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Spiritual Masters: Shankar Maharaj Of The Tradition Of Nath Siddha's
Shankar Maharaj was a Perfect Master in the tradition of Nath Siddhas. Different stories are told about the birth and early life of Shankar Maharaj. But the following story of his birth and initiation by his guru appears to be most authentic, having been told by Maharaj himself to his prime disciple Dr. Nagesh Dhaneshwar of Nagar, about 200 kms from Pune.
Once Dr. Dhaneshwar asked Maharaj his age. Instead of answering, he asked him to judge his age from physical examination since he was a medical doctor. Dr. Dhaneshwar judged his age to be more than 125 years. Maharaj agreed with him and told him that he was born in about 1800 at Mangalwedha (near Pandharpur) in the family named Upasani.
He used to be a very naughty boy. Once, when he was seven to eight years old, he went chasing a deer. The deer entered the forests on the banks of the river Chandrabhaga towards a place called Machnur. He followed it and soon reached a Shiva temple. When he was about to shoot the arrow a large sanyasi came, lifted the deer and held it in his arms.
He said “My child, why do you kill the innocent animals? If you want to hunt, hunt wild animals, but don’t kill this” nevertheless he shot the arrow at the deer in the sanyasi’s arms. It hit him but became blunt and fell down. Another arrow also met the same fate. He became confused but the sanyasi smiled, kept the deer down, came near and fondled him.
Thus Maharaj got “ Sparsh diksha” or initiation by touch of the Yogi, who was no other than Swami Samarth Of Akkalkot. Maharaj stayed with him for six months during which he gave him all knowledge and instructed him to go on pilgrimage.
He went to the Himalayas where he did a very hard penance. On returning from there he spent his time with Siddha-Yogis in and around Vriddheshwar (near Nagar) which is known as the centre for meditation of several Nath Siddhas in the past. Maharaj remembered having received Dakshina from Peshwas hands in Shanniwarwada in Pune, the seat of Peshwas rule.
After the British took over Pune, he met a British Collector who developed a faith in Maharaj and considered him his Spiritual guide. He took Maharaj to England where he stayed for ten years teaching the yoga path to this British officer.
Being asked by Dr. Dhaneshwar whether this is how he is able to speak such good English, he said, “No Doctor, He who understands the principle which is beyond the source of all languages and who becomes one with it, knows any language, even the language of animals and birds. He becomes the energy itself therefore he is able to decipher the vibration. I understand the English language perfectly. I have read complete Shakespeare. He had rich experiences of life. Among his plays, I Like Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and Romeo-Juliet.”
One can surmise therefore that at the time of samadhi Maharaj was about 150 years old. It is not clear when Maharaj came to Maharashtra, Pune in particular. From the biography of Dr. Dhaneshwar who was born in 1899, it is seen that Maharaj met him at Nagar when he was a schoolboy, that must have been around 1910 when Maharaj was already past hundred.
He used to move frequently between Nagar, Pune, Solapur and Akluj, also visiting in places with Shri Dattatreya influence like Gangapur, Narsobawadi, Mahurgad and Girnar. Wherever he went he attracted devotees.
In appearance Maharaj is described as ‘Ashtavakra’ or bent in eight places. Maharaj had a short stature, but was “Ajunubahu” or having long hands reaching below his knees. Most noticeable were his large and bright eyes and a childlike expression on his face. In later years he had a beard. He often had a brandy bottle in his hand and a hunter whip with him.
He used to address people by the swear words, but without malice. It was believed that if Maharaj rebuked anybody he got rid of misfortunes. He used to talk with lisp which was due to his unusually long tongue. The immense kindness and compassion of Maharaj were consistent with his being a Nath Panthi in the Guru tradition.
According to what Dr. Dhaneshwar told “The aim of a Nath Panthi is to help people without bothering about his own personal liberation. Because of the compassion for all living, he takes birth again and again all over the earth in all communities and not necessarily ordained as a Nath Panthi during that birth. It is because of such selfless liberated souls that the fabric of human society is maintained.”
Maharaj did not stay long at any single place. He used to move from devotee to devotee. He was fond of smoking honeydew (popularly known as Pilo hatthi) cigarettes. He was also fond of drinking brandy and appeared to be often intoxicated. He used to like the scent (attar) of hina and loved music.
Maharaj used to drink with a purpose. His drunken appearance helped him in keeping unwanted people away. Only those people who saw Maharaj beyond the external looks could come to him. There are instances when Maharaj drank and another person nearby got drunk. Some people to whom Maharaj gave a brandy glass and asked them to drink it told later it was not liquor but nice tasting coconut water. Maharaj was fond of wearing rings and jewels but he could throw them or give to others easily.
The life of Shankar Maharaj has been full of miracles he performed to help his devotees. Such miracles are associated with many Yogis. The miracle includes the knowledge of past and future events, creation of matter going from one place to another instantly, being at several places at the one time, feeding a multitude from the small quantity of food and so on. Maharaj did these miracles to instil faith in them and to draw people to spiritual path. Maharaj had said, “I am a slave of the simple and teach lessons to the scoundrels. I am the blotting paper of egotistic persons. I cannot tolerate ego. I suck it out.”
Maharaj had large number of devotees and disciples world over. Dr Dhaneshwar, Maj. Abhyankar and his son Dattareya , Raobahadur Navale from all from Nagar; G.K Pradhan and Keshavbhai Asher from Mumbai, Raosaheb Mehendale and his wife Taisaheb, Vasudev Pandit, Baburao Rudra, Mamasaheb Dhekane, Yellubahi and Gosavi all from Pune, Girme and Vasant Kulkarni from Akluj, are some of well-known names from the large family of disciples. Maharaj gave spiritual guidance to millions, who are evolving spiritually under his protection even today. Dr Dhaneshwar was his principle disciple. According to Maharaj, their association was for more than six hundred years.
Being Nath Panthis in the earlier births also and closely connected to Gahininath. Maharaj had shown him the place where he i.e. Dr Dhaneshwar used to do sadhana in the caves in the Vrishdheshwar hills near Nagar in the previous birth. He was a very capable person and Maharaj gave him all his knowledge. Maharaj first appeared before Dr Dhaneshwar when the latter was a schoolboy but the real training started just after his Graduation in medicine.
Maharaj used to visit him often and throw things around. This used to make the doctor angry. One Day, Maharaj scattered some importance articles here and there. Doctor, who was under tension due to personal worries asked Maharaj to leave and when he did not, pushed him down the stairs. As a result of this outburst the doctor became unconscious.
When the doctor recovered from unconsciousness he found his head was on Maharaj’s lap and Maharaj was gently caressing his head with love of a mother. At that moment he suddenly realised the real nature of Maharaj. He realised that the Guru’s love is deeper than mother’s love. From that moment he completely surrendered to Maharaj.
Raosaheb Balwantrao Mehendale who was a barrister and his wife Taisaheb Mehendale were also close disciples of Maharaj . One of his friends Sardar Mirikar was instrumental in bringing Raosaheb to Maharaj.
Maharaj initiated Tai Saheb and asked her to give discourses on Dnyaneshwari (an exposition on Geeta). The Mehendale couple left Bombay and settled in Pune in their ancestoral house Mehendalewada at the Appa Balwant Chowk in Pune. Spiritual programs like the discourses, bhajans and kirtans were held in Mehendalewada which became a centre of solace for people who were frustrated in life and needed a relief. These discourses from Taisaheb used to impart deeper bliss to the listeners and they used to feel the meaning of their life being unfolded.
It was as if Shri Shankar Maharaj was speaking through her, for he had already told that “I myself cannot give discourse. I need some intelligent person with pure mind”.
This incident of giving darshan of the desired deity was unique. Sir Chunilal Mehta, once Governor of Bombay Presidency in British Raj was a close friend of Raosaheb Mehendale. He was a a kind natured person and scholar, well versed in both Western and Indian literature. He used to attend the discourses in Mehendalewada.
One day he told Raosaheb that inspite of his vast reading, travelling all over India visiting holy places, he felt something was lacking in his life. This was just before Taisaheb’s discourse on Dnyaneshwari was to start. The stanzas Taisaheb had selected that day related to seeing manifested God. Sir Chunilal was considerably influenced and said that he wanted to experience something like that. Raosaheb took him next day to meet Maharaj who was at that time in Mama Dhekne’s house.
Maharaj was as usual reclining on a cushion, laughing and talking to himself. Lady Mehta sat with Taisaheb on ground. Sir Chunilal stood and did namaskar to Maharaj. Raosaheb spoke to Maharaj and told him that Sir Chunilal had come with his wife to meet him. Maharaj first ignored him and then fixed his eyes on Sir Chunilal who instantly went into a deep trance, tears started flowing from his eyes. And then Sir Chunilal ran to Maharaj and fell on his feet making them moist with the tears.
Lady Mehta was also in a similar condition. Sir Chunilal later told that in those moments Lord Vishnu his personal deity had appeared before him. Sir Chunilal was still in trance for a long time. The feeling of incompleteness left Sir Chunilal permanently. Thereafter Sir Chunilal continued to remain in that internal trance state. He never went any more on pilgrimage to holy places. A few months before taking samadhi Maharaj had chosen the present site. It was a farmland owned by one Malpani who had agreed to give him the land. A few days before the samadhi, Maharaj told to his devotees, who had gathered at Mama Dhekne’s house, “These clothes have become old. They must be discarded.”
Everybody realized he was referring to his body and not real clothes. He then asked them to gather there after four days and that he would make ‘khichdi’ for them. Four days later, when they gathered at Mama Dhekne’s house, Maharaj himself cooked the ‘khichdi’ and distributed it. Then Maharaj said, “Dnyaneshwari is not to be read. One must live by it. This world has been saved only by the advice of the Saints and Dnyaneshwari He who fills his life with Dnyaneshwari will surely have a happy life.
I have nothing more to say.” And with that he bid good-bye to those who had gathered, except Dr. Dhaneshwar, Gosavi, Dnyananath, Mehendale couple, Mama and Mami Dhekne. He said, “For Yogis and liberated persons, samadhi should be taken at an auspicious time. This time is coming on Vaishakh Suddha Ashtami. I am going to deposit this material body in the ground that day.”
During the next ten days or so, Maharaj broke all outside contacts. Only the usual group used to visit him at Mama Dhekne’s house. Not a word was spoken. On the seventh day, that is the day before the samadhi, he told Mami,” Give me just a cup of tea. Inside the shelf-spread a small mattress and keep a cushion. I am going to take bath and sit here. I don’t want to speak a word nor meet anyone. The door should not be opened.” And they did accordingly. Mama and Mami were sitting the whole night in front of the shelf keeping watch. At four o’clock in the morning voice came from inside the shelf, “Make further arrangements. Take care of this material body. This flame of Dnyanadeo is now leaving it”.
It was April 24th 1947. People gathered to have a last sight of the body of the Master. Next day around noon the body was taken in procession to the place and by the route indicated by Maharaj. Ground was dug at the indicated place for the body. About five o’clock in the evening the body was interred and in no time only a mound of garlands was all that could be seen. An unusual thing about Maharaj has been that even after samadhi he visits his devotees Most visits have been out of a need to save them from calamities or to give guidance.