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YOGIRAJ SHRI SHANKAR MAHARAJ
A REMARKABLE YOGI
Shri Shankar Maharaj was undoubtedly one of the greatest Yogi saints of Maharashtra in the modern age. He was an Auliya or Avadhut, a term used for yogis who have reached perfection and have achieved Siddhis (occult powers). He belonged to the Nath Panth (Sect), though he did not follow its their dress code or mannerisms. He was born at the beginning of the nineteenth century and took samadhi in Pune at the age of about 150 years on April 28th, 1947. (This falls on the 8th of the bright fortnight of Vaishakh, the second month of the Hindu Lunar calendar). His physical body rests in the Samadhi Mandir situated near Padmavati on the Pune-Satara road, about 10 Km from Pune Railway station and couple of kilometres from the Swar Gate State Transport Bus Terminal.
In 1947, when Maharaj took samadhi, the area around the Samadhi Mandir was a forest. People dared not go there alone for fear of dacoits and other unsavoury elements. His Samadhi was initially merely an oblong brick structure, about two and a half feet high, open to elements of nature. Only one person had the devotion, tenacity and courage to stay there to guard the structure and offer daily worship through rain, cold and shine. His name was Baburao Rudra, an ardent devotee of Maharaj. He used to stay in a small hut nearby with his daughter with hardly any means of support. There were lots of hardships – even water had to be brought from a distant well. But by his earnest devotion, he overcame all these difficulties. Later, a small tin shed was built over the brick structure. In the course of time a group of people a pucca shelter was built on the Samadhi structure. This was progressively improved to the fine structure it is today. A well was also built subsequently.Marble Statue on the Samadhi
The affairs of the Samadhi Mandir are now managed by a registered trust. The original brick structure has now been lined with marble and a room has been built around it. This is the sanctum sanctorum where a marble statue of Maharaj, wearing a turban and shawl, sitting in his characteristic pose (with his long hands wrapped around drawn-up legs), adorns the Samadhi stone. A spacious hall with facilities for performing rituals like yajna, Hom etc. has been provided. The hall is used for Kirtans and Bhajansalso. Every year, the anniversary of Maharaj’s samadhi day (according to the Hindu calendar) is celebrated on a grand scale for a week, during which thousands of devotees visit his shrine and seek his grace. The Samadhi has now become a regular place of worship for the devotees of Shankar Maharaj, and an institution too.
Hundreds of devotees visit the Mandir every day to pay their respects, pray and receive blessings. His devotees strongly believe and some have experienced too, that even though Maharaj is no longer in his physical body, he still looks after the welfare of his devotees. His devotees and disciples report many instances of his having appeared before them either in his own form or through the medium of other persons in their time of crisis. Details of some of such events narrated by his devotees and disciples may be read later in these pages.
In particular, Maharaj has been known to be active in the medium of one Mr. Dinesh Kulkarni from Malad, a western suburb of Bombay. In fact, those younger devotees who did not meet Maharaj in person consider without any doubt only Mr. Kulkarni to be Maharaj. Disciples who knew Maharaj before samadhi also confirm it. During their meeting with Mr. Dinesh Kulkarni, they were called by their nicknames and personal matters, which only Maharaj could have known, were related accurately. This is proof enough for the devotees to believe that it was their Guru communicating with them through Mr. Kulkarni.
Maharaj’s presence can be felt in the homes of many of his devotees. In the case of his disciple (late) Dr. Dhaneshwar, he had promised his presence in the latter’s home for seven generations. Because of these somewhat unique phenomena, the biography of Shri Shankar Maharaj does not end with the date of his entering the samadhi. It is therefore difficult to talk about the activities of Maharaj in past tense, a thing the reader should always be aware of.
In Maharashtra, the areas that Shri Shankar Maharaj visited and blessed for several decades were Bombay, Pune and the adjoining regions of Nagar, Akluj, Solapur, Kolhapur and Nashik. It is always difficult to write a biography of such an Auliya or Avadhut like Shri Shankar Maharaj. Public knows about his activities only after his origin, his childhood and his spiritual training are long forgotten. Auliyas are sanyasis who deliberately erase their past and take up a new name on initiation. But occasional tidbits of information do trickle down to the disciples. Once he starts interacting with common people, his life becomes an open book and one can gather information from people especially the disciples and devotees.
SCOPE OF THE BOOK AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
In this biographical work, I have presented the information about the activities of Maharaj collected from various devotees and disciples whom I personally met. All this is new hitherto unpublished information that, coming directly from the devotees themselves, may be considered to be reliable. As background information I have summarised the activities reported in various publications. Some of the devotees and disciples are unfortunately no more.
Among the published material used here are: (i) The biography of Shri Shankar Maharaj by Yogi Dnyananathji (in Marathi); (ii) the concise biography of Shri G. K. Pradhan in the Marathi book “Saada Deti Himashikhare” which is the Marathi translation by Dr R. S. Joshi of Pradhan’s famous novel “Towards the Silver Crests of Himalayas”; (iii) Biography of Dr N. R. Dhaneshwar, one of the close disciples of Maharaj written by his son (late) Dr. D. N. Dhaneshwar and (iv) another book on Maharaj by Mr. Dnyaneshwar Tandale which gives some brief pieces of information. In addition, there have been many articles in various magazines describing the experiences of many devotees who had the good fortune to meet Maharaj. Though much of the information in these articles was repetitive and based on the first two publications, some new information could be found. While I could have presented only the new information to the readers, it would have been without a proper background. I thought it would give the reader a clearer picture of the personality of Maharaj if a summary of the information summarised from these publications were also included. It also would give a base for the new information and make the biography more cogent. I am greatly indebted to the above authors and sources from which this information was derived.
The information collected personally by me was possible through the active support from Mr. V. M. (Nana) Pandit, himself an ardent disciple of Maharaj. Through his efforts, I had the good fortune to meet and record the experiences of Mr. S. B. Patwardhan, Mr. Madhusudhan Kanhere, (late) Mr. Dattatreya Abhyankar and (late) Mr. G.J. Joshi besides Mr. Vasudeo M. Pandit himself. Several years earlier I had close contacts with (late) Mr. V. K. Kulkarni of Kolhapur who had told me of his involvement with Maharaj when he was working with the Sugar factory at Malinagar near Akluj. I had taken notes of his narration of his experiences, which were very useful. I met (late) Mrs. Maniben Asher through Mr. Koppikar, another devotee of Maharaj.
I am grateful to these devotees/disciples for their cooperation. It has been a very happy experience for me to meet them and benefit by their benevolence. I hope that readers too will benefit likewise. I wish to thank Mr Shankar Sagare for emailing me the photographs of Maharaj. The photograph on the portal page is however from a negative given to me by Mr Abhyankar. The black and white photographs are very old and are not quite clear but they do give a broad picture of how Maharaj used to dress on various occasions.
A NATH PANTHI SIDDHA-YOGI
HIS APPEARANCE AND HABITS
In appearance, Maharaj was physically deformed. He is often described as Ashtavakra (i.e. bent in eight places), who was a great man of knowledge in Puranic times. He was of a short stature, but was ajanubahu, i.e. having long arms that reached below the knees. Most noticeable were his eyes - large and bright - and a childlike expression on his face. The traditional photograph of Maharaj depicts him with a beard, but towards later years he was clean-shaven. Many photographs and pictures of his, showing him adorned in different types of garments, may be seen at the Samadhi temple in Pune. He often carried a bottle of brandy in his hand and a whip with him, both rather unusual for a yogi. He used to address people using swear words such as `Bhadvya' and `Haramkhor', but without meaning it. Actually, it was considered lucky for a person to be abused by Maharaj, as it was strongly believed that the abuse would rid that person from his past Karmas or future calamities. Though Maharaj was short and thin, he was enormously strong, and there have been instances when he has shown this strength to remove the ego of the arrogant.
Some yogis behave normally in society and live, at least externally, as per social norms but some of those who have reached perfection are beyond all social bonds and rules and may behave abnormally. Some behave like a child (Balavritti or childlike tendency), some may behave eccentrically like madmen (Unmattavritti or excited tendency) while some may behave in very strange way living like a ghost in odd places (Pishacchavritti or Ghost tendency). As they enjoy internal bliss of the experience of the Brahman they are not much bothered about the external world except that they continue guiding and helping people in their own way. In this state he may not even bother if he eats or sleeps or wears clothes or whether it is hot, cold or humid. Many Avadhuts remain in one of the above three states. Maharaj was known to exhibit a mixture of the three tendencies.
An original photograph of Maharaj
BRANDY AND CIGARETTES
Maharaj did not stay in any single place for long. He moved from one town to another. He was fond of smoking Honeydew (popularly known as “Pila Hathi”) cigarettes. He also indulged in drinking hard liquor, especially brandy. But though he outwardly appeared to be often intoxicated, it was not so. He liked the attar of “Hina” and loved music. He also cherished tea, khichadi and onion bhajiya. Though it appears odd for a Siddhayogi to take liquor, his is not a unique case.
A yogi by the name Lala from Darva (in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra) whom Purohitswami mentions in his autobiography An Indian Monk is another example. Shri Chile Maharaj of Kolhapur, another Auliya, and believed to be an avatar of Shri Dattatreya, also took liquor and did not mind non-vegetarian food. These were unimportant matters to him. However, I should again remind the reader that these people had already reached yogic perfection. Unfortunately, many frauds by smoking and drinking brandy sometimes posed as a medium for Shri Shankar Maharaj.
Maharaj used to drink with a purpose, one of which was to keep unwanted people away. Only those who saw Maharaj beyond the external faVade could come to him. There are incidents when Maharaj would drink and another person nearby got intoxicated. Some people, to whom Maharaj gave a glass of brandy to drink, told later that it was not liquor but refreshing sherbet or coconut water.
He once told that he drank liquor as an offering to other powers like Bhairav whom he approaches for certain supernatural deeds like protecting deserving people from severe and fatal illnesses etc. What he drank was passed on to these deity powers. Interestingly, there is a temple of Bhairav, a member of the entourage of Lord Shiva, near the city of Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh where the devotees regularly offer liquor to the deity.
Maharaj was fond of wearing rings and jewels but he would give them away to others. He was also not particular about his attire. Sometimes he would dress royally, while on other occasions he would wear the most ordinary clothes. Surprisingly, any clothes would fit him. Once, he asked Mr. Pradhan to give him his coat. Though Mr. Pradhan was a well-built person, his coat fitted Maharaj perfectly. A collection of pictures of Maharaj in different garbs may be seen in the sanctum sanctorum of the Samadhi Mandir.
MAHARAJ WAS A NATH PANTHI
Maharaj belonged to the Nath sect. Members of this sect consider Lord Shiva as their prime deity and call him as Adinath or the First Nath. Lord Dattatreya, who is supposed to be a combination of the three deities - Brahma (the God of creation), Vishnu (the God of sustenance) and Shiva (the God of destruction) - and is considered to be a king among Yogis, is highly venerated by the Nath Panthis.
Nine yogis of the Nath Sect called Navnath (Nav = nine) are collectively worshipped in many parts of India. The list of Navnath members prevailing in Maharashtra is: Machchindranath, Gorakshnath, Jalandharnath, Gahininath, Nagnath, Kanifnath, Adbangnath, Charpatinath and Bhartriharinath. Traditionally, Matsyendranath (known better by its distorted form Machchindranath) is considered to be the founder of Nath Panth. But his disciple Gorakshnath (Gorakhnath) is the most famous of the Nath yogis. Gorakshnath travelled many times all over India and Nepal and has written more than sixty-eight books both in Sanskrit as well as in Prakrit. The period of the Navnaths may be considered as between 875 A.D. to the 11th century.
Historically, the Nath sect was rooted in the Sahajayan sect, one of the many sects that came up towards the end of the Buddhist era in India. Sarahapad (769-809AD), a Siddha belonging to Sahajayan sect is considered to be the original founder of the Nath Panth. But it was Machchindranath, the seventh in the lineage, who brought the Nath tradition to common people and probably because of this that that he is known as the founder.
Naths do not bother about caste, creed or religion. They come from all strata of the society, from kings to paupers, from Brahmins and Muslims to outcasts too. Tajuddin Darga at Nagpur and Haji Malang Darga near Kalyan (about thirty klometres from Bombay) are typical examples of great Muslim saints belonging to the Nath sect. Though the original Nath Panthis were sanyasis i.e. renunciates, it is not necessary for every Nath panthi to be so. One can carry on with normal family life and follow the Nath Panth dogmas simultaneously.
The basic philosophy of Nath Panth is broadly similar to Vedanta, Sankya or Shaiva pholosophies but differs from them in some respects.
Vedanta philosophy considers that Maya creates this universe through the power of the Brahman, the attributeless (Nirguna) and formless (Nirakara) Ultimate Entity. Maya makes an individual identify himself with his body and not with the imperishable Soul (or Self, Atman or Brahman) occupying the perishable body. Self-realisation comes when this ego or I-am-the-body ignorance is eliminated and replaced by the knowledge that I-am-the-imperishable-soul. Attaining this Self-realisation is the first goal of a seeker. In this he only realises that he is not different from Brahman. The next stage is to become one with the Brahman. In this stage, the knowledge that you are the Soul or Atman also vanishes and you reach the stage of Superior Atman or Paramatman. This is the ultimate entity we call God. Vedanta philosophy is an Adwaita or non-dualistic philosophy because there is only one Ultimate Entity.
In the Sankhya philosophy the description is broadly the same. Purusha and Prakriti take the place of Brahman and Maya respectively. Also, while in Vedanta the Soul in all individuals is a single entity, Sankhya considers that the soul in every individual is different. Note that Sankhya philosophy does not believe in God as we understand it, hence it is considered as an atheist philosophy. Sankhya philosophy is basically a Dwaita or dualistic philosophy but Gita has brought it to Adwaita level by defining Purushottama as the Ultimate Entity equivalent to Paramatma.
In the Shaiva philosophy the entities are Shiva and Shakti. (This Shiva is not the same as the deity Shankar but an ultimate principle also called Shivatatva. Shankar is the principle with a form assigned to it for easier understanding.) Shakti creates the universe through the power of Shiva. The two are an inseparable pair. The entity beyond Shiva is Paramshiva.
The Nath philosophy is more akin to the Shaiva philosophy but the highest entity is Nath (Adinath) instead of Parmashiva. Adinath is beyond the concept of attributes or lack of them. It is Shiva who is the creator of the universe (through Shakti) and not Adinath. Shakti in this philosophy is an active (Chitswabhava) principle compared with passive (Jada) nature of Maya. The Nath philosophy believes that whatever is in the universe is also in the body (pinda). The aim of the Naths is to first attain liberation through yogic preparation of the body and then reach the state of Adinath. Naths give great importance to training the body through Hathayoga.
How Maharaj came to belong to the Nath sect is not clear. He did not wear the traditional dress of the Nath Panthis, nor did he observe or teach their traditional mannerisms to his disciples. From the biography of Dr Dhaneshwar (see later), it can be seen that both of them were Nath Panthis in earlier births and were closely connected to Gahininath.
LOVE FOR DNYANESHWARI
Maharaj loved Dnyaneshwari the commentary on Gita in contemporary Marathi language. Dnyaneshwar Maharaj (1273-1295) wrote it more that seven centuries ago. He would call it “Dnyani”. Its actual name is Bhavarthadeepika, which means a guide for understanding the meaning. It is composed in verse form adopting a four-line (quartet) form called Ovi. There are about 9034 Ovis explaining each Shloka of Gita in a simple language that the simple rural folk can understand. The philosophy of Gita had been out of bounds for these people because not everybody knew Sanskrit, and its study was confined among the Brahmins. Even as it is, common man finds it difficult to understand the deep philosophical thoughts in Gita. Dnyaneshwar Maharaj has used examples from real life and similes that make them easy to understand. It is superb even as a poetical composition. A book like Dnyaneshwari cannot be written at such a young age without divine hands guiding it. A brief essence of Dnyaneshwari is given in the following since it will give a clear picture of the background of Maharaj’s personality and teachings. Dnyaneshwari, (the Philosophical Part) is available in English and German at the following links:
(See also: http://www.tphta.ws/TPH_DNYA.HTM and http://www.vishwatmak.org/dynan.html )
For total text by Mr M.R. Yardi see: http://www.bvbpune.org/contents1.html
ESSENCE OF DNYANESHWARI
Dnyaneshwar Maharaj advises the seeker as follows: An individual is actually the indestructible soul or Self, which occupies the body in this lifetime and not the destructible body as he thinks erroneously. The soul or Self is the same as the ultimate principle Brahman from which this universe is created and which pervades it. It is without form or attributes. It is also the same as the almighty God as distinct from the deities that people worship. The deities are merely a means of associating the formless, attributeless Brahman (or God) with a definite form and attributes making it easy to visualise, to worship and to meditate upon.
On death the soul discards the body to be reborn later in another body just as one discards old clothes and wears new ones. On leaving the body the soul carries with him the unfulfilled desires and the fruits of his actions or karmas. The good karmas do not cancel bad ones. When he is reborn he has to undergo enjoyment for his good karmas and suffering for the bad karmas of earlier births. For this purpose he is born in an appropriate family or and conditions. This birth and death cycle continues thousands of times and each lifetime can only add to the load of karmas, good or bad. The aim of every spiritual seeker (sadhak) is to get liberated from the cycle of birth and death i.e. achieve Moksha. The liberation comes when ignorance (Avidya) i.e, the “I am the body” feeling is destroyed by the Knowledge or experience Self-realisation i.e. he is really not the body but the indestructible Soul or Brahman. This knowledge, unlike the material information, is beyond the senses and has to be experienced internally.
Even to be born as a human being an individual has to pass first through several million births (8.4 million) as other forms of life of lower species. Thus, the birth as a human being itself is a long process and only after the individual has repeatedly been born as a human being and made spiritual progress in each birth, can he return to oneness with God. (Only human beings are able to make spiritual efforts because they have a mind and intellect. Hence Maharaj said that being born as a human being itself is a Siddhi or achievement)
Depending upon one’s makeup one of the vfollowing four paths may be followed by a Sadhak for experiencing Self-realisation. These are: (i) The path of knowledge (Jnanayoga) in which one studies and contemplates on what universe is and who he himself is; (ii) The path of yoga in which the practice of yoga leads to awakening of the dormant Kundalini force. This awakening leads to the realisation of Brahman (Kundalini yoga); (iii) The path of action i.e. performing one's duties without neglect and without expectation of the fruits thereof and offering all the deeds as well as fruits at His feet (Karmayoga). (iv) The path of devotion in which the seeker thinks of God all the time in the image of his choice and ultimately becomes one with Him (Bhaktiyoga); and even after being one with Him he likes to be separate from Him so that He can serve as the object of his devotion. (In Gita / Dnyaneshwari God or Brahman is identified with Shri Krishna).
People assign human attributes and shape to God who is really attributeless and without shape. They worship various deities and perform rituals to propitiate them, take vows, perform penance, observe fasts, austerities etc. to fulfill their worldly desires like wealth, children, power etc. But there is no need to torture the body through fasts and other vows because ultimately it is the Almighty God who fulfils their desires. Therefore people should worship Him through the prescribed paths.
It is the tenet of Nath Panth that what is inside the body is also what there is in the universe. This means that God or Brahman is within you and this is what is to be realised, not merely by reading about it but by experiencing His presence through meditation.
It stresses the need to purify the mind and become desireless by restrain and regular behaviour (Shama and Dama). It warns that ego and anger are the greatest enemies and obstacles in the spiritual path; a seeker, especially the follower of the path of knowledge is specifically warned against these two enemies. It warns that book knowledge and even spiritual Knowledge can lead to inflated ego, which comes in the way of Self-realisation.
Dnyaneshwari explains the difficult statements of through examples and similes Gita in a way a common man can easily understand. It goes into the details of many topics like the importance of a Guru, the characteristics of liberated persons, characteristics of evil persons, the effects of the three attributes Sattva, Raja and Tama and so on. Dnyaneshwari gives considerable guidance about the Kundalini yoga: selecting a proper place for meditation, taking the Vajrasana posture, how to meditate, the process of awakening of the Kundalini and how consequently, with continued practice of meditation, it progressively penetrates the various chakras and purifies the body ultimately opening the Brahmarandhra and uniting the seeker with the Brahman.
It stresses that one cannot give up actions even if you renounce the world by becoming a renunciate (Sanyasi). As long as there is body there are actions. Even if you do not want to act, the body does actions for its survival, like breathing, eating, walking, seeing etc. Therefore, one should not give up one’s duties but perform the prescribed duties for which he is entitled by the caste of his birth. One should always maintain equanimity and should neither be elated by success nor feel unhappy by failure in the performance of the duties.
Dnyaneshwari lays stress on the combination of the path of action and the path of devotion. This means that actions should be done with deep devotion to God considering Him to be the cause and the power who gets the actions done through you, thus avoiding the ego that you are the doer of the action. This attitude is the same as offering Him the fruits of action. This combination of paths is the easiest and best path to be followed. (This is in consonance with the “Duty First” attitude of Maharaj). Note that the reference to duties as prescribed for the caste refers to the socio-religious situation of the period (middle of fifth century BC) when Gita was written. It is no longer applicable in this age and should be interpreted as one’s professional and social duties.
Dnyaneshwari ends with prayers to the Supreme for His grace (Pasayadana) to bestow happiness on all the people of the universe. The grace is granted. Pasayadana has become very famous in Maharashtra and shows the deep compassion of Saint Dnyaneshwar for all creatures. Translated, Pasayadana runs as follows:
Dnyaneshwari (18:1794-1802)Now, may the Supreme God who is the soul of the entire universe be
satisfied by this discourse and grant me the grace.
May the wicked shed their sinister outlook, and
May they develop liking for good deeds, and
May all individuals develop friendship with each other.
May the universe lose its darkness of sin and
May the dawn of righteous duties come and
May the desires of all creatures be fulfilled.
May the assemblies of devotees of God who shower
all that is auspicious on this earth meet all creatures.
These devotees are walking seeds of the wish-trees, living
community of wish-stones or talking oceans of nectar.
May these saints who are like moon without spots or
sun without the scorching heat, be the friends
and relatives to all creatures
Why ask for more?
May all creatures in the three worlds be perfect and
May every creature carry desire for ceaseless devotion to
the Primeval Supreme Being. And,
May those who live by the support of this book gain
happiness in this world and the next.
On hearing this the Lord of the universe said,
“I have given you this grace.”
And by that boon Shri Dnyanadeo was very happy.
It is stressed in Dnyaneshwari that God does not care for the offerings of riches. On the other hand even a leaf or a drop of water offered with love surpasses all other offerings and immensely pleases Him irrespective of the caste or gender of the devotee; and He even becomes a servant of such a devotee for whose sake, He the formless Brahman, takes a human form or that of a deity in order to be physically near the devotee.
GOD SERVES DEVOTEES
The biographies of devotees of Vitthal of Pandharpur are replete with stories of Shri Krishna taking a human form to save his devotee from difficulties, all for the sake of love and devotion to Him.
Saint Eknath (16th century) was a village administrator in his material role. Many people visited him daily who came both for administrative purposes and devotional puposes. His wife was in dire need of a good servant. To help him in his difficulty Shri Krishna came in the form of Shrikhndya and offered to work as a domestic servant. This was discovered several years later when a devotee in Gujarat who wanted to serve Shri Krishna was told in a vision that He was not in Dwarka but in Eknath’s home.
Another case is that of Sena the royal barber who worked for a Muslim king. Sena used to shave the king daily. One day he was late because he gave priority to some saints who visited him. The king sent soldiers to arrest Sena but at that time Shri Krishna came in the form of Sena and served the king. By the divine touch some chronic ailments of the king also vanished. It was later, when the real Sena came, that the king came to know who had shaved him. The king became a disciple of Sena.
When the devotee Damaji of Mangalwedhe distributed the royal stock of grains to the poor during a period of drought the Muslim king under whom he worked sent soldiers to arrest Damaji. Shri Krishna came as Vithu the accountant and paid compensation for the grains and thus saved him from the wrath of the Muslim king.
It is not only Vitthal who helps his devotees thus. There is a story in which Lord Dattatreya helped his devotee Dasopant (1551-1615 AD) from the wrath of the ruler of Bahamani Kingdom of Bidar in exactly the same way as Damaji was saved,. His father Digambarpant had distributed the grains in government godown to the hungry public during a drought. The king was angry and took away his son Dasopant for ransom with a threat that if the compensation was not paid within a month the boy would be converted to Muslim religion. Both Digambarpant and Dasopant intently prayed to Shri Dattatreya for relief and surprisingly an unknown person who gave his name as Datta Padewar deposited the required amount in the treasury and Dasopant was released. Dasopant then devoted his life completely to the service of Lord Dattatreya. It is because of similar devotion that Saint Tulsidas conversed with Shri Rama and Hanuman, and Ramakrishna Paramahansa talked with Mother Kali.
TURNING PEOPLE’S ATTENTION TO GOD
Maharaj did not have any fixed headquarters, no Math. He was his own headquarters. Neither did he have any possessions. He did not stay in one place for long. His disciples always welcomed him and their homes were his home, it did not matter whether it was a palace or a hut. He moved mainly between Bombay, Pune, Ahmednagar (Nagar), Solapur, Nashik and Akluj (Malinagar Sugar factory) where he had numerous disciples and devotees.
Maharaj travelled widely to visit his devotees for whom it was a privilege to have Maharaj live with them. Wherever Maharaj went, he inspired his devotees to organise festivals or programs of Bhajans, discourses (Kirtan) and reading of religious philosophical texts (Parayan) like Dnyaneshwari, Dasbodh (the spiritual and practical guide by Samarth Ramdas), Gurucharitra (the chronicle of the two avatars of Shri Dattatreya, Shripad Shrivallabh and Shri Narasimha Saraswarti) and Bhagwat (a Purana depicting the glory of Lord Vishnu), thus turning peoples' minds towards God. Maharaj did not give discourses himself because of his lisped speech. But he motivated his disciples to give discourses on Dnyaneshwari. In Pune, Taisaheb Mehendale, wife of Raosaheb Mehendale, a well known barrister, was one such disciple who regularly gave not only discourses on Dnyneshwari but arranged celebration of other festivals like Gokulashtami and Shivaratri which hundreds of people attended.
From published information, it is known that he used to visit frequently the three important places of pilgrimage for the devotees of Shri Dattatreya, namely Oudumbar, Narasobawadi and Ganagapur made famous by Shri Narasimha Saraswati. He had visited Shrishailam in Andhra Pradesh famous for the temple of Lord Shiva and Mahur, the place known for the temple of Shri Renukadevi, one of the four main centres of Goddess Durga. Mahur is also known as the place where Shri Dattatreya visits at night to sleep.
HIS DISCIPLES AND DEVOTEES
Maharaj had many disciples and an innumerable number of devotees who met and gathered around him wherever he went. Some well-known devotees mentioned in the literature are:
Nagar: Sardar Mirikar of erstwhile Miri State near Nagar, Dr Nagesh R. Dhaneshwar, Major Ganesh Abhyankar and his son Dattatreya Abhyankar, Raobahadur Navale and Annasaheb Thorat.
Pune: Raosaheb Mehendale and his wife Taisaheb Mehendale, Mama Dhekne, Mr. Vasudeo M. Pandit, Mr. Dnyananath or Bapu Ranade, Mr. Appa Gosavi or Gosavi Maharaj, Baburao Rudra, the singer Yellubai Mane, Prof Bhalchandra Deo, Mr. Rambhau Ranade and Mr. S. B. Patwardhan.
Akluj and Bombay: Mr. G.K. Pradhan, Mr. Keshavbhai Asher, Mr. Girme, Mr. V. K. Kulkarni, Mr. Tatya Sahasrabuddhe, Mr. Ganapatrao Pathare and Mr. Dada Fulari. Mr. V.K. Kulkarni was originally at Akluj, working under M/s Asher and Pradhan, but later moved to Kolhapur.
Solapur: Shri Janardanbua of the Shubharaya Math of Solapur, Mr. Omkarnath Bhasme, Mr. Rambhau Korad (Rammaster) and Mr. Purushottam Devasthali.
Dr Khare from Washim, Shri Digambar Saraswati Rajayogi from Shantikunj in Maharashtra state. Acharya P. K. Atre, the well-known writer of social dramas, film producer and king of humour and Balgangharva, the famous actor-singer were also his devotees.
The grace of Maharaj was not limited to Hindus. He had Muslim devotees too. One of his devotees in Pune was Khansaheb who owned a Watch Company in Pune. Another was Mr. Nuri from Bombay, a friend of Raosahb Mehendale. Many other Muslims took advice from Maharaj. He used to answer to their difficulties by quoting extracts from the holy Koran. He used to say that Islam means peace. Prophet Mohammed preached peace, advised not to kill, not to steal, not to tell lies, not to spend time idly in luxury, not to charge interest on loan etc. He told the Muslim devotees that real mosque lies in a pure heart. The true teaching of Islam is to keep infinite faith in God and love is God.
It is also believed from indirect evidence that Maharaj visited other countries and had devotees there but very little is known about it except that he was called Mr. John in the west and Nurmohammad in Muslim countries.
A BROAD OUTLINE OF BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE
ACCOUNTS OF HIS BIRTH
There three different versions of the account of his birth.
I. It is said that one Chimnaji from Antapur village in the Satana Taluka near Nashik was childless and prayed to Lord Shiva for a child. One day, he dreamt that he would find a baby in the bushes in the woods outside his village. Taking the dream to be a divine vision, he searched the local woods next day and found a two year old boy. He brought it home and named him Shankar, as he was considered to be a gift from Lord Shiva. Even as a boy, Shankar used to go to the nearby woods for meditation and return safely at night. One day, he hinted to his foster parents that they would have their own child soon. This came out to be true, and shortly thereafter, Shankar left home to go to the Himalayas in spiritual pursuit.
Mr. V.M.Pandit visited this village couple of years back (probably in 2001). He found Chimnaji’s cottage still standing but in need for repairs. Chimnaji’s descendants live there now. He also saw the hill where the Darga (tomb) of Davalpir, a Muslim saint on a nearby hill. It is said that Maharaj was found on this hill.
II. The second version is similar but the location is a village was in Beed-Parbhani region of Marathwada. A childless woman used to worship Shiva in the temple with the hope of getting a son. After about eighteen years of this service, an eight-year old boy, bent due to physical deformities came there and touched her chest. A miracle occurred and her breasts were filled with milk, like the breast of a woman just after delivery. She said to the boy, "My breasts are filled with milk by your touch. I consider you as my child. Please stay with me." The boy told her that she would soon beget twins and until then, he would stay with her. The boy was named "Shankar". As predicted, the woman gave birth to twins, and immediately after that Shankar left for the Himalayas. As a corroboration to this story, it is said that after Maharaj took Samadhi, two men - twins - aged 80-90 years came to the Samadhi and said that their elder brother had taken samadhi there. Many people remember this event. However that brings Maharaj’s birth forward in time by some some decades.
III. The third version is described in the biography of his disciple, Dr. Nagesh Dhaneshwar (1899-1980). It is ascribed to the information given by Maharaj himself to Dr Dhaneshwar.
Dr Dhaneshwar had noted that the stories that Maharaj narrated about his past experiences appeared to be of much earlier times than his apparent age. Once he asked Maharaj about his age. Instead of answering the question, Maharaj asked him to judge his age from a physical examination, since Dr Dhaneshwar was a medical doctor. After thorough examination and taking note of the structure of joints, the length of the tongue and the angles of the teeth which indicate certain peculiar features after the age of 100, Dr Dhaneshwar judged his age to be more than 125 years. Maharaj agreed with him and told him that he was born in about year 1800 at Mangalwedhe in a family named Upasani. He was a very naughty boy and used to roam around as he pleased. One day, when he was about seven to eight years old, he chased a deer, armed with a bow and arrow (a common weapon of those times) and reached a Shiva temple at a place called Machnur. There he met a tall sanyasi who asked him not to shoot the deer and held it in his arms. But he did not listen and shot at it. The arrow hit the Sanyasi, but became blunt and fell down. The Sanyasi called him near and fondled him and that was how Maharaj was initiated as his disciple - by touch. Maharaj stayed with the Sanyasi for about six months, during which he gave Maharaj Knowledge and instructed him to go on pilgrimage. He then joined a group of Nath Panthi pilgrims and went to the Himalayas, where he practiced very hard Tapas. After returning from there he spent his time in the company of Siddha-yogis in and around Vriddheshwar hills (near Nagar).
The Sanyasi was Swami Samarth of Akkalkot himself. Maharaj told the Doctor that he had met the Peshwas and received Dakshina from the hands of Peshwa at Shaniwarwada in Pune. He further said that he had visited the country of the British who swallowed the Peshwa rule. There was one British collector in Pune, who, for some reason, developed faith in him and considered him his Guru. The collector took him to England where he stayed for ten years, taught him the path of yoga and returned after he reached perfection. Maharaj also added that he understood English language perfectly and had read complete Shakespeare.
The three accounts do not agree with one another. Also there are some discrepancies about the chronology of events described by Maharaj.
One question is how could he have accepted Dakshina from Peshwas if he had gone on pilgrimage? Dakshina is given only to Brahmins, and to be initiated as one, the person has to go through the ritual of thread ceremony - customarily held around the age of seven years or earlier. Thus, it is just possible that he went to Pune - probably with his father - and accepted the Dakshina. His meeting the British collector and going to England with him must have been after he returned from his Tapas in the Himalayas, may be after a lapse of couple of decades. By that time, the British had taken over Pune (in 1818) and established a civil administration. Thus it is possible that he might have met the collector at Nagar.
Mr. Dattatreya Abhyankar (See Ch V) told me a story, which confirms that Maharaj was born the Upasani family.
During the British days, there was a yogi saint named Upasani Maharaj in Nagar. Those were the days when the British, as conquerors with a high superiority complex, looked down upon anything Indian, including the religious and spiritual traditions. The British Government charged Upasani Maharaj with cheating the public in the name of spirituality. No lawyer would step forward to defend the yogi. They were a western educated lot and followed the footsteps of their governing masters. Noting this, Shri Shankar Maharaj met one pleader by the name of Shrotri, and persuaded him to take up the case of Upasani Maharaj who he said was his brother. Mr. Shrotri said that since he had no background of spiritual affairs, he would be unable to plead the case. But Maharaj asked him to just stand before the court and speak, and that he would see to the rest. Mr. Shrotri agreed and argued the case. Not only did he win the case but also received a commendation by the court for explaining the Indian spiritual system so ably.
Mr. Shrotri, however, was left confused. He did not know how and what he said in the court and why they had given him the commendation. When Maharaj came to thank him and insisted he ask for something in return. He asked Maharaj for Lord Dattatreya's "Padukas" which he could worship. In the sects following Guru tradition, the Padukas (sandals) are revered and worshipped as embodiment of the powers of the Guru. Maharaj agreed and took Mr. Shrotri to Ganagapur. He took him to "Bhasmacha Dongar", a small hillock of ashes. The ash-coloured soil is used as real ash in some worship rituals. Maharaj asked Mr. Shrotri to maintain absolute silence. He then put his hand in the soil and pulled out a paduka. Unfortunately when he put his hand again in the soil for the second paduka Mr. Shrotri asked Maharaj a question out of curiosity, thus disobeying the instructions. What Maharaj brought out was a piece of broken pot. Though Maharaj reprimanded him he was still gifted both the padukas, which Mr. Abhyankar said, are still worshipped by the family. I could not find out exactly when this event occurred but Shrotri’s name has been mentioned in the biography of Dr Dhaneshwar and it is very likely that the incident might have occurred in late twenties or early thirties.
Was Maharaj really 150 years old at the time of Samadhi? The above accounts show that it is possible. Such long life is not uncommon among yogis. We know that Bhishma died after Mahabharata war when he was past 150 years of age and Shri Krishna had an accidental death at the age of 119 years. More recently, Govindananda Bharati or Shivpuribaba from south India, after travelling all over the world, most of it on foot, settled in Nepal at Shivpuri near Khatmandu. His documented biography says that he passed away in 1963 at the age of 137 years. Shri Atmananda Swami, a Nath Panthi saint who was also a varkari (person performing a vari) passed away at the age of 128 in 1988, at Chorakhali in Usmanabad District. Thus one need not be surprised at the long life of Maharaj.
But all this still leaves a question mark about the real story of Maharaj’s birth, though there does not seem to be any doubt that he was born in the early nineteenth century and took samadhi at the age of about 150 years.
MAHARAJ in one of his various attires
MAHARAJ COMES TO MAHARASHTRA
Sometime after 1878 (the year when Shri Swami Samarth took samadhi), Maharaj returned to Maharashtra. Some seven decades must have passed between his leaving for Himalayas and appearing in Maharashtra. Not much is known about his activities during that period, but one must take note of the various legends about him and his own statements. The whole story of these intermediate years appears to be as puzzling as the varying stories about his birth, because not only was he known by different names in different places but is known to have taken samadhi also in these places.
For example, Maharaj is said to have told that he was known by other names elsewhere. In Gwalior region he was known as Gourishankar and took samadhi there. He once told that he had been at Raver in Khandesh region where he was known as Kunwarswami and that his samadhi temple is at a place called Waghoda where he took samadhi in 1878. (This is the also the year when his Guru Shri Swami Samarth of Akkalkot also took samadhi). The puzzling thing is that Maharaj left samadhis in these places and appeared in body as Shankar Maharaj in Maharashtra. Yet one must also remember that he was a Siddha-yogi and such feats would not have been impossible for him. Nevertheless it does puzzle a common man who would be happier with a materially rational account. Another piece of information received from Maharaj himself was that he spent some time with famous singers and Pakhavaj (a two sided percussion instrument) players and became himself a talented singer and Pakhavaj player, but gave up these activities after Shri Swami Samarth told him not to waste his time in such pursuits. Shri Swami Samarth taught him various aspects of yoga and tantra system and then authorised him to have his own disciples. But chronology of these events is again lacking or confusing.
On returning to Maharashtra, Maharaj came to Shubharai Math in Solapur and stayed there with Janardanbuva, one of the main disciples of Maharaj and the chief of the Math. From there he visited the Samadhi of his Guru – Shri Swami Samarth at Akkalkot, about 30 Km away from Solapur. Swami Samarth had stayed here from 1857 until his samadhi in 1878. Maharaj’s visit to Akkalkot must have been when he was past seventy years of age i.e. after nearly six to seven decades of absence from Maharashtra. Solapur visit must have been probably around the year 1900 or a little earlier.
From there, Maharaj went to Triambakeshwar near Nashik, where one of the twelve Jyotirlingas is located. Here, he stayed with Mr. Rambhau Akolkar, a lawyer. Wher he performed a miracle. The Akolkar family had a cow, which was not giving milk. When Maharaj asked to milk the cow she started giving milk. (There is a similar story given in Gurucharitra in which Shri Narasimha Sarawati performed a similar miracle in around 1400AD)
MAHARAJ COMES TO PUNE
From Nashik, Maharaj came to Pune. It is not very clear when he came there or whom he first met. Earliest accounts about him in Pune region date back to from when Dr Dhaneshwar met him in the garb of a fakir at Nagar (around the year 1908) and then in 1927, at Daund near Pune. Earlier, in around 1900 he had met and cured Dr Dhaneshwar’s father-in-law in Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh from a serious illness. Memories of Maharaj from Pune proper are from 1938 onwards after Yogi Dnyananath met him. Maharaj already had many disciples in Pune at that time. He stayed in Pune for prolonged periods and chose it for samadhi in 1947 in Mama Dhekne’s house.
The history of Maharaj during this period is full of stories of how he blessed and guided his devotees. All saints have miracles happening around them and Maharaj is no exception.
APPEARANCES AFTER SAMADHI
That ven after his samadhi Maharaj gave his vision to his devotees and helped them in their difficulties has already been mentioned in the first chapter. Instances of such experiences will come later. Many Siddhayogis have the power to do this as can been seen from the biographies of Shri Narasimha Saraswati, Shri Swami Samarth, Shri Gajanan Maharaj and Shri Saibaba of Shirdi.
But the uniqueness of Maharaj is in that he helps his devotees not only through visions, but also through the medium of different people. I have already mentioned Mr. Dinesh Kulkarni, who used to be a schoolteacher. Maharaj is known to have been using him as a medium, initially off and on, but almost continuously later for many years. We shall read more about it in a later chapter.
These appearances may appear to be strange to a materialistic person. But there are a large number of instances where, even in the western world, Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary are said to have appeared before many people in vision, either to help them or to strengthen their faith. The best example is that of Bernadette, whose vision of Virgin Mary on 11th February 1858 gave the western world the gift of the famous curative waters of Lourdes in France.
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