at birth. Astrologers predicted that the boy would grow to be a great person, a celibate sanyasi and a Guru to the world. The boy was officially named Shaligramdeo but was called in practice by the name Narahari. Up to the age of seven the boy did not speak a word except Aum. The parents were worried about his future and how to perform the thread ceremony mandatory for Brahmin boys.
One day the boy communicated by signs that he would speak after the thread ceremony and brought a small iron cup which he had turned into gold by his touch. The parents realized that the boy was an avatar and had divine powers. They arranged his thread ceremony on a grand scale for which the entire village was invited. Everybody was wondering how the boy's father would teach Gayatri Mantra to the dumb boy. But after the father told him the Mantra in his ear and as part of the ritual, it was time to ask for alms from the mother, when the boy surprised everybody by singing the first hymn from Rigveda in a clear voice. Then he sang hymns from Yajurveda and Samaveda also confirming that the boy was an avatar.
The boy begged to his parents that he should be allowed to go away on a pilgrimage. The parents were very sad hearing this and told him that they had hoped he would be their support in their old age. His mother also argued that “It is proper that a man must pass through the four stages of life namely, Childhood, Celibacy, family life and old age (to be spent in forests) and sanyasa should be adopted only after enjoying the family life.
Advice to his Mother On this the boy gave his mother a sound philosophical advice as follows: “This body is a temporary affair, and passage of every day brings one nearer to his death. Like fish in a small pond which some day is going to become dry people live in a carefree manner not bothering about what would happen to them after death. Age eats away the lifespan therefore the wise should accumulate good karmas from young age itself. One must spend every day accumulating good karmas. Every day lost without them is a wasted day. The god of death Yama has no compassion, therefore one must continue doing good actions. ”
To console her he gave a boon that she would beget three sons and also a daughter. His mother agreed to let him go on the condition that he should stay until the first son was born.
So Narahari remained at home and taught Vedas and Shastras to even older seekers of knowledge who wondered at this prodigy. His parents worshipped him as if he was a family deity. About nine months later his mother gave birth to beautiful twin boys. After the twins were three months old Narahari, then only eight years of age, left the home for going to the Badri forest, promising his parents they would get two more sons and a daughter. He promised to visit them thirty years later. The whole village accompanied his parents to bid goodbye to the young boy, the small aspirant. Before parting he reminded his mother of her earlier birth and gave her a vision of Shri Dattatreya and gave them assurance that whenever they remember him he would be there with them.
In Varanasi Before going to the Badri forest Narahari went to Varanasi where he spent his time practicing yoga and meditation. People used to wonder at this small boy bathing in the Ganges at Manikarnika Ghat thrice daily and spending his time in yogic practices and austerities. One old sanyasi by name Krishna Saraswati, who had attained Self-realization, was attracted towards this boy and requested him to be initiated as a sanyasi (renunciate) so that he could be empowered later to initiate and guide other aspirants in the spiritual path. Krishna Saraswati was the thirteenth in the lineage of Adi Shankaracharya belonging to the Shringeri branch. Narahari was named Narasimha Saraswati after renunciation and becoming a sanyasi. He stayed for some time in Varanasi and became well-known for his teaching of the Vedas and Shastras to eager students.
To Badri From Varanasi Shri Narasimha Saraswati went north to Badri forest with his disciples. From there he came to the Ganges near Calcutta, and travelling along the shores reached Prayag. There he initiated a very intelligent and devoted disciple called Madhava and named him Madhava Saraswati. He stayed in Prayag for some time and initiated many very good disciples out of which the main seven were Bal, Krishna, Upendra, Madhav, Sadanand, Dnyanjyoti, and the seventh was a siddha (a yogi with occult powers) who later met and narrated the stories about Shri Guru (as we shall call him now) to Saraswati Gangadhar, author of the Gurucharitra.
Visits parents From Prayag Shri Guru went towards the south. After thirty years of wandering Shri Guru returned to his place of birth and met his family (his parents and his brothers and sister Ratnai) as promised. By now people fully realized that they were meeting an avatar of Shri Dattatreya. Everybody in the town invited him for alms. He did not refuse anybody and satisfied their desire by going to their homes at the same time taking many self-forms by his yogic powers. When his parents prayed that they should obtain liberation he explained that when a person adopts sanyasa his forty-two generations become liberated. He added that in final years they will live in Varanasi where death gives liberation.
When his sister Ratnai prayed to him for guidance he advised that serving one’s husband is the best spiritual path for women but foresaw by his divine powers that due to past bad karmas like setting quarrels among neighbouring couples and kicking a cow her husband will be a renunciate in later years and she would get afflicted by leucoderma. He asked her to meet him at Papanashana Tirtha at Ganagapur when this happens. (Note: Leucoderma used to be considered as a contagious disease in those days. The term Kushtaroga is used loosely both for leucoderma as well as leprosy.)
From Karanja he came to Triambakeshwar (near Nasik) where he did pilgrimage along the banks of the river Godavari. During this pilgrimage he came to Manjarica where he met a Brahmin named Madhavaranya, who was a devotee of Shri Narasimha (the fourth avatar of Vishnu with lion head and human body). Madhavaranya used to mentally create His form and perform mental worship (Manaspuja). When he saw Shri Guru he saw in him the mental form of Shri Narasimha and immediately surrendered to Shri Guru and became his disciple.
Cured Brahmin’s colic Shri Guru then came to a place of pilgrimage called Vasarabrahmeshwar also along Godavari. While taking bath in the river he saw a Brahmin trying to commit suicide and stopped him from committing this unpardonable sin. The Brahmin told Shri Guru that he was suffering from intolerable colic whenever he ate. He ate only once in a fortnight or even once a month out of this fear. He had eaten the previous day and was suffering with intolerable colic. Shri Guru promised him a cure. At that time the village official came there and made his obeisance to Shri Guru. He was a Brahmin named Sayandeo serving as local village chief for his livelihood under the Muslim ruler. Shri Guru instructed him to take the colic afflicted Brahmin and feed him sweets and fried food which would cure him of his colic. Sayandeo promised to do as instructed and requested Shri Guru also to come for meals the next day along with his disciples. Next day, Sayandeo and his wife Jakhai worshipped Shri Guru and his disciples, and served food to all including the colic afflicted Brahmin. The Brahmin was instantly free of his disease and went away happy. Shri Guru noted the deep devotion of Sayandeo and gave him the boon that there would be in his lineage many devotees of Shri Guru. It is the great-great-grandson of this Sayandeo that has composed the Gurucharitra.
Sayandeo saved from Muslim ruler Sayandeo praised Shri Guru as being Trimurti himself and prayed that he was serving the Muslim ruler who is notorious for killing Brahmins every year. The ruler has ordered to meet him the next day and was surely going to kill him. Shri Guru assured him that nothing would happen and asked him to visit the ruler without worrying. When the ruler saw Sayandeo he first became angry but Shri Guru frightened the ruler through a vision and thus Sayandeo was sent back with honours and gifts. (Historically, this Muslim ruler was Ahamadshah I, king of Bedar from Bahamani dynasty). Shri Guru then went south asking Sayandeo, who wanted to accompany him, to go back and lead a good family life. He promised that they would meet fifteen years later when he would be staying very near his village.
At Vaijnath Shri Guru then came to Vaijanath (Parli Vaijanath is in Marathwada and is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga places) with his disciples. Due to his growing fame many people came to him to become his disciples but most of them had worldly gains in mind. Shri Guru one day called all his disciples and asked them to go on pilgrimage. He gave them detailed instructions on the important places of pilgrimage and rivers which they should visit and asked them to meet him again at Shri Shailam. He then stayed incognito at Vaijanath for one year. (Only the Siddha remained with him throughout his journeys.) While at Vaijanath a Sanyasi came to him requesting to be accepted as a disciple. When asked how he became a sanyasi without a guru, he wept and told that he did have a guru but he had become disgruntled with him and had left hm. His complaint was that his guru gave him improper tasks which he did not like to do. This displeased his guru who said that he had not yet achieved a steadiness of mind. Because of this his guru did not tutor him in Shastras etc., hence he had come to Shri Guru seeking his guidance.
Shri Guru advised him that what he had done was like cutting one’s own nose to create a bad omen for others and was like defiling a holy place. One should never leave one's guru and illustrated his point through the story of Dhoumya Muni and his three disciples who were tested for complete devotion and surrender to their guru who assigned them difficult household tasks. Only after they passed the tests did Dhoumya Muni send them away with blessings to become famous later. The Sanyasi realized his mistake and sincerely repented. Noting his repentance Shri Guru graced him with knowledge and the Sanyasi returned to his guru. This is a lesson in the importance of guru-devotion in the spiritual path.
At Bhilawadi From Vaijanath Shri Guru came to Bhilawadi, a village on the banks of the river Krishna, about thirty kilometres from the city of Sangli. (This is the place from which Pune gets a major part of the milk supply now.) There is a famous temple of the goddess Bhuvaneshwari in Bhilwadi. Shri Guru used to live on the opposite (right) bank under an Oudumbar tree (a tree of fig family). A dull Brahmin boy from Kolhapur was praying to the goddess for boon of intelligence and when prayers failed he cut and offered his tongue at her feet. She instructed in a vision that he should meet the powerful yogi staying under the Oudumbar tree across the river. He did so and out of compassion Shri Guru put his benevolent hand on the youth's head and immediately he not only regained his tongue but became learned in Vedas and Shastras immediately. Shri Guru stayed in Bhilawadi for some time quietly, but how can such an effulgent personality remain hidden? His fame spread there too, and after spending the four monsoon months there he decided to leave Bhilawadi. The place where Shri Guru lived under the Oudumbar tree is itself now called Oudumbar and the Paduka (sandals) of Shri Guru are installed there. These Paduka are worshipped by those who have a spiritual goal in mind.
Shri Guru comes to Amarapur From Bhilwadi Shri Guru came to Amarapur (now known as Ourawad) near the confluence of the rivers Panchaganga and Krishna, near the Shirol village and very near the erstwhile state of Kurundwad. There is a temple of Amareshwar (Shiva) here where the sixty-four yoginis also reside and it is a centre of spiritual power. There are a number of holy spots around this place. Shri Guru made his camp on the other bank under an Oudumbar tree. He used to go occasionally for alms to Amareshwar. There was a poor but dedicated Brahmin of excellent character in Amarapur to whose house Shri Guru used to go for alms. The Brahmin had a creeper of beans in his front yard. The Brahmin used the beans for his subsistence whenever he could not get sufficient alms. One day Shri Guru told the Brahmin that his days of poverty were over and while returning after taking alms from the Brahmin’s house chopped off the creeper. His wife was struck with grief at the loss of a source of their food but the Brahmin was a stoic who said that the all-pervading God had made arrangements for subsistence of all creatures from a small ant to an elephant before creating them. Whatever happens is the result of our past karmas, therefore one should not unnecessarily feel grieved and blame others. He then dug the root of the creeper to throw it away and found a pot of gold coins buried there. Both happily went to Shri Guru and sang his praises. He gave them his blessings and warned them not to reveal their gain to anybody.
Sixty-four yoginis While Shri Guru lived at Amareshwar the sixty-four yoginis used to come to him at noontime and devoutly take him to their residence inside the river for worship and meals. The Brahmins in the village used to wonder how the yogi survived without alms as he did not usually go asking for them anywhere. They tried to keep a watch without results.
But once a boatman tending to his boat near the riverbank saw the sixty-four yoginis visiting Shri Guru and unobtrusively joined the group. When his presence was discovered and he was asked why he had come there the farmer told Shri Guru that he had casually come to see him and praised Shri Guru as being Lord Shiva himself with whose help one can cross this river of worldly existence to get liberated. Shri Guru, pleased at the devotion told him that his days of poverty were over but the day he revealed what he has witnessed he would die. The boatman became a devout disciple. He used to serve Shri Guru daily and one day Shri Guru graced him by taking him to Varanasi, Gaya and Prayag by his yogic powers.
Revives a dead child During his stay a Brahmin woman from the village Shirol, about ten kilometres away (a large sugar factory has been working at Shirol for some years) came to Shri Guru. She was being tortured by the spirit of a Brahmin whom, in a previous birth, she had owed money before his death. He used to cause her children to be stillborn. Local Brahmins had suggested to her to perform atonement rites to propitiate the spirit but she did not have enough money therefore she surrendered to Shri Guru who liberated the Brahmin from the spirit world. Blessed by Shri Guru the woman then conceived two boys.
Advice to child’s mother At the time of the thread ceremony the younger boy died of tetanus. The woman was mad with grief and would not permit the body to be cremated. At that time Shri Guru came in the form of a Sanyasi and gave her sound advice which is worth knowing. He said, "Do not grieve out of ignorance. Who has remained permanently in this world? Who was it that died and who is it that is born? Wherefrom was it created? The whole process is like bubbles appearing momentarily on water. The body is formed when the five principles (earth, water, wind, fire and sky) come together and vanishes when they separate. The attributes of the five principles using the bonds of love create delusion and call that body as son, friend, wife etc. The sense organs are influenced by the three attributes Sattva, Raja and Tama and the actions are done accordingly. But the doer of the actions has to bear the responsibility for them. In this world all creatures are born according to their karmas and live in happiness or in sorrow according to their karmas. Nobody is free from the justice of the karmas. Man is dependent on the body which is controlled by death. Therefore a person as long as he has the body cannot claim to be independent. A wise person should not rejoice birth nor grieve death.
Conception occurs when the formless Brahman assumes a form which later becomes again formless after death. Body is like a bubble. Right from conception it is known as destructible. Body has to suffer as per one's karmas. Some die young, some in old age according to their karmas. Nobody has conquered death and karmas. Because of Maya people think that a particular person is father, son, mother, wife, friend etc. One cannot even call this body clean because its creation is accompanied with despicable substances like blood, flesh, faeces and urine.
As soon as one is born, his fate is inscribed inside his forehead and that decides which karmas he should enjoy and suffer in this birth. Nobody has conquered death and karmas and the body is not permanent. Shri Guru asked, “You yourself have taken birth many times as human, animal, bird and worms. When you were a human being, whose mother were you? Whose wife were you? Tell me that. Who were your parents in earlier lives? Why are you unnecessarily crying for your son? Which son and whose death? Why are you unnecessarily crying by delusion?"
All this advice of course did not have any effect on the mother who asked a cryptic question, “If you say fate is superior then why should we be devoted to God? Just as we go to the doctor when a person is ill we approach God and our Guru for their compassion.” The great Guru finally had to perform the miracle of reviving the child.
Narasobawadi Shri Guru now decided to leave Amarapur. He had lived at Amarapur for twelve years. He left his Paduka under the Oudumbar tree for worship instructing the sixty-four yoginis that they should make it their abode also. The place is now known as Nrisimhapur or Narasobawadi and is a place of pilgrimage for all devotees belonging to the Dattatreya tradition. The Paduka installed there are worshipped daily with regular rituals. This place is easily approachable from Sangli, Miraj, and Kolhapur. The Paduka are called Manohar Paduka and are worshipped for fulfilling worldly desires in contrast with the Paduka at Oudumbar which are worshipped with spiritual desire.
Importance of Oudumbar tree One may well ask why Shri Guru prefers Oudumbar tree for residence. A mythological legend is told (in Gurucharitra) that when Vishnu took avatar of Narasimha and killed the demon Hiranyakashipu, (father of Vishnu's great devotee Prahlada) by tearing out his intestines with bare hands, the poison in the intestines caused inflammation to the fingers. Laxmi, consort of Vishnu brought fruits of Oudumbar tree and asked that the nails be inserted into the fruits. This caused the inflammation to subside immediately. Oudumbar tree is a peculiar tree of fig family which gets fruits without flowers. It is a medicinal tree and its extract, commercially available, is used in Ayurveda internally after children recover from an attack of chickenpox or measles to detoxify the body and regulate the disturbed system.
From Amarapur Shri Guru went to Ganagapur near the confluence (Sangam) of the river Bhima with river Amarja. Shri Guru camped at Sangam about three kilometres from the village Ganagapur without letting anybody know who he was.
Barren buffalo gives milk There were about hundred Brahmin families in Ganagapur. One very poor Brahmin used to live on alms supplemented by hiring out an old barren she-buffalo for carrying salty soil. Shri Guru used to go to this poor Brahmin’s house for alms in preference to the other rich families who used to wonder why he went to that poor Brahmin depriving himself of the good food they would have given. One day, the buffalo had not been hired and the Brahmin himself had not yet returned from his round for alms in the village when Shri Guru went to his house. He was welcomed by the Brahmin’s wife. She offered him a seat and requested him to wait until her husband returned with good food. Shri Guru asked her smilingly why she was saying there was no food when she could have served him milk since they had a buffalo. She politely told that the buffalo was barren, had never given milk and they were treating it like a he-buffalo hiring it out for carrying earth. But Shri Guru told her that she was bluffing and should immediately go and milk the buffalo. She developed a kind of faith on hearing these words. She took a vessel to milk the buffalo as suggested and was surprised to find that the buffalo really gave two vesselfuls of milk. Happy, the woman realized that her visitor was a Godly person. She warmed the milk and cooled it hurriedly because Shri Guru was in a hurry to go back. Shri Guru drank the milk with pleasure and blessed her saying her house would ever be full of wealth and they would live happily with their sons and grandsons. Shri Guru then went back to Sangam. When the Brahmin returned home he learnt about the miracle. He realized that Shri Guru must be an avatar. They then went to Sangam with Arati and worshipped Shri Guru who again blessed them.
Invitation to Ganagapur Next day when people came to hire the buffalo the Brahmin refused to give it on hire saying that the buffalo was now giving milk. This surprised everybody and the story reached the ears of the local ruler who inquired and learnt that a great Sanyasi had come and was living at Sangam and it was he who was responsible for the miracle. He went to Shri Guru with a decorated palanquin all with fanfare and music. On meeting Shri Guru he prostrated before him and praising him profusely begged of him to come and bless the village of Ganagapur by making it his place of abode. Realizing that time had come to give up living incognito he agreed and was taken in a procession to Ganagapur with great pomp.
A Brahmarakshasa is liberated On entering the village he came near a deserted house with an Ashwattha (pipul or ficus religiosa) tree near it. The tree was the abode of a Brahmarakshasa (a terrible type of spirit) who used to live by eating all creatures including people. The house was therefore deserted. When Shri Guru reached there the Brahmarakshasa came down, touched his feet and requested that he should be liberated. Shri Guru asked him to go to Sangam immediately and take bath there. He would then be liberated and there would not be any more rebirths. Thus the Brahmarakshasa was liberated and Shri Guru decided to make that house his Math (headquarters of a saint).
Trivikram Bharati In the early days of his stay in Ganagapur he acquiesced to the request of the local ruler for going to Sangam and back under pomp and show. There was a sanyasi named Trivikram Bharati in the nearby village of Kumasi who criticized that a sanyasi like Shri Guru should indulge in pomp and show and called him a hypocrite. Shri Guru visited him and gave him the vision of Narasimha, the deity Trivikram worshipped. Trivikram surrendered to Shri Guru and became his disciple.
Egotistic Brahmins humbled In a kingdom called Vidura there was a cruel Muslim king who used to hate Brahmins. He declared that he would give money to those Brahmins who would come and recite Vedas to him. (In those days all except Brahmins were prohibited from reading or studying Vedas.)
He used to ridicule them about their committing violence by killing sacrificial animals during yajna at the same time criticizing Muslims for similar killings. Wise Brahmins pretended not to know Vedas and avoided reciting Vedas against the code of Smriti to a Muslim but some greedy Brahmins did go. One day a pair of Brahmins came to the king saying that they knew the three Vedas and challenged everybody for a debate on Vedas. They bragged before the king about their knowledge who permitted them to go around in his kingdom and hold debate on the Vedas with whoever wanted to do so. Accordingly they went around and as most of the people did not want to debate with them, collected certificates of victory from them. Ultimately they reached Kumsi where they challenged Trivikram Bharati for debate. Trivikram Bharati refused to debate or to give them the certificate. Instead, to teach them a lesson he took them to Shri Guru who advised them in vain against their egotist pride. They repeated their challenge to Shri Guru who enumerated the contents of the four Vedas explaining how it was impossible for a single person to learn all the Vedas. He warned them not to risk their lives by challenging to the debate. But the Brahmins were adamant.
Chandala elevated to a learned Brahmin Shri Guru then called a passer-by who happened to be a Chandala i.e. an untouchable person of lowest category as understood in those days. Shri Guru asked one of his disciples to draw seven lines. He then asked the Chandala to cross the first line and asked who he was. As soon as he crossed the line he remembered his previous birth as a kirat (a bird trapper) and his name was Vanarakha. Every line he crossed brought to him the memory of his still earlier birth until when the seventh line was crossed he said his name was Adhyapak and he was a high caste Brahmin. Shri Guru sprinkled ashes on him and asked him to debate with the two Brahmin. The Brahmins were now shivering with fright at this miracle. They praised Shri Guru and begged his pardon but he said that having committed a grave sin they shall have to spend twelve years as Brahmarakshas; but since they had repented they would be relieved after only twelve years.
In the discourse that followed Shri Guru told of various sins that cause rebirth in lower castes or even as animals and narrated the rituals for the atonement of various types of sins.
The Chandala who still had the Brahmin’s characteristics begged of Shri Guru to allow him to continue as a Brahmin but Shri Guru refused because his body was still that of a Chandala. He gave the example of Rishi Vishwamitra who was initially a Kshatriya and was considered a Brahmarishi only after he had purified his body. He described what kind of behaviour leads to rebirth as a Chandala and about various other sinful behaviours which cause rebirth in painful situations. He also told about various atonements for different types of sins as given in the Smritis. Realizing that the Chandala was still under the influence of the power of the holy ashes he arranged that the Chandala should be washed. That brought him back to his usual self and he went home with his wife and children who had come in search of him. Shri Guru then explained to Trivikram Bharati who was wondering how the Chandala regained his original state after washing, that it was due to the application of holy ash to the body that the Chandala became purified but regained his old state once the ash was washed.
Shri Guru then explained the importance of application of holy ash through the story of Rishi Vamadeo and Brahmarakshasa. In this story Shiva and Parvati are described in detail and procedure for applying the ash is described.
Shri Guru’s fame as a great yogi and saint spread far and wide. Thousands of people began to visit Ganagapur with their problems. Shri Guru helped mitigate problems of thousands of people who came and prayed to him by his yogic powers. Shri Guru lived in Ganagapur for nearly twenty-four years. His stay in Ganagapur is full of miraculous blessings to his disciples whose number was increasing day by day. A few of the instances described in Gurucharitra are given in the following.
Borrowing life from future birth A person from Mahur by name Gopinath was childless. After a lot of prayers to Shri Dattatreya and observance of many Vratas a son was born whom he named Datta. He was married to Savitri, a very pretty girl. They were living happily when unfortunately Datta was afflicted with a wasting disease (Tuberculosis) which no doctors of that time could cure. As a final effort Savitri suggested that they should visit some great spiritual person by whose grace her husband would surely be cured. With the permission of her mother-in-law and father-in-law, she put Datta in a palanquin and proceeded to Ganagapur to meet Shri Narasimha Saraswati.
After reaching Gangapur, the husband unfortunately died just as Savitri was preparing to go to meet Shri Guru. It was a great shock and it put her into excessive grief. While wailing and thinking of committing Sati on the funeral pyre of her dead husband, a Sanyasi came and asked her not to grieve because body is impermanent and everybody has to die some day. He gave her advice about the proper behaviour for a Pativrata who has an option after her husband is dead either to commit Sati or live the austere life of a widow. He quoted the proper way for a widow to behave according to the laws of Smriti. (Readers should note that the custom of Sati is not Vedic. It was not prevalent during the Ramayana time or in the Mahabharata time. None of the widowed queens seem to have committed Sati except Madri, the second wife of Pandu, but even that story has been added to the original Mahabharata much later. The custom of Sati seems to have been introduced much later, no doubt due to the male selfishness.)
Savitri chose the path of Sati. The Sanyasi advised her to meet Shri Guru before the Sati ritual and gave her four Rudraksha beads, two to be tied to the ears of the dead body and two to be worn by her. He also advised her to take the tirtha water from Rudra worship performed in the presence of Shri Guru and put it into the mouth of the body as well as sprinkle on it and herself. When all the preparations for Sati were made Savitri took leave of the Brahmins who were doing the preparations for getting a last darshan of Shri Guru before dying. When the young widow went before Shri Guru and bowed to him he blessed her addressing her as one addresses a married lady with living husband. On bowing for a second time he gave the blessing of children. People explained to Shri Guru that her husband had just died and she was going to be self-immolated as Sati. Shri Guru said it cannot be true and asked the body to be brought to him. When the body was brought he asked some Tirtha from the Rudra worship which had just been performed to be put into its mouth. To everybody’s surprise the dead husband came to life and they happily worshipped Shri Guru. When a Brahmin asked Shri Guru a very pertinent question that how a person who had died a natural death and not by accident could be revived? Whatever is written in one's fate by Brahmadeo, is it true or false? Shri Guru smiled and told that he had requested for borrowing thirty years of the person's life in the next birth to be used in this birth. Shri Guru then blessed the couple and instructed them to regularly observe certain vratas. (The Brahmin who asked the question is roundly abused as a fool and fit for going to hell. The question was an honest question and this incident will surely rankle in the mind of a modern reader.)
Leprosy cured (1) Shri Guru cured two Brahmins and his own sister Ratnai from leprosy. One of the Brahmins by name of Narahari was instructed to plant a dried branch of Oudumbar tree near the bank of the river at Sangam and water it thrice daily and that he would be cured as soon as the branch sprouts a leaf. The Brahmin did as he was told with full faith in Shri Guru. He continued with devotion to water the dry wood as instructed without taking even a sip of water himself. People tried to dissuade and ridicule him for watering a dry branch and when they mentioned this to Shri Guru he told them the following story to impress on them the importance of obeying one’s guru. A Shabar (a person belonging to a jungle tribe) was serving a prince. While in the jungle on a hunting trip the Shabar came to an old Shiva temple where many broker Shivalingas were strewn around. The Shabar took fancy to one and picked it. Just then the prince reached there and asked what he was doing. The Shabar told him that he was attracted by the Shivalinga and wanted to worship it but being a Shabar did not know how and would the prince kindly be his guru and teach him how. The prince consented and told him to worship it daily with flowers and offer ashes from a cremation grounds as well as whatever food they eat. Also that after the worship he should put a little of the ashes used in the ashes on his tongue also the offered food. The Shabar agreed and happily went home to tell his young wife who was also pleased.
One day the Shabar did not get ashes even after searching in the surrounding villages. Dejected, he told his wife that he would rather commit suicide than not obey his guru correctly. His wife asked him to burn her in the house and use her ashes. When the Shabar protested saying that she was too young to die and that killing a woman was a great sin she explained that she was his better half and there is no harm in her dying for this body was perishable anyway. After many arguments the Shabar agreed. The wife entered the house and fastened the door. The Shabar set fire to it and after it burnt down took his wife’s ashes and performed the worship as usual. After the worship he called loudly for his wife as used to be his custom to give her part of the food offerings. When his wife really came he was surprised because then he remembered having burnt the house with her inside. The house was also there as before. His wife then told him that when she entered the house she was tremendously felt very sleepy and chilly. She did not know what had happened and that she woke up hearing his calls. He realised it was the grace of Lord Shiva and just then Lord Shiva appeared before them and gave them the boon of happiness, kingdom and a place in heaven for eons to come.
On the seventh day Shri Guru himself went to Sangam, met the Brahmin and watered the plant from his own kamandalu. The dry branch at once sprouted leaves and the Brahmin was cured. Thus Shri Guru brought back life not only to human beings but in deadwood as well. Narahari spontaneously sang a self-composed poem of praise for Shri guru comparing him to Dattatreya and equating him to the Supreme Brahman.
I have quoted this story because it shows the importance of obeying one’s guru who need not be a learned person or a sage or a spiritually elevated person but even a spiritually ordinary person as the prince was can be a guru as long as the disciple feels so.
Leprosy cured (2) The second Brahmin named Nandi tried to propitiate the goddess Tulajabhavani at Tulajapur by performing a vrata of fasting for three years in order to get cured of his leprosy. The goddess instructed him in a dream to go to another deity called Chandalaa Parameshwari in Karnataka. He repeated the same austerities there and after seven months this goddess told him in a dream to go to Shri Guru at Ganagapur. He was very angry at this tossing around and for being sent to a human being for getting cured. But he was thrown out of the temple by the priests on the instructions from the deity and finally came to Ganagapur. Shri Guru already knew about all this by his occult powers and as soon as the Brahmin met him he asked him why he had come with doubts in his mind and that too to a human being. The Brahmin realized the powers of Shri Guru from his words. He surrendered to him. Shri Guru instructed one of his disciples that he should be made to take bath at Sangam and be given new clothes. After bath he was cured but a little spot remained on the thigh. Shri Guru told him that that was because he had come without complete faith, with a doubt in his mind and asked him to compose poetry in his praise. After he composed much poetry the spots entirely went away. He became one of the close disciples of Shri Guru and was named Kavishwar by him.
Leprosy cured (3) As Shri Guru had predicted his sister Ratnai developed leucoderma and came to Papavinashi Tirtha near Ganagapur. Shri Guru met her and revealed many of her sins for which she was now going through this punishment. She had kicked a cow and started fights between couples. She was also unknowingly responsible for the death of five kittens when she kept the pot in which they were sleeping on fire for boiling water. Shri Guru told her that her leucoderma would go if she wants to postpone the suffering to next birth. However, Ratnai said she was fed up of rebirths and would like to finish everything in this birth itself and get liberated. Shri Guru accepted, instructed her to take bath daily in Papavinashi Tirtha and get rid of her leucoderma as well as the load of the karmas. The leucoderma vanished in three days.
Story of poet Narahari Another poet soon joined the ranks of Shri Guru’s disciples. There was a devotee named Narahari living in the nearby village of Hippargi. He was a dedicated devotee of Lord Shiva and used to compose five poems every day but only in the praise of Shri Kalleshwar the form of Lord Shiva. He refused all the suggestions of many people that he should compose poems in the praise of Shri Guru too saying that Shri Guru was a human being and not God and he would not compose any poems in praise of anybody except Kalleshwar. One day Shri Guru was invited to Hippargi. That day, while Narahari was performing the worship of the Shivalinga, he saw a vision of Shri Guru sitting on the Shivalinga accepting his worship. Shri Guru asked him why he was worshipping a human being. Narahari realized that Shri Guru is an avatar and he went and surrendered to Shri Guru saying that he had not known it before but now he knew that Shri Guru was Kalleshwar and now his mind had become stable. Shri Guru accepted him as disciple and took him to Ganagapur.
Old Ganga gets children Shri Guru blessed Ganga, the sixty year old childless wife of a Brahmin named Somnath with two children even though she was beyond the age of conception. She used to worship Peepul (Ashwattha) tree for many years with the desire of getting children and used to bring a lamp to Shri Guru daily. On Shri Guru's words the fruits of the worship of the Peepul tree came to fruition and she gave birth to a daughter and then a son.
A weaver visits Shri Shailam There used to be weaver in Ganagapur who was a great devotee of Shri Guru. When Shivaratri festival approached people started making a pilgrimage to Shri Shailam, one of the places of Lord Shiva’s Jyotirlingas, so as to be present there on Shivaratri night. The weaver’s parents and brothers also started on the journey and invited him, but he refused saying that his Mallikarjuna (Shiva’s name) was Shri Guru and his feet were like Shri Shailam. The relatives called him a fool person and proceeded to Shri Shailam.
On Shivaratri day Shri Guru asked the weaver why he had not gone to Shri Shailam and the weaver gave the same reason. Shri Guru asked him to hold his padukas (sandals) and close his eyes. In a moment they were at Shri Shailam by Shri Guru’s power. The weaver opened his eyes and was confused finding himself suddenly at Shri Shailam. Shri guru laughed and asked him to go quickly, get his head shaved (as is the custom), take bath and finish the worship of Mallikarjuna. When the weaver went he met his parents and other relatives who asked him why he came secretly instead of accompanying them. He honestly told that he had started only an hour ago with his Guru and just reached. But nobody believed him and called him a liar.
After shaving and bath the weaver bought flowers and began to perform the worship of Mallikarjuna but to his surprise he saw Shri Guru sitting on the Shivalinga accepting the worship. Surprised, he finished his worship and went to Shri Guru and asked him why people come all the way to worship Mallikarjuna here when they could as well worship him in Ganagapur. Shri Guru laughed and said every holy place has a special power and he told him the story of King Vimarshan from Puranas in which a dog who was killed on Shivaratri day inside a temple while the worship was going on was reborn as the king in the next birth and a pigeon who had circumabulated a temple thrice before being killed by a kite was born as the queen. Both the king and queen visited the place for that reason. He then took him back to Ganagapur same way.
In Ganagapur nobody would believe him when he told that he had just returned from Shri Shailam with Shri Guru, even when he showed them the flowers etc. However, when his parents and relatives returned a few days later everybody was convinced and surprised.
Entire village fed on meals food for three Once a poor Brahmin by name of Bhaskar came to Ganagapur with the intention of offering alms to Shri Guru and get his blessings. He had brought with him material like rice etc. sufficient just for three or four persons. But on the first day itself he was invited to meals by the host who was feeding Brahmins as part of the service to Shri Guru. The Brahmin attended the meals, collected his bundle of his material and used it as pillow for sleeping at night in the caravanserai used by pilgrims. This happened everyday for three months, for there was not a day when somebody or other did not offer meals. The local Brahmins who had become conceited by eating free meals full of delicacies every day began to make fun of Bhaskar which Shri Guru overheard and instructed him to give him alms the next day.
The next day Bhaskar bought vegetables, ghee etc. enough to feed only three or four persons. But Shri Guru instructed him to invite all. With great faith in Shri Guru he did just that. When time came to actually serve the food Shri Guru asked Bhaskar to place the food vessels near him and covered them with his cloth. He then instructed Bhaskar to begin serving with the condition that the cloth should not be removed from the vessels. The Brahmins were first fed after which Shri Guru instructed them to invite people from other communities including the untouchables. The entire population of four thousand persons in the village were fed on the small quantity cooked for only three or four persons. In the end what remained was the food originally prepared by Bhaskar. Shri Guru instructed even that to be released in the river so that fish get it. He then blessed Bhaskar for a good prosperous future. Thus Shri Guru taught a lesson in humility to the leisure-loving Brahmins of Ganagapur. We see from this story how devotion and Guru's benevolence can change fortunes overnight.
Grace to a farmer Shri Guru’s use to go every day for taking bath at Sangam. His path passed along a farm. The farmer used to come daily running as soon as he saw Shri Guru and make an obeisance. But Shri Guru used to walk away without a word. One day Shri Guru asked the farmer what was in his mind that he was coming daily for the obeisance. The farmer humbly said that he and his family were living by Shri Guru’s grace and prayed that he should cast his benevolent eyes on the growing crop. Shri Guru looked at the crop and asked the farmer whether he would do as told. When the farmer said yes Shri Guru asked him to cut the entire crop by the time he returns from Sangam.
The farmer went for permission to the officials who consented only when he agreed to give twice the usual quantity to the treasury. He then called labour and began cutting the crop. His family came crying blaming the farmer for ruining the family by believing the Sanyasi. But the farmer would not budge. He cut the crop and showed it to Shri Guru on his return. Shri Guru said that he had told him in jest but now that he had shown faith and cut the crop benefit will come to him.
In a few days cold rain came and ruined everybody’s crop except the farmers. But because he had already cut it, the stalks re-sprouted more than ten times and gave immense yield to the farmer while everybody else in the neighbourhood was ruined. The farmer’s wife was repentant for talking ill about Shri guru and begged pardon. They went to Shri Guru and thanked him and received blessings for a prosperous future.
Sayandeo tested Fifteen years had passed since Sayandeo, the ancestor (great-great-grandfather) of Saraswati Gangadhar the Gurucharitra author, had met Shri Guru at Vasarbrahmeshwar. Learning that Shri Guru was at Ganagapur he came speedily and made his obeisance to him singing his praises. Shri Guru welcomed him and after inquiring about the welfare of his family invited him to join at noontime meals. Sayandeo prayed to be included in the group of his disciples. Shri Guru told him that being his disciple meant a very hard life and asked whether he was prepared to bear it. Sayandeo replied affirmatively saying that one who serves his Guru is liberated and does not have to suffer. Guru can give him success in all his four duties in life (Dharma or righteous living, Artha or earning livelihood,, Kama or bodily desires and Moksha or liberation). Serving one's Guru is the main duty. Shri Guru permitted him to stay with him.
One day Shri Guru decided to test him and took him alone to the forest to spend the night there. During the night Shri Guru by his yogic powers created a thunderstorm. Sayandeo protected his Guru from the winds and rain as much as possible without bothering about personal discomfort. Shri Guru sent him to bring fire from the village so that they can remain warm. Sayandeo went as told and brought fire. When he came back the storm was over. Shri Guru then told him the story of the son of Twashta Brahma who went to Varanasi and pleased Lord Shiva in order to satisfy what his Guru and Guru’s family had asked of him. Later seeing that Sayandeo could bear the hardships of a disciple's life Shri Guru included him in his group of disciples.
Do’s and don’ts in daily routine Gurucharitra includes a wide range of advice to his devotees. Some advice is on spiritual aspects, some on the various penances that different devotees should observe; e.g. Sayandeo was instructed to observe Anantvrata that involves worship of Vishnu while the lady from Mahur whose husband was revived by Shri Guru was asked to observe penance on Mondays that propitiates Lord Shiva.
The period in which Shri Guru lived was a period of Muslim influence. Traditionally, Kshatriyas are supposed to protect the Dharma i.e. the religious code and protect people from external invasions. Brahmins are supposed to stabilize society internally by practicing and preaching correct ethics. But the Muslim invasions weakened the Kshatriya power and many Kshatriyas as well as Brahmins even served the Muslim rulers. While a small number of principled Brahmins continued with the strict traditional life, a large number of them began to succumb to the wealth and other worldly attractions of the new rule becoming lax in their behaviour. Shri Guru’s advice and spiritual support did a lot to save the Hindu way of life from crumbling under the Muslim influence. This advice reached reading public through the book Gurucharitra written a century later and is still teaching us the moral way of living.
Story of the Austere Poor Brahmin There was a poor Brahmin in Ganagapur who was very strict in his daily routine and accepted only dry uncooked alms. He never attended public meals offered almost daily by pilgrims visiting Ganagapur. He therefore remained poor but was content. His wife however felt grieved at the poverty and began craving for the tasty preparations of the public meals and the other charitable donations which the women neighbours described to her. She nagged her husband unsuccessfully and as a last resort went to Shri Guru with her complaint. Shri Guru told the Brahmin to accept the next invitation since it was not proper to harbour dissatisfaction at home. Thus the couple attended the meals at the next invitation.
But when the wife began to eat her meals it appeared to her that pigs and dogs are eating food from her plate and other person’s plates too. She told this to her husband and both left in disgust. The couple then went to Shri Guru where the wife swore she would never go to such meals again. Shri Guru then told the unhappy Brahmin that no stain had come on him by this happening and he could continue with his earlier system. He also advised that even though he was strict about not accepting invitations he should never refuse one from a person who is stuck because he could not get anyone else. Refusing such an invitation would be a sin the principle evidently being not to let principles come in the way of helping the needy.
Chapters 36 and 37 of Gurucharitra give detailed instructions on how a Brahmin should behave and spend his daily life. On the Brahmin’s request Shri Guru advised him about the kind of homes and people from whom food should be accepted or not accepted. Also he advised him, on the basis of Parashara Smriti, the proper routines for Brahmins to follow right from waking up in the morning until he went to bed. That included what he should do after waking up, offering of arghya to the rising (and also setting) sun, proper way to clean the mouth and teeth, proper way to take bath, performance of sandhya ritual (with Gayatri mantra) three times daily, proper way to worship the house deities with sandal paste, flowers, incense and light, proper food and proper way to eat, rituals before, during and after eating, when and where to sleep etc. including the conjugal life.
There are some parts of this advice which a modern reader would apparently absurd and anachronistic. This is discussed in some detail towards the end of the chapter (See: Conflict with science later).
Washer-man king The washer-man to whom Shripad Shrivallabh had given the boon of becoming a king was born in the next birth in the royal family of the Muslim king of Vidura (Bedar). (Historically his name was Allauddin II of the Bahamani dynasty). Due to the influence of his earlier birth he was kind to Brahmins against the wishes of the Muslim priests. He used to tell them, "You tell that God is everywhere so what does it matter if Hindus worship stone idols? They do it only because it is convenient to imagine an image rather than a formless God."
One day the king got a boil on his thigh which nobody could cure. Some Brahmins suggested that it would get cured if a great spiritual person cast his benevolent eyes on the ailing part. He was sent to a lonely place where he met a yogi who sent him to meet Shri Guru (after telling him a story from the Puranas). As soon as Shri Guru saw the king the first question he asked was, "Where were you all this time Oh washer-man?" On hearing this, the King remembered his past birth. His boil was cured. He invited Shri Guru to see his wealth and to bless his family. Shri Guru agreed on the conditions that animals would not be killed. He visited the king's palace, asked the King to give up his position to his children and meet him at Shri Shailam.
Decision to leave Ganagapur Now that the Muslim king had started visiting Shri Guru there was the danger of other Muslim persons visiting Ganagapur and disturb its traditional religious life. Shri Guru then decided to leave Ganagapur and live incognito elsewhere but publicly announcing that he was going on pilgrimage to Shri Shailam. People in Ganagapur were very unhappy and prayed to Shri Guru saying they would be like orphans if he left them. Shri Guru promised that though physically he might be leaving Ganagapur, he would continue to be there spiritually and his true devotees would be able to see him. He then left Ganagapur with some of his disciples.
Before leaving, Shri Guru said, "Do not harbour any doubt about my always being in Ganagapur day and night. I shall accept your worship in formless state in the Math. I love my devotees and it is my assured promise that their wishes will get fulfilled. The Ashwatha tree at Sangam is really a wishing tree. Worship it and come to the Math where I am leaving behind my Nirguna (attributeless) Paduka which you should worship with dedication." And really when people returned after bidding farewell to Shri Guru they saw him at the Math and were assured about Shri Guru’s promise. After a moment this vision vanished and he was visible only to the loving devotees.
It is more than six centuries after this event. People visit Ganagapur in large numbers to offer their services to Shri Guru. The services may be donation, reading of Gurucharitra, rituals like abhishek (bath) to the Paduka etc. Some come with desires in mind and some with pure devotion. People find their wishes fulfilled and experience uplift in their spiritual level. There is a peculiar custom at Ganagapur. Visitors, rich or poor are supposed to beg for food in the morning or noontime. The Brahmins in Ganagapur keep food ready and offer it to the visitors as a daily ritual. Such a ritual obviously can take the ego from a person’s mind. Persons who are suspected to be possessed by spirits are also taken there to get rid of their affliction.
To Shri Shailam After bidding farewell to Ganagapur Shri Guru reached the banks of River Patalganga with four of his disciples. There he asked them to make a floating seat with flowers. Before leaving by the boat he said, “I love singing and I shall remain in the home of those who remember me by singing. Such people will not be wanting in anything. Those who will read my biography or read it to others will remain wealthy." He asked the disciples to wait for flowers which would come floating as his grace. He then left instructing that after picking up the flowers they should go back and spend their days in devotion. After some time four Shevanti (Mums) flowers came floating which each of them picked up as prasada and returned to Ganagapur. The names of the disciples who received the flowers were Sayandeo, the two poets Nandi and Narahari and the Siddha who narrated the Gurucharitra to Saraswati Gangadhar.
Thus ends the life history of the great yogi Shri Narasimha Saraswati but only the first part of the life history. Saraswati Gangadhar tells in Gurucharitra that Shri Guru disappeared into the Kardali forest.
As in the case of Shripad Shrivallabh we see in Shri Narasimha Saraswati also a great, dispassionate and compassionate yogi. He is a true guide to his devotees, not only giving material benefits but spiritual guidance as well. Like Shripad Shrivallabh Shri Guru gives his grace to all irrespective of his or her caste or even religion.
But other evidence shows that he did not take samadhi in Kardali forest but went to north where he spent more than three hundred years in austerities and in a state of deep trance. When he came out of samadhi he travelled southwards under the name Chanchalbharati and after a lot of travelling finally settled in 1857 at Akkalkot in Maharashtra before finally leaving his body in 1878. This will be told in the Part V on Shri Swami Samarth of Akkalkot..
Shri Narasimha Saraswati lived from 1378 CE to 1459 CE as per most of the scholars. The main events of his life are given below with the possible years and dates are fixed as per the description of the lunar and stellar events calendar mentioned in Shri Guru Charitra. (REF Dhere, Wikipedia - Narasimha Saraswati)
1378 CE : Birth
1386 CE : Left his home
1416 CE : Arrival back home at Lad-Karanja
1418 CE : Gautami-Tatak-Yatra (travel along the banks of river Gautami)
1420 CE : Stay at Parali-Vaijanath
1421 CE : Stay at Oudumbar near Bhilawadi.
About Kardali Forest
Many questions have been asked about where this Kardali forest where Shri Narasimha Saraswati went from Ganagapur. Recently some devotees have organised trips to this place. According to their sketchy description it is located near the Mallikarjuna temple on at Shri Sailam Mountain by the banks of Patalganga Krishna river in Andhra Pradesh. To reach the place of Samadhi one has to first travel by boat and then walk 14 kms up and down in a deep and thick forest. There is no proper route. One has to walk on the rocks in the hills. At least 3 hills are to be crossed. Water is not available but there is a lake of sweet water near the cave of where Shri Narasimha Saraswati took Samadhi.
About Gurucharitra Gurucharitra is read by thousands of Dattatreya devotees in Maharashtra regularly. Being a powerful text its reading gives the experience of spiritual uplift and a sort of divine ecstasy. It is supposed to be read not like a story book but with proper respect and ritual, after the regular daily bath and in a clean pleasant environment such as at the place of worship at home. But there are people who, out of constraints from their work or business, do not get enough time but manage to perform the reading whenever and wherever possible. The important point to be noted is that it is the devotion that is important and not the ritual.
Gurucharitra contains 7421 ovis (stanzas) (including 176 Sanskrit Shlokas of Guru-Gita) in fifty-two chapters. (The edition corrected by Mr. Ramachandra Krishna Kamat published by K. B. Dhavale is referred here. Some corrupted editions give fifty-three chapters, but the fifty-first and fifty-second chapters are virtually similar.) The last chapter is what is called avatarnika which gives one ovi description of the contents of each chapter is a later addition. Many devotees finish the reading in one week (Saptaha) or three days or even one day. In the saptaha reading number of chapters to be read each day are specified in the avataranika. During the saptaha the devotee has is to observe certain austerities. In the end the avatarnika should be read followed by Arati of Shri Dattatreya. (Avatarnika is not an original chapter. It was added much later.)
Gurucharitra narrates the activities and advice of Shri Guru to the visiting devotees. The narration is through the lips of Siddha, supposedly one of the disciples of Shri Guru. Shri Guru made Ganagapur a place of pilgrimage which thousands visited. Those who begot children as Shri Guru’s grace named the children after him. There was such a person named after Shri Guru hence the appellation “Namdharak” meaning one who holds the name, who sets out in search of Shri Guru and is met on the way by a Sanyasi calling himself Siddha, whose grace he receives. This Siddha takes Namdharak with him to Ganagapur and narrates him the activities of Shri Guru preceding it with stories about the birth of Shri Dattatreya and the birth and activities of Shripad Shrivallabh.
Shri Guru explains to his devotees many points of spiritual interest through stories from various Puranas and guides them through instructions according to the mental makeup of the devotee. Many stories extol the importance of devotion and service of his Guru. One chapter is fully devoted to the Sanskrit text of Guru-Gita from Skanda Purana. It is presented as the conventional dialogue between Shiva and Parvati describing how one should serve one’s Guru.
A chapter is devoted to the repercussions (such as rebirth in a certain situation or species) of various kinds of sins and is an important ethical guideline. Two long chapters in Gurucharitra (36th and 37th) are devoted to the advice given by Shri Guru to a Brahmin, on the basis of Smritis, on the subject of the proper routines for Brahmins to follow right from waking up in the morning until he goes to bed. To a modern reader born and brought up in an urban environment these two chapters may appear anachronistic and impossible to follow. (In today’s cities one cannot even feed a cow as certain rituals require since cows are banned in many metropolitan cities). It is true that the advice cannot be followed totally in the modern lifestyle of work and urban environment. But the reader should understand that during the times Shri Guru lived this advice was appropriate for maintaining clean hygiene but good morals. With the modern working life with strict duty timings and constraints city life and travel the devotee is compelled to adjust the observances to a convenient level at the same time not letting the devotion and morals go astray.
It is surprising that nowhere in Gurucharitra there is a mention that Dattatreya should be worshipped. It is natural that Shripad Shrivallabh and Shri Narasimha Saraswati do not call themselves as avatars of Dattatreya for as mentioned in Part I, avatar is a designation given by the devotees and it is Saraswati Gangadhar who portrays them as avatars of Dattatreya. During the time of Narasimha Saraswati Muslim rule was well entrenched in Maharashtra-Karnataka—Andhra region. It was the task of Narasimha Saraswati to save the religion from the Muslim influence which he did by proper spiritual advice, by prohibiting people from serving Muslims (as in the case of Sayandeo) but at the same time partly yielding also as in the case of the Muslim king. In situations like this there is always a cultural give and take. This has been discussed at some length in the Part III on Shripad Shrivallabah where we saw Dattatreya being accepted by the Sufi Sect of the Muslims while Hindus accepted their custom of using incense and music during the worship.
Conflict with science A modern reader may find some of the statements in the 37th chapter absurd and not consistent with the modern scientific knowledge. For example there is a statement that a boy would be born if the conception takes place on an even day and a girl if it occurs on an odd day counted after the beginning of menstruation. Modern medical knowledge says that there would be conception only if the intercourse occurred between the ninth and the twenty-first day after the beginning of menstruation and the gender of the child cannot be predicted. A second statement is about the cot used for sleeping. It is said that the weaving of the cot (by string or strip) done on different days of the week gives different results; e.g. one gains wealth by weaving on Sunday, many sons on Thursdays and death on Saturdays. There are similar arbitrary statements about the results of taking ritualistic bath on different days. Modern reader must not allow such statements to affect his mind and form wrong impressions about Shri Guru or Gurucharitra because that was the understanding of those times when science and scientific spirit of experimentation was yet to develop. The reader should remember that in the western world, supposed to be the cradle of modern science and technology today, the situation in those times was worse than that in India because in India we had at least great thinkers (Rishis) but there were none of that calibre in the west then. People resorted to superstitions and burned people suspected to be witches in which category even a person prescribing an herbal medicine was included..
A pious person generally believes anything written in Puranas and other similar literature. If he is told that observance of Mondays pleases Lord Shiva and Fridays the Devi is a Vedic statement he will blindly believe it without considering the fact that the custom of weekdays did not even exist in the Vedic times and was borrowed from the Chaldeans in middle east only in about second century BC. For the pious devotion is more important than anything else.
For the educated person however such illogical statements create an obstacle in his belief in the spiritual path. He should refer to Tripura Rahasya in which Shri Dattatreya himself has stressed that deliberation and discrimination are essential in spiritual path. Every aspect of a situation must be critically analyzed and then only, after using discrimination the next step should be taken. Later he stresses that dull persons cannot advance in spiritual path. He has to wait until a later birth when he is born as an intelligent person. An educated person must therefore examine every statement and must be bold enough to reject what does not appeal to logic. Faith is needed in God and not in the rituals prescribed in the texts unless of course his Guru prescribes it for reasons known to him.
One should also note that science does not solve all human problems nor explain all phenomena on this earth. Especially, science does not explain phenomena associated with the soul. Swami Ram in his autobiographical book “Among the Saints in Himalayas” mentions a yogi known to him who had transmigrated into the body of another person who had just died. Swami Krishnanand mentions in his book “True Experiences”, again an autobiographical book, an incident where he met a yogi in Jagannathpuri in Orissa, who had planned to die soon by his yogic powers and would be reborn as a girl two months later in a village near Kolkata. Swami Krishnanand objected to this statement saying that it would take at least nine months to be reborn as another body, to which the yogi explained that the soul to be reborn attaches to the foetus between seventh and eighth month. Until then, the foetus is merely a blank body of blood, bone and flesh, nourished through the mother’s soul-force and fed by the building essences through the umbilical cord. It is only after the merger of the astral body with it that the unborn baby begins to experience pain and pleasures and remembers its past lives. After birth, the baby’s umbilical cord is cut off and from then onwards it derives the sustaining energy and the life current from the subtle body that has taken over. This is made possible through the silver cord, which joins the subtle body to its physical one. Para-psychological studies support this information. There is another power, which determines, taking into consideration his karmas, as to which foetus he is supposed to be attached to. Swamiji did go to Calcutta, met the blacksmith and found that his wife was expecting a baby but not until late March according to the doctors. But the girl was born on the exact date (25-2-1954) as stated by the yogi. What he had told about the girl’s life also came true. The girl named Rekha, was a simple, calm, quiet child and used to spend her time in a nearby temple. One day she was found to be playing fearlessly with a snake. Swamiji met her last when she was fourteen, but could not bring himself to reveal to her parents about her short life. Now no conventional branch of science can explain this phenomenon.
Was Siddha real? It is clear from the Gurucharitra text that Namdharak is really Saraswati Gangadhar, the great-great-grandson of Sayandeo. Whether Siddha who narrates the Gurucharitra to Namadharak is a real character or an imaginary one is difficult to say. It was customary in many ancient Indian texts to present the composition as a dialogue between Shiva and Parvati, or between Purana characters like the various Rishis and kings. It is likely that Saraswati Gangadhar collected the various legends about Shri Guru and wrote them as if narrated by Siddha. Note that Saraswati Gangadhar being the great-great-grandson of Sayandeo the Gurucharitra events must have occurred at least a century earlier. Siddha must have been more than 150 years old when he narrated the events to Saraswati Gangadhar. Even granting that this is possible for an accomplished yogi, it appears doubtful that Shri Guru would have kept the same disciple with him throughout while sending everybody else away on pilgrimage and leaving him at Ganagapur while going to the Kardali Forest. In all likelihood therefore Siddha must be an imaginary character created by Saraswati Gangadhar. Again this is only of academic interest to devotees.
It should also be noted that the poems of praise by the devotees Narahari and Sayandeo are really composed bt Saraswati Gangadhar as is mentioned in the poems itself. If Siddha was real the poems would have been shown as composed by these two people.
Offered at the feet of my Guru Shri Shankar Maharaj.
Datta Sampradayacha Itihas by Dr. R. C. Dhere, Pub by Padmagandha Prakasha Pune, (2005)
Gurucharitra Researched edition by R.K.Kamat. Keshav Bhikaji Dhavale, Girgaon Bombay 400004.(In Marathi)
Narasimha Saraswati: Wikipedia article.
True Experiences by Swami Krishnananda, Pub. Krishnananda Publication Committee, Shanti Ashram, Bhadran, Dist Ananad, Gujarat. (1991)
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