Upasani  Maharaj

Unpublished manuscript by British author Kevin R. D. Shepherd, completed in 2020

Author Kevin R. D. Shepherd (see bibliography)



84.   Informal  Talks (5): The  Dalit  Issue

85.   The  Four  Yogas

86.   Sai  Maula  and  Yavanas

87.   Sakori  Ashram, 1918-1932  Phase

88.   Interaction  with  Devotees

89.   Mahatma  Gandhi

90.   Self-Realisation: Different  Perspectives

91.   The  Value  of  Suffering

92.   The  Sai  Missionary  Critic  Narasimhaswami

93.   A  Resentful  Clique  and  Poison, 1927-1928

94 .  Panch  Kanyas, 1928-1932

95.   The  Sakori  Nuns: Kanya  Kumari  Sthan

96.   The  Divekar  Shastri  Libel

97.   Defamation  Case  Against  Divekar  Shastri, 1934

98.   Three  Court  Cases  Against  Upasani  Baba, 1934-1935

99.   Court  Case  Relating  to  the  Bombay  Devadasis  Protection  Act, 1935

100.  Bombay  Devadasis  Protection  Act  (October 1934)

101.  Last  Visit  to  Shirdi, 1935

102.  Contact  with  Meher  Baba (1894-1969) 

103.  Ramju  Abdulla  at  Sakori

104.  A  Disagreeable  Trait

105.  Last  Years  of  Upasani  Baba  Maharaj

106.  Testimonies

107.  Godavari  Mataji (1914-1990)

108.  Sakori  Ashram  and  Meher  Baba, 1952-1954

109.  Westerners  Visit  Sakori, September 1954

110.  Godavari  Mataji  and  Meher  Baba, 1955-1958

111.  Aftermath: Hindu  Female  Priests

APPENDIX ONE:  Pandita  Ramabai  Sarasvati

APPENDIX TWO: Upasani  Maharaj  and  Ramana  Maharshi





84.  Informal  Talks (5): The  Dalit  Issue

At Kharagpur several years before, Upasani Baba had been exceptionally daring. He transferred his abode to a bhangi colony, where he lived in the same environment as the Dalits. High caste opponents had launched a media campaign against him, also attempting to get the police on their side. The Talks reveal that Upasani had learned caution in confrontation with caste interests.

Today, the Sakori ashram maintains that Upasani viewed rectification of the "untouchable" (Dalit) problem as a long term project that would outlive Gandhi. Unfortunately, this outlook proved realistic. The opposition was extremely formidable. Various extensions of this matter can be probed here.

In the Talks, Upasani acknowledged the traditional four varnas, meaning the social classes of brahman, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra. He recognised that the ultimate spiritual state is transcendent of caste. He taught what may be called a liberal orthodox view of caste, with the addition of some radical themes. He was not an inflexible supporter of caste. He stated: “No castes are to be supposed superior or inferior in the society” (CIC:116).

He tended to ennoble the term shudra, unlike some more conservative high caste persons. He made statements such as: “If the human beings behave according to what is laid down for their class, they soon attain the pure Shudra or the pure Brahmana state. This happens by exchange of births from one class to another on the strict observance of the different rules meant for each class” (GT, 1:39).

In Talk 8, Upasani affirms that both shudras and (ideal) brahmans have no hindering prarabdha karma, which is contracted from independent involvement with worldly matters. Shudras were not independent, instead working for their masters; their simple agricultural lifestyle produced corn for many others. However, many modern brahmans had lost the advantage because of their secularised careers. The vaishya (merchant) and kshatriya (ruling) castes were afflicted by prarabdha, a complication from which they could only be absolved through their women (whose traditional role Upasani presented as being free of prarabdha). Upasani indicates the complexity of these matters, which “cannot be easily grasped and understood by everybody – that is why many are misled” (GT, 2:62).

In Talk 126, he says: “My talk sometimes is very much disconnected…. So much suddenly fills my mind – the various methods and means of getting out of the present degrading state of the people and the country. It makes me speak over the same thing again and again, in different ways, to warn you people to save yourself from all the suffering and pain” (GT, 2:535). Upasani viewed the national situation as retarded, both the British Raj and his own privileged brahman class committing many errors. His exposition is not couched in terms of today’s social commentary, extending to religious and mystical factors not generally comprehended or unanimously elucidated.

Reincarnation is a strong feature of his themes. Membership of the brahman class was no guarantee of salvation, and could be reversed in the next incarnation:

As a Brahmana, whatever actions he may have done during his lifetime, they lead him to his ensuing birth as a Kshatriya or Vaishya or a Shudra, and accordingly he becomes a royal personage and rules, or becomes a business man or a servant. If he becomes a servant, a Shudra, and he behaves as a pure Shudra is expected to do, he can have his next birth in the next higher class or straightaway in a Brahmana family. (GT, 1:39)

Upasani refers to Gulabrao Maharaj, a shudra of Vidarbha. “He came in contact with high class Brahmanas right from his birth; the qualities of pure Brahmana influenced him fully, and though not a Brahmana, he attained that Infinite Bliss” (ibid:45).

Modern social commentary dismisses reincarnation as any explanation for caste discrepancies. Upasani is a traditionalist, while expressing some modified emphases. He says of the outcastes or untouchables:

If these Mangas, Mahars, etc. behave strictly according to what is laid down for them... they get their ensuing birth in higher families and gain all the happiness; in their ensuing birth they become kings, Brahmanas or Deities; if they strictly follow their own code of life, suffer to absolve all others from the sins [meaning to remove night-soil], and desire nothing else, but remain absolutely contented with their own lot, they are able to attain that Infinite Bliss directly.... Chokha Mahara [Chokhamela], Sajjan Kasai, Rohidas [Raidas] Chambara behaved like that and attained Godhood in the same life. (GT, 1:300)

He is referring here to well known low caste sants. Upasani adds that priests and kings who abuse their code of life (svadharma), who misuse their power and position, become outcastes in their next birth. This is because they “utilise the fruits of the punya in a wrongful manner” (GT, 1:300). Punya means the store of virtue accumulated in the reincarnatory process.

Upasani considered untouchables to be eligible for the spiritual status of sants. He says that Atishudras, Mahars, and Mangs can follow their own aspirational career as “laid down for them” in scripture (GT, 1:202). He again refers to Rohidas Chambara (Raidas the cobbler) and Chokha Mahara “attaining the Infinite Bliss in this very life” (GT, 1:202-203). Raidas was a leather-worker of Benares who lived circa 1500. This sant belonged to the untouchable caste of chamars. However, Raidas became legendised in terms of a brahman status. Chokhamela was a fourteenth century Mahar sant, associated with Pandharpur.

In one of his talks, dating to 1924, Upasani referred to various persons, of different social backgrounds, who, if able to follow a satpurusha “with all faith and devotion, then they will go wherever the satpurusha would go” (GT, 1:264-265). Those followers explicitly included “Brahmanas, Mahars, Mangs” (GT, 1:264).

Although unusually benevolent towards the Mahars and Mangs, Upasani expressed some reservations based on orthodox attitudes. “No doubt the Mahars and Mangs form important communities in absolving all others from their sins [removing night-soil], and thus deserve all due reverence; but it does not mean that they should be worshipped and treated like an idol of God.... It would be obviously wrong to make a sweeper deal with your kitchen instead of your closet” (GT, 1:308). His statements are contradictory. He also commented: “God resides with the untouchables. Worship them on occasions. They should be provided with food and clothing” (CIC:119).

Critics say that he was in the unfortunate position of having to oscillate between two different perspectives, one imposed by implacable caste bias, the other resulting from his personal experiences of social deficit.

In Talk 59, he closely identified Mahars and Mangs with the satpurusha, for instance, in living on the outskirts of urban areas. “Becauses satpurushas are Mahars and Mangs, they also stay outside the town” (GT, 1:311). The comparison is made in the spirit of an exception to general caste rules. He explains:

Shastras [scriptures] cannot control a satpurusha; he has gone beyond them. Shastras and their regulations are meant for those who have not attained the state of a satpurusha; and hence common people should associate with Mahars and Mangs only according to the instructions laid down by the Shastras. (GT, 1:311)

The Sakori ascetic made contrasting statements on the same subject, apparently because of different audiences. His more conventional idioms, deferring to shastra texts, surfaced in the vexed issue of outcastes being prohibited from the Dattatreya temple at Sakori ashram. (335) This is a lamentably weak point in his presentation. Some of his remarks, in Upasani Vak Sudha, explicitly frown upon untouchables entering temples. His attitude has puzzled some Western readers, especially in view of his radical bhangi lifestyle at Kharagpur. 

The situation need not seem so puzzling. At that period (the early 1920s), discrimination against outcastes entering temples was a prevalent and inflexible prohibition in Maharashtra. Only a few years before, at distant Kharagpur, Upasani and his brahman devotees had suffered defamation from orthodox zealots because they assisted untouchable bhangis. The high caste opponents had sent a hostile gang to molest his brahman devotees at the bhangi colony. Upasani would not have wanted any sequel to this dangerous situation. High caste conservatives were manic upholders of socially afflicting biases.

In Talk 155, entitled Advice to Untouchables, he presents an argument conforming to prevalent orthodox reservations, while simultaneously encouraging untouchables to adopt sant practices as a means to salvation. The orthodox bias believed that if untouchables were allowed to enter temples, the sacred idols would be desanctified and lose the supernatural power created by brahman priests. Upasani here supports this bias, which exploited the concept of svadharma; the orthodox maintained that erring outcastes would be reborn as birds and beasts. According to conventional texts, birth in a low caste was punishment for papa (sometimes translated as sin). This doctrinal straitjacket was relieved by the alternative argument of Upasani for untouchables:

The one who has gone beyond all the dvandvas [opposites], whose mind is ever one with advaita, in other words, one who has gone beyond all pleasure and pain, friends and enemies, honour and dishonour, touchable and untouchable, good and bad, and so on, for good, if such a one - the saint – the satpurusha, is touched by an untouchable, or even if he dines with an untouchable from one and the same dish, this action of his is never treated as a fault or as a sin. Most of you know my own example. At Khadgapur [Kharagpur], if one foot of mine was touched by Brahmana women, the other was touched by the untouchables at the same time. I was actually staying amongst, and with, the untouchables. I used to do all their work. Good or bad work, good or bad food, was all the same to me. I was honoured and dishonoured. Many praised me while others defamed me.

[Untouchables] should keep no external contact [with temples] but try to develop the inner association [worship]. This inner association with God is of very great importance. Some good Brahmanas… instead of going to any temple and doing any actual worship, do manasa puja [inner worship] of God within their own heart with all devotion, faith, and absorption. Manasa puja is a very simple means that is available to anybody within his own self. The real devoted Brahmanas always perform manasa puja to please God…. Even the lowliest can take to manasa puja, and without any external manifestation, can easily attain the highest. (GT, 2:727, 731)

The reference here to “some good Brahmanas” may be taken to include himself. In the same passage, Upasani refers to low caste sants like Chokha Mahar and Rohidas Chambhara, outcastes and tradesmen who became “the great satpurushas.” They performed within their hearts the manasa puja, and thereby “attained all the temporal and spiritual happiness which many a Brahmana could not” (GT, 2:732). Upasani explicitly favoured the inner (or mental) worship.

The Dattatreya (Datta) temple at Sakori ashram became a setting for kanya (nun) activity, including daily performances of arati. This 1930s project for women was resisted by religious conservatives. Upasani experienced considerable difficulty in gaining a due recognition for the Kanya Kumari Sthan, an orthodox approval not materialising until 1939. His subsequent innovation of a Datta image, featuring the likeness of Godavari Mataji, was strategically synchronised with his death. The realistic prospect of an orthodox acceptance of untouchables, during his lifetime, was nil.

He also stated: “Untouchables should endeavour to be sattvic” (CIC:119), meaning they should lead a spiritual life. This feat would mean that “gradually in course of the next generation, there will no longer remain any difference between them and the touchables” (CIC:119). Upasani insisted upon sattva for all Indian communities. His recommendation of sattvic qualities was also made for non-brahman castes, with an injunction to “indulge in worldly activities only when necessary” (CIC:118).

“Never did he consider caste as a barrier to attain Moksha [liberation], that is the final goal of life” (CIC:217). Upasani stated that Dalits could attain salvation in their present incarnation if they became sants. In conformity with the high caste opposition, he objected to general social intermixing (in his instance, on the basis of a precaution about contrasting sanskaras). “He emphasised that the minds of the untouchables should be reformed and elevated first” (CIC:217). A major problem was the education of untouchables, who existed in the millions. Many people of his caste would not sanction education for untouchables.

Traditionalism in Maharashtra was still overwhelmingly strong. The contemporary Maratha politician Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) was very orthodox in his attitude to untouchables. This influential brahman criticised other Hindu nationalists who desired social reform. Tilak viewed social reform as a diversion from the struggle for home rule (Bhagwat and Pradhan 2008). He opposed the admission of Mahars and Mangs to schools. In 1905, Tilak advocated a boycott of British goods, a tactic which soon became a common swadeshi trend. He emphasised the superiority of Hindu religion. His political activism elevated the seventeenth century Maratha chieftain Shivaji as a symbol of emancipation. The politician favoured violent revolt against the British. “The style of revivalists like Tilak was aggressive and tended to reflect a kshatriya (warrior) worldview” (Michael 1999:29).

The family of Upasani Baba is loosely associated with Tilak, as a consequence of economic assistance rendered by the latter during the early 1890s. However, the Sakori ascetic diverged substantially from the politician in his viewpoint. Upasani was averse to the militancy of revolutionaries. He considered the famous boycott strategy to be an over-rated achievement falling far short of the spiritual and cultural ideal. Upasani was not a kshatriya in outlook. His interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita was not in the far more celebrated Tilak idiom justifying political activism.

Mahatma Gandhi, Ramana Maharshi

In 1933, Mahatma Gandhi (d.1948) launched a campaign for Dalit rights. In this connection, he accomplished a tour lasting nine months, commencing in November 1933. He pleaded for wells, temples, and roads to be made accessible to Dalits, or Harijans as he called them. Other caste constrictions were also opposed. Gandhi cleaned latrines with bhangis. He exhorted Dalits to improve their hygiene and sanitation, and to avoid drinking alcohol. In another direction, even the influential Gandhi could not persuade conservative Hindus to abandon caste discrimination. A commentator has emphasised that Gandhi was not advocating the abolition of caste; he instead wanted to integrate Dalits into the caste system (Man Behind the Myths).

During the same Harijan tour, in June 1934 Gandhi visited Poona to give a speech. His car was delayed, another vehicle of his party arriving first. A lethal bomb was thrown at the first car from the upper storey of a house. High caste opponents are strongly implicated. Harijans were anathema to caste insularists. Gandhi was fortunately not in the car; however, the explosion injured a municipal officer, two policemen, and seven others (Five Attempts on Gandhi's Life; see also Guha 2018).

Nearly twenty years before at Kharagpur, Upasani had substantially anticipated Gandhi. He had there cleaned latrines and also performed many other menial tasks reserved for Dalits. His high caste opponents had sent an aggressive posse to the Kharagpur bhangi colony with the clear intention of deterring him. Upasani had nevertheless persisted in his unconventional role until the day on which the police investigated the same colony. He then knew that the situation could get out of control.

In South India, Ramana Maharshi (d.1950) was similar to Upasani in rejecting any involvement with society at political level. However, he is not known to have worked with Dalits like Upasani and Gandhi. Ramana (an Advaitin) did not attempt to intervene in the apartheid occurring at the nearby Arunachaleshvara temple, located in Tiruvannamalai. This was still the situation in 1947, when Professor K. Swaminathan offered to take Mahatma Gandhi to meet Ramana. Gandhi said that he would be happy to make the visit if the professor could arrange for him to take the first batch of Dalits into the Shiva temple. The Congress party were now committed to a pending new law that would prevent temples from refusing entry to Dalits. The professor accordingly contacted a trustee of the Arunachaleshvara temple. This official responded in a revealingly negative manner: “We will not allow outcastes into the temple one day before we are legally compelled to do so.” The proposed visit of Gandhi was then cancelled; Gandhi never met Ramana (David Godman, Bhagavan and Politics).

Two years later, untouchability was proscribed by the Indian government. Tensions continued because the high castes were strongly resistant to change. Influenced by Dr. Bhimrao R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), about half a million Dalits became Buddhists in 1956. This was a radical form of Buddhism known as Navayana, created by Ambedkar in reaction to both orthodox Buddhism and Hinduism. Forty years after the new law of 1949, a Western scholar conveyed:

Though the Indian constitution has abolished untouchability, it is still an unpleasant reality in the lives and minds of many Hindus even today. In the villages, the former untouchables still usually live in secluded quarters, do the dirtiest work, and are not allowed to use the village well and other common facilities. The government tries to help them through privileges in schools and offices, but these are often eyed with jealousy and suspicion by the caste Hindus. Mahatma Gandhi fought for their rights, especially the right to enter Hindu temples (quite often they are still refused admission!), calling them Harijan, God’s people. But even he wanted to maintain the caste structure and was extremely angry with Dr. Ambedkar, the leader of the outcastes. (Klostermaier 1989:326-327)

Upasani made expansive gestures to unfortunates who were marginalised and rejected by caste society. One of his devotees was a low caste leper named Shantarama. This man, having given up all hope of a cure, sat at the gate of Sakori ashram. Shantarama was not shunned, but made welcome; he remained very visible. In Talk 87, Upasani refers to this leper as sattvika, describing him in glowing terms, benignly stipulating that the disease of Shantarama was sent by God, and not the result of papa (impurity, bad actions, sins).

His atma has become pure and [he] is almost in a Godly state. His very darshana absolves a person of his sins. He is inspired to sit at the outer gate. Whosoever comes here, first gets the darshana of Shantarama and gets his sins washed away. I also take his darshana every day within myself. I always revere such persons. (GT, 1:178)

Because of such emphases, the “orthodox” caste view expressed by Upasani is not typical of brahmanical attitudes. Many centuries before, the Manusmriti and other texts had relegated untouchables to the fringe of society, to places like graveyards and dung heaps. At Kharagpur in 1915, Upasani had lived on the level of a bhangi, a feat inviting orthodox hostility. At Sakori, his ambience was comparatively relaxed, nevertheless involving a very simple standard of living not achieved by many other gurus. His situation was remote from the British colonial lifestyle and follow-on tendencies of the Hindu “middle class,” many of whom were nationalists.

During the nineteenth century, Christian missionaries became interested in untouchables as potential religious converts. The political Raj atmosphere was more aloof. “The British never took up the Untouchables as a cause, but at the same time they were not drawn into positively endorsing a social system which they could recognise as morally dubious” (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998:26).

By 1911, the British government employed the phrase “depressed classes” in reference to untouchables, otherwise known by names like Mahar, Mang, and Atishudra. From 1935, the phrase “scheduled castes” was officially favoured. In 1933, Gandhi adopted the term harijan as an equivalent. A term of identity commonly used today is the Marathi word dalit (“broken to pieces”), first appearing in the 1920s (Rao 2009:xx). A bid for separate Dalit political representation failed in 1932 (the year that Meher Baba had a secret meeting with Dr. Ambedkar in Bombay). The stigma of untouchability was not abolished until the Indian Constitution of 1949 drafted the crucial Article 17 (Rao 2009:2).

There were 150 million Dalits by the 1990s, too often afflicted by social discrimination and caste violence. To prevent harassment of Dalits, the Indian government passed the Prevention of Atrocities Act in 1995. The 2011 Census recorded their number at over 200 million. Caste violence is still a major problem, confirmed by numerous reports.

The priest C. S. Rangarajan carries the Dalit Aditya Parasri into a temple at Hyderabad, 2018. Courtesy Getty

A notable exception is the case of C. S. Rangarajan, the head priest of a temple at Hyderabad. In 2018, he carried a Dalit on his shoulders into the inner sanctum of the Chilkur Balaji temple, where they prayed together. This liberal action contrasts with the general situation at most Hindu temples, where the entry of Dalits is still not permitted. The Hyderabad instance occurred 103 years after Upasani left Kharagpur in the face of serious conservative opposition.

85.  The  Four  Yogas

The theme of four Yogas has been well known in the West since Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) preached Hinduism in the 1890s. To general cognisance, this theme is more or less synonymous with Hinduism. Vivekananda treated the four Yogas as being equally applicable.

According to Swami Vivekananda, Karma Yoga “is a system of ethics and religion intended to attain freedom through unselfishness, and by good works; the Karma-Yogi need not believe in any doctrine whatever” (Vivekananda 1965:111). Nevertheless, it is relevant to comprehend the doctrine of karmas that is an underlying feature of the subject.

Upasani Maharaj

Though an other-worldly ascetic, Upasani Maharaj possessed a very practical streak. He was not a partisan of Raja Yoga, of which Hatha Yoga is an extension. He did not teach this subject, and is known to have warned about pranayama. He himself had suffered from afflicted breathing in earlier years. He was likewise intimately familiar with the Hatha topic of sushumna-kundalini. Upasani acknowledged his personal experience in that relation.  In 1924, he affirmed: “I am generally in the state of sushumna” (Talk 117). He evidently regarded sushumna experience as being too advanced and complex for general assimilation.

Upasani also veered away from teaching meditation, which he considered suitable only for a minority of people. Meditation is strongly associated with Jnana Yoga, a popular phrase denoting Vedanta. Upasani was very familiar with Vedanta, employing relevant terminology from that tradition in his published discourses. He may be considered an Advaitin in essential respects. However, he did not make the Advaita philosophy a primary feature of his ashram, not opting for a “sectarian view of life” (CIC:179).

In practice, he awarded a higher rating to Bhakti Yoga, exemplified to some extent by the Kanya Kumari Sthan. “Upasani Baba shows a distinct influence of Shankara and expounds his spiritual monism; however, he gives more importance to Bhakti” (CIC:184). He adopted teachings of the bhakti sants of Maharashtra (CIC:190). Bhakti is often translated as devotion; a more relevant meaning is “spiritual aspiration.” Explanations of Bhakti Yoga are often unsatisfactory. The subject is not fashionable in the West by comparison with Raja Yoga and Neo-Advaita.

The Sakori rishi also emphasised the ideals of Karma Yoga. Mahatma Gandhi is often stated to have been an exemplar of this practice. Explanations of Karma Yoga can vary quite substantially. Upasani eschewed the version of B. G. Tilak, who interpreted Karma Yoga as a support for political activism. Centuries earlier, “Karma Yoga was a householder ideal of the Gita which Shankara treated as a preliminary to jnana” (Shepherd 1995:658). Upasani awarded equality to these two approaches. Jnana represented the renunciate way of life. He nevertheless maintained that “God could be realised” by the householder (CIC:179).

In the majority of instances, he did not advocate sannyas. According to Upasani Vak Sudha: “There is no necessity to renounce samsara” (CIC:119-120). Certain safeguards were advised instead, including bhakti and association with a sadguru. The general ideological position of Upasani is reminiscent of the sant tradition in Maharashtra.

The meaning of the phrase karma yoga is sometimes rendered as “selfless service.”  Upasani described this pursuit in terms of gaining freedom from the bindings of actions. The subject has philosophical significance, while requiring careful evaluation. Some statements of Upasani follow:

The ideal sage, even though he may have reached Actionless-ness [transcending karma], has to do duty for the sake of others…. Actions should be done without a desire for the fruit therefrom. Because, an act, done [selfishly] with a desire for its fruit, becomes binding to you. On the contrary, an act, done [selflessly] without a desire or a motive, liberates you from the bondage of samsara or the wheel of birth and death, and helps to attain God-realisation. (CIC:102)

A complexity attending this subject is the nature of karma. There is more than one type of karma. Upasani frequently advised the exercise of nishkama karma, a salient theme in the Gita. The word nishkama means “desireless” or "selfless." This endeavour is often interpreted in terms of action performed without any expectation of reward or advantageous consequences. A mere restraint from action is not enough to secure freedom from karmic bindings. “Action without desire” is the remedy. This is a very difficult ideal to maintain.

According to Upasani Vak Sudha: “By indulging in many activities through the agency of body, mind, and intellect, the Jiva has to reap the fruit of its Karmas” (CIC:101). In this version, the vikarma process creates prarabdha, a form of binding karma which generally operates in the present incarnation; near future consequences cannot be avoided. All karmas bind the jiva (soul, limiting self) to the wheel of birth and death.

In this perspective, the human condition is beset and afflicted by factors not generally understood. Only intelligent action is the resolution. Due understanding of this factor is crucial. Some traditions say that knowledge of Brahman cannot occur until the prarabdha karma has been reaped. According to Upasani, some women have no prarabdha. “This seems to be his original idea, as it is not witnessed in the writings of earlier philosophers” (CIC:196).

A technicality emerges.  Upasani “does not seem to have said that women have no prarabdha.” Rather, women possess “such inborn qualities or aptitudes of mind, that those are not apt to lead her to create prarabdha” (CIC:196). This interpretation construes that Indian household women (as distinct from career women) could not create prarabdha because they “did not act by freewill,” but at the will of others (CIC:197).

His general explanation of prarabdha karma is distinctive. “An act, done with a [selfish or other] motive, creates prarabdha. If you increase the vasanas or desires, and indulge in unnecessary activities, prarabdha is formed” (CIC:97). Both good or evil actions, achieved by freewill, become mature and reap their consequences, which are known as prarabdha. When worldly activities are relinquished, prarabdha is eliminated. When duality is transcended, prarabdha disappears. “When it [prarabdha] is totally annihilated, there is no difference between man and God” (CIC:98).

In Talk 113, Upasani says that the prarabdha can only be cancelled through suffering. He also refers here to the creation of a new prarabdha cancelling out the old harmful pattern. This innovation is conceived in terms of religious behaviour, the performance of various satkarmas (good actions, also spiritual disciplines), and association with a satpurusha. The new prarabdha is not binding, because a freedom from desires is secured. Upasani cites a verse in the Gita as a basic reference point for the elimination of prarabdha. Gita 4:22 was epitomised by Upasani in terms of “Be as it may,” a favoured phrase of his. The signification is that of being content with whatever one experiences in success or failure, in rising above the opposites, “to disregard all the dvandvas [opposites] like pleasure and pain, mine and thine etc., not to hate or find fault or blame or defame or trouble anybody” (GT, 2:488).

In Talk 176, he describes vihita karma in terms of being accomplished for the attainment of God-realisation. In contrast, vikarma leads away from spiritual attainment to the formation of prarabdha, thus binding the jiva to the chain of births and deaths. “Most of the people in the world are seen to be doing vikarma throughout their lives” (GT, 1:470). In Talk 191, vihita karma has associations of selfless work (GT, 1:531-536).

In Talk 176, he stipulates three conditions for spiritual happiness:

1.  No other person should be troubled for personal convenience.

2. To be of assistance to others even at the cost of one’s own convenience or happiness.

3.  To always remain content in all circumstances. This achievement can remain unaffected by the influence of any karma (GT, 1:471). The stipulation answers to an aspect of “Be as it may,” and can sound deceptively easy.

The theme of sanskaras (impressions), taught by Upasani, clearly relates to karmas. These sanskaras determine the process of reincarnation. “If you remain aloof from society, making your mind a complete void, sanskaras will disappear” (CIC:98). This is a Yogic ideal. However, he did not generally advocate that recourse, instead favouring forms of action as a remedy. The bhakti angle is strongly represented. The hindering impressions, lodged in the mind, are eliminated by “remaining in the company of saints” (CIC:98). This reflects the sant ideal of satsang (often diluted in terms of a musical gathering).

The sanskaras are illusory and perishable, but nevertheless a formidable binding. A warning note is sounded: “Your mind becomes fickle if you inhale [intake] evil sanskaras of others” (CIC:99). The retarded people are in a very different category to the recommended saints.

86.  Sai  Maula  and  Yavanas

Sai Baba outside the Shirdi mosque, possibly 1909

Talk 208 is a very unusual testimony to the strong affinities occurring between Muslim and Hindu saints. This communication, dating to August 1924, is entitled The Origin and Importance of Yavanas. The word yavana here means Muslim. Sai Baba is here described throughout as a Muslim. The strong testimony of Upasani Maharaj contradicts a subsequent preference of those writers who presented the Shirdi saint as a brahman.

Another discourse, Talk 205, is convergent. A pronounced theme, in both of these discourses, is reincarnation. According to Upasani, Sai Baba was a brahman of Mulhera in a former incarnation dating to the Mughal era. Sai is here described as a disciple of Samarth Ramadas Swami (d.1681), who named him Uddhava. A process of linkages is briefly mentioned. Through Uddhava, intervening saints like Akkalkot Swami and Manik Prabhu were ultimately united in Sai Baba. This enigmatic reference may imply a physical contact of Shirdi Sai with the two nineteenth century Hindu saints named here.

A further complexity is rather obscurely broached. “Sai Baba got into the state of Yavana [Muslim] due to this relation of Kabira.” The fifteenth century poet Kabir (a Muslim weaver) is apparently meant. Kabir is also viewed as a satpurusha, and described as a devotee of Rama (this orientation is a feature of the Kabir poetic corpus, the authenticity of which has been debated). However, Upasani does not identify Sai Baba with Kabir in the reincarnatory sense favoured elsewhere. Instead, he makes the distinctive assertion: “Having taken many births as a Brahmana, Sai Baba had to accept the Yavana state” (GT, 3:199).

Talk 205 also has the statement: “The ultimate satpurusha form of Shivaji was Sai Baba” (GT, 3:198). This theme elevates the Maratha chieftain Shivaji (d.1680), who was legendary by the time of Upasani. The radical contention would have been incomprehensible to high caste Hindus who despised the Shirdi faqir as an outsider to Hinduism. Talk 205 is entitled The further evolution of Shivaji. Such titles were created by Hindu editors. However, Upasani was definitely exalting a Muslim faqir by recourse to the popular Hindu image of Shivaji, who had recently been recast by the politician Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

The slightly earlier Talk 208 begins with a contention that Ishvara created the Yavanas from the brahman caste, for the ultimate good of the latter. The improvisation is elaborate. This is a mythology of night-soil, the sacred cow, and the formless state. “Muslims are the devotees of Nirakara [formless] state” (GT, 3:221). Upasani presents the key theme of Sai Maula. “Sai Maula and Brahmana virtually mean one and the same thing” (GT, 3:222). His overall intention was evidently to explain his close link with Sai Baba, a matter that was not easy for many high caste Hindus to assimilate.

During the lifetime of Sai Baba, Muslims would often refer to this faqir as Sai Maula, whereas Hindus frequently favoured the name Sai Nath. Upasani revived the Muslim usage, while imparting his own context of meaning.

Talk 208 relays the belief of Hinduism that a perfect brahman transcends the cycle of births and deaths. Upasani introduces an innovation:

His behaviour in accordance with his svadharma leads him to the attainment of Brahma; he does not require the help of a Yavana for that purpose. But if he wants to enjoy that Infinite Bliss, that is, be conscious of being in the state of Brahma, he has to take the help of the Yavana form. Once a perfect Brahmana and a perfect Yavana unite, thousands associated with them get automatically liberated. (GT, 3:224)

This statement was potentially heretical. Upasani was evidently describing his own experience, which so prominently featured a Muslim faqir. His theme of a mystical unity between Hindu and Muslim was categorical, quite clearly enunciated. “There is no difference between a perfect Brahmana and a Sai Maula; they are but one and the same” (GT, 3:225).

The Arabic/Urdu word maula or “master,” is also relayed in Hindi, a language spoken by Upasani. His phrase Sai Maula has the connotation of a spiritual state, while also providing a description of the Shirdi faqir. In the former respect, the discourse asserts: “Once one attains the state of Sai Maula, one can enjoy, experience, that Infinite Bliss [Ananda]” (GT, 3:223).

Upasani says eulogistically: “A Muslim, who has reached the highest, strictly in accordance with his faith, is also a gem” (GT, 3:223). He capped this praise with the non-dualist statement: “To me, all the Mahars, Mangs, Muslims, English, etc, are all the same” (GT, 3:228). The meaning is that the spiritual potential of all parties mentioned is identical.

The audience at Sakori were brahmans. In their direction, Upasani ventured a criticism: “You Brahmanas are very proud. Think over for a while that I am a Muslim, and that I am speaking from their [Muslim] point of view at present” (GT, 3:229).

For many years, Talk 208 remained one of the unpublished discourses. The provocative nature of content did not gain a high rating amongst devotees. Upasani even states: “This place [Sakori] is the durbar – the Court – of Sai Baba” (GT, 3:230).

In Talk 208, Upasani refers to a brahman being born repeatedly as a Muslim. “Sai Baba has been having many births as a Brahmana, and a Brahmana that of [a] Yavana” (GT, 3:244). This can be interpreted as a daring reference to himself. The impression conveyed is that a Hindu became born as a Muslim (Sai Baba), while a Muslim became born as a Hindu (Upasani Baba). The cross-over is commemorated in unique personal reminiscences and reflections that are still largely unknown. The significance of Talk 208 cannot be overstated. An acute neglect befell this discourse during the intervening century.

Upasani emphasises that, during his phase at Shirdi, he was experiencing a “transfer” (or exchange) of his atma (atman) with the atma of Sai Baba. Some people (Sai devotees) at Shirdi hated him, and still hated him (in 1924). The aversion of high caste Hindus to Sai Baba is also implied; there were apparently traces of this resistance at Sakori. Upasani indicates a mystical situation which made nonsense of the biases. “They [Sai devotees] were [actually] hating Sai Baba, because I was experiencing the transfer of our atmas” (GT, 3:232). The meaning is that the people who hated Upasani were inadvertently hating Sai Baba, these two ascetics being in complete harmony.

This situation had a strong effect upon some Muslims from Bombay who visited Shirdi. At the Khandoba temple, they would perform namaz (daily prayers) in front of Upasani. He would resist and drive them away (as he did with Hindus). These Muslims would say that the Shirdi mosque had turned into a temple, while the Khandoba temple had become a mosque. Upasani comments in Talk 208: “The Muslim [Sai Baba] had become the Brahmana, and Brahmana [Upasani] the Muslim” (GT, 3:232). Sai Baba probably encouraged the Bombay Muslims to visit the Khandoba temple in the way they did, despite a tendency of the temple dweller to be unwelcoming (the same Muslim visitors are mentioned more extensively in Sakori na Sadguru).

In this discourse, Upasani further relates that, at the Shirdi mosque, Hindu devotees would apply the chandana mark to the forehead of Sai Baba. At this same period, Upasani would sit abstractedly in the Khandoba temple without performing his former daily ablutions or other brahman observances. He would say to his detractors: “The one you really hate is there, sitting in the mosque, and is being worshipped” (GT, 3:232). The meaning is that, in hating him, the detractors (like Nanavali) were effectively despising Sai Baba, the yavana who had transformed him.

Upasani also relays that many Hindus refused “to take the tirtha of Sai Maula because he was a Muslim, and thus lost the benefits thereof” (GT, 3:233). The resistant high caste Hindus feared contamination.

The same discourse states: “I am warning you not to hate a Muslim who has attained the state of Sai Maula” (GT, 3:233). Upasani edged this warning by reflecting that the high caste pride, involved in the hate, would perpetuate the afflicting cycle of births and deaths. “Simply to be proud of being a Brahmana, you will get nothing – you will not attain the state of Brahma” (GT, 3:239).

Upasani even says: “Unless the Brahmana Faith is destroyed, the Brahma cannot be experienced” (GT, 3:240). The context is that of Muslims serving as a corrective to Hindu pride; furthermore, both religions had developed problems. For centuries, the brahman caste had been performing rituals, while the Muslims had been demolishing Hindu actions (and temples). The brahmans had developed pride in their sattva; the destructive tendency had made Muslims attached to tamas. As a consequence, both of these religious communities “must lose the pride of their faith” (GT, 3:238). This is because the “real actionless state” was not attained by the respective orthodoxies.

Until the 1950s, one of the unpublished discourses was Talk 302, entitled Meaning of Allah. This very brief item improvises a decoding of the letters comprising the word Alla[h]. Upasani here concludes that Allah means an absence of the sakara (saguna) state, the Islamic word denoting the nirakara (nirguna) state. The Sanskrit word saguna means with form, whereas nirguna means formless. “It means that what we call Brahma the Muslims call Allah” (GT, 3:562). The Sakori satpurusha was clearly concerned to emphasise the unity existing beneath different religious terminologies. He may be described as perpetuating the eclectic tradition existing for centuries in Maharashtra.

87.  Sakori  Ashram, 1918-1932  Phase

When Upasani settled at Sakori, he was content with a very basic rural setting adjoining an agricultural village. He lived in a simple hut on a cremation ground, accompanied by thorn bushes, snakes, and scorpions. Human corpses were occasionally in sight. The cremation ground was a traditional scenario for Shaiva ascetics. Upasani Baba was not a sectarian in his outlook, commending both Vishnu and Shiva; he also respected Dattatreya, a deity of Maharashtra celebrated as the trimurti (trinity) of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.

At the cremation ground, Upasani would unflatteringly describe himself as a dead corpse (GT, 1:400). However, he was not dead to his environment. During the influenza pandemic of 1918-19, he disposed of corpses which the villagers neglected in their fear of contamination. He also saved hundreds of local cattle from famine, attended to lepers, distributed food to the poor, and improved the landscape by planting trees.

The devotees at distant Kharagpur included many brahman office workers. They sent to Sakori gifts of bilva fruit and coconuts. The sacred Indian bilva tree (aegle marmelos) yields a pear-shaped fruit that is traditionally a remedy for, e.g., digestive ailments and piles. Seeds from these and other gifts were planted in, and adjoining, the cremation ground. These labours eventually produced many trees. The plants were watered by devotees and others, with Upasani assisting the volunteers. The bilva plant is mentioned in Sanskrit texts dating back to the Vedic era, being associated with Shiva, and possessing renowned medicinal properties; the felling of bilva trees was prohibited in India at an early date (Dwivedi 2012).

Upasani Maharaj

Talk 207 is entitled The Importance of Sakori, dating to 1924.  In an associative vein, Upasani here says “Sakori is Kashi,” meaning that both places featured cremation (GT, 3:213). In his play on the meaning of words like Sakori, he invoked Sai Baba as the source of relevant knowledge. “See what Sai Baba is saying about Sakori – he is telling you that if you want to come here, you have to approach either after killing your mind or after having left ahamkara (egoism), lust and desire” (GT, 3:212). Upasani often emphasised the serious commitment required of visitors, who frequently substituted mundane objectives.

When he made “the second hut” accessible in early 1922, he would there give darshan to devotees both in the afternoon and at night. A small mango grove already existed at this spot. Talk 207 confirms that Upasani made the cremation ground more attractive by planting further trees. He collected and planted stones from mangoes eaten by devotees. The result was two hundred mango trees that flourished and bore fruit. The area featured rocky terrain; villagers warned that mango trees did not take root in such conditions. Upasani proved the sceptics wrong. Low caste cobblers at first tended the sapling trees, while receiving food in return. One consequence was a rare mango creeper (amra valli) celebrated in the Puranas. Many years later, only a small number of mango trees survived by 1948 (SSS:13), apparently because of the extensive building operations on the ashram site.

The report of these horticultural activities is accompanied by a theme illustrating the real purpose of Sakori ashram. “Everybody must try to kill the jiva” (GT, 3:217), meaning the transient self that blocks liberation. The message was often obscured by forms of inattention.

When Upasani pointed out attitude problems in visitors, this could cause dismay. On one occasion in March 1924, he praised Gulbai (Gulmai) Irani for her exertions, but criticised other visitors for their complaining attitude. These people (apparently brahmans) lamented having to walk to Sakori from Kopergaon, in the absence of transport facilities. They also complained of not getting a separate room at Sakori to stay in. The situation is recorded in Talk 64. Upasani observed that other people never complained, taking whatever space was available. Moreover, “when I ask you to take part in something, you say you cannot do it…. You force me to say that you will be alright. Naturally, the only reply I can give is ‘God will look to it’ ” (GT, 1:320). He was referring to the typical reluctance of the brahman caste to perform manual work.

In contrast, he extolled Gulmai for participating in manual labour, transporting bricks and lime, when the first ashram temple was being constructed a few years earlier. “She belongs to higher society; she never walks barefooted even in her house. But when she came here, she set aside her social status…. She exerted in every way, physically, mentally, and monetarily. She brought her pride under control” (GT, 1:320). Gulmai came from the small Zoroastrian community at Ahmednagar, her husband now being an affluent merchant.

In Talk 188 (November 1924), Upasani says that everybody should try to kill the jiva and mind by continually performing spiritual disciplines. He guards against any superficial interpretation by emphasising that he does not mean killing the body, or suicide. “You have to exert to remove all the sanskaras accumulated during the [many] births. Kill the sanskaras, kill the jiva, kill the mind and ascend to that highest Manga state” (GT, 3:133). The reference to Manga state indirectly elevated the untouchable (Dalit) category known as Mangs.

In Talk 263, Upasani disavows the devotee description of himself as God. “You may be taking me to be God, but I do not consider myself to be anything like that” (GT, 3:356). He even complained: “No punishment is equal to being labelled as a satpurusha” (GT, 3:357). He compared himself adversely to the legendary Nath Yogis (Nava Nathas). More pointedly, he described the theory of his Godhood as a “false charge.” He attributed this problem, perhaps rather humorously, to a boyhood dream of Ganesha, who had rebuked him for looking at the moon on Ganesha Chaturthi day.

Upasani also said on this occasion that, to annul the false charge, he had resorted to throwing stones at others. The implication is that he had to appear uncouth for the purpose of correcting the wrong impression conveyed by devotees. However, he had since relinquished that recourse (GT, 3:359-360). Stone throwing was a characteristic of Sai Baba.

The annoyance of Upasani appears strongly related to his complaint that “hundreds of patients come here and I tell them to go to a doctor” (GT, 3:356). These darshan visitors assumed that he could cure them. Upasani countered by saying that if he had divine powers, he would be able to resurrect deceased persons at the cremation ground.

The Sakori ascetic did make a concession to overwhelming expectations. He produced dung cakes, a common fuel prepared from cow dung. In response to requests, he would burn this fuel to create sacred ash (udi), which he gifted in benediction to devotees. Upasani allowed some female devotees to assist him in making the fuel. He uttered mantras in the process, attributing a supernatural power to the dung cakes accordingly (GT, 2:350). Two Kharagpur devotees, Guard Mama and his wife Mami, became known for worshipping these dung cakes, at Sakori, in May 1924. They were commemorating an event occurring nine years earlier in 1915, when brahman women at Kharagpur worshipped Upasani as Gauri (Parvati), the spouse of Shiva. Being averse to his personal worship, the ascetic had asked those women to worship instead the dung cakes lying nearby. They had complied with the request (GT, 2:348).

Upasani Baba was not always in reaction to being called a sadguru or a satpurusha. Various third person references in Talks discernibly apply to himself. He did sometimes directly acknowledge his abilities as a satpurusha. His definition of this term, in Talk 259, reads: “A satpurusha can be said to have a mind as well as no mind; the mind of the whole world is his mind; his mind is not limited, but is always in an infinite state” (GT, 2:339).

Talk 294 is entitled Knowing a Satpurusha and Our Duty (September 1925). This discourse includes a reference to common assumptions about what a satpurusha is. That category of saint was superficially identified with miraculous phenomena. Upasani here states:

People call somebody, sitting in a cave or in a forest, or at whose hands miracles appear to happen, as satpurusha; but this is their ignorance. The real satpurusha is fully virakta [detached]. (GT, 3:532)

In Talk 306, he supplies a Vedantic context for the satpurusha, referring to the paramahamsa state. Upasani here says that the satpurusha, or paramahamsa, has no papa (vice) or punya (virtue). Instead, the satpurusha enjoys ananda, a term denoting the infinite bliss of Brahman, which is the transcendent root of both papa and punya, agents that bind to the world of duality (GT, 3:569-570).

Hindu males were in the habit of performing the shraddha ritual for deceased relatives. For this much honoured rite, they prepared pinda, a food usually in the form of rice balls. The practice of offering pinda to cows (also viewed as ancestors) survived at Sakori. Devotees and visitors also touched their pinda to the feet of Upasani. In addition, many would touch bones of the deceased to his feet. The ascetic was not always amenable to interruption; however, he seems to have accepted such procedures as “the will of God that all this is happening here to give sadgati to those [deceased] persons” (GT, 2:368). The word sadgati can mean a smooth passage, entry to heaven, advantageous rebirth, or liberation.

In 1924, he was commenting that many visitors to Sakori performed the shraddha ritual, and also touched his bamboo cage with pinda offerings. Their intention was to ensure progress for ancestors (GT, 2:332). Deceased relatives were believed to be trapped in the hell known as Pitru, as a consequence of unfulfilled desires. A doctrine had long ago developed that ancestors would not be able to progress unless redeeming rites were performed by males in the family, who had to supply pinda and water. This convention is briefly mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita (1:42). Many people performed shraddha at pilgrimage sites like Nasik and Varanasi (Kashi).

Talk 35, entitled The Shraddha Ritual, dates to January 1924. Upasani here starts by acknowledging the orthodox belief that a shraddha rite is beneficial to ancestors. He then quickly elevates the satpurusha, saying that if anyone dies in association with a saint, they can attain spiritual liberation. This benefit was equivalent to “dying in a sacred place like Kashi” (GT, 2:219). He implies that the satpurusha is more important than any sacred place. Upasani states that if anyone has no relative to perform shraddha for him after decease, “the mere association with a satpurusha leads him to a status far higher than a proper shraddha is likely to give” (GT, 2:219).

Rejecting rice balls, an old man told Upasani that he had offered himself as the real pinda for his dead mother. “So please do something about it.” The ascetic was expected to act as an intercessor in this event of dana (offering). Upasani responded: “But what should I do – what can I do?” The resulting discourse is Talk 291 (dated June 1925).  He pointedly asks: “Where is the son who is ready to offer himself to a satpurusha?” He advocates destroying the mind to gain liberation. “Whatever we see around, as also all the family of ours, is nothing else but a reflection in one’s own mind” (GT, 3:519). Full pinda dana is here adherence to a satpurusha. There follows a description of the after-death state that cannot be found in orthodox texts:

At the last moment [of life], the mind moves far more quickly than electricity; in a moment it takes stock of all that has been done during that life…. The sanskaras [impressions] gathered during life cannot be cancelled. From the time of death until the next birth, the invisible results of all the activities and the invisible sanskaras rapidly undergo transformations one after another, and during this process, the pleasure and pain created have to be borne by the Jiva. (GT, 3:520-521)

In May 1925, a visitor pressed for the sacred thread ceremony of his son to be performed in the presence of Upasani. The ascetic replied: “Those who love worldly life like to make a great show at the time of [the] thread ceremony…. If such men come here… I ask them not to perform it [the thread ceremony] here; I always avoid them and their ceremonies” (GT, 3:507). He added that if these ritualists persisted, he allowed them to do what they wanted, while secretly observing their behaviour for the purpose of guiding them to the “spontaneous path” (GT, 3:508). The route of mystical spontaneity diverged from ritual, punditry, and other orthodox trappings.

At this time, he informed in Talk 288: “Some people come and request me to give them some mantra. I tell them that I do not understand and have not got any mantra. Again, all that I am talking is mantra” (GT, 3:503). Mantra was a very popular attribute of conventional initiation. Upasani disappointed and baffled persons who expected these procedures from him.

The Sakori mystic evidently considered the darshan routine to be a rote procedure of little value. He is on record as saying: “Find out some method by which you have my constant darshan without coming to see me” (GT, 3:500).

Upasani Maharaj

An element of humour appears in some of his discourses. In May 1925, he exclaimed: “The one who has attained the state of Sat-Chit-Ananda is the biggest criminal!” (GT, 3:473) He explains his meaning by asking: Is it not a crime to enjoy that Bliss by oneself, while so many people are suffering from troubles? Upasani compares the situation to eating sumptuous food while everyone else starves. He says that is why he blames himself, and is anxious to share the Bliss with others.

On Gurupurnima day, in June 1925, hundreds came to Sakori for darshan. These people brought gifts which they placed in the bamboo cage (pinjra). Upasani gazed at the pile of gifts, commenting ruefully: “This is the real punishment…. I have been given the work of a sweeper” (GT, 3:515). He was referring to the necessary action of clearing away the gifts, which he regarded as superfluous debris. He did not ask for the gifts, living as a world renouncer.

A very compact version of his mystical teaching is found at the end of Talk 313 (December 1925). Some familiarity is needed with basic terms employed:

By adopting smallness, i.e., vamana state, by leaving all abhimana [egoism], and by behaving in the style of “Be as it may,” that “Only” [kevala] is achieved in the shortest time possible. (GT, 3:581)

The word vamana here means a state without pride. The Sanskrit word kevala, favoured in the Sankhya-Yoga vocabulary, means uncompounded, pure, whole.

Upasani Baba could be unpredictable. In Talk 156, dating to January 1925, he relates how devotees had recently intended to bathe him, using much hot water and oil. However, he would not allow this, instead washing the feet of all these people, while bowing down to them. “I was very much benefited by this [act of] washing your feet and bowing down, since all of you are nothing else but different forms of God” (GT, 2:733). He added:

I have no business to think – I do not think anything, of all that you do by me. I am only to observe, I only see whatever happens, and just carry on according to the principle of ‘Be as it may.’ Whatever happens through me – whatever I am made to do, I have to allow it to be done…. A satpurusha who has attained the full state of a bemara [without desires], whether anybody approaches him or not, he always works for the good of the world in accordance with the will of the Almighty. Nobody knows how and what he does, his work is always invisible. (GT, 2:733)

“Be as it may” was a major theme of Upasani, reminiscent of the detachment portrayed in the Gita. In this perspective, he was independent of devotee plans and actions. “Be as it may” was not straightforward in operation. He would characteristically resist devotee strategies, then subsequently permit a degree of latitude. He did not in fact accept events as they came, which is a facile interpretation of his method.

He now began to relax his earlier resistance to accepting money. Initially, at Kharagpur, Shirdi, and elsewhere, Upasani would sternly repel devotees who gifted him with money. At Sakori however, he eventually began to accept donations, via intermediaries like Yeshwantrao Borawke; by this means, various buildings appeared. (336)

He was averse to the custom of garlanding a holy man. In 1924, someone placed a garland around his neck, put flower strings on his wrists, and pressed a bouqet into his hand. Upasani joked about this lavish treatment, which he clearly regarded as an impingement. He remarked that, to prevent a cow running away, a halter was put around her neck. “In the same way, this garland has been put around my neck, and these wrist strings are like handcuffs” (GT, 3:126). He emphasised that these ostentatious decorations were like a punishment to him.

Upasani had for years been bathing and feeding lepers at the time of bhandara festivals. This was a very unusual activity for any guru to undertake. Comparisons are extremely scarce. By December 1924, there were (at least) three lepers living at Sakori, including Shantarama. Upasani refers to this trend in Talk 200. He adds that if these sufferers developed devotion and faith, he might be obliged to contract their leprosy. He therefore advised people to take darshan from a distance, or use his photograph for worship. He informs that some devotees took tirtha of his feet every day (this rite involved drinking water used to wash his feet). He asks: would they continue this ritual if he caught leprosy? “That is why I always advise people to worship the cage” (GT:184-85). He was never keen on the worship of his person.

In Talk 198, dating to December 1924, Upasani refers to the habit of Sai Baba in demanding dakshina (which was always redistributed communally). He remarks that it is best to offer dakshina to a satpurusha instead of the saint asking for this donation. He adds that the brahmans, having adopted secular careers, no longer accept dakshina. Upasani says that satpurushas also have no interest in dakshina, and do not need money for a family or house. “If you are lucky, then they accept dakshina from you” (GT, 3:176).

In March 1925, Upasani visited Shirdi for the first time since the death of Sai Baba. He was accompanied from Sakori by many devotees. He stopped at Khandoba’s temple, his former residence. There he sat for a while, reminiscing about past events. Tears flowed from his eyes.

Many people in Shirdi came to greet him. He was then conducted to the mosque of Sai Baba, where he visited the dhuni and sat on the steps leading down to the courtyard. His reception was positive, local people being keen to take his darshan. They even performed arati before him, using the same song employed in the worship of Sai Baba.

The visitor moved on to the tomb of Sai Baba, located at Butiwada. There he participated in the arati performed daily at that site. Upasani “put his head on the padukas for a fairly long time, and with tears rolling down his cheeks, squatted on the floor leaning against a pillar” (SSS:64-65). He was silent for some time.

Afterwards he visited other locations in Shirdi associated with the deceased faqir. Finally, he made his way back to the Khandoba temple, where for some while he sat under the banyan tree nearby. Again he shed tears. This was a deep mood of reminiscence, commemorating the events of 1911 onwards. A number of Shirdi inhabitants were amongst the observers. He returned to Sakori at the end of the day.  (337)

Upasani always deferred to the spiritual stature of Sai Baba. Gopal Bhaskar Datar was a brahman pleader of Thana and a visitor to Sakori. Datar listened to some of Upasni’s discourses and saw him at Bombay (apparently during the 1920s). “His Upasani Lilamrita, which I read in 1931, gave me a good impression of Sai Baba” (NDE:209).  Datar became a devotee of the deceased Sai.

Upasani made strong links with Hyderabad (Andhra), a city so strongly associated with the Nizam. In 1926, he visited this city at the request of devotees there. He stayed in a government bungalow at Begumpet, where thousands arrived for darshan. At this time, he delivered discourses in Hindi, published under the title of Upasani Gita. After two months, he moved to Keshavgiri. Here a secluded bungalow was made available to him by a royal devotee, Raja Narsing Raj Bahadur. This aristocrat arranged a saptah or worship rite, including the feeding of brahmans and the poor (SSS:23-24).

When Upasani returned to Sakori, his health was poor. As a consequence, he went to Nadiad in Gujarat, spending some time there alone. On the return journey to Sakori, he stopped at Bombay, staying with Seth Govind Das, whose home in Walkeshwar became a magnet for large crowds. On 1 August 1926, Upasani received a non-stop influx of darshan seekers from early morning onwards. He “could not rise from his seat until midnight” (SSS:59). He made frequent visits to Bombay in later years; a temple was constructed in his honour at Ville Parle by 1933.

The Sakori belief that animals could attain a route to liberation was similar to the ideological milieu of Ramana Maharshi. In the 1920s, Yeshwantrao Borawke had a dream that Upasani was riding his horse. He accordingly made a gift of the horse to his guru. Upasani did not ride the horse, but delegated him to the care of the carpenter Pandoba, who would caparison this animal and march him to the scene of arati worship as a participant. When the horse died, Upasani had him buried in the area of the cremation ground where the Khandoba temple was subsequently erected. A second horse was gifted, but became fatally ill when Upasani was staying at Hyderabad. When the guru returned, he put tirtha (sacred water) in the horse’s mouth; the animal died and was buried with honour (SSS:37-38).

Devotees were requesting at Sakori ashram a new temple of greater scope than the humble edifice then visible. Upasani eventually agreed. This situation requires a reminder that he stated in his discourses: “Idol worship is meant for a beginner” (CIC:107).

The major new building was a temple (mandir) of Dattatreya (Datta), a popular deity of Maharashtra. This ashram project was accomplished in 1927 (CIC:33), being funded by a lady related to the maharaja of Gwalior. Upasani advised an architect named Valimbe, and himself installed padukas at the new shrine in January 1929. This Dattatreya temple, featuring a high tower, remained the major place of worship at Sakori ashram. The inner sanctuary contained large pictures of Sai Baba and Upasani, along with images of Krishna. An idol of Hanuman appeared in 1928, but a distinctive image of Dattatreya was not installed until 1943.

Smaller shrines to other deities were also constructed nearby, including those dedicated to Khandoba, Shanideva, and Ganesh (Ganapati). The Khandoba temple was constructed in 1930, featuring statues of Khandoba and his two wives Banai and Mhalasai (CIC:34). A subsequent addition was the Yajna Mandir (“house of ritual”), being part of the kanya activity during the late 1930s.

Upasani also instigated restoration of the Khandoba temple at Shirdi, his former residence. At Sakori village, he gave instructions for a small mosque to be reconstructed, an event confirming his inter-religious latitude (CIC:34). It is not clear how many Muslim devotees were attracted to him; their profile was eclipsed by the Hindu majority.

The ashram property was of limited extent, being confined to the cremation ground. The new temple compound eliminated the original hut of Upasani, which he no longer needed. He continued to live in the second hut, and later, a third hut.

The ashram became known as Upasani Nagar (town), being favoured by the brahman caste. This was certainly not a town, but a temple compound extending from the village. New houses and gardens of ashram residents (and sevakaris) appeared. Upasani himself continued to live in simplicity, preferring rudimentary huts. The only concession he made to comfort in his later years (during the 1930s) was occasional use of a chair. His basic diet remained bread and chutney.

Upasani was at the height of his fame during the period 1929-32. He had by then gained many followers in various cities and towns of Western and Central India. His devotees included maharajas, government officials, businessmen, and scholars. Zoroastrians notably figured. He travelled regularly over a wide area to places like Bombay, Kolhapur, Indore, Jabalpur, Surat, Nagpur, Ahmednagar, Poona, and Hyderabad. The increasingly fashionable automobile was now the medium of transport. Upasani was critical of the automobile industry; however, he capitulated to the requests of devotees who wished to chauffeur him. The motor car was a far more convenient mode of conveyance than the overcrowded railway.

Devotees would assemble in Sakori at the time of major religious festivals, including Ramanavami, Datta Jayanti, and Vata Pournima (a special day for women).  (338) The related activity of feeding the poor continued. Upasani was not always easy to encounter. Darshan queues could be lengthy, involving hours of waiting.

In 1930, he again visited Bombay, there becoming the focus of a mass darshan at the familiar home of Seth (Sait) Govind Das (Banathwala) in Walkeshwar.  The guest sat in an upper storey, while visitors climbed a flight of steps to take darshan. They had to get down by another flight of steps. This procession of visitors lasted from one p.m. until nine p.m. The numbers involved are stated, in a late report, to have been “tens of thousands.” (339) This may be considered an exaggeration.

Some visitors annoyed Upasani with diverse requests for miracles and mundane benefits. Saints and holy men were often regarded as cash dispensers. His remarks were sometimes interpreted as economic omens by those with a questionable preoccupation. The popular writer Paul Brunton, who never met Upasani, supported the contention of a sceptical Parsi that the latter’s son-in-law was almost ruined on the Bombay Stock Exchange, a mishap attributed to the advice of Upasani, who is said to have predicted that the financial venture would prove fortunate. (340)

To Upasani, the Bombay Stock Exchange was a very undesirable scenario of Western influences, something to be totally avoided for a life of simplicity and austerity. Any “prediction” he might have made about the financial speculation would not have matched customary expectations of profit. Upasani is very likely to have interpreted losses in a favourable light, and gains in a negative context. There were many episodes during which he had little or no patience with expectations of material wealth.

88.  Interaction  with  Devotees

At Kharagpur, the phenomenon of allegiance to Upasani Baba continued. Many devotees from that town maintained a link with Sakori ashram, while a few of them moved to the new location.

A number of the Kharagpur followers died in the presence of Upasani. They included Khasnis, also Guard Mama and his wife Mami. Upasani buried Sonabai Singavekar with his own hands, a mark of favour; she was the lady deeply anguished by his privations in the bamboo cage. The distinction of personal burial also applied to Mirabai, the shudra lady who died at Sakori (SSS:32).

Taking the name of the guru (or the name of God), at the time of death, was considered important for due focus of attention, preventing the mind from mundane distraction. Upasani is known to have recommended this recourse as beneficial. The key association was a passage in the Bhagavad Gita, featuring the advice of Krishna. The ultimate purpose of ashram routine was to create a concentration and remembrance lasting beyond death (SSS:30).

Upasani Maharaj at Sakori

Many followers came from Bombay. One of these was Dr. R. K. Kombarbail, a brahman who conducted a medical practice in the metropolis. He visited Sakori ashram in October 1923, accompanied by his friend Gopal Rao, a government telegraphist. The medic left five rupees with his friend Shiva Rao (another government telegraphist), as an encouragement to join them. Shiva Rao afterwards asked his wife for the remainder of the fare. This lady objected that the journey was a waste of money, which she could instead invest in jewellery. She apparently relented, giving the money to him.

When Shiva Rao arrived at the rural abode of Upasani, he did not mention the domestic episode of friction. He found that Upasani addressed the assembly, speaking in general terms. The ascetic made a point of asking why anybody should spend money coming to see him, when funds could instead be invested in gold bangles for the wife. Dr. Kombarbail, one of those present, felt very puzzled by this comment. Shiva Rao afterwards told the doctor about his domestic disagreement (SSS:144, 151-2). Over ten years later, the episode was recounted to Narasimhaswami, who recorded this and other reminiscences found in the appendices to Sage of Sakuri.

Upasani often tended to demean the importance of visiting him, not encouraging adulation or darshan. He demonstrated this trait in 1927 when, after four years, he told Dr. Kombarbail to cease visiting, unless the devotee “felt a particular and distinct call” to go to Sakori. The medic complied with this restraint, later reporting that he continually felt a form of guidance even in the guru’s absence. Upasani was unusual in making some followers adopt a more independent frame of mind.

Another brahman friend of Kombarbail was Raghunath Bhat, a clerk at Bombay. The doctor complained that Bhat would visit Upasani to obtain release from his sorrows, while failing to make a personal appeal. Bhat shed tears on some occasions. Once he laid his head on the guru’s feet. Upasani responded: “By your placing your head on my feet, you cause me needless trouble. Why do you come to me?”  Dr. Kombarbail tried to reason with Bhat, taxing him with failure to express the correct attitude.  Afterwards, Upasani commented to the doctor and others: “Why try to make people understand when they will not understand, when they will not see things with their third eye and hear with their third ear. Let them suffer if they will not thus try to understand” (SSS:148).

In addition, we have the testimony of Bhat himself, dating to 1934, as transcribed by Narasimhaswami. In this report, Bhat says that he had known Upasani for twelve years. At the outset, his wife would read to him from the new Marathi biography of Upasani by Madhav Nath (published in 1923). Dr. Kombarbail would visit them to attend an illness suffered by Devi, the young daughter of the Bhat couple. The medic took Devi and her mother to the ashram, while Bhat followed after obtaining leave from his clerical job. The date is not given, but apparently 1923-24, when Upasani was confined in the bamboo cage.

When Bhat arrived at Sakori ashram, he found that his wife was suffering from exposure to cold. There was no accommodation for these new visitors except a cow-shed (the hostel was apparently full). Upasani did not undertake to grant hotel accommodation at a cremation ground. Bhat was disconcerted by the primitive conditions. “When I went into [Upasani] Baba’s low and dingy hut, I could hardly make out where he was” (SSS:159). This description is confusing, not revealing the dimensions of the hut, which could accommodate a substantial number of people. The visitor found to his surprise that Upasani appeared to him as the family guru, whom the devotee knew well. Bhat then bowed at the feet of the ascetic, while “quivering with fear” at the unexpected paranormal vision. Upasani patted him on the back reassuringly, telling him not be alarmed.

Before leaving, Bhat confessed that he was the slave of passion, wishing to overcome this problem. He then asked Upasani to take responsibility for the Bhat family. He could not afford to father more children. Upasani laughed, commenting that nobody else had pressed him with such “a novel request” (SSS:160).

The ascetic did intervene, temporarily separating Bhat from his wife. Devi and her mother stayed at Sakori for nearly a year, while Raghunath Bhat visited almost every week. A problem was Bhat’s lavish expenditure. The new devotee had a constant hole in his pocket. Upasani expressed annoyance with this trait, warning Bhat that he (Upasani) would make him beg. Others felt that Bhat was not sufficiently committed. The prediction did not refer to any role of begging for food.

The new devotee soon lost his employment at Bombay, when the firm closed as the result of a new decision made by the head office in Britain. Bhat kept news of this unwelcome event to himself. At Bombay one night, he expressed his grief to a photograph of Upasani, imploring the guru to protect his wife and children (he also had a son).

At Sakori the next morning, Upasani sent for Mrs. Bhat and asked what her husband was doing by “disturbing his sleep all night with cries” (SSS:161). The spouse knew nothing about this matter. Upasani remarked: “He [Bhat] will not let me sleep. He is shouting: Save my wife and children!”

Some days after, Bhat visited Sakori and learned what had happened. A gap then occurs in the record. Subsequently, Upasani despatched Bhat and his wife back to Bombay. Bhat sent his wife to her relatives, and himself went short of food while living alone for six months. When he visited Sakori, Upasani gave him fruits and asked devotees to feed him. Bhat had now contracted debts exceeding 2,000 rupees. He was worried about the pending sacred thread ceremony of his son, an event requiring money he did not possess. Upasani then considerately arranged for the upanayana ceremony to be performed at Sakori, himself meeting the expenses.

When Bhat found a new job, Upasani directed him to pay his debts by carefully setting money aside for that purpose. The debts were eventually cleared. In 1932, Bhat was again left without a job. Now he served Sakori ashram in various capacities, including that of a lowly sweeper. Such a transition to selfless service must have pleased Upasani, who may have given an instruction to this effect. Members of the brahman caste were seldom willing to make such a strong gesture of abasement in karma yoga.

Later, Bhat obtained a further urban salary. More significantly, his daughter Devi became a kanya or nun. A footnote in Sage of Sakuri mentions that Devi was “recently married” to Upasani (the phrase is misleading, not referring to domestic marriage). This may refer to the year 1935, when a new batch of incoming kanyas commenced.

Gopal Pandarinath Alulkar, of Poona, was a brahman employed as a clerk in the Military Accounts Association. He first met Upasani in 1925, at the age of twenty-four, after reading the Marathi biography by Madhav Nath. The ascetic said only a few words on that occasion, asking the visitor’s name and background. Alulkar married eight days later, his wife also being a devotee. He thereafter visited Upasani frequently, but was generally in poor health. In 1928, at the Sakori hut, Upasani recommended celibacy to him.

Three years later, Alulkar visited Upasani when his wife was pregnant. To Alulkar and a married friend, the guru referred to the death of a wife. They did not know whose wife he meant. Two months later, the wife of Alulkar suffered premature labour and became ill. This lady predicted that she would not remain in life, and “would go away to [Upasani] Baba.” She died a few days later.

Six months after the death of his wife, Alulkar visited Sakori to ask Upasani what rites he should perform for the purpose of facilitating her sadgati (“happy state after death,” is here the translation). Alulkar was standing outside the Sakori hut occupied by the ascetic. Before the visitor had chance to voice his query, Upasani remarked, as if addressing someone else: “When the relations of devotees die, they come straight to me. There is no necessity to have any special kriya (observance) in their case.” He also remarked: “Now all evil is gone; there will be no trouble hereafter.” The poor health of Alulkar subsequently improved (SSS:136-138).

Sagunrai C. Metha was another brahman of Poona. His report mentions the tendency of devotees to achieve celibacy under the inspiration of Upasani. Apart from disciplinary factors, this form of restraint was viewed as a foil to the increase of population (a theme of Upasani). Metha also refers to a significant measure of the Sakori guru, meaning the “insistence on each devotee keeping his training and experience perfectly secret – except when occasion demands their disclosure” (SSS:182, 185-187).

A mercantile devotee was present on an occasion dating to 1924-25, when Upasani discoursed for several hours on the subject of Brahma Sathyam Jagan Mithya, meaning the real and unreal, or Brahman and maya. Advaita was here in evidence. The hard-headed devotee felt that this teaching contradicted the necessary reality of phenomena, and therefore offset any learning process. He went to meditate on this discrepancy, apparently still at Sakori. Upasani then appeared to the doubter in a vision, conveying that he [Upasani] had nothing to gain by telling an untruth. To remove misgivings of the devotee, he imparted anubhava (mystical experience). The devotee then found that his environment disappeared in a blissful state having no sense of time (NSS:181-183).

The devotee subsequently relayed this experience to Narasimhaswami, but with reluctance; he insisted upon usage of the pseudonym Kaaya Dhava. His real name is unknown. This was because Upasani did not wish his followers to broadcast their mystical experiences, a tendency which can lead to personal inflation.

A number of devotee informants referred to tuition in dreams and other unusual experiences. These accounts, generally brief and sparing, are reminiscent of similar experiences reported by devotees of Sai Baba.

89.  Mahatma  Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi (1869-1948) was a national celebrity by the time he visited Upasani at Sakori. There are different versions of this event. A degree of caution is required.

According to Narasimhaswami, the date of this encounter was “about 1927.” The reason for Gandhi’s visit to Sakori is here ventured in terms of “with a view to secure national welfare.” This theme is linked to a lavish contention: “Upasani Baba was widely regarded as a wonderful saint with vast and miraculous powers that could help individuals and even nations” (LSB:383). Another version is more detailed, giving a contrasting date of 1924 (Kalchuri 2006). The relevant account lacks any reference to miracles. Upasani himself is known to have depreciated miracle lore; he denied being able to perform miracles.

A third version, favoured today at Sakori ashram, relays that Upasani asked Gandhi to stay for three days in silence. Gandhi declined, giving an excuse about his lack of available time. Upasani is said to have lamented this attitude, remarking that Gandhi was moving on a disastrous route in which none could save him. Upasani is also said to have insisted that the visitor should be careful (meaning for his own life). In this version, the Sakori satpurusha is depicted as emphasising untouchability in terms of a deep rooted practice two thousand years old, a practice that could not be swiftly rooted out by reformers, whose efforts he predicted would backfire.

The provisional dating of 1924, if correct, means that Gandhi visited Sakori the same year he was released from prison. The full contextual details are extensive. Gandhi had become leader of the Indian National Congress in 1921, participating prominently in the swaraj (home rule) project. His favoured strategies included the boycotting of foreign goods, especially British goods. He masterminded the Non-Cooperation Movement.

In February 1922, a setback occurred when swaraj protesters clashed with policemen at the North Indian town of Chauri Chaura (in Gorakhpur district). The protesters were peasants from adjacent villages. The police opened fire. The crowd retaliated by burning a police station to the ground, killing the occupants. The protesters were chanting “Victory to Mahatma Gandhi!” (Amin 1995:2) Over twenty policemen were killed. The British authorities retaliated by making many arrests. Over two hundred protesters were given sentences during court proceedings. Nineteen death sentences resulted, while over a hundred persons were awarded life imprisonment.

Gandhi was blamed for the Chauri Chaura episode in view of his incitement to civil disobedience. He afterwards fasted in protest against the violence, while cancelling the policy of non-cooperation. Gandhi felt that he had acted prematurely in his encouragement of revolt against the British. In a courtroom at Ahmedabad, he “pleaded guilty to inciting disaffection towards the government” (Brown and Parel, 2011:xiv). He was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

The British authorities jailed Gandhi in 1922 as a figurehead of the Non-Cooperation Movement. He welcomed imprisonment, which he considered inevitable in the freedom struggle. The political situation then worsened, with Congress becoming divided. The unity between Hindus and Muslims now came to an end. In January 1924, Gandhi was discharged from Yeravda prison because of a necessary surgical operation at Poona.

The British tended to see him [Gandhi] at best as a utopian visionary and at worst as a cunning hypocrite whose professions of friendship for the British race were a mask for subversion of the British Raj. (B. R. Nanda, Mahatma Gandhi: Indian Leader)

We are more concerned here with what Indians thought of the Mahatma. Upasani Maharaj is not mentioned in the biographies of Gandhi. The connection is open to a more innovative approach. Both of these figures had ashrams, but of very different kinds. Gandhi had launched the famous ashram at Sabarmati, near Ahmedabad in Gujarat, his base during the years 1917-1930. This project was economically supported by textile tycoons of Ahmedabad and shipping magnates of Bombay. Upasani Maharaj could not compete with that sort of backing. Sabarmati started with about thirty inmates, this number eventually growing to over two hundred. The figures for Sakori are uncertain, but apparently rather less. Gandhi had a definite plan of action in his “experiments” with agriculture and other activities. In contrast, Upasani did not formulate any plan; indeed, he initially resisted ashram growth.

The Sabarmati ashram extended to thirty-six acres, where the inmates tended fruit trees, planted crops, and produced homespun clothing. In contrast, the Sakori ashram was a cremation ground which gradually acquired buildings. Upasani and his assistants did plant mango trees and bilva trees; he also succoured famine-sick cows. However, there was no crop cultivation, no spinning of cloth, and no attempt to teach in surrounding villages. Gandhi taught satyagraha, an ideal of non-violence which became a political tool of passive resistance. Sabarmati has been described as a major centre of the freedom struggle. Sakori ashram had no political profile, existing merely for visitors and devotee residents.

In 1924, Upasani was still living, for the most part, in the bamboo cage known as pinjra. He was not jailed by the British. In contrast, for many months during 1923-24, he voluntarily imprisoned himself.

In 1924, Meher Baba asked his disciple Rustom K. Irani to send Gandhi a copy of the newly published Gujarati biography of Upasani. Gandhi is known to have read this book, edited by Sohrabji Desai. His interest was aroused to the extent of making a visit to Sakori soon after (the precise date unknown), along with some of his colleagues.

The visitors are said to have found Upasani sitting on a chair, wearing his gunny cloth around his waist. This would indicate a setting outside the cage. Gandhi probably expected deferential treatment. The politician was certainly regarded as a major Indian celebrity by that time; his patronage was often deemed a blessing. In the Kalchuri version of a later period, the reporting is fragmentary. The wording of Upasani must here be regarded as a very approximate and retrospective translation, possibly amounting to an interpolation:

Get out from here! People have made you Mahatma! Are you a Mahatma? How selfish you are that they call you Mahatma, and you feel happy! I do not want to see you! Get out! (Kalchuri 2006)

Remarks of Upasani to Gandhi were earlier reported as: “You may be a great man; what is that to me? Why have you come here?” (Purdom 1964:95). The phrase “great man” was apparently a translation of mahatma. This same British account informs that Upasani removed his gunny cloth. Gandhi took offence at the gesture of nakedness, which he interpreted as uncouth behaviour. However, nudity was a common practice of Upasani, in the mode of naga sadhus, who are considered beyond caste rules and householder norms. The social etiquette of caste Hinduism was not everywhere a priority. In another quarter, the nakedness of Hindu ascetics was a subject for derision from Christian missionaries and evangelists. Nakedness does not prove anything unholy. (341) 

In Gandhi’s case, the popular title of Mahatma (great soul) was bestowed several years earlier. This description has not always been favoured by recent biographers. Gandhi himself “detested the title of Mahatma and disclaimed all suggestions of sanctity” (Brown 1989:2). During the 1920s and later, critics believed that a politician should not be exalted in this manner.

The different versions of the encounter at Sakori may not be irreconcilable. If Gandhi declined an invitation to stay for three days, Upasani may well have expressed annoyance. The initial cordial reception of Gandhi may have turned to disapproval of the excuses made by this distinguished guest. In general, biographies are frequently attended by contrasting versions of the same event.

The reputed strong reaction of Upasani was perhaps rooted in a desire to avoid political involvement with the independence movement that Gandhi represented. He was doubtless aware that Gandhi had recently been jailed by the British Raj, and therefore liable to be a strong future suspect. The Chauri Chaura episode caused widespread shock, because of the number of deaths and jail sentences resulting. This incident was inseparable from the name of Mahatma Gandhi.

The violence at Chauri Chaura represented the dangers of swaraj campaign. In his Talks of 1923-24, Upasani diverges from the Non-Cooperation Movement. Like Gandhi, he had perceived that many prominent Indians were committed to Western standards and lifestyle. Unlike Gandhi, he did not opt for a political campaign to restore traditional values. Upasani talked of a regeneration of the brahman caste, which could be accomplished peacably, a process in which the British could assist if they gave a due message to brahmans. The British were not in any mood to assist. Upasani remained unknown to them.

Talk 289 reveals something of how Upasani viewed the approach of Gandhi. This discourse, dating to May 1925, includes a rare and explicit reference to the politician:

Men like Tilak and Gandhi are learned men, they are studied, they love to give lectures and discourses; all their actions are purposeful.” (GT, 3:506)

In the same communication, Upasani described his own approach as spontaneous, non-systematic, and confusing to those who studied shastras. He added that his approach was not confusing to those accustomed to this method. He was evidently meaning a radical departure from the outlook of both pundits and politicians.

Gandhi was evidently disconcerted by the tactic he found at Sakori. In 1925, he attended a conference of Congress leaders at Ahmednagar. One morning on his daily walk, he proceeded south in the direction of Meherabad. Naosherwanji Satha, a local Parsi political figure, accompanied Gandhi and other leaders on their recreational walk. Satha remarked that Meher Baba’s ashram, Meherabad, was nearby. Gandhi asked the identity of Meher Baba (he had apparently not grasped that this person had instigated his receipt of the biography Sakori na Sadguru). Satha informed that Meher Baba (1894-1969) was a Zoroastrian disciple of Upasani Maharaj. Gandhi commented: “I had a very bad experience of Upasani Maharaj; I cannot go to Meherabad to see Meher Baba” (Kalchuri 2006). He promptly returned to Ahmednagar.

Mahatma Gandhi; Meher Baba in London, 1931

Mahatma Gandhi did subsequently meet Meher Baba during a voyage from India to Britain in September 1931. The encounter was complex and mutually amicable. Gandhi went three times to the cabin of Meher Baba; one meeting lasted for three hours. Gandhi evidently felt at ease with his host. He was impressed by the complete silence of the Irani mystic, who had stopped speaking in 1925, thereafter using an (English) alphabet board for communication. Gandhi commented: “I keep silence once a week; how small it is before your silence” (LM:1393).

Gandhi complained to Meher Baba about his unsatisfactory meeting several years before with Upasani. The politician referred to Upasani’s gesture of nudity, and his dismissive attitude to the title of mahatma (without denying that Gandhi was a “great man”). The Irani responded that Upasani was a genuine sadguru, meaning that he had a spiritual authority. Gandhi commented that he did not understand this matter (Purdom 1964:95).

Like Upasani, Meher Baba would not get involved in the political arena. The Irani assessed the political situation in realistic terms. During that same voyage in 1931, Meher Baba remarked: “Although Jawaharlal Nehru sides with Gandhi in his objective for independence, his views, creed, and activities are quite different from Gandhi’s” (LM:1387).

Meher Baba was conciliatory with Gandhi, recognising his talents. However, he appeared to side (in private) with a complaint of the Muslim leader Shaukat Ali, formerly a major supporter of Gandhi. Shaukat Ali believed that the Mahatma had become affected by mass adulation (LM:1386). Yet in conversation with Meher Baba, Gandhi was abnegatory: “I am imperfect and full of defects, but the people must know that. I have not attained [spiritual] perfection and have many drawbacks, which people should understand” (LM:1392). This was a disarming attitude.

A few weeks later, Gandhi met Meher Baba for the second time in the East End of London. A third encounter occurred on 3 January 1932, when Meher Baba visited Gandhi’s residence in Bombay, a day before the politician was again jailed by the British. Their conversation included the subject of untouchables (Dalits), with whose leaders the Irani was in contact. Meher Baba informed: “I intend to advise them [Dalits] to fight for their rights non-violently.” Gandhi responded: “I am sure they will listen to you and follow your advice” (LM:1518). Meher Baba supported the untouchable cause (he subsequently arranged a private meeting with the Dalit leader, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, that same year).

This was the last physical contact between Meher Baba and Gandhi. However, further communication continued for many years. The Irani sent emissaries to Gandhi with specific messages. The Hindu politician would give due replies. One of the emissaries was F. H. Dadachanji, a Parsi usually known as Chanji. “Whenever Chanji visited Gandhi, no matter how preoccupied he was at the time, Gandhi would leave what he was doing to talk with Chanji and inquire about Meher Baba and his activities” (LM:1518).

The assassination of Gandhi was a cause of widespread mourning (Setalvad 2015). This tragic event occurred not long after Gandhi tried to persuade Jawaharlal Nehru to adopt simple living. Gandhi urged the Westernised Nehru to abandon the great house he planned to live in, and instead to reside in a village hut (Wolpert 2001:8). The urbane Nehru was very different in his lifestyle to both Gandhi and Upasani Maharaj. Nehru influentially favoured industrialisation, contributing to the disaster of climate change.

90.  Self-Realisation: Different  Perspectives

The life of Upasani Maharaj, during the period 1911-1915, is documented in some detail, affording an instance of unusual complexity relating to “self-realisation.” This popular phrase, existing in Western countries from the 1960s, is misleading. The disputed phrase is widely attended by shallow conceptions and puerile sloganism.

The case of Upasani initially evidences a strong cleavage between inner experience and outer function. His “realisation” involved a shattering departure from the physical level of orientation, normally taken for granted, but becoming remote in some areas of expanded consciousness. This disadvantage left Upasani with the status of a madman amongst critics, a situation subsequently remedied by improved external cognisance and function.

The 1950s commentary of Narasimhaswami, in his Life of Sai Baba, contributed a distorting picture of Upasani. Much relevant detail is missing in that portrayal. The commentator evidently had little or no idea of what occurred during the prescribed retreat (at the Khandoba temple) in Shirdi during 1911-14.

B. V. Narasimhaswami, Upasani Maharaj

The earlier book Sage of Sakuri includes a revealing confrontation dating to 1932. The sannyasin Narasimhaswami here describes himself as a Madrasi trained in orthodox Advaita as found in South India. Upasani asked him about his spiritual objective. The sannyasin replied that the only aim known to him was “to sit and realise Shri Shankara’s aphorism,” meaning the contention worded as: “This world of phenomena is unreal; God alone is real.” The aphorism traditionally encapsulates a process of discrimination between maya and Brahman. Upasani commented that this represented the final stage of development. He shot the question: “Does your mind stand at the Real when you thus try to rest it there?”

Narasimhaswami replied in the negative. Upasani then emphasised the folly of trying to take a post-graduate course when elementary class lessons were instead needed.  The Sakori saint was “in almost every case” against the tendency to presumed identity with the Real (NSS:160-166). This widespread tendency assumes knowledge of the atman-Brahman unity, sometimes by repeating “Aham Brahmasmi” (I am Brahman).

Upasani evidently viewed the “I am Brahman” assertion as a blind alley, a clone mantra of the unfledged. He was well aware that some individuals falsely claimed instant “God-realisation” or “self-realisation,” resulting from a simplistic mode of belief in personal achievement.

Narasimhaswami remained confused about what Upasani experienced and taught. The sannyasin even stated, in a 1950s book, that Upasani did not accept Advaita teaching until 1936, formerly being a dualist. This is a glaring error.

Narasimhaswami is credited by some admirers with a “self-realisation” at the time he first visited the tomb of Sai Baba at Shirdi. That was in 1936. One version of the belief says:

For eighteen years Sai Baba was keeping his treasure, all the while eagerly waiting for a suitable recipient for his grace and bounty.... The old body of Narasimha Swamiji was no more and it became Sai-Swaroopi Narasimha Swamiji. Everything happened in a flash of a split second. Narasimha Swamiji became a realised soul then and there and within no time had become a part and parcel of Sai Baba. In other words Narasimha Swamiji has now retransformed into Sai Baba himself. (Vijayakumar 2009:65-66)

The record may need adjusting, in view of diverse complexities forgotten and ignored. There was certainly a very substantial difference between the experiences and outlook of Narasimhaswami and Upasani Maharaj.

91.  The  Value  of  Suffering

In the early 1930s, the sannyasin Narasimhaswami stayed as a devotee at Sakori ashram, where he contributed Sage of Sakuri, an introductory biography of Upasani Maharaj. The author says that he found his accommodation at Sakori ashram difficult. This was apparently because of insects. He complained at his situation. Upasani was not in agreement, instead commenting: “People should rejoice at having to suffer.” The sannyasin records that he was surprised at the guru’s acceptance of suffering and discomfort, to the point of emphasising: “Sufferings are needed and should not be eliminated."

Upasani himself was true to this theme in his own personal conduct. He would not remove the bugs and ants which crawled over him. Narasimhaswami was apparently present when a devotee once started to remove the insects from Upasani, who objected to the interference (NSS:178-179).

Narasimhaswami had renounced the world in 1925 after the death of his wife at Salem, near Madras. He had been initiated by a Shankaracharya at the Shringeri math. He had afterwards spent over three years at the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, an Advaitin who favoured the practice of vichara (self-enquiry). He wrote the first biography of Ramana, entitled Self-Realisation. However, the sannyasin “did not attain quietness,” his mind remaining confused (Vijayakumar 2009:44). Ramana is said to have told him: “I am not your guru” (ibid:46). Narasimhaswami left Ramanashram in 1929, thereafter travelling in Western India, encountering various saints and holy men.

The sannyasin found that Upasani was very different to Ramana. The Sakori guru did not teach vichara, nor did he rely on Advaita doctrines of the Shankaracharyas. Other themes were in evidence. “Suffering is frequently spoken of by [Upasani] Baba as tapas” (NSS:177). The word tapas generally denotes spiritual discipline.

Many visitors to Sakori were sufferers complaining of fever or disease. They desired wonderful cures. Upasani regarded such afflictions as “suffering sent by God for benefit of the patient” (NSS:179) He considered prayer a legitimate recourse, but often stated that other cures were undesirable. The point being that it is better to confront the karma involved and to endure the consequences. In particular, only suffering can change the tendencies of selfish people who are indifferent to the welfare of others. Another theme of Upasani was that, without suffering, discourses or books might leave the person unmoved. “A little suffering may effect more improvement than years of study and meditation” (NSS:180). In this perspective, suffering can create vairagya (renunciation), and confer the basics of viveka (discrimination). This was a completely different “Vedantic” outlook to that usually found.

These themes converged with a constant refrain of Upasani: “Let things be as they may” (NSS:180-181). He called this refrain his mahavakya, quite often found in his Talks.  Suffering was not to be averted, but welcomed, in the process of achieving independence from the opposites (dandvas).

A review of Sage of Sakuri described the subject as “a veritable Jina in enduring privation” (NSS:vi). There is indeed a quality reminiscent of Jainism in the ascetic rigours of Upasani Baba (and his observance of ahimsa). However, various other dimensions are also discernible. The complexities are largely unknown. Upasani was almost completely eclipsed by the fame of Ramana Maharshi, whose popularity was spread by influential Western writers like Paul Brunton and Arthur Osborne.

92.  The  Sai  Missionary  Critic  Narasimhaswami

B. V. Narasimhaswami (1874-1956) produced contradictory accounts of Upasani Maharaj. In his role as a missionary (pracharak) of the Sai Baba revival movement, Narasimhaswami was very successful in terms of propagating devotional themes and enthusiasm. However, he also created confusions that became widespread, misrepresenting Upasani to a substantial degree.

B. V. Narasimhaswami at Ramanashram, circa 1929

Adopting a renunciate life, Narasimha Iyer (later Narasimhaswami) terminated his legal career at Salem, near Madras, in 1925. (342) He stayed for a period at the ashram of Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), leaving behind much unpublished material he composed. This legacy has since been found unreliable. Intending to produce a book of dialogues between Ramana and devotees, the visitor wrote many pages of purported conversations. "The dialogues were incrementally Socratic in style, and quite alien to the way that Bhagavan [Ramana] taught" (David Godman, Qualifications needed to do self-enquiry). The same commentator relays:

Narasimhaswami had used his legal skills to assemble the salient points of Bhagwan's teachings in the form of highly structured but artificially contrived dialogues. The teachings themselves were fairly accurate, but the form they were presented in was entirely fictitious.

Another verdict of David Godman is that Narasimhaswami added much extraneous material to his unpublished version of the Shri Ramana Gita. The lack of authenticity is sobering. Even his famous book Self Realization (1931) includes some inflated text in relation to words of Ramana. Godman refers to a "a startling lack of knowledge in a biographer," meaning Narasimhaswami (Bhagavan's Self-realisation). The Madras sannyasin was already applying his own eccentric methods of exposition in a manner requiring caution. The Charters and Sayings he later attributed to Sai Baba is not beyond suspicion of a similar technique.

The version of events in 1896, by Narasimhaswami, has become "the accepted, definitive version of Bhagavan's Self-realisation." Godman qualifies this canonical status by observing that the innovative sannyasin "not only added personal pronouns, he strung together answers that Bhagavan gave on different occasions, and then pepped them up to sound more colourful and less hazy" (Godman, last article linked).

After leaving the ashram of Ramana Maharshi in obscure circumstances, Narasimhaswami eventually became a devotee of Upasani Maharaj. This event occurred during the early 1930s. Some reports omit reference to the factor of two separate sojourns at Sakori on the part of the sannyasin. Narasimhaswami did not write any autobiography, a fact which has led to improvised reconstruction in some quarters, along with hagiographical flourishes. This sannyasin is credited with miraculous powers in devotional coverage. A purely factual and analytical approach is now relevant.

The personal advice given to Narasimhaswami, by Upasani, has been recorded in terms of adhering to the path of bhakti, and refraining from metaphysical speculation. The sannyasin applied himself to “japa, bhajan, parayana or pothi, etc., and the leading of the Akinchana’s life, i.e., life of holy poverty or asceticism” (LSB:415). However, he “was startled to discover that there were elements in Upasani Maharaj’s teachings and methods which jarred on him and which went very much against the opinions and expectations which Narasimha Swamiji held about correct religious life.” (343) This matter does not receive further explanation.

Narasimhaswami returned to Madras, from there planning to visit holy places like Dwaraka and Pandharpur. Meanwhile at Sakori, Upasani was saying to his devotees: “Where will this Madras Swami go? I shall draw him back again here.” These are the words supplied by Narasimhaswami himself, who did eventually return. When he again encountered Upasani, the mendicant resolved to abandon his tour of sacred sites and instead remain at Sakori.

Upasani now emphasised that the visitor should stay in one place instead of moving about on pilgrimage. He should duly focus his energies instead of inviting distractions. “The adoption of strenuous religious practice, was the thing absolutely necessary in his own case” (LSB:416). The mendicant complied with enthusiasm, his earlier reservations evaporating. Narasimhaswami finds a similarity between his own unexpected experience of return, and that of Upasani’s return to Shirdi in 1911, after an initial reluctance to stay with Sai Baba. “This powerful akarshana of Upasani Baba was quite as powerful as that of Sri Sai Baba when directed against Upasani himself in June or July 1911” (LSB:416).

Narasimhaswami is reported to have arrived at Sakori ashram in March 1934.  Upasani commented that he had been waiting for the mendicant. Narasimhaswami soon wrote an enthusiastic biography entitled Sage of Sakuri (1935). However, he was at first reluctant to fulfil a request of his guru. Narasimhaswami was apparently asked to become a legal advocate conducting a defence against detractors of Upasani.

Ten years earlier, the sannyasin from Madras had renounced his career as a lawyer. He did not wish to resume his abilities in that direction. However, he finally agreed, thereafter travelling widely to question many witnesses (reputedly 265 of them, conceivably an exaggeration). He moved as far north as Ajmer in this pursuit of investigating various allegations. His findings were employed in litigation. In 1935, Upasani was declared innocent in a court of law; the petition against him was dismissed. Narasimhaswami broke his connection with Upasani after the judicial proceedings. The reason was not declared. The cause was evidently an ongoing literary attack by Divekar Shastri, whose very misleading theory claimed that the Sakori nuns were prostitutes.

The author of Sage of Sakuri became an ex-devotee. Although familiar with reports of witnesses who denied hostile allegations, Narasimhaswami chose to side with orthodox condemnation of Upasani for creating a community of nuns at Sakori. Narasimhaswami evidently feared for his own monastic reputation in being associated with Upasani and the controversial issue of polygamy.

Upasani had by that time created the embryonic Kanya Kumari Sthan, a nunnery at first rejected and ridiculed by high caste conservatives. In a very exceptional context, Upasani “married” several young nuns (including Godavari Mataji) who were living at Sakori, the first inmates of the Sthan; they were all below the age of twenty-five. This strategy was a precaution, not an indulgence. The nuns were strict celibates, like Upasani, and inspired by him in that discipline.

He wished to prevent the Sakori nuns from being detoured by relatives to unwanted husbands and potentially oppressive domestic arrangements. Upasani referred to his precaution in terms of “spiritual marriages.” He did not regard these connections in terms of ordinary marital relationships, but as something very different, a variant of the guru and chela bond facilitating spiritual growth.

Divekar Shastri caused much confusion, creating baseless allegations against the innovator in 1934; Divekar wrongly regarded Upasani as a criminal. The unusual project of a nunnery at Sakori was also resisted by some conservative devotees. These men regarded the innovation as a polygamous lapse. Influencing Divekar Shastri, they chose to believe that a man of over sixty was lusting after young women. This crude misconception was indifferent to freedom of choice for women, whose activity was customarily limited to household drudgery and child-bearing.

Polygamy, in the more generally known form, was widely practised in India until the 1950s. This custom was usually found in high caste society, where money was available to maintain many wives. Polygamy became illegal for Hindus in 1955, when the Hindu Marriage Act insisted upon monogamy.

Narasimhaswami finally departed from Sakori in late August 1936. This exit was possibly a consequence of persuasion from disaffected high caste devotees of Upasani. The sannyasin at first intended a return to Madras, being furtive in this action. “Swamiji was afraid that Upasani might influence him to reverse the decision if he conveyed his intention to get back to Madras. So from a distance, he bowed down to Upasani Maharaj and mentally sought his permission to leave” (Vijayakumar 2009:64). The sannyasin was later to accuse Upasani of having left Sai Baba prematurely in 1914; Narasimhaswami himself really was a premature departee from Sakori.

As he walked away from Sakori ashram, crossing the cremation ground, Narasimhaswami encountered a tall Pathan who urged him to visit the tomb of Sai Baba at nearby Shirdi (this obscure Pathan was apparently a follower of Upasani). The Madras sannyasin is said to have answered curtly, commenting that he had already visited the dargahs (tombs) of Hazrat Babajan at Poona, Tajuddin Baba at Nagpur, and Muinuddin Chishti at Ajmer. He now informed that none of these sites had exercised any impact upon him (ibid:64-65). The context is that of Muslim Sufi tombs.

Nevertheless, the Pathan (not named) was so persuasive that Narasimhaswami decided to visit the Shirdi tomb the very same day. The resulting legend is an extravagance of tomb affiliation. When the sannyasin arrived at the celebrated building known as Butiwada, Abdul Baba was fanning the tomb with peacock feathers. However, the Muslim disciple, of over forty-five years standing, was completely eclipsed (in retrospect) by the new prachar hero:

Narasimha Swamiji became a realised soul then and there and within no time had become a part and parcel of Sai Baba. In other words Narasimha Swamiji has now retransformed into Sai Baba himself. (Vijayakumar 2009:65-66)

The sannyasin, as the supposed embodiment of Sai Baba, became an enthusiastic Sai devotee, and also a very active missionary for the Shirdi Sai movement. He claimed that Sai Baba “has given me unbounded confidence and has made me perfect in everything” (ibid:67). Narasimhaswami also claimed: “I live in constant communion with him,” meaning the deceased faqir (ibid:66), whom he called Samartha Sadguru Sainath Maharaj.  He never went back to Sakori. Upasani Maharaj was now a rival.

The Madras sannyasin tended retrospectively to claim a “God-realisation” upon his arrival at Shirdi. This does not fully resemble the Advaita ideal of sat-chit-ananda, being basically discernible as a devotional experience. The purport was Sai Baba being in posthumous contact with his devotees. The sannyasin elaborated themes which gave the Shirdi tomb an increased profile. Some themes were attributed to Sai Baba. The burgeoning wave of renewed enthusiasm is sometimes called the Shirdi Revival.

Narasimhaswami did not exclude Muslims from the Revival scenario. The inter-religious precedent set by the Shirdi faqir was too obvious to ignore. The sannyasin nevertheless emphasised a brahman caste parentage for Shirdi Sai. Whereas Hindu devotees had formerly retained the perception of Sai as a Muslim. Narasimhaswami’s preference for brahman origins “is in contrast with other Hindu devotees of Sai Baba, such as Das Ganu Maharaj, who believed that Sai Baba was born to Muslim parents” (McLain 2016 article:203 note 7).

Das Ganu, Dabholkar, and other early devotees, were similar to Upasani in this respect. However, Govind Dabholkar added a strong Hindu flavour to his own presentation in Shri Sai Satcharita. Upasani was exceptional for the clear Muslim context he supplied, in his Talks, for Sai Baba. This contribution was effectively obscured in the Shirdi Revival pioneered by Narasimhaswami.

During the late 1930s, the sannyasin missionary composed a series of influential articles about Shirdi Sai in a well known Madras newspaper. In 1940, he commenced at Madras the organisation known as All India Sai Samaj. Much of his information about Sai Baba was apparently derived from Raghuvir B. Purandhare and Balkrishna V. Deo, two Hindu devotees who had met the saint at Shirdi. They celebrated the deceased Nanasaheb Chandorkar (1860-1921), a long term devotee since the early 1890s (SBI:162-167). Chandorkar was a prominent ingredient of Narasimhaswami's version of the Shirdi faqir. However, innovations emerge from the late 1930s onwards.

The Madras sannyasin favoured the phrase samartha sadguru in relation to Sai Baba. This phrase he defined in terms of: “He who uses all his siddhis and superior powers to carry the shishya [disciple] right up to the goal” (ibid:191). Narasimhaswami developed a doctrine that meditation upon Sai Baba as samartha sadguru is essential for the experience of God-realization (ibid:195). The sannyasin also emphasised “a nine point program of ritual worship that he states must be followed because it is found in the Bhagavata Purana” (McLain 2016 article:193). He attributed endorsement of this worship to Sai Baba.

During 1936-37, Narasimhaswami composed in Sanskrit a devotional text comprising 108 verses in praise of the Shirdi faqir. This text is known as Shri Sai Ashtotharam. Over the years, the author circulated his influential creation in pocket-sized editions (ibid). By this means he equated Sai Baba with the Hindu deities and avatars. Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, and Rama are here effectively names and forms of Sai Baba. The elaborate guru marga of Narasimhaswami was imposed upon Shirdi events, and by extension, upon Sakori events, now regarded as being of minor significance.

The sectarian missionary attitude to Upasani is, in some respects, ambivalent. The sannyasin affirms that Upasani appropriately prevented distractions from his own allegiance to Sai Baba (having curtailed his disposition to pilgrimage). Narasimhaswami refers to his own “many efforts to spread Sai faith throughout the length and breadth of this country by 600 or 700 lectures” (LSB:417). Growth of the Sai movement outside Maharashtra was “markedly the result of Sri Upasani’s attracting this author” (LSB:418). The testimony also states: “Sri Upasani must be given much of the credit for this result” (LSB:418).

Narasimhaswami lectured widely and wrote various books promoting the faqir of Shirdi. During the 1950s appeared his lengthy Life of Sai Baba, which included two basically dismissive chapters on Upasani, largely negating the esteem expressed in Sage of Sakuri. Narasimhaswami was not critical of Upasani in every respect. However, the overall impression that he gave readers was one of rejection in this instance.

When unfortunately events happen in the life of a saint that interfere with the main line of development sketched out by a great spirit [Sai Baba] that took charge of that saint, the life seems to crumble or get distorted, and the author feels very much distressed to have to describe the apparent crumbling or the shattering of hopes. Yet the spirit of truth has to be adhered to. (LSB:419)

Narasimhaswami’s version of the truth is contradicted by numerous events he omitted from his account. His devotional interpretation of Sai Baba is not the due criterion for judgement of Upasani Maharaj. His acute aversion to the Sakori nuns is not convincing as any gauge of shattered hopes. The vocation of Narasimhaswami, as a tireless Sai missionary, does not invalidate the achievements of Upasani, despite a tendency of the Madras sannyasin to elevate his own role above that of his former guru.

Narasimhaswami is concerned to deny that Upasani Maharaj was a spiritual successor to Sai Baba, in contrast to the perception of many other observers.  The missionary deification of Sai meant that Upasani was superfluous to devotees of the deceased faqir, who alone was the focus of guru marga (path) in his posthumous role.

Upasani Maharaj had no interest in declaring anything resembling guru parampara (lineage of teachers) and attendant spiritual status. He was initially very resistant to the growth of Sakori ashram, instead preferring solitude and quiet. Upasani was remote from religious conventions of claiming spiritual successorship, which generally involved very standardised beliefs. In other respects also, Upasani was inclined to repudiate associations elevating his profile. To a pundit who believed that he was effectively Sai Baba, Upasani bluntly responded: “I am not Sai Baba” (DSS:651). This episode occurred after the death of the Shirdi faqir.

However, the Sakori ascetic did occasionally make allusive remarks in the idiom of: “He [Sai Baba] is always there incarnate, and through this [my] body, it is he who does all things that are seen being done by me in his own way for the good of the world” (GT, 3:488).

The person who did explicitly emphasise Upasani as a “spiritual successor” was Sai Baba himself. The relevant episode, dating to 1911, is acknowledged by Narasimhaswami (see chapter 18). That was the event ultimately causing all the resentment, confusion, misinterpretation, and harassment attending the sojourn of Upasani at Khandoba’s temple.

A reported statement of Sai Baba is difficult to ignore: “I have given everything to this person,” meaning Upasani. The translation is that of Narasimhaswami (LSB:399). This was not a prediction; the bestowal had already occurred, in an arcane manner not specified.

Narasimhaswami’s early book Sage of Sakuri spotlights the resistance of Sai Baba to a protesting query expressed by lawyer devotee Hari S. Dixit:

We have been at your feet for a long time. You say nothing of us [established devotees]. This [Upasani] is a newcomer, of whom nobody knows anything – and you promise to give him your full grace in four years. You say also that he can be balanced [on metaphorical scales] against the whole world. Have we spent all our time with you for nothing? Do you now give him [Upasani] a grant [sasana] on a copper plate of your full favour? Is this true?

Sai Baba countered this objection, looking Dixit full in the face: “Do you take my words to be lies? Is this a mosque for liars? What I have spoken, I have spoken. Everything I have got has been completely given to him [Upasani]. You ask me if I am giving him a copper plate grant. Why copper?  I have given him a gold plate grant” (NSS:55-56).

The relevant disclosures were insidiously queried by some devotees of Sai Baba (including Dixit), and ignored by the harasser Nanavali, long before the arrival of Narasimhaswami in 1936. However, no formal or written mode of opposition emerged. In contrast, the sannyasin from Madras elaborated a well known 1950s critique which attempted to modify, and to effectively outmode, what Sai Baba had said. Narasimhaswami argued that Upasani had not fulfilled requirements of Sai Baba. There is actually no indication of such a shortcoming in the alternative sources. The critic ignored many details found in earlier reports, including his own book entitled Sage of Sakuri (1935). Devotional interpretation can strain credulity and lose too many facts.

Narasimhaswami conceived of “successorship” in terms of powers or siddhis.  He writes of Upasani:

There were powers shooting out of him off and on which justified the hope that in due course he would be in full possession of the innumerable and practically endless armoury of siddhis which were always at the disposal of Sai Baba and which, according to Bhagavata, skanda XI, chapter XV, any one intensely concentrating upon Ishwara can and often does get. (LSB:426)

There is no indication that Sai Baba was referring to such popular occult powers in relation to Upasani. The Sakori saint likewise depreciated siddhis as a distraction. The reliance of Narasimhaswami upon Puranic text was not the best guide to intentions of Sai Baba, and nor to the potential of his disciple at Sakori. The Yoga tradition was the major focus for preoccupation with siddhis. Obsession with siddhis was a primary aspect of the distracting situation in which Nath Yogis competed with like-minded (Yoga copyist) Sufis during the medieval centuries and later (SBI:309-315).

Upasani compared siddhis to excreta, regarding these powers as an unfledged trait of the spiritual path (CIC:196). In Upasani Vak Sudha, he also says: “Siddhis are the earliest stages on the path” (CIC:195). Dr. Tipnis relays the purport of this perspective: “There is every likelihood of a soul getting entangled and being deluded by the siddhis. Hence a sadhak is always warned to safeguard against them. Upasani Baba, like other mystics, shows utter disregard, nay, even abhorrence for them [siddhis]” (CIC:196).

In Talk 168, dating to 1924, Upasani informs: “The one who led me to this state led me directly, without stopping anywhere in the middle [of the spiritual path]” (GT, 1:407). This is a reference to Sai Baba and the spiritual process experienced by Upasani at Khandoba’s temple. The narration refers to the ashta siddhis, or “the eight higher miraculous powers,” and also to powers of a lower order relating to black magic. Upasani here compares siddhis to scenery along the path or road, such as rubble, stones, and dirt. He emphasises that the scenery is superfluous; it is not necessary for the wayfarer to look at the distractions and dirt.

In contrast, Narasimhaswami regarded powers and miracles as a desirable accomplishment. His confused attitude overlooked sober warnings, and misled readers. He promoted siddhis as a great achievement. He depicted Sai Baba as a paragon of siddhis, while denying that Upasani achieved full powers. The Sakori sant did not claim those distracting phenomena, and nor did the Shirdi faqir. According to Professor Narke, Sai Baba was not partial to subjects like Yoga and siddhis (SBI:232). Narasimhaswami evidently assumed that Sai Baba meant siddhis when referring to the successorship of Upasani.

A pressing disclosure of Sai Baba in 1911 is typically brief, reported at an early date.  There are no Sanskrit textual references included. Sai Baba referred to “my divine tasks” being transferred to the successor (see Chapter 18 above). This is not equivalent to the Puranic text cited by the Madras sannyasin. Sai Baba did not refer to powers as the inheritance of Upasani, instead specifying "the most advanced experiences of the spiritual path.” Sai Baba added: “Nothing is going to change this fact,” meaning all that he had himself attained would be delegated to Upasani Baba.

The instantly “realised” Narasimhaswami ignored the actual words of Sai Baba, imposing his Puranic version of siddhis as the rationale. The Puranas do not fit an independent Sufi faqir who daily uttered zikr. Sai Baba did not cite Sanskrit texts. The Puranas are far more relevant to Upasani, whose brahmanical repertory included Puranic texts, which he read and assimilated from an early age.

The Bhagavata Purana, cited by Narasimhaswami, is associated with South India. This text belongs to an extensive corpus of Sanskrit and vernacular literature that is notorious for interpolations, making textual criticism a hazard. Two centuries of modern commentary produced contrasting scholarly theories; these have not always contributed to clarity, although progress has been made (Rocher 1986). “Several Puranas have been reworked more than once from different sectarian standpoints, combining Vaishnava, Shaiva, and Shakta features” (Klostermaier 1989:92).

In contrast to a theme of Yogic powers, the Puranas are far more remarkable for exceptional references to a vast cyclical scheme of time, divided into yugas and manvantaras, which are conceived as lila or divine play (these cycles, and the inscrutable kalpa, have been regarded by some Western scientists as a very impressive feature of Hinduism).

The Bhagavata Purana (or Shrimad Bhagavatam) features the avatar Krishna. This text includes what is known as the Uddhava Gita. Chapter 15 of Skanda 11 features Krishna addressing Uddhava on the subject of siddhis. Eight major siddhis and ten minor siddhis are described. At the close of this discourse, a well known disclaimer appears. Krishna here says that siddhis are impediments for the path of bhakti, and amount to wasted time for the aspirant. Some bhaktas affirm that siddhis attract immature people, being avoided by those with insight.

The same chapter 15 has a brief reference to the Yogi dying by an act of will, gaining interior ascent to the spiritual centre or brahmarandhra at the top of the skull, thereby moving out into a higher world. According to his own report, Upasani Baba opened his brahmarandhra without dying. The shock of this experience at Shirdi caused a temporary dislocation between inner and outer function. There is reason to believe that Narasimhaswami had no due understanding of such matters. The sannyasin caused additional confusion by neglecting the now well known bhakta dismissal of siddhis (and miracles). Instead, he viewed these phenomena as an important index to spiritual achievement.

Narasimhaswami has to be regarded with caution. Providing no proof whatever, he asserts that Professor Ganpatrao Narke contrasted the behaviour of Sai Baba with that of Upasani Baba, and to the discredit of the latter (LSB:569). In fact, Narke was disputing some Puranic lore, e.g., population statistics, and wishing to modify devotee theories of Sai Baba’s divine status. The interaction with Sai Baba became complex at this juncture. Contrary to confusion caused by the Sai missionary, Narke was very respectful towards Upasani, being prepared to take his advice, despite receiving a strong admonition from this sant (DSS:239).

The admonition was instigated by Sai Baba, who sent Narke to Upasani at the Khandoba temple. There is some reason to believe that the stern treatment was a response to Narke’s deficient perception of what was required at the Shirdi mosque. Countering the intellectual reservations of Narke, Sai Baba commented: “I am your father, and you should not speak like that; you have to get your benefit and everything from me” (LSB:569). When the old faqir sent visitors (including Narke) to Upasani, the purpose was active chastisement from the younger (and more vigorous) man, according to early reporting. Narasimhaswami shows no awareness of such events, which are a blank in his straitjacket version of Sai Baba and Upasani Baba.

The Madras sannyasin says that Upasani “declared himself to be above all law” (LSB:569). No words are quoted. The context is suspicious, reflecting a response of Narasimhaswami to the Kanya Kumari Sthan as supposed proof of antinomianism. This commentary distorts the resistance of Upasani Baba to brahmanical orthodoxy. Upasani maintained that male opposition to the nunnery at Sakori was a mistake; he was not bound by the high caste convention of denying women the achievement of spirituality. Narasimhaswami had no comprehension of this issue, like many other male brahmans of that era.

The conformist sannyasin accuses Upasani of having disobeyed law. The misleading passage identifies Upasani as avadhuta, a word which the critic interpreted to mean an ascetic without any clothing. The crime here was “freely moving with large numbers of women” (LSB:569). The insinuation is that of immoral conduct. The Sakori nuns were not a large contingent, eventually totalling twenty-three at the time of their founder’s death. This statistic was swelled, by the subsequent over-stimulated imagination of Narasimhaswami’s followers, to a number exceeding sixty.

The Madras sannyasin was apparently not accustomed to the sight of naga sadhus, many of whom existed in North India. Upasani often wore his gunny cloth (visible in numerous photographs), thus distinguishing himself from nagas. This detail is overlooked by the critic. The bias here in evidence converged with the orthodox brahmanical stigma imposed upon Upasani by Divekar Shastri, who alleged that Sakori nuns were prostitutes.

Upasani himself described the nudity of ascetics in terms of nagna (nangta), a word which he says “really means to disjoin or detach one’s self from everything – in and of the world” (GT, 2:110). In Talk 19, he depicts nagna as an advanced state extending to unmatta, a word denoting the feat of supreme indifference towards the body and jiva. Upasani finds an equivalent for nagna in the term digambara, of Jain associations. He emphasises that the appearances and spiritual states signified are resisted by householders preferring familiar conventions. Narasimhaswami had lived much of his life as a lawyer.

The monastic instinct of sannyasin Narasimhaswami did not come to grips with the actual situation at Sakori. He makes the accusation that “women were stored up” by Upasani (LSB:524). This myopic commentator zero-rated the Sakori nuns as mere chattels. The kanyas seem to have very rarely been consulted before 1939, when a prestigious Shankaracharya decided to investigate; that religious figurehead proved far more discerning than Divekar Shastri and Narasimhaswami. Many years later, in the Life of Sai Baba, the Sakori nuns were crudely reduced to the demeaning role specified as “foamy adulterator of a saint” (LSB:430-431).

In the face of such taunts, these nuns are known to have persevered with fortitude and composure. They were at first total underdogs in a male-dominated society. Upasani gave them ascendancy at his ashram, probably his most significant gesture at Sakori. Godavari Mataji was the kanya leader. As the target of lingering aspersions, she would smile sweetly in her accustomed manner of restraint, not hitting back at the detractors. She would delicately indicate that critics had misunderstood the activities of Upasani. What she said in private is not known, but should command the sympathy of commentators, whether male or female. Godavari Mataji led a blameless life from her girlhood, nevertheless being depicted as a foamy adulterator by the grossly insensitive Sai missionary.

Amongst other unconvincing arguments, Narasimhaswami elaborates a theme of Upasani’s supposedly excessive attachment to his third wife, who died in early 1912, the year after he moved to Shirdi. Her decease did not in any way affect his continuing sojourn at the Khandoba temple. Nevertheless, an insidious idea of the critic is that Upasani permanently remained at the grihastya householder level, not graduating to the heights of renunciation (in contrast to the instantly “realised” Madras sannyasin, the reader may infer).

Over the years, Upasani Baba was a firm advocate of celibacy. At Sakori during the mid-1930s, he told the Madras sannyasin and others that Sai Baba had “rendered him then and thenceforward physically impotent and mentally free from sex craving” (LSB:406). The critic is approving on this point, even treating the disclosure as “clear proof that [Sai] Baba was carrying out his undertaking” (LSB:406). However, on the same page, Narasimhaswami added a negative reflection: “If only he [Upasani] had served out four years at Shirdi under Sai as ordered, his history would have been different” (LSB:406-407). This is a dogma of Sai prachar (propaganda); the verdict is not credited by analysts resistant to sectarian beliefs.

The overbearing pracharak gives the impression that, when departing from Shirdi in 1914, Upasani Maharaj invited distractions. There were certainly distractions to avoid at Shirdi, including the aggressive Nanavali and other persons who continually interrupted the preferred solitude of Upasani, causing aggravation and distress. The solitude (“sit quietly”) had been prescribed by Shirdi Sai. In his misleading Life of Sai Baba, Narasimhaswami failed to describe Upasani’s sequel residences at Shirdi during 1915-1917. The occupant of Khandoba’s temple stayed at Shirdi for a total of four years during the period 1911-1917.

Narasimhaswami, Upasani Maharaj

The reader is told by the deceptive missionary that, because Upasani left Shirdi in 1914 after three years, “the prospect of his attaining full Samarthaship under [Sai] Baba... was shattered” (LSB:428). Narasimhaswami dismisses the sojourns at Kharagpur, and elsewhere, in terms of “developing egotism and other allied harmful tendencies” (LSB:428). Further, there was “a lapse back again into old lines of thought” (LSB:428). In the haphazard rhetoric of Sai prachar, the feat of living in a bhangi colony was merely an unmentionable egoistic act or a retrogression.

The general impression conveyed by Narasimhaswami is that Upasani became a routine purohit like his grandfather, while accumulating women and wealth. The word purohit (explicitly employed by the critic) signifies a “family priest” or “house priest,” meaning a paid functionary performing religious rites for clients. Upasani was definitely not a purohit. He evaded the performance of such rites, frequently disconcerting prospective clients. He did not accumulate wealth, living in a rigorously ascetic manner. His explicit preference for a “spontaneous path” (of the satpurusha) contrasted strongly with the outlook of priests.

The discrepant refrains were symptomatic of Narasimhaswami’s dogmatic attitude, i.e., that Upasani departed from Khandoba’s temple too early in 1914, an exit which signified failure. This belief has since been facilely repeated by other writers, heavily influenced by the missionary sannyasin, who is treated as an authority on the subject. The theme of premature departure takes no account of the prevailing conditions and medical diagnosis involved. The subsequent residences of Upasani at Khandoba’s temple are ignored in many accounts. Relevant history is eschewed by 1950s Narasimhaswami. Substantial early reporting, and alternative reporting, was consigned to oblivion by prachar tactics.

At the end of his missionary attack, the critic interposes a facesaver by emphasising the harmful nature of aspersion. This is because Sai Baba did not approve of religious and sectarian animosity. Narasimhaswami cites the words of Sai Baba to the erring Hari S. Dixit: “If you talk ill of anyone, I feel pain.” The belated caution awards a brief concession:

Sri Upasani Baba’s grand work of keeping the public drawn to high moral and spiritual levels for about two decades cannot be undone by his failure to reach the acme of perfection sketched for him during his Shirdi novitiate. His achievements were remarkable, indeed so remarkable that persons like Mahatma Gandhi had a right to hope for even great national benefits from him. Unfortunate circumstances, however, prevented the fullest use being made of his faculties.... To... lose respect for him or to treat him and his institutions with disregard, contempt, or hatred would be totally unwarranted and harmful to the persons harbouring such feelings. (LSB:433)

These considerations are a contradictory postscript to the sustained sannyasin critique of Upasani Maharaj, which was pointed enough to cause grave offence amongst devotees of the Sakori guru and Godavari Mataji. The status of Upasani Baba was here reduced to that of an erring “apostle,” to use the Christianising vocabulary of a Sai missionary.

Narasimhaswami emphasised that the deceased Sai Baba could aid devotees from his tomb, whereas the deceased Upasani Baba lacked such posthumous ability. “The general public are not feeling that he [Upasani] is still existing and serviceable to them” (LSB:425). To sample another contention of the zealous pracharak: “It is not known whether he [Upasani] is working from his sukshma body after he left his physical body in 1941” (LSB:432). The missionary often assured readers that Sai Baba was posthumously working from an invisible “subtle” body. These sectarian arguments and invidious comparisons have no relation to biographical events.

The propagandist attack loses heavily in the face of changed Hindu attitudes to the Sakori community of nuns led by Godavari Mataji (1914-1990), a disciple of Upasani who became a famous spiritual figure in Maharashtra. The sackcloth nudity of Upasani did not mean immoral conduct. In fact, he was probably one of the most ascetic saints ever to appear in Maharashtra, a world renouncer in a different category to Narasimhaswami.

The missionary critique also loses weight in view of comments made by Meher Baba (1894-1969). This Zoroastrian-born mystic was intimate with both Upasani and Godavari Mataji, possessing a detailed knowledge of events in relation to these entities. Meher Baba referred to errors made by Narasimhaswami, whom he had personally encountered during the early 1930s. In fact, Narasimhaswami had then wanted to write the biography of Meher Baba, who declined, instead advising him to contact Upasani.

According to Meher Baba, the book Sage of Sakuri, although a partisan work, is marred by hagiology and inadequate interpretations. “Half of it is good and half of it absolute nonsense.” (344) The half and half may represent an approximate gauge, amounting to a figure of speech; however, a definite objection is being lodged. Meher Baba also emphasised that Narasimhaswami hagiologised his version of Shirdi Sai Baba. Meher Baba’s resistance to hagiology has been considered impressive; this attitude was by no means typical of Indian gurus. In the 1950s, he described Narasimhaswami as a “very good soul who made a mess of things because of his ignorance.” (345) This contention is still generally ignored.

Sage of Sakuri includes a chapter on siddhis. Narasimhaswami here attributes various powers to Sai Baba and Upasani. However, he does tend to modify this angle by reflecting that credulous devotees are not the best persons “to note facts evidencing such powers” (NSS:113). The author implies that there is little strong evidence. He also commendably relays that Upasani “generally denies that he has any power to perform miracles” (NSS:145). The commentator adds that miracles occasionally “come out of him and are even owned up” (NSS:145). The Madras sannyasin evidently did believe in miracles at this early period, despite his guarded approach. After becoming a Sai missionary, he lost all restraint in his enthusiastic promotion of Sai chamatkars.

The confused pracharak asserted that, at Sakori, Upasani was “practically continuing the work of his grandfather Gopala Shastri, an eminent purohit, highly learned in the various shastras and able to administer to the needs of his clients, most of whom wanted only success, saumangalya, Lakshmiprasada etc” (LSB:429). This pronounced contraction moves into the misleading theme of how Upasani was deviously “storing up groups of women to live with him” (LSB:429).

Upasani was not one of the purohitya (priesthood). He avoided teaching the Sanskrit shastras, instead resorting to kaleidoscopic reflections in colloquial Marathi. The Sakori sant was generally dismissive of desires for success and wealth. There is no discernible continuation between himself and his illustrious grandfather.

The missionary commentator misleadingly affirmed that “the main stress over and over again in Sri Upasani’s lectures” involved “methods recommended in numerous sastraic works such as japa, tapas, dhyana, dana, vrata etc on purely conventional lines” (LSB:428-429).

The main emphases in the multi-volume Talks of Upasani eluded Narasimhaswami. Methods such as tapas, dhyana, and vrata are secondary features of that varied exposition. A large number of other topics are ignored by the critic. Furthermore, the methods or observances he mentioned were personal in application, with no priest being involved. The word vrata is often translated as “vow,” a commitment which includes pilgrimage. The critic does not mention that he himself was originally an enthusiast of pilgrimage. Upasani told him to change course, saying that pilgrimage was a distraction to him, that Narasimhaswami needed focus in a more introspective activity which did not diffuse his energies.

Upasani was flexible, and not rigidly conventional, in his approach to spirituality. The unconventional nature of many materials in Talks was lost upon the monastic commentator, despite his reluctant and fleeting concession that influences from Sai Baba may be evident.

The critic was far removed from such appraisals as that of Kokila S. Mehta, a notable female magistrate of Ahmedabad. She reported in the 1960s: “I had the darshan of Upasani Baba in the year 1928 for the first time. Since then, I am closely associated with the Sakori ashram. I have stayed with Baba for long periods. The personality of Upasani Baba was extraordinary. His religious teachings were most original” (CIC:147).

Japa, tapas, dhyana, and vrata were included in the observances known as satkarma, a subject often mentioned by Upasani. In Talk 269 (for long unpublished), he prominently includes the theme of satkarma in a discourse challenging the conventional idea that old age is best suited to renunciation. “It is fundamentally wrong to think that youth is meant for worldly life and old age for the spiritual one” (GT, 3:397). Upasani here emphasises the much neglected scriptural injunction for a male to spend twelve years, from the age of seven, in observing celibacy and sadhana. This boyhood satkarma can assist spiritual development; in contrast, satkarmas performed in old age do not have the same effect.

Upasani Baba compares satkarma to a double-edged sword. “Everything thus depends on the motive with which the satkarma is done” (GT, 3:398). Satkarma was often performed for the purpose of mitigating personal difficulties and gaining success. “When somebody comes, and says that he is tired of worldly life, then I ask him to stop the satkarmas first” (GT, 3:397). He adds that if one is not tired of worldly life, then satkarmas should be performed. The complexity is expressed that nishkama (motiveless) satkarma is what assists during youth to turn the mind inward. Whereas satkarmas performed with a [compromising] motive “lead one on to the so-called successful worldly life; in other words, they are wasted” (GT, 3:398).

In addition to numerous other complexities, Narasimhaswami ignored autobiographical references in the Talks. There is some reason to doubt his familiarity with the content of Upasani Vak Sudha. The Madras sannyasin could not read Marathi in 1936, the year he left Upasani. He needed an interpreter to record well known interviews, with devotees of Sai Baba, occurring at that period. In Sage of Sakuri, he does briefly refer to Talks; however, an English translation of that lengthy work did not appear until after his death. If Narasimhaswami ever read the Marathi Talks in any detail, evidence for this is lacking.

The Madras sannyasin implied that the ritualism of Sakori was a distraction, here completely ignoring the situation of repressed women gaining primacy in activities of Hindu religion. In a different context, ritualism was gaining ground at the tomb of Sai Baba in Shirdi.

The discrepant analysis of Narasimhaswami was attempting to prove that Upasani Baba had “revolted against, not merely the control of Sai, but also against the line of thought and action pursued by Sai, which line and action were no doubt invisible and rather ill-perceived by Sri Upasani” (LSB:428).

A great deal of the record was ill-perceived by Narasimhaswami, whose pracharak conclusions are substantially offset by earlier data revealing much more of the historical Upasani Baba (quite apart from content in the Talks). The lifestyle of a naked ascetic, wearing only sackcloth, was an inscrutable mystery to the fully clothed sannyasin commentator who denied any validity to the (fully clothed) Hindu nuns at Sakori.

The sceptic could not perceive that, to the young nuns, Upasani Baba was a revered father figure (and guru), not an amorous partner. These nuns must have shuddered at the crude assumptions of opponents; such men could only be endured, not esteemed.

Narasimhaswami projected his monastic aversion to women back in time to the Shirdi years of Upasani. The critic contrived a reductionist theme that Upasani was too attached to his wife to make any great progress. The sannyasin argued that this supposed drawback, combined with “intellectualism,” was a proof of flawed orientation. If this laboured contention is accepted, the conclusion follows that Sai Baba made a mistake in giving “everything” to the unmatta temple dweller at Shirdi.

At Shirdi, Upasani was not in the least intellectual during his transcendent states of unmatta or nirvikalpa samadhi (these states were still visible at times during his subsequent sojourn at Kharagpur). The missionary sannyasin did not even begin to assimilate relevant implications of these obscured events.

Too much of what Narasimhaswami wrote about Upasani Maharaj, in his Life of Sai Baba, is a misleading fiction based upon his dogmatic aversion to the Sakori scenario of a naked ascetic in the presence of nuns. His prejudices distorted diverse events to a pronounced degree, despite his inflated claim of constant communion with the deceased Sai Baba.

An explanation by Upasani serves to underline a substantial contrast between the Sakori ascetic and his monastic critic. In Talk 108, he stated that “the real Brahmachari” or celibate monk does not dissociate from women in favour of solitude. The monk averse to women was merely “a student in that line.” However, “it is better to behave like that until one completes his study and until one is bestowed with the kripa [grace] of the sadguru” (GT, 2:482). In contrast, “the real Brahmachari… is never influenced by anything – by anybody – whether men or women, despite their constant association with him…. Whatever objects or persons come to him, he never feels drawn towards them” (GT, 2:482-3).

Upasani referred to this state of detachment in terms of “Be as it may,” a key phrase found in some of the Talks (and associated with Gita 4:22). Narasimhaswami is silent on this point. The sannyasin never cites the Talks. This tactic of omission amounts to a significant failing in his account.

The Madras sannyasin is well known for asserting that Upasani did not accept Advaita teaching until after 1935. The Talks strongly contradict this assumption. One of the many contrary instances is supplied in Talk 249, dated June 1923:

This way [of brahmachari celibate discipline] slowly takes him away from Dvaita into Advaita. Once he is well-established in Advaita, then all good and bad, fame and blame, honour and dishonour, heat and cold, pleasure and pain, Stri and Purusha, and other Dvandvas [opposites] do not affect him. (GT, 3:322)

Narasimhaswami was unable to discern Upasani Baba’s mode of thought and existence. The Sakori ascetic recommended Advaita in a clearly formulated manner, accompanied by ethical considerations. In Talk 294, dated 1925, he conveyed:

If the Advaita state is desired, then good behaviour has to be increased, and to such an extent that it will soon overflow and begin to spread, in the form of a covering, over the bad side [of the individual], the natural state of ahamkara [egoism]. The pure will turn the impure into pure, and thus take the person concerned beyond the Dvaita of papa and punya. (GT, 3:538)

Talk 288, also dating to 1925, refers to a phrase found in the arati song of Sakori ashram, performed daily in the presence of Upasani. This phrase was an exhortation to “break the Dvaita,” employing the metaphor of an almond which is split and then rejoined. Upasani commented on the symbolism involved: “You must join the two and thus turn them into one, the Advaita” (GT, 3:500).

93.  A  Resentful  Clique  and  Poison, 1927-1928

Bombay 1920s

An ominous situation arose at Sakori ashram by 1927. A resentful group of brahman devotees, associated with Durgabai Karmakar, gained an underlying influence. A particular episode reveals the extent of their animosity.

A fluctuating number of sevakaris (attendants performing service) were residing at Sakori ashram. One of these was the young Godavari Hatavalikar (Mataji), married in 1925, but allowed to stay at Sakori in the absence of her husband.

Apart from Upasani himself, Durgabai was the earliest inmate of Sakori ashram; she later became the unofficial manager. This prominent sevakari was disconcerted when Upasani gave attention to Godavari and some of the other women who stayed at Sakori. She regarded herself as the leading female devotee of Upasani. Durgabai feared that she would lose her prominence to newcomers, whom she regarded as rivals. She “began first to envy, and later to hate all of them, and amongst them Godavari in particular” (GLS:14).

Durgabai and her male colleagues adopted a policy of hostility to the newcomers. The identity of her assistants is obscure; the management worker known as Taramek may have been involved. This grouping are described as a “clique” by Godamasuta, who was writing over twenty years later. Durgabai and her associates subjected their victims to “troubles, hardships and privations” (GLS:14).

Upasani himself became a target of the Durgabai clique. The reasons are not clear. At least some members of that extremist grouping had the idea of poisoning him. Poison was accordingly prepared, and kept close to hand in a medicine bottle. However, none of the extremists dared to take this dire plan any further. Perhaps the intention was to poison all the presumed rivals of Durgabai. The “official” Sakori account does not explain why Durgabai wished to eliminate Upasani. Another version (from Meher Baba) says that a poison plot was blamed on Durgabai by agitators who administered the poison (Singh 1975:5).

The counter of Upasani came as a shock to all. He disclosed his knowledge of the subversive tactic, demanding that the poison be handed over to him. According to the official version, Upasani then deliberately took the poison himself, with the consequence that he became seriously ill. The resulting malady is sometimes described as dysentery.

Upasani had exposed the strategy of an oppressive clique whose emotions were out of control. That clique were afterwards restrained for a time, but not vanquished. The various reactions involved in this drama are largely lost to record. (346) The perturbed ashram staff obtained the consent of Upasani for his removal to Nasik, the intention being to gain expert medical treatment. This move occurred in late 1927 or early 1928. Over six months elapsed before his full recovery (GLS:15).

The basic antipathy to Godavari Mataji, on the part of Durgabai and her colleagues, did not cease. Another crisis occurred when Upasani protectively married Godavari and other nuns in 1932. In this controversial action, the Sakori ascetic may have been pitting himself against the disapproving clique, who were opposed to the marriages. He certainly elevated the nuns by his gesture of “marriage,” awarding them a significance they would not otherwise have enjoyed. The conclusion is possible that he was thereby negating the insidious form of management opposition to Godavari and her associates.

At that same period, Durgabai quarrelled with the prominent male figure called Taramek. The friction is obscure. Both of these management entities were told by Upasani to depart from the ashram (apparently in 1933). He disagreed with their economic strategy. This complex situation is almost completely submerged in available accounts.

The reactionary grouping eventually assisted the defamatory campaign of other persons who sought to undermine the reputation of Upasani Baba. This harassing development occurred in 1934-35, when the converging parties “filed various civil suits and criminal cases against him, but in all these the court declared him to be innocent, with the result that the activities of the [hostile] group simply died down” (GLS:15).

Many devotees requested the permission of Upasani to file countersuits against the libellers. He refused to endorse their plan. Upasani surprised them by saying: “You people forget that those who work against me are also mine. They are as much mine as you are. I have equally to care for them” (GLS:15).

The phase of lawsuits was at first deceptive for observers lacking due information about the train of events and the various biases involved. A major miscreant, Durgabai Karmakar, subsequently grasped that the opposition was completely wrong in their judgments. She became deeply repentant. Tragically, she was now nearing her death. Some other opponents also changed their tactic. Such relevant details are missing in some misleading reports that still gain currency amongst uninformed readerships.

94.  Panch Kanyas, 1928-1932

Godavari Hatavalikar (alias Mataji) was one of the attendants at Nasik in 1928, when Upasani was ill after the poison episode. Her companions included the girl named Prema and a woman from Hyderabad called Saraswatibai, alias Jiji (who eventually gained a prominent role in events as a trustee of Sakori ashram).

At this time, Godavari’s young husband Vishnupant visited Nasik from Bombay, being in a pensive state of mind, apparently because the wife of a relative had died. He said that he wanted to gift his wife to Upasani. Yeshwantrao Borawke and Raja Narsing (of Hyderabad) were present on this occasion; they applauded the gesture of terminating wedlock. Upasani stated that he “was not competent enough to award him (VIshnupant) the full fruit of his punya karma” (SSS:42). Upasani told Vishnupant to offer his wife at the Shaiva shrine of Triambakeshwar, about twenty miles from Nasik. Vishnupant then took Godavari to that shrine, offering her and symbols of marriage to the deity. He afterwards returned to Bombay, leaving Godavari at Nasik as kanyadan (here effectively meaning a nun or spiritual bride).

Meanwhile, the illness of Upasani became worse; death seemed imminent, as a consequence of ingesting poison. His tongue grew black. He was not eating. Then in a very weak voice, he requested Jiji to fetch him some gruel with ginger and salt. After a few intermittent sips, his condition improved. He was afterwards taken to Deolali, where he recovered.

While he was critically ill at Nasik, the girl Prema (aged only eleven) had a visionary experience conveying that Upasani would recover if she were offered to him as kanyadan (here meaning a nun or spiritual bride). She reported this experience to her parents in Bombay. Her father was Sundar Rao Varde, a devotee of Upasani. This man then travelled to Nasik, offering Prema as kanyadan. The girl was very pleased; there was no coercion or parental selection involved. Godavari and Prema would encourage Upasani to get better, affirming that their new kanya roles, and their devotion, “would induce God to have compassion for them and bring about his speedy recovery” (SSS:43-44).

The guru convalesced successfully. In May 1928, he moved to Triambakeshwar for about two months. There his birthday was celebrated with much rejoicing. Upasani and his party subsequently returned to Sakori.

Godavari Mataji and Upasani at Sakori, circa 1930

Soon afterwards, he elevated Godavari by initiating her on Gurupurnima day. The date was 28 July, 1928. The festival was celebrated at Sakori ashram on a more lavish scale than previously. Thousands arrived for darshan. Upasani appeared in the pinjra (cage) with the two kanyas Godavari and Prema. At the time of arati, he was garlanded as usual with the rudraksha rosary given to Bapusaheb Jog by Sai Baba (the day prior to the faqir’s death). Jog had regularly placed this rosary around the neck of Sai at the Shirdi arati ceremonies; he took the rosary to Sakori, where this item became well known from 1923. Upasani now unexpectedly placed this same rosary around the neck of Godavari, a significant gesture. He gave her mantra diksha, speaking briefly of her future role (SSS:46).

In subsequent years, three more girls were offered to Upasani as kanyadan. Bhima was the daughter of Tatya Mule of Satana, a boyhood friend of Upasani who for some years officiated as a priest (purohit) at Sakori ashram. Kamala was the sister of Godavari. Rama was the daughter of a retired schoolmaster named Damle. These three girls joined Godavari and Prema. This group became known as panch kanya, the five nuns (SSS:47).

The panch kanyas were “married” to Upasani in November 1932. This was the outcome of a decade of kanya activity at Sakori, involving women in different age groups, some of them staying only for the short term (like Mehera Irani and Khorshed Irani). Parental interference was an ongoing hazard. Now Upasani was establishing a firm basis for continuation of his unusual project. He was negotiating the lack of official status for renunciate women in Hindu society. He knew that when he died, the nuns might disappear from Sakori, unless due arrangements were made for permanency.

In the resort to “marriage,” Upasani adopted the simple expedient of holding a Krishna image in his hand. The statement is sometimes found that the panch kanyas were offered to Krishna. To be more explicit: “Five ladies have Tulasi vivaha with Krishna held in [Upasani] Baba’s hand” (SSS:104). Tulasi vivaha is a popular Hindu ritual, performed in the month of Kartik. The tulasi plant is venerated as a goddess. A mock marriage is enacted between a tulasi plant and a Krishna image (or a shaligram stone). Upasani appears to have adapted this convention.

There was nothing secretive or underhand in this occurrence. One of the observers was a Parsi devotee, Kaikhushru D. Bajan, the proprietor of a lime factory at Katni.  On that occasion, Bajan was permitted to take a dozen photographs, in two of which Upasani sat with the five kanyas (SSS:104-105, 155).

The event was scornfully interpreted by Hindu detractors as “polygamous marriage.” The condemnation came from persons who were not present. Newspaper sensation resulted, with some public confusion arising. Opponents maliciously insinuated that the panch kanya event amounted to devadasi marriages of a disreputable kind found elsewhere. In this misleading situation, the popularity of Upasani began to decline.

The emblematic marriage at Sakori was intended to give the kanyas an importance they would not otherwise enjoy. This development raised them from the status of mere ashram members to prominent nuns. From this time on, Upasani treated the kanyas as the key ashram participants. Male domination was in the past. The symbolic marriage enhanced the spiritual standing of these kanyas, not least because Upasani affirmed that his role (or stock of punya) was now reflected in them. He clearly intended the nuns to share his celebrity. The emerging Kanya Kumari Sthan dates from this period.

That same year, Upasani permitted at Sakori ashram the construction of a new and imposing arati hall, which further altered the landscape at the vanishing cremation ground. The kanyas became more visible at this building. At the time of arati, each devotee would go to the pinjra (cage), and there place flowers at the feet of Upasani and Godavari Mataji (NSS:186). Such gestures of equality, in relation to the kanya leader (Godavari), upset some orthodox male devotees associated with Durgabai Karmakar.

A setback occurred, in 1934, when two of the kanyas left the ashram, adopting a family household life. Orthodox influence on parental decision was apparently a major factor; the agitation of Divekar Shastri became well known. The removal did not make either Prema or Rama happy. “Within a few years of their leaving Sakuri, Rama died a miserable death, and Prema was left a widow with an orphan boy to take care of.” (347) Prema was only twenty years old. Convention dictated that she could not marry again.

In 1935, two more girls were offered as kanyadan, replacing the absentees. These were Gangu of Alandi and Kusum, the youngest sister of Godavari. Godavari now had two sisters in her panch kanya group, which subsequently swelled in numbers. The dismay of these three idealistic sisters, at being misrepresented by detractors as prostitutes, can scarcely be imagined.

95.  The  Sakori  Nuns: Kanya  Kumari  Sthan

Upasani with Godavari Mataji and five other kanyas, Sakori 1930s. Courtesy Meher Nazar

In 1932, Upasani commenced a distinctive project, highlighting the presence of kanyas (virgins) in his ashram, specifically awarding them a spiritual importance. The Kanya Kumari Sthan, a community of nuns, created orthodox resistance. Many contextual details were submerged and distorted; various reports are involved. There is still confusion about what happened.

Caste society, and ashrams, were completely male-dominated. Women had no say in matters of religion and social etiquette. They were not considered to have an equal spiritual potential to men. The influential lawgivers of much earlier centuries had relegated women to a notable degree. The Manusmriti has received much criticism.

According to Manu, the wife is declared to be the property of her husband, and is classified with cows, mares, female camels, slave girls, she-buffaloes, goats. (Singh 1997:203)

In the late nineteenth century, Pundita Ramabai Sarasvati disclosed the widespread suffering of women in caste society, a situation influenced by Manu (Appendix One). During the twentieth century, Manu became widely cited as the source of legitimation for the oppression of women, low caste people, and outcastes. Copies of Manusmriti were burned by untouchables (Dalits) in the 1930s, and in later years by women’s rights activists (Olivelle 2005:4). “Manu’s interest lay not in the lower classes of society which he considered to be an ever-present threat to the dominance of the upper classes, but in the interaction between the political power and Brahmanical priestly interests” (ibid:16).

Upasani Maharaj was an exception to the conservative approach about women. He was careful not to deny traditional scriptural injunctions, while nevertheless moving at a tangent. When he began to make his point in this respect, there were many males of his caste who strongly disagreed. He “traced the downfall of India to the neglect of women” (CIC:218). He “tried to spiritualise the marriage institution” (CIC:222). “No one has laid so much emphasis on this aspect of [spiritual] marriage as Upasani Baba” (CIC:223). His 1920s discourses (Upasani Vak Sudha) contain numerous remarks on women, of which the following is an instance:

As a woman possesses innate divinity, it should be made manifest in her. This should be done for her own elevation as well as for the good of the society. Woman, by nature, is sattvic and innocent. She is egoless. She has a quiet temperament, and an enduring nature. Hence, she is worthy to attain God. (CIC:121)

Another recommendation features in Talk 12, entitled The Glory of the Faithful Woman, dating to 1923. As a defender of women in the traditional mode, Upasani can cause surprise by the pointed nature of his theme:

If a woman - young or old – is kept in her natural Sattvika state with all its cogent qualities, as ordained for women in their respective faith, and she also remains like that, then her husband, or parents, or anybody associated with her, even though they may be doing nothing to attain God, or behave sometimes in a faulty manner, are always purified by the mere darshana or remembrance of such a woman. At the time of death, even if they [the men] do not remember God, but only remember such a woman, or if she be standing in front of them at that time, they attain a higher status in their ensuing birth, which subsequently leads them to Godhood. This is the essential truth; it is infallible. Such a woman is recognised as a Sati - Sadhvi (virtuous - saintly). (GT, 2:74)

This argument applied both to married women with children, and also to nuns. The Sakori ascetic stated that women had no prarabdha karma, therefore they should not involve themselves in activities that would create this hindering factor. The argument here was not traditional, but innovative. Women without prarabdha were “in a position to give salvation to others” (CIC:121). That emphasis was heretical to conservatives.

The liberal attitude of Upasani towards women was accompanied by a strong reserve about modern ideas of conduct. He was opposed to the trend of women going outside the home and working for a living. He accused contemporary (Westernised Indian) men of training women to do actions causing prarabdha. This situation resulted in an imbalance of extensive proportions. He said that women with prarabdha had to become men in their next incarnation. Whereas men “addicted to women” were compelled to take their next birth as women. He referred to this drawback in terms of an increasing “mutual prarabdha,” meaning a major obstruction. The complexity was covered by a belief that “your mode of behaviour and reasoning in one particular birth is based on the actions done in the previous ones.”

Almost humorous is the conclusion that contemporary marriages involved men who were formerly women, and women who were formerly men. The “women” showed masculine traits, and soon became widows. In support of his theme, Upasani referred to “the unusual number of widows and sterile women and the womanly mode of behaviour shown by many a man” (GT, 2:17-18).

It is very difficult to confirm the veracity of this rather fascinating argument. However, one can more successfully establish what happened to the community of nuns at Sakori. The Kanya Kumari Sthan commenced at Sakori in 1932, numbering over twenty inmates within a decade. The basic denominator was celibacy, and a close acquaintance with spirituality, a subject elsewhere claimed exclusively by men. Although apparently denying women an independence from men, Upasani Baba gave celibate nuns a remarkable degree of social prominence. He also facilitated recognition of their legitimate spiritual achievement.

Upasani with six kanyas, including Godavari Mataji (back row, left), Sakori 1930s

The inmates of the Kanya Kumari Sthan were at first misrepresented by detractors. (348) The Sakori nuns subsequently proved the discipline of their renunciate lifestyle, thus exposing the calumnies of male suppressors, who considered female renunciates to be superfluous in caste society. Very discrepantly, Narasimhaswami was a long-term critic, (349) believing that Upasani’s contact with women was symptomatic of lust. The Sai missionary (pracharak) appears to have been influenced by disaffected brahman devotees at Sakori. These men initially reacted to the prominence of Godavari Mataji, and subsequently, to the new privileges acquired by the nuns from 1935 onwards. At that time, Upasani demolished the traditional division between men and women in relation to Sanskrit learning and ritual.

Upasani gave women significant access to Sanskrit learning; he also bestowed upon Sakori nuns the ability to conduct traditional rituals on a par with men. This was a revolutionary approach, strongly resented by Hindu conservatives, who believed that women should be debarred from Sanskrit recitation and traditional rituals. The critics maintained that women were not eligible for spiritual progress.

In defiance of these strictures, Upasani allocated to the Sakori nuns an intensive programme of study, ritual, and discipline. The Kanya Kumari Sthan eventually became celebrated for achieving a revival of the old Vedic milieu where women took a leading part alongside men.

Opponents were much annoyed that Upasani “authorised his kanyas, on his personal responsibility as a sadguru, to discharge all the Vedic rites and ceremonies in due form” (SSS:50).

Sanskrit education for the nuns commenced by 1935. Upasani arranged for a local shastri to give tuition (CIC:59). The kanyas now received a basic training in Sanskrit, memorising and reciting the Yajur Veda and Upanishads, and likewise other texts. The same pundit was also told to give the nuns instruction in rituals, more specifically the yajna or Vedic fire sacrifice, a basic rite of Hinduism.

The 1930s book Sage of Sakuri supplies only very scant reference to the kanyas. “At present, Baba is training the kanyas he has married, and some other ladies, to carry on these homas [yajnas]” (NSS:174). This situation in 1935 is barely hinted at by  Narasimhaswami, who failed to understand the issue at stake. During 1936-37, Upasani continued to encourage the kanyas in private yajna performances. The nuns did not become fully proficient in this activity until 1938. The number of kanyas had increased to about a dozen or more by that date.

In 1935, Upasani performed his first yajna at Sakori ashram, with the cooperation of some other brahmans. He had not previously participated in such ritual events, which were the prerogative of priests. Upasani now took part only because yajna became associated with the nuns; becoming a yajna officiant, he could transmit this ability to the kanyas (at least, that was the professed legitimation, which opponents did not accept).  This was a “reformed” ceremony avoiding any animal sacrifice; Upasani did not approve of Vedic (and post-Vedic) slaughter.

Three years later, in 1938, he performed a public yajna at Sakori with the growing number of kanyas, thus inaugurating their new expertise in this activity. That same year, a permanent yajna mandap (compound) was constructed at Sakori ashram for the nuns (CIC:55). At this location, the kanyas thereafter performed yajna rituals seven times a year, during all the major religious festivals held at Sakori. Upasani was not generally a direct participant. He would sit with the kanyas while they performed a yajna; he would authorise them to perform the rituals on his behalf (SSS:73).

Moving back in time, during the Upanishadic era, the yajna was contested. A great importance was assigned to this activity during earlier Vedic centuries. Rishis of the Upanishads “declared that good and righteous behaviour was superior to Yajnas” (CIC:50). Extensive animal slaughter was an accompaniment to the ancient yajna. The Buddhists and Jains were accordingly averse to these ritual events, which continued for centuries after.

The Sakori revival did not feature animal sacrifice, possessing elements of an ideological counter. Yajna had survived on a small scale in Maharashtra and other parts of India. “However, we cannot mention a single individual or an institution, which is responsible for conducting such Yajnas regularly, every year” (CIC:55). Dr. Tipnis was here making a comparison with the unique activity of the Kanya Kumari Sthan.

The Sakori revival of yajna may be viewed as a response of Upasani to the orthodox critics, and also to disaffected devotees who questioned the Kanya Kumari Sthan. He gave to women a high caste tradition of ritual practice which had languished in widespread regions, lacking patrons and practitioners save for occasional performances. Women were effectively disqualified for many centuries. In contrast, during the Upanishadic period, “women were well versed in the practice of performing a Yajna” (CIC:57). This was still the case during the subsequent Epic period. However, there is no evidence that those rituals were ever performed by women in the organised manner demonstrated at Sakori ashram (CIC:58).

There was one feature of yajna rules which Upasani could not surmount. Caste etiquette placed women on the same level as shudras. The nuns had learned the Yajur Veda, but could not utilise Vedic mantras in their yajna programme. Instead, they had to be content with Puranic mantras. Male superiority was thus preserved by the purohit and shastri dominance. This may explain why there was not a more concerted and enduring outburst of orthodox wrath at the Kanya Kumari Sthan.

Upasani Baba was strongly inclined to an esoteric interpretation of yajna. “A Yajna Mandapa, a Yajna Kund, oblations, and a Purohita, are all within us; various kinds of vasanas or desires serve as oblations” (CIC:103). He critically referred to the ancient practice of animal sacrifice performed by kings and priests, who sustained a belief that the animals killed in this manner attained salvation. Upasani also mentioned the controversy about employing a yajna substitute for animals, with some Hindus still preferring the older recourse or “sin of animal slaughter.” Upasani added his own view that the substitute, known as pishta pashu, should be supported (CIC:103).

The pishta pashu was made of flour. Upasani relates the ancient Vedic belief that sacrificed animals gained sadgati, or an entry to heaven. Kshatriyas would sacrifice horses, while brahmans sacrificed goats. The goat was believed to gain a purified soul in the shrauta (public) ritual, thus achieving liberation. The human participants in the shrauta sacrifice were also believed to attain Sat-Chit-Ananda. Some parties declared that no animal should be sacrificed during the Kali Yuga, while others argued against this consideration. Upasani supported the prohibition of slaughter, affirming that this attitude “is reasonable and correct” (GT, 2:431).

Hundreds of shrauta rites were devised in ancient times. These included ceremonies requiring many specialist priests who were paid well for their services. Such prestigious rites could involve numerous animal victims. These rituals were described in the Shrauta Sutras (Kane 1941-1975; Staal 1983). The yajna was a major part of this scenario.

Hindu literature reports on yajnas to which thousands of Brahmins were invited and at which hundreds of sacrificial animals were slaughtered; yajnas lasting for months, even years, that cost so much that they could impoverish the richest man…. The significance of Brahmanic priesthood increased in proportion as the sacrifice became more complicated. Even for the humblest of Vedic sacrifices, four or five Brahmin specialists were required, hundreds for the major ones. (Klostermaier 1989:158)

The complex ritual system was upheld by the Mimamsaka thinkers, opposed by Shankara. Shrauta rites appear to have declined by the thirteenth century. The medieval Vaishnava movement was influential against animal sacrifice. Madhvacharya (d.1276), the Dvaitin, recommended the pishta pashu. In a few parts of the country, mainly South India, the shrauta animal sacrifice continued into the twentieth century, with goats being the victims.

Godavari Mataji (1914-1990) became the leader of the Sakori nuns (kanyas), and a figurehead of reformed yajna ritualism. The relevant events have often been neglected, abbreviated, and distorted.  She was in her early twenties when, in 1938, the Kanya Kumari Sthan became proficient in yajna. The Sanskrit-educated nuns now provided a strong contradiction to the libellous portrayal of them as prostitutes. The reality was not always perceived. Nearly twenty years later, the Sai missionary Narasimhaswami was heedlessly applying to these nuns an extremist stigma worded as “foamy adulterator of a saint” (LSB:430-431).

In 1932, Upasani “married” Godavari and four other kanyas. The subject of “spiritual marriage,” to a saint or satpurusha (Harper 1972:189), has caused some puzzlement. This relationship, of guru and disciple, became confused with polygamy by opponents. The protective intention of Upasani was exceptional. Abduction of kanyas was a possibility in the face of orthodox criticism; two of the early kanyas were victims, being forced to depart from Sakori, meeting with a tragic fate in both instances.  

The critics actually confused three different phenomena, including polygamy. In another direction, the term devadasi is associated with marriage of the virgin (dasi) to a deity (deva). “The tradition of dedicating a young woman or girl in ‘marriage’ to a deity is very ancient in India” (Harper 1972:49). This widely debased practice is notorious for sexual exploitation of girls, a problem still existing in Western and Southern India (Shingal 2015). In a very different mode, an idealised marriage to a saint, or satpurusha, was emphasised by Upasani, who employed the Sanskrit term Brahma Vivaha. The traditional meaning of that phrase is the marriage of two people from the same caste, in the sense of an ideal union not involving any dowry or coercion. The “marriage” to a saint or satpurusha, in the instance of Upasani, was intended as an elevation of the nun or kanya, also as a safeguard against the interference of relatives with the career of young nuns.

Brahma Vivaha is documented in the Code of Manu (Manusmriti), which describes various types of Hindu marriage. Brahma Vivaha was considered the highest form of marriage because everyone concerned was happy about the arrangement. The attendant ritual, known as kanyadan, involved the father handing his daughter to the groom.

In his adaptation of this custom, Upasani Maharaj ennobled Brahma Vivaha, elevating the status of celibate women in caste society, which traditionally reduced female privileges and options. In his Sati Charitra (1939), he stated:

The Shastras declare that in order to awaken the spiritual power latent in a Kanya [virgin], she should be offered in marriage to one, who is himself in the Brahma State. If she takes to worldly life, the Brahma Shakti latent in her does not become manifest. But, if she gives up worldly pursuit, and associates herself with a saint, her inner power is developed. Thus, the Satpurusha serves as a medium to bring about her union with the Absolute. This is known as Brahma Vivaha…. The great work of saving souls is being carried out through the Kanya by her association with the Satpurusha or Sadguru…. This is what is known by [the shastras] saying that ‘one Kanya saves forty-two generations.’ (CIC:123-124)

Fifteen years earlier, Upasani had mentioned such themes in Talks. In Talk 196, he refers to a mystical union with the satpurusha. He says that men cannot generally achieve this, even if they start at an early age, the reason being that they become involved in worldly activities. This setback is caused by obstructive sanskaras or impressions. In contrast, if a girl is given due training at an early age, she is capable of achieving the ideal much more quickly. This breakthrough is facilitated by less sanskaras to contend with, because of her non-participation in distracting activities (GT, 1:567). The traditional role models for men and women were here under discussion.

Upasani was careful to make concessions to orthodox ideas about married women. Such ideas frequently derive from the Code of Manu. (350) In contrast, he was remarkably radical in his plan for nuns who were consecrated to himself as their guru. “He married the Kanyas with a spiritual motive. They would live as his religious Sahadharmacharinis and help him in the great cause of religious awakening” (CIC:167).

Upasani created a new meaning for the concept of Brahma Vivaha. “According to him, a Brahma Vivaha necessarily signifies a union of an individual soul with a Universal Soul, as opposed to a Vivaha or an ordinary marriage, which is meant for progeny. Thus, its aim is solely spiritual in contrast with a Vivaha, which has a worldly motive” (CIC:224). This was a thoroughgoing celibate ideal, incomprehensible to some parties.

Upasani with two kanyas, 1930s

The emphasis of Upasani was basically that, via association with a God-realised satpurusha, a kanya (virgin girl or nun) can achieve union with God. The “spiritual marriage” does not refer to any cohabitation (as Westerners are liable to imagine), but to instruction of the celibate kanya by the guru. Upasani supplied a controversial extension to this theme. Through the guidance of the satpurusha, the kanya may lead others (including men) to God. In this schema, the nun is even credited with the ability to save the souls of all those who take her darshan, including men. Some writers refer to this career in terms of a Brahma Vivaha, meaning the kanya herself (Harper 1972:49).

This teaching was blasphemy to many high caste Hindus, whose male prerogative was considered supreme and beyond challenge. Outside the caste system, the orthodox antipathy sounds unreasonable and extremist.

Narasimhaswami’s Sage of Sakuri recognises the unique nature of prarabdha rahitatva. This was a favoured theme of Upasani, basically meaning that kanyas are free of prarabdha and more sattvic than men. This was the status Upasani awarded the kanyas he “married.” The basic idea is that, by marrying a satpurusha, the prarabdha of the kanya is destroyed, meaning all past vasanas and phalas, or tendencies and rewards (NSS:199-201, 203). Narasimhaswami later tended to deny this factor in his sectarian dismissal of the Kanya Kumari Sthan.

The young Godavari Mataji “engaged herself in selfless service and spiritual sadhana” (CIC:28). Her spiritual aspiration was eventually combined with learning. Like many other village girls, she had never attended school. However, Godavari possessed a very retentive memory, assisting familiarity with teachings and texts. The qualities of inner aspiration are not circumscribed by learning, or lack of learning.

In 1932, Vaishnava auspices were conferred by a ritual in which the panch (five) kanyas were “united to Shri Krishna through the medium of their guru, Upasani” (Harper 1972:50). According to Dr. Tipnis, the Kanya Kumari Sthan commenced during that same year of 1932. Upasani “realised the spiritual potentiality of women and he was fully convinced that if given an opportunity and facility, they will evolve quicker than men” (CIC:45).

The “marriages” were considered by critics to be a mere polygamous activity of disreputable nature. Divekar Shastri (a complete outsider) alleged that the kanyas were prostitutes, an argument totally blind to celibate lifestyles at Sakori ashram.

Upasani was very critical of contemporary marriage practices within Hinduism. He condemned the commercial attitude of some men involved in arranged marriages. Upasani informed: “Nowadays, many girls are interviewed before the final selection for marriage, as if she [the bride] is like a commodity in market” (CIC:125-126).

The alternative to celibacy was an arranged marriage. Prospects in arranged marriages were often unsatisfactory (and disastrous) for females. Even today, an academic specialist in Hinduism has relayed: “I have personally heard many accounts of abused Hindu women who were sent back [to their oppressive husbands] by their parents or advised to return to the homes of their husbands because the suffering inflicted on them was a just reward for their actions in earlier lives” (Rambachan 2015:101). Any woman who actually dared to leave a callous husband was regarded as a cause of disgrace and embarrassment to parents and elders (ibid).

In 1933, Upasani “started giving education in religious rituals and in reciting of the Vedas to all the Kanyas” (CIC:29). The same author also gives the date of 1935 for this development, in apparent contradiction (CIC:59). The date of circa 1933 is supplied elsewhere (GLS:15). The underlying strategy of Upasani was to negotiate a major taboo of caste Hinduism. Orthodox pundits were adamant that only the three higher castes could read and recite the scriptures. Along with shudras and untouchables, women were customarily denied this privilege (only a minority of brahman women managed to become pundits). “She is forbidden to read the sacred scriptures, she has no right to pronounce a single syllable out of them” (Ramabai 1888:55).

Defying the orthodox prohibition, Upasani argued that a kanya who had committed herself to a satpurusha, and who was theoretically capable of saving many souls, was entitled to read and recite the Vedas. He arranged for the kanyas to learn Sanskrit, and also the traditional methods of reciting Vedic texts (he himself did not teach those methods, not being a pundit; he likewise did not teach rituals, not being a priest). This innovation was considered a dire heresy by conservatives.

Some orthodox male devotees, amongst those who visited Sakori, were much annoyed that Upasani encouraged the kanyas to perform sacrosanct Vedic rites. “So a faction formed opposing them,” meaning the kanyas (Natu 1994:24). No date is given. The objectors were resentful at the infringement of male superiority; in their argument, women were polluting agents defying ritual purity. Disaffected devotees and hostile outsiders agitated at the “marriages” of Upasani, which they chose to view in terms of a scandalous polygamy. In contrast, the argument of Upasani emphasised the “spiritual marriage” as being proof of kanya advancement. The discontent of critics started in 1932. Even before that time, there was a degree of resistance, amongst brahman devotees, to the elevation of Godavari Mataji.

Durgabai Karmakar

The disaffected faction found a major supporter in Durgabai Karmakar, the female devotee who had served Upasani for many years. She had followed him to Sakori after the earlier days in Shirdi. She afterwards became the unofficial manager of Sakori ashram. Unfortunately, Durgabai contracted a jealousy of the attention which Upasani gave to Godavari. This negative attitude was not entirely her fault. The reactive male brahman devotees “took advantage of Durgabai’s jealousy and her basically innocent and trusting nature by telling her things which turned her against Godavari” (Natu 1994:24).

Durgabai believed the deceptive informants, not querying the reliability of what these men said. This situation caused her to become completely hostile to Godavari. Durgabai was now influenced by the insinuation, made by opponents, that Upasani had become the victim of lust in accommodating young women at the ashram.

Durgabai sent a message to Meher Baba (1894-1969) at distant Meherabad. She had encountered him many times at Sakori in earlier years, and much respected him. She requested the Irani mystic to visit Sakori to investigate the situation, which she now believed to be scandalous. Meher Baba replied that she was completely wrong in her changed viewpoint, influenced by the critics. Durgabai chose to disregard his warning.

By this time, some economic developments at the ashram did not meet with the approval of Upasani. Durgabai became preoccupied with requesting money. The upshot was that Upasani asked her to leave Sakori. He said that she could stay in any place of her choice, where she would be provided for. She selected Sholapur.

In 1933, Durgabai moved to Sholapur, still in an accusing mood. She had failed to prevent ascendancy of the young nuns, whom Upasani treated as a crucially important minority within the ashram. Her misinformed version of events was exploited by orthodox Hindu opponents of Upasani outside the ashram. Her former prominent position in the ashram was treated by fundamentalists as justification for their attacks. Divekar Shastri created a scandal by writing accusing articles in a Marathi magazine. Divekar and his supporters accused Upasani of violating religious law. The zealous polemical campaign was disastrous for public education.

Legal charges were contrived against Upasani. Five different lawsuits occurred during 1934-35, all of which failed. The opponents were decisively defeated in 1935, when the prosecution was discredited by the Sessions Judge at Ahmednagar. The prosecution charges relied upon misrepresentation and dubious witnesses.

Meanwhile, the faction of discontented brahman devotees seem to have influenced the monk Narasimhaswami, who became a devotee of Upasani in 1934. He discreetly left Sakori ashram in August 1936. In much later years, after becoming a Sai Baba missionary, this sannyasin employed a disapproving argument: Upasani often went naked, therefore he should not have associated with women. Narasimhaswami regarded this contention as unassailable proof of error.

After 1936, Durgabai grasped that she had made a very serious mistake. She was griefstricken and repented deeply. She was now miserable, frail, and unwell. She wrote to Upasani, expressing a desire to return to Sakori. She achieved a reconciliation with him. The guru charitably forgave her, despite the extensive problems she had caused (the libellous attack from Divekar Shastri was conceivably influenced by statements of Durgabai and her confused son Raghunath).

Upasani despatched Yeshwantrao Borawke and Purandhare to escort Durgabai from Sholapur. However, she proved too weak to travel. Upasani made special arrangements for her wellbeing, obtaining for her a monthly allowance, and ensuring that she received due medical care. She died in May 1939, in a home for ailing and destitute women at Sholapur. Upasani is reported to have visited her, saying that her suffering would lead to mukti or spiritual liberation. (351)

Narasimhaswami was probably not aware of Durgabai’s contrition and changed attitude. The sannyasin from Madras lost contact with Sakori ashram after 1936. He failed to give an accurate report of events.  Two decades later, his Life of Sai Baba included a critique of Upasani, in which the author’s own misleading opinions were treated as fact. Narasimhaswami gave the impression that Upasani was hopelessly in the wrong during the 1930s. He wanted to believe that Upasani had deviated from the example set by Sai Baba, whose eloquent apostle Narasimhaswami himself had become. The Madras sannyasin was now regarded as a surpassing guru of the “Shirdi Revival.” The Sakori kanyas may have been entitled to reservation on such points. The sectarian missionary slandered them without a qualm.

The Sakori nuns survived the conservative opposition. Upasani did lose supporters as a consequence of the calumnies; the ashram funds temporarily evaporated. However, he eventually overcame the setback.

Disaffected devotees imposed their own ideas upon the situation. Upasani had to counter such traditional accusations as: menstruating women could not perform Vedic rites. The priestly role had created the taboos afflicting women. Many brahman priests were now transferring to secular careers in the pursuit of livelihood. Upasani chose independent renunciation (not sannyas) as the more viable recourse.

During the 1930s, Upasani turned away from deference to male gods, instead emphasising the feminine aspect of Deity. In other words, he had transited from Shaivism and Vaishnavism to his own distinctive version of Shaktism (while also maintaining an Advaita stance). The Shakta approach is often associated with Tantra, a diverse tradition. Upasani was an independent neo-Shakta, not affiliated to any Tantric sect. In particular, he was very remote from the kaula ritual of “left hand” Tantra esteemed by Abhinavagupta (in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka). That “secret” Shaiva rite resorted to alcohol and sexual intercourse with low caste women. The extremist practice was believed by supporters to grant rapid siddhi.

A basic division in the Tantric milieu is frequently understated. The “right hand” (dakshinamarga) contingent avoided alcohol and drugs, while also spurning sexual rites. The “left hand” (vamamarga) practitioners were the opposite in tendency. The vamamarga (vamachara) practices are in strong dispute, despite glamorising concepts of Western Yoga which have caused misconceptions. For instance, the outcaste girls and prostitutes featuring in “left hand” rituals could be kidnapped or purchased for participation in dubious “secret” activities. Some critics affirm that seduction and abuse of these women could occur without fear of social repercussions in caste society.

The celibate Upasani described Godavari Mataji as Shakti, or the Divine Mother. There were no secret activities for quick siddhi. There is some evidence that Upasani disliked the siddhi mentality. In Sati Charitra (1939), he emphasised the achievement of what has been translated as “Female-State” (CIC:73). “All sadhana culminates in the attainment of Female-State. One, who realises it, becomes a Jivan Mukta” (ibid). The jivanmukta is a Vedantic term for the liberated soul. The concept of “female” achievement (or Kanya-State) is not well known, nor a feature of Vedanta. Upasani did not mean anything effeminate, but something ultra-receptive and ego-eliminating. Passages in Talks indicate the connection of Female-State with the “subtle body” (sukshma sharira); a male can possess an advanced “female” subtle body, with no loss of masculinity. (352)

He employed the phrase “your sukshma [subtle] jivas” in the sense of a “subtle” autonomy to the physical body (GT, 3:348). More assimilable to most readers are references to an experiential transmission from a siddha to a chela, conferring liberation from bondage to maya. “One cannot attain the state of non-duality without the aid of a spiritual teacher” (CIC:75). Unfortunately, there are so many false gurus that the qualification is rendered largely meaningless.

Talk 278 is entitled Female State alone leads to Nirakara State. Upasani here commences with an ascetic emphasis: “The enjoyment of external objects only strengthens the bonds of the Jiva…. For real happiness, however, the death of the Jiva is essential…. If he [the aspirant] now comes across a satpurusha, he learns from him the method of turning back [from externals] fully” (GT, 3:454). To enliven this exacting theme, Upasani resorted to symbolism. He told married men to “marry the woman within and create a son.” The son is here described in terms of Brahma. These matters were “secret and subtle.” He emphasised: “These things are understood only when you reach that [formless] state [of Nirakara]” (GT, 3:455). Conception of the “child” occurs in the head, while “the delivery occurs through the Brahmarandhra” (GT, 3:457). The Female State transpires to be inseparable from the Nirakara State, and leads to perceiving “hundreds of Brahmandas,” meaning universes (GT, 3:458).

The caution was expressed: “You cannot understand this without being properly qualified for it” (GT, 3:460). Upasani added; “I am telling you all openly and in the simplest way possible. That kanya, from whom hundreds of worlds are seen to emerge, is called Bhavani, the one…. Everything is really all one” (GT, 3:460). This metaphysic of the inner kanya was a supplement to the requirement of “turning back” and death of the jiva (limiting human self).

In Talk 94, he elevated the attainment of what he called “sattvika womanhood.” The means to this are celibacy and penance. Celibacy is here depicted as transcending pride in the state of “false manhood,” which thrives on “the false objects of enjoyment” and blocks the path to Infinite Bliss and Parama-Purusha. Full sattva guna is free from the bindings of prarabdha karma (GT, 2:428-429).

The Outcome: Sakori nuns of Kanya Kumari Sthan, circa 1960

The Sakori nuns eventually adopted two distinctive robes, an ochre robe for graduates, and a white garment for novices. Their number expanded to over twenty during the late 1930s, and again, to a larger number after the death of Upasani. The members of Kanya Kumari Sthan were not limited to the brahman caste. A training in Sanskrit and recitation of texts preceded an initiation of the novice into full kanya credentials. Godavari Mataji became the initiator of nuns, in a three day event.  (353)  Each kanya was committed to a threefold lifetime vow of “physical purity, strict celibacy, and daily worship” (Manjul 1992).  A female Parsi sympathiser, acquainted with the nuns, wrote:

Gradually, the Sthan achieved a triumphant revival of the old Vedic atmosphere when women took a leading part in the spiritual regeneration of the country. This daring and courageous departure, from the old orthodox customs of debarring women from religious rites and spiritual adventures, brought down a storm of criticism and vile abuse on the reformer. Shri Upasani was persecuted endlessly and misrepresented. (354)

Another supporter of the Kanya Kumari Sthan, after the death of Upasani, was Dr. H. D. Sankalia, who had the prestigious role of Director at the Deccan College in Poona. In an article published in 1956, this academic described the Sthan as follows:

The chief feature of this institution is the rigid, regular and rhythmic performance of Bhajanas, Kirtanas, Aratis from 4 in the morning to 10 at night with but a few hours [of] intervals for preparing food etc. by the Kanyas…. They also perform various sacrifices, such as Ganesh Yaga [Yajna], Rudra Yaga, Surya Yaga…. Rarely are these performed with such a devotion and carefulness. It takes hours of exacting work, often standing. But there is never hurry, or perfunctoriness about the performance, which is usually seen in other temples…. He [Upasani] also believed in the innate purity and capabilities of women. So what was denied to her by Manu and [his] successors all these centuries, Upasani Baba gave. For he further said that humanity’s salvation lay through women, provided they lived a pure, spiritual life…. What is the usefulness of these sacrifices and such a rigid upasana (ritual) in the modern age? Is not silent contemplation enough? In spite of the so called education, the large majority of the literate as well as the illiterate continue to perform the various rituals. But they do it soullessly.  Further, Shri Upasani Baba lived in the midst of the illiterate but devout masses of Maharashtra. To them the discipline of meditation would hardly appeal. He, therefore, tried to purify the practices and rituals of the grossness which got attached to them over the centuries. (CIC:133-134)

96.  The  Divekar  Shastri  Libel

The confusion about what happened, in kanya events, is highlighted by the instance of Divekar Shastri. Comprising only one ingredient of the reaction against Upasani Baba, he proved influential.

Mahadeo Divekar Shastri was a conservative pundit of Maharashtra, associated with Wai (a town in Satara district) and Miraj. He undertook a media attack on Upasani. Narasimhaswami, who described this phase in terms of the “Divekar agitation,” failed to give due information. The imbalance was redressed by Dr. Tipnis, along with the disadvantage of omitting reference to the 1950s shortcoming composed by the Madras sannyasin (Narasimhaswami). Tipnis avoided the Life of Sai Baba, which he regarded with reserve, because of distortions incorporated about the Sakori saint.

Some readers of Narasimhaswami have believed that Divekar Shastri conducted a legal case against Upasani. This is an error. The Divekar libel was launched, in February 1934, via a Marathi monthly magazine, namely Kirloskar. That journal was published by Shankar V. Kirloskar of Satara district.  The hostile articles of Divekar appeared in Kirloskar for several months, causing much confusion. The misconceptions and aggression soon afterwards featured in two chapters of the pundit’s Marathi book entitled Brahmajnana Va Buashahi (shaka year 1857). This was a polemical attack, not a law court drama.

Divekar Shastri believed that Upasani was hopelessly wrong to create a community of kanyas. Divekar applied a gross misinterpretation to this development. His version has the status of hearsay. “It is evident from the writings of Divekar Shastri that the criticism is not based on personal experience” (CIC:164). The pundit did not visit Sakori, remaining completely remote from the events he caricatured.

Divekar Shastri contrived an argument about blind faith in Yogic powers of Upasani that were said to cure diseases.  The pundit reasoned as follows. Upasani was credited with siddhis, powers believed to cure diseases of devotees. Therefore he should have been able to cure his ailment of piles, instead of needing an operation. This is not a convincing argument for any wrongdoing. Upasani himself did not claim siddhis, frequently arguing against that factor. He was constantly reacting to visitor petitions for cures.

Divekar Shastri achieved a substantial misrepresentation:

He [Upasani] repeatedly talked about sexual matters. Several kanyas are dedicated to him and he is doing regular prostitution. Sakuri is veritably a hell on earth. He has swallowed big amounts of money of his devotees and he is charged for misappropriation of public money. (Cited in CIC:164)

Sakori ashram was not a hell on earth. The supposed talk of Upasani about sexual matters is misleading. “The number of such words in the whole range of his literature is almost negligible, and the words that he used have a philosophical import” (CIC:168). A tendency to coarse language was occasionally in evidence because Upasani communicated in common or street Marathi, not classical Sanskrit vogues of brahmanical discourse. Elite pundits like Divekar Shastri were not in sympathy with this democratic tactic.

The charge of prostitution was a complete fallacy. Divekar Shastri was guilty of a muddled inclination to confuse celibate kanyas (virgins) with the brothel prostitutes recruited from temple activities. This social drawback, of devadasi prostitutes, is ongoing. In some regions, the ingrained high caste exploitation ignores official rulings. Narasimhaswami failed totally to clarify the situation in his influential commentary of the 1950s. Some erring parties confused Upasani Baba with decadent priesthood (bowa baji).

A confirmation of innocence is provided by recorded testimonies of Sakori kanyas. These nuns reported that their “marriage” relationship with Upasani “was purely spiritual” (CIC:167). The testimonies are found in Upasani’s Sati Charitra (1939).

Dr. Tipnis dismissed the allegation concerning misappropriation of funds, which was “based on a very false information” (CIC:167).

Upasani Baba never demanded money. He was averse to receiving it in the beginning [at Sakori]. He is reported to have burnt some currency notes while at Sakuri. Once he tied them around the neck of a pig [at Shirdi]. Later on, he accepted the money that was voluntarily offered to him. And, the money that he received, was utilised for the public cause, and not for his personal affairs. For, he led an ascetic life with hardly any requirements than the bare necessities. (CIC:167-168)

The allegation about prostitution requires further comment. Upasani was an exacting upholder of celibacy. In his discourses, he “criticises the shortcoming of husbands, who ruin the health of their wives due to excess in sex-indulgence” (CIC:126). Upasani used “harsh words” against the male offenders. The Sakori saint stated: “It is the husband who ruins his wife; he behaves in a stupid and cruel manner towards his wife” (CIC:126). Upasani had no affinity with prostitution, whether the pimps were village priests or urban brothel-keepers.

Many thousands of very young low caste and Dalit girls were dedicated to temple deities; they were afterwards consigned to a life of prostitution. There is no excuse for confusing the ascetic Upasani Maharaj with such backward occurrences. The uneducated devadasi girls were encouraged by a belief that their promiscuous conduct led to salvation, both for themselves and members of their family or society (Singh 1997:204). In Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the victims were known as muralis.

Devadasi lifestyles featured singing and dancing as prominent activities. The “cult of divine prostitution” is thought to have flourished in South India from the sixth century CE. This trend is associated with the substantial number of opulent temples. Different interpretations include a view that this situation deteriorated during the medieval era, the devadasis eventually being illiterate victims of sex slavery. The victims were often found in urban brothels. Bombay (Mumbai) became notorious as a centre of prostitution during the lifetime of Upasani. The increase in Bombay brothels is closely associated with extensive industrial development and the massive labour force involved (Singh 1997:205-206).

From the late nineteenth century, British reformists were influential; this party attempted to outlaw the devadasi tradition. The British Raj became concerned at the spread of venereal disease, a drawback associated with devadasis. This complaint was not a comprehensive diagnosis of the bowa baji problem in Maharashtra. Much later, after Independence, the devadasi system was proscribed in 1988.

Unfortunately, the official prohibition has been ignored in some regions until the present day. Girls as young as five or six are “married” to a Hindu goddess, then sexually exploited by rural temple patrons and high caste men. The majority of devadasis are found in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. The number of devadasi sex slaves could be as high as 250,000. Many young devadasis are sold to brothels in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, and other cities (Shingal 2015:108,111-112). Tamil Nadu is another problem territory.

In recent years, many thousands of helpless pre-teen Dalit girls were forced into prostitution via the devadasi excuse, to appease the lust of high caste men with paedophile attributes. These details are well known amongst human rights campaigners, a different category to religious apologists and dubious officials who cover up embarrassing details.  

Upasani expressed a view of women diametrically opposed to the inclinations of diverse traditionalists and exploiters. His Talks, and his Sati Charitra, include statements offsetting droll emphases of traditional lawgivers like Manu. The law codes are notorious for attributing perverse characteristics to women. The Christian missionary (and Sanskrit scholar) John Wilson (d.1875) was able to summarise such orthodox judgments to the disadvantage of Hinduism (Singh 1997:204). Upasani escaped the evangelical grip. He counteracted his insular ancestors by dwelling upon the spiritual qualities of women, emphasising their advanced nature and receptivity by comparison with men.

97.  Defamation  Case  Against  Divekar  Shastri, 1934

A mistaken belief has existed about Divekar Shastri launching a lawsuit against Upasani Baba. In reality, Divekar Shastri was himself the subject of a legal complaint, suspicious in nature (however, Divekar may have been colluding in the deceptive complaint).

A prodigious confusion was created by a group of men at Kopargaon, who were responsible for contriving a number of false charges against Upasani in nearby Sakori. Some of these opponents had formerly approached the saint with a request that he subscribe to their educational institution.  Upasani declined. The details of this episode are obscure. He apparently viewed their project with reserve. They reacted with attempts to undermine his position, via false charges made against him in law courts during 1934-35.

Shivram Vishnu Bhangre was a pleader (lawyer) of Kopargaon. In August 1934, Bhangre filed a complaint in the Kopargaon court against Divekar Shastri and Shankar Vasudeo Kirloskar. Bhangre presented himself as a devotee of Upasani Baba. He stated that Divekar had composed defamatory articles against Upasani, which Kirloskar had published in his magazine. Bhangre added that defamatory statements were also aimed at himself and other devotees. Bhangre complained that the defamation had adversely affected his social status and profession (SSS:68-70; CIC:169).

Bhangre showed that the defamation was a breach of Imperial Code 500. He requested that Divekar and Kirloskar be convicted after due enquiry. A complication occurred when he named Upasani and Godavari Mataji as witnesses. Bhangre had not consulted Upasani.

When Upasani received a summons from the Kopargaon court in the capacity of a witness, he did not comply. Instead, he sent a letter to Bhangre, denying that the lawyer was his devotee. Upasani now said that Bhangre falsely posed as a devotee. He reasoned that a genuine devotee would not have proceeded in legal action without gaining the guru’s permission. Upasani conveyed that he did not want devotees to file lawsuits on his behalf. He requested Bhangre to withdraw the complaint. The option here was to prove devotion by obeying the guru (CIC:169).

The Sakori ascetic did not deviate from a stance of aloofness and independence in relation to attacks and legal proceedings. He had demonstrated this attitude at Kharagpur many years before, when he had prevented devotees from responding to local high caste detractors who detested bhangis.

Bhangre declined to comply with the request of Upasani, instead proceeding with legal action. According to a 1940s report, the underlying objective of Bhangre was to involve Upasani in court proceedings so that he and his colleagues at Kopargaon could create a scandal. (355)  

When the Sakori ascetic received a further summons from the court, he made an appeal for exemption on the basis that he had renounced all worldly affairs. As an ascetic, he should not be “expected to know much about the matters contained in the defamatory article [of Divekar Shastri]” (CIC:170). Upasani “also stated that he was summoned only to be harassed” (CIC:170). The Kopargaon magistrate would not grant his request for exemption. As a consequence, Upasani was again summoned to court as a witness.

Upasani would not bend to the summons. Instead he made an appeal to the court, insisting that Bhangre was posing as a shishya (disciple), and “took the reference made to the Shishyas in general in the [Divekar] article [as applying] to himself” (CIC:170). Bhangre was effectively seeking the aid of the court to summon his putative guru, whereas the complainant should have prized above everything else the verdict of his guru. Upasani accused Bhangre of colluding with the accused, meaning Divekar Shastri.

Subsequently, Upasani filed a complaint to the magistrate, urging that the manner in which the case was being conducted had caused him to be apprehensive about the outcome, the procedures rendering unlikely a fair and impartial enquiry at the Kopargaon court. Upasani now stated that he accordingly intended to apply for transfer of the case to another court.

He was certainly proving that he had no intention of pressing counter-charges against Divekar Shastri and Kirloskar. His attitude signified a renunciate lifestyle above calumny and retaliation. The Bhangre-Divekar case was subsequently transferred to the sub-divisional magistrate at Ahmednagar. Upasani was successful in this manoeuvre. The new magistrate suspected “a concocted case” (CIC:171). Both Godavari Mataji and Upasani provided evidence recorded at court. Bhangre, fearing trouble for himself, withdrew. Court proceedings stopped. “The case was compromised” (CIC:171).

The situation at large involved many factors, including devotee reactions and public cognisance. Some people were confused, while others grasped that Upasani was innocent in the face of charges made against him. Narasimhaswami was one of the confused parties. This influential commentator makes no reference to court complexities in his Life of Sai Baba, failing to explain the true nature of events at Sakori ashram.

98.  Three  Court  Cases  Against  Upasani  Baba, 1934-1935

The Divekar Shastri libel encouraged a strong degree of public opposition to Upasani. Four court cases were launched against him, but none of these were successful. The opposition failed completely.

On 5 September 1934, V. L. Jagtap filed a case against Upasani at Kopargaon court. Jagtap was a farmer. He alleged that on the previous day, Upasani had thrown a coconut at him when he appeared for darshan. The coconut is reported to have hit the farmer’s head, causing injury. However, when the case gained a hearing at court, Jagtap was conspicuous for his absence. The case was accordingly withdrawn (CIC:171).

A more complex complaint was filed by Gajanan Shantaram Raote, at Bombay High Court, in August 1935. Raote stated that Raghunath V. Karmakar, then living at Sholapur, was the manager of Sakori ashram in June 1927, when an episode occurred involving a loan. Raote was allegedly given a promissory note for 50,000 rupees and the interest thereon. Raghunath Karmakar was the son of Durgabai Karmakar, a woman very influential within the ashram until 1933. The promissory note was allegedly renewed in 1928 for 53,000 rupees plus interest. Karmakar is said to have made an agreement to repay the loan by annual instalments of over 5,000 rupees. A modification of this agreement followed.

Raghunath Karmakar did not appear at court. Upasani filed a written statement denying that Karmakar was at any time the Sakori ashram manager, or otherwise any de facto agent of his. Upasani denied any knowledge of the alleged promissory note, and “prayed that the suit should be dismissed with costs” (CIC:172). The impression is elsewhere given that Karmakar’s mother Durgabai was the “unofficial” manager at Sakori until 1933.

At the Bombay High Court hearing, the lawyer of Raote appeared on his behalf and asked for leave to withdraw the complaint. “The suit was accordingly withdrawn” (CIC:172). According to a 1940s source, Raote had conspired with Raghunath Karmakar in this misleading complaint (SSS:69).

A more sinister complaint related to a purported murder. The accuser was here Raju Nagu Koli of Sakori village, who filed at the nearby Kopargaon court. In September 1935, Koli charged Upasani with the very recent murder of a wealthy man, for the purpose of obtaining money to perform a yajna ritual that had commenced. Koli alleged that the corpse had been buried within the boundaries of the ashram, closely adjacent to the yajna site.

Soon after Koli filed his complaint, while Upasani was performing his first yajna, a police inspector from Rahata, together with the mamlatdar of Kopargaon, arrived at Sakori ashram. These officials were accompanied by a group of workmen. They briefly mentioned the complaint, stating the need to exhume the body. “No proper information was given [by the accuser] as regards the person alleged to have been murdered” (CIC:176).

The visitors dug at a number of places within the ashram, but could not find any corpse. A statement made to this effect was signed by some of the villagers, in the presence of a sub-divisional magistrate of Nagpur. This lastmentioned official, a devotee of Upasani, had come to Sakori to attend the yajna. The case was subsequently dismissed by the Kopargaon court. (356) 

Dr. Tipnis denies any validity to the three court cases mentioned in this chapter (and also the two other lawsuits). He says that all complaints were contrived, “and may be regarded as attempts on the part of the rivals of Upasani Baba to harass and defame him” (CIC:177).

The same commentator informs that Upasani was urged by his legal advisers to press a lawsuit against his accusers. However, the ascetic declined this deterrent, on the basis of his renunciate vocation. “He looked upon his devotees and critics with an equal eye, as there existed no distinction with him between praise and censure” (CIC:177).

This unusual attitude may be compared with references in the Sannyasa Upanishads. These texts mention an ascetic approach welcoming blame as a necessary vicissitude (Olivelle 1992:108). Some Hindu renunciates of earlier times were evidently happy to be despised rather than praised. The purpose of this recourse was to overcome pride or egoism. The renouncers were committed to the achievement of even-mindedness in the midst of transitory existence.

99.  Court  Case  Relating  to  the  Bombay  Devadasis  Protection  Act, 1935

In May 1935, Kashinath Hari Deshmukh filed a criminal complaint against Upasani, Godavari Mataji, and their affiliates B. T. Wagh, W. B. Khandekar, and Yeshwantrao Borawke. The secretary Wagh became the new manager of Sakori ashram. Deshmukh was a lawyer (pleader) at Kopargaon, filing his complaint under section 5 of the Bombay Devadasis Protection Act (dating to 1934).

This episode was more significant than the other three court cases launched against Upasani. Deshmukh attempted to make a recent law work in his favour as a proof of guilt. Upasani was here accused of “taking active part and being instrumental” in the recent marriage of two virgins (kanyas) to an idol of Krishna (CIC:173).  The two nuns had actually been married to Upasani; these kanyas were Gangu and Kusum, who came to Sakori in 1935 (SSS:48). Those two young women replaced another two kanyas who had been abducted from the ashram by their fathers, acting under the influence of hostile rumours associated with Divekar Shastri.

Deshmukh argued that the two kanyas were not married to Upasani, but instead to a Krishna idol. If Upasani was the marriage partner, then no offence under the Bombay Devadasis Act had occurred.

The court of the first class magistrate (at Kopargaon) found no evidence for the charges against Khandekar and Borawke, who were accordingly discharged in July 1935. However, the magistrate convicted Upasani, Godavari, and Wagh of the offence. This was not a heavy sentence. The first class magistrate expressed his conclusion that Upasani “genuinely believed in his action not coming under the Devadasi Act” (CIC:173). The magistrate took the view that no moral deviation was involved on the part of the accused. Instead, “their idea of religion had come in conflict with the Law” (CIC:173). Upasani was fined a hundred rupees, while Godavari and Wagh were each fined five rupees.

The fines in the Lower Court were lightweight. Deshmukh and other critics apparently interpreted the episode in terms of a triumph for their argument. They could now emphasise that Upasani had been convicted and fined. This recourse conveniently screened out what had actually happened: via the expedient of marriage, the Sakori ascetic had saved two young nuns from the potential distraction of family interference. Only marriages exclusively involving the Krishna idol could be penalised by Kashinath Deshmukh, who was furthering the cause of misrepresentation associated with Divekar Shastri.

Upasani subsequently made an appeal to the Higher Court of the Sessions Judge at Ahmednagar. This Sessions Judge, namely K. M. Kumthekar, proved discerning and thorough in his resulting investigation. After carefully sifting all the evidence, Judge Kumthekar declared:

The Lower Court has erred in holding that the girls in question were married to the idol.  I find that there is a good deal of evidence to show that they were married to accused No. 1 himself (Upasani Baba), and I find the issue raised by the Lower Court, which is the only issue in the case, in the negative. I, therefore, find that the accused have not committed the offence with which they are charged. (CIC:174)

The Sessions Judge also observed that the Lower Court had examined the two kanyas on oath. The nuns had stated that they were married to Upasani. Both the oral and written statements of Upasani converged with this disclosure. In contrast, the complainant Kashinath Deshmukh had alleged that the marriage of the two girls did not involve Upasani, but instead an idol of Krishna.

Judge Kumthekar made penetrating statements which invalidated the complaint of Deshmukh, who had not been present at the marriage ceremony. “Instead of going to respectable witnesses,” Deshmukh had pursued other witnesses of a less convincing type, in accordance with “a prearranged plan.” Deshmukh had denied knowledge of the well known campaign against Upasani and the kanyas. The Judge pointed out that Deshmukh claimed to be a social reformer; however, his behaviour implied the stance of one “waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the accused.” Even more significantly, Judge Kumthekar concluded that Deshmukh “did not work for himself but for a group and that too by a pre-laid plan” (CIC:174-175).

The same Sessions Judge found that the witnesses for the prosecution were discrepant. “They appear to be of that sort who seem to have no regard for truth; it is such witnesses that the Magistrate of the Lower Court has relied on” (CIC:175).

The Judge further observed that the witnesses for defence evidence were men of social status. He concluded: “There is no reason why the respectable witnesses should be disbelieved” (CIC:175).

Judge Kumthekar finally stated that the Lower Court were in error. “I find that the prosecution has not proved that the girls were married to an idol” (CIC:175). The Sessions Judge therefore set aside the conviction, allowed the appeal, and ordered that the fine should be refunded to the party wrongly accused. The order to this effect was dated 16 December 1935.

Sakori ashram was thus completely vindicated; the opponents were humiliated. Some time elapsed before these facts percolated to a public audience, who had been misled by the libellers.

100. Bombay  Devadasis  Protection  Act  (October 1934)

The court case, ending in December 1935, was closely associated with the Bombay Act No. X of October 1934 (also known as Bombay Devadasis Protection Act). The Sessions Judge of Ahmednagar concluded that Upasani had not contravened this new law, contrary to what the suspect prosecution alleged.

In 1932, the “spiritual marriages” between Upasani and five kanyas (nuns) featured deference to a Krishna statue. Critics interpreted this event in terms of polygamy, giving no latitude to the situation and views of kanyas. The Vaishnava auspices reflected a traditional practice. Upasani “thought such a marriage involved moral binding” (CIC:166). His orientation differed strongly from more widespread and corrupt observances.

Two years later, the Bombay Act No. X was implemented to protect the devadasi, meaning a woman dedicated to any Hindu deity, object of worship, or temple. Accordingly, the new law was entitled the Bombay Devadasis Protection Act. This new legal clause stipulated “an Act to protect devadasis and to prevent the dedication of women to Hindu deities, idols, objects of worship, temples and religious institutions in the state of Bombay.”

The new Act was designed to prevent prostitution, an outcome in various situations of abuse. This document included the phrase: “Such practice, however ancient and pure its origin, now leads such women to [a] life of prostitution.” The Sanskrit word devadasi means “female slave of God” (Shingal 2015:108). The term has also been rendered as “divine prostitute.” The association with temple activities was pronounced. A dedicatory ceremony of the virgin was often performed in temples. Girls dedicated to a temple deity were too often sold afterwards by corrupt priests to brothels in Bombay and elsewhere. The girls were indoctrinated with a belief that their new occupation was a blessing to society. Prostitution was widely accepted in Hindu society, to the extent that prostitutes could gain wealth and public status.

The new Act of 1934 was generally considered ineffective. Prostitution continued in Maharashtra. The Divekar Shastri libel of Upasani assumed that he was engaged in a prostitution racket after a polygamous episode. The objective of Upasani was the polar opposite to prostitution. He was in process of creating a community of nuns, whom he protected from outside influences and interruptions by a form of marriage. He had a very different outlook and teaching to that of temple priests involved in a sordid traffic of prostitutes. Upasani insisted upon celibacy as the ideal lifestyle, being exacting in this respect.

Upasani with four kanyas, including Godavari Mataji, 1930s. Courtesy Meher Nazar

After the Bombay Protection Act appeared, Upasani did not again resort to a Krishna image. He thereafter married kanyas in a form of Brahma Vivaha, here meaning “spiritual union.” Upasani “made it clear that this was not a marriage in the worldly sense of the term” (CIC:166). The “aim was not progeny or procreating children, but to lead a life of ascetism” (CIC:166).

A few years after the Divekar Shastri libel, the testimony of Sakori nuns to their celibate vocation was published in the book Sati Charitra (1939). This work profiled the views of Upasani on women. His perspective was far removed from the ideologies involved in corrupt temple activity and brothels.

Upasani continued to contract marriages with young nuns; these women were offered to him by their families as kanyadan. What seemed a mere polygamous disposition to some critics has a very different complexion if duly analysed in the light of his celibate programme known as Kanya Kumari Sthan. The members wanted to be nuns. When they were married to Upasani, they gained a higher status at the ashram than was available in mundane life. Further, they could not easily be taken away from Sakori by interfering relatives or guardians (two casualties did nevertheless occur in this respect). In contrast, unwanted domestic marriages were a hazard; male wishes and demands were paramount in orthodox matrimony.

101.  Last  Visit  to  Shirdi, 1935

One commentator says that, from the time of his sojourn at the Khandoba temple in Shirdi, Upasani was the recipient of sympathy and goodwill from “a large number of Sai Baba’s devotees.” This situation was offset by the “jealousy and persecution of a small group” of those devotees (SSS:57). An underlying resentment evidently continued.

Das Ganu Maharaj

A 1940s account identifies Das Ganu Maharaj (1868-1962) as the major opponent during the 1930s. This was the famous kirtan singer (kirtankar) who assisted the fame of Sai Baba via his performances at Bombay and other towns. During those kirtan performances, Ganu “would invariably avail himself of the slightest opportunity to talk ill of [Upasani] Baba” (SSS:65). This revealing statement provides an insight into the nature of events. Das Ganu regarded the faqir Sai Baba as an incarnation of Rama, and would assist to celebrate Ramanavami on a grand scale at Shirdi. Occasionally, he sent “mock invitations to Upasani Baba” (SSS:65).

Ganu repeated his dubious invitation in 1934. Upasani responded some months later by visiting Shirdi. The date was 14 April, 1935, synchronising with Ramanavami, ten years after his visit in 1925. The saint departed unobtrusively from Sakori, accompanied only by Wagh and Guruji. He arrived in neighbouring Shirdi at sunset. This seems to have been an unannounced appearance, one imparting a shock effect. “The whole congregation felt that Sai himself had risen out of the tomb to give them darshan” (SSS:65).

The Sai devotees respectfully prostrated themselves at the feet of Upasani. He saluted Das Ganu with joined palms, saying to the kirtankar: “Maharaj, I have come in obedience to your call” (SSS:66). The atmosphere must have been tense at that juncture. Ganu begged the pardon of Upasani and fell at his feet. The visitor then requested Ganu to perform a kirtan. This was done. Ganu garlanded Upasani, who reciprocated by placing the same garland around the singer’s neck. The visitor was very polite, inviting Ganu to come to Sakori and there give a kirtan performance. Ganu promised to do so. Upasani afterwards departed.

Das Ganu never kept his promise (SSS:66). Upasani had demonstrated a due protocol. However, Ganu evaded the onus to further correct his slanderous conduct. This episode, missing from the Sai Baba literature, is nonetheless relevant for consideration. The villages of Sakori and Shirdi were only three miles apart.  The “small group” of influential opponents nevertheless achieved a screening process, marginalising Upasani at Shirdi. As a consequence, the two villages were effectively hundreds of miles apart. (357)

This was the second and last visit, made by Upasani Baba to Shirdi, after the death of Sai Baba.

102.  Contact  with  Meher  Baba (1894-1969) 

A feature in the biography of Upasani Maharaj is a complex interaction with Meher Baba (1894-1969), an Irani Zoroastrian by birth. Their connection, starting at the end of 1915, continued until the death of Upasani a quarter century later.

Contact between these two entities started with an event that is frequently mentioned in diverse sources, but generally without full context. The setting was the Khandoba temple at Shirdi, to which Upasani returned after his sojourns at Kharagpur, Nagpur, and elsewhere. Meher Baba was then known as Merwan Irani, his name of birth. He had just encountered Sai Baba for the first time, afterwards gravitating to Upasani. His state was one of acute introversion, which subsequently adjusted as a consequence of long-term and very patient attention from the Hindu satpurusha.

Merwan Irani, 1920

Merwan thereafter regularly visited Upasani for several years. Eventually, the young Irani became more active at Sakori, financing a number of public feasts for the benefit of the Hindu poor. He was noted for an indifference to physical comforts. Merwan did not wear any renunciate garb, instead favouring common attire like other Iranis and Parsis. At his native Poona, he was known as Merwan Seth, because of his role as a shopkeeper; however, he was very atypical in his seth (merchant) behaviour.

On January 14, 1921, the Hindu holiday of Makara Sankranti was celebrated at Sakori. The main event was a feast for the poor who came from neighbouring villages. Upasani distributed clothing to these people, afterwards bathing several of the poorest ones, including lepers. Merwan assisted Upasani in these laborious bathing operations, conducive to hygiene (LM:322; SBM:87). Lepers were shunned by all levels of society, despite being in desperate need of assistance. They were commonly ignored at ashrams. Upasani quite frequently gave attention to lepers. As a consequence, Merwan was inspired to do likewise during his own career.

When the new programme of building started at Sakori, only one structural addition was requested by Upasani himself. This was a new hut, located some distance from the building operations. When he wanted to see the devotees, he would occupy the original hut some distance away. At the new hut, he was liable to pelt intruders with stones, making clear that he wanted seclusion.

“The only person whom Upasani allowed to approach him in the second hut was Merwan” (SBM:87). This exception became conspicuous when Merwan stayed for six months at Sakori from August 1921. The visitor lived during the daytime in a small room near the ashram temple. At night he would go to the secluded hut, where he sat alone in silence with Upasani, nobody else being allowed near. Upasani would sometimes make lengthy dictations that Merwan wrote down on paper; the content remains obscure. These sessions were generally over by two a.m.

Merwan would then return to his own room, but did not sleep. A Hindu named Yeshwantrao Borawke was delegated by Upasani to be the personal attendant of the Irani visitor, and this man regarded Merwan as a saint. Yeshwantrao found that Merwan did not sleep and rarely ate, but would instead frequently ask for paan, a popular masticatory. At the end of his stay, Merwan normalised, and began to take food regularly. (358)

Merwan was now regarded as a rival by brahman devotees at Sakori (apparently a minority, specifics are not clear). These men were jealous of the attention he received from Upasani. In later years, he reminisced: “They were so fanatical that if they could, they would have killed me, but myself and Yeshwantrao remained unaffected by the atmosphere.” (359)

The hostile account by Paul Brunton (1898-1981), in "Secret India," is very misleading. The British writer mistakenly states that Upasani lived in a “little temple” at Sakori, where he addressed a gathering about Merwan. There is an obvious confusion here with the Khandoba temple at Shirdi, described on the same page by the Yoga enthusiast as “a little stone-built temple near Sakori,” with no reference whatever to the complex events occurring there from 1911 (Brunton 1934:56). Sai Baba is a complete blank in the pages of Brunton, and so likewise is Shirdi.

Merwan departed from Sakori early in 1922, commencing his own career as a mystic at Poona, Bombay, and Ahmednagar. He appeared to diverge from Upasani, asserting his independence; they no longer met after 1922.  According to Merwan’s much later account, Upasani told him to leave Sakori. Upasani predicted that he would create an opposition testing those to whom he had recommended the Irani (LM:5306).

Meher Baba visited Sakori for ten days in May 1922, and also for one day in October of that year. On both occasions, Upasani was very welcoming, explicitly acknowledging the Irani in terms of a spiritual status. In May, Upasani is reported to have told disciples of the visitor: “Merwan is the avatar. I have handed the key of whatever I possess to Merwan” (LM:372). Many years later, an avatar ideology became dominant within the Meher Baba movement. However, Upasani did not explain the meaning of his statements. In October 1922, Upasani “instructed all those present in Sakori to touch [Meher] Baba’s feet, declaring that he was a great master” (LM:445). These reports in Lord Meher are discernibly incomplete; they are attended by a degree of devotional hagiology.

Another visit of Merwan to Sakori occurred in late July, 1922. He was then accompanied by a Muslim disciple, namely Ahmed Abbas (Khak Saheb), his purpose being “to personally research the facts about Maharaj’s life” (MM:64). Merwan “talked extensively with Maharaj for four days and nights, while Ahmed wrote down notes about his life and about Sai Baba of Shirdi” (LM:394). Merwan emphasised to Upasani “why he thought this book would be important to both Hindus and Muslims.” (360) The reference is to the Urdu work Garibonka Asara, a biography of Upasani that Abbas was composing with the assistance of another Muslim.

At this time, many Muslims started to visit Merwan daily at his residence in Bombay known as Manzil-e-Meem. He also donated a substantial amount of money for Muslim widows, child education, and orphanages. This gesture was achieved with the cooperation of Muslim leaders; the charity was praised in Urdu newspapers of Bombay (LM online:305, accessed 05/06/18).

A sad fact is that the triple biography of Upasani Maharaj, composed at the instigation of Merwan, remained obscure by comparison with the Secret India semi-novelism of Paul Brunton. The British occultist does not mention such a literary phenomenon (in three Indian languages), instead briefly reducing the Sakori mystic to the status of a rural holy man of no significance (because Upasani was associated with Meher Baba, who did not perform a miracle desired by Brunton). The biased dimensions of this issue are substantial enough to contest the invidious award of supremacy to Ramana Maharshi (the hero of Secret India, whose ashram subsequently disputed Brunton’s literary tendency to plagiarism). The factor of Muslim sympathies is completely missing in Brunton, who reflected a 1920s British fad for Yoga pioneered by such questionable exponents as Aleister Crowley.

In London, the British author Charles Purdom emphasised, for many years, that the siddhis-oriented Brunton (whom Purdom had met) was thwarted in his expectation of a miracle from Meher Baba. Brunton's acute sense of pique thereafter emerged in a distorted account passing muster as the travel diary of a budding Advaita genius.

The Brunton fantasy was much in evidence decades later, as revealed by the American eyewitness Dr. Jeffrey Masson in his book My Father’s Guru. Brunton claimed the power of astral travel, plus a related familiarity with the Astral University. He believed that some of his personal possessions were invested with a spiritual or magic power. Masson indicates that Brunton was obsessed with occult power.  The British occultist claimed that his guru, the mysterious brother “M,” always carried a magic wand. Brunton claimed that he had no sexual needs, but “managed to marry many times” (Masson 1993:92).

Brunton “maintained that he could teach in any university he wished” (ibid:89). This claim never materialised. His strongly advertised doctoral credential was acquired through a correspondence course of no academic relevance. Brunton “liked to hint that those who opposed him would eventually come to a bad end” (ibid:87). His ultimate occult identity was Jupiter Rex. (361)

Brunton’s brief and dismissive account of a misinterpreted Sakori event (in May 1922) is negated by far more substantial reports. The astral traveller says that one evening Merwan “collected thirty of his old schoolmates and boyhood friends, gave them mysterious hints of an important meeting, and brought them to the little temple in Sakori” (Brunton 1934:56). Upasani “announced to the surprised young men that Meher had attained divine perfection; he [Upasani] strongly advised them to become followers of their Parsee friend…. Some of his listeners followed his advice and others remained sceptical” (ibid). Brunton’s narration is here extremely unreliable, as in many other passages of the bestselling A Search in Secret India (1934).

The muddled approach of Brunton conflates different events, distorting what really happened. In addition, minor errors are frequent. He says that Merwan stayed for four months at Sakori; the duration was actually six months. Brunton fails to supply any year date. He says that Merwan was twenty-seven “about a year later” (ibid). The Irani was twenty-eight soon after he left Sakori in January 1922.

There were several different occasions when Upasani made disclosures about Merwanji (the name he invariably used for the Irani). When some of his devotees from Kharagpur and Nagpur assembled, Upasani paused in his discourse and pointed to Merwan, saying: “Until now, no guru has opened a college of dnyan [divine knowledge], but he will soon do so” (LM online:256, accessed 05/06/18).

Upasani was much more specific in other communications. He told “a group of his disciples” something that was not easy to understand: “Whatever I received from Sai Baba, I have handed over to Merwanji. And this [pointing to his gunny cloth attire) I shall give to someone else. If you want what Sai Baba gave me, go to Merwanji” (ibid:256). No date is given for these remarks.

At the end of 1921, three men were called to Sakori at the request of Upasani, namely Gustad Hansotia, Sadashiv Patel, and Behramji F. Irani. Upasani enjoined each of these men to follow Merwan. All three had already become disciples of Merwan. Indeed, Sadashiv and Behramji had been in this category for several years. To Behramji, Upasani said: “Your friend is God-realized; carry out every command and every desire of his” (PPM:37).

When Upasani was sitting with Sadashiv Patel, he started to weep, and remarked: “Merwanji now has all that Sai Baba gave me. Everything has been transferred to him…. The whole burden is on his shoulders now!” (LM online:256) Upasani did not speak English; all reported statements are translations from Marathi.

At the same period, Upasani informed Gustad: “I have made Merwanji perfect. He is the latest sadguru of this age. Now you have to leave me and stick to him” (PPM:37).

Shortly before Merwan departed from Sakori in January 1922, Upasani called him to the second hut. With hands folded in salute, Upasani is reported to have said: “Merwanji, you are adi-shakti: you are avatar” (Purdom 1964:26). This reminiscence has been differently worded.

Another version relays that, in full view of an assembly, Upasani told Merwan: “You are the avatar and I salute you.” Various sources in the Meher Baba literature are stated to remember this pronouncement “very similarly in each account” (Kerkhove 2002:233-235). Dr. Kerkhove dates the “salute” event to December 1921, on the basis of a report by (Meher Baba’s) secretary Fehramroz H. Dadachanji many years later. Upasani apparently made acknowledgments concerning Merwan on different occasions, certain of these being far more private.

In January 1922, Merwan said farewell to the Sakori devotees gathered outside the second hut; Durgabai Karmakar and the other women were eager to touch his feet in the darshan mode. He quickly moved away in a tonga waiting nearby, accompanied by Behli Irani. Upasani watched them depart until the tonga was no longer in sight.

A few months later, Merwan left Poona, on 9 May 1922, with a large party of his followers to spend ten days at Sakori. This group swelled when they reached Ahmednagar. Senior men and women were represented, including thirty-eight year old Gulmai Irani and the forty-two year old jeweller Kaikhushru Masa (later afflicted by his fundamentalist Zoroastrian relatives, who hated Hindu gurus). Their ranks extended far beyond the theory of boyhood acquaintances (a superficial Brunton caricature); these people already had firm belief in the spiritual abilities of Merwan, and none of them were sceptical at what transpired.

Merwan did not advertise any mysterious event (contrary to Brunton’s version). His express concern was to celebrate the birthday of Upasani at Sakori. An extant letter from Gulmai reveals that preparations for this event were underway weeks earlier in April, because there were no supplies at rural Sakori. Gas lights, food, flowers, and firecrackers were procured in Bombay. The visiting party of Hindus, Muslims, and Zoroastrians assembled at the “second hut” of the Sakori ascetic.

The birthday was celebrated over four days, culminating on 14 May. A feast for several hundred poor people was involved. Upasani visited the quarters of the visitors, where he sat with them, proving that he could mix warmly with Zoroastrians and Muslims. The ascetic even tried to play a sitar of Adi K. Irani, but gave up, not being a musician. Eyewitness Khorshed Irani reminisced: “It was a very sweet time – we were all like a family” (Irani 2017:26). Upasani and Merwan would daily sit alone together under a tree, with nobody else knowing what they talked about.

On the big day, 14 May, a dais was erected near the entrance to the “second hut” in the mango grove. That evening at six p.m., Upasani was expected to sit here for worship. He was very reluctant, and initially refused, expressing aversion to the silk cushions. The celebration was in jeopardy. Merwan and Khan Saheb (husband of Gulmai) eventually persuaded him to comply. His gunny cloth was changed for a white dhoti; Upasani also suffered a pink turban and new sandals. This genuine ascetic was averse to headgear, preferring a shaven head; he generally went barefoot. The devotees garlanded him profusely (he disliked garlands, which he regarded as superfluous). Afterwards he was able to go back into the hut, where arati and many bhajans were sung. His own devotees were present that day, in addition to Merwan’s party. Upasani patiently distributed three baskets of food as prasad for the gathering (the larger feast for the poor was a separate event).

At the end of the proceedings, Upasani delivered a shock message to Merwan’s group. This was later reported in variants (including one by Behli Irani). Some excerpts are given here from the account of eyewitness Khorshed Irani:

From today you are not to come to me anymore. I have given my spiritual key to Merwan, so you have to go and be with him…. From now on, you have to follow him. I have turned over my power and all that I have to Merwan. If anyone needs anything, or wants to ask anything, you all should go straight to Merwan…. Remember, if I tell you something different after some time – that Merwan is a false master and that I have not given my spiritual power to him – you should not listen to that. Instead, you have to remember what I am telling you now. Don’t forget this. (Irani 2017:29-30)

Merwan’s group departed the next morning (RD:45). Before they left, Upasani performed the simple engagement of two Parsis, namely Naval and Dina Talati. This couple were members of Merwan’s travelling party from Poona. Thirty-one year old Nauroji (Naval) Talati had met Sai Baba in 1914, afterwards becoming a devotee of Upasani and a regular visitor to Sakori. His eighteen year old fiancée Dina Karani also held Upasani in high esteem. Dina’s mother Rupamai now urged the guru to put a ring on her daughter’s finger; Upasani complied. Naval asked when the marriage should occur. Upasani told him to consult Merwan and follow instructions.

Naval had formerly regarded Merwan as the “mad Irani,” having once seen him rolling ecstatically on the ground in front of the guru’s hut (LM:369). The situation had since changed. Upasani was now transferring Naval to Merwan (as he had also done with Gustad Hansotia and Kaikhushru Masa).

When their companions departed, Merwan and his Parsi disciple Gustad Hansotia remained. There followed four days of private meetings between Upasani and Merwan; the content is unknown. There was also an assembly during which Merwan and Gustad bowed to Upasani in front of many Upasani devotees (LM online:290, accessed 27/05/2018). They departed on 19 May 1922.

Gustad may have had some idea of what was occurring; he had attended Sai Baba daily for six months prior to the faqir’s death in 1918. He had been transferred to Upasani, having also known Babajan quite intimately as her nightwatchman. After several more years he became silent in 1927, at the instruction of Meher Baba. There was no esoteric chatter or pretence in this instance. Brunton merely saw two silent men (Merwan and Gustad). He would not have understood either of them, because he liked talking far too much, often about paranormal powers.

A basic trend in events was that Upasani allocated a number of his Zoroastrian followers to his disciple Meher Baba. In other cases, he confirmed an existing adherence to Meher Baba (as in the instance of Behramji F. Irani). The religious configuration is obvious, a feature nevertheless neglected in many partial accounts. Upasani was not assigning Hindus to Merwanji, but Parsis and Iranis. Exceptionally, Sadashiv Patel (Shelke) was a Hindu, already counted as a follower of the Irani.

In July 1922, Merwan predicted to Dr. Ghani that Upasani would turn against him. His companions feared something immediate, but this was not so. On 6 August 1922, Merwan sent many of his men from Bombay to Sakori, led by Gustad. At his hut, Upasani discoursed to these visitors about God-realisation and obedience to a spiritual master. He emphasised to them the necessity of adhering to Merwanji “through thick and thin” (ibid:313).

Merwan himself made a further visit to Sakori that year, spending 18 hours there on 15 October. He performed pradakshina according to Hindu custom, circumambulating the guru’s hut three times. On this same occasion, Upasani told all those at Sakori to take the darshan of Merwan, saying that the Irani was a sadguru. As a consequence, devotees surrounded Merwan wherever he went that day (ibid:356-357).

Several months later, in February 1923, Meher Baba’s aunt Daula visited Sakori and reported back to him. She said that Upasani had become very weak in the bamboo cage (pinjra) and “was very often heard repeating Baba’s name [Merwanji] and seemed longing to see him” (RD:160). However, a few days after, the situation had changed. Meher Baba’s mother Shirin visited Sakori. For the first time, she encountered hostile treatment from Upasani. He called her to the cage no less than four times, maintaining his angry mood, while speaking against Merwanji (Meher Baba) and the latter’s mandali (companions). Upasani told her that Merwanji was pretending to be a sadguru. This adverse reflection was unprecedented. Shirin had visited Sakori on previous occasions, invariably finding Upasani respectful concerning her son.

Due context is here necessary. Meher Baba had recently sent a letter to Upasani, declaring his independent career. Upasani was perhaps obliged to take this communication into account. He had certainly warned of his negative assessment in May of the previous year.

Meher Baba then sent a further letter (one of complaint) to Upasani via Rustom K. Irani, the son of Gulmai, who arrived at Sakori on March 1, 1923. From the bamboo cage, Upasani conversed with him benignly as usual. However, the next morning, Rustom found that Upasani started to talk against Meher Baba and his mandali. This hostility increased when the visitor returned to the hut later in the day. Upasani now angrily gave a message for the mandali (in Bombay) that Merwanji was not a master. Rustom remarked that everyone would like to see Upasani come out of the cage and cease his confinement, in which he was suffering for the sake of others.

The cage occupant then dramatically told Rustom to break the cage. The visitor duly commenced to pull out some of the bamboo bars, creating an opening. Upasani asked why he had damaged the cage. Rustom replied that he had been told to do so. Upasani now insisted that Rustom should stop, summoning a local carpenter to repair the damage. He afterwards told the visitor to hit him on the head with a large stone. Rustom was unable to oblige. The anger of Upasani continued. Rustom departed, feeling that the situation was impossible.  (362)

However, this agitation was subsequently offset. A week later, three devotees from Sakori travelled to Bombay with an urgent message. One of these men was Yeshwantrao Borawke, who had known Meher Baba for several years and continued to regard him with great respect. The emissaries had been requested by Upasani to bring Merwanji to Sakori, in a mood of consideration for his wellbeing. The situation had reversed.

Meher Baba declined to accompany the emissaries, despite their entreaties. Yeshwantrao and his assistants said in desperation that, if he did not return with them, Durgabai would come herself to fetch him. The Irani mystic maintained his refusal, so the visitors had to return without him.  Ramju Abdulla wrote at the time: “It is a great enigma to witness this invisible tug-of-war between Baba and Maharaj” (RD:170).

Some days later, Upasani sent Durgabai to the Manzil-e-Meem (in Bombay), with the same pressing request.  However, her entreaties had no effect (LM:495). Durgabai had also known Merwanji for several years, because of his visits to Sakori. Now the scene was changing. Meher Baba never visited Sakori again during the lifetime of Upasani.

Upasani discreetly reaffirmed the importance of Meher Baba on more than one occasion at this period. The instance of Mehera J. Irani attests his new ambivalent approach in relation to Merwanji (the name Upasani always used for Meher Baba). Mehera had not been present in May 1922; she had since become a follower of Meher Baba. In early 1925, she was sent by Baba to Sakori, accompanied by her mother Daulatmai and two others. Upasani asked where she was now residing. She described her new situation at Meherabad. Durgabai Karmakar, who was “very fond” of Mehera, now urged her to stay at Sakori.

After a few days, Meher Baba sent a message to Mehera saying that she could stay at Sakori if she wanted, but he would be happy if she returned to Meherabad. A choice was being given. Mehera wanted to return; her companions decided to accompany her. Mehera, her mother Daulatmai, and Naja Irani accordingly told Upasani of their decision. In the presence of others who were assembled, he made sceptical remarks:

What is this? Has this lad Merwanji now become a saint? What does he know of spirituality? What have you gained from his hands? If you wish to jump into the ditch, I won’t stop you! Leave me and go to him, if you insist! (MM:159)

This response has been interpreted as a test for Mehera. Upasani subsequently recalled the three women for a private meeting at his hut. He was now quite different in his approach, saying:

You should leave here and go to Merwanji. Stay with him. Merwanji is mine and I am his. Hold firmly to his feet. After many years, the world will come to know who Merwanji really is. (MM:159)

The next day, the visitors returned to Meherabad. Mehera never again went to Sakori, though she much respected the memory of Upasani, who had again acknowledged the relevance of Meher Baba. However, most of Upasani’s own followers continued to believe that no further connection existed between the two saints. Merwan no longer visited Sakori, therefore no link existed. In contrast, some wordings of Upasani evidently concealed nuances contradicting common beliefs.

Meher Baba, 1926

A more eccentric expression avoided any specific reference to the mystic of Meherabad. In 1927, a Parsi devotee of Upasani transferred allegiance to Meher Baba. This was Ardeshir S. Baria, better known as Kaka. At Sakori, he expressed to Upasani his desire to meet Meher Baba. Upasani said that Kaka could do as he liked. The next morning, the satpurusha greeted Kaka with the startling assertion: “You are false!” You are false!” Afterwards, Upasani led the Parsi devotee to the ashram temple (apparently the new Datta temple). There he repeatedly declared: “This God is false! This God is false!” Subsequently, and on a more personal note, Upasani continually exclaimed to Kaka: “I am false! I am false!”  (363) Soon after, the deflected Kaka visited Meherabad ashram, where he joined the mandali of Meher Baba. He had not been sure of how to interpret the response of Upasani, who could at times resort to enigmatic behaviour.

Many other Parsis (and some Iranis), in Poona and Bombay, were antagonistic to Meher Baba during the 1920s, regarding him as a heretic from the ancestral faith, zealously preserved by the dasturs. In another sector, some Parsi devotees of Upasani regarded Meher Baba as a complete outsider, of no significance for Sakori. A contrasting situation occurred at Yazd in 1929, when Bahais perceived that the visiting Irani was a distinctive entity.

Religious insularism was endemic amongst both Zoroastrians and high caste Hindus. Kaikhushru Masa was one of the devotees whom Upasani transferred to Meher Baba in May 1922. This Irani risked total antagonism from his orthodox Zoroastrian family circle, who detested Hindu gurus and also Meher Baba (associated with a Muslim and a Hindu, meaning Hazrat Babajan and Upasani). Masa was by now a wealthy man. His brothers were irate when Masa sold some of his jewellery, donating the funds to Meher Baba for charitable work at Meherabad. These relatives confiscated Masa’s remaining jewellery, which they placed in a safety deposit box at the bank. They were careful to keep the key.

In 1929, Masa was kidnapped by his mercenary relatives. His two brothers conspired with his scheming business partner in a Bombay jewellery shop. This predatory trio waylaid Masa in a taxi at Nasik, taking him against his will to Bombay, where they forced him to sign over all his assets to them in a new will they had devised. He was fifty years old, and no longer strong. Masa was coercively confined to a relative’s room in Bombay for a whole year until the will became a legally binding document; the intention was to prevent him from revoking the will during the interim. His health deteriorated as a consequence of ruthless detention. His daughter informs: “My father was treated worse than a prisoner in jail by his own relatives” (Irani 2017:217). In this callous manner, the kidnappers acquired the victim’s share of the jewellery shop. To their way of thinking, hatred of Meher Baba justified the greed and tyranny they exercised.

When the drafted will was legally unassailable, the pious conspirators made the victim (at their dictation) write a letter to his wife Soonamasi, amounting to the refrain: “If you believe in God, then come and take me from here” (Irani 2017:216). Soonamasi and her daughter Khorshed went to Bombay and brought Masa back to Nasik, after seeing the “beggar’s” room in which he had been confined. His health was now shattered, his heart seriously affected. Masa suffered acute emotional stress over losing the assets intended for his dependents. He contracted pneumonia.

Meher Baba spent the night of 17 January, 1931, on the veranda outside Masa’s room. Baba frequently consoled the invalid. The next day, Masa “died in Baba’s arms” (Irani 2017:220). Masa’s calculating brothers (and business partner) in Bombay sold the jewellery shop, acquiring almost all the substantial money involved, giving Soonamasi and her daughter only a trifling portion.

Meher Baba bathing a leper at Pandharpur, 1954, assisted by Gadge Maharaj. This unusual habit of Meher Baba originated with the inspiration of Upasani Maharaj at Sakori.

Via emissaries, Upasani was in protracted contact with Meher Baba during the 1930s. He even requested the Irani to take over the management of Sakori ashram. The basic thread of communication is revealing. A major issue, on the part of Meher Baba, was the brahmanical ritualism favoured at Sakori by devotees. Upasani made a substantial concession to the ritualism after 1922.

In 1933, Meher Baba made a private reflection that did not become known until after his death. He was here critical of both Narayan Maharaj and Upasani, concluding that both of these gurus were allowing much ritualism at their respective ashrams. Meher Baba accused the ceremonies of being sectarian; he affirmed that thousands of rupees were wasted upon such activities. At the same time, he observed that both Narayan and Upasani were “above and beyond these caste prejudices.” Meher Baba added that he himself did not follow any particular religion (he eludes all categories of doctrinaire Zoroastrianism). He remarked that he had stopped permitting arati and puja on festive occasions, contrary to his earlier latitude during the 1920s (SBM:128; LM:1847).

The purport of this critical reflection was that an ashram should be non-sectarian, here meaning to avoid the promotion of any one religious tradition. Sakori ashram definitely did relate strongly to Hinduism. Most ashrams in India were an offshoot of Hinduism. In contrast, the ashrams of Meher Baba were neutral to Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and other religions. The Irani was also a strong supporter of Dalit rights, a cause which Upasani abandoned at Sakori in the face of overwhelming high caste opposition. Meher Baba even met Dr. Ambedkar in 1932; the interchange at Bombay was mutually cordial.

Because the Irani did not teach Zoroastrian doctrines, some mistakenly believed that he taught Hinduism (Meher Baba Supplement). He did emphasise reincarnation, though in other respects, his independence requires a more flexible approach. The silent Irani was far removed from proselytising campaigns, such as distinguished the Protestant missionary John Wilson (1804-1875), who arrived at Bombay in 1830 for the emergent purpose of winning converts from the Parsi community. Wilson wrote an aggressive book entitled The Parsi Religion unfolded, refuted, and contrasted with Christianity (1843). The ancient prophet Zarathushtra was here an imposter, his religion amounting to mere polytheism. This missionary opus gained Wilson election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1845. Elite status was accompanied by the fact that his book was very misleading, being based on the Vendidad, a late Avestan text. Subsequent scholars discovered that the archaic Gathas were far more authentic texts than the priestly Vendidad. The truth so often goes missing in religious discord, which is seemingly endless.

In September 1934, Meher Baba was informed of recent events in a law court concerning Upasani. These problems arose from high caste opposition to the Kanya Kumari Sthan. Upasani received a message from Meher Baba. His extant reply was mediated via Adi K. Irani and two Hindu mandali who visited Sakori. Upasani here complained that his detractors had influenced devotees formerly visiting him and contributing donations to Sakori ashram. Those well-wishers had stopped coming. His economic condition was now precarious; he needed to pay court expenses, which he could barely meet. Ashram assets had been sold off.  Upasani now requested Meher Baba to move to Sakori and manage the ashram for him. He added: “Tell Merwan that I seek his forgiveness for not being of any use to him; by his own righteous deeds, he has realised God” (SBM:129; LM:1915).

Opponents at Rahuri are described as instigating a lawsuit against Upasani. “These people in Rahuri had become his enemies and made many false claims about him, disseminating much slander that claimed he was a polygamist and seduced young girls into his ashram for illicit purposes” (LM:1914). This appears to be a conflatory reference to opponents, including the devious group at Kopargaon who tried to compromise Upasani via legal proceedings.

Upasani was called to testify before the Kopargaon court. He refused, giving the explanation that he had “been kept by God beyond the world and worldly pleasures.” Therefore, he was not liable to give evidence before a court of law. However, the court rejected his petition for dismissal of the case (LM online:1638, accessed 05/03/20).

These episodes are not sufficiently detailed in Lord Meher (available in different formats). According to this source, Meher Baba asked his devotee Rustom K. Irani to arrange for the legal problem to be transferred to a law court at Ahmednagar, a more objective appraisal being in prospect. However, the full context is not supplied. The first two legal cases concerning Upasani were in process at that time, and neither of them targeted the Sakori nuns. Only one of these lawsuits directly related to Rahuri via the farmer Jagtap, who lived at Ukalgaon in the Rahuri taluka (territory). Jagtap filed a complaint in September 1934, but failed to appear in court (CIC:171).

The other court case that same year was a deceptive defamation lawsuit against Divekar Shastri, which Upasani resisted on grounds of his ascetic independence. Upasani then made an appeal to the court, requesting exemption from the proceedings (CIC:170). This was evidently the lawsuit which Meher Baba unobtrusively transferred from Kopergaon to Ahmednagar.

The reply of Upasani to Meher Baba, found in Lord Meher, does reflect the known stance of the satpurusha during the longer court case abovementioned:

It is since these plotters have joined hands to libel and harass me that the devotees who used to come to me and contribute donations no longer visit…. For their own good, people serve me and pray to me, taking me to be Paramatma. I permit them to do so. Let some people praise me and others hate and harass me. I am for both. I am not bothered if some try to blackmail me, nor am I elated by eulogy. (LM:1915)

Lord Meher has referred without precision to “the defamation case” against Upasani, during which he was called to give testimony at the Ahmednagar court on 26 October 1934. When the witness for the prosecution failed to appear, proceedings were adjourned. Upasani stayed the night in Ahmednagar at Khushru Quarters, the abode of Gulmai Irani and her son Adi. On 28 October, Godavari Mataji gave evidence (LM online:1644, accessed 10/02/2020). No further details are supplied. Other sources are a necessary supplement.

This episode was evidently the “defamation case against Divekar Shastri” pressed by Shivaram Bhangre, who cited Upasani and Godavari as witnesses. Evidence from both Upasani and Godavari was recorded at court; soon afterwards, Bhangri withdrew, fearing that he would get into trouble.

“In all about five cases were filed against Upasani Baba” (CIC:168). More precisely, five lawsuits are attested in the ongoing process created by the Kopargaon dissimulators. These opponents lost all the five lawsuits during 1934-35.

On 4 November 1934, Raghunath Karmakar visited Meher Baba at Meherabad.  His mother Durgabai had caused problems at Sakori due to her jealousy of Godavari (now twenty years old). Raghunath reported that Upasani had “transferred many valuables to Godavari’s name” (LM online:1644). This gesture was part of a protective strategy designed to pacify Godavari’s former husband Vishnupant Chandorkar. Upasani gave Vishnupant “seven or eight thousand rupees to allow her [Godavari] to continue staying in his ashram” (ibid). This detail is missing from all other reports. If even partially accurate, this could mean that opponents of Upasani had influenced Vishnupant. The significant information underlines a sense of threat to Sakori kanyas from their relatives.

The situation was complicated by the defection of Durgabai Karmakar, who had believed adverse rumours spread by opponents. Durgabai had accused Upasani of lust for the kanyas, especially Godavari Mataji. Durgabai had been transferred from the ashram to Sholapur. Her complaints provided fuel for supporters of the hostile Divekar Shastri. Durgabai had influenced her son Raghunath, who was very confused, not knowing how to interpret these events. Meher Baba made comments which strongly criticised Durgabai. At a later period, she was devastated by the perception of her error.

According to Meher Baba, Durgabai had been subject to “a paroxysm of rage caused by jealousy and greed.” She succumbed “to the promptings of her lower nature” (ibid:1644, no source cited). Her misunderstandings and accusations had done harm to Upasani by “helping a clique formed in Kopargaon” (ibid). The members of that clique are not named. The men concerned were outsider critics, and possibly some ex- devotees. These agitators were influential in the five lawsuits of 1934-35.

Another report refers to discontented devotees who influenced Durgabai; this faction apparently existed “for some years” before she moved to Sholapur in 1933 (Natu 1994:25). A reason given for male discontent is the performance of Vedic rites by nuns or kanyas (ibid:24). That development occurred in 1933 or 1935.  The major cause of reaction is not difficult to perceive. Some male devotees were evidently annoyed by the pronounced deference which Upasani gave to kanyas, a development which offset the former prominence of male followers (meaning brahmans).

Spelling out his own position, Meher Baba remarked that he “was against Maharaj’s tendency to lionise Godavari, to the extent of asking others to take her darshan” (LM online:1644, no source cited). However, he added a qualification that sounds contradictory: he was neither in favour of, nor against, the method of “working” adopted by Upasani at Sakori. Meher Baba suggested that Upasani should form an ashram trust and transfer the relevant properties accordingly. The Sakori ascetic had so far remained aloof from all organisational arrangements or security precautions. The benevolent suggestion of Meher Baba may have had some effect; the details are very obscure. We do know that, from now on, Upasani consistently deferred (via emissaries) to Meher Baba’s practical ability and spiritual stature. This development was known only to a few. Many others were subject to a misleading view of events.

Two years later, after emerging victorious in five court cases, Upasani made a significant visit to Khushru Quarters, the home of Gulmai Irani in Ahmednagar. That versatile lady was a follower of both Upasani and Meher Baba (a rare instance of two-way affiliation, most devotees cultivating a mono-guru attitude). The date was 16 February, 1936, signifying the birthday of Meher Baba according to the Zoroastrian calendar. However, the Irani had stipulated that there should be no birthday celebration in his honour. When Upasani arrived at Khushru Quarters, he proceeded to conduct his own distinctive celebration that was unprecedented.

Adi K. Irani (the son of Gulmai) recorded this event, stating his amazement at what he observed. Upasani uttered words of prayer while gazing intently at a photograph of Meher Baba. This continued for five minutes. Afterwards Upasani said that he liked the photo, adding: “I like Merwan. He is great. He is unique. I bow before him. Let me pray in his presence. Please convey my salutations to him” (Irani MBJ 1938:33).

Upasani climaxed this acknowledgment by performing the arati of Meher Baba. He asked Gulmai to fetch the appropriate ritual paraphernalia, after which he personally performed arati in front of Meher Baba’s photo. Upasani waved the arati tray and chanted praises. (364) Zoroastrian onlookers were well aware of the significance of this event, which would have been resented by some Hindu devotees at Sakori. Upasani not only made an explicit recognition of Meher Baba, but also worshipped him.

This was not the only deference to Meher Baba on the part of Upasani. He continually sent messengers to Meher Baba, whom he requested to take over the management of Sakori ashram. These events were not public knowledge. Upasani was already insistent in this request during 1936, and was still petitioning in 1940 (it is not clear how sustained this request was from year to year). Meher Baba always responded, while remaining adamant that the ritual or “sectarian” atmosphere at Sakori would have to cease before he could agree to the request.

In 1936, when Upasani commenced his petition, Meher Baba countered by insisting that Upasani should stay at his (Baba’s) own Rahuri ashram and terminate the Hindu religious atmosphere at Sakori (LM online:2106). Upasani did not meet either of these demands.

In May 1940, further permutations to this situation arose. That month, the birthday of Upasani was celebrated at Meherabad after a lapse of twelve years. Meher Baba was reportedly willing to purchase Sakori ashram if his conditions were met. Those conditions included the cessation of all Hindu ritualism at Sakori. Upasani agreed to all the stipulations (LM online:2107; LM:2559; SBM:131-132). The obscured contract extended to the cessation of any further marriages with kanyas. Meher Baba complained that, as the disciple of Upasani, he had been censoriously associated with those marriages by (Hindu and Zoroastrian) opponents (who had derided Upasani as the “virgin-loving saint”).

The new agreement did not reach fruition. The management of Sakori ashram (composed of men, not the nuns) evidently rejected the proposal. B. T. Wagh, who became the official manager by 1936, was resistant to Meher Baba.

This marginalised situation was not quite over, however. For several years, Upasani had been telling Gulmai Irani: “I wish to see Merwanji.” The comment of Upasani was not an open disclosure, remaining a secret at large. Upasani wanted his former disciple to visit Sakori again.

Gulmai passed on the message to Meher Baba, who conveyed that he would meet Upasani once more, but only once, and not at Sakori. Meher Baba stipulated that he would not be able to talk because he was observing silence (since 1925). Upasani agreed to abide by these terms; he now wanted the meeting to occur at a deserted rural location known as Dahigaon, a few miles from Sakori. The venue selected was a thatched hut in a garden. The meeting was very secretively arranged. Most devotees of both mystics were completely unaware of this event.

Upasani arriving for the meeting at Dahigaon, then walking to the hut

The meeting at Dahigaon occurred on 17 October, 1941. The hut was about forty miles north of Meherabad. Meher Baba was escorted by motor car to Dahigaon with a few of his mandali, also Gulmai, who was the only woman present. They found Yeshwantrao Borawke waiting for them at the hut. This prominent devotee of Upasani lived at Sakori; he still revered Meher Baba, whom he had attended twenty years earlier. Upasani had sent Yeshwantrao to unlock and clean out the hut.

Upasani walking to the Dahigaon hut with Sarosh K. Irani; Meher Baba waiting at the hut door

At 4.30 p.m., Meher Baba despatched Gulmai and Sarosh K. Irani in a car to bring Upasani from Sakori to Dahigaon. They were told to bring nobody else but Upasani. The car returned an hour later. Upasani alighted and walked a distance to the hut, the others having been told to keep outside the compound where the hut stood. Upasani wore his accustomed gunny cloth, loosely draped around his body. A total of eight people were present, comprising three Iranis, three Parsis, and two Hindus.

Upasani and Meher Baba at Dahigaon, with Kaka Baria and Sarosh K. Irani to right

The meeting lasted only half an hour. Upasani then walked to the gate with Meher Baba, moving through the trees in the fading evening light. According to Sarosh Irani, both of these saints were looking radiant. Some amateur photos were taken of this very private event by Padri (Faredun N. Driver), one of the Parsi mandali. Padri had requested inclusion in the event, and wanted to use his camera. Meher Baba gave him permission. The Irani was often easygoing about photographs.

Upasani was quite different in his attitude. He tended to regard cameras as the superfluous toys of devotees and tourists. Not until the 1930s had he begun to accept photography, apparently at the wishes of kanyas (most images of him date to that decade). Now he looked suspiciously at Padri's camera, asking "What is that box?" Padri was afraid that Upasani would damage the camera. However, Upasani proved benign, and did not interfere with the camerawork. Afterwards, he commented with evident satisfaction: "This meeting place was ideal - solitary, and at the same time so near [to Sakori]" (LM:2727-28).

Yeshwantrao Borawke and Kaka Baria bowing to Upasani, Dahigaon 1941. The homage was not solicited.

At the gate of the compound, Gulmai garlanded both of the saints. A humorous episode occurred. Yeshwantrao Borawke tried to get near Meher Baba, desiring darshan. Upasani prevented him with the cautioning remark: "Meher Baba says not to take darshan." The Irani then laughed silently; he had permitted photos, but continually doused darshan expectations. Yeshwantrao apparently had to rest content with gaining the darshan of Upasani, along with Kaka Baria (formerly a devotee of the Sakori master). Upasani himself did not ask these men to pay homage; he merely allowed them to do so.

Upasani was escorted back to Sakori by car. (365) The secrecy attending this event is notable. Upasani is not known to have disclosed anything about what happened. The silent Meher Baba afterwards communicated a brief report of the meeting via his alphabet board, supplemented by later references. These disclosures exist in different versions.

Meher Baba informed that he bowed to Upasani, who then embraced him and wept. They both sat down. Upasani talked about the Second World War then occurring, about Meher Baba’s silence, and their respective devotees or mandali. Upasani apparently requested the Irani to speak, but without success. Meher Baba afterwards motioned that they should leave the hut. Upasani detained him for a further five minutes. (366)

Gulmai Irani garlanding Upasani at the gate to the Dahigaon hut compound

Two months after the Dahigaon meeting, Upasani was dead. Meher Baba lived on for nearly thirty years.

The attitude of conservative devotees is sometimes contradicted. According to Meher Baba, the male devotees at Sakori “had spread rumours that I was not spiritual but was an ordinary disciple of [Upasani] Maharaj” (SBM:133, citing from the diary of Kishan Singh). The person who overcame the trend of bias at Sakori was Godavari Mataji. In contrast to some of the influential male devotees, she was well disposed towards Meher Baba, knowing that some errors had occurred in the sparse assimilation of relevant events.

By the early 1950s, Godavari gained a much stronger influence at Sakori ashram. She then invited Meher Baba to visit Sakori. He accepted, not having set foot in Sakori for three decades. The Irani afterwards visited Sakori ashram a number of times. In March 1954, according to a Hindu report, Godavari “although now the head of the entire ashram, likewise bowed down to [Meher] Baba without hesitation, the way she used to pay homage to [Upasani] Maharaj.” (367)

An apparent discrepancy is that Godavari was an exemplar of kanya ritualism at Sakori, whereas Meher Baba is known to have criticised the ritualism permitted by Upasani. However, he did not criticise the ritualism of kanyas, evidently regarding this in a more lenient perspective. The kanya attention to rituals commenced after Meher Baba had criticised Sakori ritualism in 1933. The target of his critical remarks were the male ritualists at Sakori, who had been so prominent during the 1920s; some of these men were opposed to the Irani, viewing him as a rival and outsider.

Meher Baba was not interested in proclaiming himself to be a successor of Upasani. This neutral attitude apparently contradicted expectations of some devotees in his camp. Shortly after the funeral of the Sakori satpurusha, the Irani made an unexpected statement. He invited to Meherabad a Parsi named Minoo Bharucha, who respected both Meher Baba and Upasani. The visitor asked who would fill the role of Upasani. Meher Baba answered: “A man living near Tibet.” (368) No further details of identity were supplied.

In later years, during the 1950s, Meher Baba emphasised a theme of his own identity as avatar. This became controversial amongst sceptics who considered his claim to be excessive. Whatever the angle taken here, the fact is that the Irani mystic was conciliatory in his communications with Sakori ashram, exercising a strong impact in that quarter during the 1950s.

Another "secret meeting" occurred between Meher Baba and the Dalit leader Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar. This event occurred at Bombay in 1932, for long remaining obscure. The meeting at Bombay was marked by an evident sense of mutual respect. The Irani was unusual for his affinity with "untouchables" or Dalits.

103.  Ramju  Abdulla  at  Sakori

There are numerous reports about Upasani Maharaj from Hindus and Zoroastrians, but not from his Muslim contacts, who are almost completely anonymous. An exception is therefore important. The published diaries of Abdul Karim Abdulla (1898-1967) date to the 1920s. Nicknamed Ramju, this writer was an Indian Sunni Muslim who became a follower of Meher Baba. He was not a devotee of Upasani Maharaj, but did record relevant details about visits made to Sakori ashram during 1922-23.

Ramju Abdulla, Paul Brunton the British Yogi

Ramju’s diary was dismissed by Paul Brunton (1898-1981) in his disputed book A Search in Secret India (1934). The British miracle seeker was given two diaries to read when he briefly stayed at the Nasik ashram of Meher Baba in 1931. According to Brunton, Ramju Abdulla was one of the “young men with only a fragmentary experience of life beyond their extremely limited circle” (Brunton 1934:255). Brunton was born the same year as Ramju; the British writer was not a senior man with vast experience. His disparaging reference does not name the two diarists. Nor does he provide their religious identity. These two anonymous writers were targets of his Yogic pique at being denied a miracle by Meher Baba.

Brunton’s own experience as a young man was heavily conditioned by the “esoteric” and occultists trends developing in London. The British Empire was not immune to extravagant beliefs. Spiritualism and the Astral University were two of the many influences at work. Brunton believed that he was one of the advanced alumni of the Astral University, which he claimed to attend on “astral travels” recounted to his Western followers, after gaining fame from his 1930s books such as A Search in Secret Egypt (1936).  The Egyptian adventure has received criticism.

Brunton’s new recourse of hearing the saga of Atlantis from ethereal presences inside the Great Pyramid must have stretched the credulity of at least some of those readers otherwise addicted to tales of the occultist media. He describes how he spent a night inside the edifice at Gizeh which has become one of the major pitfalls for fabulators…. Our critical inquirer into Indian secrets now found himself face to face with the High Priests of an ancient Egyptian cult…. They spoke to him quite dramatically, and in a rather quaint form of English, e.g., “Why dost thou come to this place?” (Shepherd 1988:170-171)

Brunton could not find in the diary of Ramju any Yoga emphasis on siddhis, or references to astral travel, telepathy, or miracles. These were favoured preoccupations of the Western visitor to Nasik. One difference between these two young writers was that Ramju is far more factually reliable than the author of Secret India. Ramju was not disposed to exotic imaginations about the Great Pyramid. He had no affinity with the claim of Brunton that a heavy oak table could levitate with the assistance of invisible spirits. In 1967, the British occultist exercised a deception by slightly moving this table with his concealed hands, while urging that the spirits were at work; the ruse was detected (Masson 1993:164-165).

Ramju Abdulla was born in Bombay, being reared to strict Sunni orthodoxy. His Cutchi Memon community were traders, originally from Gujarat. He felt contempt for people of other religions, whom Sunni Muslims regarded as kafirs (infidels). This insular attitude ended when he became a supporter of Meher Baba, a multi-lingual Irani with a cosmopolitan outlook, who early gained Muslim and Hindu followers. Ramju became one of the most communicative and genial of those followers (he was amongst the emissaries sent by Meher Baba to Mahatma Gandhi after 1931). In 1922, he commenced a diary in English, a language which he learned capably, with some colloquial stylisms typical of that period.

In contrast, Paul Brunton (PB) did not learn Indian languages. PB met with strong disapproval from ex-follower Dr. Masson, for conveying the impression to admirers that he was an expert in Tibetan and Sanskrit. “PB knew no Oriental language whatever; he derived all his knowledge from secondary and even tertiary sources” (Masson 1993:82). More emphatically: “PB knew no Sanskrit, knew no texts, invented things, lied, cheated, and stole, intellectually speaking…. He was just a hodgepodge of misread and misunderstood ideas from an ancient culture he did not know or understand” (ibid:160). This judgement came from the critic who had been a Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto. Masson was disillusioned with Brunton’s doctoral insignia adopted by 1945. The vaunted Ph.D. was acquired from a notorious correspondence course blocked by the American government (Shepherd, Investigating Meher Baba in “Secret India,” 2014).

Ramju never adopted spurious credentials. He was unpretentious and hardworking. Any faults in his grammar or presentation are quite easy to overlook. The same cannot be said for the presumed doctoral expert on Asiatic religion.

The British occultist dismissed Upasani Maharaj on the basis of a hostile Parsi story about the Bombay Stock Exchange. Brunton never met the Sakori ascetic. Many of his readers have believed there could not have been any merit in an entity rejected by the more famous and bestselling Dr. Brunton. In contrast, Ramju did visit Sakori and there encountered Upasani, recording in a positive vein, despite the notorious gulf often existing between Sunni Islam and Hinduism.

In May 1922, Ramju was one of the party accompanying Meher Baba from Poona to Sakori for the birthday celebration. They arrived at Sakori on 10 May. All of the party went to greet Upasani. They found him outside the “second hut,” wearing the simple gunny cloth. This was the first time Ramju had met him. “Although I had some idea of his personality from the photos I had seen, I was not prepared for so much magnetism and attraction about him” (RD:44). This magnetism so often fired visitors and devotees. The dynamism of Upasani may have surpassed Brunton’s reliance upon Western materialist values of the Bombay Stock Exchange as a gauge for Sakori ashram.

The mandali (companions) of Meher Baba had brought flowers in greeting. Upasani responded by picking up some champa tree flowers from this gift, redistributing these to each one of the visitors. He spoke a few simple words: “May you realise God soon” (RD:44). The word he used for Deity is not stated.

Ramju provides a very early, if brief, account of the birthday celebrations lasting four days. He relates that Upasani “granted lengthy interviews specially to the mandali,” during which he gave “fascinating and loving tone” explanations on spiritual subjects (RD:45).  Ramju also says that feeding the poor was a priority. We know from other sources that lepers were welcome at Sakori feasts. Upasani was accustomed to bathing lepers and gifting them with food and clothing. In contrast, the British Raj (and many brahmans) were often very averse to contact with this depressed and abhorred sector. Paul Brunton is not known for karma yogi work of this kind, instead elevating matters that often sound impractical to critics.

Brunton briefly stayed at Meherabad in 1930. Amongst the mandali, he gained the reputation of being a pampered colonialist who expected to find an amenable pilgrim hostel at a rural site in famine terrain. Brunton was at a disadvantage in not knowing any Indian language. He expected everyone to speak English. He needed a personal attendant to supply him with water. That attendant could not speak the colonialist language; difficulties in communication resulted. Brunton questioned English-speaking mandali, but was misleading in his deductions about what happened in former years.

Brunton misrepresented the events of May 1922 by stating that Meher Baba called thirty of his old schoolmates and friends to Sakori while giving mysterious hints about an important meeting (Brunton 1934:56). In contrast, Ramju was an eyewitness at Sakori in May 1922, and his account is very different. Brunton even imagined that Upasani lived in a temple at Sakori (an evident confusion with the Khandoba temple at Shirdi). The publisher Rider imposed misleading credentials of “Dr. Paul Brunton” on the cover of Secret India reprints, conveying the impression to thousands of readers that the content was immaculately accurate.

Ramju states that about fifty men of different religions were living in Bombay at the Manzil-e-Meem, the new residence of Meher Baba. “The atmosphere is one of great harmony” (RD:59). Many of those men were mobilised to visit Sakori on 6 August 1922, under the leadership of Gustad Hansotia (originally a disciple of Sai Baba and Upasani). Meher Baba did not accompany them. Upon arrival, they joined in the noon arati at the ashram temple. After receiving a meal, they went to the hut in the mango grove, taking the darshan of Upasani. “Maharaj gave us a long and a very interesting lecture on Real Happiness, and in the end, advised us to stick to Merwan [Meher Baba] through thick and thin” (RD:60).

The next morning, Upasani requested the visitors to sit near the temple. With his own hands, he served them a breakfast of tea and freshly cooked loaves of bread. Upasani was very much the host on this occasion. “He actually walked to each [man] with the loaves and kept on serving the mandali till we had finished to our contentment” (RD:60). The mandali comprised Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Hindus. There was no caste protocol in evidence here.

Later in the day, this party again took the darshan of Upasani, with Durgabai Karmakar being present. They left Sakori early in the evening, travelling in bullock carts to Chitali station, on the way back to Bombay.

Khwaja Hasan Nizami, 1924; Gustad Hansotia, 1922

In mid-October 1922, the mandali at Bombay learned from Ahmed Abbas (Khak Saheb) and Mir Mumtaz Ali Delhavi (Asar Saheb) about their recent visit to Delhi. In the capital, these two Muslims had sought out Khwaja Hasan Nizami (1879-1955), a prominent Chishti Sufi divine. The purpose related to their Urdu version of the Upasani Maharaj biography instigated by Meher Baba. The two visitors apparently suggested that Nizami should rewrite the biography, as he was a famous writer. Nizami declined, saying he had other engagements. However, he did compose a short introduction. The implication is that he did not read the entire manuscript, instead opting for “a random scanning; and yet, the introduction is simply a grand review of the contents” (RD:110). Nizami provided the title of the book, Garibonka Asara (Shelter of the Poor).

A relevant factor is Nizami’s recognition at seeing a photograph of Sai Baba. Nizami had met the faqir of Shirdi prior to his death in 1918, and “held a very high opinion of him” (RD:110). Ramju appears to have made a very rare reference to this assessment.

In March 1923, Khwaja Nizami visited the Manzil-e-Meem in the hope of meeting Meher Baba. The Irani mystic was not generally available. Nizami was accordingly deflected. However, Baba sent Gustad and Adi K. Irani to talk with Nizami, who was outside in a waiting car; the situation was explained to the visitor. An appointment was made for Ahmed Abbas, Ramju, and Rustom K. Irani to visit Nizami the next day. At that meeting, Nizami learned that Ramju was a Cutchi Memon. Ramju writes: “He became much interested in me” (RD:174). The Chishti Sufi commented that the Cutchis usually only followed saints who wore their own standard green turban, a capacious robe, and a flowing beard. “It is therefore strange to find a Cutchi interested in Meher Baba” (RD:174).

Nizami then asked Ramju why he was living at the Manzil with the mandali of Meher Baba. The reply came: “I do so with the hope that by so doing I will understand the mystery of my existence and Truth” (RD:174). Nizami asked how the Cutchi knew he could reach understanding through Meher Baba. Ramju explained that he had no support other than faith. Nizami expressed approval.

The Sufi remarked that he took no offence about Meher Baba not meeting him. Nizami described a former personal situation in which he had screened himself behind a curtain for a period, not allowing even his family members to see him. He asked Rustom the identity of the man he had encountered yesterday – the short man with the brown moustache. Nizami remarked that this man “looked very promising.” The others told him that the man was Gustad Hansotia, whom Ramju describes as “the chief member of [Meher] Baba’s circle” (RD:175).

Unlike Khwaja Nizami, Ramju completely avoided ideological biases occurring in the widespread Muslim versus Hindu friction of the 1920s. In North India, a strong division occurred. The Arya Samaj missionaries of the Shuddhi movement wanted to reconvert the Hindus who had become Muslims and Christians (some Muslim converts had retained Hindu customs). In response, Nizami argued for tabligh, meaning Islamic missionary work amongst non-Muslims. Unfortunately, the dissension continued for generations.

104.  A  Disagreeable  Trait

Upasani Maharaj became known for moods of an uncompromising nature. The manifestations and applications varied considerably. Men who displayed egocentric characteristics were primary targets; in such cases, he could be fierce. There were other, and less obvious, factors evoking his displeasure.

Chakradar D. Deshmukh, Nagpur 1930s; Upasani Maharaj, 1930s

In 1933, Dr. Chakradhar D. Deshmukh (1908-1982) became a professor of philosophy at Nagpur. The previous year, at the age of twenty-four, while studying for his doctorate, he met Meher Baba in London. However, this academic was not at first a confirmed devotee. Deshmukh had been influenced by the writings of Krishnamurti, who argued against the necessity for a guru. Another factor, one of religious bias, was involved in his hesitation. Deshmukh was a brahman, and Meher Baba an Irani. The high caste Deshmukh conceived the idea of consulting Upasani Maharaj, a fellow brahman, thinking that he might gain more knowledge in this manner (LM:1809). The resulting events are recounted in different versions.

In 1933, Deshmukh visited Sakori, after gaining the permission of Meher Baba for this expedition. Upon arrival at Sakori ashram, the academic arranged a private meeting with Upasani in the afternoon. The visitor had an agenda which he did not declare. “I had an unjustified and lurking desire to seek further corroboration and confirmation about the divinity of Meher Baba” (Deshmukh 1965:43). However, “after paying my respects to Maharaj, I discovered that he was in no mood to welcome me or to give me any corroborations of the kind I was secretly expecting” (ibid).

Deshmukh persisted in his objective. He may have wanted Upasani to be his guru; the situation is not totally clear. He encountered Upasani the next morning, being very disconcerted to find that “Maharaj scolded me for seeking to wander from master to master” (ibid). There was none of the desired confirmation or acceptance, instead “a very disagreeable dose” of advice about deportment. Deshmukh does not actually disclose much about what Upasani said. The visitor did not get what he wanted. There was no “encouragement through sweet words,” but instead a “hot reception” (ibid). Upasani also expressed a cryptic statement: “First bitter and then sweet” (ibid:44).

The reception was indeed strong. Deshmukh approached the Sakori guru with a flower garland. Upasani could be impervious to this form of homage (he disliked garlands). The ascetic shouted that Deshmukh should leave immediately. His speech was barbed with rustic Marathi swear words. The dismayed Deshmukh retreated some distance away. Upasani started to throw large stones at him. Now Deshmukh departed, thinking that Meher Baba was so kind and loving by comparison (LM:1809). Deshmukh had heard that Upasani could administer rough treatment to some visitors; he had accepted this without query, not believing that the deterrent would apply in his own case.

Upasani was an expert in countering expectations. With a growl or a scowl, he could throw a persistent petitioner into confusion. Cryptic statements were favoured at times. He was known to throw stones, similar to the habit of Sai Baba. Though not always in the mood to be celebrated as a guru, Upasani was not a fan of Krishnamurti.

When Deshmukh departed from Sakori, he was in “a state of complete bewilderment and confusion as well as poignant pain” (LM:1809). Moreover, he made “a decision never to get entangled with any spiritual masters” (ibid).

Upasani Maharaj was frequently not concerned to gain followers; instead, he could very easily offput attention. This was a completely different policy to the more customary guru tactic of accommodating all subscribers. Upasani knew that some visitors came with the wrong motive, or with superfluous preoccupations. He was inclined to impart a form of shock treatment to such petitioners. This measure did not boost his popularity in every instance.

The deflated Deshmukh felt alienated from Sakori. He went to Amraoti, seeking out a disciple of Dada Maharaj, a saint of Berar “who had spent years on dung-heaps, entirely indifferent to his body or surroundings” (Deshmukh 1965:44). Now the affronted academic gained an explanation of what had occurred at Sakori. He was told that Upasani Maharaj had precipitated him into a state of intense doubt, to make him overcome “the cheap desire to go on seeking unnecessary corroboration for what was [or should be] based upon personal experience” (ibid).

He found that Dada Maharaj, and another saint (Babaji Maharaj of Lodhikhera), testified to the spiritual advancement of Meher Baba. The academic did not wish to repeat his visit to Sakori. However, he did visit Meher Baba with some enthusiasm. This encounter is undated. The Irani now told him: “Upasani Maharaj is a real sadguru. Remember that! You have no idea about the ways of the sadgurus. No one can understand them. You went to Upasani Maharaj on your own [volition]. Now, according to my order, go back to him” (LM:1809).

Deshmukh was horrified at this instruction. He is reported to have countered by saying: “You do not know how furious he [Upasani] was, and what he said to me. I cannot go back there. I am terrified of him!”

Meher Baba was adamant, repeating the instruction. He added that if Deshmukh could not obey this order, he should permanently depart. Deshmukh still protested, saying he did not wish to approach any other guru. Meher Baba then questioned the commitment of the visitor (LM:1809).

The unwanted request was accompanied by a reassurance that Upasani would now receive him cordially, not with annoyance. There was apparently a delay in the outcome. In 1936, Upasani stayed for a short time at Nagpur, where the resident Deshmukh took the opportunity to renew their acquaintance. The visitor was warmly received, and found to his surprise that Upasani confirmed his faith in Meher Baba. Upasani now advised Deshmukh to continue under the guidance of the Irani mystic. “First bitter and then sweet.” The earlier enigmatic words of Upasani were now resolved. Deshmukh concluded that the earlier harsh treatment was a consequence of his doubts about Meher Baba.

In January 1939, Deshmukh again encountered Upasani when the latter visited Nagpur once more, at the satellite ashram called Upasaniwadi.  Deshmukh presented to the Sakori saint a copy of his booklet My Master and his Teaching. The author was now a confirmed adherent of Meher Baba. Upasani then made the benign gesture of garlanding the photograph of Meher Baba inside the book, afterwards returning the book to Deshmukh as prasad (Deshmukh 1965:45). “First bitter and then sweet.”

Deshmukh adds that hundreds of devotees had personal experience of Upasani’s “stately personality, which is an embodiment of spiritual understanding and love as well as power.” Nevertheless, “the ways of Maharaj are inscrutable to the worldly-minded, and he often is an enigma to those to whom he does not reveal himself” (ibid). The Nagpur professor reminds that Upasani is said to have frequently repeated a verse of the Gita: “As I veil myself through yoga-created maya, I do not manifest to all.” (369)

105.  Last  Years  of  Upasani  Baba  Maharaj

In late 1928, Upasani stayed at Hyderabad (Andhra) with Raja Narsing, still in delicate health after the episode of poisoning by a conservative clique. The Raja had donated about forty acres of land to him, several miles from the city. Here Sir Kishan Prasad made elaborate arrangements for a Datta Jayanti festival. Thousands came for darshan; Upasani was worshipped as Dattatreya on this occasion. He thereafter visited Hyderabad almost every year (SSS:60-61).

Upasani at Sakori, 1930s

In these later years, he was in the habit of visiting Nagpur en route to and from Varanasi (Benares). He had strong supporters in these places. On the way to Varanasi in 1934, he made a diversion to stay a few days at Kharagpur, where his early devotees greeted him with enthusiasm. He “counselled them all” (SSS:62). After an interval of nearly twenty years, he now revisited the locations where he had stayed in 1914-15. He then departed for Varanasi (Kashi) via Calcutta. He continued to make frequent visits to Varanasi in subsequent years.

In his Sati Charitra (1939), Upasani referred to a divine mandate for Sakori ashram. He stated that the ashram “should put a stop to the present disorderly life of society, and revive the wholesome [sattvic] order, whereby men and women once again take to the path of religion or righteousness” (CIC:132). Primary components of this remedy were brahmacharya (celibacy), bhakti, and religious ritual for a new community of nuns. Upasani Maharaj was here opposing both Westernisation and conservative Hinduism.

Accusations against Upasani are found in some more recent works influenced by Narasimhaswami. The Sakori ascetic is accused of acquiring cash, property, and cattle. There are serious misunderstandings in evidence. Upasani did not keep incoming cash, which was used for ashram needs and the construction of communal buildings. He did not own the temples at Sakori, and nor other properties. During the late 1920s, an ashram management developed, exercising control of properties and transactions. This arrangement was customary in Indian ashrams.

The ashram cattle went hungry at the time of the lawsuits in 1934-35, when donations contracted because of the Divekar Shastri libel.  Many years earlier, Upasani was presented with many cattle suffering from a deplorable condition as a consequence of severe famine. These animals were assigned to his protection; he ensured that they were appropriately tended. They survived as the ashram herd.

Keeping cattle was a traditional activity of the brahman caste, an activity dating back to the time of Upanishadic rishis. The Sakori ashram did not possess vast herds. The ashram holdings extended to hundreds of cattle, not thousands. If Upasani has to be assessed in terms of cattle, however much by association, then he resembled the lifestyle of Upanishadic rishis rather than monastic Vedanta centres of the medieval era.

The following, and very misleading, commentary was strongly influenced by Narasimhaswami. The quote largely comprises fiction, not history:

Upasani accumulated wealth in the form of cash, land and buildings, and he began to be seen in the company of women. Narasimha Swamiji says Upasani had 25 wives, a regular harem with a castle and anthapuram (women’s quarters) in it. He was involved in litigation and aroused antagonisms in many quarters. He went on acquiring women, first by marrying them to images of Krishna, and when that was stopped by a law passed by the Bombay Legislative Council, by marrying them himself. His popularity began to decline following opposition to him in 1934. Narasimha Swamiji says Upasani’s popularity reached such a low level that people said they were ashamed to say they had anything to do with him. (370)

Upasani continued to live in a simple hut, and did not reside in a castle. During the 1930s, a new hut was built for him where he spent “the greater part of his time,” to quote a more reliable report (SSS:13). The assertions about a harem are completely mistaken. There was no “castle,” only living quarters for the nuns. The reference to images of Krishna is out of context. The Bombay Devadasis Protection Act (1934) was not aimed at Sakori ashram. The popularity of Upasani was temporarily affected by hostilities, but did not terminate, despite the extremist attack launched by Divekar Shastri. The opponents lost credibility as a consequence of court proceedings at Ahmednagar in 1935. The misrepresented community of nuns survived. The women’s quarters at Sakori had many visitors in later years; this innocuous nunnery maintained a high standard of celibate living. There was no relation whatever with aristocratic situations of polygamy featuring in the fantasy of detractors.

The same confusing account follows Narasimhaswami in the belief that Upasani’s Shirdi phase was an exercise in distracting intellectuality and failure to think of Sai Baba. Even a cursory inspection of the neglected data is sufficient to dispel this distorting idea. “He kept on pursuing his intellectual studies.” (371) This error confuses his brief period of participation in Khaparde’s study group, dating to early 1912, with a six year period spanning the various Shirdi sojourns of Upasani.

Narasimhaswami had no effective cognisance of Upasani’s experiences. Unlike Upasani Maharaj, the missionary sannyasin is not known to have worked manually with low caste labourers, untouchables, and women.

In Sage of Sakuri, Narasimhaswami refers to a recent (early 1930s) campaign against Upasani in some Poona and Bombay newspapers, accusing him of immorality (because of his panch kanya marriages in 1932). The Madras sannyasin disputed this attack, stating that “hundreds – it may be even thousands – of people of position,” of both sexes, had associated closely with Upasani, and not found any misbehaviour. Moreover, some of these devotees reported that their sexual desires were reduced under his inspiration (NSS:95-97).

Twenty years later, the influential Sai missionary affirmed that Upasani had “tens of thousands” of followers prior to 1934. This does seem a pronounced exaggeration; at the most, Upasani might have gained five thousand committed devotees. No precise figure is available. Darshan visitors were frequently not devotees, a description implying firm supporters. According to Narasimhaswami, “the entire tens of thousands evaporated” in a year after the Divekar Shastri campaign commenced in 1934. This statement may be strongly questioned as rhetorical exaggeration. “It was difficult to find even a thousand people enthusiastic over Upasani Baba” (LSB:426). That figure might be more accurate, but is impossible to confirm. The zealous missionary does not mention decisive legal defeat of opponents in 1935, an event which restored Upasani to favour amongst many doubters.

In his well known 1950s work Life of Sai Baba, Narasimhaswami also fails to mention his own participation in the legal defence of Upasani. He himself was a factor in ascertaining the innocence of the Sakori guru. The Madras sannyasin was nevertheless strongly influenced by the Divekar Shastri libel. Narasimhaswami departed from Sakori ashram unobtrusively in August 1936, subsequently switching his allegiance to the deceased Sai Baba.

In 1934, the Kanya Kumari Sthan only had five inmates. A number of twenty-five was not achieved until the 1940s; the number existing at the time of Upasani’s death was twenty-three. According to Narasimhaswami, there were “twenty-five wives” by the time of demise, a misleading description of the nuns even if the number is credited as being approximately accurate. The increasing number of nuns was a gradual process occurring over the years. Mani Sahukar gives the total of 35 to 40 nuns at a date long after the death of Upasani. Furthermore, the procedure of inducting kanyas altered, the “spiritual marriage” being replaced by an initiation ceremony.

Narasimhaswami’s description of Upasani “marrying heaps of women to himself” is grossly misleading, amounting to a support for what the hostile sannyasin called the “Divekar agitation.” (372)  Divekar Shastri was the brahman critic who launched a campaign of stigma in 1934, using Kirloskar magazine and a subsequent book. Narasimhaswami promotes the erroneous prachar theme that Upasani became distracted by wealth and women in contrast to the standards set by Sai Baba. The Shirdi faqir had many female devotees, but was not in any position to launch a community of Hindu nuns at an Islamic mosque.

“He [Upasani] was storing up groups of women to live with him.” (373) Narasimhaswami’s obsessive support for Divekar Shastri is not impressive, devaluing the aspirational disposition of nuns, who were completely discounted by the brahmanical libel. Upasani was a polygamist, they said; the girls were merely his consorts and prostitutes, and therefore of no consequence.

Religious conservatives regarded girls as being suited only to arranged marriages, including the huge number of child marriages. To some defecting orthodox devotees, the kanya recitation of Sanskrit texts was heretical. The kanya performance of Vedic rituals was considered ungodly and beyond legitimacy. Narasimhaswami does not dwell upon texts or rituals, but does insinuate that Upasani was “a case of Mormonism or of uxorious cravings of a wealthy householder or ruler.” (374)

Narasimhaswami even goes to the extreme of describing the Sakori nuns as satis, in the context of his own negative definition of the word sati. He opted to render that term as meaning “the foamy adulterator of a saint.” (375) This totally unjustified allegation reveals the extent of Narasimhaswami’s error, clearly influenced by Divekar Shastri. The missionary sannyasin insulted the Sakori nuns with such crude assumptions. The word sati has alternative meanings, including that of a goddess. The same word is also employed as a respectful title for a saintly person, as in the instance of Sati Godavari Mataji.

The missionary writer shows little understanding of Upasani’s teaching about the pure kanya. He queries the contention that men can achieve salvation through women. The Madras sannyasin asserts triumphantly that this contention is the very opposite of a doctrine found in orthodox scriptures.

Narasimhaswami misinterprets Upasani as teaching that salvation was gained by marrying kanyas. (376) He himself deduces an alternative meaning. The pure celibate life of a kanya could assist others, becoming free from karma, in contrast to householder men who were bound by karma. The kanya lifestyle would accumulate merit, and influence other women to adopt that ideal, assisting their husbands by means of their own progress.

Nevertheless, the sannyasin disparagingly concludes: “We are not aware of even a single case in which this ideal has been accomplished, though it is about 20 years since they [the ideas] were promulgated by Upasani Baba.” (377) Narasimhaswami was not acquainted with the Sakori nuns; he did not visit Sakori after becoming a Sai missionary in 1936. He does refer to these women as kanyas, but chose to imply that they were domestic chattels acquired by a voluptuary.

The pracharak was eager to criticise Upasani because the latter was regarded by many devotees as the spiritual successor of Sai Baba. By the 1950s, Narasimhaswami was recognised in some quarters as the major living expositor of Sai Baba. No rival could be tolerated. He had created his own devotional interpretation of the Shirdi faqir, which he employed in his critique of Upasani, as if prachar exegesis comprised the ultimate gauge of events. To the missionary sannyasin, Upasani Maharaj was a rival who had made serious errors disqualifying him from the status of an authority.

Narasimhaswami accuses Upasani of possessing eighty acres of land, large buildings, and hundreds of cattle. A revealing qualification emerges. “It does not matter in whose name the wealth was stored up” (LSB:424). Others have disagreed. Upasani did not own this property, which was part of an ashram. He lived on bread and chutney, favoured squalor, and wore only sackcloth. By comparison with that example, the missionary sannyasin lived in luxury.

The critic says that Upasani had no enemies prior to the late 1920s, after which frictions and animosities developed. This change is attributed to a new ashram investment policy. (378) Narasimhaswami does not distinguish between Upasani and the management of Sakori ashram. His account is very misleading, failing to mention basic details of the situation.  He does not refer to Durgabai Karmakar, and nor even to B. T. Wagh. Nor does he give any details of the 1934-35 court cases where contrived complaints of opponents failed; detractors even vainly alleged that a murder occurred. The influence of Divekar Shastri was pervasive; this orthodox opponent was a total outsider to the ashram.

For some years, a major influence at Sakori ashram was Durgabai Karmakar, sometimes described as the unofficial manager. Her jealousy of the kanyas became a problem. Durgabai developed “an increased thirst for amassing money” (SSS:66). She was perhaps concerned about the future prospects of her son Raghunath, who also stayed at the ashram. Upasani stopped her economic strategy by forbidding devotees to send money to her (SSS:66). Eventually, in 1933 he removed her from the ashram, in view of the complications she caused.

A number of devotees became active in the management, notably B. T. Wagh, the secretary of Upasani. During the 1930s, Wagh gained a strong and enduring profile at Sakori ashram. He became the official manager, at an uncertain date, probably soon after the removal of Durgabai. Wagh is not known to have been acquisitive, and nor unscrupulous in any way, acquiring a good reputation over decades, and living on to assist Dr. Tipnis in research for the latter’s book on Upasani (published in 1966).

Devotees at Sakori ashram early favoured ritualism, a matter concerning which Meher Baba complained. (379) The Irani also stated that Upasani reacted to the male dominance at his ashram, creating instead the Kanya Kumari Sthan. Substantial proof of this contention is afforded by Upasani’s resolute stand against disaffected male devotees who reacted to the elevation of nuns. He was quite prepared to lose the complaining brahman supporters in his tenacious struggle against their strongly entrenched biases.

During his last years, Upasani strategically promoted Godavari Mataji as the leader of the ashram. However, Godavari did not undertake the managerial duties of Wagh and others. Those duties included economic arrangements. Wagh readily acknowledged the spiritual primacy of Godavari. The mood of this manager appears to have been one of a tempered and diluted Hindu orthodoxy, recognising that some changes had to be made (380).

The misleading idea of Narasimhaswami, about lack of support for Upasani, is negated by varied developments. A relevant factor is that three lawyers at Kopargaon changed their angle on Sakori ashram. These opponents were defeated in different court proceedings during 1934-35. Subsequently, those critics grasped that they had been wrong to accuse Upasani; all three of them expressed testimonies revealing their transition in outlook (chapter 106). One of their statements may here be quoted: “The former cremation ground of Sakuri has been turned into a holy place by the divine presence of Upasani Baba” (CIC:158).

Another witness of 1930s events was D. B. Pradhan, a pleader (lawyer) of Poona. He encountered Upasani while serving at Rahata as Sub-Registrar. Pradhan “very often” visited Sakori with his family and friends, and would “observe very carefully” the ashram events of that period. He was familiar with the court cases of 1934-35, and the scurrilous attacks “in papers like Kirloskar” (CIC:141). While the court cases were occurring, “Upasani was calm and quiet throughout the whole period; he was ready for any test” (CIC:141). This report continues:

Upasani Baba was a great personality. He was in simple dress like his guru Sai Baba of Shirdi. He had derived his spiritual knowledge from his guru…. [Upasani] Baba’s universal outlook is clearly seen from the fact that he spent his funds for the temple and the mosque, equally. This is also confirmed by the fact that he has followers from the Parsee community also…. Upasani Baba was a practical saint. Whatever donations were made to him, they were done voluntarily. The amounts were spent in purchase of lands and erecting buildings. Thus, he made the ashram self-supporting. (CIC:141-143)

The reference to a mosque here means the reconstructed mosque at Sakori. This gesture certainly does attest consideration for a religious minority in a Hindu village. Population statistics are not available.

Sage of Sakuri states that the original hut of Upasani “has given place to a substantial building with an upper storey and a princely gate” (NSS:1). This may refer to the large Dattatreya temple, where some devotees lived in the capacious interior (NSS:188). Other ashram buildings were dharmashalas and residential structures. Many years later, quarters in the new temple precinct were misinterpreted as a “castle” where Upasani lived with his harem. Upasani did not reside in those quarters, which provided accommodation for ashram staff and visitors.

The second hut of Upasani eventually became outmoded. A pandal (tent) was erected in front of the hut, as a more suitable rendezvous for an increasing number of visitors. In 1932, this tent was replaced by “the magnificent Zopadi [Arati] Hall and Sabha Mandap” (SSS:15). The word zopadi causes confusion, because this was also the term for a simple hut.  Several “rooms and halls” were subsequently added to accommodate the kanyas. A few devotees were able to erect houses for their personal use (SSS:15).

A third hut was constructed for Upasani at this period, a dwelling which had two rooms. In that hut he spent “the greater part of his time,” and in that hut he died (SSS:13). The new hut was protected from the weather by a pandal (tent). He is also associated with the new arati hall (zopadi hall) or sabha mandap, a single storey building about a hundred yards from the Dattatreya temple. This is described as a “pillared hall.” Here Upasani often attended the noon and night arati services (NSS:185-186).

Upasani Maharaj, 1930s

The arati service at Sakori included daily readings from the Bhagavad Gita and the Advaita text Ashtavakra Gita. Upasani is reported to have said that the Advaita meanings would become clear in due course, without any need for discussion or sadhana (NSS:164). He did not teach Advaita in any systematic form, instead generally advising devotees to focus on Bhakti or Karma Yoga, involving the performance of good works unselfishly. He stressed faith in the guru and his own instructions for individual application. The instructions of Upasani extended to Zoroastrians and Muslims, not merely to Hindus.  He made no attempt to convert anyone to Hinduism or to Advaita. In this respect, his “Hindu orthodoxy” was a veneer; he was not dogmatic in his approach. His instructions, an underlying rationale of the ashram routine, were not general or public.

The Hindu devotees attended arati services dedicated to Upasani and Dattatreya. They were now permitted to conduct private worship of the guru’s photograph, after many years of his resistance to such activity (although devotees like Gulmai had for long revered his picture). They made daily pradakshina (circuit)of the ashram temples. They cooked food that was given to beggars, animals, and birds, themselves eating any food that remained (NSS:167-168).

Visitors often expressed their frustrations about domestic matters, poor health, and money. Upasani would frequently prescribe some participation in the ashram activities, e. g., the service of beggars and devotees, feeding the poor, weekly fasts, worship at the Dattatreya temple. In this way, such discontented persons are reported to have frequently acquired the habit of altruistic work, increased devotion, and increased calmness (NSS:173).

In the afternoons, Upasani would grant interviews to visitors between three and six p.m. Despite his repute for being unwelcoming, he seems to have been generally sympathetic in these interviews. Nevertheless, he could make a point firmly enough. He depreciated the common desire for siddhis, which he regarded as a distraction. He also advised visitors to remain silent about any unusual events they witnessed or experienced (NSS:190-191). He did not admire people who advertised their spiritual experiences.

He did not give daily discourses (contrary to his habit in the early days of the ashram). On occasions when a large number of visitors arrived, he would give an unadorned discourse. “A critical observer, after taking down the lecture verbatim, will note with surprise the absence of any oratorical or literary merit” (NSS:191). Rhetoric was evidently not favoured.

While Upasani was giving interviews, the kanyas studied Sanskrit at the new arati hall, also learning how to chant (NSS:191). The commitment at Sakori ashram was underlined by a prohibition on discussions and newspapers (NSS:192). Action was required, not chatter.

Upasani is associated with Dattatreya. This can be misleading. The Dattatreya temple was indeed salient at Sakori ashram, but for many years Upasani would not permit any statue in that edifice other than one of Hanuman. No image of Dattatreya was installed until after his death; in preparation for this event, he modified the traditional iconography in favour of the Sakori nuns. Upasani did not further any Dattatreya cult, instead being concerned to elevate the Kanya Kumari Sthan.

In contrast, his contemporary Narayan Maharaj (d.1945) performed regular puja before a Dattatreya image at Kedgaon ashram. Narayan also exercised a disposition to patronise lavish Vedic ceremonies. In 1935, the Kedgaon guru presided at a major puja performed by two thousand priests. Sakori ashram had to be content with events on a much smaller scale. Narayan Maharaj appears to have gained substantial influence within the brahman priesthood of Maharashtra, far more so than Upasani. Narayan became regarded as a manifestation of Dattatreya; he sat for darshan on a silver seat resembling a throne. He was even attired in robes closely associated with Dattatreya. His amiable temperament accepted almost any demand made by devotees. In contrast, Upasani often resisted such pressures, and could be dismissive. These two gurus did not meet again after the encounter at Bombay in 1911.

Upasani was unusually critical about puja or worship. In his Talks, he observed that when an idol is installed at a temple, there are no miracles (chamatkars) to witness, and nor benefits of the kind so often desired. Beliefs about miracles gradually develop, and associated benefits are claimed. More pointedly, Upasani would relay a graphic anecdote of the Mughal emperor Akbar, who was shown by his adviser Birbal “that a mere pig’s skull, concealed under silk and set up for worship, yielded the same benefits as any other sacred image” (NSS:117).

In relation to Sakori, an associated ashram (Upasaniwadi) was created at Nagpur in 1938, on the site donated by Dr. K. G. Pavanaskar. Other satellite ashrams existed at Hyderabad, Satana, Surat, and Barolia (in Dharampur). These ashrams were established between 1929 and 1936; they were commemorative sites, varying in the frequency of worship. The relevant estates were donated by devotees of Upasani. The Satana ashram included temples and residential rooms. At Satana, the birthplace of Upasani, a Dattatreya temple was built over the tomb of his grandfather (CIC:34).

Upasani Maharaj, 1930s

On 4 January, 1939, Dr. C. D. Deshmukh visited Upasani at the Nagpur ashram. The ascetic then gave a discourse on service (seva). Deshmukh reports the following statement in that discourse:

The [spiritual] master is never keen about the service of his own person. What he appreciates most is the service which a person renders to humanity, which is a manifestation of God himself. The significance of the religion of service is very deep, and is unfathomable even to the Yogis. (Deshmukh 1965:45)

This is one testimony to the emphasis of Upasani upon selfless service, an aspect of Karma Yoga. He did not esteem Raja Yoga or Hatha Yoga, but something else too easily overlooked. He sometimes appeared to rate Karma Yoga higher than Vedanta.

In February 1939, a distinguished visitor arrived at Sakori ashram. This was the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, a monastery in the Himalayas which had the repute of being one of the four principal mathas founded by Shankara. (381) The monastic dignitary was welcomed by Upasani. The visitor expressed approval of the religious life conducted at Sakori ashram, and endorsed the disciplined kanya lifestyle. Indeed, the guest presented several of the nuns with sacred books, as a gesture of goodwill. This orthodox sanction served to negate lingering aspersions created by the Divekar Shastri libel a few years earlier.

The visiting Shankaracharya had long talks with Upasani on the subject of Hindu religion. The monastic leader lamented what he described as the decay of Hinduism, visible at large in India. He did not find this decay at Sakori. Upasani was in agreement with the abbot’s perspective, being noted for his own resistance to secularising trends. In this discussion, Upasani interposed a prediction that an avatar would manifest to re-establish the Vedic dharma in India. However, he worded this prediction in a very unconventional manner, referring to the avatar as manifesting in a “European” country. The precise meaning is not clear.

Fortunately, we know exactly what the Shankaracharya said about Upasani and his ashram. His very clear testimony was recorded in the Sakori ashram diary of 1939. This assessment is significant, reversing the bias of critics:

Upasani Maharaj is really a greater [very advanced] soul. He cannot be recognised by ordinary people. The work of imparting religious education to women, started by Upasani Baba is, indeed, praiseworthy. It is really a bold and a novel experiment. I am very much pleased with the work carried on by Upasani Maharaj, according to Sanatan Vedic Dharma, in spite of the criticism and the harassment by the people. Such institutions of women should multiply in India. Maharaj has rightly hit the point that if at all the Sanatan Vedic Dharma is to have [a revival of] its former glory, it is possible with the help of such righteous women. There is no nunnery in India, and this [Kanya Kumari Sthan] is a sort of nunnery, the only [one] of its kind. (CIC:155)

This episode of the Shankaracharya became well known. In contrast, a slightly later encounter remained largely obscure for many years. The secretive meeting of Upasani Maharaj with Meher Baba, at Dahigaon, attests a dimension to events that was unwelcome to some devotees at Sakori (chapter 102). The Dahigaon episode, occurring in October 1941, is still commonly omitted from accounts of Upasani Maharaj.

Upasani retained his rigorous ascetic characteristics until the end. (382) During 1937-38, he suffered from diabetes. According to Godamasuta, his strength was now waning, his health “shattered by the unbelievable hardships he had undergone” (GLS:16).

At Thane (near Bombay), Upasani in centre, his mother Rukminibai and Godavari Mataji to the left, 1930s

In April 1939, on the occasion of Ramanavami, Upasani gave sannyasa to his mother Rukminibai (then aged about ninety). Ramana Maharshi also stated that women are eligible for sannyasa. This was a controversial issue. Rukminibai died the following month. A small temple was created over her tomb (SSS:76-77).

In 1940, Upasani gave definite instructions about the future operation of the Kanya Kumari Sthan. He continued to make annual journeys, visiting his satellite ashrams at places like Nagpur. In December 1940, he went to Varanasi for the last time. Many Parsi devotees accompanied him. His strong association with Varanasi (Kashi) had lasted for twenty years. Now he performed several rites on behalf of both his Zoroastrian and Hindu devotees. This was apparently an unprecedented occurrence.

In January 1941, the Sankranti festival at Sakori attracted many visitors. Godavari Mataji and the kanyas performed surya yajna in the Yajna Mandap for a fortnight. Upasani participated (to what extent is not clear). This was his last yajna with the kanyas. He made an innovation; while engaged in the yajna, he wore female attire. A commentator says that this unusual costume was intended “to symbolise the state of Adimaya, Adishakti” (SSS:78). A photograph was taken of Upasani and the kanyas on this occasion, while he was wearing the female attire. This unique accompaniment to yajna can also be interpreted as a gesture against male dominance in the rituals.

In February 1941, Upasani made his last visit to Surat. When departing for Sakori, just before getting into the waiting car, he “stood for several minutes glancing at his devotees and tears gushed down his cheeks” (SSS:79).

At this period, he made frequent visits to Satana, where a temple was being constructed on the site of his boyhood home. On one of these occasions, Upasani visited his loyal devotee (and schoolboy friend) Tatya Mulay (father of Bhima, the Sakori nun). Tatya was now bedridden. He had taken sannyasa some years before. On 7 October 1941, Upasani sat with this invalid for two hours. Tatya died a week later (SSS:80).

On 24 November 1941, Upasani visited Hyderabad as the guest of a wealthy devotee, namely Raja Narsing. He was accompanied by Godavari and other kanyas. Just before starting off, he apparently said: “I shall wind up everything within a month” (SSS:81). He stayed at Hyderabad for two weeks, departing on 9 December.

On the return journey, he visited Poona for a week, staying with Namdevrao Uplap, an old devotee who had for long been requesting mantropadesha. Upasani could be very offputting in such matters, perhaps reminiscent of Sai Baba. Now he relented. One evening when Namdev came to light a lamp, Upasani recited a mantra, making him repeat this twelve times. The devotee then grasped that this communication answered his former request. The mantra emphasised that, via renunciation, jnana was a staircase leading to liberation or Advaita experience.

During his stay at Poona, Upasani was persuaded by his devotee Krishna Bhatji to visit the celebrated tomb of Jnaneshwar at Alandi, a town in Poona district. Jnaneshwar was a thirteenth century Varkari sant of bhakta associations. The tomb was famous, gaining large numbers of annual pilgrims, many of them Varkaris. Upasani remained prostrate at this shrine for about half an hour.

Returning to Poona, he exhibited “a strange mood for a couple of hours.” He did not permit anyone to take his darshan. Instead he substituted a coconut for his own person, telling visitors to take the darshan of that object. Similar substitutes had occurred in past situations of this type. Upasani never tired of emphasising that formal worship has acute limitations. He also muttered on this occasion: “I am tired of it; I shall close it up very shortly.”

Narayan Maharaj visited Poona at this juncture. Krishna Bhatji relayed the news to Upasani, asking permission to arrange a meeting between the two saints. Upasani declined, saying: “He is too great and I am too small. Simply convey my prostrations to him.” Bhatji found that Narayan had returned to his ashram at Kedgaon. Bhatji pursued him and conveyed the message. Narayan responded: “Tell him that his prostrations have been accepted.” (383)

Upasani returned to Sakori on 19 December. Here he gave darshan for two days, while complaining of a pain in his chest. Three days later, he departed for his birthplace Satana. Here a Hanuman temple had recently been constructed over his ancestral home. The site included a new underground temple of Kotilingeshwara. Upon request, he installed twelve jyotirlingas in this Shiva temple, to facilitate worship. He made a cryptic remark that the sun was setting.

The plan was to stay at Satana until the end of the month. However, after a restless night, Upasani quickly arrived back at Sakori, plainly exhausted. The date was 23 December. He went directly to his hut, meaning the third hut. His chosen abode remained a simple ascetic hut, however much detractors preferred the idea of a castle complete with harem. The “castle” was a misrepresentation of the women’s quarters at Sakori.

In the early morning hours of the next day, 24 December 1941, Upasani complained of a severe pain in his heart. His devotees resorted to household remedies; a mustard plaster was applied to his chest. Upasani now rested upon a couch, assuring his attendants that he would be free from pain in a few minutes. Godavari Mataji and others did not wish to disturb him, leaving him alone for two or three hours. He did not move once, not even to change sides.

His attendants began to feel uneasy. They called for other ashram residents. A doctor was then summoned. After another hour, Dr. Mehta arrived from Kopargaon; he declared that Upasani had been dead for hours. The decease was so unexpected that the ashram residents were shocked at this development. Upasani was seventy-one years old. A report, published soon after, informs that news of his death “came as a shock to his great following all over India” (Dadachanji 1942:181).

Decease of Upasani Maharaj, December 1941. Courtesy Meher Nazar

The decease “occurred in the premises of the new jhopri” (Natu 1994:19), meaning the third hut constructed in the 1930s. Cf. Goldney 1957:12, correctly informing that Upasani died in a wooden hut (sometimes confused with the second hut built over twenty years before). The following day, the corpse was laid on a silk carpet and taken in procession to the Datta temple and then to the pinjra hall. All the devotees present poured a little water on the feet of the corpse as abhisheka. Cremation did not apply in the instance of a holy man. The corpse was buried near the pinjra (cage), being lowered into a pit. Each devotee then contributed a handful of earth. A tomb (samadhi) was afterwards erected on this spot. The pinjra was preserved as a relic, including a statue.  Only the kanyas were permitted to go inside the tomb enclosure, to perform puja. (384)  

The third hut continued to be known as vela khalichi zopadi (“hut under the creeper”), so named after a rare mango creeper that was trained to grow over the pandal protecting the hut. Here were preserved the sandals and gunny cloth of Upasani, and also the chair on which he occasionally sat in his last years (SSS:13-14).

Senior devotees had earlier drafted the will of Upasani, which he had signed. This document appointed five female trustees of the Kanya Kumari Sthan, with Godavari Mataji as the leader. The procedure here was democratic. Upasani had asked each kanya as to which person they wanted to succeed him. The nuns unanimously voted in favour of Godavari, now regarded as the spiritual successor of Upasani.

The continuation of Sakori ashram is memorable for the community of nuns, led by Godavari Mataji for a period of fifty subsequent years. All assets of the ashram effectively became the property of the nuns. Upasani had capably provided for their future.

Upasani and a kanya, 1930s

The nuns came from different castes, and from varied geographical regions. At one period there were 150 kanyas (or brahmacharinis), although many of these were novices. A total of fifty-eight nuns received the formal initiation reserved for their graduation, involving a lifetime vow of strict celibacy. Of these committed women, twenty-three were inducted by Upasani and thirty-five were subsequently initiated by Godavari Mataji. (385) The number of 23 is close to, but not identical with, the 25 mentioned by 1950s Narasimhaswami (whose version of events is seriously flawed). The last of these early “marriage” nuns was Lilavati, who became a kanya in 1940 at the age of fourteen.

Upasani trained his nuns to employ Sanskrit in daily life. This consideration amounted to the revival of a classical language. He ensured that the kanyas were able to perform all the basic Hindu rites, including those for name-giving, marriage, funerals, and even upanayana (sacred thread initiation).

The Sakori nuns made expeditions upon invitation. They became well known at major cities and religious sites throughout India, including Poona and Varanasi (Kashi). In 1939, they performed a yajna at Surat, in Gujarat. Five years later, they performed another yajna at Satana, the birthplace of Upasani. In 1949, they conducted a yajna at Varanasi. In 1954, they stayed at Hyderabad for the same purpose, and likewise at Surat (CIC:56). That same year, they visited the ashram of Narayan Maharaj at Kedgaon, performing a yajna in honour of this well known Dattatreya guru (who had died a decade earlier, his tomb being at Bangalore). In 1955, the Sakori kanyas performed a yajna at Bombay. In 1960, the focus was Jabalpur. In 1961, they were similarly active at Mahabaleshwar. The schedule continued thereafter.

While these very committed nuns were being celebrated as Sanskrit speakers and ritual officiants in various regions of India, Narasimhaswami was demeaningly referring to them (in his 1950s Life of Sai Baba) as a harem. His perpetuation and variant of the Divekar Shastri libel has caused indignation and wonder. The critic was completely out of touch with events at Sakori and many places elsewhere. His partiality for miracles did not resolve or clarify basic occurrences.

After the death of Upasani, Swami Ramdas (1884-1963) was one of the visitors to Sakori ashram. His report, published in 1953, amounted to a recommendation:

Shri Sati Godavari Mata and the kanyas of the Sthan simply flooded us with their pure and glorious love. The kanyas are not only gifted with rare devotional qualities, but they also reveal perfect purity and faith in all their behaviour and daily routine of Bhajan, Puja, Yajna and various other acts of service…. It is evident how persons who come in contact with a saint get transformed into beings of spiritual beauty, radiance, love and joy.” (386)

When Godavari died in 1990, the new leader was Devitai, a senior nun who had long been an inmate of the Kanya Kumari Sthan. In 1992, there were forty-eight kanyas at Sakori.

The kanyas would rise at 5 a.m., observing silence until 9 a.m. These nuns afterwards performed daily work such as sweeping and cleaning. They were vegetarians (like Upasani), preparing their own food. They maintained a small farm with many cows, a project supplying them with dairy produce. The nuns distributed free homeopathic medicines to the public, and sometimes fed the poor. They were averse to wearing perfumes and jewellery (Manjul 1992).

It is now generally understood that Upasani Maharaj, via the Kanya Kumari Sthan, contributed a project of religious and social significance. The caricature provided by critics may serve to illustrate the extent of insular biases erroneously promoted as facts.

106.  Testimonies

Upasani at Sakori, 1930s

In the 1960s, Dr. Shantaram Tipnis garnered “about 100 statements” from devotees with different social backgrounds (CIC:151). He included over forty of these in his book. There were also significant testimonies from non-devotees, including religious figures. A number of testimonies (both devotee and non-devotee) are from persons in the legal profession. This material assists to outline the nature of events at Sakori ashram during and after the lifetime of Upasani.

An important supporter of Upasani was Ganesh Khaparde (1854-1938), the politician and lawyer of Amraoti whose association with the Sakori ascetic lasted for many years. Tipnis does not class Khaparde as a devotee, but as an admirer. During the 1930s, Khaparde remarked (in a published report) that the discipline maintained at Sakori ashram “would do credit to a rigid military establishment, and I was very agreeably surprised” (CIC:156). Other reports likewise mention a strict discipline, contrasting with the libellous statements of Divekar Shastri. Khaparde also informs:

Upasani Baba himself supervises everything personally. He lives like a hermit in sack cloth and eats very sparingly, and might in this respect be compared to one of the ancient Rishis, and often reminds me of the description of Valmiki and his ashram. I am personally very favourably impressed and do not quite understand why a section of the Press in Maharashtra has been publishing matters derogatory to the Maharaj and throwing mud on him in a general way, against which my personal experience rebels. (CIC:156-157)

Naosherwan G. Bharucha, a Parsi, was a Government Commissioner in Madhya Pradesh.  He first visited Sakori ashram in 1933, and settled there in 1940. This devotee reports of Upasani:

I found that his personality was unique and his ashram equally so. To describe his personality would be nothing short of impudence on the part of anybody. He was an embodiment of cosmic consciousness. Wheresoever he went, people were automatically drawn to him with love and respect. His asceticism was manifest enough to reveal that he was in harmony with himself and the universe and the creator. A deep aura of peace emanated from him [Upasani Baba] and drew us imperceptibly towards him…. He transcended sex. His eyes were drawn inwards. Sakuri became sacred by his presence. (CIC:136-137)

Long-term supporters are difficult to ignore. A person in this category was Dr. C. M. Mehta. His role was that of a medic and Kopargaon magistrate (Tipnis refers to him as “Hon. Magistrate”). Mehta first encountered Upasani in 1920, thereafter remaining closely associated with Sakori ashram for decades. Mehta was in a good position to pronounce upon the allegations arising during the mid-1930s.

I was closely associated with [Upasani] Baba as his family doctor. Some people made false allegations against him. After long association with Baba, I state that the charges were made out of malice. Kanya Kumari Sthan is a sacred place. Such institutions are highly essential for women who want to lead a monastic life. (CIC:138)

Three persons of legal status, who made allegations during the law court phase, afterwards retracted these accusations. Now, instead they expressed tributes to Upasani. Tipnis does not supply their names, possibly because they had become very unpopular, and were sensitive to being identified by devotees. One of these men, a pleader from Kopargaon, first heard about the ascetic in 1928; he was subsequently influenced by adverse rumours. After filing an unsuccessful lawsuit, he changed his mind about Sakori ashram. At a later period, he stated:

I have visited the [Sakori] ashram several times. I now find the atmosphere pleasing. I hold a high opinion about the [kanya] recitation of Vedas. Kanyas recite the hymns with correct precision. (CIC:158)

The transition from opposition to acceptance is more pronounced in the report of another Kopargaon pleader. This man first heard of Upasani Baba in 1916, visiting Sakori for the first time in 1922. He made subsequent visits, while developing a resistant attitude. He pressed a lawsuit against Upasani, but failed. The point of transition appears to have occurred when he read the will of Upasani after the ascetic’s death. That document created a new respect, causing him to become an admirer:

My old prejudices and misconceptions have been wiped out, and I now feel regard for him and his work. That he was very learned is beyond doubt…. I have witnessed the Yajnas, conducted by the Kanyas…. I was very surprised to see their advancement in the performance of Yajnas. One finds peace in the Sakuri ashram. It awakens bhakti in the mind. Maharaj founded the ashram to lead people to a righteous way of living. Thereby, he has done a great work of religious awakening. He has done a great social service…. Maharaj never spent a single pie for his relatives. He spent the money for the good of the society. He was a tyagi (renunciate). He spent his life for the elevation of the masses. (CIC:160)

Another man is described as a Kopargaon advocate “who pleaded a case against Upasani Baba.” The critic subsequently became a supporter, and left a glowing testimony, far removed from the attitude of Divekar Shastri:

The former cremation ground of Sakuri has been turned into a holy place by the divine presence of Upasani Baba. One feels the presence of God there…. As he has attained the highest state of spirituality, his ashram will always continue to be a source of inspiration. Upasani Baba was an incarnation of God. (CIC:158-159)

The same advocate also reports that Upasani “appeared disagreeable at times.” However, he (the advocate) had come to understand this mood (CIC:159). The unpredictable temperament of Upasani became well known. The ascetic could appear very annoyed with visitors, especially when they did something that did not meet with his approval.

Many of the testimonies emphasise the distinctive attributes of Sakori ashram, featuring the kanyas and their activities. The extensive rota of religious observances and programmes is praised as an asset to focus upon the spiritual life. The level of discipline was evidently advanced. The high standard of cleanliness at this ashram is mentioned in some reports. One should not ignore the testimony of Justice J. R. Mudholkar, a Judge in the Supreme Court of India. This eminent jurist and his wife visited the ashram on a number of occasions after the death of Upasani. Mudholkar says:

I think I would not be wrong in saying that the Sakuri ashram is a unique institution. It is run by women and for women. Moreover, it is probably the only institution where the members are taught not only to read Sanskrit books, including our scriptures, but also to speak in Sanskrit. Further, I think nowhere else in the country, Vedic and religious rites are performed by women without the assistance of professional priests. The devotion with which all the kanyas carry on, not only their sadhana, but duties connected with the running of the ashram, made a deep impression both on my wife and myself. (CIC:155)

Reference is here made to the ashram being run by women. This is not completely true, because B. T. Wagh was still the manager. Nevertheless, the nuns had evidently gained ground as visible assistants of the management. Wagh worked in a secretarial capacity, not a manual one. In contrast, the nuns accomplished much practical work.
Some of the testifiers were early devotees, including Rai Prithvi Raj, described as a Retired Director of Agriculture, active in Hyderabad (Andhra).  He apparently made his testimony in 1959, by which time he had been a devotee for thirty-six years.

It was in August 1923 that I first visited Sakuri. My stay at this time was for about a month, when I had the opportunity of participating in the daily programme of the ashram. These programmes were so much crowded and appealing to [the] heart that those who were there did not think even of their meals, they felt so much absorbed that all the worries were totally forgotten. I felt as if I was in an entirely different world, a world of peace and wisdom…. Since then I am a regular visitor to Sakuri and often stayed there for months. I [now] visit the place at least twice a year. The day was most eventful when I had the darshan of Upasani Baba for the first time in my life. It is absolutely impossible to describe in clear terms and with full force the impression one has about a saint like Upasani Baba…. The way of life he wanted his disciples to lead is one that would change this world of miseries and sorrows to a world of real bliss and perfection. (CIC:135-136)

Dr. G. G. Sahasrabuddhe lived at Ahmednagar. He first visited Upasani in 1932. He informs: “Upasani Baba had a very impressive personality. He had penetrating and lustrous eyes, and had a serene countenance. He made efforts all his life for the revival of the ancient Vedic religion” (CIC:141).

M. D. Bharucha was a Parsi engineer at Nasik who visited Sakori for the first time in 1935. He reflects:

I was greatly impressed. Since then I started visiting Sakuri many times. Upasani Baba was a personality of the highest spiritual status…. He had an awe inspiring and magnetic personality. His spiritual teachings were of a high order, making people tread the path of truth… his advice to the generality of believers was to stick to their [own] religion. The institution of Kanya Kumari Sthan is unique by itself, in that the inmates there practice the three aspects of Good thoughts, words and deeds, and all the time Kanyas are occupied in performing Arati, Puja, Bhajan, Namasmarana etc. (CIC:140-141)

Bharucha here employs a Zoroastrian tenet (good thoughts, words, deeds) to describe kanya activity. This seems fitting enough, because (like Sai Baba) Upasani did not emphasise divisions between religions. He did not convert Zoroastrians to Hinduism. Indeed, his amicable relationship with numerous Parsis and Iranis is proof of his liberal attitude.

D. G. Thole had a link with Jainism. He was a trustee of the Digambar Jain Siddha Kshetra at Nasik. He relayed:

I had the good fortune of having the darshan of Upasani Baba in the year 1930. Since then, I am regularly going to the ashram….  Upasani Baba was a unique personality. He was a great saint.  By going to the [Sakori] ashram I get peace of mind. The atmosphere is very pure, and sacred. Religious activities go on ceaselessly…. By going to the ashram my mind turned to Bhakti Marga, and has increased its tendency to do righteous acts. I had the good and rare fortune of listening to the talks of Upasani Baba.  His talks impressed me very much. That created reverence for him, his scholarship, and spiritual wisdom. (CIC:143)

An academic assessor was Dr. C. D. Deshmukh, a professor of philosophy at Morris College, Nagpur. Deshmukh, a devotee of Meher Baba, also greatly respected Upasani (chapter 104). He has the distinction of writing an early article on the Sakori ascetic, which first appeared in The Meher Baba Journal. Deshmukh reports: “I have seen personally Upasani Baba several times, and visited Sakuri also. I am deeply impressed by the divinity of Upasani Baba. He was spiritually perfect, and had a stately, divine, and awe inspiring personality” (CIC:158).

Another devotee of Meher Baba was the Parsi amanuensis Feramroz H. Dadachanji (d.1943). This liberal Zoroastrian penned a commemoration of Upasani soon after the latter’s decease. The memorial included a statement that, despite “the adverse criticisms and wild rumours, ignorantly spread by [a] misinformed public [in the early 1930s], his life was utterly selfless, pure, and saintly” (Dadachanji 1942:183).

Swami Shivananda Saraswati (1887-1963) left a favourable report published in 1955. Shivananda was famous by that time as an exponent of Vedanta and Yoga. He is strongly linked with Rishikesh. This commentator depicted Sakori ashram as being on a par with the very famous ashrams of Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi. He relays:

Upasani Maharaj founded an ashram for the good of the world, where all the methods of Realisation are taught – concentration, purification, abstraction of indriyas [sense organs], selfless service, upasana [ritual], and knowledge of Vedas, all these are taught in the Sakuri ashram. Upasani Maharaj transmitted his power to all Kanya Kumaris. His ashram is running well…. Some wise men with their eyes turned inwards, concentrate on their own internal Self with an undistracted mind. Such people can be produced only in Sakuri ashram, Aurobindo ashram, or Raman [Ramana Maharshi] ashram…. [Godavari] Mataji is an asset to Bharatvarsha. She has set an example for all the women of India to follow. (387)


107.  Godavari Mataji (1914-1990)

Godavari Mataji

Godavari Vasudev Hatavalikar was born to brahman parents in December 1914, at Shegaon (Buldana district, West Berar). Her grandfather Bhaskar Rao was a devotee of the local saint Gajanan Maharaj (d.1910). When she was five, her parents moved to Nagpur, where they frequently visited two famous Muslim saints, namely Tajuddin Baba and Sai Maula. When Godavari offered a coconut to Sai Maula, the saint garlanded her in return. He predicted that her marriage would occur early, while emphasising that she was not destined for family life. She would instead encounter a saint and become a Yogini (SSS:44-46).

She was only nine years old when she visited Sakori ashram with her parents. This was in February 1924, shortly after Upasani had emerged from his confinement in the bamboo cage. There are different versions of his early contact with Godavari.

At a morning darshan, the girl walked up to Upasani while he sat outside the cage. She sat on his lap. Bapusaheb Jog had just finished the puja ceremony and garlanded him. Upasani removed the garland from his neck, and in an unexpected gesture, placed it around the neck of Godavari.

Godavari thereafter visited Sakori with her mother. Upasani reputedly took a special interest in her. One version of a key event reports Upasani as saying to her: “Keep in mind all that you are seeing here. At present Durgabai looks after the ashram and the visitors; later you will have to do this” (Natu 1994:24). Compare the wording: “Keep in mind all that you see here. You have to look after all this. This is all yours” (CIC:28).

The strong implication is that Godavari would become leader of the ashram. Her response is not on record. Durgabai Karmakar eventually became jealous of the newcomer, thereafter causing frictions. Durgabai had served Upasani for many years; she was the unofficial manager at the expanding Sakori ashram. She is associated with a reactionary group (or clique) causing various problems at the ashram, including the dramatic episode in which Upasani ingested the poison prepared for him by resentful persons.

Meanwhile, Godavari’s father Vasudev wanted her to become a child bride. This was a common fate of Hindu girls at that period. Bullying husbands in arranged marriages were dreaded. However, Godavari was fortunate. Upasani apparently endorsed the marriage, which occurred in his presence at Sakori in 1925. The husband was a young man named Vishnupant Chandorkar. He was a diligent student, living at Bombay. He did not live with his young wife even for a day.

When Vishnupant quickly departed, Godavari chose to stay at Sakori, not wishing to go anywhere else. She did not want the marriage imposed upon her. In 1928, Vishnupant visited Upasani at Nasik, where the ascetic was taking medical treatment as a consequence of poison prepared by hostile ashram brahmans. The young husband experienced “a sudden fit of renunciation,” deciding to relinquish his wife by dedicating her to Upasani (GLS:15; CIC:28). Vishnupant did not adopt the lifestyle of a world renouncer; he remained a householder.

Upasani was averse to Vishnupant dedicating Godavari to him. He told the visitor to dedicate the girl to Shiva, in the guise of Trimbakeshwar. This deity was celebrated at a famous shrine in the village of Trimbak, about twenty miles from Nasik. Vishnupant complied with the request.

Vishnupant is said to have “renounced the world” (LM:111). This misleading belief is not verified by a report (associated with Raghunath Karmakar) informing that Upasani (eventually) had to pay Vishnupant thousands of rupees to allow his legal wife to remain at Sakori (Lord Meher online:1644, accessed 10/02/2020). The commentaries are fragmentary and confusing on such matters. The basic truth is that Godavari did not want the arranged marriage to Vishnupant. The young husband may have been influenced by the orthodox opposition to Upasani during the early 1930s. The stigmatising campaign, mounted against Upasani, ended in defeat of his opponents at the Ahmednagar High Court in 1935.

In July 1928, Upasani initiated Godavari as his chela on the day of Gurupurnima. The setting for this event was the pinjra or cage at Sakori ashram, where he told the girl to sit beside him on the gadi inside the cage. Upasani spoke briefly of her future role of prominence, also disclosing that she had been a saint in her previous incarnation. He then worshipped Godavari as the Divine Mother. He also instructed the assembled devotees to perform an arati in her honour. Furthermore, Upasani told those present not to bow to him, but to Godavari, whom he described as an embodiment of the supreme Shakti (Sahukar 1966:17). Upasani had always been averse to worship of his own person. One version of his emphasis reads: “Do not bow to me, worship her [Godavari], for she is the supreme Shakti and her very darshan will wash away the sins and impurities of men and women” (Sahukar 1983:84).

Some orthodox male devotees were averse to the act of bowing in homage to Godavari, still only fourteen years old. This reluctance appears to have been a strong component of the resentment emerging at Sakori. Godavari was shy and retiring, not assertive; she was the very opposite of dogmatic and overbearing conservatives.

Godavari Mataji and Upasani, 1930s

Godavari gained the title of Mataji. From 1928 onwards, Upasani increasingly deferred to this woman. She became leader of the growing number of nuns. In various ways, Upasani encouraged her leadership of the ashram as a whole. When he died, she was recognised as his successor (however, she did not replace the ashram management).

Godavari was disciplined, though more moderate than her tutor, whose asceticism was daunting. Upasani was one of the old school renunciates, making no concessions whatever to modernism. In contrast, Godavari Mataji was prepared to make adaptations in the conception of a renouncer (tyagi).

Though nurtured in almost monastic traditions of ascetic living, Mataji has had the courage and the vision to reject all formal manifestations of austerities. She has ushered in an era of gracious living, where ‘tyag,’ according to her, is to be practiced to control one’s inner life, thoughts and desires. To look well-groomed and attractive, and to live with beauty, without getting attached in moha [delusion], is Godavari Mataji’s way of life. (388)

Upasani did not prevent her early tendencies in such respects. However, he did predict, as if in lament: “This Mother [Mataji] will sweep away all my old-fashioned and orthodox restrictions with her indulgence.” (389) While Narasimhaswami and others imagined that Upasani was a polygamous sensualist in his formation of a kanya community, the truth is that his exacting ascetic regime was much in evidence at Sakori during the 1930s. His “passion for austerities led him to impose fantastic restraints on his disciples, particularly on the Kanyas.(390)

Dattatreya image in the likeness of Godavari Mataji

The Dattatreya temple (mandir) at Sakori eventually gained a very unusual feature (391). The edifice initially housed an image of Hanuman, as distinct from Dattatreya (Datta). Upasani delayed the anticipated Dattatreya image until the Kanya Kumari Sthan was established at the ashram. During the late 1930s, on an occasion when Godavari Mataji was watering plants, Upasani requested her to pose for a special photograph. At that time, Upasani commissioned a famous sculptor from Jaipur to create an image named Shri Ek Mukhi Dattatreya. Upasani told the sculptor to carve the new idol in the exact likeness of the photograph. As a consequence, the Dattatreya idol had the face and figure of Godavari.

The departure from Dattatreya iconographic tradition was pronounced. The idol resembling Godavari wore the sackcloth garment of Upasani. Sai Baba was also incorporated in this innovation. At Sakori, Sai was revered as an incarnation of Vishnu. In this spirit, the new Shri Ek Mukhi Datta had four hands holding the Vaishnava symbols of shell (shankha), lotus (padma), disc (chakra), and weapon (gada). Thus, the new Dattatreya image was a composite of Sai Baba, Upasani Baba, and Godavari Mataji. The unique image was not installed in the temple until January 1943, after the death of Upasani.

From that year onwards, the birthdays of Godavari and Dattatreya (Datta Jayanti) were celebrated on the same day, apparently at the wish of Upasani. The incorporation of Sai Baba in the innovative Dattatreya worship was generally ignored elsewhere (by Narasimhaswami and other writers). Nevertheless, the unprecedented depiction may be regarded as significant in the annals of religious iconography.

The standard Dattatreya image has three faces. In contrast, the Datta image of Sakori ashram had only one face, that of Godavari Mataji. Upasani Maharaj thus achieved the sculptural apotheosis of Godavari in a distinctive presentation of Datta worship.

The timing of this development is not without interest. If Upasani had inaugurated such an image ten years earlier, the conservative reaction would have been razor-edged. His master stroke, coinciding with his death, postdated the orthodox approval of the Kanya Kumari Sthan expressed by the Shankaracharya in 1939. The Sthan was thereby legitimated.

The kanya community at Sakori gained new members before and after the death of Upasani. At his decease, there were twenty-three kanyas at Sakori. Mani Sahukar eventually reported that about 35 to 40 nuns were living under the guidance of Godavari Mataji. A 1960s report says “the number of Kanyas is about forty” (CIC:45). This community did replenish over the decades. The nuns were occasionally invited to recite the Vedas and perform yajnas at religious festivals in various locations. Eventually, the graduate nuns wore yellow saris, while the novices dressed in white (during the 1930s, another colour was preferred). The kanya initiation became a salient event.

A description of Sakori ashram was provided by two Westerners who visited in 1954:

The place was [formerly] scrub and a cremation ground; but it now contains extensive buildings where men and women live and work who have devoted their lives to Maharaj’s work. There is a dairy with a fine herd of cattle. All the ashram have to work; the pony and donkey draw the water. The head of the ashram is Godavri, a small, sweet, serious, but sometimes smiling woman. (392)

The ashram compound featured a large banyan tree under which Upasani had often sat for many years. A new temple of Kanya Kumari was built in 1956 (CIC:30), becoming strongly associated with the nuns. In 1957, another Western visitor appeared, namely Lieut. Colonel Francis Goldney, who had served the British army in India during the 1920s. He describes Sakori as a small village of less than a hundred people, a very low count contradicted by the description supplied elsewhere of “about 300 houses” (CIC:36). Goldney, who made only a brief visit, was apparently confusing ashram residents with the villagers. More reliable is his report that, some years after the death of Upasani, wealthy devotees had new buildings and extensions constructed at the ashram. “The architecture and decoration of all the buildings is on a high level of artistry” (Goldney 1957:12). The original milieu was far more rudimentary.

Upasani wanted the kanyas to be able to read the Vedas in the original Sanskrit (CIC:59). As a consequence of his emphasis, a school of Sanskrit was established at Sakori ashram in 1944. The kanyas initially performed yajna rituals in accordance with the Yajur Veda. Subsequently, they acquired close knowledge of the Rig Veda and Sama Veda. During the 1960s, they were “well versed in the recitation of the three Vedas” (CIC:55).

Dr. Tipnis refers to a 1960s situation of about fifteen nuns accomplishing serious academic study of Sanskrit, training under a pundit. They had graduated in the programme of the Tilak Vidya Pith at Poona, and also the Sanskrit Vidya Pith at Paradi (Surat district). “They have so far completed their studies of the Upanishads, Shat Darshanas, and the various other works on Vedanta, including Panchadashi, and other Bhasyas” (CIC:59-60). As a consequence, these nuns could easily converse in Sanskrit, while a few of them could deliver discourses in that language on the Vedanta (CIC:60). This development occurred while Sanskrit studies were lapsing in some regions of India, many male brahmans having adopted secular vocations.

In his discourses of the early 1920s, Upasani defers to a conventional belief: “It is not desirable to try to understand and interpret the meaning of the Vedas…. Real benefit is derived from the Vedas only if they are learnt by heart” (CIC:104). Nineteenth century European scholarship was at loggerheads with this belief. The quest for meaning continues in India, where many women have entered the field of Sanskrit study during recent decades. The 1930s innovation of Upasani appears to have been thoroughly justified.

Mrs. Zabwalla (apparently a Parsi) was Treasurer of the All India Women’s Conference at Bombay. She was an admirer of Godavari and visited Sakori ashram. Her testimony was relayed by Dr. Tipnis:

The Sakuri ashram is typically clean, in the spirit of the village, with the facilities very carefully arranged. It is a different world in which the inmates live…. No time a woman inspired me with such untold admiration and respect, as the Mother (Godavari) did. To me she unfolded perfection in a woman, an ideal to cling to. To find face to face an ideal which is cherished for long years, of perfection, of love, of discipline, of purity, of serenity, of humility, was a great experience, which was felt once before while meeting the revered Gurudev Shri Ramana Maharshi. (CIC:161-162)

V. V. Vadolia of Gujarat visited Sakori in 1956, thereafter visiting every year. He relates: “I have toured through different parts of India, and visited different religious places. But, I have never come across such a spiritual, well-organised, and disciplined institution” (CIC:148). This is a reference to the Kanya Kumari Sthan.

The daily routine of kanyas in the 1960s has been detailed. After early morning activities, they would perform bhajan at nine a.m. One of the nuns afterwards gave a reading from the published discourses of Upasani. Until noon, Godavari Mataji would then give darshan to devotees and visitors who arrived. A feature of evening worship was known as dindi, meaning a procession of devotees singing bhajan. This event lasted until about ten p.m., when the procession returned to the Datta temple. Then occurred further readings from scriptures and the discourses of Upasani.

The diligent nuns performed the arati ceremony four times a day, their hymns praising Upasani and Godavari. They occasionally performed Vedic rituals at the Yajna Mandir, a temple in the ashram compound. The interior of this temple was visible to spectators through a grid. Here a fire pit was the focus for oblations of ghee (butter) to Agni, the climax being a processional walk around the ashram. (393) A symptom of orthodox imposition was that mantras used by the nuns followed a convention reserved for the shudra caste. “The yajnas, conducted by the Kanyas, are Puranokta and not Vedokta.” (394)

A visiting American academic wrote circa 1970:

Along with guidance in their private sadhanas [spiritual disciplines], the kanyas are taught [by Mataji] to recite the Hindu scriptures in their original Sanskrit. When this is done in unison by a number of the kanyas, with appropriate gestures, it is most impressive. Nowhere else in all India did I witness such a service. (Harper 1972:190)

Dr. Tipnis, a follower of Godavari, records that amongst the periodic observances, “several vratas, anusthanas, and satkarmas (395) are performed at Sakuri; these are done very methodically and with a heart, and not perfunctorily and in a hurry as so often noticed elsewhere; everything is done in the spirit of devotion.” (396)

The same commentator informs that, during the 1960s, an ongoing high caste controversy debated whether women were entitled to sannyasa. Decades earlier, Upasani was not prepared to wait for the argument of pundits and sannyasins to be resolved. He “asserted his views that they [women] have a right to sannyas, and he initiated his mother [Rukmini] himself” (CIC:195). This episode occurred in 1939.

The contrasting temperaments of Upasani and Godavari have occasioned comment. The ascetic male could be engaging, profound, and humorous. He was also unpredictable, and potentially explosive in some moods. Whereas the celibate nun was invariably benign and consistently mild in expression.

In contrast to the other saints whom we met personally, she [Godavari] appears somewhat shy and retiring. Yet there is a certain dignity and poise that indicate inner strength and confidence. As she talked with us, through an interpreter, there was that ‘sweetness and light’ which has been attributed to her by others.... She does not go into trances, nor does she conduct herself with any eccentricities of speech or manner. She does not advocate withdrawal from the world. Life, she teaches, should be joyous and meaningful. Action and service in the world are the normal expressions of one’s spirituality. (397)

Godavari Mataji eventually visited Europe to conduct programmes of Vedic recitation and the chanting of Sanskrit hymns. She encountered thousands of interested people at cities like Paris, Antwerp, and London. The Archbishop of Canterbury was one of those who responded favourably. These details are now well known.

108.  Sakori  Ashram  and  Meher  Baba, 1952-1954

Godavari Mataji proved that she represented concord, not discord. She negotiated high caste resistance at Sakori to Meher Baba, emerging with a strong liberal policy. In this respect, analysis of some 1950s events is relevant. We have an extant commentary of Meher Baba concerning Godavari. We do not have her version of the Irani. Nevertheless, she emerges as a sympathiser when Meher Baba made five documented visits to Sakori in the 1950s. The details require due consideration, attesting a high degree of mutual respect. These two entities transcended the insular religious divisions so often occurring.

Sakori ashram depicted Godavari Mataji as the sole disciple and successor of Upasani Maharaj. Meher Baba was for long ignored in the context of discipleship; he was marginalised at Sakori as an outsider. This situation was maintained despite the secret meeting of Upasani with Meher Baba at the Dahigaon hut in 1941. Neither of these entities broadcast details of the meeting, which Upasani had requested.

Twenty years before that meeting, Meher Baba arranged for the publication of biographies about Upasani that are now of primary importance. Much detail would have been lost without such a complement.

A substantial difference existed between Sakori ashram and the two ashrams of Meher Baba to the south (namely Meherabad and Meherazad). Sakori was an outpost of Hinduism, whereas the ashrams of the Irani mystic were neutral to any specific religious orientation. Meher Baba did not patronise any form of ritualism, including the Zoroastrian variety. In this respect, his ambience contrasts with the Hindu rites preserved by the Sakori kanyas. However, he proved very conciliatory on this point in his communications with Godavari Mataji during the 1950s.

In November 1952, the silent Meher Baba made a very brief visit to Sakori ashram for the first time in thirty years. This was at the express invitation of Godavari Mataji. He and his party were given a warm welcome at the ashram gate by Godavari and others. Godavari started to touch his feet in the manner of darshan; however, the guest prevented this (he was not giving any darshan at that period). Arati was performed before the guest, who was conducted on a tour of the ashram. Meher Baba bowed his head to every site he visited, including the tomb of Upasani.

In February 1953, Meher Baba called his long term contact Yeshwantrao Borawke from Sakori, giving him a special message for Godavari Mataji. Meher Baba invited the kanya leader to meet him on 14 February at the Khushru Quarters in Ahmednagar. This was the home of Gulmai Irani (and her son Adi K. Irani). A small darshan had been arranged there. Godavari agreed to be a participant. She arrived with Yeshwantrao and two kanyas. There was already an association between Godavari and Gulmai, the latter having visited the kanya leader for a few days in 1947 or 1948 (and possibly on other occasions). (398)

On 20 March, 1954, a more decisive event occurred. Meher Baba then returned to Sakori ashram at the invitation of Yeshwantrao Borawke, who had built a new residence in Sakori. Godavari Mataji was in full support of this event. Yeshwantrao wished the Irani guest to preside at his housewarming ceremony. Two buses conveyed many of Baba’s mandali to Sakori, along with a few devotees from Ahmednagar and Poona. This event is substantially documented in the Meher Baba literature.

Godavari and Jiji (a senior trustee) had prevailed upon the ashram manager B. T. Wagh, also other prominent devotees of Upasani, to welcome the visitor. At 8.45 a.m., Meher Baba arrived in a motor car owned and driven by Sarosh Irani, his devotee who had become the Mayor of Ahmednagar in 1952. The same car transported three Parsi disciples (including Eruch Jessawala, the interpreter). When Baba was garlanded, he permitted the application of a Hindu sacred mark (tilaka or tika) to his forehead (although he was not a Hindu). The tika is the red dot applied during puja; this decoration is believed to represent a “third eye.”

The visiting car was taken in procession, to the accompaniment of a village band, fireworks, and kirtan singing. The car stopped at an ashram temple, where the chief priest of the ashram garlanded the guest.  This priest was Vasant Deshmukh, the brother of Chhagan (one of Meher Baba’s Hindu mandali).

The destination was an elaborately decorated tent (pandal) outside the home of Yeshwantrao. Alighting from the car, Meher Baba was soon garlanded by Godavari, who “bowed down to Baba without hesitation, the way she used to pay homage to Maharaj” (Natu 1994:20). The kanyas performed his arati. Taking his seat in the tent, Baba requested Godavari to sit at his left and Jiji at his right. Jiji (Shrimati Jijibai) was one of the five Sakori ashram trustees, a grey-haired lady about twenty years older than Godavari (she is described as a kanya, but does not appear to have been an initiated member of the Kanya Kumari Sthan). Jiji was emotionally affected by the encounter, tears flowing down her cheeks.

Other ashram residents also took darshan, including Usha Tipnis and his brother Shantaram (subsequently Dr. S. N. Tipnis). Usha had encountered the Irani guest two years earlier at a darshan in Amraoti.

Meher Baba afterwards entered the home of Yeshwantrao, who had been his loyal attendant in a difficult situation over thirty years before. Baba told the host that no more ceremony was needed after his entry. B. T. Wagh at first stood outside respectfully. The guest told him to come inside, and then conversed with him. Wagh was the official ashram manager, supervising all activities; Godavari was leader of the nuns, not the manager. Meher Baba told Wagh: “I am the Ancient One,” here using a phrase associated with Upasani. Wagh was evidently impressed by the guest, whom he had not seen at close quarters before.

Godavari and the kanyas then walked with the visitor, who moved freely to different sites in the ashram. Gulmai Irani (now aged seventy) was also constantly near him; she had known Meher Baba for thirty-five years (she arrived that day from Ahmednagar, being driven in a motor car by her son Adi). Gulmai had followed both Upasani and Meher Baba, knowing that they were closely interlinked. Other devotees could not hold such a dual focus; she was very unusual in this respect.

Meher Baba went first to the third hut of Upasani, standing for a while outside. Afterwards he sat on the ground. The kanyas and others interpreted this as an opportunity for darshan. Baba then explained that he had recently stopped anyone from touching his feet; however, he suspended this rule that day, giving the reason that Godavari had taken his darshan.

Meher Baba seated on the jhula, facing Godavari and the kanyas, 1954. Courtesy Meher Nazar

The assembly moved on to the new residential quarters of Godavari. Here she asked the kanyas to perform bhajan, while requesting the guest to sit on the jhula (Krishna swing) which Upasani had used. The nuns sang a hymn in honour of Krishna, the same song they had sung to Upasani while he sat on the swing. Now they were singing to Meher Baba. This was a strong gesture of respect; Godavari was determined to reverse the neglect of Meher Baba formerly imposed by the management. When the guest left the premises, the kanyas chanted: “Jai Sadguru Upasani Maharaj, Jai Sadguru Godavari Mata, Jai Sadguru Meher Baba.”

The guest returned to the third hut, sitting nearby in complete silence. Then he visited the old room of Godavari, and afterwards a small room in the temple where Upasani had been in the habit of sitting (the Dattatreya temple is apparently the subject of reference, but not named). He asked Jiji to sit beside him. She remarked: “My mind and intellect are at your feet; nothing belongs to me” (LM:4381). Usha Tipnis asked for his blessings. The guest responded by emphasising that “continual remembrance” and “one hundred percent honesty” were necessary.

Meher Baba again returned to the third hut. This time he went inside, where a number of devotees were singing bhajan. The visitor sat on a cushion placed on the stone floor. The priest Vasant then “entertained Baba with his combined singing and humorous gesturing, which made Baba laugh very much” (LM:4382). The laughter was always silent.

At 10.35 a.m., Meher Baba walked over to the tomb (samadhi) of Upasani, situated near the cage or pinjra. A mattress and pillows had been placed for his use near the wooden post at which Upasani would sit while giving darshan. Meher Baba would not sit on the comfort mattress, only on the ground; this action was a gesture of respect for the deceased sadguru. He sat facing the tomb, with Godavari and Gulmai Irani beside him, and the kanyas nearby.  About two hundred persons were present on this occasion, including Wagh and his colleague D. S. Purandhare.

Meher Baba dispensed with a message he had previously dictated for his visit. Instead, he silently reminisced (via his alphabet board and gestures) in an extempore manner, recalling earlier years at Sakori. Eruch Jessawala was the interpreter who read aloud the words.  The communication was recorded, despite a difficulty caused by Baba’s employment of three different languages, namely Marathi, Gujarati, and English. The scribe was Bal Natu, a Hindu devotee of Meher Baba, who very honestly admits that his report is not verbatim. The spontaneous talk referred to Upasani, Meher Baba himself, and the deceased Durgabai Karmakar (whom the Irani had known well). The audience listened intently.

One of the subjects mentioned was Baba’s last meeting with Upasani, at the Dahigaon hut thirteen years before. Baba supplied a brief but evocative description of that secretive event. Both Gulmai and Yeshwantrao had been amongst the small group waiting outside the Dahigaon hut. This meeting had remained a mystery to most Sakori devotees, a number of whom had apparently never heard of it. At the end of his discourse, Meher Baba glanced at Godavari and the kanyas, conveying the message:

Although God is beyond all ceremonies and rituals, I want you to understand that whatever [Upasani] Maharaj has instructed you to do, do faithfully and one hundred percent honestly, not because of the ceremonies themselves, but because Maharaj, your sadguru, has entrusted this work to you. He has ordered you to conduct your worship in this way. Obey him. However, for heaven’s sake, do not perform these ceremonies mechanically with a dry mind, or they will bind you instead of freeing you. Let all that you do be done with your whole heart in it; then, with the grace of Maharaj, one day you will know that everything except God is illusion. (Natu 1994:28-29)

According to Natu (an eyewitness), the spontaneous discourse had a positive effect, dispelling misgivings and misconceptions, creating “a new feeling of love and harmony” (Natu 1994:29). Wagh and other high caste men had formerly tended to strongly resist the Irani, regarding him as a rival to Upasani.

Sakori, March 1954, seated l to r: unknown, Yeshwantrao Borawke, Meher Baba, Godavari Mataji, Jiji, Gulmai Irani. The back row are all kanyas, except the unidentified man at far left.


The guest returned to the home of Yeshwantrao, where Godavari and other kanyas served him lunch.  Meher Baba apparently did not eat much; he placed a few morsels in the mouth of Godavari. Afterwards he visited the room of Wagh, and also that of an elderly Parsi, namely Naosherwan G. Bharucha, a former Government Commissioner who had been living at Sakori since 1940. Bharucha expressed a high esteem for the visitor, regarding him as a divine entity.

Meher Baba again gravitated to the third hut, sitting in a nearby bamboo shed, where he permitted darshan. He gave a discourse, subsequently asking Gulmai to relate a prediction which Upasani had made to her many years ago. She complied, informing that Upasani had said Merwanji (Meher Baba) would one day come and deliver a discourse to many people; Upasani had pointed to the same location in which the guest was now seated (LM:4389).

Leaving the bamboo shed at 2.40 p.m., the guest returned to the home of Yeshwantrao. One of his toes was bleeding; he had stubbed the toe on a stone. A kanya named Prabha anxiously started to clean the wound by wiping the blood on her sari; Baba stopped her. Then Eruch started to tend the injury with cotton. A puja followed, with Yeshwantrao applying sandalwood paste to his guest’s forehead. The Irani would not usually permit such worship.

A visit to the ashram library ensued. Meher Baba also went to the room of a sick kanya named Gita. She was confined to bed. The visitor conveyed words of comfort. The next stop was a room where the jhula, or Krishna swing, was kept. The kanyas again performed the ceremony of rocking the swing, with the guest consenting to sit in this accessory once more. Baba asked Godavari if she would stay at Sakori during the summer months; she replied that she had to be at Lonavla instead. He advised her: “Play your part as Maharaj has instructed you, without any doubts” (Natu 1994:33).

The manager Wagh appears to have been deeply moved by the events of that day. He “beseeched Baba for his help in loving him more” (LM:4393). This request was quite different to his mood of aversion in earlier years. The guest responded: “Even if you fail me, I will not fail you” (LM:4393).

After his departure by car from Sakori that afternoon, Meher Baba soon made the driver halt by the roadside. (399) He stopped the two accompanying buses, and the passengers alighted. Using the alphabet board, he communicated to his companions on the subject of Godavari Mataji, whom he commemorated for her actions in healing the breach between two different ashram contingents. He disclosed that, at the meeting in the Dahigaon hut, Upasani requested him to focus his nazar (glance) on Godavari and Sakori ashram. He observed that the prevalent mood at Sakori had previously been against him, but was now changing.

In this eulogy of the kanya leader, Meher Baba further commented that, despite the prominent role she exercised at Sakori, Godavari had this day garlanded him, bowed down to him, persuaded him to sit on the swing (jhula) used by Upasani, and served him food with her own hands. “Her humility in itself is greatness, and I love her for it” (LM:4394). He is also reported to have conveyed other matters, (400) including:

Today I am really pleased. Godavari is a pure hearted woman…. You do not know what great sacrifice and suffering Godavari had to undergo throughout the years she stayed with Maharaj. She is really an exceptional person. (Natu 1994:33)

109.  Westerners  Visit  Sakori, September 1954

Upasani Maharaj did not gain the attention of Westerners during his lifetime. The first recorded visit of Westerners to Sakori occurred as a consequence of Meher Baba’s activity. This was over twenty years after Ramana Maharshi started to gain Western admirers, largely through a 1930s commercial book by Paul Brunton, a Yoga enthusiast who dismissed Upasani as being of no consequence. Brunton did not meet Upasani or visit Sakori. His misleading anecdote of the Bombay Stock Exchange is no guide to relevant events.

Godavari Mataji and Meher Baba at Ahmednagar darshan, September 1954

In September 1954, Godavari Mataji attended the mass darshan of Meher Baba held at Wadia Park in Ahmednagar. She arrived with Jiji and twelve kanyas. Yeshwantrao Borawke also attended. Extant film footage of this event includes Godavari and the kanyas, who were prominent on the raised platform where Meher Baba was seated. At one juncture, Godavari sat next to the Irani. (401)

Two days later, on 14 September, Godavari and the same kanyas journeyed to Meherabad on a private bus. They had been invited to visit this ashram of Meher Baba, a few miles south of Ahmednagar, now largely vacated. Twenty Western male followers of Baba were temporarily in residence that month; two of them left a relevant diary of September events. The diarists say that a total of thirty kanyas were living at Sakori. They describe Jiji as “a gracious, elderly grey-haired woman” (TIW:10). The nuns (including Godavari) prostrated themselves in turn at Baba’s feet, evidence of their respect (TIW:9). The diarists refer to the leader as Godavri Mai (mother), a variant of her name found in English language accounts.

Meher Baba silently communicated, via his vocal interpreter, to both the nuns and the Western men. He led them all to various sites at Lower Meherabad, including the dhuni. One of the Hindu mandali related how a drought, in 1927, caused the local villagers to beg Baba to give them rain. In response he lit the dhuni; rain fell soon after. Meher Baba now commented: “They call it a miracle, but it was only a coincidence” (TIW:10). This remark was characteristic of his attitude to purported miracle phenomena.

Meher Baba and Godavari Mataji with kanyas and others, Meherabad Hill, September 1954. Courtesy MSI Collection

Baba then led the mixed gathering up Meherabad Hill, the slope being gentle but fairly arduous for most people. He moved rapidly, nobody else being able to keep up with him (he was a fast walker and agile climber). He told the kanyas not to hurry. He had to stop so that the men could catch up with him. He conducted the kanyas on a tour of the Hill precincts, which included his future tomb. He told Godavari that he would soon come to Sakori with the Western men. The nuns then returned home.

Meher Baba leading Godavari Mataji and other kanyas to his future tomb on Meherabad Hill, September 1954

The date set for the visit to Sakori was 20 September. Baba’s party drove in two motor cars and two rented station wagons, arriving in Sakori at 9.35 a.m., after a delay. Several of the mandali accompanied Meher Baba and the Western men. Gulmai Irani accompanied Baba in the car driven by Sarosh Irani. The diarist Kishan Singh was also a member of the travel party; this devotee had retired from the Army Accounts Department of India.

A very welcoming B. T. Wagh stood at the village gate, as leader of the reception party (Singh 1975:2). A large number of villagers and devotees had assembled for the procession, along with ashram drummers and the village brass band. When Meher Baba alighted from the car, Godavari and the kanyas took his darshan, touching his feet. He also permitted them to perform an arati in his honour.

Wagh, the ashram manager, was keen to take the Western visitors on a tour of the ashram. Wagh also presented them with some books about Upasani. The elderly British devotee Will Backett sat on these books at one point, perhaps not being able to find a seat. Meher Baba then adroitly asked Backett to give him the bundle of books. The amiable Backett complied. Baba then returned the books to him, requesting him to show due respect for what were regarded as “holy books” (Singh 1975:3-4). The irony is that Backett was one of the more studious devotees.

Arriving at the tomb of Upasani, Baba communicated a message in English that was translated into Marathi. He conveyed that Upasani “was God incarnate.” He referred to his previous statement, made on his last visit, suggesting that he would not again come to Sakori. However, he remembered how Upasani had once remarked that Merwan (Meher Baba) would bring Westerners from other lands to Sakori. To fulfil this obligation, he had to bring the Western group from Meherabad.

An arati in Baba’s honour was then sung by the kanyas, who followed up with a bhajan. Baba then bowed down at the tomb of Upasani, saying afterwards that the mandali and Western visitors should all do the same, “kneeling down and kissing the stone” (TIW:48).  However, the American Darwin Shaw experienced a problem. While approaching the tomb of Upasani, he thought to himself: “Have I come halfway around the world to bow down to strange gods?” (402)

Shaw then found to his surprise that Meher Baba firmly placed one hand on his forehead and the other on his back, thus assisting the process of bowing. Shaw said afterwards that he had bowed his head on Baba’s hand. As a devotee of Meher Baba, Shaw found difficulty in acclimatising to Sakori. He found the traditional Hindu atmosphere overwhelming.

The British author Charles Purdom and the American poet Malcolm Schloss held flexible attitudes. These diarists were concerned to describe events accurately, and also convey what Meher Baba said. Their joint narrative is a useful source for the events of September 1954 (although not comprehensive). There are a few mistakes in their rendition of what they heard from others, as for instance, in their statement that Godavari was only two and a half years old when she first came to Sakori. Like other kanyas, Godavari spoke Marathi and Sanskrit, not English; there was no opportunity for close communication in this respect.

Godavari Mataji and Meher Baba at Sakori, 1954

Overshadowing the reserve of Shaw, Meher Baba silently exclaimed: “You all can have no idea how happy I am here!” He pointed to Godavari while making this statement. He praised Godavari to the Westerners, saying she was “the Mother here,” and “I love her most dearly” (TIW:48). Then he took the Western group to the women’s quarters, where Godavari again asked him to sit on the Krishna swing (jhula). She herself rocked the swing, while the kanyas sang the devotional song Yashoda Hari Palne Jhulawe (Singh 1975:2). While sitting on the swing, Baba reminisced about Upasani. He soon granted an exclusive interview to Godavari, asking Jiji to be present also. This interview lasted for about five minutes (Singh 1975:3).

The guest afterwards sat under a pipal tree, where he gave darshan to men and women who had been assembling for this purpose. Then he led the way to the dining room. His companions were given food; Baba himself would only accept a cup of tea. The kanyas were also present, while Godavari tried to persuade Baba to eat (Singh 1975:3). He “sat there in a playful mood and threw the fruit from his table to be caught by various people” (TIW:48). Meher Baba’s sense of humour was often pronounced; he was not a gloomy entity, despite his protracted silence and frequent seclusion.

Afterwards he visited a sick kanya, benignly feeding her rose petals. This was Gita, the same lady who had been ill during his former visit in March (the nature of illness is not specified). The next activity was a return to the kanya quarters, where Baba again sat on the jhula at the request of his hosts. All the kanyas then sang to him the arati song (in Urdu) which he himself had composed for Upasani over thirty years ago. “Baba felt very amused to hear this song being sung after many years” (Singh 1975:3). The kanyas were making this a special commemorative event.

The guest afterwards led his party on a tour of the ashram, including that less visible area “where feeding pens were made for the cattle inside a hall” (Singh 1975:3). The herd originated with those animals Upasani had once rescued from starvation.  Baba subsequently moved on to the home of Yeshwantrao Borawke, where Godavari sat beside him. His arati was here performed by the ladies and kanyas of the ashram. The arati of Godavari followed. During this singing, Baba sat with his eyes closed.

Then he took his party to the Dattatreya temple, where they looked at some photographs hanging on the walls. In the traditional manner, Godavari and the kanyas stood on one side, and the men on the other. Relics of Sai Baba were also preserved here. The visiting party were shown a stick (satka) and “a chilam tobacco pipe” which Sai had used (Singh 1975:4). These relics had been brought from Shirdi by Bapusaheb Jog over thirty years before.

While emerging from the temple, the tall British devotee Fred Marks injured his head on a low doorway. There was some blood, causing Meher Baba to tend the wound with his own hands, using a handkerchief as an improvised bandage (Singh 1975:4). Before departing, Baba conveyed an unusual request to Godavari. (403)

The departure from Sakori occurred at 12.20 p.m. The villagers and devotees lined both sides of the road as the motor vehicles passed by, the band still playing in front. On the return journey, Baba stopped the car and station wagons. He requested the Westerners to give him all the literature which Wagh had pressed upon them, saying that he would give this back later (Singh 1975:4).

The next day at Meherabad, Baba explained to the Westerners about his action concerning the books. He did not want them to be confused by a hagiological instinct. In his view, the Sakori literature was not adequately descriptive, also too miracle-oriented, a trend started by Narasimhaswami, whom he described as a “very good soul who made a mess of things because of his ignorance” (Singh 1975:4). Among the books given to the Westerners had been Sage of Sakuri, the early 1930s biography by Narasimhaswami which Meher Baba deemed only partly reliable (Sakori events are largely missing). He said that Narasimhaswami had supplied his own interpretation of events. After publication of his book, the author had begun to doubt Upasani for accommodating kanyas (being influenced by Divekar Shastri). This scepticism is now quite obvious from a close inspection of his later work on Sai Baba, which was published at Madras in 1955-56, not long after Meher Baba gave his warning reported by Singh.

Meher Baba was also critical of Narasimhaswami for his hagiology of Sai Baba, which had been very influential. The Irani mystic zero-rated the purported miracles such as lighting mosque lamps with water (Singh 1975:4). He informed the Western visitors that Narasimhaswami had long ago visited him at Nasik, expressing a wish to stay with him and write his biography. Baba had declined, telling the sannyasin to go to Sakori and write the biography of Upasani instead (ibid). That was the genesis of Sage of Sakuri, a context still widely ignored. (404)

Some of Meher Baba’s reminiscences, in September 1954, are graphic. The Singh diary contains a distinctive passage:

Now I [will] tell you [Westerners] something private. The Sakori people know something about it. The mandali also know. Maharaj was given poison and the blame was put on Durgabai. Maharaj felt a bit numb for a time, but the effect of the poison was soon lost, and he became alright thereafter. The poison given to Maharaj was so deadly that the dose can [could] kill all of us, yet he withstood it. Then Godavari came [became prominent], and Maharaj said that he did not want the Brahmin atmosphere of men any more. (Singh 1975:5)

The episode of poisoning was apparently the same event documented elsewhere (GLS:14-15). This more well known Sakori report says that Upasani deliberately took a poison intended for him (the chronology here is 1927-28).

The factor of high caste aversion to Meher Baba is mentioned in the Singh diary. His early opponents at Sakori (circa 1921) would ask why a Zoroastrian was so much favoured by Upasani. The Sakori satpurusha told Durgabai Karmakar and Yeshwantrao that Merwanji was malik, meaning here a spiritual ruler. Upasani also made this declaration to some jealous brahmans, whom Meher Baba says “were so fanatic that if they could, they would have killed me” (Singh 1975:5). The hostile faction were probably a minority at Sakori; no names are supplied. This development occurred several years before the episode in which Upasani was poisoned. Adverse factors were evidently accumulating, for the most part obscure. The hostility towards Meher Baba certainly created a legacy of bias. Godavari Mataji was well aware of this drawback. In more recent times, the manager Wagh would “spit when anyone spoke of [Meher] Baba at Sakori” (Singh 1975:5).

The opponents had resorted to a form of disclaimer. In their relegation of Meher Baba, they emphasised that he was a disciple of Hazrat Babajan, not Upasani. Wagh evidently assisted this interpretation. Baba now indicated to the Westerners that Godavari had not been happy with the official attitude. “Her loving influence has overcome all the Brahmin atmosphere” (Singh 1975:5). She had met him (Baba) at Ahmednagar (no date supplied) and requested that he visit Sakori.

Wagh and others had proved resistant, fearing that if Godavari bowed down to Meher Baba on ashram soil, this would compromise their orthodox reputation, also the role of Godavari as successor of Upasani (Singh 1975:20). As events now transpired, Wagh’s party changed their attitude to one of accepting the outsider as having a spiritual validity of his own. (405) There was no compromise of the role of Godavari; Meher Baba was not interested in any sectarian strategy of dominance.

On 30 September, 1954, at a Meherabad assembly, Meher Baba introduced five prominent men from Sakori who had arrived to participate. These were Yeshwantrao Borawke, the manager Wagh, the high priest Vasant Deshmukh, Naosherwan (Nusserwan) Bharucha, and Purandhare. Baba praised Wagh as the man “who has for years faithfully and honestly carried out the office work and the arrangements at Sakori ashram” (TIW:76). He described the lesser known Purandhare as “one of the most honest, faithful workers at Sakori” (TIW:76). The presence of these five emissaries, especially Wagh, was confirmation of the goodwill recently created between two different ashram environments.

The following year, at the Meherabad sahavas in November 1955, Borawke attended with Naosherwan Bharucha and Shantaram N. Tipnis. The lastmentioned was the most scholarly member of the Sakori personnel; Tipnis later obtained an academic degree at the University of Poona. To judge from indications, Dr. Tipnis viewed Meher Baba (along with Upasani) as a representative of the Maharashtrian bhakti (or sant) tradition existing for centuries previously.

110.  Godavari  Mataji  and  Meher  Baba, 1955-1958

Godavari Mataji continued her policy of goodwill relations with Meher Baba. In November 1955, she and some of her kanyas visited Meherabad at the time of a sahavas programme. They attended on the day when Meher Baba gave darshan to hundreds of villagers from nearby Arangaon. Godavari was seated on a chair beside him (LM:4668).

At this time, the kanya leader expressed her wish that Baba should come to Sakori for a few days of rest. He accepted the invitation, commenting that he would take food prepared by her, as she was “Yashoda” to him. That reference was to the adopted mother of Krishna; in the jhula ceremony at Sakori, Yashoda was invoked in relation to Krishna’s swing. The reference may be interpreted as a concession to Hindu etiquette, in which Godavari became Yashoda when she rocked the swing.

The intention was for Baba to stay at Sakori for a week. However, problems of schedule were encountered on both sides. Eventually, Meher Baba said that he would visit for only one day in January 1956. (406) Staying at Satara, he had agreed to give a mass darshan at Sangamner the day after 26 January, the date planned for his visit to Sakori. He did not want any darshan at Sakori, saying that he would leave immediately after lunch. When Godavari received this message, she responded: “Baba considers me as his Yashoda, and it is the wish of Yashoda that he remain here until evening” (LM:4869). Her wish was conceded. The record of subsequent events was assisted by the diarist Kishan Singh, included in the travelling party of the guest.

When the visitors arrived in Sakori at nine a.m., a number of Baba’s devotees had already gathered there with the ashram residents. Meher Baba was taken in procession as before. The manager B. T. Wagh enthusiastically garlanded the guest even before he could alight from the car. When the party arrived at the Dattatreya temple, the high priest Vasant Deshmukh performed puja. Eventually, the visitors reached the home of Yeshwantrao Borawke, who remained a major figure in these events. When Baba finally stepped out of the car, he was garlanded by Godavari, who prostrated and laid her head on his feet. All the other kanyas followed her example.

Afterwards the guest walked to the third hut of Upasani and sat inside for a time. From there Baba moved to the tomb of Upasani, where a gadi (seat) had been prepared for him in a corner, opposite the gadi of Upasani. One of the kanyas then sang the arati song long ago composed by Baba in honour of Upasani. News came that Godavari was preparing food for him in the kitchen.

Jiji (Jijibai) could not be present because she was ill at Hyderabad. She had sent her brother with a request that Baba sit in her room while his arati was performed there (the request was granted later in the day). Her brother was accordingly introduced to Baba, informing the guest that Jiji was daily feeding a number of poor people, despite her illness. Baba expressed approval: “See to it that Jiji’s work in Hyderabad continues and is not interrupted” (LM:4873).

The guest moved to the kitchen, where Godavari was cooking with the aid of other kanyas.  Meher Baba assisted in rolling the puris; this was a very unusual gesture on his part. He joked that he did not need bhajan (song) but bhojan (food). Then he conveyed a serious reflection about the obligations of darshan that were pending in his case. “How I would like to stay here, play marbles, and take food cooked by my Yashoda – instead of granting darshan at various places and sitting through my worship and arati ceremonies” (LM:4870).

When he emerged from the kitchen, he encountered the long term resident devotee Naosherwan G. Bharucha, who embraced him, tears running down his cheeks. This Parsi had attended the Meherabad sahavas in November. The guest subsequently grasped the hand of Wagh, whom he briskly led to the hut of Upasani. Wagh managed to keep up with the rapid pace. Baba commented approvingly: “You are very energetic.”

The guest requested Godavari to sit near him, telling his mandali to pay their respects at the nearby tomb. Bhajans were sung, while Baba silently directed the tabla player how to keep rhythm. Then he stopped the singing to convey a message through Eruch Jessawala, ending with: “I love Godavari very much – immensely. This is all due to her past connections. She has many connections with me” (LM:4872).

Pointing to a photograph of Upasani, Baba communicated: “That old man brought me down [in consciousness, to normal function]. The highest type of worldly happiness, which you sometimes feel or experience, is nothing but the seventh shadow of that eternal bliss” (LM:4872).

Baba then handed prasad to the ashram residents. He told Godavari that during the recent Poona darshan, he had distributed prasad to more than 15,000 people, and now he felt very tired. Prasad was a Hindu custom he often adopted, both Zoroastrians and Hindus being amenable to this form of contact.

He visited a sick kanya to give her prasad, reassuringly taking her hand in his. Then he moved on to the quarters of Bharucha, who again embraced him and burst into tears. Baba subsequently arrived at the quarters of Godavari, where she served the food she had prepared. “Baba ate with zest, and praised every dish” (LM:4873). However, he could not eat everything she gave him, telling her to give the remainder as prasad to the kanyas (he was generally a small eater).

Later, he sat outside under a tree, asking for a rubber ball. This item was obtained. In a playful mood, Baba commenced to throw the ball in various directions, asking the kanyas and others to catch. He then visited the home of Borawke once more. Several persons were there waiting for his darshan. A pile of garlands resulted. Like Upasani, Meher Baba was not enthusiastic about garlands; however, he felt bound to accept these tokens of devotion.

The next destination was the hut of Upasani, where Baba sat under a pandal for an informal gathering. Godavari took her seat near him. He then described an event occurring shortly before the recent Meherabad sahavas. In distant Uttar Pradesh, during a kirtan organised by one of his devotees, a child had reputedly died. The presiding devotee claimed to restore the child to life. Baba said that he was not pleased at hearing of this dramatic episode; the implication was one of deceit on the devotee’s part. Baba added: “There are persons [halfway] on the spiritual path who have riddhi-siddhi (greatest occult powers) at their command. They can even raise the dead. But thereby they themselves fall into the trap of illusion. Do not expect any display of powers from me!” (LM:4875)

Meher Baba frequently depreciated occult powers, while occasionally acknowledging that they did exist [dangerously] in rare instances. His attitude to miracles resembled that of Upasani, an outlook very different to the disposition of siddhis enthusiast Narasimhaswami.

Leaving the hut precincts, for several minutes Baba played marbles on the ground. This was one of his favoured leisure pursuits, never continued for long. Godavari had heard of this activity and wished to see him play. She was now present with all the kanyas and most of the ashram residents. Afterwards he accompanied the kanyas to their quarters, again being invited to sit on the Krishna swing (jhula). He exhorted the nuns to maintain their allegiance to Godavari. At the end of this session, Godavari and her companions again rocked the swing in which Baba sat.

Going outside, Baba walked to a well. The kanyas were puzzled, thinking he had perhaps missed the way to more well known sites. In fact, he was concerned to check that the well contained sufficient water. Godavari called him back, offering him tea. He would only take two sips, conveying  that he must now leave (LM:4877).

He quickly walked to the temple where his arati was performed at the wish of ashram residents. Then he moved on to the third hut of Upasani. Baba told his mandali to bow down to the sandals of Maharaj that were kept here. They complied reverently. He was now almost running to the parked car. His party drove away at four p.m., after seven hours. The journey south to Meherazad ashram (near Ahmednagar) took two hours. (407)

Over a year later, Meher Baba again responded to a request from Godavari Mataji to visit Sakori. The date was 18 March, 1957. News of this impending event spread widely. Many of Baba’s followers had not seen him for over a year (partly because of his serious motoring accident at the end of 1956). Nearly four hundred of his devotees assembled in Sakori from Andhra, Hamirpur, Delhi, Bombay, Poona, and other places. He departed from Meherazad with a party including the diarist Kishan Singh and Lieut. Colonel Francis Goldney from Britain. When they arrived at nine a.m., there was again a procession. Baba was still having to use a wheelchair after his accident.

Godavari and the kanyas approached him for darshan. A tent (pandal) had been erected near a large banyan tree once frequented by Upasani. Godavari sat near Baba on the dais while he gave darshan and prasad in the morning to more than two thousand people. The eyewitness Francis Goldney reports that Meher Baba “radiated joy and bliss so great that many wept unashamedly” (Goldney 1957:11). Afterwards, Godavari served him food in the room of Jiji. The jhula ceremony again occurred. Baba and his party departed at four p.m. That was his last visit to Sakori. (408)

On 18 February, 1958, Godavari attended the Meherabad sahavas of Meher Baba. She arrived early with two kanyas, sitting on the dais in the pandal (tent) created for the event. She would not sit on a chair until Baba arrived, when she and the two nuns took darshan. She then sat in a chair next to his on the dais. Baba introduced her to the gathering of his devotees, explaining how she had created a favourable atmosphere for him at Sakori after earlier opposition. Amongst his comments were:

Godavari is a jewel…. she had thousands of devotees, and she was the occupier of Maharaj’s gadi. Despite that, she changed the atmosphere for me in Sakori. I again repeat that Godavari Mai is my Yashoda – my adopted mother. She has tenderness, humility, and greatness. She entertains me, reveres me, worships me, performs my arati, and at the same time, she is so humble. I call her mother, and yet she bows down to me. I call her Yashoda Mai and still she does my arati…. I tell you all I am very happy and pleased with Godavari Mai. (LM:5308)

On that same occasion, he told Godavari about the Swami Mungalananda. This orthodox figure at first opposed him, apparently regarding him as a threat to Vedic/Hindu expertise. However, when the Swami actually met Meher Baba at Meherabad, his attitude changed. He promptly obeyed an instruction from the Irani to observe silence for forty days and to fast on water only.

Godavari was also present at Meherabad on 23 February, when another devotee group were attending for the sahavas week. Baba then told Eruch Jessawala to read out his abovementioned statement about Mataji to the new gathering. When Eruch had finished, the assembly erupted into cries of “Godavari Mata ki jai” (LM:5334).

Godavari again arrived for the sixty-fourth birthday celebration of Meher Baba on 25 February, 1958. She once more sat in a prominent position on his right. Two hundred women were present on this occasion. He explained to Godavari about a disagreement arising amongst his devotees, concerning the selection of people deputed to wash his feet in the Hindu manner. As a consequence, he decided to wash his own feet. Exercising a sense of hygiene, Baba did not want anyone to drink the water (as tirtha), because he detected some dirt in the sacred water transported from Toka (LM:5354-57).

The connection between Godavari Mataji and Meher Baba continued into the 1960s. Details were recorded in the Meher Baba literature. (409) The Irani died at Meherazad in 1969. (410)

111.  Aftermath: Hindu  Female  Priests

Upasani Maharaj was decades ahead of his time. Though vilified by Divekar Shastri and other conservatives, he persevered in a project that proved unique in India. Over the years, the Kanya Kumari Sthan won widespread admiration as a vehicle of female spirituality, Sanskrit learning, and female purohitya or priesthood. Some parties have been amazed at the misconceptions spread by high caste opponents, problems which still linger in various books.

Upasani was over eighty years in advance of a significant development at Pandharpur, a major pilgrimage site in Maharashtra. This event involved the nomination of female priests.

In 2014, the Supreme Court denied prerogative to local brahman families who claimed ancestral rights to the famous Vitthal (Vithoba) temple in Pandharpur. Those ancestral privileges had involved the appointment of priests and the acquisition of donations. Now instead, the Indian government provided a managing committee which interviewed 129 candidates (including 16 women), from all castes, for priestly roles at Pandharpur. The committee selected ten new priests, meaning five brahmans and five non-brahmans. Two of the brahmans were women.

Strong resistance accompanied this innovation, especially to low caste priests, from the Varkari community who patronised the Pandharpur sacred site. The two women priests performed puja at the Rukhmini shrine, an edifice adjoining the Vitthal temple served by the new male priests.

There were stepping stones to this headline event. Thirty-four years after the death of Upasani, and while Godavari Mataji (d.1990) was still alive, a very unusual development occurred at Poona (Pune). Here in 1975, Shankar Rao Thatte commenced the training of women in the priestly role. He started classes for teaching Sanskrit and purohitya (priesthood) procedures to women. According to some writers, Thatte was inspired by the Kanya Kumari Sthan.

Thatte died in 1987, when the training programme was continued by his wife Pushpabai Thatte. Their organisation was known as Shankar Seva Samati. Opposition from religious orthodoxy became evident. However, “most educated people” accepted the phenomenon of women priests, a trend spreading to all parts of Maharashtra (Rambachan 2015:100).

Godavari Mataji

Godavari Mataji lived long enough to see the commencement of what nobody had formerly believed possible. Changing social conditions and altered cultural mindset revolutionised the situation of purohitya, earlier regarded in exclusivist male terms.

During the 1990s, the Maratha scholar V. L. Manjul became known as a sympathiser with Sakori ashram, presenting some details which had become almost completely obscured (Manjul 1992). The community of Sakori nuns survived, their lifestyle being exemplary. Some supporters of Narasimhaswami were disconcerted by the contradiction posed to their assumptions, influenced by a well known 1950s account from the Madras sannyasin, who dismissed the Kanya Kumari Sthan in terms of an adulterous aberration.

The career of Dr. Manjul included the role of chief librarian at the prestigious Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute at Pune. His version of the Kanya Kumari Sthan could not be ignored. This scholar informed that Upasani Baba Maharaj “lived and breathed the Vedas and wanted to re-establish the right of women to perform all Vedic rites in Sanskrit as was done in ancient times according to scriptural injunction.... He received horrendous opposition from the Brahmin community” (Manjul 1992).

Manjul appears to credit a popular belief that Upasani was adept in “the siddhi of being present at different, distant places at the same time” (ibid). The Sakori ascetic himself was frequently indifferent to such conceptions, regarding siddhis and miracles as a distraction (he could also become very annoyed on this issue). However, to Narasimhaswami and his followers, siddhis were highly esteemed accomplishments, to such an extent that Upasani was deemed inferior for not demonstrating greater powers. One should move on from this level of argument.

In more general terms, Manjul referred to the new trend of female purohitya, spreading throughout Maharashtra, in terms of “the hitherto forbidden realm” (Manjul 1997).

At Poona, the Shankar Seva Samati started with only sixteen female priests, a number which swelled to one hundred and sixty within ten years. The mushrooming effect within Maharashtra pushed this number into several thousands by the first decade of the twenty-first century. Press reports differed in the statistics supplied. A larger estimate has been given for the overall national total of female priests.

Training at the Shankar Seva Samati was not restricted to brahman women, but extended to all castes. This feature was anticipated by the Kanya Kumari Sthan. According to Manjul, the male priests became outnumbered by the women in some areas of Pune, a brahmanical stronghold. The male purohitya at first strongly resisted the encroachment upon traditional privileges. Their objections included a widespread conservative theme that women, because of their menstrual cycle, lacked the requisite purity to conduct sacred rituals.

Opposition from male priests became notorious amongst the female purohitya. Some male priests devised forms of boycott to afflict the rival. This meant that a number of women needed considerable determination to continue with their training in Sanskrit and ritual. In addition, revealing reports inform that resistance from the general public in Pune lasted for about ten years. Shankar Rao Thatte took the precaution of accompanying female priests to ritual venues, thus ensuring that they were treated with due courtesy in private homes.

By 2010, the Shankar Seva Samati had trained over seven thousand female priests, this contingent being found throughout Maharashtra. As a consequence of the rivalry, many male priests started to explain the meaning of their rituals in Marathi, for public edification. Numerous aspects of ritualism had formerly been a mystery to the public.

Another organisation in Pune, known as Jnana Prabhodini, commenced in 1990, training both male and female priests. Modification of some rituals was here preferred. Books of Sanskrit mantras were produced, along with translations in different languages. A three month training class was favoured, in contrast to the twelve month training conducted by the Shankar Seva Samati.

Many male and female priests are paid for their services. In contrast, the nuns of the Kanya Kumari Sthan, during the 1930s and later, studied Sanskrit and performed rituals without any pay. There were no fees or clients (in later years, kanyas did receive dakshina for their religious services in the nearby village of Sakori; the donations were given to the ashram, and not retained for personal use). The incentive was participation in a very unusual and disciplined community, intent upon a spiritual goal inspired by Upasani Maharaj.

The contemporary female priests, of the twenty-first century, are known as stripurohits. Some commentators emphasise changing social trends as an explanation for the phenomenon. The hereditary priesthood is slowly disappearing, because a large number of male priests became engaged in secular occupations. The fields of science, technology, and engineering comprise an overpowering attraction. There is thus more scope for women in Sanskrit study, which suffered acutely in some regions. Even at the prominent Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, women achieved fifty percent of the staff positions. A major interest of Indian women has become the cultivation and preservation of Sanskrit as stridharma (Bloch 2010).

The first Hindu woman priest in Britain became known on the media in 2010. She was Pundit Chanda Vyas, active in temples at Leicester. This instance proved that the new sacerdotal trend is not confined to the motherland.

APPENDIX ONE:  Pandita  Ramabai  Sarasvati

A nineteenth century chitpavan brahman lady provided an account of conditions afflicting married Hindu women. Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati (1858-1922) was awarded the title of pandita (female pundit) by the University of Calcutta in 1879. She did not see a copy of the Manusmriti until after gaining this distinction. Many Hindu women never saw the Manu text, which had a strong influence upon their lives. Even brahman women were generally illiterate, because of the ideological regime imposed by male preferences.

Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati

Her family name was Dongre, her father being a Sanskrit scholar who taught her the classical language. After his death, Pandita Ramabai became a convert to Christianity. She founded the Arya Women’s Society at Poona during the 1880s. She divulged that, in 99 cases out of 100, the educated men in India were opposed to female education. Her book The High Caste Hindu Woman (1887) revealed the appalling oppression of women in India. She frequently quotes from the Manusmriti, a post-Vedic law code which gained high status for many centuries.

“The popular belief is that a woman can have no salvation unless she be formally married” (Ramabai 1887:34). This afflicting belief, inspired by  Hindu law codes, did not recognise any relevance of nuns (contrary to a latitude in Jainism). Ramabai describes Manu as “one of those hundreds [of legists] who have done their best to make women a hateful being in the world’s eye” (ibid:55).

The Manusmriti could not be read by women, who were “forbidden to read the sacred scriptures” (ibid). Ramabai strongly opposed child marriage and the inhumane customs attending the fate of child widows. “I have several times seen young wives shamefully beaten by beastly young husbands who cherished no natural love for them” (ibid:47). Such wives were merely domestic chattels for the ill-matched tormentors in arranged marriages.

There were too many high caste women who suffered in the married state and the widow state. “Many women put an end to their earthly sufferings by committing suicide” (ibid:64).

Ramabai emphasises that sons were the desired offspring in caste society. Daughters were regarded as a liability, involving economic losses. The large numbers of unwanted and zero-rated female babies and girls led to situations in which female members of a family were despised. One ruthless outcome was infanticide. Some afflicted widows ran away from home to live unhappy lives at the margin of society.

Ramabai also mentions the disconcerting custom of sati (suttee), meaning the burning of a wife when the husband died. Nineteenth century Sanskrit scholarship in Europe concluded that sati was a post-Vedic development; the issue has since been updated. Ramabai observes that sati is not mentioned in the Manusmriti, adding that an endorsement was contrived elsewhere by priests wishing to support this custom. Sati is first mentioned in the Mahabharata. Some analysts indicate that the practice peaked during the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. The British abolished sati in 1829.

A pioneer of feminism, Ramabai was suppressed in the Indian historical record, being regarded as a traitor to Hinduism (Chakravarti 1998). Analysis must go deeper than religious dogma.

In the twentieth century, Upasani Maharaj supported childless (and sonless) marriages. He denied that a son was necessary to gain salvation (contradicting a dogma invented by pundits). Upasani frowned upon situations in which wives were subjected to an overdose of sexual activity. Such details have been completely overlooked in the Western enthusiasm for more recent gurus like Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Sathya Sai Baba, both of whom (in different ways) are associated with sexual excesses.

APPENDIX TWO: Upasani  Maharaj  and  Ramana  Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi, Upasani Maharaj

Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) gained far more fame in the West than the Sakori ascetic. This was largely because of the books written by Paul Brunton and Arthur Osborne. Brunton relied on hearsay for his brief dismissal of Upasani, which was included in his misleading attack on Meher Baba. Brunton lost favour at Ramanashram as a consequence of his literary tactics revealing a plagiarist complexion.

There are many Western books on Hinduism which mention Ramana, however briefly. In contrast, there are very few Western books which mention Upasani. The uneven coverage is very noticeable on close inspection. The reason for this discrepancy amounts to a failure to penetrate the sources, which are complicated by the approach of a Sai pracharak (Narasimhaswami) who was influential in India (especially in Tamil regions).

There are some similarities between Upasani and Ramana, but also a number of differences. Both were averse to giving initiations, and both generally avoided giving any advice to renounce the world. Neither of them were disposed to Yoga exercises. Both of these mystics were the target of court cases in the 1930s. General knowledge of these lawsuits is virtually nil; however, the situation at Tiruvannamalai is better known. A devotee mounted a contradictory lawsuit against Ramana concerning ownership of Ramanashram; in response, the sage claimed that he could own property, a factor relating to his distance from the category of those who take a vow of sannyasa.

Both Upasani and Ramana became associated with Advaita Vedanta. Neither of them were initiated members of the Shankara Order. They were not sannyasins. Instead, they were totally independent exponents. Their teaching did not derive from organisational sanction and impetus, but from personal experiences of an uncommon type.

A comparison is afforded by the career of Narasimhaswami, who started his renunciate life in 1925, at a senior age, via contact with the Shankaracharya of Shringeri. This prominent abbot transmitted to him the panchakshari mantra, advising him to join Ramana rather than reside at the Shankara math (Vijayakumar 2009:42). The Madras sannyasin stayed at Ramanashram for a few years. His Self Realization (1931), describing the early years of Ramana, was an influential work. The sannyasin soon departed, leaving a dossier of unpublished writing which has received criticism (David Godman, Qualifications needed to do self-enquiry). Narasimhaswami also stayed with Upasani for a few years, ceasing contact after being influenced by the anti-kanya orthodoxy of Divekar Shastri. He opted for the role of a Sai Baba missionary (pracharak), giving many lectures throughout India. This was not Advaita, but a form of devotionalism.

The Advaita format does exhibit contrasts in the respective output of Ramana and Upasani. The teaching of Ramana is well known via such works as Venkataramiah (2010) and Godman (1988). The lengthy Talks of Upasani are far less well known, and do not project any systematic doctrine.

Sri Bhagavan [Ramana] was not a philosopher and there was absolutely no development in his teaching. His earliest expositions, ‘Self-Enquiry’ and ‘Who am I?’ are no different in doctrinal theory from those he gave verbally in his last years. (Osborne 1954:81)

Current Western gurus, influenced by the Ramanashram, have insisted that vichara (self-enquiry) is the ideal approach for all seekers. Upasani acknowledges vichara in certain of his discourses, but did not himself teach in that mode. He does not stress “Who am I?” That vichara question is absent from his communications. He likewise was not a philosopher in the Western sense. However, his mode of expression was substantially more varied in content than Advaita doctrines. He was critical of standard formulae contributing to personal delusions and inflation (chapter 90 above). Narasimhaswami found that Upasani, “in almost every case,” was against the jnani tendency to presumed identity with the Real (NSS:160-166).

The Sakori ascetic tended to advocate karma yoga and bhakti aspiration, implying that jnana was a hazard and suited only to a minority. Selfless service of others was more appropriate than premature and deluded “self-realisation.”

Many passages and phrases in Talks nevertheless exhibit a strong vein of non-dualism (which can be applied in different modes). This complexion is fully compatible with the early unmatta experiences of Upasani at the Khandoba temple, during which he seemed like a dead man, a phenomenon so often perplexing to onlookers. The achievement of jnanodaya remained a mystery to harassers and insular devotees of Sai Baba. The sheer angle of acute transition is foreign to superficial and complacent “realisation.”

There are some convergences in the early experiences of Upasani and Ramana. The Tamil sage was initially subject to a phase of intense withdrawal. In 1896, at the Shiva temple in Tiruvannamalai, he was harassed by local boys who pelted him with stones. As a consequence, Ramana moved to an underground vault harbouring ants, vermin, and mosquitoes. These insects “preyed upon him until his thighs were covered with sores that ran blood and pus; to the end of his life the marks remained” (Osborne 1954:32). This phase lasted for a few weeks, after which the unruly boys were driven away by sympathisers, who took Ramana to a shrine of Subramaniam, without his showing any awareness of what was occurring.

The introverted Ramana sat motionless. “Sometimes nourishment had to be put into his mouth as he paid no heed when it was offered him” (Osborne 1954:33). He transferred himself to the temple garden, featuring tall bushes. “He even moved about in trance, for on waking to the world he would sometimes find himself under a different bush with no recollection of how he got there” (ibid:34). Soon after, he moved to another shrine in 1897. Ramana remained oblivious of the ants crawling over his body and biting him. His body was unwashed, his hair thick and matted, his finger nails so long they curled over. “His body was weakened to the limits of endurance. When he needed to go out he had barely the strength to rise… and would have to try several times before he could rise to his feet” (ibid:36).

Sixteen years later, the unmatta experiences of Upasani were acute, leaving him dissociated from the body. This phase occurred in a partially hostile milieu at Shirdi involving much more than scorpions. Despite an overpowering form of introversion, Upasani achieved a manual ballast. The occupant of a Khandoba temple was reduced to a severely weakened state caused by abstinence. At Shirdi, he was soon nevertheless able to work in a manual capacity to an astonishing extent (baffling onlookers like Dr. Pillai, who took due pulse readings).

What is often tritely called “self-realisation” was temporarily disabling in these two instances (which were not necessarily of the same grade). There is no resemblance here to the sanitised category of sleek "non-dual" gurus who claim "realisation," while clearly intent upon gaining fame and wealthy donors.

Upasani continued his manual performance at Kharagpur, making hard work look effortless. Assisting all types of labourer and menial, he was vigorous in action and determinedly thorough, as in grinding corn. He wanted to complete the job, not do things by half. He was only stopped by the oppressive high caste conservatives who hated untouchables (Dalits).

This energetic ascetic continued his sweeper (or neo-bhangi) labours in the distinctive feat of cleaning out the deserted and lice-infested village of Sakori at a dire juncture of plague. After settling at Sakori in 1918, his self-confinement, in a bamboo cage was attended by spontaneous vernacular discourses, including a notable (and positive) perspective on women that cannot be found in Vedantic texts.

AUTHOR: Kevin R. D. Shepherd. For first instalment, see Upasani Maharaj, Radical Rishi Biography (1)


AU         Anushthan, discourse by Upasani Baba, trans. Subbarao

CIC        Tipnis, Contribution of Upasani Baba to Indian Culture

DAB       Dabholkar, Shri Sai Satcharita, trans. Kher

DSS       Desai and Irani, Sakori na Sadguru, trans. Gumashta first edn

GLS       Godamasuta, Life Sketch of Sadguru Upasani Baba Maharaja

GT          Godamasuta, ed., Talks of Sadguru Upasani Baba Maharaja

ISS         Irani and Desai, Sakori na Sadguru, trans. Gumashta second edn

KK          Kamath and Kher, Sai Baba of Shirdi

LM          Kalchuri et al, Lord Meher (Meher Prabhu), Reiter edition

LSB        Narasimhaswami, Life of Sai Baba

MBJ       Meher Baba Journal

MM         Fenster, Mehera-Meher Vol. One

NF          Satpathy, New Findings on Shirdi Sai Baba

NDE       Narasimhaswami, Devotees’ Experiences of Sri Sai Baba

NSS       Narasimhaswami, Sage of Sakuri

NSU       Nath, Shri Sadguru Upasani Maharaja Yancha Charitra

PPM       Purdom, The Perfect Master: Life of Shri Meher Baba

RD          Deitrick, ed., Ramjoo’s Diaries 1922-1929

SBI         Shepherd, Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation

SBM       Shepherd, Investigating the Sai Baba Movement

SSS        Subbarao, Sage of Sakuri Part II

UL           Upasani Lilamrita

TIW         Purdom and Schloss, Three Incredible Weeks with Meher Baba



(335)  There are different reports of the Dattatreya temple. According to Charles Purdom, “the temple is open not only to the Hindus of low as well as high caste, but also to non-Hindus” (PPM:33). Cf. LSB:425, briefly referring to “a declaration that in the temple he [Upasani] had built no Harijan should enter.” No date is given for this development, and no additional detail. Cf. CIC:119, quoting Upasani as saying: “Untouchables should not enter the premises of temples.” This statement comes from Upasani Vak Sudha, predating the Dattatreya temple at Sakori. Tipnis also relays other extreme statements from the same text, including: “Those who mix with the untouchables will go to hell” (ibid). This reflects the standard orthodox brahmanical antipathy. It is most unlikely that Upasani himself believed that mixers were hellbound, in view of his own close association with bhangis. The orthodox contention would then mean that he himself was in hell. Such accusations were made against him by his vehement critics at Kharagpur. The orthodox assertions may therefore have been intended by him as a protective measure to allay hostility. There are some who believe that editorial caste preferences influenced certain wordings in his discourses. Memory (of Ranga Rao) is known to have played a strong part in the transmission of published talks; editorial preference does therefore remain a possibility in relation to controversial issues.

(336) “Several well-to-do devotees freely came forward with liberal donations and erected a number of Dharmashalas” (SSS:14). Another informant was Meher Baba, who confirmed an aversion to money on the part of Upasani. The Irani commented in the 1950s: “I am aware of his habits because I was there with him” (LM:4810). This Zoroastrian-born mystic also mentioned that Hindu caste preferences gained dominance at Sakori, involving separate kitchens for different social and religious groupings. That situation was created by devotees, not by Upasani, who nevertheless permitted leeway for some orthodox attitudes.

(337)  Deshmukh 1965:40; Shepherd 1986:127-128. Cf. LM:112. Neither Deshmukh nor Kalchuri et al refer to the hostile party at Shirdi. It is clear enough that many inhabitants were welcoming. The major agitator, Nanavali, was dead. Upasani’s removal to Sakori had probably offset some of the hostility from conservative devotees. However, other reports indicate a degree of underlying aversion continuing at Shirdi into the 1930s, an aversion primarily associated with Das Ganu. This matter was spotlighted during the last visit Upasani made to Shirdi in 1935.

(338)  GLS:13 states that all religious festivals were observed at the ashram, especially Gurupurnima (in July) and Makara Sankranta (in January). Cf. Deshmukh, “The Work at Sakori” (MBJ 1941:139); Deshmukh 1965:41. Writing while Upasani was still alive, Dr. Deshmukh emphasises: “Maharaj is himself entirely above the field of mere ceremonies and rituals.” Deshmukh had some personal contact with Upasani during the 1930s, but was not a devotee, being a follower of Meher Baba.

(339) LSB:383. The intention of the author was to urge here that “lakhs of people,” meaning hundreds of thousands, were attracted to Upasani throughout Maharashtra, and thereby introduced to Sai Baba as the source of Upasani’s powers. The numbers here would seem to be pronouncedly exaggerated. The same author, in an earlier work, more soberly referred to “some thousands” coming for darshan at the Bombay event in 1930 (NSS:2). The difference is substantial enough to warrant incredulity at the inflated figure.

(340)  Brunton 1934:63, referring to the report of Khandalawalla, a Parsi ex-magistrate of Bombay who had encountered Upasani in the past. See also Shepherd 2014:92-3. Khandalawalla additionally related that Upasani had once invited him to Benares. He complied, afterwards experiencing a premonition of death. He wanted to return to Poona, where his family were staying. Upasani persuaded him not to leave, reassuring him. Two days later, Khandalawalla received a telegram informing that his son’s wife had given birth to a child, the baby dying within a few minutes (Brunton 1934:63). The critic construed this episode as further proof of “ghastly mistakes” on the part of the Hindu guru. If he had returned earlier, Khandalawalla would not have been able to offset the baby’s death. Brunton was eager to cast doubt upon Upasani as part of his reaction against Meher Baba. The record of events in Brunton’s travelogue is very unsatisfactory and substantially unreliable. See further Shepherd 1988:146-176.

(341)  Cf. LM:1388. This version does not mention the gunny cloth, relaying: “Maharaj was not in a welcoming mood that day, and abused Gandhi, shouting: ‘Who says you are a Mahatma? You are someone great, but what is that to me!” Cf. SBM:93-94.

(342)  SBI:68-73; Vijayakumar 2009:36-42. Narasimhaswami (Narasimha Iyer) was a Tamil brahman who studied at the Madras Christian College; he became a successful lawyer at Salem from 1895 onwards.

(343)  Vijayakumar 2009:61. This report is a rewording of a statement found in LSB:415, which stipulates “previous opinions and expectations” of the writer. Dr. Vijayakumar does not refer to the two separate sojourns at Sakori on the part of Narasimhaswami. The chronology involved is not satisfactory. Narasimhaswami says that he left Upasani “about the beginning of 1933 with the idea of never returning to him” (ibid). The sannyasin did in fact return afterwards, but does not supply any date. The much later account of Vijayakumar is marred by inaccurate details. For instance, Upasani is here stated to have “married 65 virgin girls by holding an idol of Lord Krishna” (Vijayakumar 2009:59). The figure of 65 is very exaggerated; the context is seriously misleading. Only five kanyas were inducted via the use of a Krishna image, the date being 1932; the accessory was not used afterwards. At the period when Narasimhaswami was based in Sakori, there were only a small number of kanyas, and even by the time of Upasani’s death, there were only 23 nuns (or less). The period of court litigation is mistakenly said to have lasted for thirty months (ibid:60). The duration was actually less than eighteen months. Numerous errors have percolated retrospective accounts of Upasani Maharaj. Vijayakumar here supplies a variant of the conservative pro-Sai assertion that Upasani left Shirdi too early in 1914. Upasani is here said to have followed instructions of Sai Baba “for three years and ten months and ran away from Shirdi two months before he could complete the rigorous training” (ibid:58). No guru-shishya training was involved, but something quite different. The chronology given is wrong. The first stay of Upasani at Shirdi lasted for three years; the sequels are customarily ignored. The account by Vijayakumar of legal action is also very misleading, stating that “a good majority of the devotees of Upasani Maharaj considered it [the polygamy] as a heinous crime and filed a public interest litigation in the courts of Nagpur and Mumbai” (ibid:59). This is a misconception of events; the number of defectors is unknown, and the agitators in law courts were not devotees. Furthermore, Nagpur was not the scene of litigation, but instead Kopargaon (Rahuri district) and Ahmednagar. Bombay (Mumbai) was the setting for only one of the court cases. It is doubtful that supporters of Upasani feared he “could be arrested on charges of practising polygamy” (ibid). The major court case related to the Bombay Devadasis Protection Act of 1934, which prohibited marriages to a Krishna idol; the prosecution lost their case decisively. Upasani was totally vindicated, as Dr. Tipnis has shown. Vijayakumar does accurately report an intention of Upasani in creating the Kanya Kumari Sthan, meaning a restoration of female rights to chanting the Vedas and performing yajnas (ibid). In this respect, Dr. Vijayakumar improves upon the version of Narasimhaswami. Indeed, the former writer states that “the Hindu fanatics denied this privilege to women” (ibid).

(344)  Singh 1975:4; Shepherd 1986:3; SBM:137. This comment of Meher Baba was not oral, but relayed via an alphabet board and gesture language (he observed silence for many years). The mood is very different to that of popular Shirdi lore encouraged by Narasimhaswami, who “published all about the miracles of Sai Baba, in a small book” (Singh 1975:4). Another book by the Madras sannyasin is also relevant. The varied interviews conducted by Narasimhaswami at Shirdi, in 1936, included one with Balakrishna R. Khairikar, a brahman then aged 70, from the village of Khairi (near Chitali). Khairikar was at first a hereditary village officer or kulkarni. A short statement from this man appears to have influenced the Sai hagiology elaborated by Narasimhaswami. “I saw [Sai] Baba using water instead of oil for his panthis” (NDE:231). The panthis were mosque lamps, paraphernalia becoming famous in the Shirdi mythology frowned upon by Meher Baba. The interview with Khairikar is reported very briefly. This informant says that when he first heard of Sai Baba circa 1900, the faqir was described as a madman. Afterwards, “everybody began to talk of him” (NDE:231). Khairikar knew some brahmans at Shirdi; he visited the saint, becoming a devotee of a kind. He encountered Sai Baba by 1908. He relays that “Deshpande Master of Danderpur was often hearing Baba talk; I know nothing of what Baba said” (ibid). This refers to Madhavrao Deshpande, alias Shama, the major linguistic mediator between the faqir and visitors. Khairikar’s knowledge of what Sai Baba taught was evidently negligible. He gives much importance to a coin he found at the mosque. Sai Baba gave this coin back to him, apparently promising him prosperity.

(345)  Singh 1975:4. See also SBI:41-42, referring to views of the late Dr. Marianne Warren, who in some respects was confusing. Cf. Warren 1999. This book influenced some other academics who did not duly check all the assertions made by Warren. She included reference to my early book Gurus Rediscovered (1986), tending to attribute the views of Meher Baba to myself, presenting me as an unreasoning critic of Narasimhaswami. Warren completely ignored what the Madras sannyasin said about Upasani Maharaj. Warren refers to my “harsh critique” of Narasimhaswami, without duly explaining the context of her aspersion (Warren 1999:15). Cf. Shepherd 1986:1-4, 134-135. Cf. SBM:136-137, on Meher Baba’s version of Narasimhaswami. Meher Baba described the sannyasin as a “very good soul who made a mess of things because of his ignorance.” Meher Baba strongly resisted the tendency of Narasimhaswami to miracle stories. Narasimhaswami desired to write a biography of Meher Baba, a prospect that was declined by the Irani. Warren was a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, reacting to my brief criticism of that controversial guru. She writes approvingly of miracles claimed by Sathya Sai. Warren enthusiastically relays that Sathya Sai declared himself to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai, an assertion made “when he was fourteen years old in 1940, by casting flowers on the ground, miraculously forming the Telegu letters for the name ‘Sai Baba’ ” (Warren 1999:xii). The critical version of that “miracle” event, associated with Basava Premanand, is not flattering to the Andhra guru (SBM:269). Warren accuses me of being “very opinionated in this book” (Warren 1999:24n.38); she refers to my critical view (in Gurus Rediscovered) of Narasimhaswami. Warren conveniently fails to mention Meher Baba’s objection to miracle lore. For Dr. Warren, miracles were perfectly acceptable, being justified by doctrines of Sathya Sai. Her opinions about Sathya Sai were substantially reflected in her book on Shirdi Sai, especially chapter 14, entitled “The Sathya Sai Baba Connection.” Some readers were offput by this factor, which they considered to be an intrusion in a book about Shirdi Sai and Sufism. Dr. Warren (d.2004) subsequently disowned her allegiance to Sathya Sai, becoming very disillusioned a few years before her death, after her book had been published. A revised edition at the time of her death did not attend to all the discrepancies. I do not believe that I was in error to cite an article mediating a very relevant diary still generally ignored (see Singh 1975). Warren herself had evidently not read this article relaying content from the Kishan Singh diary (Warren 1999:354). Meher Baba was clearly very critical of Narasimhaswami’s inclinations to hagiology. In contrast, Dr. Warren’s excuse for miracle lore blamed me for criticising Narasimhaswami. The academic support for miraculous events has led to further confusions in different countries. An adapted doctoral thesis, tending to glorify miracles, is no guarantee of accuracy in relation to the content of books by rival authors. Dr. Warren even attributed to my early book a statement that cannot be found in those pages (Shepherd 2017:89). She does not mention Narasimhaswami’s harsh dismissal of the Sakori nuns in the erroneous context of “foamy adulterator.” Warren shows no awareness of the Divekar Shastri libel, which evidently influenced Narasimhaswami to a substantial extent. Warren’s argument was far too selective in the details employed, ignoring the Sakori situation to which I had referred in Gurus Rediscovered. Warren only very fleetingly mentions Godavari Mataji, and not in any due context of misrepresentation suffered by the Sakori nun. Warren excuses Narasimhaswami with the comment: “By the late 1930s Narasimhaswami was dismayed by a growing notoriety and scandal surrounding Upasani Maharaj and dissociated himself from the pandit” (Warren 1999:354). This endorsing attitude ignored relevant data about what really happened at Sakori. Warren was effectively a supporter of both orthodox anti-kanya calumny and miracle lore. Her version of Narasimhaswami and Sakori does not suffice for accurate historical reporting. Her use of the word pandit is not applicable. Upasani was not a pundit (and denied being one), despite the attempt of pracharak Narasimhaswami to depict him as a priest or purohit.

(346)  SSS:41-43. This account is more detailed about the Nasik phase than most others, but does not describe the clique. Subbarao does not mention the poison specified by Godamasuta. He says that devotees were in despair when the health of Upasani steadily declined at Nasik. A doctor insisted that no visitors should see him without special permission. Subbarao also states that, while Upasani was at Nasik, Durgabai Karmakar sent him a bottle of tirtha, the contents of which proved “suspicious.” Upasani did not drink the contaminated tirtha water (SSS:67). This version is now in question. 

(347)  SSS:48. Very little is known about the kanya named Rama. Three of her older sisters had died from a malady, purportedly created by evil spirits (SSS:47). This was a belief within the family, not at the Sakori ashram. Rama is reported to have developed symptoms of the same malady during her stay at Sakori. The nature of her illness is not clear. When Upasani returned from Hyderabad, he gave her tirtha (holy water) and she recovered (SSS:47-48).

(348)  SBM:96-104. Overall data on the Kanya Kumari Sthan is more than sufficient to warrant a firm conclusion that the opinions of 1930s detractors were extremely misleading. The most influential detractor was Divekar Shastri of Miraj.

(349)  Narasimhaswami included two chapters about Upasani in Vol. 2 of the original edition of his Life of Sai Baba (Madras, 1955-56). The general tone of his narrative tends to relegate the significance of Upasani. He includes such misleading statements as: “What was miraculously started in June-July 1911 came to a very abrupt and unfortunate end in the sishya’s running away from his Guru” (LSB:467).

(350) A relevant text is Sati Charitra, published at Sakori in 1939, including reflections of Upasani on the role of women in Hindu society. Upasani emphasised religious education, being relatively indifferent to secular developments associated with the British colonialists.

(351) SSS:66-68; Natu 1994:24-26; SBM:99-100. Cf. LM:4385, for a different wording to that found in Bal Natu, and an (American) editorial endnote which is in query. A revised version of the note has appeared in LM online, relevant to page 3534 (accessed 05/03/20). The online note is less emphatic about the mukti credited to Durgabai (at her death) in the Reiter edition. The endnote associated with Lawrence Reiter asserts: “On her death bed, Maharaj bestowed God-Realisation or Liberation (Mukti) upon Durgabai.” The online version (of David Fenster) retains a belief that Upasani was disguised as a woman when he visited Durgabai at Sholapur. If that event really occurred, a precaution may have arisen because of difficulties found in gaining entry to the home for destitute women. Very little is known about the episode. Lord Meher is noted for some editorial errors and faulty translations, also a controversial policy of not citing sources. Bhau Kalchuri was not the author or redactor of much content in Lord Meher, which is a composite work. Kalchuri’s colleague Bal Natu directly transcribed a major (and multi-lingual) discourse of Meher Baba imparted at Sakori in March 1954, a discourse which gives information about Durgabai. Accordingly, Natu must count as the most reliable transmission in this respect. Meher Baba was also the source for details of Durgabai and Taramek, concerning the period when both of these persons were influential in the management of Sakori ashram. An argument developed between Durgabai and the man Taramek, who was conspicuous as a management worker or official.  Upasani then told both of the quarrellers to leave. According to Meher Baba (as relayed by the Kalchuri compendium), this was because both Durgabai and Taramek “had a love for money” (LM:4122). In contrast, the tendencies of the farmer devotee Mahadev were different. “He did nothing but remember Maharaj all day long” (ibid). Upasani is reported to have remarked: “Those who do nothing for years together perform the most arduous work. To do nothing for years is great tapa (penance)” (ibid). This was a reference to Mahadev. Both Taramek and Mahadev remain largely obscure in the sources. Subbarao does not mention Taramek, Mahadev, or any visit of Upasani to Sholapur; he says that Raghunath Karmakar died shortly after his mother.

(352)  Natu 1994:24; CIC:186-187. Today, the emphasis of Upasani on the “female state” is likely to be confusing if associations are made with certain eccentric forms of Krishna-bhakti. During the 1930s, Upasani was not in the disconnected unmatta condition he manifested at the Khandoba temple many years before. An early Shirdi episode is associated with wearing bangles and applying kunkum (a form of cosmetic). Of the later Sakori phase, Natu says: “Maharaj seemed to be concentrating his work on the feminine aspect of God, at times even dressing as a woman himself.” He provides no further description. Bal Natu did not meet Upasani. However, he became closely associated with Meher Baba’s mandali, a grouping through whom he learned a great deal about Sakori ashram. Tipnis cites Narasimhaswami. Sage of Sakuri is not the best source for the kanya period, nor even the much earlier Shirdi phase.

(353) SBM:96-101, 128-129, disputing the misleading coverage of Daism, a controversial American religious grouping inspired by Adi Da Samraj (d.2008), who acquired a reputation for promiscuity. Adi Da and his followers interpreted Upasani Maharaj as a type of Tantric libertine. This contingent failed to understand basic features of the Upasani Kanya Kumari Sthan. Far more relevant was the account of Adi K. Irani, secretary of Meher Baba, and a witness of 1930s events. Adi supplied some details in a 1970s report to which I early referred (Gurus Rediscovered, pp. 136 ff). Adi was correct in a number of details. However, certain factors were distorted in the verbal transmission of his talk. Upasani was not sixty-eight at the time of his “marriages,” which were furthermore in danger of being interpreted as marital arrangements of the type familiar in Western countries. In Gurus, I referred to “six wives,” the number supplied by Adi. See also note 385 below. “At the age of sixty-eight, he took six wives,” is nevertheless a misleading statement in my preliminary work (published in 1986). Upasani was in his early sixties at the time of his initial spiritual marriages. See SBM:201-202 note 281. In the 2005 account, I barely touched upon the critique ventured by Narasimhaswami. “This period was not adequately evaluated by Narasimhaswami and other writers on Sakori events, who left out some happenings in ignorance” (SBM:129). To clarify here: Narasimhaswami must have been aware of some developments he did not choose to disclose (meaning primarily the resolution of the 1935 court case at Ahmednagar, where the Sessions Judge  pronounced a verdict in favour of Upasani).

(354) Sahukar 1983:78. Mani Sahukar was a graduate of the Elphinstone College in Bombay. She wrote a well known book on Godavari Mataji (Sahukar 1966).  Vedic era significances for women are now renowned. Sadly, the Kanya Kumari Sthan was obscured for decades, being afflicted by calumny and aspersion from some male writers. Concerning the Vedic era, some scholars have cautioned against romanticising interpretations. A general impression gained is that many female Vedic pundits and ritualists existed. One suggestion is that the overall status of women was much higher in Vedic India than in other ancient societies such as those of Greece and Rome (Srivastava 2000:16). In relation to the issue of female renunciates, most orthodox brahmanical texts of Hinduism proscribe sannyasa for women. The number of female ascetics in ancient and medieval India is a subject for guesswork. In contrast, census reports from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, reveal that female sannyasins then comprised up to forty per cent of both the general sadhu and Dashanami populations in certain regions of India (Clark 2006:30). This may seem a surprisingly high component. At Sakori, the Kanya Kumari Sthan was very unusual for a radical attempt by the founder to reduce the gap between female renunciates and traditional brahmanical codes. Upasani was handicapped in this respect by the influence of the Manusmriti, a canonical text sometimes dated to the second or third century CE (and possibly earlier). Manu denied women and shudras all access to learning. The substitute for women was marriage and serving the husband. As a consequence, women were completely under the control of male relatives. In at least one Hindu legal treatise, the killing of a woman only merited the same punishment as the killing of a shudra or a cow; however, if the woman was fertile when killed, her status was elevated to that of a kshatriya or even a brahman (Jamison 1996:261 note 21).  During the Vedic and “classical” era, women performed complex “hospitality rites” on behalf of their husbands; in the same book, Professor Jamison describes the Vedic wife as a commodity who could be traded between two parties.

(355)  The version of events in SSS:68-70 is revealing. The lawsuit, ostensibly against Divekar Shastri, was filed at Kopargaon in August 1934, subsequently transferred to the Ahmednagar court in September. The ruse of Bhangre and his colleagues appears to have been rather elaborate. In this interpretation, the complaint against Divekar Shastri was intended as bait for Upasani. According to Subbarao, the opponents at Kopargaon never intended to push their complaint to a logical conclusion. When their plan was thwarted by Upasani and the sub-divisonal magistrate of Ahmednagar, Bhangre terminated the complaint. This was soon after evidence had been supplied by Upasani and Godavari Mataji, whom Bhangre had cited as witnesses. Three minor complaints were also filed, described as offshoots of the Kopargaon scheme against the Sakori mystic. These offshoots were the Jagtap case, the Raote-Karmakar case, and the alleged murder.

(356)  CIC:176. Cf. SSS:68-70, which has a few extra details, associated with the wrong date of 1934 (in contrast, Tipnis cites the Ashram File of 1935). Subbarao identifies the ritual in process as the Ganesh Yajna, the first of this kind at Sakori. He says that the mamlatdar of Kopargaon and the police inspector “pretended” to dig here and there to find a corpse. The mamlatdar did not believe that the allegation had any basis. Throughout this episode, Upasani continued undisturbed with the yajna (a completely new activity of his). Also present were his prominent devotees N. G. Bharucha (Assistant Commissioner of Nagpur), Khan Saheb Dorabji M. Daruwala (Ex-Registrar of Bombay Small Causes Court) and Sir Kishan Prasad (a barrister of Hyderabad).

(357) Some indication of an opposing trend at Shirdi is found in a 1936 interview of Narasimhaswami with Chandrabai Borkar, a woman born about 1870, who became a devotee of Sai Baba during the 1890s. On Gurupurnima day in 1913, Sai asked her to prepare puja dravya and naivedha, and then worship Upasani at the Khandoba temple. She complied in a memorable episode, informing Upasani of Sai Baba’s order. “But after that day, I never again worshipped Maharaj” (NDE:253). Further, during the interview conducted in 1936, Chandrabai said revealingly: “My attitude towards him (Upasani) is what I should have towards a gurubandhu. I do not hate him, as so many Shirdi people do” (ibid). Chandrabai added: “My attitude towards Upasani has been misunderstood by him and others. Two years ago, I went to Sakori to help in establishing a proper arrangement about recent changes in the Panchakanya [five nuns] establishment of his. But, apprehending my attitude to be hostile, he never gave me the chance of a free private talk with him and I returned” (NDE:253-54). We do not have the Sakori version of this obscure event. Chandrabai does not mention the very recent visit of Upasani to Shirdi, occurring in 1935; that event is surely relevant, having proved his goodwill. This significant visit also escaped reporting by Narasimhaswami, who instead asserted (in his Life of Sai Baba) that the fame of Upasani Maharaj declined by 1936, because of orthodox reactions to the new community of Sakori nuns (kanyas). Those reactions transpired to be misleading, a fact which Narasimhaswami likewise failed to report. Another source says, of the visit to Shirdi in April 1935, that “again he [Upasani] was welcomed with the utmost reverence” (LM:112). The encounter with Das Ganu is here missing. The Reiter edition of Lord Meher gave the wrong date of 1936, an error revised in the online edition. On the literary output of Das Ganu Maharaj, see McLain 2016:54-90.

(358)  SBM:87-88. A paragraph on Meher Baba was included in SSS:6. Merwan is here described as “a young Parsi gentleman,” a common neglect of Irani identity. He was “amongst the foremost of the new devotees,” spending hours continuously with Upasani. He “stayed for some years at Sakori and was responsible for the first biography of Upasani Maharaj in Marathi by Natha Madhav.” Merwan actually stayed intermittently at Sakori. This report does not refer to the related Gujarati and Urdu biographies, which were far less well known. Merwan is here remembered for composing a Gujarati arati in honour of Upasani, a hymn in use at Sakori for some time. From “about the end of 1922, he stopped coming to Sakori.” Much context is lost in this skeletal report. Furthermore, no mention is made of Merwan in the passage concerning the second hut of Upasani at Sakori (SSS:12-13). Cf. Natu 1994:16-17.

(359) This statement comes from the diary of Kishan Singh, a former government official, in an entry dated September 1954. See SBM:195 note 236.

(360)  LM:394. Cf. LM online:313, where the editor interposes that the purpose of the July visit to Sakori was “perhaps in connection with this work,” meaning the Urdu version of Upasani biography. Merwan said that he was going to Sakori for an “important and serious matter” (ibid). There is no need to believe that the biographical project was the sole purpose of Meher Baba’s visit. However, the selection of Ahmed Abbas is a strong indicator of agenda, however partial. The prominent inclusion of a Muslim is significant. No sources are supplied in Lord Meher, a general and pronounced drawback in such a lengthy work, totalling over 5,000 non-annotated pages in the online update. Very few persons now have any chance of tracking all the numerous sources involved. The endeavour would amount to a scholarly enterprise. It is relatively easy to locate the source of the abovecited modification (meaning “perhaps”). The early diary of Ramju Abdulla states: “It is probably in connection with the [Urdu] biography that Khak [Ahmed Abbas] has gone with Baba and Trimbuk to Sakori today” (RD:59). Given the context of immediate reporting, it is impossible to reject the probability as a vague conjecture. The same diary was included in the first critical bibliography on Meher Baba (Shepherd 1988:248-297), which encountered some negative devotee reactions, including the dismissive variety. I am not a devotee of Meher Baba (see Statement of Independence at the online Meher Baba, an Irani Mystic). My independent perspective proved imponderable to excising sectarian interests on Wikipedia, in an episode now well known online (Wikipedia Anomalies). Over thirty years later, the sources on Meher Baba are far more numerous, with many complexities requiring an extensive knowledge of the subject. See further Shepherd, Lord Meher Critique (2017); Shepherd, The Meher Baba Movement (online article commencing 2012).

(361)  On Brunton, see Shepherd 1988:146-176. See also Masson 1993, for the major critique of Brunton by a disillusioned follower who became a Professor of Sanskrit at Toronto. See also Shepherd, Investigating Meher Baba in "Secret India" (2014); idem, Meher Baba and Paul Brunton (online article dating to 2012).

(362)  RD:162-165. Cf. PPM:57-58; LM:489-493; SBM:90. When Upasani exhibited such an angry mood, his words amounted to a form of banter, a tease, even a deliberate feint. One may conclude that Meher Baba had made a statement of independence, while Upasani responded by confirming that he was no longer in charge of his former disciple. The dramatisation was pronounced.

(363)  Schloss 1966:1-2. Kaka Baria remained a permanent member of Meher Baba’s mandali. He also encountered Narayan Maharaj at the time of the episode described, having been a visitor to Kedgaon ashram. Baria had been visiting Sakori for a year or so, having also gained contact with Hazrat Babajan at Poona (Shepherd 2014:53). 

(364)  Irani MBJ 1938 Vol. 1 (1):34. Adi K. Irani here adds: “I had seen Maharaj eulogise [Meher] Baba times without number…. But never have I seen him (Maharaj) playing the role of a devotee of his disciple, paying respectful homage almost amounting to worship” (ibid). See also SBM:130-131.

(365)  Dadachanji MBJ November 1941, Vol. 4(1):56-59, for a coverage soon after the event. The author rather lavishly describes the meeting in terms of a “unique incident in the history of the universe.” However, Dadachanji otherwise provides a straightforward account of the Dahigaon event. Eleven photographs were also supplied. Another early report was relayed by Adi K. Irani in his Circular no. 2 (Bangalore, 24/10/1941). The informant is here Sarosh K. Irani, a direct participant at Dahigaon along with Gulmai Irani, Kaka Baria, Savak Kotwal, and Padri (F. N. Driver). As the driver of the car, Sarosh informs that Dahigaon was only two miles from Sakori. He says: "Yeshwantrao is an old disciple of Upasani Maharaj and holds [Meher] Baba in equal reverence." Sarosh also records that when his car arrived at Sakori, the devotees there looked on with puzzlement, wondering what was happening. Afterwards, when the meeting was over, Gulmai garlanded both Meher Baba and Upasani at the double gate of the hut compound.

(366)  According to diverse renditions, a basically cryptic interchange occurred at the Dahigaon hut. For instance, Upasani asserted that the “powers of various sadgurus” were vested in Meher Baba, adding: “I leave everything to you.” See further SBM:218 note 362, observing: “Different wordings in the reports are due to the different occasions of reporting and the different editorial hands involved, a common feature of the Meher Baba literature and one requiring due flexibility in coverage.” In one version, Meher Baba says of the last encounter: “When we met, he [Upasani] ordered me to break my silence, knowing I would not do it. Three times he told me: ‘I am your Guru, listen to me!’ I said to Maharaj through hand signs, ‘The time has not yet come’ ” (LM:4379). This commentary was addressed in March 1954 to B. T. Wagh, the manager of Sakori ashram. See also Natu 1994:27, for the related discourse of Meher Baba that same day in 1954. Cf. Kerkhove 2002:241-243, favouring the LM report that soon after the Dahigaon episode, Meher Baba told Vishnu Deorukhkar: “I can bring down the stars… I now have full powers… Maharaj has handed over his side of things to me” (LM:2730). No source is cited for this remark in a compilation edited by the American devotees David Fenster and Lawrence Reiter.

(367) SBM:134, citing Natu 1994:20. Bal Natu was one of those long ago influenced by the slanderous articles about Upasani appearing in the Marathi magazine Kirloskar of 1934. Natu subsequently revised his assessment of the output and influence achieved by detractors of Upasani, grasping that the allegations were grossly misleading.  As a consequence of the slander, Natu had once believed that Upasani was “a parasite on society” (Natu 1994:12). Natu became a follower of Meher Baba, whom he accompanied on a visit to Sakori ashram in March 1954. See also SBM:220n.370.

(368) LM online:2248 (accessed 05/03/20). Cf. SBM:219 note 364. Minoo Bharucha (d.1998) was a Parsi electrical engineer who first met Meher Baba at Nasik in 1931, becoming his devotee. Bharucha afterwards became a follower of Upasani, who visited his home at Nasik on some occasions. He married Aimai, formerly a Sakori nun (the details are obscure). Bharucha attended the funeral of Upasani, and remained in contact with Meher Baba. His later reminiscences of the Sakori satpurusha seem to have confused some Westerners, who gained the impression that Upasani often threw sticks and stones at visitors; his anger can easily be overemphasised. Upasani definitely did adopt strategies for deterring faulty attitudes. However, manifestations of his displeasure require to be considered in the light of the many Hindu and Zoroastrian devotees, in various towns and cities, who benefited from his inspiration and counsel.

(369)  Deshmukh 1941:207; 1965:45. The Professor’s own account has some additions to the version by Kalchuri et al. Lord Meher omits the meeting with Upasani in 1936. However, some helpful extras are supplied in LM that grant more context. The Deshmukh article states: I found that he [Meher Baba] had known all that had happened at Sakori” (1965:44). Whereas Kalchuri et al present Deshmukh as saying to Meher Baba: “You do not know how furious he [Upasani] was and what he said to me” (LM:1809). The online version relates that Meher Baba had already told Deshmukh not to run from place to place in search of truth (LM online:1544, accessed 05/03/20). This injunction apparently occurred before Deshmukh visited Sakori. In more general terms, concerning the offputting behaviour of Upasani, an early commentator wrote: “The accusation is made against Upasni Maharaj that he not only vituperates, but also severely beats some of his followers; the accusation is not groundless” (PPM:33). The extent of this disposition is very difficult to determine. Cf. SBM:199n.259. Upasani did explain his trait of vituperation on a number of occasions, in varying ways. See CIC:79, citing Upasani Vak Sudha: “A saint sometimes speaks in a pleasing manner, and at times, he uses harsh and abusive language. He may even beat others. But, whatever he does, he does for the good of the world.” Cf. “The bad thoughts stored in the hearts of some of you sometime find their way into this [my empty] head, and come out spontaneously… but vehemently, with the result that I begin to abuse badly and to beat; in the form of abuses and beating, the bad thoughts are returned to you” (GT, 2:127). That discourse dates to 1924. The following year, he commented in Talk 287 that he had many times called his body “a bogie,” meaning a railway carriage in which occurs a struggle between passengers after strangers force their way inside; the situation soon adjusts and the passengers begin to talk with each other in a pleasant manner. This is the context for his statement: “When another Jiva from outside enters into it [my body], I am seen to abuse, to beat, to be angry, and then all of a sudden become calm and quiet” (GT, 3:498). A related explanation of Meher Baba is that manifestations of annoyance can, in such rare instances, burn up or eliminate hindering sanskaras.

(370)  Parthasarathy 1996:95. Cf. Nimbalkar 2001:64, which is a liberal improvement, crediting Upasani with “a very high spiritual status” endowed by Sai Baba. Nimbalkar avoids reference to the problematic exegesis of Narasimhaswami. In his Life of Sai Baba, the Madras sannyasin refers to “a regular harem with a castle and an Antahpuram in it” (LSB:425). The word antahpuram has Tamil significances of a palace apartment for the accommodation of royal women and concubines. Narasimhaswami himself spoke Tamil. The same word is regarded by some writers as an equivalent term to harem. Whatever the linguistic significances here, the reference in English, to the Sakori nuns as a harem, is an extremist description that has misled many readers.

(371)  Parthasarathy 1996:94. This writer was extensively misled by Narasimhaswami. For instance, he writes that Upasani “kept up his intellectuality and his learning as important assets” (ibid). Inspection of the major sources will abundantly reveal the error in this assessment.

(372)  LSB:425-426, expressly stating that Divekar Shastri “carried on his agitation through Kirloskar magazine and Court proceedings till 1936.” This has been considered a misleading statement. The critic did not launch any court case, although he was a strong influence upon some persons who did. Because of his attack via Kirloskar, Divekar Shastri became the major critic of Upasani, and also the subject of a defamation lawsuit (CIC:169-171), in a situation that was very complex. See note 355 above. Narasimhaswami failed to describe the true situation.

(373)  LSB:429. The author complains that Upasani included, in some of his discourses, an invitation for devotees to gift sants with their womenfolk. Some devotees presented him with daughters, and even wives, according to this source (other accounts do not refer to wives). Narasimhaswami never mentions, in these accusations, that the women were being recommended for a life as celibate nuns. Narasimhaswami was blind to the intrinsic situation, instead presenting a very orthodox response. He clearly objected to “Upasani’s theory that women by nature were prarabdha rahita, i.e., free from Karma or sin, whereas men by nature were full of Karma” (LSB:430). This revolutionary theme of Upasani was too much for conservatives, including the Madras sannyasin, who preferred a male-dominated view supported by “orthodox scriptures” like the Bhagavata (LSB:430). Narasimhaswami could not assimilate the message that Hindu nuns at Sakori, “by avoiding active mingling with society and refusing to undertake [marital] responsibilities, would remain totally free from Karma” (LSB:430). In the eyes of opponents, the kanyas could not possibly equate with renunciate achievements of sannyasins like Narasimhaswami.

(374)  LSB:429. The lack of perception evidenced by Narasimhaswami has been assimilated by those familiar with alternative sources. His desire to present Upasani as the equivalent of a wealthy householder is symptomatic of the missionary impulse, relegating an imagined rival to both himself (a sannyasin) and Shirdi Sai. The Shirdi faqir was not guilty of any such insinuation.

(375)  LSB:430-431. The negative connotation is not appealing to analysts who have been more thorough in the approach to Sakori data, and who are not encumbered by missionary (pracharak) considerations amounting to a sectarian pitch.

(376)  LSB:430. Narasimhaswami seems to have been confusing different teachings of Upasani. He was perhaps familiar with a theme found in Talk 29 (dating to 1924), where Upasani says of marriage: “To be actionless, to remain always calm and collected, to be fully sattvika, to have all humility, to endure physically and mentally, are the qualities a woman is destined to have; and for a man to attain all happiness becomes a simple affair by his association with such a woman; that is the Siddhanta” (GT, 1:68). The indications are that Narasimhaswami was resistant to such themes, himself being a monk not wishing to believe the contention of Upasani. 

(377) LSB:431. In more general terms, there are possible similarities of this conflict to a medieval heresy in Maharashtra. The Mahanubhava were dvaita-bhakti supporters versus the advaita-bhakti of the Varkari panth. Similarities are not complete by any means; there are some obvious differences. The Mahanubhava came to accept, on equal terms, both untouchables and women, a latitude foreign to the caste-dominated Vedanta. The Mahanubhavs were strict monotheists who devalued the Hindu pantheon. Their adoption of a secret script was not because they feared Islamic oppression, but rather due to a fear of orthodox priestly Hinduism, “which became all the more rigid in its violent opposition and persecution of the sect” (Rigopoulos 2011:12). Prominent leaders amongst the early Mahanubhavs were all brahmans, but their followers were and are mostly low caste people (ibid:11).  Favouring bhakti and Karma Yoga, Upasani did not relegate the Hindu pantheon. Many of his followers were brahmans.

(378) LSB:425. This version refers to “a sense of ownership of properties evidenced by numerous benami transactions and execution of testamentary or other documents” (ibid). The word benami means “without a name,” now generally referring to property or assets whose actual owner was not the person lending their name. The basic context was that of property held for someone else. Benami transactions and loans were common in India since the late nineteenth century. The attendant conditions changed at different periods. Abuses increasingly occurred, such as avoiding payment of creditors and avoidance of government taxation. Legal action against benami procedures commenced in the 1970s, resulting in the prohibition of such transactions. A major complaint emerged that the real owner of assets could be difficult to trace because false identities were used. The national state of affairs, during the 1970s onward, is not to be confused with rustic conditions at Sakori in the 1930s. However, this system of transaction could easily arouse suspicion, even on a small scale. The Sakori ashram management apparently received complaints from members of different castes at that period. An ashram official called Taramek was told by Upasani to leave, along with his colleague Durgabai (see note 351 above). The disagreement may be one reason why Upasani requested the intervention of Meher Baba, who had a reputation for maintaining his own ashrams (plural) with a pragmatic skill avoiding all problems. Meher Baba had no temples or caste management at his ashrams.

(379)  Wagh regarded Meher Baba as an outsider to Sakori ashram, and as a rival to Upasani, thus believing that the views of this Irani could be dismissed. In his role as secretary, B. T. Wagh accompanied Upasani to the Zoroastrian venue of Khushru Quarters in February 1936, on the occasion when Upasani performed the arati of Meher Baba at Ahmednagar. However, Upasani took the precaution of sending Wagh on an errand, leaving himself alone with the Zoroastrians, who included Gulmai Irani (SBM:130). On B. T. Wagh, see also the index on page 320 in the same cited work.

(380) Wagh appears to be the subject of Talk 275, dating to April 1925 (GT, 3:431-439). The text reports that Bhairavanath Wagh of Bombay offered to Upasani various costly ornaments (jewellery), belonging to his deceased mother, “with the idea of securing her emancipation.” Upasani responded: “Why offer these things to a ‘dead’ man? What shall I do with them?” The ascetic remarked that these offerings did not amount to worshipping him, but to the worship of Adi-Maya, meaning illusion. On this occasion, Upasani discoursed on prarabdha karma; at the end, he referred to the gifted jewellery as “nothing else but a sort of coloured soil.” He did not esteem jewellery or precious metals, customarily discarding such items. He remarked to Bhausaheb Raote: “Tell Mr. Wagh that [Upasani] Baba has accepted his offerings according to his wishes; now he should take them away.”

(381) The situation attaching to Jyotir Math is complex, and to some extent elusive. That monastery was officially revived in 1941, after several generations of inactivity. The location was a town of the same name in Uttarakhand, at the foot of the Himalayas, near the pilgrimage town of Badrinath. During the early twentieth century, a number of monastic figures claimed to be the Shankaracharya representing Jyotir Math. However, formal occupation of the monastic site did not commence until 1941, when leaders of the other three major Shankara monasteries persuaded Swami Brahmananda Saraswati to accept the role of abbot. This new incentive was closely associated with Varanasi (Benares). No personal identity is supplied for the visiting celebrity at Sakori in 1939. That event was first recorded in SSS:75-76. Dr. Tipnis likewise gives no personal identity for the Shankaracharya (CIC:155).

(382) Upasani retained his simple gunny cloth until his death. He sometimes wore sandals, but often went barefoot. The report of a severe fast at the end of his life is in strong doubt, apparently representing a confusion with the pinjra confinement of 1922-24. See SBM:202-203 n.285. The source was TIW:48.

(383)  SSS:81-83. Upasani did not meet Narayan Maharaj again after 1911. However, in 1941, he had arranged a special secret meeting with Meher Baba two months earlier, at Dahigaon.

(384)  SSS:86-87; Dadachanji MBJ 1942:181-184. Feramroz H. Dadachanji was the Parsi secretary of Meher Baba. This commemoration appeared in his Notes from my Diary, a serialised feature in MBJ. Dadachanji informs that a telegram was quickly despatched from Sakori to Ahmednagar for the attention of Meher Baba. This telegram was taken to Meherabad ashram. Sarosh Irani and Vishnu Deorukhkar hurried up the slope of Meherabad Hill to convey the news. The silent Meher Baba came out of the gate; before any disclosure could be made, he asked (via a gesture): “Has it happened?” The Irani mystic did not express any surprise when told of the decease. Meher Baba instructed nine of his mandali to visit Sakori the following day, 25 December 1941, as his representatives. These men apparently included Gustad (Gustadji) Hansotia and Kaka Baria, both of whom had close former connections with Upasani. The visiting party attended the burial, not arriving back at Meherabad until ten p.m. Cf. LM:117; SBM:101; Harper 1972:51.

(385)  GLS:16; Manjul 1992, informing that most of the nuns came to the Kanya Kumari Sthan with the consent of their parents. Cf. CIC:45, informing that (by the 1960s), Godavari had initiated “about eleven Kanyas,” meaning committed nuns as distinct from novices. Much earlier, in the mid-1930s, Sage of Sakuri reported that eight or more persons had made a gift to Upasani of their daughters or wards as kanyadan (NSS:203). We know from another source that two of these kanyas left Sakori, which leaves six or more who stayed at that period. Reference to six nuns is found in some reports of the early “marriages.” A relevant detail is that some 1930s photographs show Upasani with six kanyas. One source states that Upasani married six kanyas during the period 1935-37 (after Gangu and Kusum), meaning a total of eleven, without mentioning any further number during his lifetime (SSS:105). A footnote in the third edition of Sage of Sakuri says: “The present number of kanyas is 24” (SSS:105), evidently meaning by 1948. This is repeated in SSS:49, stating: “Today there are 24 kanyas.” A substantial increase in the number of Sakori nuns afterwards occurred. Manjul refers fleetingly to nuns like Suniti, who came to Sakori at the age of 23 (no date given); she was familiar with Sanskrit and “set the Sanskrit sutras on musical notes for easy recitation” (Manjul 1992). Suniti was (about) sixty years old by 1992, which means that she would have joined the Kanya Kumari Sthan during the 1950s. Manjul seems to bracket Devital and Suniti in the same age group. However, we know that Devital (Devitai) joined the Sthan in the 1930s; this prominent kanya was aged seventy or more when Godavari Mataji died.

(386)  CIC:152-153, citing Vision, March 1953. Swami Ramdas founded the Anandashram in 1931 at Kanhangad, a town in Kerala.

(387)  CIC:151-152, citing Devotion (1955) 3(2):8-9. Tipnis classifies Shivananda as an admirer of Upasani Baba. Swami Shivananda was a brahman from South India who lived near Rishikesh. He founded the Divine Life Society in 1936. He also established the Shivananda ashram, near Rishikesh. He visited both the Aurobindo ashram and Ramanashram. His commemoration of Sakori ashram is less well known.

(388) Sahukar 1983:86. There are different ways of describing the approach of Godavari Mataji. She certainly did dilute the issue of austerities, but nevertheless maintained a strong disciplinary code at Sakori ashram.

(389)  Sahukar 1983:82; SBM:101. The celibate situation at Sakori has seldom been examined in due perspective. The fact is that Upasani and Godavari Mataji were complementary agents in the development of Kanya Kumari Sthan.

(390)  Sahukar 1983:81, who is at pains to point out a contrast in the temperament of Upasani. “He really believed in the truth of the well known proverb ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ But these were surface traits of his personality; deep within, [Upasani] Baba was full of love and his heart was overflowing with the tenderness and solicitude of a mother. Those who came in intimate contact with him sensed Baba’s essential trait of love and, therefore, they adored him despite his rough exterior” (ibid).

(391) Sahukar 1983:81-82, commenting that the temple “erected as a symbol for the Kanyas is a structure of intense and exquisite beauty.” Some think that this passage refers to the Dattatreya temple, but the description might also apply to the Kanya Kumari temple, erected in 1956 (CIC:30). Sahukar, a devotee of Godavari Mataji, appeared on the scene long after the death of Upasani.

(392) TIW:47. The occasion was a visit to Sakori ashram on 20 September, 1954, when Meher Baba was accompanied by a group of Western devotees, including Charles Purdom and Malcolm Schloss. The party paid their respects at the tomb of Upasani, while Meher Baba again communicated with the kanyas. The visitors were conducted to the women’s quarters, to the temple, and to the dairy. Meher Baba “sat with us in the temple and showed us Sai Baba’s stick and pipe, kept in silver cases” (ibid:48). See also SBM:135-136.

(393)  Harper 1972:194-194. The Vedic god Agni, strongly associated with fire, is commemorated in many hymns of the Rig Veda. During the Vedic era, Agni was a very salient deity. “Agni mysteriously pervades the world as heat and is identified with the earth as the sacred cow Prsni, with the sun, with the dawn and with fire hidden in its stomach; while being simply fire, Agni is particularly the sacrificial fire” (Flood 1996:46).

(394)  CIC:55. The detail is generally neglected. Upasani Baba was only able to obtain shastri tuition for the nuns in this inferior contingency. The vedokta signified Vedic mantras of the higher castes, whereas puranokta meant the Puranic mantras reserved for shudras. What is sometimes known as the Vedokta controversy arose in the instance of Shahu Chatrapati, the maharaja of Kolhapur. In 1900, his palace priests insisted that, as a shudra, Shahu could only have puranokta rites. The maharaja rebelled at this caste stipulation, subsequently articulating a strong critique of Brahmanism (Tejani 2008:84). Shahu became a significant figure in the non-brahman and Dalit movements.

(395) The term satkarma was defined by Upasani as “an effort to attain God-realisation” (CIC:99). The term covers such activities as bhajan, puja, association with a saint, and pilgrimage. Upasani stated that “concentration of mind is the ultimate fruit of satkarmas” (CIC:100). He was flexible in the applications. For instance, Narasimhaswami was committed to pilgrimage in the early 1930s. He found that Upasani advised him to desist and adopt another programme, because pilgrimage was becoming a distraction for the sannyasin.

(396) CIC:32. The author records that he had stayed in Sakori ashram for a period of about nineteen years, affording him an opportunity to study the institution closely (CIC:3).  His thesis was submitted to the University of Poona in 1962, being awarded the Ph.D. degree, afterwards being published with revisions. Dr. Tipnis acknowledges the assistance of B. T. Wagh and Shrimati Jijibai (Jiji), who had passed to him “valuable papers.” Wagh was the ashram manager, while Jijibai was a trustee of the Kanya Kumari Sthan. Tipnis was a decisive foil to Narasimhaswami, whom he adroitly does not mention (save in relation to Sage of Sakuri). Tipnis presents a rounded view of the Sakori phenomenon, in contrast to the selective preferences of his predecessor, who committed a serious injustice against the kanyas. The academic vindication of Sakori ashram occurred a decade after the stubborn refusal of Narasimhaswami to recognise any relevance of the Kanya Kumari Sthan. The Madras sannyasin was obsessed with the idea “that a wife is a fetter upon a sanyasi and that relations with women, apart from the general relation which one has to all women in society, are ruinous” (LSB:421). The imposition of such a bias upon social events and ashram occurrences was disastrous for clarity. Narasimhaswami also accuses Upasani of continuing the emphasis of his purohit grandfather about “observances, rituals, vows, mantras, yantras etc” (LSB:428). According to the critic, these factors were “predominating in the Upasani literature that is now at our disposal” (LSB:428). This literature is not cited and remains unidentified. Narasimhaswami completely misses the point that Upasani focused upon rites in relation to elevating kanya equality, not in relation to male dominance. Upasani was not a priest (purohit), approaching events from a very different perspective.

(397)  Harper 1972:192. This interview occurred some thirty years after the death of Upasani, when Sakori ashram was still untouched by Westernisation. The substantial tomb worship at Shirdi made that neighbouring venue more famous. However, the lifestyle at Sakori was difficult to find elsewhere.

(398)  LM online:3271-72, 3906 (accessed 05/03/20). The 1953 event included a private interview between Meher Baba and Godavari Mataji, conducted in Marathi. The text by Kalchuri et al has an English version of what might be approximate reliability. Meher Baba is reported to have conveyed in this interview: “Although receiving homage from others by allowing them to touch one’s feet creates serious binding if one is not God-realised, your case is entirely different, since Upasani Maharaj has entrusted you with a special duty” (ibid:3272). The reflection about serious karmic binding is unusual, not being found in many works on Hinduism.

(399) Natu 1994:20-33; LM:3967-68, 4378-95. Of Meher Baba’s spontaneous “autobiographical” discourse at Sakori in March 1954, the transcriber states that this is, “to the best of my knowledge, close in meaning to what originally transpired, but they [the reminiscences] definitely should not be taken as a verbatim recounting” (Natu 1994:21). That discourse has some different content and alternative wordings in Lord Meher, a composite multi-volume work which does not cite sources employed. In more general terms also, there are differences between the report of Natu and the longer version found in Kalchuri et al (supplemented by LM online). Additional diary material has been employed in LM, but not specified. The time-table is rigorous in the longer version. Overall detail is solid for 20 March, 1954, giving a rare insight into the 1950s situation at Sakori. Meher Baba is not mentioned in an important academic book on Upasani by Shantaram N. Tipnis, whose stance is conservative in this respect (meaning CIC; cf. Tipnis 1975).

(400)  The version of this roadside communication in LM is more detailed than the relatively brief version in Natu 1994:33.   Meher Baba mentioned an “instruction” (or request) he had communicated to Godavari Mataji that day. According to Natu, “Baba did not disclose the nature of that instruction” (ibid). However, the disclosure is made in the version by Kalchuri et al, which is employing an alternative report.  Meher Baba is here related to have asked Godavari, in private, if she would do something that he requested.  She replied: “If I can do so in this ashram atmosphere.” He then made the request that she should not accept homage, meaning people worshipping her and bowing down to her. According to Lord Meher, she promised to comply (LM:4394). Baba is said to have earlier made the same request to her in Ahmednagar (in 1953), which she apparently accepted, in the presence of Adi K. Irani (cf. LM online:3272, accessed 05/03/20, where the wording is not couched in the form of a request). During the roadside communication, Meher Baba mentioned that the kanyas and others were addressing their leader in terms of “Sadguru Godavari ki jai.” He added that Godavari “knows she has not [got] that [sadguru] experience, yet because Maharaj has instructed her, she is carrying on with the work honestly” (LM:4394). Cf. note 398 above for a different phrase relating to an interview in 1953; these reported statements may be regarded as having only an approximate accuracy, supplied in a work that does not cite sources, although a substantial number of the sources can be ascertained.

(401)  In the Reiter edition of Lord Meher, a photograph caption reads in terms of “women devotees singing devotional music before Meher Baba” (LM:4431). A text passage refers to Baba’s arati being sung by “seven young women dressed in seven different coloured saris” (LM online:3552, accessed 05/03/20). A similar photo was much earlier included in the 1955 publication of the Purdom-Schloss diary, attended by a description in terms of “six nuns from Sakori” performing arati.  There seems to have been a confusion in the description. The six women performing arati wore ear-rings, which was not a practice of Sakori nuns. The women in the photographs were bare-headed, which again was not a kanya practice. The same report refers to “the performance of arti by six young women in light-blue saris” (TIW:6). The Sakori nuns did not wear blue robes.

(402)   LM:4477 endnote. The other Westerners do not appear to have had the same hesitation as Shaw, although Kishan Singh reports: “Baba touched the heads of the Westerners to help them bow down” (Singh 1975:2).  Most of them did not know very much about Upasani, being devotees of Meher Baba with a secondary interest in other masters. Charles Purdom was in a different category, having included a brief biography of Upasani in his early book about Meher Baba (PPM). I met Purdom and Fred Marks (of London) in 1965, both of these men being in the Western group who stayed at Meherabad in 1954. Marks revered Upasani because he was the master of Meher Baba; however, Marks rarely referred to the Sakori ascetic. Western non-familiarity with Upasani was assisted by the fact that the earliest biographies were in Indian languages, while the Talks were not translated until the 1950s, and even then, were not an easy read for those unfamiliar with the vocabulary of Hinduism.

(403)  The wording is reported as follows: “Whatever rituals Maharaj has instructed you to observe, you should [do so]. But, if it is possible, in the months of November and December, I want you to do one thing. That is, every kanya should say: ‘It has been declared that Meher Baba is the avatar, and you all, the five sadgurus, should help him in his work!’ ” (LM:4478) Godavari and Jiji are both reported as agreeing to carry out this suggestion. The rather cryptic invocation was uttered daily by the Sakori kanyas for two months. A declaration about avatar status was definitely made by Meher Baba that same year. The petition to five sadgurus involved unidentified entities of uncertain location. The suggestion of Meher Baba does not appear in the Purdom-Schloss diary, and nor in the diary of Kishan Singh. The source is not disclosed, a failing typical of Lord Meher. Because of this, the event is not definitive. The “Kalchuri” narrative extensively inserts material from the Purdom-Schloss diary without reference or acknowledgment. The diaries of Kishan Singh are similarly anonymous. Singh was a government official from Rawalpindi who first encountered Meher Baba at Hyderabad (Andhra) in 1945.

(404) The Kishan Singh diary was cited in my early work Gurus Rediscovered (see Singh 1975). My relevant critical references to Narasimhaswami, based on that diary, evoked incredulity in some quarters. The late Dr. Marianne Warren even wrote as though I had criticised the sannyasin very unfairly, without justification. An influential book on Shirdi Sai Baba (Warren 1999) shows no awareness of relevant contextual details concerning the Sakori situation. Warren was unable to locate the Singh diary; she fleetingly mentioned this source (via my book) as though the contents were a purely secondary matter. Warren was well informed about Shirdi Sai; however, her acquaintance with the Meher Baba literature, and Sakori events, was superficial. See note 345 above.

(405) Cf. LM:4439-40, 4475-84, which lacks data relevant to the Singh report of Meher Baba’s visit to Sakori in September 1954. Cf. SBM:133-138. Cf. Purdom 1964:227, 252-3, 256. The Purdom-Schloss diary reported an event occurring the previous year of 1953, when a famous astrologer visited Sakori. Godavari Mataji was upset by Meher Baba’s prediction of his stressful death. She gave the date and time of his birth to the astrologer, who stated that the months of November and December 1953 would be difficult for the Irani mystic. Godavari requested some relief. The astrologer prescribed ceremonies and mantras for a period of fifteen days, for the purpose of alleviating the suffering in prospect for Meher Baba. Godavari and the kanyas complied with this advice, likewise other residents of Sakori ashram. The chief priest of the ashram (Vasant Deshmukh) sent a letter informing that they “willingly and lovingly performed the ceremonies, and kept the ashes according to their custom.” Meher Baba related this episode to the Westerners, adding that he “followed out what they [Sakori ashram] wanted because of their great love” (TIW:61; Purdom 1964:261-2). Meher Baba himself did not consult astrologers, who were still influential in Hinduism.

(406)  There are two versions of this situation supplied in LM. Meher Baba is here reported to have described how he told Godavari that, after the Meherabad sahavas in November 1955, he would visit Sakori and stay for a few days. She was happy at this prospect. However, after the sahavas, she went to Surat for purposes of the Kanya Kumari Sthan programme. Godavari sent a letter, via Yeshwantrao Borawke, informing that she would be happy if Baba came to Sakori for at least seven days in January 1956. She expressed her regrets at the postponement, requesting that, as she was Baba’s “mother,” Baba the child should bear with her. Meher Baba then emphasised that he had no time to spare in January, having promised darshan to women at several towns. He asked one of the mandali to read out Godavari’s letter (in Marathi), afterwards commenting: “There is not the slightest trace of ego in her.” He told Borawke to inform Godavari that, on her return from Surat, he would stay at Sakori for two days. See LM online:3861 (accessed 05/03/20). Cf. LM online:3911; LM:4868.

(407)  LM:4868-4877. The editors utilise the diary of Kishan Singh, but do not cite any source. There is a confusion about different huts of Upasani. Baba is reported to have conveyed: “This is the room where Maharaj, with folded hands, revealed to me that I was the avatar” (ibid:4877). That room contained sandals of Upasani. The sandals and other relics were preserved at the third hut, not the vanished second hut of an earlier period. LM does not distinguish between different huts at Sakori. Another reference, relating to the 1952 visit, is correct: “Baba was taken to a small building, where formerly there had been a straw hut in which he and Maharaj had sat for hours together” (LM:3968). Purdom erroneously states that the January 1956 darshan at Sakori lasted for eight days (Purdom 1964:287). Purdom evidently did not know what happened; he was confusing the outcome with the initial plan to stay for a week. Details of the January 1956 visit to Sakori were for long obscure, because the relevant sources remained unpublished. Decades later, the compilation by Kalchuri et al disclosed many events, without providing any guide to sources.

(408) Goldney 1957; LM online:4153-55 (accessed 05/03/20). Cf. Purdom 1964:290, who mistakenly says that Meher Baba visited Sakori on 18 April (the correct date being 18 March). The preliminary communications for this visit were accomplished by Adi K. Irani (son of Gulmai). In the capacity of Meher Baba’s secretary, Adi was quite frequently delegated to take messages to Godavari Mataji over the years. Adi drove a Chevrolet. He had first met Upasani in 1919.

(409) In May 1957, Meher Baba sent Eruch Jessawala to discuss matters with Godavari Mataji, who was then staying at Mahabaleshwar. She had mentioned that she wished to join Baba on his pending tour of the West. Eruch’s objective was apparently to confirm if she was really serious about this unusual prospect, which would need special arrangements for Baba’s travelling party. However, Godavari told Eruch that it was now too late for her to be included in the tour. She would definitely like to accompany Baba, but not this time, in view of her own schedule. Baba subsequently relayed that he would see her again after the American tour, which occurred the following year (LM online:3964, accessed 05/03/20). This transpired to be his last visit to the West. In December 1958, Godavari attended a private meeting at Poona (she was not one of the devotees, being an independent visitor). This meeting took the form of a qawwali programme at which Baba presided (ibid:4477). Soon after, in January 1959, the secretary Adi K. Irani was sent to Sakori with a message from Baba for the kanya leader. This communication emphasised that Baba continued to focus his nazar (glance, sight) upon her and others at Sakori, fulfilling his promise to Upasani at the Dahigaon hut in 1941 (ibid:4486). In June 1961, Godavari was permitted to briefly visit Baba while he was in seclusion at Guruprasad, Poona. This private meeting, which lasted for only fifteen minutes, included four kanyas and the Sakori scholar Shantaram N. Tipnis (ibid:4765). In 1964, Adi K. Irani was periodically sent to Sakori for the purpose of conveying messages from Meher Baba to Godavari. The connection of Baba’s secretary with Sakori was very strong at this period; Adi would meet Godavari whenever she visited her devotees in Ahmednagar (where he lived). Shantaram Tipnis maintained a cordial interest in Meher Baba, while continuing to live at Sakori. In January 1966, Baba sent Adi K. Irani and Dhake Phalkar to Sakori, for the purpose of relaying news about him to Godavari. The two emissaries gave a report of this meeting to Baba the next day (ibid:5206). Meher Baba died three years later, his last years being secluded, only a few people gaining permission to see him.

(410)  Kerkhove 2002:248. For a decade after the death of Meher Baba, “the room he occupied at Sakuri was preserved as a sort of shrine, featuring his photograph” (ibid). This room was afterwards demolished, being replaced with another structure. The Meher Baba image at Sakori was “generally giving way to photos of Sathya Sai Baba and other gurus or yogis” (ibid). Dr. Kerkhove also reports that the Parsi devotee Minoo Bharucha, until his death in 1998, was conducting tours at Sakori for Meher Baba followers (both Western and Eastern), visiting sites associated with the Irani (ibid). Dr. Kerkhove has more recently described the situation at greater length: “I read 1960s-1970s descriptions (and was told by previous visitors), that Meher Baba’s photo was quite prominent all over Sakori, and they even kept Baba’s room there as a sort of holy space.  Everyone at Sakori was pleased to tell you about the connection.  By contrast, when I visited in 2002, there was no Meher Baba room. There were also no photos of Meher Baba anywhere. Instead, the photo of Sathya Sai Baba was everywhere – even very large, as was the image of Nityananda (Muktananda’s guru) and others. The ashram custodian, however, had Meher Baba photos in a drawer which he was happy to show or sell me. He knew Meher Baba had met Upasani and Godavari, but thought he had come to pay them homage. The custodian was shocked at the disclosure that Upasani honoured Meher Baba. He had no knowledge of the many years of interaction between these figures. The fact that Meher Baba had been one of the closest and most active members of Upasani’s early circle, organised Upasani’s first hut, wrote the first Upasani arati, and promoted the first Upasani biography, are facts now forgotten at Sakori” (personal communication 22/06/20). The neglect of relevant details is confirmed by a tangible recorded bias of Sakori ashram spokesmen, who in April 2020, offset Indian publisher interest in Radical Rishi, using the pretext of “Parsi” irrelevance and factual reporting deemed to be an erroneous tangent from devotionalism. Meher Baba and other Zoroastrians had not only been forgotten, but were also now demonised as an alien factor to the caste Hindu biography of Upasani Maharaj.



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