Upasani  Maharaj, 1920s

Unpublished manuscript by British author Kevin R. D. Shepherd, completed in 2020

Author Kevin R. D. Shepherd (see bibliography)



50.   Opposition  from  High  Caste  Agitators

51.   Sai  Baba  as  Source  Inspiration; Departure  from  Kharagpur

52.   Nagpur  Interlude

53.   The  Operation  at  Shinde

54.   Kharagpur  Devotees  Visit  Shinde

55.   Darshan  Crowds  at  Nagpur, autumn 1915

56.   Seclusion  at  Munjwad

57.   Sai  Baba, Hari  V. Sathe, and  Upasani  Versus  Impertinence

58.   Return  to  Shirdi

59.   On  the  Seth  Farm  at  Rahata

60.   Reaction  to  Darshan  Visitors  at  Ahmednagar; the  Sweeper  of  Sakori

61.  “The  son  is  better  than  the  father”

62.   Rupees  for  the  Swami

63.  The  Operation  at  Miraj, March 1917

64.  Sojourn  at  Kolhapur,  April  1917

65.  Aversion  to  Worship  at  Poona

66.  Partisan  Devotee  Problem  at  Shirdi,  May-July  1917

67.  At  Sakori  and  Bombay

68.  Upasani  Baba  Settles  at  Sakori  in  1918

69.  Anasuya  the  Pundit

70.  Kaikhushru  Masa  Irani

71. The  1918  Influenza  Pandemic  Hits  Sakori

72.  Feasts,  Festivals,  and  the  Salvaged  Herd

73.  Contrast: Hari  S.  Dixit  and  Bapusaheb  Jog

74.  Sojourn  at  Varanasi  (Kashi), 1920

75.  Events  in  1920-1921

76.  Gulmai  (Gulbai)  Irani

77.  Mehera J. Irani

78.  Confinement  in  the  Pinjra

79.  The  Early  Kanyas  at  Sakori

80.   Informal  Talks  (1)

81.   Informal  Talks  (2)

82.   Informal  Talks  (3)

83.   Informal  Talks  (4)




50.  Opposition  from  High  Caste  Agitators

Upasani had predicted a a fraught event during which “people of all castes and communities, even Europeans, will gather here.” He also made a forecast that, afterwards, he would have to leave Kharagpur and live in separation from the devotees. (242)

Two local brahmans became opponents of Upasani. They conspired to divide his devotees by spreading hostile stories about fraud and hypocrisy. The critics were very prejudiced against "untouchables" or Dalits; a strong and irrational caste bias was operative. These two agitators succeeded in converting some devotees of Upasani to their own viewpoint. (243)

The dissimulators started to edge their campaign by criticising Upasani in newspaper articles. His devotees then considered filing lawsuits against the opponents. Under the leadership of Yaknathrao, they assembled before Upasani to show him the hostile newspaper reports, which condemned their activity of social service to untouchables.

The devotee mood of dejection and fear was evident. Upasani asked the reason. The assembly then read out to him the content of detractor items. Upasani was described as a fraud and madman, leading people on the wrong path, staying in the bhangi colony where brahmans unlawfully visited him, thus contributing to a ruin of the Hindu religion. The critics said that brahmans participating in his activity should be made outcasts. According to opponents, even the high caste Bengalis, Telangis, and others had become confused by following the madman who lived in a bhangi colony. In this attack, the bhangis were described as "lice-ridden vermin."

The critics maintained that bathing bhangi children, also eating and drinking with bhangis, were extremist activities to be censored. Any belief in service to this depressed sector, as an activity of merit, was stigmatised as being reprehensible. This was high caste hate campaign against “untouchables” (Dalits). The vindictive aversion to any compassion illustrates the preening status mentality which has caused so much suffering over many centuries.

Upasani responded to these newspaper readings with good humour. He said that adverse reports were true, in that the events they described were really happening. So why get angry about this matter?

He went on to say that if devotees were unable to bear insults, then what had been the advantage of remaining in his company? The opponents were providing an alternative means of testing his supporters. If the devotees were unable to bear the strain, then they should desist from visiting and following him. Because he was never going to agree that they should take legal steps against the opponents. (244)

Taking to heart what he said, the devotees decided not to file any lawsuit. However, the opponents became ever more belligerent, maintaining that the devotees should all be beaten mercilessly in the presence of Upasani. This unbridled hostility hatched a plan to send an attack party of about ten or fifteen men armed with clubs. The militant expedition was scheduled to enter the bhangi colony at night, the time being about nine p.m.

Devotees were shocked when they saw the attackers approaching with lanterns. They alerted Upasani, who was sitting on the veranda with others. He told them not to be frightened, but instead to remain completely silent and absolutely still in the darkness.

When the gang of attackers arrived at the veranda, they found nobody. They could only sight a bhangi sitting outside his house, at some distance from the veranda. The leader of the gang asked this man the whereabouts of Upasani. The terrified bhangi pointed his finger in a direction where he could see the devotees sitting down. The gang moved back to the veranda, but again found nobody around. Afterwards, they encountered a group of bhangi women who claimed to see the missing people on the veranda. The search remained futile. The gang concluded that bhangis were merely teasing them. They departed in a mood of anger and defeat.

Some of the high caste members of this gang thereafter spied on the veranda during daylight, standing at a discreet distance. They did not dare to get closer, being scared that Upasani would confront them. He evidently had a reputation for strength. One of these conspirators, a young brahman named Dattu, seems to have lost all his hostility after a complex interaction with Upasani on the same veranda. According to Sakori na Sadguru, Dattu was so overpowered by the presence of Upasani that he willingly parted with his clothes, cap, and shoes when the saint requested these in view of his own nakedness. Dattu only retained his underwear. He subsequently confirmed that he had relinquished his attire voluntarily, and did not want this back when Upasani remarked that he was free to retrieve what he had given away. The ex-conspirator subsequently married soon after, as Upasani had predicted. (245)

The four month Sixteen Mondays programme, associated with Shiva, was now ending. Baburao and his wife Annapurnabai decided to organise a feast in August. Baburao, a relative of Guard Mama, had himself formerly been sceptical of Upasani. The plan was upset by heavy rainfall on the morning of the feast. The colony was flooded, likewise the veranda inhabited by Upasani. Materials were nevertheless taken to the veranda, where the cooking fire was lighted. The rain stopped by ten a.m. A police officer was by now observing the proceedings.

After half an hour, Upasani arose and went out for a walk, telling the devotees to prepare the feast as planned. When he returned about four p.m., an agitated crowd stood near the veranda. This comprised devotees, their opponents, and some outsiders (incuding "Europeans"). The opponents were evidently intent upon causing trouble.

Upasani sat down near a waste heap, looking on. The crowd increased in size. Three policemen arrived on horseback, including the Assistant Superintendent (who was apparently an Anglo-Indian). They sought out Upasani, who was soon surrounded by the crowd. The government accountant Yaknathrao acted as spokesman for the devotees. The police wanted to know details about the bhandara feasts held on the colony site. Yaknathrao informed that the feasts were almost a daily event.

The high caste opponents in the crowd were trying to influence the police. They called Upasani a fraud, saying that he made devotees lose their money by feeding the bhangis. He was the destroyer of true religion and spoke nonsense. Nothing he said could be trusted. Yaknathrao countered this attack by informing that conservative opponents continually harassed the devotees, being averse to the popularity of their feasts, which benefited the poor.

The Superintendent asked Upasani where he came from. The reply specified Nagpur. The officer also questioned about the ex-cobbler Kalidas, wanting to know if he came regularly. Upasani is reported to have responded that many people came daily, and he did not keep note of all their names. The officer apparently wanted to know why Kalidas had become deranged, asking if Upasani had influenced him or provided any support. The ascetic replied that he did not ask anything from anyone, nor did he give anything. His independence is undeniable. Upasani is known to have warned Kalidas against renouncing the householder life. The warning had been ignored.

The Superintendent concluded that he could find nothing wrong with the feast. The police duly departed. The crowd dispersed, the disgruntled opponents also leaving the scene. The others stayed on for the feast and distribution of food. (246)

Upasani was evidently averse to the interference caused by opponents (who had sought to exile him). After that day, he continually said that his work in Kharagpur was over. He now wished to depart. Devotees were willing to make alternative arrangements for his continued stay, if he wished to vacate the bhangi colony. However, Upasani rejected these proposals.

Chinnaswami, grasping that Upasani was serious about departure, purchased him a railway ticket. Chinnaswami expressed a desire to accompany Upasani as an escort. He was unable to gain permission.

The episode of police investigation made clear the extent of opposition. The high caste hostility towards bhangis (untouchables) was formidable, being insidiously operative.  Malicious media reporting was seriously distorting. The violent intention of a thwarted gang could easily recur. Upasani Maharaj had been singled out as the champion of untouchables, a radical therefore fit to be despised and humiliated. His devotees were considered reckless criminals deserving punishment. If Upasani remained at Kharagpur, he was a potential danger to his followers. The opponents might easily have gained more supporters in the high caste milieu of intolerance.

Manual scavenging continued to exist in India throughout the twentieth century, accompanied by a strong degree of social stigma. The primitive and oppressive situation continues today. Many gurus have been indifferent to the plight of Dalits. Upasani Maharaj was an exception.

51.  Sai  Baba  as  Source  Inspiration; Departure  from  Kharagpur

A short while before the departure of Upasani from Kharagpur, his link with Shirdi became widely known. Upasani had previously made obscure remarks about Shirdi. However, the purport had not been comprehended. His idiom is reported as: “I have nothing of my own. Whatever is happening is brought about by this Shirdi. It is Shirdi which attracts you all to me.” (247)

Sai Baba seated with devotees at Shirdi

Only the brahman devotee Mangalkar is said to have understood the significance of such utterances. He had formerly travelled to Shirdi to visit Sai Baba. However, Mangalkar did not at first know about the close link between Sai and Upasani. In the late summer of 1915, he made another visit to Shirdi, being away a few days. At Shirdi, he gleaned information about Upasani. Mangalkar then informed the Sai Baba devotees of what had happened at Kharagpur. When he returned to Kharagpur, Mangalkar told the followers of Upasani about the close relationship with Sai Baba commencing in 1911. (248)

It was now evident that Upasani attributed to Sai Baba the dynamic in Kharagpur events. Upasani did not claim any achievement himself, instead acknowledging Sai Baba (“Shirdi”) as the source inspiration.

On numerous occasions at Kharagpur, devotees had wanted to photograph Upasani or paint a picture of him. He had always flatly refused, deeming this desire a distraction. Instead, he urged devotees to remember him in their hearts, not via a picture. Eventually however, he gave in to the pressure of request. The extant photograph reveals him leaning against a wooden water barrel; he is shaven-headed, wearing his gunny cloth. His physique was thin at this period; he still ate only one meal a day. A description, in terms of “remained like a skeleton,” seems an exaggeration. (249)

The date of his departure from Kharagpur is not always supplied. According to Deshmukh, the date was the fourth day of August. (250) The year was 1915. Upasani had been living in that town for about ten months, since the autumn of 1914.

When the devotees discovered that Upasani had vanished from his verandah, they lamented. The next day, Chinnaswami received a telegram from Dr. Pillai, informing that Upasani had arrived in Nagpur. There was puzzlement at how he had made the journey so quickly. The details remained vague. Some devotees made too much of this journey as a purported miracle event.

After his departure, the devotees continued to frequent the veranda in the bhangi colony. They would bow to the simple seat of Upasani at that spot, and worship the brick upon which he had rested his foot. They even worshipped the nearby waste heap where he had sat. They also continued to distribute food to the bhangis, preserving the spirit of service Upasani had taught them. The philanthropic activity was maintained in his absence. The opponents could not stop these commemorations. The fierce opposition apparently cooled after the departure of Upasani, who had become a symbol of radical tactics negating caste status.

Eventually, Khasnis and other brahman devotees erected at the bhangi colony a large pillar to commemorate their inspirer. Daily worship and other activities continued here. Temporary structures were later removed, being replaced by a more durable building decorated with portraits. A substantial number of the Kharagpur devotees retained a close contact with their inspirer for many years.

52.  Nagpur  Interlude

Reaching Nagpur by railway, Upasani arrived at the home of Dr. Pillai about eleven p.m. Not wishing to bother the inmates, he slept outside on the veranda. When Pillai found him the next morning, Upasani requested that a telegram be despatched to the devotees at Kharagpur, informing them of his arrival.

He reoccupied his former room on the first floor of Pillai’s home. So much had happened during the interim. Upasani insisted to Pillai that only the local families of Vaidya and Marathe were to be informed of his whereabouts. Even these people were only permitted to visit for a short time. In the evenings, Vaidya’s wife brought food for him.

In Nagpur, his ailment of piles became accentuated. “A protruding lump of tissue the size of a lemon caused him to bleed continuously from the anal region.” (251)  Otherwise, he was at peace in seclusion. Upasani did not even want Pillai to inform Dr. Ganapat at Shinde of his arrival. Afterwards he relented on this point, with the consequence that Dr. Ganapat travelled to see him.

One week after his arrival at Nagpur, young Mirabai and her aunt journeyed from Kharagpur, visiting the home of Pillai. Mirabai was allowed to stay there for ten days, while the aunt travelled to meet relatives at Kamti. Mirabai was happy at this arrangement. Although still very young, she had been married, her in-laws living at Nagpur.

Dr. Ganapat was persistent in his attention. He repeatedly visited, urging Upasani to stay with him at Shinde. Meanwhile, the famous lawyer Ganesh S. Khaparde (of Amraoti) arrived briefly in Nagpur for a court session. When he learned that Upasani was living at the home of Pillai, Khaparde extended his stay for three more days, daily spending two or three hours in conversation with the ascetic. These two men were at Shirdi together in early 1912 (having formerly been in contact during Upasani’s phase as an Ayurvedic practitioner at Amraoti).

Before leaving Nagpur, Khaparde warmly embraced Upasani, who expressed surprise at this display of respect. Upasani remarked that Khaparde was more famous and deserving than he himself was, yet now Khaparde was bowing to him. Khaparde then contradicted Upasani on this point, saying there was a vast difference between them. Upasani was a saint, while he (Khaparde) was merely one of his votaries. Khaparde was to remain in loyal connection with Upasani for many years.

53.  The  Operation  at  Shinde, September  1915

After three weeks in Nagpur, Upasani accompanied Dr. Ganapat and his wife to Shinde. Here he requested a separate room away from the house. This was arranged in the compound, the site of a government dispensary and staff quarters. The new room was about fifty feet from the doctor’s house. Ganapat took the guest coffee and light meals during the day, in addition to his main meal at night. News of Upasani’s arrival at Shinde was despatched to the devotees at Kharagpur.

Although Upasani was now eating far more normally than before, a problem was his complaint of severe piles. He was uncomfortable during the day. His swelling could easily bleed at the time of evacuation. Dr. Ganapat tried various mixtures, purgatives, and enemas, all to no avail. Upasani told him not to do anything more, remarking stoically that he would instead bear the pain. (252)

The resourceful doctor then had the idea of giving Upasani a cigarette at the time of evacuation, the purpose being to help him pass motions. Upasani was reluctant at this suggestion, not being a smoker. He only accepted the recourse after medical persuasion. As a consequence, he was indeed able to pass a motion. Ganapat then arranged for the best fragrant cigarettes to be available in this emergency situation. However, one day Upasani asked the price involved. The cost of one cigarette was an anna, while a packet of fifty cost over three rupees. This amounted to a luxury in those days. Upasani objected, saying that he wanted instead cheap country cigarettes known as bidis. Enquiring the price of these, he was told fifty for an anna.

Upasani was always sensitive to extravagance. He now refused to accept expensive cigarettes, instead insisting on the bidis. Dr. Ganapat remonstrated, commenting that the bidis would have a different effect. This reservation proved correct. Upasani was disadvantaged by the bidis, disliking the smoke. He then requested a softer tobacco. Different brands were brought by the compounder (in charge of provisions), but none of these could give relief. Upasani ended up using bidis rolled with a stale tobacco of the fragrant type. While the hot smoke he inhaled did help him to pass motions, the pain of his ailment remained.

The doctor now wanted permission to arrange an operation on the swelling. After initial refusal, Upasani finally agreed. He suggested that a barber bring a razor instrument for the purpose. Ganapat was horrified at this prospect, stating that a surgeon was necessary for the task. Upasani conceded the medical necessity, on the condition that the operation should occur in his room at the compound.

The next day, Dr. Ganapat travelled to Wardha, there contacting a Parsi surgeon. This man agreed to the proposal, providing that all due preparations were made. Ganapat attended to these, fixing a date for the operation.

The “operation room” was thoroughly cleaned. Upasani was enjoined not to eat anything; the contents of his stomach were removed by the process of reverse enema. The Parsi surgeon arrived on time, talking with Dr. Ganapat. Then he conducted a due examination of the patient. The surgeon concluded that the disease had progressed; the patient’s condition was now critical, and the operation could prove complicated. Upasani then told the surgeon to proceed without using chloroform or any other anaesthetic.

The surgeon gazed at the patient "in silence for a full two minutes," feeling amazed at this injunction (ISS:380). He countered by saying that the request was impossible to fulfil. Such an operation could not be conducted without the use of chloroform. Never in his medical career had he seen any doctor perform such a painful surgery without using chloroform. In those days, the very basic method known as “cutting and branding” was the only treatment for piles, one that could entail a severe application of surgery.

The response of Upasani was unyielding. He said that if he had to take chloroform, he did not want the operation. The situation was not negotiable. The surgeon despairingly reflected that Upasani was inviting a great deal of pain. If the sufferer did not have the operation, the disease would get worse.

Dr. Ganapat then intervened. He took the surgeon aside, informing him about the unusual abilities of Upasani, who had proved many times an amazing endurance of pain and discomfort.

The surgeon was thinking hard about whether to continue. Upasani then communicated to the effect of: “The least you can do is to have trust in what I say. I can give you the assurance that I will not move an inch while the surgery is occurring. I will move only at your instructions, and otherwise will remain completely still.”

This determination again astonished the surgeon. Finally, he decided to proceed in what amounted to an exceptional medical undertaking. His requirement of an iron bed had been recognised and provided by Ganapat, but ignored by Upasani, who continued to sit or lie on the floor.

When the operation commenced, Upasani was lying on a table. Two assistants of Ganapat each gripped a foot of the patient, fearing that he would move. Other assistants handed the surgeon the required instruments. The surgeon now took half an hour to drag the swelling out and cut this growth at the root. A further twenty minutes was needed to stop the bleeding and dress the wounds.

Throughout this operation, Upasani did not move. He remained fully conscious, as the surgeon was able to confirm via questioning at intervals. The sight of this inscrutable ascetic, silently bearing the pain, surprised everyone present. Any ordinary man would have been screaming well before the end of that ordeal. The surgeon declared that this operation was a unique experience in his medical career.

Afterwards, Upasani was asked to rest on the bed placed in his room that morning. The surgeon acknowledged that what he had considered impossible had actually occurred. The operation had been successfully conducted without chloroform. The surgeon bowed respectfully to Upasani before departing for Wardha. (253) He also declined any payment for his services, saying that he would be glad to assist in future if the need arose. He now regarded Upasani as a holy man with unfathomable traits.

The patient was advised not to eat food for two or three days, and to sustain himself only on liquids. Much pain and discomfort resulted from the surgical wound. Ganapat applied various ointments. The pain nevertheless increased. Upasani then told the doctor to discontinue that form of treatment. Instead he sent for the doctor’s wife, instructing her to make a powder from turmeric and other ingredients, the purpose being to create a poultice for him. Upasani asked Damodar, the compounder, to assist her in the task.

After hours of the poultice treatment, the pain subsided slightly. Nevertheless, the discomfort (derived from passing motions) continued. Although the major swelling had been removed, not all the piles were operated on. The residual piles were now causing a problem. Upasani asked why the surgeon had not completed the operation. Dr. Ganapat advised summoning the surgeon again, but Upasani declined. The wound finally healed after using many lotions and ointments.

Upasani spent these days alone in his room. The surgeon permitted him to take food; accordingly, he now started to eat two or three times a day. Dr. Ganapat and his wife would sit near the ascetic as often as possible. Upasani would then discourse to them.

54.  Kharagpur  Devotees  Visit  Shinde

When his strength returned, Upasani began to walk around the town of Shinde. Dr. Ganapat informed relatives and friends about his guest. These people then came from different towns to see the unusual ascetic. However, Upasani decided to leave Shinde.

His departure was postponed because of the devotees at Kharagpur. They informed Ganapat that they would be coming to Shinde to meet Upasani again. This intention was carried out. Many devotees were accommodated in the spacious dispensary compound where Upasani lived. Their plan was to spend a week in Shinde, and to organise a celebration to honour their inspirer. They knew about the recent surgery, and were accordingly considerate in their enthusiasm. They all visited him in his room, departing quickly in accordance with his wishes. The feeling of mutual love and respect was evidently strong, being reflected in a number of encounters.

This reunion was complemented by other developments. Residents of Shinde became aware that the visiting devotees had great esteem for Upasani. This factor caused many local people to visit him. Dr. Pillai invited numerous other devotees from Nagpur, who joined the celebration, which lasted five or six days. Narayan Khadilkar organised a bhandara feast, as did Ganapat. Similar events (on different days) were launched by other devotees from different towns. Both the high caste and low caste inhabitants of Shinde were recipients of the daily distribution of food.

A talking point amongst the Kharagpur devotees was: how had Upasani managed to reach Nagpur faster than the railway train? This presumed achievement had gained the dimensions of a miraculous event in devotee thinking. Upasani tended to strongly resist miracle lore; he was known to express annoyance about beliefs involved. However, at Shinde he was inclined to be humorous about the "overland journey" myth. One day, he exhibited a very amiable mood when devotees plied him with their topical question. They wanted him to describe what had happened after his departure from Kharagpur.

Upasani then pointed to young Mirabai. He now attributed the “miraculous” journey to her ingenuity. He described how the two of them had crossed jungles and rivers at speed. Upasani proceeded to embellish this account with reference to an old Muslim, whom he described as a true faqir. The narration of this overland journey was received by Mirabai with incredulity; she denied her participation. The other persons present were also surprised by the exuberant report. (254) Mirabai had not in fact been his companion on that journey; Upasani had travelled alone. The reference to an elderly Muslim was apparently a commemoration of Sai Baba.

A visiting brahman of Shinde was an elderly devotee of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity. He wished to meet Upasani, while being careful not to accept any food provided at the feast. This was because, in his zeal for caste purity, he had never eaten anything not cooked by himself. Furthermore, that day was one of fasting in his calendar. When the brahman gained access to Upasani, food offerings from the feast were placed before them. The ascetic suddenly picked up a laddu (sweetmeat), which he offered to the Ganesha devotee. The visitor spontaneously decided to consume that gift. To his surprise, he now saw Upasani as Ganesha. The devotee then shed tears and lay prostrate on the ground. Upasani then asked him to give personal details. The visitor explained that he could now give up his vows as a consequence of the vision, no longer feeling the need for rules about food. He was now ready to eat anything that day if Upasani requested him to do so. Upasani did not reply.

The surfeit of visitors was to some extent resisted by Upasani. The influx included patients who attended the dispensary in the same sprawling compound. A queue of visitors was apparently a norm at this time. Their motivations were varied. People could expect too much from the darshan of saints, including dramatic cures. Upasani started to express displeasure with Dr. Ganapat and his wife, once even striking the medic with a broom. Ganapat endured such fraught episodes in a mood of silent submission. He was the director of all the compound activities; Upasani appears to have considered him responsible for any discrepancies.

An aggravating factor, in this situation, appears to have been Ganapat's strong support for an invitation, from devotees in Nagpur, who wanted Upasani to visit their city. The medic tried to persuade a resistant Upasani on this point. The ascetic eventually relented, making a private arrangement with Ganapat to the effect that he would very briefly stay for two days with two enthusiastic families at Nagpur. Ganapat triumphantly passed on the news to both families concerned, who were otherwise in the dark as to what was happening. Ganapat was one of the first to grasp that an adamant no from Upasani could subsequently be capped by a moderating yes. The case often had to be pleaded for acceptance to occur. On his own part, Ganapat continued to be amazed at the events unfolding in relation to Upasani, confirming his initial conviction that the ascetic of the Khandoba temple was a rare saint.

When annoyed by events amongst people, Upasani would leave his room and walk a long distance across Shinde to a ruined building, where he remained for hours in solitude. The doctor found him there, guarded by a dog who lived on that site. Ganapat would take food to this "home from home" location. The doctor would also send Damodar, the compounder, to this remote place. By now familiar with the habits of Upasani, Damodar would urge him to return to the compound. This petition was sometimes successful, but not always.

55.  Darshan  Crowds  at  Nagpur, autumn 1915

Some devotees from Nagpur wished Upasani to stay with them in this city. At first he said that he would stay in Nagpur only for two days, and then return to Shinde. This was a typical "moderation clause" capable of extension. The sojourn at Nagpur created an extensive interest, many new devotees wishing to see him. Numerous details have survived.

Upasani departed from Shinde with a few Nagpur devotees. Two families wanted him to stay in their house. He subsequently chose the home of Shankar Rao and Parvatibai, saying he would move afterwards to the home of Shamrao and Salubai. A local social heavyweight now became very interested in the new arrival.

Daroga Saheb Balakrishna Panth was a leading member of the Nagpur municipality, being chief of police. The word daroga, deriving from the Mughal era, now denoted a governor, magistrate, or police inspector. To avoid confusion with the brother of Upasani, I will refer to this Nagpur official by his official title. Daroga was a keen admirer of saints and holy men. When he learned that Upasani had moved to Nagpur, he quickly went to visit the ascetic, prostrating before him. Daroga invited Upasani to come to his home for a day, knowing that the saint was resisting invitations.

Upasani declined, commenting that he had only come to Nagpur because of the insistence of Parvatibai. "I did not want to come at all." Daroga was upset by the chilling refusal. Further persuasion was met with continued resistance. Repeated obeisance was to no avail. Flattery meant nothing to Upasani Maharaj. In his failure, Daroga eventually shed tears. Upasani then responded benignly, saying that he would visit Daroga for a day, on the condition that nobody else should be informed of this event. Daroga promised him total secrecy.

Meanwhile, Parvatibai was in conflict with her overbearing mother-in-law. Upasani advised patience in this instance. The relative, living in the same house, would talk with Upasani also. He adopted an attitude sympathetic to both domestic parties, though with an edge against the constant criticism of the mother-in-law. The ascetic complained that he had to spend time listening to family disagreements. After three days, he moved to the home of Shamrao and his wife, saying he would stay for only two days. Shamrao generously organised a feast, also being keen to worship Upasani in exuberant style, despite the latter’s general resistance to such actions. His wife Salubai was overcome with emotion at contact with the charismatic sackcloth saint. She could not stop weeping.

Upasani moved on to the hospitality of Daroga, whose high caste home was decorated in a grand European style featuring chandeliers. A luxury commode in the Western taste was arranged for the toilet use of the guest. A resplendent welcome carpet had been laid from the door through the imposing vestibule. A large audience was assembled in the reception room. However, Upasani was clearly averse to the opulence, declining to remain in the house, evading the audience. Instead, he sat outside on the balcony, gazing at the garden of Daroga's mansion. The well maintained lawns were not here the focus of attention.

The ascetic was attracted to a less salubrious corner of the property, where a large sanitation pit was intended for waste. Such pits were strongly associated with the activity of manual scavengers (bhangis), with whom Upasani had become familiar in West Bengal. Upasani now sat under a fig tree adjoining the pit, an action clearly signalling that he preferred the waste heap area to the comfortable house nearby. Daroga and his family consequently associated the fig tree with the legend of Dattatreya, a deity who had also favoured such a tree. Plan one had not worked, so an emergency resort was now operative.

Daroga wanted to improve and clean up the low grade area selected by Upasani. However, the ascetic said that he wished his chosen spot to be left undisturbed. He remained adamant on this point. By now, darkness was falling. Daroga was heedless, delegating "about fifteen or twenty" of his employees to build a small hut under the fig tree for the use of his guest. This task took less than two hours to complete; the hut was intended as protection against the increasing cold (no date is given, but winter conditions are mentioned, the month of November being implicated). The crowd dispersed at the request of Upasani.

Daroga, an outpost of Raj opulence, tended to do things on a lavish scale. He had arranged an all-night programme of worship and singing, plus a grand feast for the next day. At noon he and his wife came to worship Upasani with a large quantity of sacred basil (tulsi) leaves. The intention of the host was to cover the entire body of Upasani with these leaves. The ascetic remonstrated at tulsi puja, saying that he would have to sit for a long time while this ritual was being performed, thus adding to his difficulties.

The overpowering Daroga was not to be deterred. He requested permission to continue. This was reluctantly granted. The host and his wife then recited mantras; for about an hour, they proceeded to cover the body of Upasani from head to toe with tulsi leaves. After worshipping him, they asked permission to distribute the feast food. Approval was given. Later, Upasani remarked to Daroga that the host had been allowed to do whatever he (Daroga) wanted. This meant that Upasani was now free to leave.

The same day, Krishnarao and his mother visited three times, requesting Upasani to visit their home. The young Krishnarao was the new husband of Mirabai. Upasani steadfastly declined, causing disappointment. The visitors emphasised that Mirabai was very fond of him. After further argument, Upasani eventually agreed to go to their home. Events at Nagpur confirm that Upasani was basically very retiring and quite averse to the limelight.

That evening, Upasani left the compound of Daroga, asking others not to follow him. He followed in the steps of Krishnarao, as had formerly been arranged. After a long walk, they arrived at their destination in Shukrawar Peth. Upasani then said that he would sit outside the house until darkness had fallen. He emphasised that nobody else should come to greet him, that he was averse to being worshipped, that the social round of honours was foreign to his lifestyle. Upasani wished to enter the house of Krishnarao without any fuss or ostentation. He dismissed Krishnarao, meanwhile waiting for nightfall. Some persons did appear to greet him, against his wishes. He then expressed annoyance, despatching them quickly. Many people simply did not understand his temperament and orientation.

Upasani did not enter the house of Krishnarao until eleven p.m. He was allocated a simple room on the first floor, an arrangement evidently to his liking. He closed the door, now preferring to be in solitude after recent social exposure. To his credit, Krishnarao had closely observed events at Daroga’s abode, seeing for himself what Upasani reacted to. Accordingly, the host did not decorate his home in any way, nor attempt any formal welcome. Upasani expressed appreciation of this restraint.

The next morning, about four hundred visitors arrived without any invitation. This interruption does not seem to have been the fault of Krishnarao, who forlornly tried to convince visitors that the saintly guest was not available. The visitors ignored him, having learned of Upasani’s presence there. When the ascetic opened the door of his room, Krishnarao and his mother anxiously went inside, informing that a crowd had gathered. Upasani was displeased at this development.

Krishnarao failed to deter the enthusiastic crowd. He accordingly requested Upasani to satisfy their wish for darshan. The ascetic finally (but reluctantly) consented, emerging into the hall for that purpose. All the visitors wanted darshan (meeting), bringing flower garlands and coconuts for this purpose. Hundreds more arrived throughout the day, which meant that Upasani could not take any rest. Anoher consequence was a big pile of unwanted flowers and coconuts. Furthermore, this situation continued for three days, with the daily number of visitors reported to be nearly one thousand. On the third day, Upasani announced his imminent departure.

Krishnarao and his mother now urged their guest to be compassionate for a few more days. They undertook to make arrangements that would reduce the amount of disturbance. The context is not clear. Upasani is reported to have discoursed frequently, expressing a liberal attitude in matters of religion. Only prominent devotees receive mention. The husband of Parvartibai insisted that she stay on the spot to cook food for Upasani, who actually declined this prospect several times. Not to be outdone, Daroga came daily for darshan, his wife bringing Upasani a food offering.

At times, the ascetic would complain with annoyance about the general situation, in terms of: “Have all the gods vacated their temples? Why are you ignoring them and visiting me? I am but an ordinary man, slightly crazy. You should continue worshipping your gods, not worshipping me!”

The next moment, he would become calm, allowing devotees to sit near him, while giving them advice. Some visitors had formed stock ideas about what was occurring. This assumption process was doubtless a vexation for the guest. Upasani always tended to resist worship of his own person.

An elderly brahman lady, visiting one day, was evidently impressed by the gathering. She was a widow, her son a lawyer. She tended to impose her own ideas on the situation. The following day, she came with her daughter-in-law. Both stood near Upasani, while other women were massaging his feet. The widow then told her junior relative to bow to the ascetic, being particular about the mode of reverence. She then asked the other women to move, so that her daughter-in-law could get an opportunity to serve Upasani. The saint, who had been discoursing, now became silent. The widow then urged him to accept the daughter-in-law (named Dhondabai) as his leading personal attendant. Upasani replied enigmatically: “God is the Overlord.”

The widow next urged him to give Dhondabai a “thrashing” (here using a word employed in the sources). She then told Dhondabai not to come home until she had received such dramatic treatment. She afterwards repeated her injunction to Upasani: “Do not send her home without giving her a thrashing!”

The widow had evidently heard that some devotees received slaps of displeasure. The episode illustrates that such treatment was not dreaded, instead being regarded as a sign of favour and blessing, indeed status for the family.

When the widow returned later that day, the room was full of visitors. Now she could not get near Upasani. She called loudly across the room to her daughter-in-law, asking if the thrashing had been administered. The reply was negative. Other persons knew of this preoccupation, including Upasani, who now asked the widow to speak her mind. She replied that she was not going to take Dhondabai back home until her daughter had received the desired “thrashing.”

Upasani remarked that the widow’s attitude was extremist. “Do you think that by your asking me to do this, I will comply?” He asked her if she considered his displeasure to be a blessing. The lady replied in the affirmative, saying this was the reason for her insistence. Upasani now commented that such behaviour on his part related to “the time and the temperament,” and could not be elicited upon demand.

The widow continued in her adamance, disregarding his words. Others present urged her to accept the wishes of Upasani in this matter. However, she would not, instead walking away in frustration.

Dhondabai was now assisting Parvatibai with the cooking arrangements and other domestic tasks. These two became close friends. The widow daily brought food for them to cook. Upasani would joke with her, saying that in making Dhondabai stay with him, she was having to serve Dhondabai and not himself. The widow repudiated this, saying that she was serving him. She nevertheless stopped talking about a thrashing. Upasani was here proving that a joke was relevant in this situation, not any action of displeasure.

A regular visitor was a wealthy man named Keshavrao Bhayasaheb. His father was (Gopalrao) Buti Saheb, a local millionaire and devotee of Sai Baba. Keshavrao invited Upasani to spend a day at the family mansion. The ascetic agreed reluctantly, on the condition that arrangements must be made for him to occupy the shed reserved for horses. Keshavrao refused the unexpected terms. Upasani then declined the invitation, pressing his point. He was thoroughly averse to opulence.

The police soon became aware of the large crowd visiting Upasani Maharaj. The partisanship of Daroga was apparently not enough to dispel a sense of caution. Four spies were sent to investigate, two Hindus and two Muslims. These men sat in the hall with the darshan seekers, making enquiries about Upasani. They could not obtain much solid information; the alternative was to question Upasani himself. However, the spies apparently lacked the courage to do this. They stopped coming after five days.

Despite his initial threat of departure, Upasani stayed at the home of Krishnarao for over a month. Eventually, when he declared his intention to leave, the host arranged another feast. The old widow pressed Dhondabai to ask Upasani to visit her house, but he did not seem interested. Dhondabai started to fast, not eating or drinking; she was also crying. Upasani then agreed to visit, at which she became happy, ceasing the fast. Upasani visited her home one evening, staying for hours. A relative of the widow wanted him to bless someone in that house with future offspring. Upasani was resistant to this popular request.

The ascetic expressed a viewpoint very difficult for the family to accept. Upasani reflected that childless couples were able to reach God more quickly. Against this contention, one of the householders present argued that scriptures favoured progeny. Upasani conceded the textual factor. However, he affirmed that parents could regret children who were obtuse or anti-social. In contrast, those without children had no such problem, and thus could achieve better states of mind with the aid of a sadguru. This perspective was neglected by convention.

Afterwards Upasani returned to the house of Krishnarao. There he found Chinnaswami, who had journeyed from Kharagpur to meet him again, while relaying news of the devotees in that distant town. (255)

The strong response to Upasani at Nagpur made him famous in Maharashtra. His prominence was now such that he could easily have exploited the devotion by staying at Nagpur and enjoying the limelight. Instead, he was averse to fame, wishing to move on, while maintaining a relative obscurity.

56.  Seclusion  at  Munjwad

After staying over a month at Nagpur in 1915, Upasani wanted to move on to Poona, intending to reside with his brother Balakrishna. Upasani advised Chinnaswami to return to Kharagpur. However, that guest wished to accompany him to Poona. The request was accepted. Preparations were made for the departure from Nagpur. New devotees converged in substantial numbers for the farewell.

Vaidya, a lawyer and devotee, was suffering from a pain in the leg. Being unable to walk, he sat disconsolately in a cart, watching the others start off for the railway station on foot. Upasani responded strongly to his plight, moving over to Vaidya, grasping his hand, and telling him to get down carefully from the cart. The two then walked together, leading the large party going to the station. Vaidya found that he was able to walk without pain.

Their route passed a number of houses belonging to devotees. These people would briefly invite Upasani inside, desiring to perform worship. When he emerged from the first house, an Indian police officer approached him, baton in hand. The officer declared that he had received an order to prevent Upasani from walking the streets of Nagpur in a semi-naked state (wearing only a gunny cloth loosely wrapped around the body). That habit was against the law, asserted the policeman. Upasani was now asked to wear some more clothing. At that juncture, hundreds of people, including the policeman, are said to have seen Upasani wearing a pitamber, meaning a silk cloth with a golden border.  (256) This may comprise hagiology.

Upasani continued to walk to the station with many devotees. They arrived fifteen minutes early. Upasani then became annoyed, asking the crowd to return to their homes. He knew that some of them might attempt to board the train. Only four persons were allowed to accompany him. These were Chinnaswami and his wife, the revived Vaidya, and the woman named Salubai (who could not stop crying from her excess of devotion).

They reached Shinde that night. In the morning, Upasani asked Vaidya and Salubai to return to Nagpur. Salubai refused, again affirming that she would go wherever he did. She had been allowed to come this far because of her crying. Now she wailed again. Once more, Upasani patiently explained the situation, saying he could not take devotees with him on this journey; they must remain in Nagpur. Afterwards he resolved the issue by gifting Salubai with a framed photograph of himself that was kept in the home of Dr. Ganapat. This gesture consoled the lady, who now agreed to accompany Vaidya back to Nagpur.

Late at night, Upasani left for Shinde railway station with Chinnaswami and his wife. Dr. Ganapat came to see them off en route to Poona. A complication was caused by darshan seekers, a large number of whom appeared at the station. Upasani had made clear to his associates that he could not grant the diverse wishes and entreaties of darshan visitors. These people were liable to regard him as a kind of super-medic with the ability to cure all ills.

At the station, an uninvited umbrella was held close to his head. He customarily shunned headgear even in heavy rain or blazing sunshine. He was simply not the type to entertain an umbrella. In his annoyance, Upasani flung away the cumbersome parasol. Then a woman appeared with a sick baby who was apparently dying. She placed this baby in his lap; Upasani was evidently expected to cure the sickness. That was an uninvited gesture; he brusquely moved the baby away. The child regained health in four days. Upasani did not claim to be a healer, offputting expectations of that nature. It was his duty to tell people the truth.

The train departed. The following afternoon they reached Kopargaon, staying at a guesthouse. Kopargaon was in the vicinity of Shirdi. People in Shirdi soon learned of the new arrivals. That evening, several devotees from Shirdi arrived at the guesthouse, bringing with them food. These people included Durgabai Karmakar, Bhai, Sagun, Dr. Pillai (who was visiting Sai Baba), and Govind Kamalakar Dixit (not to be confused with Hari Dixit, an opponent). They bowed before Upasani, afterwards accompanying him to the railway station. Upasani and Chinnaswami arrived in Poona the following evening.

The travellers went to the home of Balakrishna, the academic brother of Upasani. Balakrishna and his sons welcomed them; Upasani spent the night on the ground floor. The next day, he moved to the upper floor, remaining there by himself. He told Chinnaswami to return to Kharagpur; this order was obeyed. (257) The Madrasi had made a determined "comeback" after feeling that he had failed in his earlier confusion at Kharagpur.

Upasani remained in Poona for three or four days. He did not wish to see more visitors, instead living in retirement. Indeed, he decided to move to a remote place for the purpose of ensuring privacy. Travelling to his native Satana, he did not stay there, choosing to live at the nearby village of Munjwad. Here for about a month, Upasani occupied a dwelling some forty miles from the nearest railway station. His location was kept a secret. Accordingly, there were no visitors. This was a period of complete isolation and peace.

57.   Sai  Baba, Hari  V. Sathe, and  Upasani  Versus  Impertinence

Narasimhaswami was correct in stating that Nanavali wished to eliminate both Upasani and Hari Vinayak Sathe from the Shirdi scene (LSB 2002:467). However, the reasons for this antipathy, and the background details, largely passed into general oblivion.

A substantial part of the submerged situation came to light in the research of Dr. Chandrabhanu Satpathy (NF:111-137). This contribution did not approach events from the angle of Upasani, but from the perspective of Sathe. Nevertheless, these two instances are convergent, not least because Sathe came to regard Upasani as a very unusual entity of spiritual calibre.

Sathe testified that Sai Baba had once been asked if he would have a successor. The faqir enigmatically responded: “Will there not be some man coming in tatters?” (LSB:427). The translation from Marathi can also be worded as: “There will be a man coming in rags.” Sathe became convinced that the reference decoded to Upasani Maharaj. In 1911, Upasani “came in tatters” to Shirdi (ibid). There was nobody else, amongst the devotees, like the occupant of Khandoba’s temple. Upasani soon transcended the devotee milieu. He was the polar opposite to Nanavali, as many discovered.

Nanavali represented a certain type of overbearing holy man. He assumed an intimate knowledge of Sai Baba, despite the faqir admonishing him for violent behaviour. Sai is even reported to have hit the miscreant (SBI:245). Some devotees at Shirdi were terrified of Nanavali, fearing that he would molest them (as he sometimes did). Nanavali could not tell the difference between intimidation and spirituality. He liked to play tricks, such as giving the impression that a scorpion was inside his mouth. Nanavali knew how to handle snakes; he would sometimes carry these creatures around with him (probably in a basket). Even a strong man could flinch at the sight of a poisonous serpent. Terror was apparently part of the domineering tactic.

Shirdi Sai Baba

In November 1915, Sai Baba was openly expressing his dissatisfaction with the situation in Shirdi. Opportunists and shallow devotees had gained strong influence. This trend had attended the substantial increase in visitors to Shirdi, both urban and rural persons. For several years, the new wave of visitors had been intense. From 1914 onwards, behavioural discrepancies were showing in the rural sector (although some urban visitors are not beyond reproach).

One trick of opportunists was to push their children to the front of the mosque assembly, a move calculated to gain naivedya (food offering) from Sai Baba (NF:142). In April 1916, Sainath Prabha referred to the “vicious characters” involved in such stratagems. Even Sai Baba’s “frequent reprimands now and then, seemed to be powerless to mend matters” (NF:154 note 14). Confused villagers “gaped wildly with wondering eyes” (ibid).

In early December 1915, Sai Baba summoned Hari Vinayak Sathe from Poona. Sathe (1855-c.1936) was a senior devotee, now retired from his prominent role as Deputy Collector for the British government (SBI:247-251). Sai Baba evidently trusted this man more than many others. Sathe responded quickly, travelling to Shirdi by train. At the mosque, the faqir remarked to him: “Oh Saheb, you can see that these people are troubling me. Now you make some arrangements about this” (NF:119).

The visitor could not at first understand the message. However, Dr. Chidambaram Pillai, who was staying in Shirdi, knew exactly what Sai was referring to. Local events had deteriorated. The word corruption is relevant. Pillai now explained to Sathe how bad the prevailing conditions had become.

The problems were the manipulation and extraction of money and food items from Sai Baba on various pretexts, the mischievous role of the thirty-two tamashawalla groups and their local dalals, inconvenience caused to Sai Baba and devotees due to bickerings of these people and their impertinent behaviour, even before Sai Baba. (NF:120)

Pillai exhorted Sathe to use his former skills as a government employee. Other devotees confirmed the accuracy of Dr. Pillai’s urgent account. Both the mosque and the chavadi had been invaded by impertinent parties (the chavadi was a village hall where Sai Baba now slept on alternate nights). The intrepid Sathe went into action. “No other person could have dared to undertake such a difficult task” (NF:134). Sending out a circular letter, he was greeted with resistant replies from some parties, including the accusation that Sathe was now “imposing dictatorship on the affairs of Sai Baba when he [Sai] manages his own affairs” (NF:120).

The situation included a colourful but intrusive pageant mentioned in Sainath Prabha:

Some greedy and unscrupulous persons encouraged a number of petty jugglers, wrestlers, dancers and thirty-two tamashawalla [entertainer] groups, who came from outside to perform before Shri Sai and receive [a] lot of money. This disturbed the good and ordinary devotees. (NF:118)

In December of 1915 (or January 1916), Upasani returned to Shirdi, again staying at the Khandoba temple. Dr. Pillai was pleased to meet his second mentor again. Sathe must have noted the occurrence. “There will be a man coming in rags.” Upasani wore a fraying and torn gunny cloth. He was very different now, after the dynamic phase at Kharagpur. Upasani was no longer introverted. He was probably the only man not scared of Nanavali, who effectively created a smokescreen for self-seeking activities of those whom Sathe now opposed.

Into this fraught situation came the young Merwan Irani (later Meher Baba), who walked to the Khandoba temple from the Shirdi mosque, accompanied by his muscular friend Khodu Irani. This visit reputedly occurred in December 1915. The two Iranis, of Yazdi association, were now visiting both the enigmatic faqir Sai Baba and the post-Kharagpur sackcloth ascetic. Upasani is said to have responded by throwing a stone at Merwan, hitting him on the forehead. This action has puzzled some readers. That dramatic moment was the start of a protracted contact which survives on record in fragments. According to one version, Upasani allowed Merwan to stay at the temple for two days (LM:108). However, another report, of an earlier date, says that Upasani "sharply upbraided Merwan and ordered him to leave immediately" (ISS:491). This report dates to 1923.

In January 1916, Upasani definitely returned to the temple. “There will be a man coming in rags.” Now he stayed for months, the focus of a complex round of interchanges and frictions that included the unpredictable Nanavali, who continued to harass Upasani, while encountering a strong rebuff. The occupant of the Khandoba temple never went to the mosque, where Sai Baba made clear that Upasani was exceptional, the only one of his type. The mosque audience (of varying background, including respectable high caste devotees) frequently resisted statements of the faqir. Their impertinence apparently amounted to a negation: “But Baba, you are wrong.” The defective mood seems to have been contagious at times.

The Shirdi faqir was not defeated by arrogant visitors. According to obscured sources, Sai Baba discreetly engineered situations in which he sent diverse miscreants and impertinent persons to the Khandoba temple. The physique of Upasani was still lean at this period. However, he could exhibit a galvanic energy of the kind he demonstrated at Kharagpur. This mode of activity extended to “thrashing,” to use a word found in the sources.

The impertinent visitors could meet with a disconcerting reception at Khandoba’s temple. This phenomenon is only partially reported. Upasani would apparently listen to what the visitor felt inclined to say. He might then impart a verbal reprimand, or administer a manual application of varying intensity.

In serious cases, the bigger men might receive slaps (or punches) to the body from Upasani. The smaller physiques might be placed over his knee and spanked like naughty children. Some recipients of “thrashing” might return to the village with hurt pride and great indignation. At least one man is reported to have altered his behaviour as a consequence of stern encounter; there may well have been more of these people who felt obliged to improve. This was evidently the objective of a daunting exercise. The drama of confrontation continued intermittently for about eighteen months. Numerous details were forgotten. We do not know how many offenders were sent to the temple by Sai Baba.

With other visitors, Upasani was benevolent and communicative, varying from a few words to virtual discourses. An uncertain number of those receptive visitors were devotees of Sai Baba. Both Upasani and Sai Baba were sometimes withdrawn in their demeanour. When this happened at the mosque for any length of time, some visitors would tend to substitute their own agendas and quarrels. This was far more difficult with Upasani, an entity less tolerant of distractions. That situation contrasted with earlier times at the Khandoba temple, when visitors too often did just what they wanted during his abstracted phase.

l to r: Hari Vinayak Sathe, Tatya Kote Patil

Meanwhile, Sathe created the Dakshina Bhiksha Sansthan (DBS), a managerial system primarily designed to control the tamasha groups, comprising about a hundred people or more. This project had the endorsement of Sai Baba. The complexities are prodigious, other sectors being involved. For instance, so-called sevakaris (devotees rendering service) were accustomed to benefit from the dakshina money received by Sai from devotees.

Some of the sevakaris even made it difficult for the visiting devotees to have a clear or undisturbed darshan of Sai Baba. The sevakaris used their proximity and contact with Sai Baba to their own advantage, which the DBS wanted to stop. (NF:122)

The predators were diverting funds from poor devotees who were in need. Sai Baba was the source of all the redistribution. Sathe tried to prevent abuses of the unofficial procedures by stipulating that all beneficiaries should donate part of their funding to the DBS for due reallocation. This strategy was not entirely successful, because some of those concerned never made any DBS contribution. Very soberly, Sathe decided to introduce an appropriate method of accounting for the economic events in process. The innovation did not prove welcome.

A longstanding devotee, Tatya Kote Patil, had for many years been in receipt of financial assistance from the Shirdi faqir. In December 1915, he provided a written statement in Marathi, part of which reads in translation:

Since the last two years, due to his [Sai Baba’s] old age and detached behaviour, some unscrupulous and selfish villagers have started misbehaving with him. As Sai Baba gives me some money daily for meeting expenses, some people used to think that they can also take money from him fraudulently. On the pretext of bhakri [bread], masalas [spice mixtures], oil, tobacco, vegetables, they used to take money and the result was that evil characters, dancers, tamashawallas from different villages used to come, make the ladies dance at Dwarkamayi [the Shirdi mosque] and take 2 rupees per dance from Sai Baba. The villagers started taking their commission (dalal) from this…. (NF:125)

In that exploitive scenario, Sai Baba suffered poor health and began to complain. He himself was a victim of the discrepant behaviour. He had given dakshina money freely to numerous people, some of whom merely became greedy and devious in their pursuit of further gains. A ruse of these people was to avoid DBS regulation by asserting “their direct relationship with Sai Baba as per the guru-shishya [master-disciple] tradition” (NF:130). One might describe these excusers as superficial devotees. That is evidently how Sathe and his colleagues regarded them.

A crisis loomed at the death of Radhakrishna Ayi (Sundaribai Kshirasagar) in November 2016. The demise occurred “under odd and suspicious circumstances” (NF:151). Ayi, a versatile female devotee living at Shirdi, had accumulated many costly items she wanted Sai Baba to use, more especially in the chavadi procession that became popular. The faqir had tended to be very resistant, desiring to maintain his ascetic profile. The police now took charge of the valuable collection, which they left in the temporary keeping of Tatya Kote Patil and Bapusaheb Jog. When this property was soon afterwards transferred to the DBS, Tatya Kote and Jog rebelled at the new arrangement.

Tatya Kote was initially an official of the DBS. Eventually, he and others wanted the DBS to be terminated, apparently because of forthright articles in the related bilingual magazine Sainath Prabha, commenced by Sathe in April 1916. The opponents even wanted “the copies of the magazines destroyed” (NF:148). In this resistant situation, a lack of funds caused Sainath Prabha to cease for a whole year from May 1917. (258) However, Sai Baba overruled the objection of Tatya Kote, saying the DBS must continue (ibid).

The setbacks in Shirdi were aggravated by Nanavali. He attacked Sathe with a piece of broken glass during a procession, causing a serious fight between these two (SBI:250). Nanavali was even more menacing when he appeared at the mosque entrance with an axe, apparently with the intention of injuring Sathe (ibid). The potential victim fled from Shirdi in 1917. Sathe did not return until after Nanavali died the following year (by that time, Sai Baba himself was dead). Nanavali, and those who goaded him on, succeeded in wrecking the DBS momentum.

In 1917, the same year of Nanavali’s greatest triumph, Upasani reappeared at Shirdi for his last sojourn at the Khandoba temple. “There will be a man coming in rags.” He was now so famous in Maharashtra that some prominent Sai devotees were apprehensive at his presence in Shirdi, fearing that he would eclipse the faqir. Sai Baba was evidently not in agreement with the opponents of Upasani, expressing remarks to the contrary. He described these devotees as simpletons. They nevertheless continued their form of aggravation.

Both Sathe and Upasani were ousted from Shirdi. The Dakshina Bhiksha Sansthan “virtually became non-functional for all practical purposes” (NF:148). Rival groups of devotees at Shirdi appear to have been in effective stalemate.

Forty years later, Narasimhaswami caused acute confusion. His Life of Sai Baba gave the impression that Upasani never returned to Shirdi after 1914, when he was supposedly committing such grave error that subsequent events were to his great detriment. Preferred or imagined details can be very different to the truth. The DBS and Upasani reaped obscurity and distortion from various writers disposed to omissions.

Bapusaheb Jog and Tatya Kote were both hostile to Upasani during his sojourns at Shirdi. They chose to view him as a madman and as a rival to Sai Baba. Jog subsequently perceived that he had been completely wrong. After the death of Sai, Jog transferred to the Sakori ashram established by Upasani. Meanwhile, Nanavali died two weeks after Sai Baba, becoming celebrated as a great devotee.

58.   Return  to  Shirdi

From the end of 1915, details of Upasani’s daily routine become almost non-existent. Dates are vague for the most part. Different accounts give contrasting dates for his return to Shirdi. (259) One source reports that he was living at the Khandoba temple in December 1915, while another gives the date as January 1916. (260) Both of these dates could be correct, referring to different sojourns in the same village.

The visit in December was apparently brief, largely escaping record. The most likely explanation is that Upasani stopped at Shirdi en route from Poona to Munjwad. At this period, he was a very independent traveller. On that first return visit, he encountered Merwan Irani (Meher Baba), their meeting at the Khandoba temple becoming almost legendary in later years.

According to an early report, after staying in Munjwad, Upasani arrived at Shirdi in mid-January, 1916. Alighting alone at Chitali railway station, Upasani started walking to Shirdi along the Rahata road. A passing bullock cart gave him a lift. He reached Rahata at four p.m. From there, he walked along the road to Shirdi, stopping at a canal about a mile away, where he spent the night. About nine a.m., he quickly covered the remaining distance, arriving at the Khandoba temple. This traveller could have lived in the homes of wealthy devotees at Nagpur. Instead, he returned, as a solitary walker, to a rural scorpion-infested temple where he had been harassed.

The door of the Khandoba was locked. Upasani managed to gain access. Appa approached and bowed to him. Upasani told him to fetch Govind Kamalakar Dixit, who arrived soon after with a cup of milk and boiled grains. This Dixit, a devotee of both Sai Baba and Upasani, should not be confused with the lawyer Hari (Kakasaheb) Dixit, an opponent of Upasani.

That night Upasani stayed in the temple, which remained a very incommodious building. By morning, news of his arrival had spread across Shirdi. Durgabai Karmakar, Sagun, Bhai, and other persons came to greet him. They were by now informed, in some detail, of events at Kharagpur the previous year. The brahman widow Durgabai (who lived in Shirdi) again became his cook, giving him food daily as a dedicated exercise. Upasani commemorated Durgabai in a 1920s discourse:

In those days Durgabai was in the practice of offering me naivedyam [food gift] immediately after Sai Baba’s arati in the mosque, and till then she would never break her fast. At first I was staying in Khandoba’s temple outside Shirdi, but later on I used to wander about. Wherever I was, she would find me out, and would never return to Shirdi to break her fast without offering me the naivedyam. Whether it be sun or rain, whether I would partake of her offering or not, she rigorously kept up her anushthan [commitment]. (261)

Sai Baba with devotees on the Lendi walk, 1916

The general situation needs careful reconstruction. Upasani returned to Shirdi because of his link with Sai Baba. There is no record of any further meeting between these two ascetics. However, some devotees acted as regular intermediaries. Upasani was not in the same highly introverted state he had exhibited during 1913-14. He reacted in a different manner to events, which he was now able to direct, instead of being at the mercy of nuisance enquirers and harassers. There are no further references to the mischievous boys who had taken advantage of his overpowering unmatta states. However, other hostilities did continue.

Liberal devotees of Sai Baba would also seek out Upasani at the Khandoba temple.  In contrast, recognition of his ability was resisted, as before, by those insular Sai devotees who regarded him as a rival. Their former claim that he was a madman lost credibility after he gained fame at Nagpur, where thousands visited him. The major problem was Nanavali, the pugilistic devotee of Sai Baba whose actions were unpredictable and very hostile.

Sai Baba is known to have cautioned Nanavali about his tendency to violence, which was widely feared by devotees. Nanavali was supposedly deporting himself as a holy man. In some adverse moods, he acted more like a criminal gang leader than a renunciate. He was inviting a strong confrontation.

As before, Nanavali constantly harassed and derided Upasani. For instance, he would enter the temple and contemptuously defecate or urinate there. Nanavali would even break the temple door (apparently when this was closed to him). These very pointed gestures reveal the extreme degree of hostility existing in Shirdi.

Events in this drama are undated. Some probably occurred at an earlier period, prior to Upasani’s first departure from Shirdi. For instance, Nanavali once threw Upasani into a ditch, having covered this spot with sharp thorns to cause bleeding.  The intent to cause injury is not attractive. In 1916, the victim would have been far more resistant.

On another occasion, Upasani was seated under the banyan tree near the Khandoba temple, about to drink some milk proffered by a devotee. The manic Nanavali snatched the bowl of milk from the devotee. He commenced to pour the contents over Upasani’s head. Not content with this scornful action, Nanavali then proceeded to pick up waste or dung from the ground, similarly throwing this more repelling substance over the head of Upasani. The response of the victim is not on record. (262)

Upasani adopted different tactics in dealing with the menace. He sometimes talked calmly with Nanavali, but at other times threatened retribution. He administered “a solid beating more than once.” (263) Both of these men were strong, although Upasani was evidently the more formidable if his anger was aroused. Eventually, Upasani preferred the recourse of remaining silent and indifferent.

There were other visitors of a different kind, including some of his devotees from Kharagpur and Nagpur. An important local family took a close interest. One afternoon, Upasani was sitting under the banyan tree. He had not eaten for hours. Khushalchand Seth (1854-1918) then appeared, having been to the mosque for the darshan of Sai Baba. Khushalchand lived at nearby Rahata, regularly visiting both of these saints in Shirdi. He was “a landlord and merchant of Rahata,” one of the earliest devotees of Shirdi Sai. (264)

Upasani now complained to Khushalchand that he had not eaten for a while. So the merchant offered to bring food. Upasani then put his hand inside a water pot, taking out hot chapatti bread and vegetables. This attractive food he offered to the merchant. They both ate on that occasion. Khushalchand later spead news of this event, which became well known in Shirdi and Rahata, being treated as a sort of miracle (the food may have been left in a pot by Durgabai).

The son of Khushalchand was Daulatram Seth (d.1924), another devotee of Sai Baba, and likewise a frequent visitor to Upasani. Daulatram became aware of the harassment from Nanavali and others. The concerned visitor wanted to remove Upasani from this predicament, seeking his permission to do so. Upasani communicated that he was indeed prepared to move on. Shirdi was not an appropriate environment in view of the hostilities.

According to Godamasuta, at Shirdi, Upasani “was now simultaneously loved and hated, worshipped and harassed, but he remained unaffected by both.” The reason given here is that he had achieved the supreme state of equanimity known as samata (GLS:11).

In contrast, the influential 1950s version of events by Narasimhaswami, accused Upasani of not staying for four required years at the Khandoba temple, a supposed error working to his detriment. This hindsight judgment is a myopic creation neglecting too many relevant details. (265)

59.  On  the  Seth  Farm  at  Rahata

After several months in Shirdi, Upasani moved to the garden house (or "farm") of Daulatram Seth at Rahata. He occupied a bungalow in the grounds of the main house. Sai Baba may have instigated the decision of Daulatram to accommodate Upasani. The faqir would certainly have known of this development. Sai Baba was very close to the Seth family, regularly visiting their abode at Rahata.

Durgabai Karmakar

Durgabai Karmakar (living at Shirdi) daily took food to Upasani at the farm, involving a walk of three miles there and three míles back. Both Upasani and Daulatram asked her not to make the journey. However, Durgabai ignored this consideration. She would not eat her own meal until about 4 p.m., after she returned to Shirdi. During the mornings, she served Sai Baba and prepared his food. She thus had a very unusual "window" on different events, perceiving what each mystic was saying and doing. Sai and Upasani were each happy that she served both of them. Some opponents of Upasani were merely incredulous.

Durgabai continued to bring food throughout the many weeks that Upasani lived on the farm. She was able to track him wherever he might be, at nearby farms, or even in the jungle. One day while walking, she suffered a thorn in her foot. She continued to walk, not telling anyone else of the pain this thorn caused her. After a week, however, a swelling became obvious. Upasani asked the reason. She was evasive, not wishing to cause him any bother. He then examined her foot, diagnosing the problem. An expert practitioner was summoned to remove the thorn; this irritant was found to be one and a half inches long, according to an early report. (266)

When Daulatram departed for three days to Ahmednagar, he told his employees to take great care of Upasani and to bring him whatever he asked for. Upasani was very independent in his habits, causing puzzlement by frequently wandering elsewhere in this rural zone. He did not wish to live as a guru, and was not seeking disciples. He chafed at the routine expectations of devotees. He preferred a solitary hut to any darshan setting.

The day after Daulatram’s departure, Upasani started to walk towards the nearby village of Sakori, a short distance to the north. This was eventually the site of his ashram, but at that time, nobody could understand why he wanted to go there. Daulatram’s men anxiously followed him, requesting him to return. Upasani became annoyed, telling them to leave him alone. He even threw stones at his pursuers, causing them to give up the chase.

The inhabitants of Sakori saw him coming. However, Upasani moved at a tangent, walking through adjacent farms, until he came to a ruined hut, about a mile from Sakori. He was by now respected in the village. The headmen, namely Shankar Patel and Sakharam, personally came to the hut and gifted him with cups of milk. The very independent Upasani would not accept the offerings.

Meanwhile, Durgabai took food as usual to the Rahata farm. She found Upasani missing, but learned of the hut near Sakori. She then walked to that hut, gave the ascetic his meal, afterwards returning to Shirdi. The village headmen returned, wanting Upasani to visit Sakori. He refused, wishing to be left alone. Other rural people congregated at his hut, bringing fruits and milk. The occupant would not accept anything, maintaining an aloof mood. However, when he discovered an old woman grinding flour in a nearby hut, he began to assist her. Only then did he consent to drink some milk, afterwards resting in his derelict hut.

When the merchant Khushalchand Seth learned of this new development, he walked all the way to the obscure hut, where he exhorted the occupant to return to the Seth farm. Upasani said that the elderly visitor need not have bothered to walk so far; he (Upasani) would surely return to the farm. Khushalchand felt consoled, and accordingly departed. Upasani nevertheless stayed the night in his isolated hut. Early the next morning, he started off for Shirdi.

About half-way between Rahata and Shirdi, he stopped by the side of the road and sat down. This was apparently because he encountered two Muslims, who now sat near him. The trio were then gradually joined by many others journeying on that road, some on foot, but others travelling on horses, in bullock carts, or on bicycles. Shankar Patel of Sakori was one of the audience, which included four government officials of the Irrigation Department. Upasani commenced to discourse. Nobody wanted to leave, even when he suggested that they do so.

The morning was fine and sunny, but in the afternoon clouds gathered. Upasani warned that heavy rain would soak the clothes of his listeners. The audience were undeterred, saying they would only move when he did. The Muslims present voiced an acknowledgment reported as: “You are the very embodiment of divinity, and where you are is Bliss” (AU:11). The discourse continued for hours, until past two p.m.

Subsequently, a heavy rainfall occurred. Someone came forward with an umbrella to shield Upasani from the downpour. He characteristically refused this protection, being impervious to the weather. Still the assembly would not move, despite getting drenched. The magnetism of Upasani was becoming famous. His discourses were fluent. His ability to attract Muslims is notable.

The rain continued until about 4.30 p.m. Durgabai then arrived with naivedya, the food offering that she regularly provided. She stood discreetly behind Upasani, insisting that he should take food. Her persistence caused him to get up from his seat. He then told the assembly to return to their homes. (267)

Durgabai now accompanied Upasani to a nearby hut, where he ate the food she had prepared. He then asked her to return to Shirdi. Although he would sometimes protest against her actions or suggestions, he also frequently deferred to her goodwill assistance.

The Sakori headmen again located him, insisting that he visit their village. Upasani finally agreed, spending the night at Sakori in a small empty house. In the morning, some of the villagers began to clean the area he had selected, hoping that he would remain in Sakori. However, he was not yet compliant.

When Daulatram Seth returned from Ahmednagar, he found that Upasani had disappeared from the Seth farm. The merchant went in pursuit, eventually persuading the ascetic to return with him to the farm. So Rahata remained the base. Upasani explained that, despite his frequent wanderings, he would return to the farm each time. He evidently preferred this freedom of movement, contrasting with the more constrained urban situations to which he had been accustomed for many months. (268)

In social encounters, Upasani continued to be egalitarian in his attitude. People of all castes were included amongst his admirers. On one occasion, some low caste women (apparently Mahars or Dalits) were massaging his feet. A group of brahman women then arrived, wishing to serve him. Exerting their social superiority, they asked the others to move aside. Upasani intervened, saying that all were equal in his eyes; he was not going to let the low caste women be relegated. The newcomers could take his darshan even while the others remained. The brahman ladies then complied with his wishes. (269)

Devotees from Kharagpur sent a letter to Daulatram Seth, expressing their wish to organise a celebration at Rahata. Daulatram responded cordially, informing that he would be happy to assist their project. A large tent or pandal was accordingly erected at the Seth farm, a week before the celebration. The devotees from distant Kharagpur were accommodated on the property, and a generous feast (bhandara) for the poor was planned. The function also included devotees from Rahata, Sakori, and other local places. Extensive quantities of food were prepared in the compound, including rice, dahl, and vegetables.

On the day of celebration, Upasani was escorted to the compound to taste the food. The lady Annapurnabai, of Kharagpur, accompanied him.  Upasani sat beneath a tree, while the food was distributed at noon. This bhandara occurred after the loud salute of Maharaj ki jai, uttered by the devotees present. Until midnight, people of all castes and creeds were fed at this event. An early report informs that about twenty thousand people arrived that day. Yet still food remained, enabling hundreds more to be fed the next day. Even then, there was still some food remaining for the third day. Upasani directed this remnant to be distributed to the poor and the dogs. (270) Clothing was also distributed to the poor by the Kharagpur devotees, who funded the celebration (assisted by Daulatram Seth).

Soon after, when the Kharagpur people had departed, another feast was held, with many Sai Baba devotees participating. One of the bhajan singers present was Tukaram of Pimpalwadi, a talented low caste man. Upasani listened attentively to his performance. However, the other brahmans, present on that occasion, were not interested. “They believed that to listen to hymns sung by a non-Brahmin was insulting and disgraceful." (271)

When these high caste persons were about to leave, Upasani asked them to wait and listen to the devotional songs of Tukaram. He moved forward, now being directly in front of the singer. The brahman devotees felt obliged to accompany him. Seizing his opportunity, Tukaram then expressed a strong criticism of this aloof grouping, who stood nearby, silently and reluctantly. The performer was rendering the familiar song of a famous poet (his namesake Tukaram) who described himself as a shudra. That song complained of high caste hypocrisy. Upasani repeated his gesture of equality the following evening, when the triumphant singer again made an elite audience feel the sting of his words.

Although himself a brahman, Upasani had very different tendencies to the conservatives. While staying at the Rahata farm, he continually assisted the local poor and the orphans. His disposition to hard work continued. He would help masons to lay bricks, to break up stones, and to heat iron. Daulatram Seth, and other high caste Hindus, did not approve of this lowly activity. Upasani seems to have been quite impervious to their biases.

His wanderings in the local area seem to have related, at least in part, to his participation in manual labour on farms. He liked to work hard and fast, not being averse to sweat. Upasani was evidently happy in the role of assisting low caste people and mahars. His own caste did not perform manual work. The brahmans had instead devised many rituals, including the worship of saints, to which he was far less partial.

Daulatram received a lesson about the aversion of Upasani to intrusion and worship of his person. When the devotee pestered him with “reverent attention,” Upasani grabbed hold of Daulatram’s shoe and beat himself with this footwear a hundred times. His exasperation was clearly evident. Daulatram recovered the shoe and worshipped this object in privacy. (272)

The manual work of Upasani was accomplished despite a continuing affliction from piles. He is reported to have been losing much blood daily, a factor which worried Daulatram. Upasani was resigned to the disability, and “expressed his desire to go through all pain as and when necessary.” (273)

Upasani continued to live at Rahata. Many people were now visiting him from surrounding areas. The situation was changing again. One day, government officers and a police inspector arrived, though not in any official capacity. This admiring party even included the local regional tax collector. The conversation was revealing. Upasani had not seen these men before. He now protested that other officers were fully aware of his harassment at Shirdi (from Nanavali), nevertheless choosing to act as if there had been no complaint from him. One of the officials remarked that he would surely look into the matter if Upasani now registered a complaint. The disgruntled ascetic responded that the other officers had said similar things, but had not followed up.

The prestigious visitors then asked who was harassing him, offering to resolve his complaint. Upasani changed the subject, stating that the biggest harassment came from the multitude of visitors who arrived for his darshan. He then expressed one of his very distinctive personal disclaimers:

I tell everyone that I am not a saint. I am not God. I have not performed any miracles. Nonetheless they come for darshan, they bow down, they hold festivals around me, and they distribute food to the needy. All of this is like death to me. They consider me a true saint, a satpurush, yet I know I am not. (ISS:412)

The government officers laughed at this declaration. They also praised him for his unusual self-depreciatory attitude. (274)

60.  Reaction  to  Darshan  Visitors  at  Ahmednagar; the  Sweeper  of  Sakori

At an uncertain date, Daulatram Seth took Upasani to stay for a few days at his second house in Ahmednagar. As usual, Upasani was inclined to spend his time alone. Many high caste visitors arrived to see him. He was expected to greet them, and to receive their veneration. This routine darshan procedure was a source of aggravation to the sackcloth ascetic, who did not view events in the way that many visitors did.

In the elite brahman company one day, Upasani expressed resistance to the formality of darshan. In the absence of something miraculous, one did not bow to another, so why were all those present bowing to him?  Upasani stated that he was not a saint, and did not have the ability to perform a miracle. He was consistently averse to talk of miracles. However, this attitude was not shared by some of his followers.

The anti-darshan ascetic vented his annoyance by shouting one night in his room, when the household were asleep. This outpouring was addressed to Daulatram Seth, who was not present. Upasani then went to the room of Daulatram, inhabited by the latter’s two wives. He asked for the door to be opened, but this did not occur. In frustration, he broke the lock with a stone. Upasani then calmed down and returned to his room. The unlocked door was apparently regarded as a miracle by admirers. (275)

His dramatic resistance to darshan and miracle expectation was here a demarcator in basic respects. He did not again stay with Daulatram, who failed to understand his orientation.

Upasani reminisced about this episode in later years (GT, 2:376-377). He maintained his aversion to the miracle mentality. (276) The discourse of 1924 relays that “miracles” were the province of “simple magicians.” In contrast, the satpurusha did not rely on such phenomena, and was not easily recognised (ibid). Upasani frequently used the word satpurusha to describe a saint, spiritual master, or knower of Brahman. Many dubious holy men, and superficial gurus, have employed tricks which the unwary adulators believe to be “miracles.” Such tricks and deceptions now have strong critics in India.

When the party returned to Rahata, Upasani would not stay at the Seth farm, but instead moved on to Sakori. At that juncture, a serious plague epidemic broke out in the Rahata region, claiming many victims. Bubonic plague was one of the hazards in Western India from the 1890s. This drawback caused millions of deaths. Cholera was another affliction.

The new epidemic caused havoc for ten days. Sakori was not affected. However, the villagers were so worried that they considered evacuating their homes. Upasani advised them to stay, but after four days they decided to flee. They told Upasani of their plan, urging him to accompany them. He responded enigmatically, saying that he would stay, the plague being his best friend.

The inhabitants moved out into temporary huts they constructed in distant fields, while Upasani remained in the deserted village. He had won the solitude he preferred. Some of the villagers came back daily to meet him, fascinated by his presence. The faithful Durgabai continued to bring him food from Shirdi in the afternoons. Upasani complained of lice. An infestation was evident. After ten days, he started to sweep the entire village of Sakori with a broom; the meaning is that he swept the roads and pathways. Durgabai sometimes assisted with this extensive task. In a week or so, Upasani had completed the assignment to his satisfaction. Dirt, lice, and refuse were cleared. Once again, the brahman ascetic had become a bhangi.

About three weeks later, the plague subsided. The inhabitants returned to the village. They asked Upasani why he had gone to such trouble in cleaning Sakori. He replied: “I was removing the plague with the broom.” (277) Upasani added that he was also making the village decent for the inhabitants upon their return. 

Upasani Maharaj had certainly made himself an integral part of the village life here. His labours were not forgotten. His close contact with Sakori continued until his death.

61.  “The  son  is  better  than  the  father”

The inhabitants of Sakori now expected Upasani Maharaj to stay in their village. However, he was not yet ready to settle. Instead, the ascetic moved once more to Shirdi, only three miles away, again taking up residence at the incommodious Khandoba temple. The date was December 1916. Durgabai continued to bring him food; many others also visited him. His devotees were sometimes present in numbers; he gave discourses under the nearby banyan tree.

Sai Baba at the mosque opening a book

Details of specific events are scanty. However, a very revealing episode does emerge in the record. At the mosque one day, Dr. Pillai (who was visiting Shirdi) recounted to Sai Baba various events, concerning Upasani, which had occurred at Kharagpur and Rahata. Sai commented approvingly: “The son is better than the father.”

This evident compliment was strenuously opposed by Hari S. Dixit (Kakasaheb) and other conservative devotees who were present. Their standpoint, as opponents of Upasani, is very obvious. The gist of their objection to Sai Baba is reported as: “Maharaj is a liar and a hypocrite; he is tarnishing your good name.” (278)

The backward nature of this reasoning may easily explain why Nanavali was able to behave in the hostile manner to which he was accustomed. The truth is that Nanavali, to some extent at least, felt justified by the attitude of prestigious devotees like the Bombay solicitor Hari S. Dixit. Sai Baba’s own words were conveniently forgotten in this vengeful scenario invented by the opponents.

The response of Sai Baba, to Dixit and others, is on record. He called them simpletons, pointing out that Upasani was experiencing the fruit of his earlier years at Khandoba’s temple. Moreover, the future of Upasani was even brighter than his present. “His leela acts are tremendous!” (279) When they heard this praise, the opponents were incredulous. A mood of envy prevailed amongst them. The detractors preferred their own misleading interpretations.

62.  Rupees  for  the  Swami

Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Baba

Among the acquaintances of Hari S. Dixit (Kakasaheb) was a prestigious Swami, who visited Sai Baba from Bombay. He is described as a devotee of the faqir who came to Shirdi on special occasions. The episode is undated, but evidently occurred during the return appearances of Upasani to Shirdi during 1916-17.

On one visit, the Swami sat near Sai Baba, laughing and behaving in a familiar manner, as if he and Sai were childhood friends. He commenced to ask about the saint’s health. He was afterwards remembered for his disrespectful attitude, amounting to arrogance.

Sai Baba parried this presumed intimacy by telling the visitor to go to the Khandoba temple, and from there bring 400 rupees on his behalf (some accounts refer to 200 rupees). The Swami asked: “Shall I bring them from Upasani Maharaj?” Sai answered yes, emphasising speed, saying he urgently wanted the money. The faqir also stated that this mission was very important. His remarks were evidently calculated to increase the visitor’s self-esteem.

The Swami accordingly hurried to the Khandoba temple. His prominence seemed assured; he was now an ambassador of the revered faqir. The time was about six in the evening. Upasani was sitting under the nearby banyan tree, conversing with a group of visitors. The Swami joined the assembly, making his presence obvious. He said imperiously to Upasani: “Baba has asked me to bring from you 400 rupees, so I have come to demand them from you.”

Upasani gazed at the newcomer. At length, he arose from his seat, proceeding to administer a “thrashing,” to employ the word used in the sources. This procedure generally involved slaps (or punches) to the body, not injurious, but signifying a stern rebuke. The Swami was being reprimanded for his arrogance. The temple dweller afterwards dismissed the pompous Swami with the remark: “Have you now received your 400 rupees?” An alternative wording is: "Now, do you need more money?"

The guest returned to the mosque, where he described his unflattering reception, complaining that he had not received the money. Sai Baba commented revealingly: “He may not have given 400 rupees to me, but it is a good thing that he has given them to you.”

The Swami then asked incredulously: “Did you send me there to receive a thrashing?”

The faqir responded: “Sometimes thrashing also should be received. What is the use of having only good things every day? I used to receive much thrashing.”  (280)

The Swami changed his mode of behaviour, avoiding his former flippancy. We are not told if he ever encountered Upasani again. This episode is one of those occurrences indicating an underlying rapport between Sai Baba and Upasani. The basic situation was not generally recognised. Neither of these mystics were in the habit of giving a fluent commentary on events. A degree of perception was needed on the part of spectators.

The faqir deliberately sent selected persons to Upasani for “thrashing.” The full number is not known. In 1916-17, the disciple was again a strong man, after recovering from his lengthy phase of emaciation. In contrast, the ageing Sai Baba was now more frail than in earlier years. This period was afflicted by the greedy tendencies of superficial devotees who preyed upon the dakshina generosity of Sai Baba. The ill-fated Dakshina Bhiksha Sansthan, launched by Hari V. Sathe at the end of 1915, could not prevent the tide of hangers-on. Sathe’s outspoken magazine Sainath Prabha was curtailed by local opponents. Sathe was vanquished from Shirdi by the violent Nanavali, who resorted to an axe.

Some readers have been puzzled by the factor of “thrashing.” A form of retribution does not seem extreme under the circumstances prevailing at Shirdi. Many visitors were not considerate of Sai Baba, who strongly complained about the situation. Devotion does not guarantee a learning process. The strategy of Shirdi Sai, in relation to “thrashing,” evidently sought to compensate for shortcomings.

Among contemporary Muslims, the anger (jalal) of a saint was believed to be a corrective for error and a source of blessings. That attribute was considered a divine manifestation. This was why Pathans greatly esteemed fiery holy men. A number of Pathans (and other Muslims) are known to have revered Upasani, although identities have faded from memory.

63.  The  Operation  at  Miraj, March 1917

At Shirdi in early 1917, supporters of Upasani included some who came from Bombay. These visitors became aware that he was again in pain from his ailment of piles. They offered to take him to Bombay for an operation. He would only say: “We shall see.”

Eventually, Upasani decided to go to Miraj for an operation. This town was many miles away in southern Maharashtra. Durgabai said that she would come with him if Sai Baba gave permission. Durgabai afterwards mentioned this matter to Sai, who replied: “Very well, remain with him, and know for sure that it is I in that form [of Upasani]. If you thus attend to him, it will be as good as serving me” (DSS:631).

Upasani would not depart for Miraj until he had gained permission to do so from Sai Baba. (281) In one version, the major reason for his departure was to ease the situation caused by hostile Sai devotees, some of whom are said to have plotted his murder. (282)

When Upasani departed from Shirdi for Miraj, he was accompanied only by Durgabai. Many others also wanted to come. However, Durgabai pointed out that too much time would be spent on her part in cooking for them. Shankar Patel, the headman of Sakori, came to fetch the two travellers in a bullock cart. Patel took them to the railway station, where tickets were purchased for Poona. Upasani was wearing a loin cloth, but also covered his torso, not wishing to attract attention.

They had not told anybody that Miraj was the destination. Arriving at Miraj, in March 1917, Upasani and Durgabai rested on a veranda at the station. Afterwards at the government hospital, they found a surgeon who agreed to perform the operation after making a due examination of the new patient. Upasani met other patients, embracing them with compassion. Then he went out to arrange a rented room for Durgabai in the close vicinity. They purchased enough food for ten days.

Back at the hospital, Upasani stayed in an empty room on the first floor. He told the doctor that he did not want to take chloroform. This medic remarked that the surgeon would never agree to such an unusual request. Chloroform was used in the resulting operation, contrasting with the previous surgical event at Shinde. The piles were removed; on the third day the wounds were dressed and cleaned. He was now in much pain, being moved to a room on the ground floor. Upasani had to stay in hospital for three more days, enduring much discomfort.

Becoming dissatisfied, he left the hospital, apparently because of painful treatment applied by a hospital attendant. Arriving at the rented room of Durgabai, she prepared him food. Then he sent her to meet the surgeon at the hospital, for the purpose of explaining his absence and making a new arrangement. Durgabai quickly obtained transport in a tonga, grasping that Upasani could be mistaken for an instance of a patient discharging himself against all medical advice. The surgeon, Dr. Bhadbhade, was sympathetic, saying that he would personally look after Upasani. He also made arrangements for Durgabai to stay in the hospital.

Dr. Bhadbhade soaked a cloth in special medicines he had prepared. He applied this cloth to Upasani’s wound, which healed completely after three more days. The patient was now constipated, causing the doctor to employ a laxative. For a fortnight this surgeon attended Upasani, being successful in treating the area of afflicted flesh without any infections occurring.

The treatment was paid for by devotees, who sent money for this purpose. The group at Kharagpur at first gifted 25 rupees, and later 50 rupees. Upasani returned the second amount to the donors. (283) He accepted only what was needed.

64.  Sojourn  at  Kolhapur,  April  1917

While Upasani was staying at the hospital in Miraj, a group of admirers arrived from Kolhapur, a city not far distant. They heard of him via news of events in Kharagpur two years earlier. When they encountered him, however, Upasani would not disclose his identity to them. The discreet ascetic even said that he was not the saint they were searching for. He managed to turn them away.

Afterwards, this group returned with a devotee from Kharagpur. That man knew Upasani, who could no longer conceal himself. The enthusiastic group insisted upon Upasani being their guest at Kolhapur, especially as he was now recuperating well, even walking about to some extent. After three weeks in Miraj, Upasani decided to take up the invitation.

Upasani at Kolhapur, 1917

Arriving by train at Kolhapur with Durgabai, he visited the famous old Mahalakshmi temple. He was wearing only a loin-cloth. Upasani was unobtrusive, sitting in a corner. Other visitors started to take his darshan, without knowing who he was. Upasani queried their action. “You do not know me, nor do I know any of you.” About twenty-five persons were eventually seated around him. They wished to escort him to one of their homes, a prospect which he at first resisted. (284)

Eventually, he was driven away in a tonga. This vehicle was intercepted by one of the devotees who had visited him at Miraj. There were now two parties wishing to accommodate him. An argument ensued about which house Upasani should go to. The issue was resolved by an agreement between the contending parties that he would stay somewhere else, at a neutral site near the tomb of Kumbhar Swami, located in a settlement of potters. Kumbhar Swami (1836-1900), alias Dattaswami, was a naked saint regarded as an incarnation of Dattatreya.  Upasani now stayed at a house near the tomb. Many devotees of Kumbhar Swami lived in this zone.

As usual, visitors started to come, wanting to see Upasani. He would often resort to one of his customary rejections of sainthood. “I am not a saint, and have merely been to Miraj for an operation; I am only a sick patient, so you have mistaken me for somebody else!” The new followers countered these remarks with the affirmation that he was a truthful and honest holy man, about whom they had heard before. They believed that his medical situation was a means of attracting further devotees.  (285)  Certainly, Upasani was trying to avoid the limelight by creating the image of a sick man. However, everyone else concluded that he was not ill at all.

His ailment of piles was not completely healed. Devotees enlisted the services of a government doctor, a devotee of Kumbhar Swami. This medic treated Upasani with ointment, stopping the pain. The same doctor became a regular visitor and admirer.

The number of devotees increased to the point where more substantial accommodation was necessary. Upasani said that he did not intend to stay much longer. The doctor, also some devotees, argued that Kolhapur is cooler than other places in the summer, therefore better for Upasani, who was still weak after the operation. When Durgabai supported the doctor, the ascetic agreed to stay another fortnight. He was persuaded to move to the abode of Pesukaka, where space existed for a hundred people. Pesukaka was a wealthy female devotee of Kumbhar Swami, to whom she would daily offer food in silver vessels. She also now prepared food for Upasani. Her priest was subsequently discovered to have stolen all her silver vessels, which were recovered, as Upasani predicted. (286)

A new devotee at Kolhapur was Jankibai, the wife of Sadashiv Kale. She brought food to Upasani daily. He evoked from Jankibai a description of her aspirational life. During her early years, she had venerated saints. One of these holy men had told her that she would find God after marriage, in the form of a naked brahman. Jankibai believed that this prediction had been fulfilled by meeting Upasani.  

Chhatrapati Rajarshri Shahu, Maharaja of Kolhapur, with courtiers

The husband of Jankibai now organised a bhandara feast, attended by many brahmans and others of Kolhapur. At this event, Upasani was worshipped, contrary to his own inclination. One attendee had formerly met the ascetic at Shirdi; this visitor was a high caste relative of the Maharaja of Kolhapur. When he informed the ruler that Upasani Maharaj was present in Kolhapur, the monarch sent court emissaries with an invitation for the ascetic to be a palace guest. Upasani characteristically declined, saying that he was soon to depart the city. (287) The ruler was none other than Chhatrapati Rajarshri Shahu (rgd 1884-1922), generally considered an exceptional Maharaja in his agenda of reform. Upasani may have respected this ruler; however, he was temperamentally in friction with opulent milieux.

Devotees at Kolhapur requested to take a photograph of the ascetic. He typically resisted. Upasani disliked cameras, not seeking publicity in any way. He only agreed after repeated requests were made. The location selected for the photograph was a garden. When he arrived, Upasani reacted to the artificial backdrop selected, deciding to leave. The devotees present on that occasion pleaded with him to stay. He responded by placing his foot in a gutter and picking up some “dung cakes,” to use the available description. He insisted that these disconcerting objects should be included in the photograph. This feature was far from being the cosmetic touch desired for fashionable portraits. However, there was no choice for the photographer but to concede the unwelcome stipulation. (288)

In general, Upasani Maharaj was averse to photographers, whom he apparently regarded as part of the British Empire fashion for diversion. He very rarely smiles in surviving photographs, instead often scowling at the camera.

65.  Aversion  to  Worship  at  Poona

After staying for a month in Kolhapur, Upasani moved on to Poona with Durgabai. There he stayed for a week with his brother Balakrishna. Upasani assisted a poor neighbour to grind grain. On one occasion while he was thus occupied, high caste devotees arrived with coconuts and other offerings, intending to worship him. They waited patiently until he finished the work, afterwards garlanding him.

To their surprise, Upasani removed the garland from his neck, instead placing the celebratory item on the grinding stone, which he considered a more appropriate object for worship (puja). He is reported to have told the visitors: “There is no connection between you and me, so I have garlanded this stone” (ISS:420).

The devotees were predominantly brahmans. Upasani often complained that his own caste never did any manual work. These people had no incentive to assist others in grinding grain.

He was consistently averse to the worship procedures. One day, the devotees arrived for puja even when Upasani (deliberately) sat in a disconcerting place reserved for water buffaloes. Dung was everywhere. About a hundred devotees now congregated at this spot. Preoccupied with paraphernalia of worship, they proceeded to conduct a puja rite in his honour. One of these devotees gifted him with a satin loin-cloth. Upasani reacted to this luxury, requesting that the item be given to an untouchable sweeper. The donor was to gift this item with his own hands. This was a dig at the abhorrence felt by high castes for Dalits, who were irrationally feared as a source of contamination.

Afterwards, Upasani remarked to Durgabai that the ritual attention bestowed upon him was useless. He said that if they stayed longer, "this nonsense will only increase" (ISS:421). Durgabai was in agreement. They arranged to leave for Shirdi.

66.  Partisan  Devotee  Problem  at  Shirdi,  May-July  1917

Arriving at Chitali railway station, Upasani and Durgabai hired a bullock cart to take them to Shirdi. Khushalchand Seth intercepted them, asking Upasani to stay once more at the Seth home in Rahata. This request was declined. The headmen of Sakori were more successful when they asked Upasani to stay at their village. They allocated for his use the Maruti (Hanuman) temple. Upasani agreed, but would only stay for two days, afterwards proceeding to Shirdi. He was transported in a bullock cart driven by Shankar Patel, arriving once more at the Khandoba temple.

When Durgabai arrived at Shirdi, she lost no time in visiting Sai Baba at the mosque. Her instructions were now renewed. The faqir enjoined her to stay with Upasani and continue to assist him. Sai Baba was emphatic in the statement: "Maharaj is [Sai] Baba himself" (ISS:421). Durgabai continued to visit the mosque daily.

Details of this second sojourn at Shirdi in 1917 are very sparse. There is no reference to Nanavali, but the troublemaker cannot have been far away. Nanavali may have backed down from a confrontation, knowing that the situation had changed substantially. He had discovered that Upasani could hit back very hard, and moreover, now adopted a policy of ignoring him. The “thrashing” reprimands of Upasani were generally in the form of harmless slaps. More rarely, he is known to have used a punch. Nanavali was a likely recipient of this deterrent in 1916.

The returning Upasani Shastri was not the same entity Nanavali had formerly taunted in 1913-14. This was not the same emaciated crazy man with the dazed facial expression and bizarre speech. There was now Upasani Maharaj with the granite scowl and fluency in discourse. Even Pathans respected his strength and ascetic spirituality.

Nanavali is said to have ejected scorpions from his mouth, a supposed feat of siddhis. This was the sort of trick favoured by exhibitionist holy men who resorted to sleight of hand. In contrast, Upasani scorned such ruses. He had become indifferent to scorpion stings at the incommodious temple of Khandoba. Poisonous snakes crawled over his inert body during his disconnected unmatta states of former years.

Many visitors to the Shirdi mosque now visited the Khandoba temple with enthusiasm. This factor greatly annoyed the insular pro-Sai opponents of Upasani. Some of these hostile people also appeared at the Khandoba temple, where they insisted that Upasani should leave Shirdi quickly. Their argument was that his presence in the same village “affected the supremacy of Sai Baba, which seemed to diminish.” (289)

The opponents now had to be very careful. Upasani was no longer abstracted or “crazy,” as he had appeared in 1914. Instead, he was very alert, and capable of discoursing lucidly on a wide range of subjects. Leading Sai devotees of the Seth (Sand) family now regarded him with esteem, grasping that the affinity between Upasani and Sai Baba was profound. The Seth family were wealthy and widely respected. They owned two thousand acres of land in various regions. At Ahmednagar, they also owned warehouses and ginning factories, while operating a moneylending business in the same city. Such persons had proved sympathetic to the harassment suffered by Upasani at the hands of Nanavali, whose agitation and violence eventually became a cause of embarrassment to other opponents.

Upasani deferred to the argument of insularists by agreeing to leave Shirdi once more. The reason was his aversion to the homage he received from devotees who prostrated at his feet. The opponents were alarmed that many devotees of Upasani (and Sai Baba) were visiting him at the Khandoba temple. On some days at least, there were apparently more people at the temple than at the mosque. Neither Sai Baba nor Upasani viewed events in terms of a rivalry. That idea was the imposition of myopic devotees like Hari S. Dixit and Tatya Kote Patil.

This discrepant situation was the realistic background to a sectarian story, created forty years later by Narasimhaswami, that Upasani was a failure in not staying for four years at the Khandoba temple. In several respects, the three sojourns during 1916-17 may be regarded as the “missing fourth year” in the record obscured by the hostile camp.

The opponents reacted to Upasani for reasons that are obvious. He had become esteemed and influential, despite being eccentric, retiring, and self-demeaning. Upasani gained new devotees in many places, including major towns. The upper class brahmans found him very appealing. Many brahman women became fervent devotees of Upasani, a very masculine guru who was at the same time so otherworldly and distinctively ascetic. This situation compared advantageously, in the Hindu milieu, to the frequent brahmanical bias against Muslim associations of Sai Baba, a white-robed faqir who lived in a mosque while chanting Islamic zikr phrases.

The opponents were annoyed and alarmed when they heard of events at Kharagpur, Shinde, and Nagpur, places where Upasani gained celebrity. His subsequent fame at Rahata did nothing to alleviate their separatist misgivings. The more recent developments at Kolhapur were a further irritant to the “Sai only” complex. The opponents could no longer dismiss Upasani as a madman. They resorted to other justifications for their hostility. Their deception was ridiculous to close observers. At least one of this group, namely Bapusaheb Jog, began to rethink the distorting agenda.

67.  At  Sakori  and  Bombay

For several weeks, Durgabai moved from Shirdi to Amraoti, for some obscure purpose. She deputed another woman to prepare food for Upasani, while urging him not to leave Shirdi until she returned. Durgabai had been absent for about a month when Upasani suddenly departed, in deference to the wishes of opponents.

A vestigial report informs that Sai Baba consented to the departure of Upasani for Sakori. (290) The old faqir was still keeping a close eye on events, however much these were misconstrued by opponents like Nanavali and Hari S. Dixit.

In July 1917, Upasani moved on to Sakori, where he gained haven in the home of Shrikhande. This villager devotee and his friends wanted Upasani to regard the house as his permanent residence. They pledged to protect him even at the cost of their own lives. They were aware of the opposition at Shirdi, which could not gain a footing at Sakori. Upasani was happy with this new situation. The villagers brought him raw food, with which he cooked his own meals.

A local villager (eventually a landlord) was Yeshwantrao N. Borawke. At an uncertain date, this man became a staunch devotee. His contact with Upasani had commenced in 1914, at Khandoba’s temple. The circumstances are obscure. He may have been the first devotee at Sakori. Borawke reported:

He [Upasani] used to come very often to my place, and talked to me on spiritual matters. He used to do hard manual labour on the streets. Sometimes I saw him drawing a plough, untying the bullocks. Later on, he shifted to Sakuri…. Upasani Baba was God on earth. He had a radiant personality. (CIC:148)

Borawke lived at Sakori. He and his wife now started to visit Upasani. This couple also wanted him to stay in their own home. Upasani obliged for two days, during which Govind Kamalakar Dixit brought him meals from Shirdi (in the absence of Durgabai). He found that admirers from Shirdi, Rahata, and Sakori were visiting him daily for darshan, while performing the worship rites to which he was averse. On the third day, Upasani quietly walked back to the home of Shrikhande (however, Borawke remained a major supporter). Finally, he removed himself to a dilapidated hut in a field belonging to Shrikhande.

Durgabai returned from Amraoti, resuming her role of preparing food. Upasani often asked her to stop taking so much trouble over him. She responded that she was following the instructions of Sai Baba in her ministrations. Durgabai would emphasise how the faqir had communicated there was no difference between himself and Upasani. She knew the complete irony of a spiritual parity being ignored by the pro-Sai opponents at Shirdi.

At this period, liberal devotees of Sai Baba were visiting Upasani from Shirdi, alongside the Rahata and Sakori contingents. Shankar Patel and Sakharam, the village headmen, urged him to select better accommodation in Sakori. He refused, preferring the primitive hut. He was still there when winter arrived. The date was now January 1918.

Some accounts are chronologically confusing. While some writers say that Upasani settled at Sakori in 1917, the date of 1918 is more pressing (SSS:4).

In the new year of 1918, Upasani moved north, wishing to visit his mother at Dhulia. Durgabai accompanied him. Rukminibai was trying to assimilate the many events attending her son’s vocation. After staying two days with her at Dhulia, Upasani again desired solitude. He moved to the neighbouring village of Munjwad, then to Durgeshwar (or Dhudeshwar), a location featuring attractive mountain scenery. He next decided to take up the longstanding invitation of Amidas Mehta, a Sai Baba devotee in the metropolis.

At Bombay, Mehta placed at his disposal an opulent bungalow at Sion. The hall featured a seat specially prepared for the visitor. Upasani was averse to the finery and cushioned comfort, preferring to live in a small room behind the hall, where he slept on the bare floor. Darshan visitors soon arrived. As ever, he gained new devotees without seeking any attention. These people brought him unrequested gifts and unwanted flower garlands. Nevertheless, Upasani consented to give informal discourses, remaining here for about six weeks.

A wealthy brahman named Navre came daily with his family. This man took Upasani to view two or three bungalows he owned. He invited the ascetic to choose any one of these as his permanent residence. Upasani typically declined the generous offer, maintaining his code of a world-renouncer.

Mehta and others organised a substantial celebration at the time of Ramanavami. This was during the month of Chaitra (March-April). A lavish feast for the poor was conducted in the name of Upasani Maharaj. Many devotees from Bombay and adjacent areas participated, including Zoroastrians. A few followers arrived from distant Kharagpur. Hari Vinayak (Raosaheb) Sathe came from Poona, accompanied by some Europeans who are not identified.

68.  Upasani  Baba  Settles  at  Sakori  in  1918

Returning to Sakori with Durgabai, Upasani alighted at Chitali railway station. The faithful Shankar Patel was waiting with his bullock cart. Upasani was then escorted to the Maruti temple at Sakori. (291) At first, he appeared to be intending to leave Sakori quickly. However, the inhabitants continually requested him to make their village his permanent place of residence. They promised to provide all his needs, and to safeguard against any trouble or harassment. They also offered to provide a living space that was isolated and silent, thus ideal for his requirements. Upasani at last agreed to settle, delighting the Sakori population. This was in the summer of 1918. (292)

Sakori was a small agricultural village in the Kopergaon taluka (district) of Ahmednagar District. The location is also described in terms of the Rahata taluka. Rahata is very close, being only two kilometres south. Assessing the number of houses for this early period at Sakori is difficult. By the 1960s, “about 300 houses” existed (CIC:36). Fifty years earlier, we might be discussing about 200 houses. Certainly, the colonial era environment was far more rudimentary than the twenty-first century setting, when the number of houses swelled to over 700, and the village population was variously stated to be 4,000 or 10,000 in relation to the 2011 census.

Upasani did not wish to reside in the village itself. “A small zopadi (hut) was erected for him by some of the village farmers in the cremation ground on the outskirts of the village.” (293) He himself described the site as a burning ghat. This location was conveniently near a public well. However, most people did not care to visit a place of the dead, even during the day. The site featured dense thorn bushes harbouring snakes and scorpions. These creatures were liable to get inside the hut, and were a potential problem for visitors. Devotees wanted to eliminate the thorn bushes accordingly. Upasani resisted this suggestion, being an instinctive ecologist. The objectors emphasised that visitors would be greatly inconvenienced by thorn bushes and scorpions. The hut dweller eventually relented. Villagers then uprooted the bushes and erected a wall instead.

Durgabai also moved to Sakori, being instructed by Sai Baba to attend Upasani. The arrangement continued her role as sevakari. Upasani was never a big eater; he was liable to miss meals unless these were provided. To facilitate her services, Durgabai was permitted to stay nearby, in his close proximity. She gained her own hut on this site (GT, 1:400). She no longer had to walk long distances with food.

At distant Kharagpur, the devotee Venkatrao (Dasupant) Khasnis became very ill from fever and paralysis. Fearing an imminent death, Khasnis wanted to see Upasani before demise. His wife Lakshmibai and other relatives accompanied him to Sakori. Upasani was very angry with the relatives for bringing to him a man in such a chronic state of poor health. Due treatment was impossible at Sakori, where no doctors or medical facilities existed. The wild cremation ground was totally unsuited to an invalid. However, he arranged for Khasnis to lodge at a house in Sakori. After a week, Khasnis recovered slightly; after a month, he was restored to health. Upasani wanted him to return to his job at Kharagpur. (294)

Another issue was devotional music. The ascetic resisted bhajan, saying that this did not belong in a cremation ground. Upasani was not a partisan of music, which he deemed a distraction. He merely tolerated devotee preferences in this respect, as he did at the feasts. Eventually, he relented on this point, saying that devotees could perform their songs if they remained at a discreet distance from his silent hut.

Upasani Maharaj in sackcloth, 1930s. Most Upasani images date from the 1930s, being more scarce in earlier years because of his aversion to photography and personal depiction.

From the outset, Upasani Baba tried to keep the Sakori situation very simple. He would dramatise the frictions occurring between himself and diverse petitioners desiring innovations. His resistance to personal worship was exceptional. When a seven day celebration in his honour was suggested for September 1918, Upasani responded negatively about worship of himself, an activity to which he was so often averse. He depicted the tendency to worship as a superficial attitude. He even attributed to the petitioners a motive which they strenuously denied:

All your talk of devotion is nonsense. Your love is false - it is not real love. You know that Sai Baba gives money to Tatya [Kote] Patel and others, and you hope that I too will adopt this practice. Yet you also know full well that I do not take, keep, or distribute money. (295)

Tatya Kote Patel was one of the “big men” of Shirdi, becoming a wealthy landowner as the consequence of dakshina subsidies from Sai Baba. Tatya Kote was one of those who spoke against Upasani; he was not popular at Sakori.

Upasani afterwards gave reluctant permission for the seven day celebration. A large tent (pandal) was erected near his hut. A small improvised temple (made of fabric) was created in honour of Sai Baba. Mehta brought photographs of Upasani and Sai Baba from Bombay. (296) These were installed in the temple. Upasani was angry when he saw his image on display; he told devotees to throw this away, or he would do so himself. He wanted his image replaced by pictures of Sant Tukaram and Dattatreya. The devotees followed his direction to install other portraits, while retaining his own photograph. This was perhaps inviting further displeasure.

For seven days, the tent was a scene of song performances, lectures, and scriptural recitations. Hundreds of attendees came from Rahata, Shirdi, and more distant places like Bombay and Poona. On the last day, a bhandara or feast for the poor was in process.

Two days after the celebration was over, Upasani made a request that the tent be removed. He repeated this request every day for a week. His instruction was deliberately evaded, on a pretext that the tent had been expensive to erect, and would require much effort to dismantle. Becoming very angry, he “thrashed” a visitor who desired darshan. “Thrashings” were part of the Sakori theatre. In such instances, Upasani made a grand show of rebuke, but did no damage, merely slapping the body of a miscreant or petitioner. In a minority of cases, men received bruises if he used a fist. This treatment was apparently accepted by most recipients as retribution. The deterrent was not always sufficient to prevent a lapse.

Upasani now threatened to set fire to the tent if this was not dismantled quickly. The devotees resorted to a ruse, pretending to loosen the ropes of the tent. They believed he would calm down and accept this new feature of the landscape. Under such circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that he became angry at ruses and distractions persisting in the guise of devotion.

Upasani was aware of the deception relating to the tent. On 30 September 1918, in a strong mood of resistance, at mid-day he went to the improvised cloth temple inside the tent. He tore down the curtains, throwing the pictures away. Moreover, he broke the sturdy beams supporting the tent. He had certainly made his point against those who ignored his wishes. However, the following day, he was calm, again allowing visitors to see him. When devotees asked permission to repair the temple, he consented. He did not agitate further against the tent. Subsequently, he was asked the reason for his display of anger. He gave a cryptic explanation. This conveyed that he had been troubled by the perception that a huge star would fall from the skies at noon on the tenth day of the month of Ashvin.

There was much interest in the dramatic disclosure. The day he had predicted was Dassera, a festival of the Hindu calendar celebrating Rama. A crowd gathered by mid-day, gazing up at the sky. There was evidently a degree of concern about potential damage. Perhaps some other persons were sceptical. From morning until night on the specified day, Upasani was found to be very retiring, his mood one of sadness. Devotees asked him what they should do. He told them to repeat the name of God and to pray. "For you will never experience a day like this again.” (297) There was no falling star. Instead Sai Baba expired that same day at Shirdi, creating a mood of shock. The equivalent English calendar date is 15 October, 1918.

At Shirdi, Sai Baba expired between 2.30 and 3 p.m. (NF:16). Varying reports are available. That morning of 15 October, in conformity with his fastidious sense of hygiene, Sai Baba brushed his teeth and washed his hands. He sat in the mosque near the dhuni, recounting stories. He tried to drink a little water, but half of this came out of his mouth. He asked his companions to go for lunch, leaving only a small group near him at his unexpected decease. (298) An argument afterwards occurred about the place of burial. The corpse was subsequently buried at the Butiwada, a large building created by the wealthy devotee Gopalrao Buti of Nagpur.

News of Sai Baba’s death spread quickly. His devotees travelled to Shirdi from Bombay and elsewhere. A related influx of visitors also occurred at Sakori, including a number of Zoroastrians who were enthusiastic about Upasani.

Five days afterwards, a schoolmaster from Rahata organised at Sakori a programme of bathing poor boys and girls, also gifting them with clothes and food. This charity was repeated a fortnight later, when devotee groups from Bombay and Poona assisted. The recipients included “untouchable” Mahars. A similar programme followed not long after. The permission of Upasani was obtained for these functions. However, his response was in the typical idiom of independence he reserved for such occasions. The gist is that he did not wish to hinder any good cause, but the devotees should not think that he was instructing them to do these things; they were to do as they thought best. (299)

Unlike Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj never took money from anyone at this period. Nor did he give anything, remaining an ascetic with no money to disburse. If anyone asked him for food, clothes, or money, he would say:

I myself am a beggar. I do not even have even a scrap of cloth to cover my body. If someone gives me food, I fill my belly. But I do not accept gifts from anyone. What then would I have to give to others? If a devotee wishes to give you something, accept it. If they are generous, I do not stop them. But I do not order or advise anybody to give anything to anyone. (ISS:431-2)

69.  Anasuya  the  Pundit

A visitor to Sakori was Anasuya, an unusual instance of a female pundit. Her background is obscure. At this period, a brahman could still be penalised for teaching Sanskrit to his wife. Anasuya became learned in Sanskrit, apparently with a special interest in the Bhagavad Gita. She had once visited Sai Baba at Shirdi; after his death, Anasuya again visited that village. She travelled three miles to Sakori, meeting Upasani for the first time. She bowed to him, tears coming to her eyes.

Anasuya felt that Sai Baba lived on in the person of Upasani. Sai Baba had told her that she would experience the truth, which she now identified with Upasani. Accordingly, she wished to stay at Sakori. Anasuya admitted that she had never experienced the spiritual reality which she described in her pundit lectures. She recognised the difference between rote learning and experience.

Upasani expressed to Anasuya some offputting themes. He said that he was not Sai Baba, therefore her stay at Sakori would be unproductive. Anasuya was learned about religion, he remarked, so she could guide him instead of him teaching her. Upasani insisted that he was “nothing but a sick and somewhat unbalanced man, suffering the consequences of my own actions from previous lives” (ISS:432).

Anasuya was not convinced by this banter. Like others, she perceived that the method of Upasani was self-naughting, being calculated to deter superficial persons. She resolved to stay in the Vithoba temple at Sakori. Anasuya remained in the village for three months; she would daily visit Upasani, and recite in his presence poems she had composed in Sanskrit. At the end of her stay, Anasuya gained his permission to depart (she may have visited him regularly thereafter).

This lady was one of the many brahman women inspired by Upasani Maharaj. They could easily see that he was a genuine ascetic, with an almost frightening disregard for worldly vanities. He was liable to express allusive statements, and also more forthright assertions requiring some resilience in response.

70.  Kaikhushru  Masa  Irani

In the early days at Sakori, the environment of Upasani Baba did not resemble the later ashram that developed around him. The cremation ground was initially just a field, with only two huts visible. These were simple mud huts with a thatched grass roof. Between the two huts was a tree (variously described as a neem tree or a pipal tree). Upasani lived in one hut, and Durgabai Karmakar in the other.

Durgabai did the cooking. A widow, she accordingly had a shaven head. “She wore a red-coloured sari, like a nun” (Irani 2017:18). Durgabai was effectively the first of the Sakori nuns, a contingent varying in personnel over the years, and predating the Kanya Kumari Sthan of the 1930s. Like Upasani himself, the nuns never took any vow of sannyas (renunciation), an orthodox procedure that frowned upon women.

Khaikhushru Masa Irani

One of those who came to Sakori in 1918 was Kaikhushru Zaveri Beheram Irani (1879-1931). This Zoroastrian was generally known as Masa. In 1914 (or earlier) he had become a devotee of Sai Baba, who directed him to visit Upasani at the Khandoba temple. Masa had visited other saints also, including Narayan Maharaj. However, after establishing a strong link with Upasani, he went only to Sakori.

Masa had formerly been a very sad and downcast man for many years. This was because at the age of fifteen, his father died, the family responsibility passing to him. Masa had to provide for a sister, two brothers, his mother, and later his wife. Desiring to lead a spiritual life, he instead had to maintain his father’s liquor shop at Bombay. In the hope of an escape route, he continually purchased horseracing lottery tickets. Masa was never a winner.

A Muslim friend suggested to Masa that he perform chilla nashini, a forty day ascetic exercise practised in variants amongst Indian Sufis. The sole activity was repetition of a divine name. Food and sleep were to be avoided. This practice was known to create alarming visionary experiences (which can be attributed to fasting). More questionably, chilla was popularly believed to achieve whatever the practitioner wished for. The desperate Masa agreed to the proposal, desiring freedom from his mundane life.

He soon began the chilla in a private room. After maintaining thirty-eight days of vigil, he fell asleep. Masa had a powerful dream featuring the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, relating to future events, including the beneficial birth of a daughter. The dream later proved accurate. However, upon awaking, Masa was dejected at his failure in falling asleep. Soon after, he became partner in a jewellery shop at Bombay. This development involved relinquishment of the detested liquor shop. Masa now made more money, thus gaining far more leisure time; he was able to visit distant saints like Hazrat Babajan and Sai Baba.

Masa formed a habit of visiting Upasani at Sakori, usually staying for about two days before returning to Bombay. The ascetic would emerge from his hut daily at eleven a.m., and talk with Masa. The visitor evidently prized these conversations; the content is unknown. In 1918, Masa took his wife Soona and young daughter Khorshed (1910-1999) to Sakori for the first time. Many years later, Khorshed described the situation.

The site was not a tourist spot. There were no amenities whatever. Any visitor had to sleep in the open, under the tree located between the two huts. No shelter existed, and no facilities for cooking. Masa would arise at four a.m. He would pay local villagers to make bhakri (bread) and cook vegetables. He also requested water for his family. They had to bathe in the open as best they could. There were no toilets. They were afraid of the snakes and scorpions inhabiting this site, but never encountered any harm. Upasani was available to them every morning at eleven; the duration of this session is not known. There was no accompanying programme. Khorshed reminisced: “I was intensely interested and absorbed in everything he [Upasani] said and did” (Irani 2017:19). She registered the complete absence of material possessions.

In August 1919, an Irani lady named Gulnar, from Ahmednagar, accompanied them to Sakori. This time, Masa decided to leave quickly after only one conversation with Upasani (possibly because of Gulnar, who did not want to stay overnight). The ascetic pressed his guests to stay longer. Masa declined, so Upasani told the tonga driver to transport the visitors back to the railway station. Eyewitness Khorshed relates: “What really made an impression on me was that as Maharaj was sending us off, he was crying and saying ‘Nakoo jao, nakoo jao (Don’t go, don’t go)’.”

On the return journey, the travellers found that a river was dangerously in flood. They were unable to cross over. (300) The frustrated party had to wait overnight in a donkey stable.

71. The  1918  Influenza  Pandemic  Hits  Sakori

The 1918-19 influenza pandemic became known as the most devastating epidemic in world history, infecting a fifth of the global population from America to China. The H1N1 influenza virus, with genes of avian origin, is estimated to have infected 500 million people, resulting in at least 50 million deaths.

The contagion was often called Spanish flu, a misleading description arising from the fact that Spain had a free press which noted the phenomenon more extensively than other countries. Medical doctors were too often helpless against the pandemic (global epidemic), even in Western countries like Britain and America, where many victims died in a grim condition. The situation in urban and rural India was disastrous for the millions of people who died as a consequence of this pandemic, which originated in the West.

In India, the pandemic is believed to have started when soldiers active in World War One returned home from Europe, while carrying the disease they had contracted in wartime. A mild epidemic started in spring/summer of 1918. A sequel commenced at Bombay in September 1918, spreading north and south with lethal consequences during the next few months. The pandemic spread across India, proving severe in the Bombay Presidency and the Central Provinces.

Basic events were covered in the Annual Report of the Sanitary Commissioner (1920). The details have since been studied and amplified by scholars of medical history. The provincial death rate, caused by this pandemic in the Bombay Presidency, was 55 out of 1,000 inhabitants. This situation is thought to have been aggravated by the low monsoon rainfall occurring during June to September 2018.

Estimates of the total Indian death toll have varied from thirteen million to eighteen million, potentially about five per cent of the population. Even if the lower figure is more accurate, this represents a substantial proportion of the worldwide casualties. The pandemic killed more people than World War One. Another pressing consideration is that the disruptive war fought by European countries caused widespread losses to Asian populations, via a pandemic spread by military logistics involving soldiers and railway transport.

In Western India, the pandemic made fatal inroads during October and November 1918. However, a great deal is obscure about the casualties in different areas of Maharashtra; the problem may have persisted into early 1919. Although millions of deaths are reported, very little detail emerges about this phenomenon. The dead people are largely amorphous to history.

Early compilers, of reports concerning Upasani Maharaj, inform that the pandemic afflicted Sakori. The precise date is not supplied. This development probably commenced soon after the death of Sai Baba in October 1918, if not before. Sakori was one of the numerous Maratha villages lacking medical facilities. We are told that many Sakori villagers died, although many others survived. No precise statistics are available.

Most rural Indians did not understand anything about the pandemic influenza. The corpses of casualties at Sakori were left untended, because the villagers feared contamination. This fear resulted from a longstanding aversion to the consequences of death, an aversion especially pronounced amongst the brahman caste. Nobody dared to dispose of the rotting corpses.

The brahman ascetic at the cremation ground was not party to the traditional scruple and general inertia. Suffering, death, and gloom were now pervasive in the environment of Upasani Baba. His policy was to personally collect the corpses avoided by the villagers, and then carry these remains to the cremation ground for disposal. (301) He was working in defiance of a general taboo on touching corpses, an action regarded as polluting by caste society, who conveniently delegated the despised activity to Dalit "untouchables." In North India, the Doms were frequently experts in burial and cremation; because of this, Doms were considered the lowest of castes even by related communities such as the chamars or cobblers (Burayidi 1997:155). In villages of Maharashtra, the situation was more diverse. Cremation procedures at Sakori are not documented.

Upasani could be heard muttering about the world cycle of time having reached an end, when even disease and death could become a means of liberation. He did not express defeat in the face of calamity. Instead he imparted a positive message that liberation (mukti) could be gained by those with the appropriate resilient attitude.

The villagers recognised that the ascetic was assisting their community. In gratitude, they built for him a second hut in the cemetery, more isolated than the first. Here he spent a few hours per day. However, the older hut remained his major “seat” for a time.

In 1913 at Shirdi, Upasani had predicted to Dr. Pillai that much suffering would be caused by a terrible war causing widespread problems. Pillai was puzzled at the forecast. However, he later grasped that the ascetic had been correct. Global conditions changed for the worst; now at the end of a major international war, a pandemic caused further havoc. Upasani met the challenge at a cremation ground, responding in a manner similar to his earlier exertions. At Kharagpur, the non-sannyasin para-Yogi had lived on the level of a bhangi, indifferent to noxious waste, scrupulous in his avoidance of caste taboos. Now at Sakori, he had become the disposer of rejected corpses, immune to the public and high caste horror of contamination.

72.  Feasts,  Festivals,  and  the  Salvaged  Herd

Upasani Maharaj, one of the rare images in which he smiles

In January 1919, the local schoolmaster (from Rahata) arranged another feast (bhandara) at the Sakori cremation ground. Food, clothes, and money were distributed to the poor on that occasion. Devotee groups from Bombay and Poona, notably featuring Zoroastrians, arrived for the event. From Gwalior came emissaries of the Maharaja in that city (meaning Maharaja Sir Madhavrao II Sindhia). This obscure situation seems to have comprised a celebratory update to the misfortune suffered by Upasani at Gwalior over a decade earlier. The Gwalior contingent arrived with gifts of blankets and shawls. These items were distributed to the poor by Upasani, who maintained his benefactor role commenced at Kharagpur.

The Ramanavami festival was celebrated on a grand scale at Sakori in April 1919. This event lasted for fifteen days, featuring a feast for the poor on every day. Thousands of coconuts were sent in advance from Poona, six days being required to prepare them as food. Large kitchen fires were set in the ground to cook rice and dahl. Thousands of Hindus, from adjoining towns and villages, arrived for the food distributed at the cremation ground.

In addition to Hindu devotees, a smaller number of Zoroastrian followers arrived from Bombay and Poona. They provided a strong contribution to the workforce. This minority wished to provide a substitute for the makeshift cloth temple; Upasani eventually agreed. A new temple was quickly built (in a single night) of stone and cement. This was still a small edifice, with no auspices of a Hindu god, being instead dedicated to Upasani and Sai Baba. The ascetic now permitted his photograph to be included alongside that of the deceased Shirdi faqir.

The simple hut of Upasani was decorated with festoons and sacred leaves. Outside the small temple, a special seat was arranged for him, complete with a finely embroidered silk textile. Devotees persuaded him to sit there. However, he was quick to cover the fancy seat with his plain gunny cloth. On the ninth day of celebration, the birthday of Rama, he permitted arati worship of himself. Upasani was not always so amenable to devotee expectations. (302)

His birthday was celebrated in May 1919, via enthusiasm from devotees at Kharagpur. This contingent sent very substantial gifts of money, clothes, and food. These items were distributed to the poor at Sakori. For years thereafter, the birthday event was celebrated at both Kharagpur and Sakori. (303) The devotees at Kharagpur survived the absence of Upasani in their town; a number of them became regular visitors to Sakori.

The Gurupurnima festival was celebrated at Sakori in July. A feast was held in honour of both Sai Baba and Upasani; many visitors arrived. This event was supervised by Yeshwantrao Borawke, now regarded as one of the leading local devotees. The feasts continued over the years at Sakori. Upasani incorporated lepers into these public events, personally bathing and feeding the unfortunates shunned by caste society.

In the summer, a severe famine occurred. Upasani approved when devotees collected grain to provide daily meals for orphans and the poor. The drought resulted in an acute shortage of fodder for cows and buffaloes. These animals started to die at Sakori. In that emergency, a project of feeding weakened animals commenced near the hut of Upasani, who was sympathetic to the tragedy, monitoring developments involved. This mercy was funded by gifts from devotees, meaning Hindus, Zoroastrians, and Muslims from Poona, Bombay, and other cities. The relief project continued for seven months. About four hundred animals were fed daily (ISS:433). They survived as a consequence, the herd becoming a part of the new ashram. In later years, the Sakori nuns (kanyas) were in charge of the herd, a source of dairy produce.

73.  Contrast: Hari  S.  Dixit  and  Bapusaheb  Jog

There were numerous occasions when Upasani acknowledged the inspiration of Sai Baba. For instance, he remarked in 1924: “It may be that I am knowing something of the future. For this present state of mine, a huge force is responsible. It can be said that this force emanated from Shri Sai Baba” (GT, 1:401).

In Talk 285, Upasani discloses: “He [Sai] 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 meaning is that the two saints were inseparably identified.

Upasani reported that Sai Baba often said: “Allah is the protector of the poor.” The Sakori ascetic explained that the “poor” in this reference did not mean the destitute, instead denoting a particular attitude of mind resistant to pride, desires, and doubts (GT, 3:328).

A reminiscence in Talk 254 informs that, if anybody approached Sai Baba asking for food, the faqir would eject the petitioner from the Shirdi mosque. Upasani explained this action in terms of denying a common belief that the abode of a satpurusha means happiness and the granting of desires, plenty to eat and to enjoy. The truth was, according to Upasani, that a satpurusha does not cater for worldly pleasures; he will instead interpose factors far less popular, in the interests of a spiritual development (GT, 3:328-29).

Followers of Sai Baba briefly commemorated Upasani in literature composed during the 1920s. These media included Shri Sai Leela (Sai Leela Masik), the devotee journal commenced by Hari Dixit (d.1926) and Govind R. Dabholkar (d.1929). In 1924, Shri Nilakantha stated, in Sai Leela, that Sai Baba was great because he made a saint of Upasani (LSB:426). A well known commentator refers to the “very high praise” bestowed upon Upasani at this early period (LSB:383). The fame of Upasani Baba had evidently offset the extreme antipathies associated with Nanavali (d.1918).

The Sakori saint was mentioned with approval by Dabholkar in the Shri Sai Satcharita (1929). Upasani is here described as the “great bhakta” who, after the death of Sai Baba, “went to the banks of the holy Bhagirathi [Ganges], along with [Bapusaheb] Jog and performed the Hom-havan” (DAB:732). The brief reference proves that Upasani was very acceptable in a role of commemoration. A more accurate and detailed version of Upasani’s activity in Varanasi is afforded elsewhere.

Dabholkar records and elaborates many episodes relating to Sai Baba. However, his poetic narrative (in Marathi) does not provide a chronology of Shirdi events, far less a comprehensive history. Apart from the Gangetic reference, Upasani Baba is not mentioned.

The literary activity of Narasimhaswami eventually created reservations about Upasani, via a distorted profile in the influential Life of Sai Baba, published in the 1950s. Prior to that time, Upasani was apparently regarded by many Sai devotees as a neighbouring saint, secondary to their own figurehead, but nevertheless significant. In the pages of Sai missionary Narasimhaswami, Upasani became a suspect figure who had surrounded himself with women and evoked the catastrophic opposition of Divekar Shastri, losing support in the process. The misconceptions require patient negotiation, having become strongly entrenched in some quarters.

Hari S. Dixit was hostile to Upasani at Shirdi, prior to the latter’s departure for Sakori. Bapusaheb Jog (1856-1926) shared in this aversion until about 1917. However, there was subsequently a pronounced difference. Dixit remained a conservative devotee of Sai Baba, founding the Sai Sansthan at Shirdi. Whereas Jog completely changed his attitude towards Upasani, to such an extent that he became a devotee of the Sakori saint when Sai Baba died. Moreover, Jog moved from Shirdi to Sakori, where he lived as a pujari and arati officiant, believing that Upasani was a spiritual successor to the Shirdi faqir.

The respective careers of these two prominent Sai devotees merit some spotlight here:

Hari S. Dixit

Hari S. Dixit (Kakasaheb)

Hari Sitaram Dixit was born in 1864 at Khandwa, to wealthy Nagari brahman parents. He became a prominent solicitor at Bombay, his name frequently appearing in the press. He gained a role in the Indian National Congress, being a supporter of Sir Pheroze Mehta. From 1901, Dixit was an elected member of the Bombay Legislative Council. Capable of forthright speeches, he protested against the British prosecution of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He visited England circa 1906, there suffering an injured leg, the accident leaving him with a limp and impeded movement.

In 1909, Dixit was advised by a devotee to meet Sai Baba at Shirdi. A suggestion was made that the faqir might be able to cure Dixit’s lame leg. Dixit was partial to this suggestion, meeting the saint that same year. He soon relinquished the idea of a cure for physical lameness, instead requesting Sai Baba to cure the lameness of his soul. Dixit was often called Kaka (Uncle); Sai followed suit in this identity.

In December 1910, the new devotee started the construction of a house at Shirdi, a project completed in five months. This building became known as Dixitwada (or Kakawada). The owner only wanted a small upstairs room for his personal use. The remainder of this property was available as accommodation for visitors to Shirdi.

Dixit enjoyed a very lucrative practice as a solicitor. He owned three bungalows. He frequently visited Shirdi; as a consequence, he gave much less attention to his career in Bombay. For this reason, his business colleagues (Narayandas and Dhanji Shah) terminated their partnership with him. Dixit had to create another firm, but the new partner likewise withdrew. In 1911, his practice in Bombay was seriously faltering. However, Sai Baba urged him to continue.

There are two different versions of these events. Narasimhaswami says that Dixit closed his practice in 1912. Rumours spread that Sai Baba had made him crazy by inspiring such a tangent from success (LSB:331-337). Another report informs how Sai told Dixit, in 1912, that there was no need for him to give up his profession. He accordingly continued his role as a Bombay solicitor, while spending as much time as possible at Shirdi (KK:262). The latter version is now widely credited. (304)

At that period, Dixit obeyed an instruction from Sai Baba to undergo a form of retreat lasting for nine months (NF:87-88). The devotee was told to remain upstairs in his room at Dixitwada. The faqir told him to stop visiting the mosque. Dixit found this prohibition upsetting, being accustomed to daily audience with Sai Baba. As a consequence of his distress, Dixit petitioned Shama to act as intermediary for his request to attend the afternoon arati at the mosque (also an arati function at the chavadi). Permission for this respite was granted by Sai Baba, apparently on a regular basis.

While he was in retreat, Dixit was told by Sai Baba to study Eknath’s “Brindavan Pothi.” However, there was no work of this title by Eknath. A puzzled Dixit asked if the famous Eknath text Bhagavat was Brindavan Pothi. Sai Baba replied in the affirmative. Nobody could understand why the faqir gave such an idiosyncratic name to this text. Until Dixit read the last stanza of the Bhagavat, when he discovered a reference to this book as Brindavan.

When Dixit finished the Eknathi Bhagavat, he asked Sai Baba if he should next read the Bhagavad Gita. The faqir now enjoined that Dixit was to concentrate on two texts only, meaning the Bhagavat and the Bhavartha Ramayana. When a copy of the latter work arrived by post for Dixit, he presented this text to Sai Baba. The faqir then held the book upside down and pointed to a passage which seemed very relevant to a recent bereavement (Dixit’s daughter Vatsali had died). Sai Baba asked Dixit to read this passage, where Rama consoles the widow of a man he killed (LSB:337). The eccentric actions of Sai Baba, in relation to books, became well known amongst close devotees. The Shirdi faqir is not known to have read Hindu classics.

When the retreat of Dixit was terminated, after about nine months, Sai permitted him to visit Bombay. The date is uncertain. This retreat appears to have commenced in 1911 and ended in 1912. There are problems in believing that the retreat dates only to 1912, because certain details (in sources other than Narasimhaswami) do not match this chronology. The Shirdi Diary of Ganesh Khaparde reveals that Dixit was reading to devotees from the Bhavartha Ramayana in December 1911.

At the Shirdi mosque, Dixit was very aware that an apparently elite group of devotees were conspicuous in the dining arrangements attending Sai Baba. These men included the Muslim faqir Bade Baba. Dixit wished to be included in this select company. At first, the solicitor was merely given prasad by Sai Baba. Later however, he was invited to dine at the mosque. Eventually, Sai allowed him to sit in the same exalted row (pankti) as Bade Baba. Dixit had now gained elite status. Sai also gave Dixit a kafni to wear at Shirdi (LSB:359-360). This robe was an ascetic insignia. However, Dixit had not renounced the world, being a married householder. He did not wear the honorary kafni at Bombay or elsewhere.

Dixit apparently wanted to be like Bade Baba, whom he associated with proximity to Sai. Like Dixit, Bade was a married man with a family. However, Dixit was not a Muslim faqir. A different set of rules applied to Hindu renunciates, who were not married men.

At some point, Dixit resolved to observe a nocturnal fast, missing his evening meal. Sai Baba resisted this decision, repeatedly telling him to eat an evening meal. This firm response made Dixit relinquish his plan (LSB:341). The Shirdi faqir did not encourage asceticism in householder devotees.

Dixit believed that he and his colleagues, in the supposedly elite group at the mosque, were the most important devotees. Bade Baba and his associates (including Tatya Kote) certainly received generous subsidies from the dakshina money distributed by Sai Baba. Dixit evidently viewed the temple seclusion of Upasani as a peripheral factor. Upasani did not receive any of the daily dakshina redistribution, living in comparative neglect. This does not mean that he was insignificant, as Dixit and others wished to believe. Bade Baba, Dixit, and other prominent devotees never achieved any mystical role. Moreover, Bade Baba has been queried for his indifferent response to the Dakshina Bhiksha Sansthan (DBS), a project commenced by H. V. Sathe at the instigation of Sai Baba himself.

Sathe was endorsed by Sai Baba in the attempt to restrain abuses of the dakshina bestowals at Shirdi. Bade Baba was one of those who received daily dakshina from Sai. To such an extent that he received “an estimated average figure amounting to at least half a lac [of] rupees, since his arrival [at Shirdi]” (NF:124, citing Sainath Prabha, September 1916). Half a lakh means 50,000 rupees, a considerable sum at that period. Bade Baba promised to pay one third of his income from Sai Baba to the DBS for reallocation of funds. However, he (like other beneficiaries, mainly Hindus) failed to make that payment. In contrast, Upasani took nothing from Sai Baba, having given the faqir all his money at the outset of his stay at Shirdi.

After the death of Sai Baba in 1918, Dixit attempted to renew his practice in Bombay as a solicitor, apparently in the interests of his relatives. However, his own financial situation was becoming desperate. Moreover, his revived career as a solicitor flagged. Dixit incurred a heavy debt of 30,000 rupees, which he managed to pay with an unrequested loan from the amenable son of a wealthy friend (LSB:349-350). The earlier advice of Sai Baba, to retain his professional career, was evidently relevant.

Abdul Baba reading the Quran

Dixit made a generous gesture of accommodating Bade Baba at this time, when the atmosphere at Sakori was becoming insular against the Muslim minority. The liberal attitude is very much in his favour. However, he later became involved in a dispute with Abdul Baba over custodianship of Sai Baba’s tomb. Dixit emerged victorious, ousting Abdul, while urging that “the tomb needed to be supervised in a Hindu manner” (SBI:282). There is no evidence that he ever acknowledged the importance of Upasani Maharaj, despite the explicit disclosures of Sai Baba that are on record.

A strong friction occurred between Dixit and Abdul Baba (d.1954), the prominent Muslim sevakari who had served Sai Baba for twenty years before Dixit came to Shirdi. Abdul reiterated that Sai Baba was a Muslim, an emphasis which annoyed some Hindu devotees like Dixit, who favoured a theory of immaculate conception to bypass the embarrassment. Abdul was at first the custodian of Sai Baba’s tomb. In 1922, Dixit opposed him in a law court, relegating the Muslim claim. Abdul lost his role as custodian. The tomb was thereafter controlled by Hindus (Warren 1999:268-269; SBI:282).

Abdul became a marginalised figure, resorting to the popular Indian Sufi fashion of augury (falnama) in consulting his Notebook (Warren 1999:264). This is interpreted by critics as a distraction convergent with Sufi Orders; however, Abdul was probably under some stress to compete with the Hindu majority. The Notebook is a significant Urdu manuscript, recording statements of Sai Baba (Shepherd 2017:5-12). This formerly neglected text confirms a Muslim background. The Notebook was not translated into English until eighty years after decease of the faqir.

Dixit favoured a different method of prognosis that became popular amongst Hindu devotees after the death of Sai Baba. Dixit and others would “cast chits” before a photograph of Sai Baba, requesting a child to pick up a chit at random. The directions written on the chit were then regarded as the instructions of Sai. The source is Narasimhaswami, who likewise believed that chits were “a reliable method” (LSB:343).

A person who did not believe in casting chits was Upasani Maharaj. Several years before Sai Baba’s death, Upasani became an enigma to conservative devotees. His unmatta phase at Khandoba’s temple puzzled onlookers like Dixit and Jog, who tended to very contracted explanations, ignoring the strong recommendations of Upasani expressed by Sai Baba. Eventually, the critics were amazed to find that the formerly abstracted saint was attracting many followers of high social position. The critics (including Dixit) requested Upasani to leave Shirdi in 1917, fearing that the number of his own visitors might eclipse the supporters of Sai Baba. Upasani graciously complied with this request. The attendant situation eluded reporting in Shirdi sources.

Bapusaheb Jog

Bapusaheb Jog

Sakharam Hari, alias Bapusaheb Jog, came from Poona. He was a traditional brahman like Upasani, although a little more Westernised because of his government service. His background is known with certainty, being that of the chitpavan Konkani community within the highest caste. He was a devotee of Dattatreya (Datta). Originally a supervisor for a government department, Jog retired to Shirdi in 1909, accompanied by his wife Taibai. They lived on a pension, having no children to maintain.

Jog initially intended to stay at Shirdi only for a few days, desiring to return to Kabad, where he honoured Sadhu Sakharam Maharaj. He stayed at Sathewada, becoming annoyed by what some Sai devotees said. Jog threatened to leave for Kabad. Sai Baba then prudently intervened, telling the devotee Dada Kelkar (who could be insistent) not to bother the guest. The faqir spoke so amenably to Jog that reservations of the visitor evaporated.

“Sai Baba even gave him [Jog] darshan in the form of Akkalkot Swami” (KK:257). This fleeting reference, to an obscure event, means that Jog witnessed the deceased Akkalkot Swami (Swami Samarth) in the person of the Shirdi faqir. If true, this may have been a factor offsetting any reservations of Jog about the Muslim associations of Sai Baba.

Jog was very orthodox in his dietary habits. For instance, he would not touch onions at the time of Ekadashi and other fasts. Sai Baba respected these scruples, never forcing this devotee to eat with him (the faqir was fond of onions). He would tell Jog to go home for lunch, often accompanied by other orthodox supporters.

At Shirdi, Jog cultivated an austere lifestyle. He and his wife would rise at three a.m. daily. They would bathe with cold water, obtained from the well near Dixitwada. After his routine of sandhya and puja, Jog would visit the mosque at the time of Sai Baba’s morning meal, doing whatever chores the faqir assigned to him.  He might accompany Sai and Abdul to the Lendi, or else recite the Bhagavad Gita at his home until the faqir returned to the mosque. Jog would generally wear ordinary clothes. However, for the evening darshan at the mosque, he would wear a kafni gifted to him by Sai. In imitation of the faqir, Jog would then tie a white cloth around his head. He described this ascetic outfit as durbari poshak, meaning “court dress.”

Jog gained a leading role at the death of Megha Shyam in January 1912, becoming the new officiant of arati at Shirdi, in accordance with the wish of Sai Baba.  This brahman was also prominent as a reciter of sacred texts. About 3.30 p.m., Jog would visit the mosque for the third time, then return to his quarters and read the Eknathi Bhagavat until the evening begging round of Sai. The faqir would frequently send devotees to Jog while the latter was reading (and expounding) Jnaneshvari in the morning and Eknathi Bhagavat in the afternoon (KK:258). Sai Baba would tell the visitors to listen to Jog’s expert Sanskrit recitation.

These sessions occurred at Sathewada, after the permission of Sai had been obtained for regular “classes.” Sai Baba effectively endorsed Jog as the Shirdi authority on scripture. Jog was very proficient in Sanskrit, rather more so than Dixit. Jog was a scholar conversant with numerous Sanskrit texts.

The elite scholarship did not solve all problems. Jog had a tendency to become easily annoyed. Sai Baba deliberately tried his patience with requests for dakshina. These requests were sometimes relayed through devotees who visited Jog’s “classes” at Sathewada. Jog had frugally acquired substantial savings; the tactic of Sai Baba exhausted this monetary reserve. Nevertheless, Jog was able to collect his monthly pension from Kopargaon. After paying his debts to shopkeepers in Shirdi, he would give the remainder to Sai.

The faqir often deposited money with Jog for safekeeping, occasionally requesting him to make purchases with the use of that fund. Sai Baba would frequently deposit a hundred rupees in this manner. A few days later, Sai would jokingly remark that he had given Jog 125 rupees, which he now wanted back. Jog could not conceal his exasperation at the discrepancy; he even requested that deposits should be assigned to someone else. Sai would then disarmingly admit the mistake, requesting Jog not to get angry. The Shirdi faqir seems to have constantly tested and teased the weak points of devotees.

Jog is also known to have become annoyed with Upasani, in the unusual situation existing at Khandoba’s temple until 1914. The arati ritualist and Sanskrit scholar could not understand the unmatta state of introversion, nor the accompanying reaction of Upasani to interruption. Sai Baba affirmed that Upasani was in a special state of spiritual existence. Jog was similar to Dixit in a lack of understanding, although the outcome was very different in these two instances.

Jog is said to have pressed Sai Baba to confer sannyas upon him. He had not achieved tranquillity or realisation of atman. The faqir apparently communicated that Jog was having to live through the consequences of hindering actions in previous incarnations. Sai Baba did not confer sannyas, a caste procedure which he is not known to have adopted. He instead advised Jog to overcome anger and attachment. Jog is said to have reduced his anger over the years. Sai apparently viewed Jog’s careful monetary savings as a barrier to sannyas. The barrier was demolished by dakshina strategy.

After the death of Sai Baba in 1918, Jog transferred his allegiance to Upasani at Sakori, where he eventually became the arati and puja officiant. Jog now saw events in a very different light to that of Shirdi conservatives. For instance, he was able to observe Upasani on a daily basis during the 1923-24 incarceration in the cage (pinjra). This was a multi-faceted phenomenon of privation and disclosure. At the very end of his life, Jog was initiated into sannyas by Upasani (CIC:30), a rare gesture from the Sakori ascetic. In November 1926, Upasani advised Jog to take sannyas. The devotee was then ill, and could not eat properly, dying in December (SSS:32).

The tomb (samadhi) of Bapusaheb Jog became prominent at Sakori.

74.  Sojourn  at  Varanasi  (Kashi), 1920

A year after the death of Sai Baba, Upasani would frequently say that he wanted to visit Varanasi (Kashi, also known as Benares). When asked why, he replied: “I must go there for inner work related to Sai Baba and other spiritual masters.” (305) This theme of “inner work” is not explained in the sources. The reference is fleeting.

Shirdi Sai Baba

The tangible outcome was an expedition to Varanasi for the purpose of commemorating Sai Baba. Upasani caused some puzzlement when he told Sadashiv Shelke (Patel) that Sai Baba would preside at the commemoration.

Bapusaheb Jog (d.1926) was a prominent brahman devotee of Sai Baba. (306)  After the death of Sai, whenever Jog visited Shirdi, he would afterwards go to Sakori and seek out Upasani. This man now believed that Upasani was the effective successor of Sai Baba. His attitude was very different to that of pro-Sai opponents, who resented Upasani living so close to Shirdi.

Jog gifted a thousand rupees for the prospective visit to Varanasi, requesting inclusion in the travelling party. Other persons also donated money for this project. Upasani would not touch the money. The funds were entrusted to a devotee who kept relevant accounts. Followers from Bombay, Poona, Sakori, and elsewhere wished to accompany Upasani to Varanasi. However, his independent attitude caused consternation and uncertainty.

A few years later, in Talk 92, Upasani refers to these events in a manner suggesting his complete independence. He reminisced that devotees spread news he was going to Varanasi, with the consequence that letters poured in to Sakori. Some of these correspondents visited him, wishing to accompany him. He resisted, saying: “If at all I go, I will go alone; those that want to go, can go there [to Varanasi] on their own.” His decision to visit Varanasi was still not definite. One day he decided to go. He then quickly left Sakori on his own, instructing the others to join him after a fortnight (GT, 2:413).

Devotees had asked how they might ascertain his whereabouts if he did leave on his own. Upasani was indifferent to their query. He regarded such concerns as tying him to “rules and regulations” intended for householders. His attitude was: “If I have nothing to do with the world, why should I be bound by worldly rules? Good or indifferent – it is all the same to me” (GT, 2:413). He was expressing the attitude of a world-renouncing satpurusha.

Upasani departed with nothing but his gunny cloth, without any money. A crowd of devotees, attended by a musical ensemble, walked with him to nearby Rahata. Spectators bowed as he passed by. He boarded a tonga cart to reach Chitali station. There devotees asked how he would get to Varanasi without a ticket. Upasani commented that this was not their concern. "You need only buy me a ticket for Ankai." This place was merely a village two stations away. The devotees were left with the injunction: "Meet me in Kashi after two weeks." But where would they find him? He would not supply any location. Then he boarded the train, journeying in a completely solitary mode.

All the monies so far collected had been placed in a sealed bag and entrusted to a devotee; the bag was to be opened in Varanasi when Upasani gave the instruction. Meanwhile, he possessed only a train ticket to Ankai. The date of departure is uncertain.  (307)

Alighting at Ankai station, Upasani reputedly climbed a mountain to visit the tomb of Agastya, a legendary rishi. He afterwards journeyed to distant Omkareshwar, about 200 miles away, where he revisited the Gauri Somnath temple. He also encountered “the wife of Malek who had died in this pilgrim town.” (308) This refers to the wife of a deceased ruler. Upasani was a guest at her palatial home on a hilltop, where he discoursed. From such wealthy people, he presumably obtained further railway tickets.

He travelled via Ujjain, reaching Allahabad (Prayagraj). Here he walked along the Jumna river, encountering an audience who were observing a heated argument between a brahman priest, a pilgrim, and a barber. Many pilgrims adopted the custom of shaving the head before worship. Priests were known to employ a barber to cater for this demand, charging a fee. The price of a shave was here the subject of altercation. The pilgrim and the barber were both disadvantaged by a high fee charged by the priest. The priest departed to attend to other urgent business, enjoining the barber to make the pilgrim wait until this matter could be resolved. Upasani intervened by himself becoming the barber to the discontented pilgrim, also other pilgrims who were assembling. He did not take any money for this service, giving the fees to the barber, who assisted him. According to his own account, the pilgrims preferred him to the priest, even though the barber received more money.

Later that day, the traveller was warmly greeted by a Muslim stranger. Upasani asked the reason. The reply is reported as: “My heart tells me to do so, and that you are one of those who are not different from Allah! I have read and heard about many faqirs, and even been hospitable to them.” (DSS:660).

The welcoming Muslim was the proprietor of a shop selling grains. He now became the host of the Hindu ascetic. The next day, Upasani said that he wanted to move about the city alone. He walked to the banks of the Jumna river, visiting a large building where a municipal water conductor was installed. Upasani “was astonished to see the massive pumps and pistons in action and watched the machinery with great interest” (ISS:441). The workmen there explained to him how the machine worked. As a consequence, he assisted them for hours until the evening, in his accustomed role as an independent labourer. Meanwhile, his Muslim host was anxiously looking for him, travelling in a tonga. This well-wisher was surprised to find Upasani engaged in menial work with labourers. He commented: “True faqirs are known to have such a temperament; you have reached Allah!”

The host then transported his guest back home. A brahman was engaged to cook for Upasani, who would scarcely touch the food, instead taking a glass of milk. The next day, the amenable Muslim host hired a boat, by this means escorting Upasani along the Jumna river. The host wanted him to stay longer in Allahabad; however, the guest said he must press on to Varanasi. By now, many acquaintances of the host, both Muslims and Hindus, were planning to visit Upasani. He did not want this attention, choosing to leave stealthily the same night, before any visitors could arrive.

Now he travelled on to Varanasi, a major pilgrimage site on the Ganges with a history going back many centuries. This location features miles of bathing ghats, with many temples and palaces visible on the bank. The temples generally date no earlier than the eighteenth century, the precedents destroyed by Muslim incursions. Under British rule, Varanasi survived as a religious and economic centre. One of the oldest ghats is the Manikarnika, a major burning ghat associated with the belief that persons cremated at Varanasi gain liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The intense demand for cremation facilities made Varanasi the only place in India where the depressed Doms (Dalit scavengers and corpse-burners) became affluent.

Reaching Varanasi, Upasani at first remained solitary, bathing in the Ganges. He stayed for four days at a secluded spot on the banks of this sacred river. His only activity was to bathe in the Ganges in the mornings; the rest of the time he spent sitting in solitude, without food or drink. The early Desai-Irani account describes this introversion in terms of: “He was absorbed in the hidden activity… and thus communicated with Sai Baba and other saints of the past” (DSS:661).

Certain other accounts, of a ritual complexion, represent an erroneous reporting. One version relates that, at the secluded spot, Upasani performed rites (kriyas) commemorating Sai Baba and other saints (SSS:7-8). Upasani himself did not perform the rites, which were subsequently delegated to a contingent of priests. According to a brief reference in the Shri Sai Satcharita, Upasani “went to the banks of the holy Bhagirathi [Ganges], along with [Bapusaheb] Jog and performed the Hom-havan” (DAB:732). This misconceived episode has also been described in terms of “performing at Kasi the annual sraddha ceremony for Sai Baba” (LSB:426). Upasani was mistakenly presented as the priestly ritualist by brahman writers unfamiliar with events at Kashi. (309) The Kashi commemoration was sometimes mistakenly identified with Allahabad, included on the same itinerary.

Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi, late nineteenth century

Leaving his secluded spot, the Sakori ascetic moved about Varanasi incognito, wearing his gunny cloth. Entering the compound of a Sanskrit tol (school), he sat on the veranda. The female cook in that school transpired to be a relative of two Sai Baba devotees whom Upasani knew well (meaning Dada Kelkar and Hari V. Sathe). He maintained his incognito stance while staying at the cook’s home, located on the farm owned by a pundit named Ramakrishna Dixit.  Upasani requested the pundit to arrange lodgings for his acquaintances scheduled to arrive from Sakori and elsewhere. The pundit asked how many people were expected. Upasani responded in a very independent manner: “Only God knows that. I have no group. I have no devotees, yet there are many!” Upasani remained incognito. Because of his evasive speech, his identity remained obscure.

Due arrangements were made. The devotees appeared, including Zoroastrians, Muslims, and a majority of Hindus. Amongst the Kharagpur devotees were Khasnis and Yaknathrao, while others came from Bombay, Poona, Nagpur, Kolhapur, and elsewhere. Bapusaheb Jog and Hari V. Sathe were amongst the prominent followers.  “Hundreds of families” are reported to have assembled in Varanasi, spending thousands of rupees on ceremonies (GLS:12). This report may need qualification.

The gathering is said to have included many families of Sai Baba devotees (LM:284). Thousands of Sai devotees reputedly converged upon Benares, which seems a very pronounced exaggeration (via a report compiled over fifty years later). Such inflated figures occur by association of ideas. There are no grounds for believing that any Sai devotee families were present. There may have been hundreds of Upasani devotees, more likely less than a hundred.

While walking in the city, Upasani entered a temple of Maruti. Emerging from the back door, he found waste ground and a small battered tin hut. He chose this hut as his residence, despite more comfortable alternatives. The devotees were disconcerted by a local belief that the site of the hut was haunted. Upasani dismissed their reservations with the assertion that ghosts were his friends. (310)

He could not be persuaded to move. His companions therefore cleaned the neglected site, described as a field strewn with garbage. They erected a large tent (pandal) for their own use. Upasani at first resisted this obtrusive development, preferring obscurity. His chosen hut apparently had a low roof of galvanised iron sheets, a factor serving to magnify the summer heat. Upasani would sit inside this hothouse all day, often giving darshan. Here many residents of Varanasi came to visit him.

Some learned pundits conversed with him. These men are reported to have said that they had studied everything (in Sanskrit) on religion, yet they had never encountered anything like the freestyle discourses and explanations of Upasani Maharaj. They soon grasped that he did not expound like a pundit, but may have found the tangent refreshing. He rarely cited passages from scripture, preferring illustrative stories and unconventional (or eccentric) meanings applied to words. According to Upasani, the word Kashi could mean "swallow the world in order to save the world." In relation to the Upanishadic phrase tat tvam asi (You are That), he maintained that the only way to gain this fabled realisation of atman-Brahman was through association with a satpurusha.

According to Talk 92, the priests of Varanasi were very pleased at the influx of new visitors, being in receipt of food gifts. Upasani relates: “I had nothing to do with them; I used to sit quietly in a desolate place. People asked me as to how many [priests] should be fed here. I told them that they can feed any number…. All those Bhatajis [priests] and their wives always thrived on such free, effortless food” (GT, 2:413).

The basic point here is that Upasani was not a priest (the word bhataji was used in Maharashtra). He was distanced from the priestly ranks, having nothing in common with Bhatajis save birth in the same caste. He seems to have regarded them as pedestrian householders. Politely, but pointedly, he mocked their lifestyle in Talk 92 (dating to 1924):

I always say that if you want to eat free of cost, be a Bhataji – a priest…. Bhataji generally means a free food-eater; the attitude of a Bhataji is ‘parannam pushti vardhanam,’ meaning free food from others makes one stout. This is not a good attitude. To eat free like that is bad. One should say, ‘parannam prana-sankatam,’ meaning free food from others is detrimental to life, and that is the correct rule. Despite this, the Bhatajis always desire free sumptuous food without doing any effort [work] for it. You can see plentiful specimens in Kashi. (GT, 2:412)

The  sackcloth  rishi  Upasani  Maharaj, Bombay 1920s (N. V. Virkar Studio)

In consultation with Upasani, a nine day celebration was planned by his devotees, to coincide with Ramanavami. This refers to events beginning on 21 March 1920. Every day from dawn until noon, a group of about forty brahman priests were scheduled to read sacred texts and make offerings; on the final day, they were to perform a fire ritual (maha-yajna). At the end of each daily programme, a feast (bhandara) was to be held, both for the brahmans and the poor. The priests prepared an altar for the culminating worship of the goddess Chandi. This activity was to be made known to the public, being undertaken on behalf of Sai Baba and other saints of the past. Photographs of Sai Baba and other saints (including Upasani) were installed at the temple (chosen by Upasani) where the altar was prepared for the rites.

The priests proved diligent in their performances. Food for them was prepared by the devotees of Upasani, a new delicacy being served each day. Devotees even purchased expensive cows, tethering these near the hut of Upasani. On the last day, these animals were gifted to the priests. About fifty cows, with calves, were gifted.

A constant influx of local visitors was an additional feature of this phase, frequently including the prominent merchants Chunilal Vaidya (also a doctor) and Shivaram Bhaiyaji. These visitors came to the stifling hut, where Upasani would discourse. He complained that the people of Varanasi were bowing to him, whereas he had come to this sacred city to bow to the inhabitants. The visitors would counter that, although Varanasi was elevated in the scriptures as a holy place, there was nothing like recourse to a sadguru. (311)

The devotee assistants distributed food to priests and the poor. Even cash and clothing were included in the generous gifts. Thousands of rupees were spent during the celebration. Bapusaheb Jog was a major organiser. Yeshwantrao Borawke and Shankar Patel of the Sakori group assisted. The final day closed with a celebration in the field adjoining the hut of Upasani. That same evening, in the close vicinity of the tin hut, Hari V. Sathe (312) organised an all-night performance of Vedic chants by pundits prepared to stay awake until dawn. Subsequently, a number of priests conducted an additional three day oblation rite, for which they were duly paid.

A discordant event occurred during the main proceedings. When a feast was held, over ten thousand brahmans are reported to have assembled (probably a substantial exaggeration). When these men sat down for their meal, they saw a large painting of Sai Baba which had been prominently installed and garlanded in the feeding precinct. The auspices of the event were plainly evident. Sadashiv Patel (a companion of Merwan Irani) now understood why Upasani had formerly told him that Sai Baba would preside (LM:284).

Some priests were unhappy about the painting, which they interpreted as a non-Hindu intrusion. They caused a disturbance by insisting that the Shirdi saint was a Muslim. Therefore, they argued, they could not participate in a feast which had the auspices of a Muslim figurehead.

For two hours, Upasani tried to reason with the objectors, urging them to forget their religious prejudices. He did not deny that Sai Baba was a Muslim. Upasani maintained that the deceased saint was above religious distinctions, existing as much for brahmans as for Muslims.

His audience would not accept this liberal inter-religious argument. Many of the officiating ritual priests joined the protest. Upasani generously offered to increase their dakshina (payment) to fifteen rupees instead of five (for each man). However, the dissenters still refused to eat the food provided. They insisted that the offensive painting of Sai Baba must be removed.

Upasani now changed his tactics. Refusing to discard the picture of Sai Baba, he told some of his devotees to go to the nearby Ganges and summon the poor by banging drums. The hungry people who soon appeared were promptly served food. Nearly 15,000 poor are reported to have been fed. Yet a considerable amount of food still remained. Upasani gave instructions for the surplus food to be thrown into the Ganges.

The pundits and ritual priests were now shocked to see buckets of food being lost in this manner. The elite assembly grasped that they were losing both extra payment and their meal. These brahmans began to apologise, saying they would eat the food. The disgruntled Upasani refused to comply, being rock hard in his adamance. He derided the insular attitude to Sai Baba, affirming that the deceased saint of Shirdi was the real pundit or religious expert. (313) Upasani then terminated the assembly, having dented religious complacency.

After the celebration was over, a pundit named Yagneshwar Shastri came to meet Upasani. This man was learned in Vedanta, being regarded as an authority. He bowed to Upasani without saying a word. He then moved to a corner, listening to what the Sakori ascetic was saying. From then on, he came every evening. The pundit would sit in Upasani’s hut and chant sacred texts, apparently at the request of the ascetic. (314)

Eventually, Upasani asked all the devotees to return home. So they made due preparations. They asked when he would depart. Upasani replied that he would return after everyone else had left, with the sole exception of Durgabai. This was again a very independent decision, similar to his journey north from Sakori.

A problem occurred when Upasani requested Khasnis to leave Varanasi. This prominent devotee from Kharagpur refused to do so. After an initial politeness, Upasani became annoyed at the refusal, expressing strong words. He even slapped Khasnis in exasperation. Still Khasnis expressed resistance. Upasani then gave the verdict that Khasnis would experience what had been destined for him. After a few days, this devotee became ill. The episode shows signs of a hagiographic embellishment, designed to emphasise the advantages of dying at the holy city of Varanasi.

Khasnis was now unable to take food or water. Nevertheless, he seemed happy, being resigned to his fate. Doctors said that he was suffering from a severe fever, and would die in less than ten days. Yet whenever Upasani visited him, the invalid rose from his bed and bowed to his inspirer. The day before his death, Khasnis told his wife Lakshmibai to continue in service to Upasani. On the ninth day, he expired in the presence of the Sakori ascetic.

Only Durgabai remained with Upasani in Varanasi. The summer heat, percolating the metal roof, made his tin hut uncomfortably hot. Local well-wishers offered alternative accommodation; he refused, saying he would soon be leaving the city. After a month of this heat, Upasani departed with Durgabai for Gaya, visiting the eighteenth century Vishnupad temple. This site exhibits the famous dharmashila or "footprint of Vishnu" on a basalt block. He bathed in the nearby river and then returned to Varanasi, where he undertook seclusion for three days.

Moving on to Ayodhya, for three days he visited numerous religious sites. He and Durgabai amenably encountered Kabir Panthis. Upasani also visited the famous mosque known as Babri Masjid, on a site believed to be the birthplace of Rama. In a liberal manner, Upasani remarked upon his affinity with both of the religious traditions at this site (the Babri Masjid was destroyed by Hindu nationalists in 1992).

Moving to Allahabad, he bathed at the confluence of sacred rivers. The waters were then still relatively unsullied, in contrast to the pollution of today. Then he and Durgabai travelled south to the Ellora Caves, before finally arriving at Chitali, from where they took a tonga ride to Sakori.

75.  Events  in  1920-1921

After the Varanasi interlude, Bapusaheb Jog (d.1926) continued to be enthusiastic about the situation at Sakori. He is reported to have daily walked three miles from Shirdi to Sakori; he would frequently request Upasani to allow him to stay at the cremation ground. However, Upasani told him to continue residence at Shirdi instead. Jog responded:

Sai Baba announced that when he died, he would live on in you. While Sai Baba was alive, I performed his arati at Shirdi. I am now certain that you are Sai Baba. Why should I not remain with you? (315)

Upasani was not enthusiastic. He insisted that Jog remain at Shirdi. Jog continued to press his request. Upasani was averse to the puja (worship) which Jog represented. Govind Kamalakar Dixit was another pujari from Shirdi desiring to stay at Sakori. Upasani is said to have relented on this issue, granting both Dixit and Jog permission to stay at Sakori. However, there are different versions of that development; Upasani was resistant for years. (316) A lady named Subhadrabai (Subhedra) was another prominent devotee of Sai Baba who wished to be included at Sakori. Both she and Jog became residents of Sakori at the time of the festival Ganesh Chaturthi. This event dates to September 1920. Subhadrabai was not a pujari; she seems to have been more readily accepted by Upasani.

A Parsi disciple of Upasani was Gustad Hansotia (1890-1958), formerly a devotee of Sai Baba for several years until the latter’s death. Sai had stated to Gustad: “There is no spiritual difference between him (Upasani) and me.” (317) This recommendation was effective in a transfer of allegiance after the death of the Shirdi faqir. With some persons, Sai Baba was very frank in disclosing the merits of Upasani.

Gustad had encountered different aspects of Sai Baba. An undated episode has been described in terms of the faqir repeatedly beating him with a stick because he would not leave after darshan. This disapproval persisted over a period of three days, while Gustad sat determinedly in a resolve to stay at Shirdi. The visitor remained sitting without food or sleep, while bearing the blows without moving. He was then allowed to stay. At a later date, shortly before his own death in 1918, Sai Baba sent Upasani a message enjoining him to look after Gustad thereafter, because of his sincere love for God and his “deep spiritual connections” (Irani 2017:42). The message was apparently delivered via Gustad himself.

Men like Hansotia and Jog regarded Upasani as the spiritual successor of Sai Baba. This outlook was repudiated by conservative devotees of Sai, who maintained that the faqir of Shirdi had no successor (ignoring the “gold plate grant” declaration of 1911). The issue of successorship was sometimes confused with the formal tradition of gurus who occupied the same site (or “seat”) as their predecessor, being officially recognised as successors. Gustad Hansotia and others were not implying any such routine occurrence.

A few months after his return from Varanasi, Upasani called Merwan Irani and Sadashiv Patel (Shelke) from Poona to Sakori. Patel was an early devotee of Merwan, also being familiar with Upasani. This trio now journeyed to Nasik. Upasani did not include any other devotees in that expedition (not even Durgabai). Upon arrival at Nasik, the trio walked four miles to a Shiva temple, located in a forest. They passed the night here. The next day, Upasani sent Patel into the city to buy food. When Patel returned, darkness had fallen. He later related that Upasani now looked radiant, while advising him to follow Merwan (LM online:224, accessed 20/02/20).

The trio again slept in the Shiva temple. The next day, Upasani took his companions to the village of Gawalwadi, wishing to climb the Bhorgad mountain after thirty years. He ascended the slopes to the cave he had long ago inhabited. He was still fit at the age of fifty. His companions were both suited to the expedition. Twenty-six year old Merwan was energetic, an agile climber until his old age. Patel was a hardy Maratha still in his prime.

These three walkers gained entry to the Bhorgad cave by means of the nearby tree on a steep slope. While they sat in the cave, Merwan composed and sang an extant ghazal celebrating Upasani. These lines include a reference to the subject having become “supremely supreme” by assuming the role of a sweeper (bhangi). A Zoroastrian accent appears in the words: “You became all-loving Yazdan.” This is complemented by supporting religious associations in the line: “You have the face of Allah! You have the form of Ram!” (ibid.) The occupants of the cave eventually descended the hill, returning to Sakori. This episode was lost to Sakori annals, though preserved in the Meher Baba literature via the report of Patel.

In October 1920, Amidas Mehta of Bombay visited Sakori with a few others. Mehta was originally a devotee of Sai Baba. Like some others in that category, he was adapting to a new situation. Mehta was intending to launch an extensive second anniversary celebration at Bombay in honour of Sai Baba, coinciding with the Dassera festival. Mehta now wanted Upasani to be present at the celebration, as the living representative of Sai Baba.

Upasani was not enthusiastic about this prospect. Instead he conveyed:

I am a crazy person living in squalid conditions. Just how would I fit in with the wealthy brahman families of Bombay? They will be hoping for a saint who satisfies the desire for darshan and miracles. I am not a saint, but instead a misfit lunatic. I do not have the ability to perform miracles. So nothing could be gained by my presence. Those eminent high caste families would merely laugh at you!  

Mehta objected, saying that he did not think like all the people in Bombay. He considered Upasani to be his guru. The Sakori ascetic had successfully visited Bombay in 1918. Yet he spoke as though nothing had happened. Upasani was clearly not desiring a celebrity profile.

Feeling frustrated, Mehta and his companions departed for Bombay. Later on, and before the planned celebration, Mehta sent two colleagues to Sakori in an attempt to cajole Upasani in favour of the event. The ascetic was annoyed; he shouted at the visitors, even forcing them to leave. In such situations, he was able to invoke the image of an uncouth radical in his resistance to the protocol of religious festivals, darshan ritual, high caste society, and "Sai Baba successor" promotionalism.

After another two days, Mehta returned in person, again requesting Upasani to attend the festival in Bombay. After a protracted argument, Upasani finally agreed, but only on the condition that he would arrive on the day of the festival, and return home in the evening. Mehta resisted this grudging response, finally persuading Upasani to agree to a sojourn of four days. Mehta stayed in Sakori until Upasani was ready to leave for Bombay with Durgabai. Soon after, Yeshwantrao Borawke and about fifty other Sakori devotees followed. This was mid-October, 1920.

In Bombay, many people were at the railway station to greet the visitors. This was the day before the celebration commenced. Upasani said that he would now walk, or use a bullock cart; he was averse to any elaborate transport. However, persuasive spectators were of a different opinion. A special automobile, decorated with flowers, was provided by the merchant Dwarkadas Seth; this luxury vehicle was reserved solely for the use of saints and holy men. Upasani remonstrated, viewing the motor car as a symbol of the wealthy. He was effectively shouted down by others present. He was then reluctantly escorted in that limousine through the streets of Bombay. Durgabai accompanied him. They were taken to the Madhav Baug area of the city, where he lodged; this region of southern Bombay was associated with the Bania merchant community. The next day, devotee groups arrived from Kharagpur, Nagpur, Poona, Ahmednagar, and Sakori. Zoroastrians were included (Gulmai Irani was one of those present; Upasani also invited Merwan Irani to attend).

Upasani was worshipped; devotional songs continued all night. A feast for the poor was organised, with food and clothes being widely distributed. Upasani discoursed for hours at a time, to both rich and poor people. Four very busy days passed, at the end of which he said that he wanted to leave. Devotees then urged him to remain. He finally agreed, staying longer than intended. The initial resistance on his part, and subsequent compliance, became a standard tactic.

One of those who came for darshan was Gadge Maharaj (1876-1956), a shudra saint who had worked for social reform in villages of Maharashtra (Shepherd 2017:168-169). Gadge revered Upasani, now performing bhajans in his presence.

The wealthy Dwarkadas Seth repeatedly invited Upasani to visit his bungalow at Walkeshwar, a very select neighbourhood in southern Bombay. The reluctant ascetic eventually agreed. Here food and clothes were again gifted to the poor by devotees. Dwarkadas performed the worship of Upasani and persuaded him to have a photograph taken in the garden. The merchant offered him a substantial sum of money, possibly in relation to gaining his permission for photographs. His strong resistance to photography had been assimilated by supporters. Upasani refused to accept the money, but did reluctantly agree to be photographed. He also visited a few homes of other wealthy urban residents, who likewise offered him worship. Another photograph was taken in Madhav Baug.

Upasani Maharaj, Bombay 1920s (detail, N. V. Virkar Studio)

The photographic profile achieved a peak in two well known photographs, emerging from a fashionable studio of southern Bombay at an unrecorded date (which can be assigned to the 1920s). The facial expression of the subject is stern in both photos. In the most famous image, Upasani is sitting against a scenic backdrop of the kind favoured in portrait studios imitating the British style. He scowls fiercely at the camera, which he regarded as an alien invention. He wears the gunny cloth about his waist, leaving the torso bare. The strong visage is considered, by some analysts, to be a graphic instance of the “Aryan brahman.”

Upasani Maharaj, Bombay 1920s (full image, N. V. Virkar Studio)

This seems to have been the only time that Upasani Maharaj visited a portrait studio. He was surely one of the most least likely persons ever to enter one of these establishments. He only did so under duress from imploring devotees. The photographer was Narayan Vinayak Virkar, born at Ratnagiri in 1890. The famous Virkar studio in southern Bombay was on Girgaum Road. Virkar is associated with depictions of nationalist struggle. His output included numerous portraits of nationalist leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Mahatma Gandhi. Virkar situated these leaders "in the opulence and comfort of a bourgeois European photographic studio" (Pinney 2008:83). A number of these celebrities actually preferred a different photographic ambience.

"For the most part he [Virkar] wielded his camera not as a documentary tool but rather as a medium for the production of authority" (Pinney 2008:83). The Virkar portraits of Upasani extend this inclination to an ascetic who was not a political leader and even less well at home in the affluent colonialist setting. In contemporary estimation, the quality of the Virkar images is competent enough, though marred by accoutrements alien to the subject's disposition. Devotee enthusiasm for images was evidently impervious to discrepancies. Thorn bushes or a bare room would have been a more appropriate setting. Upasani is shown seated upon a floral textile fitted with tassels; he generally refused any seat except sackcloth. He was a pristine tatambari (wearer of sackcloth), not an urban sybarite.

In early November 1920, Upasani returned to Sakori in the company of Mehta and Durgabai, a large crowd seeing him off at the railway station. The initially contested sojourn had lasted for three weeks. (318)

On 14 January 1921, the Sankranti festival was celebrated at Sakori ashram. Upasani permitted puja to be performed before him. He even allowed the women to place gold ornaments on his body. However, the main event was a feast for many poor people, who came from surrounding villages. Upasani distributed clothing to these destitutes. He also bathed several lepers, a procedure in which Merwan Irani assisted (LM:332).

In early 1921, Upasani undertook a severe fast. For three days he did not eat or drink. Afterwards, for a month, he took nothing but a few sips of milk daily.  He nevertheless participated humorously in the spring festival of Holi. He permitted the usual Hindu festivals, which provided scope for charity events. The Ramanavami festival saw another feast for the poor on a grand scale. In close concurrence, an Urs festival was held at Sakori in his name, complete with wrestling and other sports; this was reminiscent of a similar juxtaposition favoured by Sai Baba at Shirdi (SBI:131-133). The Sakori Urs event reveals that obscure Muslim supporters had a presence. The Sufi-related observance was generally incompatible with Hindu ashrams.

On the occasion of Upasani’s birthday in May 1921, Yeshwantrao Borawke gave money for a large celebration, during which he worshipped the Sakori saint. A generous feast again occurred that day; clothing and food were distributed to the poor. Borawke repeated this charitable activity at the Gurupurnima and Ganesh Chaturthi festivals. The devotee was thirty years old at this time. At that period, Upasani refused to accept gifts of money and materials. As a consequence, devotees deposited their gifts with Borawke, for use as occasion required (SSS:11). The landlord Borawke had a reputation for honesty and fidelity, becoming a major figure at Sakori ashram.

Upasani spent much of his time alone in a new hut at the cremation ground. He would not permit devotees to approach him there for “about a year and a half” (SSS:12). However, he would daily return to the old hut to receive visitors. This phase of prohibition was notable for a sustained contact (at the second hut) with Merwan Irani (Meher Baba) that is missing in some commentaries. At this time, Borawke was the attendant of Merwan when the Irani stayed at Sakori for six months in the latter part of 1921.

Shirin Irani

Merwan’s mother Shirin could not understand what was happening. She strongly resented Upasani for his influence over her son. She wanted Merwan to pursue a householder lifestyle. Shirin visited Sakori a number of times, wanting to take her favourite son back home with her to Poona. Her younger son Adi S. Irani occasionally accompanied her. The transmission has varied from devotional coverage to the relatively incisive comments of Adi in his mature years. The details never surfaced in books about Upasani. Adi was the major source for much later oral variants appearing in the Meher Baba literature. He never forgot the confrontation between his mother, his elder brother Merwan, and the Hindu satpurusha.

When Shirin arrived, Upasani would ingeniously refer to diverse subjects as an entertaining diversion. Shirin would sometimes forget her complaint, but this would eventually emerge. Interjecting a shock factor, Upasani once suggested an exchange, saying that he would allow Merwan to go back with Shirin on the condition that young Adi stayed in Sakori. Shirin was horrified. This exchange did not occur, because Merwan would not agree in the slightest to leave Upasani. Merwan was not cooperative with his mother, evidently regarding her as mistaken in her attitude. He refused to get married, as she desired.

Upasani once lightened the atmosphere by resorting to a joke about Shirin's incessant theme of matrimony, saying that if Shirin could find a wife for Merwan, she might also find him a wife. There was no possibility of this happening, as Durgabai and other observers knew very well. Durgabai was attentive to Merwan, considering him exceptional amongst the people at Sakori. He lived in a small room at one end of the new hostel block, existing in complete simplicity and strong introspection. Durgabai tried to explain the situation to Shirin, meeting with total incomprehension.

On one occasion, Upasani asked Durgabai to cook something special for Shirin. He considerately began to massage the visitor’s tired feet. This was a very unusual action on his part. Shirin then unwrapped the garland she had brought for him. He remarked with amusement: “What a strange garland of worn-out shoes you have brought me!” The meaning was one of a derogatory gift. Shirin remonstrated, saying she had carried this garland of flowers for him all the way from Poona. Upasani commented: “I know what you were really thinking. You were attacking me all the time during your journey!”

Eventually, Shirin stayed at Sakori for several days, intent upon a determined confrontation with Merwan and Upasani. Her favourite son again proved resistant to her mundane wishes. Afterwards Shirin suffered a temporary breakdown in Poona, only then accepting that Merwan would not live as she wanted. She was subsequently reconciled to her imagined loss, becoming a devotee of her son instead of an objector.

76.  Gulmai  (Gulbai)  Irani

Upasani Maharaj made a strong appeal to Zoroastrians, both Parsis and Iranis. In this tendency, he was similar to Sai Baba. However, Upasani apparently gained substantially more Zoroastrian followers than did the faqir of Shirdi.

Zoroastrians liked the radical disposition of Upasani. He was obviously a Hindu, but one who made strong attempts to be inter-religious in his outlook. He had assimilated Zoroastrian concepts, being able to comment on Zoroastrianism in an intelligent and objective manner. Upasani expressed a veneration for the prophet Zarathushtra, known in the West as Zoroaster. (319) The Sakori saint often registered strongly with women, and Zoroastrians were no exception.

Gulmai Irani, 1923. Courtesy Naosherwan Anzar

One of his early followers at Sakori was a Zoroastrian woman named Gulbai Irani (1884-1962), later known as Gulmai. She was born in poverty at Bombay, the location being “a single room tenement in Parel” (Irani MBJ 1941:177). Her parents were both Irani Zoroastrians, being emigrants from Iran. Her father had been a master carpenter in the service of the Qajar monarch at Tehran. In Bombay, he became an employee in the G.I.P. Railway Workshops, still working as a carpenter, though for a low wage.

The case history of Gulmai survives in some detail. She was the fourth child of her Irani family. Her delicate health was undermined by a necessity to assist her overworked mother in domestic drudgery. She was taken to Ahmednagar to recuperate, living with an aunt. Her depressed Irani background meant that she was denied the social life of Parsi girls in wealthy families.

The prospect of her marriage became discussed when she was only ten years old. Although some relatives were not in agreement, she was married by her elders in 1896, at the age of twelve. She had no say in this matter. Her youthful husband, Kaikhushru Sarosh Irani, was still at school; he afterwards drew a pittance from his service with the Cursetji family of Ahmednagar. Her own family had been hoping for some financial advantage through her marriage; they were disappointed when the business of her father-in-law failed. That senior relative subsequently became the caretaker of the Parsi dharmashala at Ahmednagar, described in one source as a “dingy, dark, dank building” scarcely suited to a respectable family (MM:83). Kaikhushru and his wife were obliged to live at this dharmashala, located in the Shani Galli locality.

In this environment, Gulmai had to cope with four children and an overbearing mother-in-law, who was allowed by Kaikhushru to dominate the household. Their income was not sufficient to maintain a large number of relatives. Gulmai was often frantic about obtaining enough food for her children. In her desperation, she had thoughts of suicide. Enduring fatigue and ill-health, she developed a love of solitude. She would frequently lock herself in a room for prayers and contemplation, seeking to escape the large communal family in which she had been unwillingly placed. Her husband was eventually sympathetic, even reading out to her some Kabir poetry. She was inspired by the sant concept of a guru. However, Gulmai could not envisage how such a guru could be found.

Other relatives were alarmed at her unorthodox thinking. They enlisted the services of four Parsi priests or dasturs, who performed elaborate ceremonies intended to help her regain identity as a “this worldly” Zoroastrian. Gulmai was horrified at the priestly dogmatism and lack of insight.

In 1919, she heard of Upasani Maharaj, when her sister-in-law Gulnar visited him at Sakori. Gulnar was influenced by Rustom Irani, a senior who worked in a liquor store at Ahmednagar, a shop now owned by Gulmai’s newly prosperous husband (Rustom was the uncle of Merwan Irani, a disciple of Upasani). Gulnar proved enthusiastic, whereas Gulmai was uncomfortable at the prospect of meeting a brahman guru. She perhaps associated Upasani with the insular Zoroastrian priests she had recently encountered. Instead, Gulmai preferred to meet Hazrat Gilori Shah (d.1924), a Muslim saint of Ahmednagar, who was in the habit of visiting her husband’s new restaurant for a cup of tea.

In August 1919, her sister Soona, and the latter’s husband Kaikhushru Masa, visited Ahmednagar for a holiday. They suggested a visit to Upasani, who had become the guru of Masa. The latter had been visiting Upasani for nearly two years (chapter 70). Gulmai declined to visit Sakori, apparently feeling that her husband would disapprove of such an excursion. The others accompanied Gulnar to Sakori, where they told Upasani of Gulmai’s domestic problems. The ascetic remarked: “Don’t worry, she will have to come, and the whole family will come to me.”

A fortnight later, and after constant persuasion, Gulmai agreed to accompany Masa and Rustom Irani on a visit to Sakori (they were accompanied by Bekhoda F. Irani and his wife, from Poona). The travellers made their way to the mud hut of Upasani, located in the rural cremation ground (this hut is described in one source as being situated among thorn bushes, near a pipal tree; the reference is to the first hut, not the second one constructed in 1920). When the party went inside, Gulmai was surprised to recognise the occupant; she had seen him in a recent dream which had exercised a strong effect upon her. Previously, she had entertained set ideas as to how Upasani would act and talk. She apparently believed that he would give doctrinaire speeches and perform pompous rituals.

Gulmai now found that Upasani was nothing like she had imagined him. He was very informal, dispelling her hesitation. She felt a greater impact than she had found with Maulana Gilori Shah of Ahmednagar. Upasani did impart a short discourse; this was not in any way dogmatic. His manner of speaking (in Marathi) was very forthright. He referred to the spiritual path, commenting that spiritual aspiration was superior to family life. Gulmai did not react, believing this contention to be true. Upasani stressed to the visitors that they should not expect material benefits from him, but only what he had.

After lunch that day, the Zoroastrian visitors gained a second meeting with Upasani, this time one by one. Gulmai now felt apprehensive as to how she might best communicate with the ascetic. When she again entered the hut, she experienced the strong impression that she was meeting someone she had known for a very long time, a person who was very important to her. Under the impact of this feeling, she fell at the feet of Upasani, begging him to let her stay at Sakori. His presence had dramatically changed her orientation.

The Hindu saint told Gulmai that he was closely linked with Zoroastrians, and that she could see him frequently. However, her domestic situation meant that she could not stay at Sakori as she now desired. She was worried about her social alienation, also about a rash she had developed on her body. Upasani indicated that her affliction was psychosomatic, being caused by her acute unhappiness. He urged her not to worry.

He also extended and clarified his earlier statement about family life. Upasani now remarked that the highest form of worship was to be in the world, while remaining detached from externals, balancing a longing for spiritual knowledge with the performance of mundane duties. He did not promise miraculous cures or enlightenment.

Gulmai returned home with new hope, something she had not expected. She found increased depth in her meditations, no longer resorting to a repetition of set prayers that she had formerly favoured. Gulmai became a frequent visitor to Sakori, intently observing events in process.

On her next encounter with Upasani, a few weeks later, he told Gulmai something about his own situation. He said that after the death of Sai Baba the previous year, some Hindu and Muslim devotees had been transferred to him. These men expected his attention, so at times he reprimanded them for shortcomings. Upasani tended to be confrontational with obstinate or otherwise erring men; his explanation was that they needed the stern rebukes. He also said that many Zoroastrians now came to him; those from Poona had created a small temple near his hut.

This contact with Upasani produced a transformation in Gulmai. Her new serenity was eventually acknowledged by her family, but only after some initial frictions. In her “prayer room,” she now kept a photograph of Upasani, which she used as a focus for meditation.

Her husband was influenced by criticism of the Sakori ascetic, a drawback originating with local Parsis in Ahmednagar. These agitators complained at Hindu influence being allowed to enter a Zoroastrian household. As a consequence, Kaikhushru stealthily removed the photograph of Upasani from the “prayer room.” He found that this tactic made no difference to the attitude of his wife. Subsequently, he himself became reconciled to the Hindu saint.

In December 1919, Gulmai was able to stay at Sakori for two weeks. She was accompanied by her second son, Adi K. Irani, then sixteen years old. Adi was conventionally biased against meeting a Hindu holy man. However, his mother persuaded him to visit Sakori. The scepticism of this youth evaporated at first sight of Upasani, whose charisma was exceptional. Gulmai and Adi were accommodated in a goat stable. Guests had to endure such primitive accommodation in these early days, before new buildings appeared at Sakori.

There was a heavy rainfall on the first night; the roof of the stable leaked in several places. Gulmai and Adi only had gunny cloth as bedding, and relied upon an umbrella as protection from the rain. When they encountered Upasani in the morning, he remarked: “Last night my hut was drenched with water” (Irani MBJ 1941:243). Yet his own hut had no water problem. Gulmai grasped that he was referring to the goat stable, as if the stable were his own accommodation. Such allusive speech was apparently fairly typical of Upasani’s communications. References of this type could easily confuse those intent upon literal meanings.

Adi had only been given permission to stay for one day. He accordingly departed. Gulmai wished to remain, despite the difficult conditions. She cheerfully endured discomforts at the goat stable. Her meals consisted solely of bread and chutney. This food had become the staple diet of Upasani, who was no gourmet. Gulmai slept on the grass floor, took open air baths in the cold, and stopped worrying about the black scorpions which fell from the stable roof in pitch darkness. She passed twelve days in this manner unscathed, while experiencing a deeper state of consciousness she had not known before. A drawback was that she ceased to eat food, feeling no need to do so.

Upasani now ordered Gulmai to eat. She refused. He thereupon threatened to go without food for her sake. She had become very introverted. In response, Upasani slapped her, making her extrovert and eat food. Gulmai now felt that she understood something of Upasani’s sojourn at the Khandoba temple in former years. He had not wanted to eat during that period in Shirdi. This was because he gained the experience of unmatta. Many people had failed to understand that phase of his life.

Shortly before Gulmai departed from Sakori, Upasani commented that people usually esteemed holy places with large and imposing temples, attracting prestigious persons. Sakori was such a very different prospect, presenting a barren rural landscape. Upasani expressed a low opinion of pilgrimage and the popular concepts attaching. He remarked that the only real and effective pilgrimage was to the living human sadguru.

Kaikhushru Irani, known as Khan Saheb

At Ahmednagar, Kaikhushru Seth Irani was now making his name as a merchant, in contrast to his earlier poverty. His prosperity became substantial. He eventually gained the prestige title of Khan Saheb. The increasing affluence of Kaikhushru enabled his wife Gulmai to support varied activities at Sakori. Upasani requested the participation of Gulmai at public feasts; on such occasions at Sakori, Upasani would feed and bathe lepers. This was a very unusual activity seldom undertaken by gurus.

In 1921, Gulmai invited the Sakori ascetic to visit their new home in Ahmednagar. This impressively spacious building, constructed by Khan Saheb, was named Sarosh Manzil. Typically, Upasani replied that there was no need for him to go there.

Sarosh Manzil, Ahmednagar 1921

The reason for his lack of enthusiasm may have been the opposition from Gulmai’s joint family. These people were opposed to a Hindu performing a “housewarming” ceremony; they undertook to do this themselves, in accord with Zoroastrian procedure. The local Muslim saint Hazrat Gilori Shah, favoured by Khan Saheb, attended the opening function. Afterwards, Gulmai refused to move into Sarosh Manzil, maintaining that Upasani should also be permitted a role. After an initial reluctance, Khan Saheb agreed to allow Upasani to perform an additional ribbon-cutting ceremony. The merchant (seth) was now in the position of taking a stand against the local Zoroastrian community, approximately two hundred strong.

Khan Saheb visited Sakori and added to the persuasion. The merchant informed that his new house had been ready for weeks, but he and wife wished the guru to bless the property before they moved in. However, Upasani reiterated that there was no need for him to come to Ahmednagar. This cool response made Khan Saheb more determined. He returned to Sakori with his wife to renew their request. Upasani remained negatively adamant. As a last resort, the Zoroastrian visitors vowed to stop eating if he did not visit their home. Upasani finally relented, adding that he would not stay longer than a day at Sarosh Manzil. Such reluctance was a standard policy of his, subject to alteration in accord with responses.

Gulmai had invited Upasani to stay for a month. However, the opposition from her joint family reduced this term to a week. A drawback was that local Parsis agitated against the event; members of the host family feared public opinion. Gulmai’s mother-in-law resisted the Hindu visit accordingly. She was outvoted by her son.  Only the brother-in-law of Khan Saheb remained hostile to the visit of Upasani; the other relatives were eventually prepared to take his darshan.

On the agreed day, 26 July 1921, Upasani and Durgabai were escorted by motor car to Ahmednagar. They were chauffered by Gulmai’s sons Rustom and Adi. Borawke and other Sakori devotees followed by train. Reaching the new three storey Sarosh Manzil, Upasani was garlanded and cut the ceremonial ribbon. A comfortable seat had been arranged for the visitor in the drawing-room. This was optimistic. Upasani instead preferred to remain on the floor in a corner, requesting gunny sacking to sit on (this was his general rule). Some discarded cement bags (made of gunny cloth) were hurriedly found. Durgabai then prepared him food.

Some Parsi and Irani admirers of Upasani arrived from Poona (including Merwan Irani), staying at Sarosh Manzil. Hindu devotees of Upasani were accommodated in a neighbouring Hindu home, where Upasani took his meals with Durgabai. (320)

Upasani became more convivial, staying for seven days, contrary to his original plan. Those present were mainly Zoroastrians. He talked to them about their religion, also their prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster). Upasani is reported to have explained many things about Zoroastrianism that were formerly unknown to the audience. This was certainly an event of liberal religious dimensions. He departed on the eighth day, to the sorrow of all present. Upasani then started weeping, an unusual occurrence, a response to the Zoroastrian enthusiasm. He and Durgabai were escorted back to Sakori by Khan Saheb and his wife Gulmai. The drive lasted about two hours. (321)

During his week at Sarosh Manzil, Upasani visited the tomb of Bapu Saheb Wali (d.1912) in Ahmednagar. This Muslim saint was also known as Bapu Shah Jindewali and Bapu Fazl Shah. He was an early contact of Sai Baba, in a situation obscured by hagiography. The deceased father of Khan Saheb had been a devotee of Jindewali, who came to the Parsi dharmashala to view the corpse of his follower. (322)

At Sakori, the pandal (tent) near the first hut of Upasani was blown down by a strong wind. A Parsi devotee (named as Fardunji) wished to provide a more durable tin building. However, Shankar Patel and his friends at Sakori now wanted to create a large solid building on this site. Upasani said that he had no objection; he neither supported nor opposed the plan. The problem was funding. Many villagers were unable to donate, instead contributing free labour and loaning their bullock carts for transport of building materials (ISS:470).

At this time, Merwan Irani (Meher Baba) emphasised to Gulmai and her husband that no accommodation for visitors existed at Sakori. A hostel or dharmashala was urgently needed; he appears to have been supporting the project of Shankar Patel. Khan Saheb then offered to assist by donating a few thousand rupees; he had not formerly been very interested in Sakori. A mason was accordingly hired, the general manual labour being undertaken by devotees and Sakori villagers. Durgabai Karmakar drove a bullock cart, while other women were allowed to carry stones and earth alongside the men. Gulmai stayed at the hut of Durgabai and furthered the project in various ways. Upasani himself at times assisted the mason, a continuation of his earlier manual capacity.

This construction work occurred during the latter half of 1921. The introduction of permanent buildings, at the cremation ground, involved a hostel providing fifteen rooms for visitors; other rooms also appeared. According to a 1940s source, construction was facilitated by the assistance of devotees who were masons and carpenters (SSS:12). The Sakori landscape was changing.

Meanwhile, a second hut had been constructed for Upasani to the south-east of the original zhopdi. The vicinity was thickly overgrown with prickly pear bushes. Because of the snakes, this corner of the cremation ground was avoided. Upasani would not allow anyone to approach him at the second hut for “about a year and a half” (SSS:12). He would drive intruders away by throwing stones. He would return to the first hut when he wished to receive visitors. According to another report, the sole exception to barred access at the second hut was Merwan Irani, who spent his evenings alone with Upasani in that hut (Natu 1994:17).

When Merwan departed from Sakori in January 1922, the prohibition on access to the new hut was relaxed. The pear bushes were then cleared. Upasani gave an explanation that sounds rather fantastic: all the evil spirits in the cremation ground had now been liberated, therefore devotees could freely visit him at the second hut. This announcement has been described in terms of “mischievous humour” (Natu 1994:18).

77.  Mehera J. Irani

Mehera J. Irani

A contribution from the Meher Baba literature adds substantially to Sakori events. This report fills a void relating to the women living at Sakori ashram in the early phase. The details come from Mehera J. Irani (1907-1989), a Zoroastrian girl who made visits to Sakori before becoming a disciple of Meher Baba.

The mother of Mehera was Daulatmai Irani, who lived in Poona, where she owned property. This lady visited Sakori a few times in 1922. Daulatmai was attracted to the simplicity and devotional routine at the formative ashram, where women had gained a strong presence. She found brahman girls living as nuns in a milieu encouraged by Upasani. In October 1922, Daulatmai arranged to take her two young daughters (Mehera and Piroja) to the ashram, hoping they would be influenced by the “spiritual atmosphere” she herself had registered. Mehera was aged fifteen.

Mehera’s aunt Freiny Masi was then staying at Sakori. She greeted the three visitors, who were accommodated in an extension of the new hostel, constructed at the cremation ground the previous year. The site was no longer obvious as a place of cremation. A unique description is supplied of the ashram, not found in any other source.

The living accommodation was basic, comprising unfurnished single rooms, each with bedding and a fireplace for cooking; a curtain screened a corner for rudimentary bathing operations. The earthen floors featured cowdung, used as an antiseptic in rural India. The roofs were thatched with grass. The mud bricks of the walls were whitewashed.

Mehera describes a paved path outside her accommodation, leading to a dirt road and a large archway, where steps gave access to a flagstone courtyard, open to the sky. This was surrounded on three sides by two-storey buildings. The small ashram temple (mandir) was nearby, under a canopy.

Some attempt had evidently been made to make the landscape attractive. However, the toilets were of a primitive standard, being simple pits in an open field concealed by a crumbling wall.  Pigs were in the habit of feeding on waste; the women had to keep throwing stones to keep these animals away. There were no servants at the ashram. Everyone had to clean their own rooms, bedding, and cooking utensils. Mehera’s family were accustomed to servants at home. Nevertheless, she and her mother happily adjusted to the changed circumstances.

The temple was not big enough for more than one person to perform puja. Only a brahman pujari could enter the temple (the influence of Bapusaheb Jog was evidently strong). An altar was here accompanied by two large photographs, one of Sai Baba and the other of Upasani. Arati was performed here at set times throughout the day. The worship was “attended by many Brahmins and a few Parsi women,” who assembled outside the temple. One of the Zoroastrian women present was Dina Talati, a new devotee of Meher Baba who revered Upasani.

Living near the temple was the brahman woman Durgabai, who had the privilege of a separate thatched hut. Another Hindu devotee mentioned by name in this account is Gangi (Gangu), the niece of Upasani (the daughter of his only sister). Gangi is described as being “fair-complexioned and very sweet.” She was very friendly to Zoroastrians staying at the ashram. Gangi is described as a girl, her age not given. She introduced the visitors to Subhedra, who had formerly been a devotee of Sai Baba. No personal information is supplied about the other brahman women, who are described as kanyas, a word signifying a celibate lifestyle. However, Mehera does report that, after her daily domestic chores, she went outside her room to be with the brahman women, who then told her stories of saints like Mirabai.

The major event was a daily meeting with Upasani, occurring after the noon arati in the temple. The men would lead the way along a narrow path to the (second) hut of the guru, which is described as being located in an old mango orchard featuring some newly planted trees. A well was nearby. The orchard was protected by a barbed wire fence, creating an independent compound entered by a wooden gate. The nearby cows (and pigs) could not get past the fence. The hut was of primitive construction, made from “mud and stones,” with a thatched roof. Steps led up to the entrance. A very small window enabled Upasani to see anyone coming from the gate.

The men would enter the hut first and take their seat on the earthen floor. When the women entered, they would sit on the opposite side of the hut to the men. Upasani also sat on the floor, on a gunny sack, with another sack rolled behind his back as a bolster. He would wear the gunny cloth for which he was now well known. The hut must have been of a fair size to accommodate all the residents and visitors (the number is not given).

Mehera describes her first meeting with Upasani at this hut, accompanied by her mother and sister. They sat in the front row of the assembly. The ascetic had met Daulatmai before, and considerately asked about her journey. He asked Piroja her name, and likewise Mehera. He commented that Mehera was a Persian name which the brahman girls would not be able to pronounce easily. “From today, your name is Mira.” The Irani girl liked the new Hindi name (which caused her to assimilate details about Mirabai from the kanyas; she felt a strong sense of identity with the Vaishnava saint). Upasani “talked awhile, told a humorous story, and then he smiled and looked out the window.”

At that juncture, Merwan Irani (alias Meher Baba) arrived at the hut. He visited Sakori that day (with Sadashiv Patel) for what transpired to be the last time. The date was 15 October, 1922. Upasani told Merwan to wait at a large mango tree nearby. Then he asked the others to leave quickly. When they walked to the gate, Upasani emerged from the hut; he talked with Merwan, nobody else knowing what was said.

Soon after lunch, a tonga parked near Mehera’s room, waiting for Merwanji (as he was known at Sakori). Mehera observed him walking quickly to this horse cab, followed by about twenty women at the ashram, both Hindus and Zoroastrians, old and young. They wanted to take his darshan. Some managed to do so as he sat in the tonga. Meher Baba evidently deemed this a complication. This was not his ashram, and he was not seeking attention. The cab driver started off quickly.

Mehera and her relatives stayed for about a week. This may have been the time when Upasani expressed anger at a nocturnal incident in his hut concerning Shirin, the grandmother of Mehera and Piroja. The old lady was deceived by the two girls into believing that Upasani was sitting on his customary sack in a corner of the hut.  Darkness had fallen; Shirin could not see properly. Piroja “laughed hysterically” when the old lady went outside; Mehera more considerately led her grandmother out of the hut, explaining that Upasani was not there.

The vigilant ascetic was in the close vicinity. Upasani heard Piroja’s laughter. He rebuked her, saying: “You are a grown woman, not a child to laugh like this!” He added accusingly: “You will have six children!”

The prediction came true. Events at this period included a protracted and complex situation of obtaining a bride for Rustom, the son of Gulmai Irani (who met Daulatmai at Sakori in 1922).  Upasani, who was drawn into this matter, seemed to oppose Meher Baba’s choice of Piroja (alias Freiny) as bride. Nevertheless, the same girl did become the wife of Rustom in May 1923. Six children eventually resulted. A typical strategy of Upasani was to protect girls from marriage; he wanted them to stay at Sakori as kanyas or nuns.

Despite his reputation for angry moods, Upasani was often very accommodating. The episode of hysterical laughter could only arise because his easygoing attitude permitted some kanyas to visit him late in the day. “Often in the evenings, some of the women would have Maharaj’s darshan and keep him company” (MM:76).

Mehera returned to Sakori in February 1923 with two relatives, her grandmother Shirin and her aunt Freiny Masi.  Shirin had visited Sakori many times, usually staying a few days. Mehera did not want to leave quickly, being very happy in this environment, not missing servants in the least. At this time, Piroja visited Sakori after her engagement ceremony, but soon departed for Bombay. Over two months later, her mother arrived at Sakori in early May with Gulmai and four of Meher Baba’s male mandali. Daulatmai wanted to take Mehera back with her after the birthday celebration of Upasani, so that she could be present at her sister’s wedding in Ahmednagar.

The Sakori ascetic was resistant. He stated the obvious: Mehera was happy at his ashram. He argued: “Won’t the wedding take place without her?  So many people will be there. She won’t like it. She is happy here amongst the girls.”

A decisive factor was a knee injury which Mehera had contracted only two days earlier, causing her to limp. Upasani told Durgabai to apply a linseed poultice. He pointed out that the injury would look worse if the girl wore the fashionable high-heeled shoes that would be favoured at the wedding. The ashram kanyas went barefooted, like Upasani. Daulatmai gave up the argument, departing in defeat. Mehera herself was not concerned to attend the wedding.

The tactic of Upasani foiled the plan of a suitor who had decided upon marriage with Mehera. This man was a cousin who did not know her, merely having seen her years before. His aunt arrived at Piroja’s wedding with enticing gifts for Mehera (who transpired to be absent), including a gold engagement ring and a fine sari. Mehera later said that Upasani had saved her from a difficult situation at the wedding, where she would have been subject to pressure from both her own family, and her cousin’s family, to marry the unwanted suitor (Judson 1989:42).

Upasani did subsequently permit Daulatmai to take Mehera to Ahmednagar, for the purpose of attending the supplementary marriage ceremony of her sister at a fire temple. The Irani kanya found the scene comical. This was because the girls present could not understand the antique language of the Zoroastrian prayers; they were only interested in what their friends were wearing, including the jewellery. The persistent aunt of the suitor was also present. Soon after, Mehera was taken to Meherabad, where she stated in front of Meher Baba, Daulatmai, Gulmai, and others, that she had decided never to marry. Meher Baba supported her decision.

Mehera later visited Sakori at the end of the year, when Upasani was still confining himself in the bamboo cage, a distinctive phase requiring analysis. The Zoroastrian women for long remembered his discourses at that period, talks that were “sometimes in a serious vein, but mostly in an amusing way” (MM:77). Gulmai reported the following statement he made about the spiritual path, or line:

A woman’s mind is easier to divert to this line than a man’s. If one joins this path, there is every possibility for others related to them to join it, as well. If a girl joins this path, 42 generations are redeemed. (MM:77)

The reference to 42 generations is not always duly qualified. Upasani was here repeating a traditional but neglected contention found in Sanskrit texts. (323)

78.  Confinement  in  the  Pinjra

At the end of 1922, Upasani privately told a low caste devotee named Pandoba, a carpenter by trade, to construct a small cage with bamboo bars about four inches apart. Pandoba was told to bring this cage when nobody else was present. Accordingly, a few days later, the cage arrived in secrecy (Pandoba lived in the village). This innovation was installed in a corner of the “second hut” at the mango orchard (MM:77).

Upasani in the bamboo cage (pinjra), 1923

While unobserved, Upasani confined himself in this bamboo cage on the evening of 25 December, 1922. The last few bars were not inserted by the obedient craftsman until the ascetic had entered the cage or pinjra. This cell was five feet wide, and only just long enough to allow him to recline at full length. However, he was unable to stand up inside the cramped cell, which was five feet high. The top was firmly covered. There was no door or window to permit exit. Upasani was clearly visible through the intersecting bamboo poles. A narrow aperture was the means to pass items to him, such as food, water, and garlands (if he would accept these).

That same evening, other devotees arrived on the spot.  The women were at first shocked and upset, begging him to come out of the cage. Upasani had given no prior warning of this new development. They were concerned at the hardships involved for him, asking the reason. “Maharaj did not give any explanation beyond saying that it [the cage] was God’s will, and he asked his devotees to carry on their usual spiritual pursuits and look after those who came to Sakori.” (324)

This restrained version should be amended in the light of another report stating: “He replied that just as in ordinary legal procedure a criminal can be released from prison on bail, so also, his cage [pinjra] stands surety in the divine court, to free his devotees from the bonds of Maya” (CIC:27). He reputedly stated: “I have invoked all saints that have so far lived and worked for the welfare of the world” (SSS:16).

His devotees remained disconsolate. Sonabai Singavekar, of Kharagpur, pleaded with him to dispense with the cage. Upasani declined, there was no compromise. Sonabai then organised a group of women to chant for a week at the temple (SSS:17-18), apparently in an effort to assist the cage occupant. These women undertook a continuous 24 hour Nam Saptah (uttering the name of God). They worked in rotating teams, night and day. They were subsequently joined by men. This programme proved popular, being sustained permanently thereafter.

Upasani did not set foot outside the pinjra save in a recorded emergency. He took baths within that cell. His food was mainly bread and chutney. Nobody else could get inside the pinjra. Devotees attended to his daily needs from outside the cage, which they kept as clean as possible under the difficult circumstances. The austere confinement was not in the least typical of gurus.

The brahman Bapusaheb Jog had been continually pleading to perform puja and arati in honour of Upasani. The ascetic had resisted devotional ritual being performed in his presence, emphasising that the ashram temple was the appropriate place for such activity. Upasani affirmed: “I can never stand comparison with Sai Baba. He is as high as the sky and I am as low as the earth.” The meaning is that Sai had permitted arati worship of his person, whereas Upasani resisted.

Finally, Upasani asked the impatient Jog to wait until the Sankranti festival in early 1923. The arati rite was thereafter performed twice daily in front of the cage. However, during a conversation with Gulmai Irani, Upasani complained about the devotee ritualism, saying: “Tell them to stop performing arati before me; I do not want to be worshipped.” (325) His protest did not stop the rite from being conducted. There was an extension. Upasani allowed the brahman girls, or kanyas, to perform arati in front of his cage; he apparently preferred this alternative.

He instructed Jog to focus upon the Eknathi Bhagavat. The learned devotee read this text aloud daily at the nearby ashram temple. The sixteenth century classic, composed by the sant Eknath, was not easy to comprehend. When Jog and his listeners went to Upasani in the evenings, he would discourse informally on the same text, elucidating many points which they found difficult (SSS:20).

When his fifty-third birthday was celebrated in May 1923, Upasani asked Gulmai to lead the arati routine instead of the men. Upon request, he permitted a public darshan for this birthday event. Upasani obligingly extended his legs through the bars of the cage, to facilitate darshan procedure in touching his feet. The sheer volume of visitors that day caused Upasani to come out of the cage for the first time (there is no explanation as to how he did this). However, the crowd became uncontrollable. The police had to be summoned to regulate the swelling darshan queues.

The next day, Upasani would not come out of the cage. Devotees insistently wanted to bathe him. The saint told them to bathe a leper instead. At his instigation, puja was performed before the leper. (326) This was not an anticipated occurrence on the part of devotees. Three lepers stayed at the ashram. These men were eventually believed to have gained liberation (mukti) at their decease.

His lunch was placed in front of the cage on a steel platter. Rice, curry, and chutney were on offer from the optimistic Durgabai and others, together with choice delicacies (MM:77).  How much he ate of this food is not clear; his general habit was to give away food offered to him. “His intestines were weak,” the reason given for his eating only once a day (MM:100). Upasani was also offered food in the evening; he evidently did not consume much of what was prepared for him.

The ascetic emerged from the cage on 31 January, 1924, after instructing the carpenter Pandoba to make a door for exit. Devotees found him sitting outside the pinjra and leaning against the bars. His legs were stiff as a consequence of confinement, so his limbs were massaged. He was able to move about freely after a few days, taking short walks (SSS:21-22).

Upasani soon went back into confinement, however, until 12 February. Then he “began to come and sit outside for a while; a year after, he began to stay outside the cage” (GLS:12). Another version relates that after February 1924, he occupied the cage for long periods. (327) He would lock himself inside, giving the key to Ranga Rao Vakil. In July 1924, at the time of arati worship, he was in the habit of extending his feet from between the cage bars, permitting devotees to place their head on his feet. One woman asked if a small mattress could be used for his feet, thus relaxing the pressure caused by the cage bars. Upasani responded that he did not need any mattress, conveying his ascetic attitude:

When you people bear all the troubles to come here, can’t I bear that much of the pressure of these bars on my foot? I always used to beg with a broken earthen pot, and eat in it, drink from it. I used to roam about naked. People used to take me to be a madman.  But remember, unless you become mad, you cannot attain Godhood. [At Kharagpur] I used to lie by a dustbin [waste heap] and [take] a few rags from it to cover myself. I do not require any mattress. Everything is the same to me. (GT, 2:399)

The cage remained a strong focus of attention. The confinement is strongly associated with informal talks Upasani gave, almost on a daily basis, later published in varying formats. The recorded talks commenced in 1923, and continued until 1925. The discourse period as a whole lasted for “nearly five years” (GLS:13).

Some discourses would arise from the casual remark of a visitor. These talks might start about nine or ten a.m., when devotees arrived for darshan. Upasani might continue without a break until two or three p.m. The cage occupant had the ability to hold audience attention. More rarely, if he commenced a discourse at night, he was liable to talk until the early morning hours (SSS:20-21). The transcriber was Ranga Rao Vakil from Hyderabad. These talks were not exercises in punditry, but freestyle communications varying in emphasis.

In June 1924, some devotees asked when he would come out of the cage. Upasani replied enigmatically: “Some of this rigorous imprisonment of mine may have remained to be undergone, and that is why I am encaged [in] this way” (GT, 2:396). He added that he had to suffer for the lapses (sins, or impressions) of those who visited him. “I am engaged here the whole day in talking to you people; in this [activity], even my throat begins to give me pain. What else can you call this but rigorous imprisonment?” (Talk 88)

In August 1924, he remarked to the assembly: “You are all trapped in a cage and are trying to liberate yourself. God will help you; you should not worry. In order that you should get out of the cage, i.e., the body (meaning births and deaths), I have accepted and put myself in this [bamboo] cage…. I can get in and get out of this cage – this body – any time I like” (GT, 2:506).

In late August 1924, an eminent visitor arrived. This was Maharaja Sir Kishan Prasad, the Diwan Bahadur of Hyderabad, who had composed poems in honour of the Sakori ascetic. The Maharaja was accompanied by an extensive retinue of about three hundred people. Upasani was living in the cage. The royal visitor took darshan under the difficult conditions prevailing. The landscape was not inviting. The rainy season was underway, turning the surrounding ground to mud. The aristocrat sat in the mud with all the other visitors. Somebody rushed forward with a mat for the Maharaja to sit on; this amenity was refused. Upasani then spoke amicably to Sir Kishan: “You people are not accustomed to a jungle like this; please ask them [the retainers present] to bear all the inconveniences. The real greatness of a man lies in remaining happy under all conditions” (GT, 2:514).

The next day, the Maharaja told his son to worship Upasani.  Upasani permitted this young boy to come inside the cage, seating Arjuna Kumar on his lap. These events were accompanied by his explanations. Sir Kishan requested Upasani for permission to take a photograph, which was apparently granted. The following day, a devotee presented a coloured photograph of Upasani, which he wanted to place in the nearby temple (replacing a plain black and white photograph already present). Upasani was not enthusiastic, asking: “How long can a photo last?” He also put the question: “How long is this leathery body of mine going to remain?”

This attitude was typical of his general response to photographs. The pampered body, celebrated by photographers, was not important in the world-renouncing perspective. Upasani now commented that an idol of stone or metal would last longer than a photo. The Maharaja then offered to provide an idol. Upasani countered the suggestion with abstruse words: “It is better that both of us remain eternally…. If you want to make an idol of me, you will have to make one of yourself” (GT, 2:519).

The Maharaja requested permission to conduct worship of the cage occupant. Upasani replied: “You may worship if you like, but the inner worship is the real worship. The external form of worship is meant for initiating people in the path of devotion” (GT, 2:521). He had already supplied indication that day of what the “inner worship” signified:

As one experiences the presence of a satpurusha within one’s self, he [the devotee] loses all [body] consciousness and [awareness of] the form of that satpurusha. Since all the deities reside within the heart of a satpurusha, this devotee is able to experience the state of all those deities, and ultimately experience the state of Brahma. In course of time, with the kripa [grace] of the satpurusha, he can come [reconnect] to body-consciousness even while enjoying the state of Brahma. (GT, 2:521)

The Maharaja chose the outer worship on this occasion. The following day, the aristocratic retinue departed after darshan. Upasani gave a farewell discourse praising Sir Kishan and recommending him to his retainers. Upasani glanced at the regular devotees who were listening, commenting: “I have to talk according to circumstances. Tell me what else should I do?” (GT, 2:523)

That same month (August 1924), while his audience were dispersing, someone approached Upasani, desiring him to touch a photograph (apparently of the saint himself). He obligingly took the photo in his hands. However, he laughed and commented: “When we see the copy of the external form of ours, we feel so pleased; if we could see our real image in the Godly state, how happy shall we be?” (GT, 2:492). He was constantly reminding devotees that externals were not the real existence. They did not always pay due heed.

Devotees eventually replaced the deteriorating cage with a new and stronger one. They did this of their own volition. Instead of bamboo poles, the cage now had silver (or silver plated) bars. The alteration occurred in 1928, while Upasani was staying for some months at Nasik for medical reasons, having contracted dysentery. (328) Silver bars were the sort of ostentation that Upasani himself strongly disliked. He insisted that some of the bamboo poles should be restored.  (329)

The pinjra survived in the Sakori ashram as a symbol of abnegation, renunciation, and redemption. Upasani himself had a habit of bowing to the cage whenever he returned to Sakori from his diverse journeys.

79.  The  Early  Kanyas  at  Sakori

In December 1923, the sixteen year old Mehera Irani stayed at Ahmednagar with her recently married sister Piroja (Freni), who was now pregnant. A visitor was thirteen year old Khorshed Irani (1910-1999), the daughter of Kaikhushru Masa. She found that Mehera was not happy with the conditions of family life. Mehera was nostalgic for Sakori, mentioning that her grandmother Shirin frequently went to Sakori and stayed for a few weeks.

Mehera J. Irani

The upshot was that Mehera and Khorshed travelled by train to Sakori, accompanied by Daulatmai (mother of Mehera) and Shirin. This time, Mehera and Khorshed stayed with the Hindu kanyas. The visitors evidently liked the atmosphere. Mehera later commented approvingly: “It was so different from family life” (Judson 1989:43). The winter weather was cold overnight; however, the Irani girls were determined to live like the brahman girls. That meant getting up very early, going barefoot, dispensing with bedding while sleeping on the floor with only one sheet under them (and without any pillow). They also joined in the singing at regular intervals throughout the day.

Upasani, at that period, was confined in the bamboo cage. At four a.m. daily, the girls and women would go to his hut to perform arati. Sometimes he would give them food which had been brought for him; he redistributed this as prasad. Later they sang bhajans at the nearby ashram temple. While the women were present, no men were allowed into the temple precincts. The segregation avoided complications known to occur elsewhere. Mehera relates: “We were all just girls; there were no men with us” (Judson 1989:43).

These girls sang “Mirabai songs and Krishna songs, Upasani Maharaj songs and Sai Baba songs” (ibid). The brahman girls played drums at the temple. “Mehera tried to play the mridangam,” meaning the double-ended barrel drum (MM:99).

Some visitor gifted to Upasani a harmonium with foot pedals. He asked who was able to play this instrument. Mehera told him that Khorshed could so so. Upasani then told the shy Khorshed to play the harmonium daily in his hut, after the time of arati. The other girls accompanied her by “playing sticks,” beating these together rhythmically. Merwan (Meher Baba) had apparently innovated the musical use of sticks at Sakori (Irani 2017:94). Upasani told Mehera to join in the playing of sticks; she readily complied.

Khorshed Irani

Young Khorshed did not feel that she could play the harmonium with sufficient skill. On one occasion, a visiting group from Bombay expressed disapproval of her performance; they asked Upasani if they could play instead. These people may have been professional musicians. Upasani did not answer, perhaps deeming the request an unwarranted interruption. Khorshed obligingly got up from the harmonium. The newcomers replaced her, but encountered a problem. Their singer became mute, no words emerging from her mouth. Upasani then told Khorshed to resume. She played while darshan was occurring. Khorshed believed that the singer failed because Upasani did not want the intrusion (Irani 2017:94-95).

On one occasion of darshan at the hut, while the kanyas were present, a brahman woman offered the ascetic a gold ring, wishing to place this on his finger. Upasani seemed shocked. He expressed aversion, saying: “You can see that I am wearing a gunny sack. I never wear good clothes. You want me to wear a ring? How did you ever get such a crazy idea?” (MM:101)

The visitor persisted. She looked so disappointed that the ascetic eventually gave permission for her to put the ring on one of his toes. An element of patience and humour was in process.

After arati, all the women filed past him to take darshan, touching their heads to his feet (extending from the cage), while saluting him with hands clasped together. The brahman women seemed to take longer than usual over this procedure, knowing that Upasani would not keep the ring for himself. Mehera reminisced: “I felt inside that they were wondering to whom Maharaj would give the ring, and that each one was hoping it would be she” (Judson 1989:44). To her surprise, when her turn came, Upasani detained her, taking the ring from his toe. The item did not fit her fingers. However, the ring was pure gold and pliable. Upasani bent the ring to fit Mehera’s finger, enjoining her to never to take off this adornment. She wore the ring until her death over sixty years later.

The brahman women gazed on, wondering why Upasani had given the ring to this young Zoroastrian girl. There is a difficulty in describing the Hindu contingent. Some of them were older women, and others much younger like Gangi. They are largely anonymous in Mehera’s report (and also that of Khorshed). At the ashram, these sevakaris were all living like nuns. Khorshed informs that Upasani had formerly gifted an unwanted gold ring to Mehera’s grandmother Shirin (Irani 2017:94).

Some new rooms were then under construction at the ashram. On a daily basis, the brahman kanyas participated in this project by carrying sand in an iron pan (ghamela) on their heads. It is not clear for how long they toiled, perhaps only for two or three hours in view of their other activities. They were merely assisting the construction team. Mehera joined them in this work (Khorshed was three years younger, and does not mention herself being included, so she may not have been allowed to participate). Mehera, coming from a wealthy family, had never performed manual labour before. However, she cheerfully accepted the new task. Upasani apparently allocated this work; he tended to approve of those who accomplished manual labour, saying there were so many brahmans who never worked, as a consequence becoming unhealthy.

One day, the kanyas told Mehera about a young mother who had come from Kharagpur with her baby. This visitor also participated in the construction project. She stopped work when the baby started crying. Upasani, who was present at the time, became annoyed, accusing the mother of taking an undue rest. She went back to work, while other women (probably old) looked after her baby. “The child grew up to be a fine young woman who followed Maharaj” (MM:100). The name of this child is not supplied.

This episode can only have occurred after Upasani emerged from the cage in late January 1924. At that time, he needed short walks and massage of the limbs to recover from confinement, before going back into the pinjra. At this juncture, he would sometimes visit the women’s living quarters without warning.

Mehera sometimes took the supper tray to Upasani in the evening. He would tell her to leave the tray on the floor near him, adding that he would eat something later if he felt hungry. Then she would depart. Durgabai would cook plain khichri (rice and lentils) for him, this meal being easy to digest. He ate only once a day (MM:100).

At noon in his hut, the kanyas were able to talk with him for a few minutes (MM:77). In the evenings, they would gather at his hut before retiring early (apparently by nine or ten p.m.). The usual darshan homage occurred. Upasani might then communicate something to one or other of them. “He was always outspoken with people; he either told them something to their face, or scolded another in the audience” (MM:100). The message would not be understood by the substitute; however, the real subject of his words knew to what he was referring. The reason for this tactic was evidently to mitigate the sting of reprimand.

An instance of direct confrontation is relayed in Talk 215 (the date was November 1924). Subhadrabai, a female sevakari, annoyed Upasani by a form of gossip and interference at the ashram. He asked: “Why should she poke her nose into affairs [of others] and carry tales?” He further says of Subhadrabai: “I felt very angry; even then I controlled myself and told her in sweet words that she should never interfere with affairs of others” (GT, 3:254). Afterwards, he chastised her. He explained that her error went against his emphasis upon ceasing to create prarabdha karma and to serve the guru instead. According to him, the creation of prarabdha entails receipt of the papa (impurity, vice) and punya (virtue) of other persons who are in contact. One objective of seva (service to the guru), at Sakori ashram, was to terminate any complication caused by negative papa (hindering impressions in the mind).

Mehera relates that Upasani was never reproving with her. “He always spoke sweetly with me” (MM:100). Some enigmatic words were in evidence. He once remarked to her: “You would not like my kind. I am old and crippled. I don’t put on proper clothes. You would prefer one who is fair, with nice hair and a moustache, a good dresser” (MM:100). She could not understand what he meant. She later grasped that Upasani was referring to Meher Baba, at whose ashram she became a permanent inmate from 1925.

At the end of December 1923, Mehera and Khorshed asked permission to leave the ashram, in accordance with a proviso of Meher Baba. However, Upasani would not comply. He wished them to remain. So they stayed for another two weeks. Meher Baba then sent Gulmai Irani to intervene. She arrived on 14 January, 1924. This appearance coincided with the occasion of the Sankrant festival. The ashram women garlanded the occupant of the bamboo cage. Upasani indulgently allowed them to adorn him with jewellery, but again refused permission for the Irani girls to depart. Gulmai argued with him, but to no avail. He told her to return to Bombay.

After about ten days, Gulmai returned with the same request from Meher Baba. Upasani remained adamant that Mehera and Khorshed should stay at Sakori. Gulmai again departed; she subsequently appeared a third time with the same message. Both girls then went to Upasani. Khorshed boldly stated that they now had to leave (after about two months). This time he allowed them to go. His words are reported as:

Merwan [Meher Baba] will keep you secluded and not let you mix with men. Merwan will do everything for you. I wanted to make Mehera like [Hazrat] Babajan. But you would have to stay here with me and do my work. Now never mind. Merwan will do this for you. (Irani 2017:98)

That same evening, Mehera and Khorshed left for Bombay with Gulmai. “When we left, he [Upasani] was crying…. He did not want us to go” (Irani 2017:98). Both of these Irani girls afterwards became permanent members of Meher Baba’s ashram at Meherabad. The kanyas at Sakori were thereafter all Hindus.

Into a tranquil celibate environment, the same year of 1924, came Godavari Hatavalikar, the young kanya who acted as a dramatic catalyst for Sakori ashram, eventually becoming the versatile leader of Kanya Kumari Sthan.

80.   Informal  Talks (1)

A 1930s published collection of Upasani Baba discourses is known as Upasani Vak Sudha. The forerunner was Sai Vak Sudha (literally “Sai speech nectar”), the earliest title appearing. The word Sai here refers to Sai Baba, in the context of Upasani’s “reverence for his guru, Sai Baba, at whose instance, he says, it [the collection] was delivered” (CIC:61). The faqir of Shirdi was thus the recognised inspiration for these Marathi talks. The diverse content is ultimately “based on his [Upasani’s] personal experience and spiritual realisations” (CIC:61).

Sai Vak Sudha appeared in five volumes, a project spanning the years 1925 to 1931. At this early date, some devotees felt that the extensive collection of talks should be re-written. They were keen to press their plans upon Upasani, who was at first indifferent. They wanted him to endorse the idea of recitals undertaken for a specific purpose, meaning “to get over some difficulty or attain some cherished desire” (GT, Vol. 1, preface). Upasani eventually agreed, dictating “rewards” for reading some talks in the evolving collection. The idea was that if the talks were read a sufficient number of times, beneficial results would occur. Some rewordings (or additions) were made, incorporated in the five volumes published as Upasani Vak Sudha (1932-1934). This became the favoured version of early 1920s discourses.

The Talks include comments of Upasani on metaphysics, the satpurusha, married life, and caste. These are not systematic expositions, but do employ a fairly substantial terminology. All this material came from the industrious notebooks of Ranga Rao (Rangrao) Vakil, the only devotee who proved successful in recording what the Sakori ascetic communicated. (330) Others had tried, but gave up in defeat, a considerable degree of patience and tenacity being required. A problem in transmission was that Vakil relied to a substantial extent upon his memory in preserving the talks. Approximations should be anticipated. (331)

The recorded talks span a period of nearly three years, dating from April 1923 to the end of 1925. They were delivered in colloquial Marathi (Upasani did not speak English). These discourses were very informal and extempore utterances. The audience of devotees included clerical workers, businessmen, and diverse villagers. Women were also substantially represented. There were many interruptions to the talks, with visitors coming and going (this factor also applied to the many talks delivered in the cage or pinjra during 1923-24). When people pressed Upasani with their personal problems, such as illness, he was liable to become annoyed. In some instances, he would walk away from the scene.

The recording of talks ceased at the the time when Vakil departed from Sakori, about the end of 1925, apparently because of domestic problems. Vakil remained a devotee, leaving his notebooks at the ashram for communal reference. Vakil was also the editor of Upasani Lilamrita (1930), a semi-biographical work. Many years later, in 1950, Godavari Mataji requested her devotee Godamasuta to render the notebooks of Vakil into English.

The Godamasuta version was published in 1957 as The Talks of Sadguru Upasani Baba Maharaja. Godamasuta readily conceded his “meagre knowledge of the English language.” The translation is cumbrous in many places. The translator refers to the “very difficult task” he encountered in the rendition of talks not found in Upasani Vak Sudha. Sources for these extraneous items included the early Sai Vak Sudha journal (1925-26), now very little known. Many phrases in the English translation must be regarded as approximations of the original talks.

The third volume of Godamasuta consisted mainly of unpublished talks, and included a biographical sketch (cf. the Marathi collection of talks known as Aprasiddha Pravachane, Bombay 1955). The Talks are some two thousand pages in extent, yet in general neglected. The editor applied serial numbers to all talks for the purpose of identification (Godamasuta has over 300 talks). I will follow these numbers in my own references. In his preface dating to 1957, the translator duly comments:

The talks were never pre-planned, and were never given with a view to elucidate systematically a particular topic. In Shri [Upasani] Baba’s own words, it could be said that he talked and talked with all the intrusions [of visitors] as thoughts ‘came’ to him; that is all. They [the talks] can be aptly described as ‘thinking aloud’ of Shri Baba.  (Godamasuta, Vol. 1, 1957)

The same commentator refers to the presence of an “absolute non-dualism” in the Talks, although other features of Hindu philosophy are also discernible.

The published version can easily give an impression of “discourses.” However, the intermittent nature of delivery requires to be considered. Upasani was sometimes talking to different persons in the same group, one at a time, and over a period of hours, with interruptions in between. Diverse repetitions and inconsistencies may be viewed in this light.

The Talks are substantially longer than the Gospel of Ramakrishna, but much less well known. They were delivered forty years after the Bengali predecessor. The Sakori communications cover a period of less than three years (1923-25), in contrast to the four years (1882-86) of conversations at Dakshineswar transcribed by Mahendranath Gupta.

Upasani disclaimed any pundit expertise, instead professing a “spontaneous” mode of communication. His idioms are frequently eccentric from an orthodox viewpoint. Some talks feature a distinctively intricate argument. An orthodox listener is reported to have formulated many questions about the unfamiliar content.

Upasani emphasised that suffering has a spiritual significance, and “acts as a purifier” (CIC:197). This angle can puzzle those who think that suffering is evil. He had formerly maintained for many years a medical dispensary in Amraoti.

An American commentator relayed that the language of Upasani’s published talks “was always that of the common people.” There are contrasting attitudes discernible. “Upasani Baba was a traditionalist, yet in some respects his outlook was modern.... He held traditional ideas of the home, yet he advocated ‘family planning’ long before it became a real issue in India” (Harper 1972:52).

Like Mahatma Gandhi (d.1948), Upasani was a strong advocate of celibacy (brahmacharya). He freely acknowledged the widespread poverty in India, emphasising that the poor could not bring up children properly. “This [population growth] will worsen their situation, hence, family planning is necessary” (CIC:126). Family planning here means celibacy, not contraceptives.

Mahatma Gandhi (d.1948) was supporting caste concepts during the early 1920s, the period of Upasani’s published discourses. Some comparisons are therefore possible. According to one version, Gandhi did not change approach in respect of caste until 1932, when he at last described the caste prohibitions on intermarriage and interdining as a cause of problems in Hindu society. (332) Earlier, in 1925, Gandhi credited the caste system with a scientific basis. By the late 1920s however, he was opposed to the caste bias against "untouchables" or Dalits. He also opposed child marriage and supported the rights of widows. Gandhi notably advocated inter-caste marriages involving Dalits. This policy was resented by conservatives.

Like Gandhi, Upasani deferred to the caste system. Unlike Gandhi, the Sakori ascetic veered away from political involvement. He did not join the independence movement. He did not believe that political or national freedom was the solution, instead stressing a spiritual alternative. Upasani was aloof in his attitude to the Non-Cooperation Movement, which failed in the outbreak of violence at Chauri Chaura in February 1922. Gandhi soon after terminated his programme of civil disobedience; the politician was jailed by the British authorities for six years (a term subsequently reduced).  Gandhi’s master plan had backfired. The failure caused widespread alarm and confusion about the future of India. Upasani cautioned: “Even in the political field, Indians should not interfere with the methods and arrangements of the Britishers” (GT, 2:337).

Both Gandhi and Upasani emphasised a version of traditional values, but in very different ways. Other Indian reformers and politicians were generally influenced by European thought.  Neither Gandhi nor Upasani believed that European models had achieved real education (although Gandhi was influenced by some Western thinkers like Tolstoy). Upasani favoured a form of religious education cultivating integrity. However, he did not provide a conspectus for schools, in contrast to Gandhi.

Upasani was well aware that Western science had made progress. He acknowledged the “vast strides” made by Europeans in this respect. He attributed the “keen intellectual power” of Europeans to Yogic practices undertaken in their previous incarnations. However, his conclusion was: “Scientific instruments cannot help you to know God” (CIC:198).

The Sakori ascetic was critical of the British Raj. “British rulers have become, at present, very proud and arrogant” (CIC:129). He told an early 1920s audience:

Due to the influence of foreigners, you are carried away by their thoughts. You believe in their mode of life. You have become totally dependent upon them in every respect…. Boycott the foreign way of life, as you want to boycott everything foreign [meaning mercantile goods]. Why do you imitate the foreigners? Why do you get tempted by their mode of behaviour? Why do you want to imitate their manners, customs, food, drink etc? (CIC:130)

Although resisting Westernisation, Upasani was not an instance of extremist patriotism. He stated in a vein of rigorous non-dualism (Advaita): “British people are the incarnation of God” (CIC:232). He even predicted: “Whatever they [the British] are doing today will be of great advantage to the Hindus in course of time” (GT, 3:480).

He was not interested in revolutionary activities or the Non-Cooperation Movement. Instead, he argued for a reform of his own caste, whom he considered degenerate in their increasing conversion to the colonial way of life. His main opponents were the brahmans, his colleagues.

Upasani adhered to religio-mystical priorities, including an emphasis upon sattva, a word associated with Sankhya philosophy. This term is generally interpreted as meaning purity, harmony, discipline, spiritual inclination. He recommended sattva for all castes, and also the outcastes. His social and religious thinking was not typical of his caste. He credited women as possessing more sattva than men, a proposition amounting to heresy.

The woman is sattvika by nature, is naturally prideless compared to the man who is proud of his being a man…. The woman is not destined to increase the Rajoguna and Tamoguna in her, to increase all sorts of desires…. If a woman be like this, even today, whether she be a wife, or a kumari [virgin], or a widow, [she] is qualified to save all members of hundreds of families…. Unless the son possesses these qualities of his mother, he is never able to save his father [from punnama naraka, the hell commonly believed to afflict childless people, but which Upasani identified with pride, preventing spiritual liberation]. The kanya - the daughter – thus is more qualified than the son in this respect. I have talked over the subject of kanya kumari many a time before, and may say something more about that state later. (GT, 2:500)

A commentator has observed: “His ideas that women possess more spiritual potentiality than men, and that they do not possess prarabdha, seem to be quite original” (CIC:233). To assist his innovative themes, Upasani employed the orthodox scriptural statement that a kanya (virgin or nun) can emancipate forty-two generations (GT, 3:348).

He complained that it was now “almost impossible to get good boys who have [a] leaning towards spiritual development, are virtuous, like to add to their punya, are sattvika” (GT, 1:288). Because of this situation, he advocated that virtuous girls should remain unmarried rather than marry the wrong partner; they should follow the course adopted by saints like Mirabai (GT, 1:288). Upasani was not a subscriber to child marriage.

He extended this consideration to adult women, whom he believed should spend their life in the pursuit of spirituality by observing celibacy and other disciplines, thus avoiding any contribution to the growing number of careless progeny (GT, 1:290). One-parent families and Bollywood pornography could not have existed in his ideal world. His associated disapproval of widow remarriage needs to be seen in due context. Talk 138 (section 4) anticipated his subsequent and daring 1930s project of a community of nuns, meaning the Kanya Kumari Sthan.

In his discourses, Upasani “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 ascetic stated: “It is the husband who ruins his wife; he behaves in a stupid and cruel manner towards his wife” (CIC:126).

Another facet of his pro-female argument is found in a discourse advocating the cultivation of endurance and humility. Upasani referred to women as possessing these qualities. However, he distinguished between different influences in operation.

These days men are teaching them [women] to lose that great natural quality of theirs [meaning mental forbearance].... These days, however, the women are forced to leave their natural qualities and the virtuousness thereof, become like men full of pride and haughtiness, and thus expose the whole family to sufferings and pain; such women, who are forced to leave their natural mode of life and behaviour, bring forth a progeny which is bad.... Women are thus becoming – have become – useless for spiritual gains. (GT, 1:62, 64)

In this perspective, women who became independent in the Westernised fashion lost their immunity to prarabdha karma. However, Upasani approved another type of female independence, meaning a commitment “to attain higher spiritual qualities,” or for the purpose of conducting associates to the same spiritual goal (GT, 2:59).

In Talk 10, dating to 1923, he commented that “the present day educated woman” should ponder the desirability of having the children of modern sensual men. He added: “If the present educated woman takes it into her head, she by herself can improve the modern man, and thus improve the present piteous state of ours” (GT, 2:64). This was not a traditional suggestion, instead something much more innovative. Such latitude is not found in the Maharashtra politician Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920), who was very orthodox on the subject of female education.

Tilak is notorious amongst feminists for denying validity to the first girl’s high school at Poona in 1885, also for maintaining the argument that teaching girls to read English would make them immoral. In 1885, Tilak wrote in his “nationalist” newspaper Mahratta: “Teaching English would prove to turn out girls to be a dead weight on their husbands” (Counterview). Tilak and his conservative colleagues interpreted the education of women in terms of a loss of nationality.

In 1889, an eleven year old Bengali girl, Phulmoni Dasi, died after being brutally raped by her 35 year old husband. This episode goaded the British government to prepare an Age of Consent Act in 1891, the purpose being to raise the marital age of girls from ten to twelve years. The Bill was supported by organisations representing Indian women, also by the Parsi reformist Behramji Malabari (1853-1912), who had investigated the dire situation of many Hindu wives. In contrast, the controversial Bill was opposed by numerous orthodox leaders, including Tilak. They accused the British of interfering with Hindu religion.

Ongoing discussion of the "marital rape" issue in India can be heated. Some commentators emphasise that Tilak had his own daughter married at the age of 16. A conclusion is that he was systematically opposing the colonial government. Despite the constraints imposed by Tilak, the development of Indian feminism was assisted by Mahatma Gandhi. Thousands of women joined the famous Salt March in 1930, to defy the British monopoly on salt mining (Sita Anantha Raman, Feminism and Indian Nationalists).

Upasani Maharaj was no doubt aware that many distressed wives left brutal husbands to live as mendicants. His subsequent innovation of the Kanya Kumari Sthan was clearly in a direction moving away from domestic bondage and sexual domination.

In his variegated and kaleidoscopic Talks, Upasani counters the social and political theory of Tilak on several basic points, negotiating child marriage with an argument for celibacy, while pointing out the affliction of sexual excesses suffered by women. His sympathy for women is plainly evident. The Sakori satpurusha was not an exponent of nationalism, but instead concerned to offset deteriorating spiritual values. The remedy was not achieved by politicians.

In a radical vein, Upasani affirmed that untouchables can attain spiritual liberation. However, in the Talks, he also relays the orthodox discrimination against untouchables being admitted to temples. This form of apartheid was the norm in high caste sectors, illustrated by the refusal of Tilak in 1918 to sign a petition for the abolition of "untouchable" stigma. Even later, in the 1930s, Gandhi was prey to an intimidating bomb attack (in 1933) from high caste bigots at Poona who opposed his tolerance extended to Dalits. Upasani's tendency to conformity, a decade earlier, is disappointing, though logical enough from his point of view. He was not taking any further risks against potentially violent and deadly opposition.

Upasani has a distinctive track record, in varied situations, of refusal to discriminate against lower castes and Dalits. He had actively assisted Dalits and low caste people since 1913; his sojourn at Kharagpur in 1915 was extremely unusual for a close association with sweepers and scavengers (bhangis). He was soon a target for dangerous hostility. In the 1920s, he was discoursing to high caste people; high caste mindset was a basic problem he faced from 1915, when he departed from the Kharagpur bhangi colony in defeat.

Even though Upasani was himself a social reformer, he differed from others in their views. For instance, he did not support the idea of widow remarriage. As opposed to the social reformers of his times, he laid more emphasis on the reformation of mind, which is the main motive force behind all activities. He believed that, with the revival of religion and righteousness, there would prevail peace and harmony in society. (333)

In terms of religion, Upasani Maharaj was not a member of any sect. This sackcloth saint was a radical ascetic, completely independent in his affiliations and orientation. Upasani was not a sannyasin, nor a swami, these categories representing sannyas, the conventional vow of renunciation. His independence is reflected in Talks, which do not exhibit the standard output of Vedanta treatises. A commentator from Sakori described him in terms of “an exponent of Bhakti Marga; he also preached the doctrines of Karma and Jnana” (CIC:1).

Upasani quite often employs vocabulary deriving from the Sankhya tradition, especially the theme of three gunas (“qualities” to use a generalised translation). A favoured word of his was sattvika, denoting enhanced attributes of the third (sattva) guna, associated with holy men. He frequently used the term satpurusha to designate a saint or master.  In Talk 78, he defined satpurusha in terms of: “a man who having attained the Infinite Bliss, returns as a man to complete the task allotted to him” (GT, 2:367).

He emphasises that the human mind is a bundle of impressions (sanskaras). The sanskaras determine the process of reincarnation, which is an inevitable occurrence while sanskaras persist. One objective is to “destroy the sanskaras with the axe of discrimination” (CIC:16). Hindering sanskaras can be eliminated by “remaining in the company of saints” (CIC:16). Purification of the soul, denoted by the word punya, is created and accumulated by discipline and “meritorious acts” (CIC:17). Punya offsets the problem of adverse sanskaras known as papa, signifying an impurity that causes suffering. One manifestation of papa is harassment of others, which eventually causes much misery to the wrongdoer (CIC:17-18).

Unlike some gurus, Upasani did not disdain the reading of books. One discourse ends with the reflection:

Of course, this is a difficult and subtle subject. It can be fully understood only when one reaches that highest state. But those that have read books on Vedanta, or who feel much interested in this subject, will begin to grasp it on constant reading and thought.... Reading, thinking, and putting into practice constantly whatever is laid down in these books is the simplest means of attaining... that Infinite Bliss, for those who desire to escape the cycle of births and deaths. (GT, 1:246-247)

The main bulk of this communication is a complex assessment of dhyana (dnyana), attended by themes not easily found in Vedanta. The format includes: “The world is blind. People come to me, and say to me, ‘We are engrossed in ignorance; please liberate us from it, and give us knowledge.’ I say to them, ‘That you do not know, is better; or do you think it will be better, if you know?’ ” (GT, 1:229) This perspective is not found in Vedantic textbooks. Upasani often implied that liberation from ignorance was far more difficult than generally believed.

A fair number of the Talks include Advaita themes. In Talk 52, Upasani quotes the Amritabindu Upanishad to mean “the mind alone is responsible for the bondage or liberation of man.” He adds:

The whole world is a form of the mind or, what is better described, as projection of the mind; the whole world is a part of God, and that is why it has been said "Sarvam Vishnumayam Jagat"; it means, in the heart of every individual in this world, the God Vishnu resides in the form of the mind.  (GT, 1:115)

Upasani often refers to Vishnu, though he also frequently mentions Shiva; his orientation was not sectarian. In Talk 126 (dating to 1924), he atypically favoured a rite in which devotees worshipped him as Shiva, burying him neck-deep in sand on Haratalika day; this was a strong contrast with his frequent aversion to worship of himself, an attitude which often caused acute frustration to devotees.

In fairly numerous talks, he quotes the classic Vedanta (or Epic) text Bhagavad Gita as a support for some of his themes. He often cites the low caste Marathi poet Tukaram, and also Hindi poets like Kabir and Tulsidas. In contrast, he does not cite the Vedantic acharyas Shankara or Ramanuja. Upasani can be aligned with the sant tradition of Maharashtra, which included Tukaram, Eknath, and many others. In this direction can be recalled his statement: “The real Ananda is centred in Bhakti” (GT, 3:325).

The Talks frequently mention the achievement of infinite bliss (ananda), meaning the Vedantic experience of sat-chit-ananda (divine existence, knowledge, bliss).

After that union with the Shivatma, even while he remains in the same gross physical body, he continues to experience that Blissful state through his invisible fine body – the ‘Sukshma Sharira’ lying within the gross physical one. (GT, 1:7)

The complexities attaching to such experiences are pronounced. A necessity is disconnection from “the various objects of enjoyment” (GT,1:7), purification of the soul being the objective. The disconnection, or disassociation, is furthered by strict celibacy. “Association of the soul with these objects [of enjoyment] makes the mind, the reasoning, and the ego very fickle, and that is why from the beginning the celibates avoid such association” (GT, 1:11).

The promotion by Upasani. of a reformed sattvic caste society, was in opposition to what he considered a degeneration, incurred by the British colonial system of education, fostering technology and secularism. A number of comments, in Talks, illustrate his critical view of modernism. “Human beings not only create suffering and pain for themselves, but become a source of trouble to everything else in the creation” (GT, 1:120).

Talk 15 is entitled Real National Service, dating to 1923. Upasani here compares Indian public servants and reformers to a dhobi (washerman) who, instead of cleaning clothes, “smears them with more filth and dirt” (GT, 2:88). These celebrities would urge the theme of “boycott foreign goods.” Upasani counters by deeming this slogan a distraction to a more relevant emphasis upon avoiding the foreign mode of life and behaviour (GT, 2:92). He observes with disapproval that “wealth, prosperity, motor cars” were the preferred priorities of influential spokesmen (GT, 2:91).

Diverse Indian businessmen and professional people were eager to acquire automobiles, the new status symbol associated with the British. Dangers of pollution were as yet unknown, and for long ignored even when due warnings were broadcast in a subsequent era. In the 1990s, India decisively joined the nuclear arms race, which is not an ecological priority. The smog currently found in Delhi and other Indian cities is a symptom of escalating danger.

Upasani criticised the new education in which traditional values were lost, leading to sensory distractions (GT, 1:149-150) and increasing consumerism. He commented that the British rulers were decreasing the number of servants to reduce their expenditure. He interpreted this development as a virtue. He asked his audience: “Why do you spend unnecessarily to increase or satisfy false vanity and pride of yours, and that of your family members, in buying useless, unnecessary, perishable, fashionable articles? Men with money buy so much furniture, china, cloth with designs etc. The poor people, looking to these big men, also get into the habit of buying unnecessarily” (GT, 1:284).

He criticised his own ashram for the installation of unnecessarily strong lighting. “Lanterns and gas lights” are mentioned. “You are going astray by following the external appearances presented by the foreigners” (GT, 1:284). Upasani observed that increasingly strong lighting was causing many people to wear spectacles. He deduced that the oil lamps of a former period were more beneficial. “Old men of 80 or 90 were able to read closely printed books; nowadays even boys of 12 have to use spectacles” (GT, 1:284).

Upasani reflected that in former decades, healthy people would walk long distances, whereas now the use of a motor car was increasingly common. A bicycle was now thought necessary even to visit a next door neighbour (GT, 1:262). He conceded that modern techniques had enabled medical doctors to know much more about the human body. However, the medics did not yet know the meaning of life, concerning which there was a general ignorance (GT, 1:295).

Upasani Maharaj

In the face of high caste affluence associated with the British Raj, the Sakori tatambari (wearer of sackcloth) preferred to emphasise the value of poverty. He was very critical of his own social class, whom he deemed to have degenerated over the centuries. He accused brahmans of imitating European ways, desiring worldly success and prominence. “They have lost divine power and religious status, as they have become slaves of desire” (CIC:117). He is quite emphatic that his own caste had failed:

It is quite necessary thus for the Brahmana class to improve itself first. Today, however, this class has become absolutely powerless and useless in every way. Under these circumstances, the rulers, as well as all other classes and communities in this country, should undertake to encourage this class to recommence doing their duty – the performance of various satkarmas [spiritual disciplines]…. In their personal enjoyment, they behave and act with pride, and thus bring on suffering to the poor around them; it is the poor that suffer while others are having their mirth…. These learned men of today, the makers of internal feuds, have no idea that all their actions are only leading to all-round suffering. If you recognise that the suffering is ever increasing, then the chief method for doing away with that is to make the Brahmana class behave like the real Rishis and Munis of old. (GT, 2:721-22)

Ancient brahmanical ideals included poverty and austerity. Upasani emphasised that too many (Westernised) brahmans had become wealthy and indulgent, losing their integrity and the respect of others. The brahmanical accumulation of wealth and pleasure was equivalent to hoarding night-soil (GT, 1:131), generally detested as unclean and fit only for untouchables to remove from houses.

Why should Brahmanas enter into the affairs of the world to earn worldly reputation like the politicians or business men or rich persons? The Government should force the Brahmanas to behave in accordance with their faith, prevent them from following the foreign mode of life and behaviour, and make arrangements for their subsistence to enable them to do their real duty…. Real dire poverty is the means to untold real wealth. Such poverty and intense suffering, during the penance, is the real wealth of a Brahmana. (GT, 1:131-132)

The critic evidently viewed his ascetic role in terms of a necessary revival of much earlier standards dating back to the Upanishadic era. The career of his grandfather Gopalrao is relevant for consideration. This relative had opted for a simple rural lifestyle as a pundit, rejecting courtly wealth when he departed from his authority role at Baroda (chapter 1). There is a difference here, because Upasani did not act as a pundit or a priest. His discourses were not expressed in the conventional shastri mode.

One of his basic laments concerned the deterioration in brahmanical religion. In the classical gurukula system (associated with the Upanishads), students lived with a guru, that arrangement involving domestic chores such as collecting wood for a fire. Tuition was generally free. However, at the termination of studies, a student was supposed to give dakshina. In the case of students from wealthy families, such a gift could include land (Michaels 2001). Gopalrao had maintained a local variant of the ancient gurukula at Satana.

The Sanskrit schools or tols had since lost dynamic. Linguistic ability often became impaired by the early twentieth century, when the priority of young brahmans was no longer Sanskrit education or religious training. Traditional Vedic learning had now become “the least attractive option for Brahmin young men” (Bairy 2010:140). The situation is surely pinpointed by the detail that most brahman boys then found in religious institutions “were failures in pursuing secular education” (ibid). Western science and literature now wielded a powerful attraction for high caste students.

At the time when Upasani discoursed in the early 1920s, two famous Sanskrit colleges were much discussed. The Maharaja’s Sanskrit College in Mysore was more prestigious than the Chamarajendra Sanskrit College at Bangalore. Both of these institutions were patronised by the Shringeri matha (monastery), a bastion of the Shankaracharyas. Patronage from the Parakala matha, of Vaishnava auspices, was also involved. However, the primary funding for these colleges was bestowed by the Government, for the purpose of training brahmans in scripture and ritual (Bairy 2010:140). The conservative Mysore College restricted membership to brahman inmates even after 1920, when the Government appointed a committee (of brahmans) to investigate issues of democratisation (ibid:141).

In contrast to both of these colleges, Upasani bypassed standard Vedantic modes of exegesis. His rustic Marathi would not have been considered academic proof of religious authenticity. He placed “little emphasis on meditation,” instead advocating Nishkama Karma Yoga, meaning “the performance of acts without any desire for the fruit therefrom” (CIC:32-33). A decade later, he trained nuns in scripture and ritual, moving at an acute tangent to orthodox codes.

The Sakori ascetic was closely associated with Vedanta. However, he did not officially represent Advaita Vedanta, a doctrine intimately related to the Shankara Order, a monastic organisation of nationwide proportions. His ancestral affiliation with Vishishtadvaita was nothing of a doctrinal appointment. Upasani was not a swami nor a professional sannyasin. He had not taken the vow of sannyasa. He was effectively an ascetic sant (saintly person) operating within his brahmanical caste.

He frequently used the term satpurusha to describe saints, including himself. This ancient Sanskrit term, meaning “good man,” can be found in both Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist texts. The word gained the sense of an adept or enlightened mystic. Upasani himself defined the term as meaning one who has transcended the state of Dvaita or dualism (GT, 3:474). An orientation of non-dualism (Advaita) is discernible in many of his discourses.

He refers briefly, in Talk 213, to the famous Advaita treatise Panchadashi, merely observing that “the One” is described in this text in fifteen ways (or fifteen chapters). He added: “Here I am telling you about that One every day in a different way” (GT, 1:611). He was not interested in expounding the content of Panchadashi, nor any other Vedantic text. He evidently regarded such texts as mere reference points, not granting them the status of an ultimate authority.

In some of his talks, Upasani cited approvingly the Ashtavakra Gita (Samhita), an Advaita treatise cast in the format of a dialogue between Ashtavakra and Janaka (GT, 3:83, 487-88). However, he did not adhere rigidly to any doctrinal format, evolving many characteristic emphases of his own.  (334)

His attitude to Yoga is complex. In 1923, while confined in the bamboo cage, he remarked: “You won’t get another like [me] to tell you the secrets of the Yogis. Because I expose their secrets, so many of them are watching and waiting to snatch me away” (GT, 3:282). The meaning of the last evocative sentence is not clear. However, he is evidently making some form of demarcation. Upasani Baba did frequently mention Yogis and their teachings. He approvingly described the legendary Nava Naths as satpurushas (GT, 3:357). He endorsed the Yogic restraint of the senses (and the Vedantic equivalent); however, he did not himself opt for any formal exercises or prescriptions. Instead he favoured “Be as it may,” an attitude of resignation and detachment associated with the Bhagavad Gita (which he did not interpret in the Tilak mode).

Upasani notably veers away from the subject of Hatha Yoga, which he evidently considered a drawback. “Hathayoga, consisting of regulation of breath, etc, a branch of Yoga Marga, cannot be practised in these days; moreover, it is laid down that it should only be practised by high class Brahmanas; for others it is dangerous to do so” (GT, 1:12). He warned about pranayama, a basic adjunct of Patanjali Yoga. Whatever affinities Upasani might have had with Yogis, he was not in any way typical of the Yogi disposition.

He refers to Yogis remaining in solitude as ascetics, performing tapas and anushthana. “By these means, however, they are not able to attain the two most important qualities of endurance [transcendence] and humility. By the efforts they make, they are able to become rulers and kings; but those efforts are not able to give them that Infinite Bliss, a state devoid of all births and deaths” (GT, 1:65).

The spiritual ideal he presents is not in the mould of reclusive Yogis. He advised an hour of meditation daily for many householder devotees; they did not need to become Yogis. One recommendation of the Sakori ascetic reads: “A person who is seen [to be] very busy in the world, and yet who is fully out of it - fully immersed in the Bliss [Ananda] all the time - is the real Dnyani [Knower]” (GT, 1:536).

In Talk 298, he refers to himself (atypically) as a faqir, contrasting his method with “difficult practices” of the Yogis. This disclosure includes the subject of turiya, the "fourth state of consciousness" transcending wakefulness (jagrati), dreams (svapna), and sleep (sushupti). This is a Vedantic (and Yogic) subject. Upasani here describes his method as the simplest one to achieve turiya. He says that many pursue “the difficult Yoga Marga” instead of using basic resources (of awareness) in the three lower states. He adds that the difficult route is “generally being followed by the Brahmanas.” Whereas the faqirs (including himself) “utilise what they have in their own hands and achieve the same All” (GT, 3:550). Like the faqir Shirdi Sai Baba, he was resistant to initiatory procedures.

Many come here [to Sakori] and request initiation and try to make me their Guru. But I just do not do it – that is not my business. Whatever I talk here in a stray [informal] manner is the Upadesha (advice). You can choose what you like from it and improve yourself.... I do not initiate anybody in any way. (GT, 1:187)

His critical view of miracles is distinctive, while still not generally comprehended. Upasani was a shrewd observer of this popular distraction:

Some of the sadhus love to have hundreds around them, and perform some miracles. They have attained some siddhi (power of performing miracles) and people run after them. Some have not attained that even; they just lure people by sleight of hand. It is the means to make fools of others. Does a real satpurusha ever show any miracle? Can a person who shows a miracle ever be called a satpurusha? A person who performs a miracle should always be treated as a man of the world; he has attained some siddhi, that is all. (GT, 1:185)

A siddhi is here an occult power of no significance, amounting to a distraction for the unwary. Such powers may exist, but are an encumbrance for the practitioner. Those powers are a major component of Yoga lore, which requires caution accordingly. Upasani gave a strong warning:

A sadhak encounters difficulties or obstacles as he advances on the path of Yoga. With his advancement on the path, he sees several visions or attains yogic powers or siddhis, which he should not heed, as they deviate him from the path and he cannot [then] attain cosmic consciousness or oneness with God. (CIC:82)

This exponent conveyed that siddhis are an early, and unfledged, stage of the spiritual path. They are nothing to do with advanced achievement. Dr. Tipnis relays: “Upasani Baba, like other mystics, shows utter disregard, nay, even abhorrence for them [siddhis]” (CIC:196). The Sakori ascetic says in Upasani Vak Sudha: “They [siddhis] are like an excreta to me” (CIC:196).

A variation on this theme occurs in Talk 130. Upasani here says that some Yogis progress “without being caught” by siddhis, although “some miracles are seen to happen around them spontaneously.” However, once they cross the barrier of siddhis, no miracles happen in relation to them. These advanced Yogis (or satpurushas) have access to siddhis, but feel that to use such powers is beneath their dignity. Further, those Yogis never like to utilise siddhis because “the person who is benefited by the use of those powers, has ultimately to suffer on account of that gain” (GT, 2:558). This perspective is quite contrary to standard high caste beliefs about the desirability of “miracles.”

In January 1924, he emphasised his preference for silence when visitors came. “There are many other methods for cleaning the mind; but of all these methods silence is the best. I always like everybody to sit silent; then neither I talk nor you talk; all advantage lies in this. Simply sitting like a statue helps a great deal” (GT, 1:68-69).

In contrast, a general tendency of visitors was to talk and plead. Basic desires were expressed in their continual petitions for assistance or remedy. Upasani often reacted with annoyance to these requests.

At the end of this discourse, he stated: “The key to Infinite Bliss is entirely in the hands of a sadguru. We should behave as he directs; never think of pleasure and pain. I do not say that I [have to] be taken as a satpurusha; wherever your mind feels reverence or you recognise the state of a satpurusha, put your mind there” (GT, 1:76).

A warning was also expressed. “The satpurusha, having reached the highest, without caring for honour and dishonour, always tries to create distrust in him to test his devotee – of course in his own secret way” (GT, 1:81).

The covert and discreet references to spiritual achievement were occasionally accompanied by more explicit disclosures. In January 1924, while living in the bamboo cage, Upasani ended a discourse with a strong statement:

Anybody who finds such a satpurusha should stick to him with all faith and devotion. If anybody has the same faith pertaining to this Cage [pinjra], then he should take me as everything. He should take me as Brahmadeva, Vishnu, Shankara [Shiva], Datta, Rama, Krishna, Maruti.... I am experiencing this from within and without, and I am putting this hard truth before you as a matter of personal experience. If you worship me as Vishnu you will attain the Vishnu-Loka [Vishnu heaven]. If you worship me as Shankara, you will attain the Shiva-Loka. (GT, 1:92-93)

However, he could prove very resistant to worship and commemoration. For instance, Upasani disagreed when devotees celebrated his birthday in May 1924. “A couple of days ago you celebrated the birth anniversary of mine; from your point of view it was beneficial to you. But I personally don’t like this to be done in my cause. I know that you love to dub all greatness on me; but I do not like it” (GT, 1:165).

In July 1924, he complained: “For the last few years I am being addressed as God; how much I feel on being treated in this way, I alone know.  Whenever I am flattered, I feel greatly troubled; I feel as if I am shoe-beaten” (GT, 1:182).

Talk 22 is remarkable for disowning any ability on his part. Instead he emphasises faith as the key to success, using an entertaining story. The complaint follows:

Everybody who comes here asks me for something or other. ‘What shall I do’ is a very common question asked to me. The fact is that this Baba [Upasani] knows nothing and is unable to tell anything to anybody. When this Baba does not understand anything himself, what and how can he tell anything to anybody? And yet everybody forces this Baba to do something. (GT, 1:25-26)

81.  Informal  Talks (2)

“My talk is not in accordance with the method of exposition as laid down by the Shastras…. My language also is rough and unpolished” (GT, 2:12). The rustic Marathi diction of Upasani could prove evocative and unpredictable. Despite his use of the vernacular, Upasani was accomplished in Sanskrit.

He remarked: “I talk on the same subject in various ways to save you from the pitfalls of your life” (CIC:88). “All this talk is to make you conscious of what you really are.” The predicament is metaphorically described in terms of an ornament falling into a dustbin. The lost item needs patient effort to find it. If no effort at recovery is made, then more refuse collects over the ornament. “You push back your original status by continuously exerting yourself in doing wrong and false actions” (GT, 1:577).

Visitors to Sakori ashram were sometimes lethargic. Upasani clearly felt that the anticipated spiritual counsels were superfluous in such instances. The Upasani Vak Sudha includes his enjoinder to high caste visitors that they should be prepared to accomplish any work. Yet they felt ashamed to do menial work, employing servants and labourers for the most simple tasks. “How will you realise God, if you do not give up the idea of position and status?” (CIC:209) A super effort was required for salvation, yet the petitioners could not move out of their comfortable armchairs. Upasani had once swept the streets of Sakori during a plague epidemic; such a feat was impossible for many others of his caste.

Upasani Maharaj, 1930s

Upasani could be very forthright. He taught the necessity of cultivating good sanskaras (impressions) from childhood onwards. Discrepantly, many visitors came to him in their old age, when their bodies had grown weak and diseased. In their early years, they had been “wasting all their vitality and energy, by violating all principles of right living.” This laxity led to the situation in which invalid latecomers, “with all their attachment for the worldly life, they approach me to guide them to a path.” Upasani says with humour that he was obliged to reply: “Which way shall I show you except one which leads to a cremation ground?” (CIC:208)

This communication, found in Upasani Vak Sudha, spotlights a basic disaster area. The most important things in life were delayed until too late, when ill health had set in. The clamour for darshan and salvation made a lot of noise. Upasani was not deceived by incongruous timing. Start young, was part of the message, before distractions claim unwary attention.

Some visitors were keen on devotional activities such as bhajan music. Upasani was not especially disposed to music, being critical of some beliefs attaching to bhajan. In Talk 196, he states bluntly: “You may do Bhajana-Pujana, etc, but without the help of a sadguru, nothing can be attained” (GT, 1:576).

On 10 January 1924, Gulmai (Gulbai) Irani arrived at Sakori. In his talk that day, Upasani included reference to Zoroastrian factors. If he had spoken in Sanskrit, Gulmai (and many other Zoroastrians) would not have understood him. His comments were very different to orthodox formulae favoured by Zoroastrian priests.

Shri Zarthosta [Zarathushtra] Maharaja [the Zoroastrian prophet] achieved that [rare] state; he may take a birth or may not take a birth; it depends on his sweet will. Even if you do not see him, he is always there; but you do not know where and in what form he is. When can you see him? You can see him only when you attain the [transcendent] state like him – that is, you attain the power to take or not to take a [human] birth. (GT, 2:169)

This discourse (Talk 28) ultimately related to the predicament of the jiva (soul, false self) in being encumbered by ignorance (adnyana), preventing the attainment of infinite bliss. The jiva constantly forgets “real self.” In the process of reincarnation, the jiva “enters the family of a Parsi or a Brahmana, or a Muslim, or a Mahara, or a sweeper” (GT, 2:167). There is no permanency in the continual changes. “We have become the quick change artists” (GT, 2:168). These emphases moved far outside religious affiliations, including pundit Hinduism.

In Talk 10, with a different audience, the “educated men of today” were considered deficient. These men, “in satisfying their insatiable sexual desire, only pour poison in their women” (GT, 2:63). Upasani deduced that the offspring of these relationships “inflict so many diseases and pain on their mother; many such mothers, as a result of these sufferings, get tuberculosis, and die in all agony.” Some of the offspring were wealthy; they “spend their money in vices and giving trouble to others for fun.” Further, “this sinful progeny is responsible for our present degenerated state of [social] affairs” (GT, 2:63).

The present day educated woman should at least consider if it is desirable to have children from such men – these modern men! These men have no idea of real love. Their love is nothing short of selfish lust…. If the present educated woman takes it into her head, she by herself can improve the modern man…. My talk has been very harsh. But what can I do? I speak like that with one idea, that it should cause some introspection and improvement…. The present [Westernised] education leads only to pain. What is the use of such education? The whole present education is faulty in every way, and is the real cause of the present degenerated and painful state of ours. The uneducated folk are better off than the present educated ones. The educated have not got the least idea of what real temporal happiness is. What sort of men are you? Really speaking, it should be in your nature to utilise your education and intelligence to attain higher states of happiness – the Bliss; but you are using them today just for the opposite purpose…. You only know how to eat, procreate, and make a show of yourself; you do anything to achieve that much, and then die; that is all you seem to know…. You are actually experiencing the present painful state caused by the education introduced by the foreigners [British], based on their own mode of life, environment and faith, and yet you send your children for education in the schools run on their lines. You are following the foreigners almost in every walk of life. (GT, 2:63-65)

In Talk 3, of similar emphasis, Upasani is typically forthright about the progeny causing unprecedented problems, being averse to correction:

If you care to improve, the first thing you will have to do is to leave off the so-called “Free” behaviour of yours. Today when you are asked in courts about your religion, your reply is “Hindu religion.” But you are not behaving accordingly; you do not know what it is. You have not the least idea about it…. Your present mode of life only gives rise to pain and suffering; as such, your present religion can only be called “Religion of Pain”…. What is the characteristic of your present religion? The chief characteristic… is that anybody should be free to give any trouble to anybody on any account. (GT, 2:16-17)

External modes of religion were not always welcome at Sakori, although often tolerated. On one occasion in 1924, a visitor offered tridala of bilva at the feet of Upasani. Bilva leaves are used in Shaiva worship, being also employed in Ayurvedic medicine. Upasani commented sceptically on the routine performance:

The [true] penance has to be done to burn the body, the mind, and the jiva. To worship at leisure for years has no value. You offer flowers [and leaves] and they wither away. What is the use of offering such things? You should offer one Tridala of Bilva [the sacred bilva leaf or patra] in such a way that you need not offer anything again. What is the use of offering hundreds of thousands of Bilva-patras? (GT, 2:337)

In April 1924, he expressed discontent during a darshan assembly. Many high caste visitors attended. Upasani was smiling intermittently between moods of annoyance. At length he gave a discourse that was very critical in tone. He said that lazy people were asking him “for the way,” but he did not show a way to anybody. He complained that visitors were reared not to do any work at home or anywhere else. They gave stale food to the poor, while keeping the best food for themselves. “Their worship is full of vanity.” He shot the pointed question: “How can anyone attain God through vanity?” The visitors wanted “health, wealth, fame, honour, happiness.” They were missing the point that “you have to be in a sattvika state,” which meant a form of simplicity and self-denial (GT, 2:339-340). He further comments in Talk 73:

You people never spend your youth in doing something in the cause of God; you simply enjoy your youth and forget God. In old age then you turn towards God, with that dilapidated good-for-nothing body of yours…. There is no method nor appropriateness in your worship. It never occurs to you that I am troubled by such worship of yours…. You people come here, sit on your haunches, and doze away; and then you trouble me. You people always want to sleep…. You should do some work for the good of the world and then take your regular rest. I must teach you the manasika pujana, the mental worship, so that I will be relieved of all this trouble, and you will also attain the Truth. (GT, 2:340)

The “mental (manasika) worship” was a mystery to many visitors. Upasani also mentions this subject elsewhere in the Talks, emphasising the mental worship as a sant priority.

He continued Talk 73 by expressing another theme. “With certain duties pertaining to this world, do I not require some time for myself for that purpose? Do you not think it is your duty to help me in that [endeavour] by giving me some time for myself? Instead you all trouble me and want me to help you to have your secret desires fulfilled” (GT, 2:341). He did not explain what his “duties” were.

The “mental worship” was explained two months later to a revenue officer named Joshi. “One should worship God with one’s mind, in solitude, without having recourse to any external objects or the indriyas [sense organs]. A successful mental worship lies in being able to associate with the qualities of God for some time” (GT, 2:373). Upasani here conceded that external worship of an idol was helpful for a beginner. Although he permitted a temple at the ashram, his own perspective was transcendent of ritualism. Talk 79 proceeded with the observation:

To attain Godhood in full measure, the old thinkers have laid down, with their personal experience, this simple method of mental worship, with the help of external worship in the beginning, of any form of God or a satpurusha. This method does not require the use of processes of Hatha Yoga such as Asana, Pranayama…. The method of external worship depends on individual taste. Some people collect the different articles of worship and do the [image] worship. Some people do all the menial work in the cause of God…. Some people follow to the letter the orders given by their sadguru. Remembrance [or meditation], Dhyana etc. is considered as [mental] worship by some. (GT, 2:374)

On that occasion, Joshi (a devotee) came to Sakori with a very externalist intention. He brought with him a large quantity of gula (solidified sugar cane juice), desiring to weigh Upasani in relation to this gift. This was to prove his devotion, and to ensure that he (Joshi) was giving enough prior to distributing the juice. Upasani politely declined this elevating procedure, commenting: “I am a very low and light person; you would not require all this gula. God can be weighed easily with Shuddha Bhava and Bhakti. Shri Krishna was weighed by Rukmini against a leaf of tulasi. I know you are devoted to me in the same way. But I am nowhere compared to Shri Krishna and hence unfit to be weighed like this” (GT, 2:374).

Upasani emphasised that satpurushas (enlightened beings) are rare. However, “these days people want a satpurusha who will behave like their servant and give them whatever they desire at once” (GT, 2:375-376). The satpurusha was believed to work miracles. “Such ignorant persons, who only believe in miracles, generally remain unbenefited by the invisible good done by a satpurusha” (GT, 2:376). The contrast between miracles and “invisible good” is clearly stated.

In the same talk of June 1924, Upasani reminisced about an event occurring in Ahmednagar several years earlier. On that occasion, he had been offputting to high caste visitors, being resistant to miracle lore and telling them to go away. “We have come here to do Namaskara,” they explained. Rejecting their homage, Upasani had quoted a well known saying: Chamatkarala Namaskara. This has the meaning of: A man bows down only when he sees a miracle (chamatkar). Upasani had put the question: Why were the visitors doing namaskara without experiencing a miracle? The blithe reply came from one visitor: “Unless you have been showing something supernatural, thousands would not have been coming to you” (GT, 2:376). This despite the emphasis of Upasani that he did not perform miracles. Assumptions about miracles were very deep-rooted in popular religion.

Nearly a decade later, Upasani now emphasised that nothing was gained by resort to a so-called miracle. He affirmed that "miracles" were performed by "simple magicians." He added: "Those who do not show anything supernatural, or a miracle, or show nothing at all, are recognised by some who are qualified to do so. Not everybody can recognise a satpurusha” (GT, 2:376-377). He was fundamentally opposed to the many exhibitionist holy men who claimed to perform "miracles." This sector had saturated Hindu society with deceptive beliefs.

Upasani reversed the general expectation of miracles from saints. He was very different in outlook to Narasimhaswami, who believed in siddhis and miracles to the point of dogma, while avidly imposing this belief upon biographical material.

On the same occasion, the Sakori ascetic gave an explanation of “miracles.” He said that the devotee accumulates punya (virtue) via good conduct, also through deference to a satpurusha, over a lengthy period. In this situation, the devotee can “experience his desires being satisfied,” as a consequence of his store of punya. He will attribute such an event to a miracle of the satpurusha, but this is an error. The saint (or master) does not satisfy any desires, only being instrumental in the accumulation of punya (GT, 2:377).

Upasani tended to make ambiguous statements, for instance: “I have no Godly qualities. I can perform no miracles. I am ugly, dirty, defiled, unsystematic, naked, old, and so forth. Despite this, you take me to be God, to be Sat-Chit-Ananda Brahma, and derive benefit from it…. I brought on Godhood to me, and you reap the benefit of it” (GT, 2:425).

He would concede a form of attainment, yet otherwise depict himself as inferior, for example, not a systematic expositor like pundits, and not maintaining caste purity like the priests. He had abandoned the sacred thread, and closely associated with Dalits at Kharagpur. He had not taken any vow of sannyasa. He was not a Vedantic swami. This independence from caste norms is more impressive than the pracharak mode of sannyasin Narasimahaswami.

82.  Informal  Talks  (3)

Visitors were usually able to understand Upasani Baba quite easily, because of his colloquial speech. During 1923-24, he was communicating “for hours together almost every day” (GT, Vol. 1, preface). The operative event was darshan, when ashram residents and outside visitors took their opportunity to see him. The devotees would come to him one by one; Upasani then communicated to the assembly, or to individuals. He explained that he was responding to incoming thoughts and impressions (sanskaras) of visitors.

There were many interruptions, however, especially in the instance of new visitors. Some of these people would plead their domestic or personal problems, hoping that he would assist.  Physical ailments were a common lament. Upasani was liable to express irritation at such times, admonishing a persistent petitioner. Alternatively, he might choose to walk away from the scene.

The reactionary tactic does not seem unreasonable in the light of his own explicit priorities. He did not claim to be a healer. In Talk 232, Upasani emphasises that he did not possess a handsome body, nor anything unusual like four arms. Yet many visitors wanted something from him. Some desired a son, some a relief from illness, some wanted money. None of them could get their desire fulfilled, he insists. “I always tell them I am suffering from some ailment or other, and so they are only put to trouble by my suffering” (GT, 3:292). He was certainly not broadcasting an ability in miracles or intercession with the divine.

The Sakori ascetic had a major reservation about some darshan visitors. When offering their homage (or act of namaskar), they were too slow, holding up the queue. Upasani described this tendency as a “show of vanity,” saying that he preferred simplicity. Darshan visitors typically believed they would derive benefit from their performance. He asked why, if they believed him to be a divine saint, he could not benefit them “anytime, anywhere” rather than in a darshan queue. He did not want darshans at all. However, when devotees persisted, he would give in and say: “Alright, do what you like.” This is the relevant background for his displeasure on some occasions. “When I know that it is all show, then of course I get very angry; when there is some genuineness, it is different” (GT, 2:344).

Another emphasis was: “If anybody considers himself to be learned or something superior, then he cannot receive any benefit from here” (GT, 3:293). This might be interpreted as a rampart against caste pride. He added: “If anybody wants to derive any benefit, then he will have to consider himself to be very lowly” (GT, 3:293).

In Talk 222, Upasani says that constant remembrance of God is necessary to offset distractions like bad habits. Those distractions are here described in terms of “causing pain to the subtle body” (GT, 3:282). The subtle (sukshma) body was a component of his teaching; this mode of existence is apparently suffering a distressed state, in many instances, due to misconduct and indulgence.

Upasani Maharaj

His outlook was not restricted to traditional Yogic or Vedantic themes. At the time of death, all the events of personal life “flash quickly, one after another, before one’s mind” (GT, 3:282). The unwary jiva becomes involved in these flashbacks, a complication leading to another physical birth.

This para-Yogi tended to emphasise the ideal psychology in terms of “Be as it may.” In Talk 210, he compared this ideal to the situation of a stone that is cut and shaped before becoming the statue of a god.

A satpurusha [apparently meaning Upasani] took on himself all the attributes of a stone and underwent processes akin to carving. Unless one attains that state of a stone, one cannot bear the suffering effected by carving. One has first to exert to attain the state of stone; one has then to submit to tests to find out if he has really attained the state of stone. After that, he [the chela] has to submit himself to the process of carving by experts. One who has attained the stone-like state of ‘Be as it may,’ who experiences himself to be in that state, such a one alone is utilised for carving by a satpurusha. (GT, 3:248)

This symbolism could meet with reactions. Some devotees said they did not wish to be stones; instead, they wanted to be treated as a ready-made idol. The ideal of “stone” was far removed from darshan expectations. Another emphasis, in relation to “Be as it may,” amounted to overcoming the opposites. Pain was to be endured patiently. “If you want pleasure, you are bound to have pain as well. If you accept pain with pleasure, it always leads you to that infinite, Godly happiness” (GT, 2:399).

In Talk 209, Upasani relayed the maxim Sevadharmo Mahabali, meaning “Service is the most powerful [aid].” He added that service (seva) could achieve in a single lifetime what might otherwise take hundreds of incarnations. However, this service (seva) entailed complete commitment to a satpurusha. “You have to stick to me like a leech.”  This reflection was attended in the same discourse by a warning:

Hundreds of you come here and you feel that you come and serve me and are ever ready to serve me. But I say that all this you are seen to do is for your own benefit and is not for me…. Nobody serves me and I do not allow anybody to serve me. (GT, 3:247)

Upasani here says that the seva of devotees meant trouble for him, meaning that he had to attend to any discrepancies or shortcomings. Some devotees became more rewarding sevakaris than others.

At the end of Talk 162, he informs: “All those staying here [at Sakori ashram] are doing so at their own will, or at the will of their parents and guardians, with the aim of service…. I never like to say anything to anybody, but when somebody comes before me, then I have to tell him what to do, how to behave etc., to improve his lot. Actually I do not undertake to give any treatment” (GT,1:352).

His mystical teaching was distinctively liberal. In some talks, he includes a theme of “Brahmana and Yavana,” meaning high caste Hindu and Muslim. The reference to a Brahmana here means himself.

The Brahmana and Yavana forms [bodies], thus, are essential to each other for self-realisation…. Sai Baba has been having many births as a Brahmana and a Brahmana that of Yavana. In those forms, they went on strictly behaving according to their Faith, interchanging their parts [roles] off and on. Utlimately the Sai Baba and the Brahmana became united. (GT, 3:244)

The same Talk 208 includes the statement: “Jesus Christ, Jarathostra [Zarathushtra], Mahmood [Muhammad] the prophet, are all incarnations of Krishna” (GT, 3:244). Upasani cites the Bhagavad Gita more than any other scripture.

Elsewhere, in Talk 78, he says: “Unless one goes beyond all the dvandvas [pairs of opposites], the highest and the lowest – one does not attain the state of Advaita; one is able to enjoy that Infinite Bliss only when one has attained the state of Advaita. That is why the devotees of Vishnu attain the state of Shankara [Shiva], and those of Shankara that of Vishnu” (GT, 2:370-373). This non-sectarian approach to Hinduism was here concerned to explicate a “real understanding of the state of Vitthala.”

The deity of Pandharpur, namely Vitthala, was celebrated by the sant poet Tukaram (d.1649). Vitthala (Vithoba, Panduranga) is a Vaishnava deity (associated with Krishna) whose worship is rooted in the most popular pilgrimage site of Maharashtra. In a very unusual eclectic mode, Upasani associated Vitthala with Gautama Buddha. “The incarnation named Buddha is the same Vitthala.” In Talk 78, the Sakori saint defers to Vitthala as “the incarnation of Kali Yuga, and therefore one has to do Bhakti of Vitthala; Tukarama, Namadeva and others understood this and laid down the path of devotion.” This evocation of the Maharashtrian sant tradition is attended by a warning: “The modern people, however, want the highest, and regard themselves to be the highest due to their pride; they do not understand the state of Vitthala, nor do they like it; how then can they attain the state of Rama?”

In this eclectic treatment, “Rama, Krishna, and Vitthala are all the same.” The Buddha is associated with Shiva, whose ascetic characteristics are described in terms of being naked, dirty, and living in a cremation ground. Upasani (who made his home in a cremation ground) clearly favours this asceticism as a direct means to liberation, “without having to pass through the method of devotion.” However, the ascetic approach can “lead to chaos” if sustained over centuries, and that is why Tukaram emphasised the path of bhakti in his worship of Vitthala (Vithoba). The ascetic Gautama Buddha is here assimilated to Upasani himself. “He [Buddha] appears in the world with all his qualities of nakedness, dirtiness etc. in the form of a person like me.”

Some analysts might say that Upasani resembled ascetic Jains, and perhaps some Mahayana Buddhists, rather than Hinayana Buddhism. He certainly ends this discourse with a distinctive flourish in relation to another sector of religious affinity.

On one side is a Brahmana, who has reached the highest, while on the other is a Muslim who has reached his highest. Such a Muslim is called Sai…. Such a Sai unites with the perfect Brahmana – Brahmana who has reached his highest – and enters the state of Advaita. In the same way, a perfect Brahmana unites with a perfect Sai and enters the state of Advaita. Thus, a perfect Brahmana and a perfect Sai are one and the same…. With an interchange, both of them remain in the state of Sat-Chit-Ananda. (GT, 2:372-373)

Again, Upasani is referring to himself when he mentions the perfect brahman or Brahmana. The auspices of Advaita are here unconventional, celebrating a Muslim faqir. Upasani also employs this eclectic scenario to explain why Sai Baba referred to the Khandoba temple (in Shirdi) as that of Vitthala (Vithoba), and also why he described his obscure guru as Vitthalashaha. Upasani innovates an etymology for sai and vit, saying Sai had “experienced the full state of Vit” (GT, 2:372-373). Some accounts do not mention Sai Baba’s reference to Khandoba as Vithoba. As a firsthand witness, Upasani confirms the eccentricity.

One forthright aspect of his communication was difficult for many to understand. In Talk 215, he informs that some visitors pleaded: “You have become a satpurusha; so please make us also like that.” He would respond: “Then you will have to accept all I say and bear whatever I do.” This acceptance did not always occur; strong reactions could intervene in the path of attempted discipleship. “That is why I always say that I am no God; nothing am I, as I see myself” (GT, 3:257-258).

In the same talk, he added: “You call me God, but let me warn you that I am from the Khandoba temple [in Shirdi].” Employing one of his verbal plays on a name, he interpreted Khandoba to mean Shandoba or eunuch (shandha). The implication is that he had transcended sexuality in his phase as a temple dweller. “The real Shiva state is Shandha.” Even more to the point, “Khandoba is the state of Advaita” (GT, 3:258). Another loaded reflection follows: “The real Shandha is the real Brahmana – the ParaBrahma; he is the Vithoba; he is the Khandoba” (GT, 3:260). The reference embraces both Vaishnava and Shaiva icons (Khandoba being associated with Shiva).

Sai Baba had unconventionally identified the Khandoba temple at Shirdi in terms of Vithoba. Upasani was here reminding of matters largely eclipsed in devotee memories. “What Sai Baba had said of my ultimately attaining the blessings of Mhalsapati [Khandoba, or husband of Mhalsa] came true” (GT, 3:258). Such retrospective reflections were lost upon later commentators like Narasimhaswami. Sai Baba had indeed invoked the blessings of Mhalsapati (Khandoba) upon Upasani in 1911.

In the same talk, entitled by editors The Glory of Khandoba, Upasani relays that some parties complained of his angry moods, which they did not understand. These visitors wanted only sweet and reassuring moods from the satpurusha, who was not supposed to get angry with supplications and darshan displays of vanity. The discontented persons said they did not feel a due respect. “I say that it [the reaction of not feeling proper respect] is very good; I am relieved of that much trouble” (GT, 3:257). Upasani joked that he had not taken any vow of sannyasa; the formal sannyasin was obliged to control all manifestations of anger.

A distinctive discourse (Talk 162) was addressed in 1924 to Dr. Palkhiwala, a Parsi devotee:

You are a highly qualified man; you have been bestowed with the grace of Jarathosta Maharaj [Zarathushtra]…. Your religion is a highly developed one; Jarathosta Maharaj has given your religious system a very good form. But the principal religion is only one… [becoming] split up into two…. The principal religion is the Vedic religion, which developed into two different forms giving rise to two systems. (GT, 1:343-344)

This theme is attended by a metaphysical complexity: the formless Parameshwar being unable to enjoy his infinite bliss. A consequence of this constraint was the creation of worlds and forms, including the human state.

Originally it [Parameshwar] was one – the primary Advaita; it split up into two – the Dvaita [dualism]. The two again joined to form one – the Advaita. The first and the last Advaita are the same. The original… could not see – could not experience – enjoy itself. Then it [Parameshwar] split up into two and later became integrated… [and] could now experience itself…. The original mixture was without self-experience, while the [integration] could have this. To experience itself, the original Advaita had to split up into two; through two formats it re-experienced the original state of Advaita… this experience was full of Bliss – the conscious singular state [associated with atman-Brahman realisation]. (Slightly adapted from GT, 1:345)

This compressed explanation was the forerunner of what Meher Baba more systematically called the Beyond-Beyond God and the subsequent evolution of forms leading to Beyond God (Meher Baba 1955). The vocabulary in the sequel was much enlarged and clarified; however, the basic meaning is the same. That distinctive angle of interpretation is not found in conventional Vedanta.

Upasani mentioned the same subject in another discourse (Talk 126):

The world is unreal, while God alone is Real. Since He could not experience his own state of Truth, He transformed Himself into this untrue world, and began to experience the untrue-false state of the world. When He begins to wish for His own true status of Infinite Bliss, through the human form He begins to discard the false things of the world. (GT, 2:527)

In Talk 162, Upasani depicts Zoroastrianism as a mixture of Vedism and Yavana (or Yavani) metaphysics. It is not clear exactly how he defined the word Yavana in this context. The conventional meaning of the word signifies Greeks (or an earlier people). Yavanas are mentioned in the Mahabharata, being associated with the far north-west of India. At a much later date, the word yavana often described Muslims.

Upasani guarded by saying (to Dr. Palkhiwala) that “some deficiencies remained” in Jarathosta’s religion, which “was obviously meant for that particular time only, and as such, it may not enable you to attain Godhood” (GT, 1:346).

The discourse moves on to nominate “Buddha Incarnation” as the inspirer of an ancient era, or more specifically, “to meet the requirements of that particular time and circumstances.” He next champions Shankaracharya as a necessary sequel, saving the world from “utter confusion” created by older religious formats. Upasani emphasised to Dr. Palkhiwala that a further incarnation had similarly been needed in Zoroastrianism to revive the essential religious experience. However, this revival had not occurred. “Unless one has attained the state underlying your religious system, one is not able to attain the Truth” (GT, 1:347).

Some very unusual statements are made in this discourse. Although crediting the supercession of Advaita, Upasani strongly supports “Buddha Incarnation” as a liberating factor in the Kula Yuga. He describes the main principle of this Incarnation in terms of Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah, meaning “non-violence is the highest religion.” He even denies that Rama and Krishna (plus Zarathushtra) can confer liberation. “Even if you are devoted to Rama, the [spiritual] liberation will be attained through, and given by, Buddha; other Incarnations cannot grant liberation in these times” (GT, 1: 349). The Buddha is here presented in terms of Advaita and desirelessness. Upasani was apparently meaning himself, the living saint, contradicting standard religious beliefs in long-dead avataras as a means of liberation.

This version of Buddha appears to have been strongly assimilating Jain models of asceticism. Upasani says: “The followers of Buddha worship naked idols; these naked idols are called Parasanatha [Parshvanatha]” (GT, 1:350). He adds that “the idols worshipped by Jains are also naked.” The brahmans of that era often tended to confuse the two shramana religions (of Buddhism and Jainism); Upasani was reflecting some traditional portrayals in a distinctive extension. The legendary Parshvanatha (Parshva) was the twenty-third tirthankara of Jainism, apparently dating to the first millennium BC; he was an inspirer of Jainism, along with his successor Mahavira. The Digambara Jain ascetics went naked; in contrast, the Shvetambara Jain ascetics (monks and nuns) favoured robes (Dundas 1992:40-52). The Shvetambaras believed that women can attain spiritual liberation; there is a clear affinity on this point with Upasani Baba.

The Jains are often viewed as ultimate exemplars of ahimsa (non-violence). In some respects, the personal disposition of Upasani was quite close to Jain models. He expressed an innovation, however: if a satpurusha kills a scorpion or a snake, then that creature gains a form of liberation (Talk 78).

Talk 162 also associates Shankaracharya with the idol of Panduranga (Vitthala) at Pandharpur. Such eclectic latitude may not be excessive in view of a deduction of some modern scholars that Vitthala and Vaishnavism were derivatives of an early Shiva cult at Pandharpur. Upasani relays: “The Vithoba of Pandharpur is said to be the Buddha.” The Panduranga (Vithoba) idol was ritually clothed by a priest; the idol is naked (save for a loincloth now emphasised by scholars). Upasani evidently viewed this idol as a variant of the Buddha. “The state of Buddha was not continued but transformed, as it [naked asceticism] would have led the world into all confusion.” Tukaram’s version of Vithoba bhakti was here favoured. Upasani himself was a naked ascetic. However, he did not advocate this lifestyle for his devotees, instead insisting that they continue the householder vocation. Labourers, engineers, clerks, and administrators were all represented in his following.

There is indication that Upasani conceived of his own role in the light of an Advaitin Buddha state. “A few saints do appear exhibiting all the principles of Buddha incarnation… Buddha is all naked from within and without – like the Shiva, in fact, it is the form of Shiva. That means, in order to lead the Jiva to the state of Shiva, the Buddha does appear, rarely though, in his original naked state” (GT, 1:351).

83.  Informal  Talks  (4)

The theme of satkarma gains varying expression in these discourses. In Talk 297, Upasani describes satkarma as penance which requires to be accomplished for twelve years. This feat includes celibacy, dietary restrictions, and association with a satpurusha. The effort leads to “the experience of greatness,” but only after after the elimination of ahamkara (egoism). That expansion “means the experience of all the animate and inanimate, i.e., of all the Brahmandas, etc” (GT, 3:544).

Upasani Maharaj

Talk 126, dating to September 1924, relates to an occasion when someone offered him a sacred thread (janave). This item is associated with the three higher castes, and more especially, brahmans; the rules applying to this cord are provided in the Manusmriti. Upasani now explained that he had discarded the brahmanical thread years before. “I have finished with birth and death, family life, worldly affairs, [religious] faith, etc. You people are trying to bring me back to them. At the time of wearing [putting on] the sacred thread, it is said ‘I am wearing this sacred thread for the fulfilment of Brahma-karma.’ By offering me this [thread], I do not know if you people are again going to make me commence Brahma-karma like the commoner in the world” (GT, 2:533).  He was clearly in reaction to wearing the thread.

Upasani did not generally advocate sannyasa. He nevertheless acknowledged the merits of this lifestyle. In Talk 120, he stated that a man with too much prarabdha karma should “take the sannyasa to liberate himself” from actions. “At least in his last days he should take it [sannyasa], or it should be forced on him by relatives” (GT, 2:512). He explained that, in worldly life, “the Jiva and the mind always receive good or bad sanskaras and ideas.” If these sanskaras are not destroyed by suffering, the Jiva cannot achieve liberation. Following the rules of sannyasa is a means to destroy the hindering sanskaras (GT, 2:511).

In contrast to Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj was not a smoker (he did not again take recourse to bidis after the period of his surgical operation at Shinde in 1915). Nor did he maintain an elaborate dhuni (sacred fire), such a well known feature at the Shirdi mosque. However, Upasani is known to have dispensed udi (sacred ashes), which devotees and visitors often requested. Talk 116 refers to him “almost every morning” making “a little fire with cow dung cakes, and thus prepare the sanctified ashes” (GT, 2:492). The date is August 1924. The smoke could make his eyes water. He explains that devotees expected prasada, a sign of benediction.

Both Nath Yogis and Muslim faqirs shared the custom of a dhuni fire. Upasani was not a Nath Yogi. It is not certain as to how long he maintained this form of benediction. Nor is it clear if he was living in the pinjra (cage) at the time of Talk 116. Upasani informs his audience that udi from Sakori had been used, in distant places, with beneficial results and reputed cures. Some devotees had used this udi as medicine. Some persons in distant places had even requested that Sakori udi should be sent to them by post. Upasani did not contradict the beliefs involved here. He bracketed the custom of prasada with the performance of satkarmas (spiritual disciplines), a far more pervasive topic in the Talks, viewed as a means of negotiating the bindings of prarabdha karma.

His comments (in Talk 94) on the Agnihotra, a Vedic fire sacrifice, reveal a critical attitude to traditional ritual. “These Agnihotris are not highly developed persons, and hence they have to observe certain rules and keep the fire alive all the while” (GT, 2:423). The Agnihotris were householder brahmans who maintained a domestic sacred fire continuously, making offerings twice daily. They regarded the ash as protection against sins and diseases. The purpose of the fire rituals was reputedly to create an inner fire evoking knowledge. Upasani, who was not an Agnihotri, remarked: “Those who have reached the highest have not to observe any rules; the sacred fire is always alive in them” (GT, 2:423).

Talk 85 emphasises the value of hard physical labour. Upasani considered this exertion preferable to the instance of those who, while reading sacred books or performing japa, “do something to divert their mind and keep themselves awake.” In this context, he refers to the use of snuff, tobacco, cigarettes, burning camphor, or conversation. (GT, 2:385-6). He was sceptical of any beneficial result occurring in such cases. He said that physical labour is essential to gain stability of mind. Those not possessing this capacity “should write the name of God or copy out a sacred book” (GT, 2:389).

He specified hard physical labour as “a method to kill the Jiva-state,” meaning the limited consciousness of an embodied soul. He opposed the brahmanical sense of pride in being above physical work. “As a boy, I used to repair the walls not only of our house, but those of others as well” (GT, 2:387). This is a reference to repairing mud plaster, for which purpose a low caste labourer was generally employed.

Misconceptions abounded about mukti (spiritual liberation). “Death of the gross physical body is not mukti; because, after that the Jiva has to take another body according to his desires” (GT, 2:397). Creation of desire causes imprisonment in the body. Being shackled to desires and passions “is nothing short of rigorous imprisonment” (GT, 2:395-6). The British colonialists and Westernised Indians did not share this viewpoint.

Upasani defined the principal obstruction to mukti as abhimana (“pride of all shades”), dominant in samsara, meaning affairs of the world and family life. Special efforts are required to overcome pride, which blocks experience of ParaBrahma. He stressed that very few people are able to achieve liberation. There were very few persons approaching a satpurusha (evidently meaning himself) who were genuinely concerned with attaining Brahman. Hundreds would approach a saint only for temporal benefits and miracles (chamatkars). These people always wanted their desires satisfied without making any effort themselves (GT, 2:400-404).

At times, Upasani Baba liked to give the impression that he was a simpleton.  “Not being educated and learned I naturally talk to the ignorant women” (GT, 1:383). Upasani disliked punditry, knowing very well that women were usually barred from shastri activities. He was not a pundit, but nevertheless familiar with fairly numerous Sanskrit texts.

Another remark in this idiom is: “Of course, I am not a learned man. I can only tell what I have seen and experienced, and that I explain with common examples” (GT, 1:419). The idiom may be interpreted in the context of a mystic disowning the pundit role.

Upasani permitted a sannyasin, Swami Mangalamurthy, to read aloud daily from the Mudgala Purana. This reading occurred in the close vicinity of the pinjra (cage). The Swami was a devotee of Ganesha. Upasani conceded that reading from a Purana amounted to a satkarma or religious discipline (GT, 2:400). However, he made a few critical remarks to his audience:

The Swamiji is reading out and explaining many things in front of all of you almost every day. Many times the whole talk is contradictory. However, that does not matter. You should pick up whatever good you can and discard the rest…. Good from even the talk of a child should be taken. (GT, 2:435-6)

The implication is that these readings could create pride rather than eliminate ego-sense (ahamkara). While the Swami was reading aloud one day, heavy rain fell, causing the ground near the hut to become wet and muddy. Upasani asked Mangalamurthy how the audience were coping outside. The Swami replied, “Very well.” Upasani then commenced his discourse with a rebuke for the Swami:

You have a comfortable seat to sit upon and a proper stand for your scripture. Hence you have no eye for the inconvenience of others. Look at that Narasinga Maharaj! How he is balancing himself on the tips of his toes in order to escape being soiled. Generally everyone looks to his own comfort, unmindful of the difficulties of others. (AU:2)

Upasani often referred to reincarnation. A basic teaching here is that, after death, the jiva gains a new body in accordance with the nature of sanskaras (impressions). When actions are made in the new body, these actions and their consequences create new impressions for the mind. “In the end, according to these impressions, the jiva takes another body and the mind follows suit. The vicious circle thus goes on for lives on end” (GT, 2:448).

Puranic themes were sometimes mentioned. However, he did not take the Puranas as his major point of reference, but instead, the more authoritative Bhagavad Gita. Quite frequently, he referred to a Gita contention that was part of the orthodox Hindu doctrine. This is encapsulated in the verse: “If a man dies in ignorance (tamas), he takes birth as an animal” (Gita 14.15). Even today, to dispute this belief can result in a conventional dismissal. Upasani (like Ramana Maharshi) scrupulously adhered to the canonical belief. This is one point of basic difference between his own exposition and that of Meher Baba, whose version of evolution departed from scriptural confines.

In Talk 100, Upasani relates how a veterinary surgeon was worried about being reborn as an animal. Upasani did not contradict this fear. However, he proved reassuring in his mode of speech:

I said that according to what Shri Krishna has explained in [the] Gita, that is what would happen. But then he [the veterinary doctor] should not be frightened. Thousands of beings are taking thousands of types of forms according to the sanskaras they have accumulated…. All those that come here [to Sakori], so also all those birds and beasts who associate with this place, do get their liberation in the end. So you need not be frightened. Always do some satkarma or other that will increase association with God. Always be reading Vishnusahasranama and Gita. (GT, 2:449-50)

He did not invariably agree with scriptural passages. For instance, Upasani took strong exception to the shastra emphasis on naputrasya gatih, meaning that married people without a son do not attain sadgati (a common belief was that a hell, punnama naraka, awaited people without a son). “Childless persons should not be frightened due to this; these days it is the sonless who attain sadgati” (GT, 2:498). He added that the learning imparted by contemporary parents to their children was not vidya (knowledge) but avidya (ignorance), deficient for the purpose of attaining sadgati (salvation, afterlife wellbeing). Those parents inclined to atheism may have been implied here.

He was evidently concerned to offset the conventional Hindu belief that birth of a son was a paramount necessity. This belief had been established by the lawgivers, bulwarking the insidious idea that girls were an undesirable asset. The lop-sided nature of this belief had caused untold miseries, female suicides, and infanticide. Upasani boldly dismissed the hell, giving reassurances that childless couples were a benefit to Hindu society. Even at that period, there was an urgent need for controlling population growth.

His perspective on medical assistance was not that of the British Raj. Upasani maintained that doctors should not charge heavily for their services; they should  instead be content with subsistence income. He interpreted the traditional Indian medical system in this light, affirming that vaidyas (physicians) of the past continually engaged in satkarmas or spiritual disciplines, while enjoining these upon their patients. In Marathi, the word satkarma can simply mean good actions, whereas Upasani tended to extend the application (his usage here should not be confused with the Yogic satkarma, meaning purificatory techniques).

He pointed to the factor of an illness being the outcome of a karmic deficiency. “By suffering a person absolves himself from his own sins” (GT, 2:451). In his view, that process had met with interference from affluent Western medical science.

“Today you are governed by the English, and you are behaving in a way to suit them” (GT, 2:453). Upasani stressed that “amongst the various rules for any anushthana, the principal ones are two – celibacy and silence” (GT, 2:452). The American way of life, even more than the British, has substituted Hollywood profligacy and noise.

He relates the real life episode of a reformed prostitute whom he encountered at Amraoti some twenty years before. As a vaidya, Upasani had the task of treating this woman when she became ill. He told her that some of her clients had afflicted her with illness, because of their negative karma. In addition to medicine and diet, he recommended satkarma involving silence and celibacy. The sufferer complied, becoming disposed to spiritual disciplines. Her clients reacted, opting to taunt her. Upasani advised patience and persistence. She changed her lifestyle as a consequence, her house becoming a centre of devotional bhajan, exerting a positive influence upon others (GT, 2:458-60).

The Sakori renunciate was critical about the subject of tapas, a word sometimes translated as ascetic practices. A traditional idea is that the tapasvin accumulates merit (punya) through his austerities. Upasani observed that the tapasvin can do both good and harm. Some of these ascetics merely wish to attract attention for the wrong reasons. They do not gain freedom from psychological drawbacks such as lust, anger, greed, and arrogance. They are seeking fame and prominence. “He is like a man who, having earned a little money, begins to show himself off as a rich man, and eventually finishes all he has earned” (GT, 2:475). Any merit gained can soon be lost. These flawed ascetics may claim miracles such as giving a child to a childless family. They may even do harm to their enemies via Tantric magic. In contrast, the advanced ascetic acts very differently, his merit not decreasing (GT, 2:476).

The Talks impart a distinctive accent to the Vedantic theme of discrimination between the real and false. He refers to “the rise and fall in the spiritual line,” offsetting the “rise and fall in the world.” The latter course “always leads to suffering and pain,” caused by a preoccupation with objects of desire and enjoyment. In contrast, “the path of descent in the cause of God” leads away from bindings. This path “means to accept with grace all insults, all loss, all troubles and sufferings in the cause of God; the more one takes to this descent, he is able to ascend quickly” (GT, 2:490).

The Sakori mystic guarded against the Vedantic affirmation “Aham Brahmasmi” (I am Brahman). He emphasised the dangers of pride attaching to that blithe perspective. This deceptive Advaita route is “very difficult, and it requires a very long time” (GT, 1:398). Upasani instead advocated the guru-chela relationship, in which the responsibility is with a guru (or sadguru, in his more exacting vocabulary). A drawback today is the large number of false gurus deriving support from the media.

Talk 127 includes unusual themes. Upasani here refers to Yogis, crediting that they can bury themselves underground for a limited period. However, “the rules observed by Yogis are artificial, and can in no way be compared with those of nature” (GT, 2:536).

“To effect union with God means Yoga and there are many a method for the same” (GT, 2:537). Upasani observes that numerous people refer to Yoga in terms of Hatha Yoga, which they take to be the proper study of this subject. Breath control was a well known feature of Hatha (also tending to be strongly associated with Patanjali). Upasani considered the practice of pranayama to be going against nature. He distinguishes that approach from the “slow pace” development, under a sadguru, which does not go against nature. The non-forced development proceeds via nishkama karma, identified with a desireless and motiveless attitude (as distinct from prarabdha karma). This alternative to Hatha leads to sahaj samadhi, meaning “the natural [samadhi] and not a forced one as in Hatha Yoga” (GT, 2:537). “The traditional knowledge one attains through the sadguru is at all times superior to the knowledge obtained through Hatha Yoga” (GT, 2:541-2). Indeed, “a sadguru never takes his devotee through any Hatha” (GT, 2:540-1).

The same passage further identifies a “natural” development in terms of mastering the state of “contentment,” extending from the attitude of “Be as it may.” This route abandons and overcomes ahamkara or ego-sense, a major impediment to the state of Infinite Bliss (ananda). Upasani adds that Hatha Yoga “cannot be done without ahamkara, and as such the Hatha Yogis never get that real Bliss” (GT, 2:538). Upasani did not favour even the classical Yoga Sutra, a text which he does not cite. He evidently viewed the concentration processes of Hatha and Raja Yoga as a drawback. “Things done by anyone forcibly do not last; one has always to pay for all that he does on his own [without due guidance]” (GT, 2:539).

The practitioner of Hatha Yoga is here said to undergo many rebirths instead of gaining liberation. The Hatha Yogi gains his punya (merit) with the aid of forcing techniques and ahamkara; he is unable to break out of karmic process. The Hatha Yogi gains rebirth in a wealthy or royal family, enjoying princely pleasures and power. When the punya is used up, “he again becomes as he was to begin with, prior to his study” (GT, 2:539). There is no advantage gained. Especially because, while expending the punya, he tends to act in faulty and egoistic ways that cause suffering and further bindings.

According to Upasani, the British rulers of India were in a similar category, being the reincarnations of brahmans who had accumulated punya by means of various disciplines. The British Raj were effectively kshatriyas related to a larger process of cause and effect. “It is by God’s will that the work of the Kshatriyas has fallen to the lot of the English” (GT, 2:537). This perspective was quite contrary to that of Indian revolutionaries (and nationalists) who favoured violent resistance in the cause of home rule (swaraj).

One of the sub-titles in Talk 127 is Means to attain Svarajya, or swaraj. The mode of discourse is not direct in this respect, perhaps because the speaker considered the subject to be delicate. A remarkable fact is that Upasani here tends to justify the British rule by connecting this with Shivaji (d.1680) and Samarth Ramadas Swami (1608-81). Ramadas was a brahman saint, often depicted as the guru of the Maratha monarch Shivaji (some analysts say there is no proof of such a relation). Upasani was here contradicting the emphasis of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920), the politician who made Shivaji a national hero in a context of anti-British associations.

During the 1890s, Tilak favoured the new Shivaji festival, which spread to Bengal and Japan. Tilak claimed that Shivaji was a divine incarnation. “Behind the scheme of the propagation of the Shivaji festival, Tilak had a systematic philosophy of nationalism” (Sharma 2009:50). Shivaji was “the symbol of resentment and resistance of the people against oppression and injustice” (ibid:50-51). The symbol was divested of anti-Mughal protest and instead loaded by Tilak with more current anti-colonial feeling. Upasani Baba notably disagreed with violent political agitation, reversing the significances in this instance.

According to Upasani, those who wanted to “claim this kingdom [India] from the English” would need to work hard, “attain the state of Ramaduta by staying in a forest and subsisting on fruits and leaves… and performing hard tapashcharya both physically and mentally” (GT, 2:547). This was definitely not the idea of revolutionaries. The Sakori ascetic urges: “Do you think that you will be able to attain self-rule by increasing discontent and misunderstanding, by just writing plentiful on paper?” (GT, 2:548)

The logic employed to elevate the British seems rather laboured. However, a strongly pacifist point is made. “The English are connected with Shivaji; it could be said that as they are ruling – it is Shivaji that is ruling…. The English are all the servants of Rama…. Whichever way you think, you will see that the English are Ramadasas” (GT, 2:544). This surprising contention is certainly not xenophobic. Upasani concludes: “The English thus are nothing else but Rama…. If we could find some evidence to prove that the English are the descendants of those Ramadutas, it would be very good. Now I have heard of such evidence; of course, I do not know the real source of that information” (GT, 2:549).

A component of this ingenious argument was Shirdi Sai Baba. “That state of satpurusha descended (from Ramadas) to Shri Sai Baba” (GT, 2:544). The innovatory format continues: “Ramadas [Swami] was a Brahmana; with various intermediary incarnations of his, he ultimately joined – united himself in the Sai state of the Muslims, thus attaining the final state of Advaita; whichever Brahmana was made like himself by Sai Baba, it is up to him that this chain of unity with Shivaji of the satpurusha state of Ramadas descended to [reaches] a final stage of pure Advaita” (GT, 2:545). Upasani was evidently referring to himself as the advaita brahman disciple of faqir Sai Baba.

AUTHOR: Kevin R. D. Shepherd. For continuation see Upasani Maharaj, Radical Rishi Biography (4)


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



(242)  ISS:322; 507-508. He emphasised the future occurrence to the extent that devotees would ask when this would occur. His reply is reported as: “Tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow!”

(243)  ISS:331-332; DSS:521. Cf. NSS:145, describing the opponents as “a set of officials,” not clarifying their actual role. One of their complaints was that many women (including those of their own households) had become devotees of Upasani. The commentator has very little detail compared to the account of Desai and Irani. However, the earlier version is not accurate in deducing that the opponents were "base materialists." This represents a superficial association of ideas. Materialists were not biased against untouchables.

(244)  ISS:332-333; DSS:521-525. Yaknathrao invoked the Manusmriti, an ancient Sanskrit law text including a theme of prescribing punishment for one who ridicules a brahman. The scriptural context formats fines and punishments. However, Upasani would have known the difficulty potentially resulting from any rejection of accusations made by brahmans.

(245)  DSS:533-536; ISS:336-338. Cf. the later version in NSS:145-147, stating that in the evening of Ashada Vadhya, Upasani was seated on the veranda discoursing to female devotees, while bhangis were “sitting at a distance.” Four or five brahman opponents appeared in the distance, each of them holding a lantern, pretending to come for darshan. Lakshmibai Khasnis told Upasani that the newcomers were enemies. He then enjoined the women to be silent. The nearby bhangis did not realise that the visitors were hostile, informing them that Upasani was on the veranda. The visitors could not find him, although they checked three times before departing. There is an obvious difference in the number of enemies given in the later version. In contrast also, Desai and Irani say that both men and women devotees were present on the veranda.

(246)  ISS:369-372; DSS:579-584; NSS:149-150. Narasimhaswami informs that the opponents of Upasani were trying to influence the police against him, in the hope of exiling him. However, the Assistant Superintendent became convinced that the allegations were false.  He expressed this verdict to the petitioners present. Narasimhaswami gives the explanation that Upasani departed from Kharagpur because the “four years of probation” under Sai Baba were coming to an end, meaning he was not obliged to endure further hostilities at the northern town. According to Desai and Irani, "three British officials" arrived at the feast on horseback, including the police Superintendent (ISS:371). In another translation, these men are described in terms of two or three "Europeans" (DSS:581). Whereas Narasimhaswami refers to an Anglo-Indian Assistant Superintendent. Anglo-Indians are known to have gained a strong profile at Kharagpur.

(247) DSS:575; ISS:365. The communication was attended by bizarre references to a goat, who represented "Shirdi" in the etymology of Upasani; this animal would daily come and sit nearby. Upasani was evidently careful not to openly declare the “Shirdi” link, instead employing a form of allusion, to guard against idle curiosity.

(248)  ISS:367. Shirdi devotees like Durgabai Karmakar were apparently ignorant of his whereabouts until this juncture. The move to Kharagpur had been veiled in strict secrecy.

(249)  DSS:576. Cf. ISS:367, referring to "his skeleton-like frame." Until the end of his life, Upasani favoured a shaven head, never cultivating long hair like many Yogis and sadhus. The gunny sack, or sack-cloth (tat), favoured by Upasani as apparel, was rooted in an Indian ascetic tradition of wearing coarse garments. The wearers of sack-cloth were often called tatambaris. Some ascetics wore far more sack-cloth than others; even turbans could be found in this material. Upasani demonstrated the more sparing use of sack-cloth. He was often known as Upasani Baba, this mode of respect being common amongst Hindu holy men, who included both sectarian and independent practitioners.

(250) Deshmukh 1965:36, but supplying the wrong year date of 1916. The correct date of departure from Kharagpur was August 1915. Several confusions about chronology attend this phase in various publications.

(251) ISS:375. Because of this severe ailment, Upasani accepted food (watercress seeds and milk) that was considered beneficial for his condition; this remedy is reported to have brought some relief.

(252)  DSS:590. In the later book Sage of Sakuri, the operation was wrongly dated to 1914 (NSS:131).

(253)  ISS:378-382. Typically, no date is given for the surgical episode in Sakori na Sadguru, an account weak in chronology. Cf. LSB:431, reporting that the Parsi surgeon prostrated before Upasani. Narasimhaswami wrongly dates the surgeon episode to 1914, representing a confusion with the earlier stay at Shinde (or “Scinde”). The episode occurred one year later, in 1915. Narasimhaswami describes the operation in terms of “to pull, cauterise, and stitch the piles.” He does acknowledge the “high powers of endurance and self control” exercised by Upasani Maharaj (LSB:431). The account by Narasimhaswami was written many years after the works by Desai and others, published in the early 1920s. The early contributions have priority. Deshmukh mistakenly dates the surgeon episode as being prior to the sojourn at Kharagpur, which he says commenced in October 1915 (Deshmukh 1965:35). This confusion influenced my early version in Shepherd 1986:109. Deshmukh’s coverage of Upasani first appeared in The Meher Baba Journal, when the Sakori ascetic was still alive. Deshmukh does not specify his sources. The early Marathi biography by Madhav Nath was an influence upon a number of brief summaries (including Harper), though generally overlooked by partisans of Narasimhaswami’s Life of Sai Baba. The Gujarati biography, edited by Desai, reaped a comparative oblivion.

(254)  ISS:384-387; DSS:597-600. Upasani perhaps offered his story in a vein of tease, evoking a critical reaction instead of facile belief in a miracle. Mirabai certainly retained her devotion for Upasani over the years. Eventually she became seriously ill, requesting her husband Krishnarao to take her to Sakori ashram, preferring to die there near her guru (Deshmukh 1965:35).

(255)  Cf. ISS:389-400. Cf. DSS:603-616. Cf. NSS:152-153, informing that feasts for the poor and puja events occurred on a large scale at Nagpur, where Upasani was “given a grand send-off, amidst phenomenal crowds.” These accounts include the episode of an elderly relative of Dhondabai, whom Narasimhaswami calls her father-in-law. This man, who had lumbago, could not go for darshan. The invalid reported that a saint wearing sackcloth entered his room (the door was bolted) while he was sleeping. The visitor reportedly massaged his waist. The sufferer improved so much after a few days that he was able to visit Upasani, whom he now believed to have been the nocturnal visitor. Upasani denied this belief, saying that he never moved out of his lodgings, being an invalid himself. The ascetic proffered an explanation that the service rendered by Dhondabai had pleased some divine agent, who accordingly intervened on behalf of the sufferer.

(256)  Deshmukh 1965:37. The report of Deshmukh is missing some of the context found in the Desai version. “A police officer came to him, by orders of his superior, to ask him [Upasani] to wear some clothes” (ibid). The ascetic then asked the policeman if he really looked naked. The police officer, and hundreds of others, “are said to have seen Maharaj as wearing a Pitamber for a short while” (ibid). The policeman offered homage to Upasani. “The devotees took Maharaj through the roads of Nagpur with great acclamation” (ibid). Cf. Shepherd 1986:115.

(257)  ISS:400-401; DSS:616-618. Upasani is reported to have been “astounded” by his enthusiastic reception at Kopargaon. Devotees like Durgabai had prepared food suitable for a fast; there is no indication as to whether Upasani ate any of this.

(258)  NF:138-156 on Sainath Prabha, the first journal devoted to Sai Baba, appearing while he was still alive. This publication was bilingual, in both English and Marathi. After stopping for a year in circumstances of adversity, Sainath Prabha resumed in May 1918 for over a year until October 1919, then terminating. The rather distinctive contents were largely forgotten thereafter. To his credit, Narasimhaswami did mention the Dakshina Bhiksha Sansthan, without giving sufficient details to facilitate a due reconstruction (cf. SBI:249-50). Dr. Satpathy has since covered in greater  detail various aspects of reporting in Sainath Prabha. He observes: “Most of the writers [on Sai Baba] have not even mentioned the name of this magazine… it seems that access to this rare document was not easy” (NF:140). I did mention that magazine, but was unable to access content. In Sainath Prabha many events are reported, some of these not appearing in other publications. Dr. Satpathy observes that even the Shri Sai Satcharita does not include the rustic Marathi comments of Sai Baba found in Sathe’s magazine (NF:141). Dr. Satpathy mentions the allusive statement of Sai Baba “that Shirdi along with Nimgaon, Rahata, Rui, Pimpalgaon, Kopargaon and so on have been given to him by his Malik (Allah)” (NF:150).

(259)  According to Sage of Sakuri, early in 1916, Upasani commenced a tour with a number of devotees. After going to his brother at Poona, he visited Satana, staying for a month and a half. Then he returned to Shirdi. The details here are incomplete; Upasani travelled on his own, and stayed at Munjwad, near Satana. The commentator makes only brief reference to the new sojourn at Shirdi. Narasimhaswami credibly states that old acquaintances in this village flocked to Upasani, while Nanavali remained a problem. The duration of this sojourn is specified in terms of “some seven months” (NSS:154). A subsequent sojourn “of two or three months” lacks a specific date (NSS:156). The Madras sannyasin refers to that occurrence as “the third and last” residence of Upasani at Shirdi. A drawback with Sage of Sakuri is the skeletal report of events occurring after the Kharagpur sojourn. The notion of a third and last visit is disproven by both Subbarao and Desai. Subbarao mentions three visits after 1914, the last being in 1917 (see the Chronology in Subbarao 1948). Significantly, Desai has two sojourns in 1917, but neglects to provide a chronology. In total, four sojourns at Shirdi occurred after 1914, if the report concerning December 1915 is accurate.

(260) Sakori na Sadguru supplies only a fleeting date in terms of month only. See ISS:403; DSS:619, relaying that Upasani arrived in Shirdi “after the kite-flying festival," meaning January 14th. No year date is given. Cf. Stevens 1955:248-249, referring to December 1915, in the context of Meher Baba meeting Upasani at the Khandoba temple (the material employed here is autobiographical reminiscences of Meher Baba). The same date is supported in LM:108. Cf. SSS:104, where Subbarao very briefly lists in his Chronology, under 1916, Upasani visiting Shirdi, Poona and Satana, afterwards staying some months at Shirdi. If the Stevens version is correct, an initial visit to Shirdi must have occurred before the solitary sojourn at Munjwad. Cf. SBM:76-77. Cf. Rigopoulos 1993:201, who states: “We know that he visited Shirdi on at least three later occasions, that is, in 1915, 1916, and 1917.” If a return in 1915 is accepted, there were four such later occasions. Different sources are involved in the record, certain of these being very vague in terms of chronology. The sojourn at Shirdi in 1916 was lengthy, apparently lasting for about seven months (NSS:154). Cf. the contraction in CIC:27, where Tipnis says “he went back to Shirdi and stayed there for three months.” This appears to represent a confusion with the subsequent sojourn from December 1916, lasting for two or three months (as specified by Narasimhaswami), before the visit to Miraj). According to Desai, Upasani visited Shirdi yet again after his return from Miraj. This tallies with the fragmentary reference in Lord Meher, informing that Upasani gained the approval of Sai Baba in moving to Sakori (LM:109). Cf. Shepherd 1986:118. In Gurus Rediscovered, I was still at some disadvantage with dates, which can be difficult to assess. Some statements in Lord Meher are inaccurate; caution is required. For example, LM:220, providing a photograph of Upasani described in terms of “naked except for the gunny sack after his one year fast during 1915.” The subject is here very lean in appearance. Upasani stands on two bricks. His sack cloth is torn and holed. Upasani was not going without food during 1915; there appears to be a confusion here with the first sojourn at Shirdi. See also SBM:193 note 222, commenting on the discrepancy in different descriptions of Upasani’s physique at this time. The Kalchuri et al phrase “thin as a skeleton” is misleading for 1915.

(261)  AU:11-12. Durgabai Karmakar is mentioned in a number of sources, for the most part only briefly. She was well remembered in the Meher Baba literature. Her image is reproduced in LM:321.

(262)  DSS:620. The episode of the “ditch” almost certainly occurred during 1913-14, not 1916. There is an indirect association with the fraught occasion when Upasani placed himself in a pit to escape the gang of harassing boys. Upasani covered the pit with thorns. Nanavali may have been responsible for the overall events described in reminiscences.

(263) ISS:403-404; DSS:619-620. The Desai-Irani account here provides a clear proof of confusion over different phases. This version conflates the episode when Nanavali took Upasani as a captive to the mosque and removed his loin cloth, which he made Upasani wear. That event occurred during the earlier sojourn at the Khandoba temple, probably in 1913. In 1916, the predominant tactic of Upasani seems to have been one of indifference to Nanavali, perhaps the most effective response after demonstrating his own strength. The translation of Sakori na Sadguru mistakenly identifies Govind K. Dixit (Dikshit) with Hari S. Dixit (ISS:403). Hari Dixit was perhaps not on speaking terms with Upasani at that period. The hostile Bombay lawyer was certainly not an assistant in providing food to the temple dweller.

(264)  Kher 2001:29. Khushalchand Seth was the nephew of Chandrabhan Seth, (d.1911) another significant early devotee of Sai Baba. The Seth family of merchants were also known by the name of Sand. During the last years of his life, Sai Baba would frequently visit Khushalchand at Rahata, travelling in a bullock cart or a tonga. The inhabitants of Rahata would receive Sai with honour, mustering a percussion band and conducting him to the home of Khushalchand. These two are reported to have met at least once every eight to ten days. If Seth was not able to visit Shirdi, Sai Baba would instruct Tatya Kote to obtain a tonga for his own visit to Rahata. Alternatively, he (Sai) would even walk the distance to Rahata. Sai Baba would first go to the orchard owned by the Seth family at Rahata, and then send a message to Khushalchand, who would come to welcome him. When Khushalchand visited Sai at Shirdi, he was frequently accompanied by his son Daulatram (Kher 2001:33-35). In October 1918, Khushalchand supported Shama and the Muslim Amir Shakkar in the dispute about Sai Baba’s burial (NF:11).

(265)  In his Life of Sai Baba, Narasimhaswami has no reference to the Seth family in this context, a symptom of the neglect befalling relevant events that were conveniently omitted by detractors of Upasani. The critic does duly refer to the violent molestation furthered by “Nanavali and the Muhammadan boys and others.” However, he interprets the train of events in terms of: “He [Upasani] determined to cut short his serving [Sai] Baba at Shirdi” (LSB:467). The critic adds his belief that “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” (ibid). This interpretation is extremely misleading, nonetheless proving influential. Narasimhaswami dwelt negatively upon the departure in 1914, with no explanation of the medical situation, while omitting reference to subsequent occurrences at Shirdi.

(266)  ISS:408; DSS:624. Sai Baba maintained his deference to Upasani until the end. This factor is startling in view of what some detractors chose to do and say. One account says that Sai Baba endorsed Upasani’s ultimate vacation of the Khandoba temple in 1917, for the purpose of a permanent residence at Sakori (LM:109). The contrasting allegation that Upasani left Shirdi in 1914, against the directions of Sai Baba, is a serious misconception of events.

(267)  AU:9-12; DSS:621-622; ISS:405-406; GT, 1:198-200.  There are differences of detail in these accounts, the longest being that of Subbarao. Upasani later referred to this episode as an illustration of anushthan or discipline on the part of his audience. Subbarao refers to “some Mussalmans in the crowd,” while Desai specifies two Muslims at the outset of this event, which apparently commenced about nine a.m. The discourse centred on Avidhava Navami, a day in the month of Bhadra (August-September) on which this event occurred, customarily reserved for oblations to married women. No report of the discourse content appears to have survived. According to Upasani’s later and recorded discourse of 1924, hundreds of people participated in the assembly. “Some were gentlemen, some officers, and some just onlookers” (GT, 1:198).

(268)  Upasani had resumed his bathing procedure by this time, and preferred privacy. One day when taking his bath at the Seth farm, he requested that nobody should come near him, nor even look towards him. His devotee Sagun, from Shirdi, neglected to obey this stipulation, staring at the bath scene. Upasani was annoyed, got out of the bath, and remarked that everyone present might as well stare like Sagun. He then administered a beating to this devotee. Sagun is said to have lost his asthmatic ailment from that day on (ISS:407; DSS:623). The attitude of Upasani may seem extreme. However, from his point of view, if devotees did not obey him, he could not duly regulate events. Obedience was an important factor, something not duly comprehended by argumentative devotees of Sai Baba.

(269)  ISS:407. An episode is also recounted concerning Daulatram’s father Khushalchand. He had purchased a strong bullock which transpired to be violent, killing a man who approached him. Khushalchand told Upasani that he had decided to sell the animal. The ascetic advised him against this, saying that the bullock would improve and become docile. Khushalchand evidently could not believe this. He took the animal to the local market, but was unable to find a purchaser. This bullock afterwards lost the violent reactions (ibid:407-408). The episode is not a miracle story.

(270)  DSS:625-626. The festival was that of Durga-puja. Daulatram Seth arranged everything and donated 150 rupees. However, the Kharagpur devotees bore the overall expenses.

(271)  ISS:410. Desai and Irani provide a basically straightforward account of the Rahata phase, with one or two embellishments. Cf. NSS:154, who interjects: “Naturally miracles took place.” Narasimhaswami relays the belief of Daulatram (Daula Sait) that Upasani supplied slices from a single orange to over thirty men. Narasimhaswami adds that Upasani had more recently been asked about this event (in the early 1930s), giving an explanation appearing to support a belief of the sannyasin in the power known at Madras as akshaya patra (NSS:155). One may conclude that Narasimhaswami gave undue space to such episodes, missing out many more relevant events. The Madras sannyasin also asserts that Upasani earlier performed occasional chamatkars (miracles) at Kharagpur. The commentator was obliged to add: “He generally denies that he has any power to perform miracles” (NSS:145). The episode of the peeled orange also appears in Sakori na Sadguru, attended by the statement: "This miracle astonished them all" (ISS:405).

(272)  NSS:125, referring to Daulatram as Daulu Sait. The incident of the shoe may have occurred at Shirdi. According to Narasimhaswami, self-torture was a common resort of Upasani in situations where he wished to avoid attention.

(273)  DSS:627. Daulatram and others wanted Upasani to stop his manual labour, hoping to cure his ailment. The ascetic was indifferent, telling them not to do anything, also expressing a desire to endure the pain. This attitude is an instance of “Be as it may,” a religio-philosophical theme he later emphasised in Talks.

(274)  On this occasion, he also remarked that if the officers did not take due stock of events, then he was not responsible for his actions in the face of pressured circumstances. Instead, the officers were responsible if he verbally abused unwanted visitors, or even beat them. He was basically asking these officers to “take me under your care and protection and rescue me from harassment” (ISS:411). This very unusual proposal seems to have met with amiable incredulity.

(275)  ISS:412. An extension is provided in Talk 80, which informs how a dissenting devotee commented on the situation he witnessed at Ahmednagar, emphasising that namaskar comes before chamatkar (GT, 2:376-77). Talk 80 was communicated in 1924.

(276)  Cf. NSS:156, reducing the Ahmednagar sojourn to a simple statement that Daulu Sait (Daulatram) took Upasani to his “Ahmednagar mills,” the visitor being “kept there for a while.” In contrast, Sakori na Sadguru has a page on this interlude, and does convey something of what occurred. However, this text seems to regard the unlocking of the door as an "apparent miracle" (ISS:412).

(277)  DSS:630. Another saint in Maharashtra favouring the use of a sweeper broom was Gadge Maharaj (1876-1956), who, however, was not a brahman but a low caste person.

(278)  ISS:414; DSS:630-631. The Desai-Irani account does not give dates for these Shirdi events, although we know that early 1917 is being described. The core document, shared by Madhav Nath in the Marathi version, was composed very close in time to the events portrayed, as remembered by various persons who had been in contact with Upasani Maharaj (and also by Upasani himself). This early version, published in 1923, is by far the most comprehensive biography for the pre-1920 period. There are, nevertheless, some defects of style and format in the presentation.

(279)  DSS:631. The evident conflict between Sai Baba and some of his supporters is a significant feature of the early reports, to date neglected. Sai Baba diverged totally from the insular preferences confronting him. He “at times sent some of his disciples to [Upasani] Maharaj with the express injunction that they should look upon Maharaj as their Master” (Deshmukh 1965:34).

(280)  Deshmukh 1965:37-38; DSS:243; ISS:136-7. There are some differences between these two reports. The Desai version stipulates the requested amount as 200 rupees. The same account says that the Swami afterwards behaved with due respect towards Sai Baba, avoiding superficial emotions. See also Shepherd 1986:116-117, following Deshmukh.    

(281) Shepherd 1986:118, here borrowing from Deshmukh 1965:38, who does not name the intermediary. However, Durgabai was the most likely communicator in this instance.

(282)  LM:106-107. This may be considered a realistic detail, one that is missing from the pages of both Desai and Narasimhaswami.

(283)  ISS:414-416.

(284)  ISS:418. Upasani had intended to live in a room at the temple compound, typically preferring solitude, with only Durgabai in attendance.

(285)  DSS:637. This argument is expressed in terms of a belief that Upasani employed his medical treatment as a pretext for drawing devotees from various towns.  

(286)  ISS:419-420. The thief was caught ten days after Upasani departed from Kolhapur.

(287)  ISS:420; DSS:637-638. The attendee at the feast was a government employee who passed news of Upasani to the Maharaja. Court officials requested the saint to meet the ruler and to stay at the royal quarters. Many gurus would have been delighted to accept such a prestige invitation. Sir Chhatrapati Rajashri Shahu (rgd 1884-1922) was the ninth Maharaja of Kolhapur. Some contemporaries said that he was the most distinctive Maharaja of his era. He became known as a social reformer who assisted the economic development of Dalits. He even encouraged Dalits to create their own business projects by providing them with sewing machines. He acted in defiance of the Sanatani party, meaning high caste conservatives advocating untouchability. He also eliminated forced labour in his terrritory and advocated women's education. Such features of his career are commendable. He was on good terms with the British and received various awards. In 1902, he gained a Doctor of Law degree from Cambridge University. In contrast, Upasani Maharaj acted outside the official channels and was remote from British colonial milieux. His simple ascetic lifestyle was often a mystery even to some of his supporters.

(288)  DSS:639. According to this source, Upasani spent the entire month of Chaitra in Kolhapur. That means during March-April 1917, according to the Gregorian calendar. When he departed, many men and women wished to accompany him. Some even gave money to Durgabai for their train tickets. When Upasani learned of this, he requested Durgabai to return all the monies, giving an instruction that nobody should seek to travel with him.

(289)  DSS:640. This refrain is very revealing. Sakori na Sadguru describes the attitude of opponents in terms of audacity. The ascendancy of Upasani Maharaj was a factor which conservative Shirdi devotionalists excised from the record. We know of these developments only from alternative sources ignored by the movement following cues of Hari S. Dixit, Tatya Kote Patil, and Das Ganu.

(290)  LM:109. Details are sparse in this respect. According to an earlier report, Upasani did not wish to leave the local area, having given due regard to the instructions of Sai Baba (DSS:644). A translation says: "Maharaj knew that he could no longer live in Shirdi, nor could he overstep the boundaries Sai Baba had asked him to observe" (ISS:427). This report apparently reflects a guideline or stipulation from Sai Baba that is missing in other coverages. The meaning is that Sakori was inside the geographical zone specified in the obscure arrangement. Sakori is only three miles from Shirdi.

(291)  ISS:423-424: DSS:641-645. Cf. NSS:156. Narasimhaswami has none of the factual complexity evident in Sakori na Sadguru. The Madras sannyasin fleetingly refers to the early 1917 Shirdi sojourn, the visit to Miraj, and the decisive move to Sakori, but provides no further details. The blanks in transmission are substantial. He instead emphasises “the many miracles reported at that time.” Narasimhaswami mentions “cases of cures of consumption, obsession by evil spirits, fever, poverty, and other troubles.” He does add more cautioningly: “No exact or satisfactory accounts of these [miracles] are available to this writer” (ibid).

(292)  Different dates have been given for his settling at Sakori. Deshmukh 1965:38 says that Upasani settled at Sakori in July 1917. According to an earlier version, he came to stay in the new hut “after the full moon night of the Vaishakh (April-May) vernacular month” (DSS:645). The year 1918 is definitive, despite continual associations with 1917 (cf. ISS:427 note 1).

(293)  AU:1. See also GT, 1:400, where Upasani refers to this outlying site in terms of a burning ghat. His presence soon altered the landscape. However, the basic rural situation in the 1960s had not changed very much. “Sakori is a small village, consisting of about 300 houses; most of the people are cultivators or farmers” (CIC:36). The same informed source states that the villagers often visited the ashram at this later period.

(294)  DSS:645-646; SSS:5-6. Subbarao says that Khasnis recovered after a fortnight. Upasani insisted that he go back to his job (as an office worker). Khasnis was apparently reinstated at the same salary. Cf. ISS:428, giving the impression that Khasnis refused to return to his job. The original report is to some extent ambiguous.

(295)  ISS:429. The Shirdi devotee Tatya Kote Patil (d.1945) received a daily gift of 35 rupees from Sai Baba during the last years of the faqir’s life. This money came from the incoming dakshina gifts. The amount was substantial in those days, enabling Tatya to become a wealthy landowner (SBI:145-146).

(296)  DSS:647; ISS:429. This was probably Amidas Mehta rather than A. B. Mehta the photographer, a Parsi who apparently became a devotee of Sai Baba (SBI:272).  SSS:5 has explicit reference to Amidas, describing him as an old devotee of Sai Baba. The diary of Hari S. Dixit refers to a Parsi known as Doctor Mehta, who was visiting Shirdi from 1920, not having met Sai Baba. This was apparently the same man mentioned in CIC:138, referring to Dr. Mehta, here described as a magistrate at Kopargaon. Dr. Mehta is not associated with Bombay. There is sometimes confusion about the surname Mehta, which was found amongst different religious communities in India. Hindus, Parsis, and Jains shared this name in Maharashtra, likewise the Nagar brahmans of Gujarat.

(297)  ISS:431. Upasani evidently attached strong significance to this day of decease. People at Sakori would probably have heard of Sai Baba’s death in the late afternoon or evening.

(298)  NF:4-5, 13-24, reproducing the report of Professor G. Narke, who relays that six persons “and others” were present in the mosque at the time of decease. Alternative versions mention only five devotees. Narke’s report dates to 1923, appearing in Shri Sai Leela. One of those present is believed by some to have been the Parsi Gustad Hansotia, who escaped reporting in Hindu sources; Gustad was certainly one of the coffin-bearers (SBI:276). A confusing late report, appearing in Shri Sai Leela (1983), stated that “on the 60th day” after the decease, Upasani visited Kashi and “performed hawan as per Vedic rituals” (NF:8), in honour of Sai Baba. This version partially converges with a reference in Shri Sai Satcharita (DAB:732), where Dabholkar describes Upasani as “the great devotee” accompanying Bapusaheb Jog to perform the Hom-havan in an undated episode. The reference is a fragmentary coverage of events at Varanasi (Kashi) in 1920. Dabholkar says that Upasani fed brahmans and the poor, which is correct in relation to occurrences more fully detailed elsewhere.

(299)  ISS:431-432; DSS:650-651. These events occurred at a time when some devotees of the recently deceased Sai Baba exercised a strong interest in Upasani. It is very difficult to gauge the extent of this development.

(300)  Irani 2017:2-10,18-20. This source informs that the early departure from Sakori occurred because Masa had work to do in Bombay. Cf. LM:275, stating the reason for speedy departure in terms of: “Gulnar wanted to go back to Ahmednagar.” Gulnar Irani was still enthusiastic, however, in her conversation with sister-in-law Gulmai soon after. According to this version, Gulnar had earlier visited Sakori in the hope of curing a skin disease, which afterwards disappeared. She was the sister of Gulmai’s husband, and the mother of Sarosh Irani, a devotee of Meher Baba who later became the Mayor of Ahmednagar. The memoirs of Khorshed Irani were transcribed from tape recordings made during the 1990s. The manuscript underwent “multiple rounds of editing” (Irani 2017:x).

(301)  ISS:434; DSS:653-54. According to Sakori na Sadguru, “many [at Sakori] died like orphans and none dared even to pick up their corpses, burn or cremate or bury them” (DSS:653). Cf. SSS:6-7, informing that so many people died at Sakori that hardly any were left to dispose of the dead. This appears to represent an exaggeration. Subbarao (an academic devotee of Upasani) refers to the last rites in terms of Upasani “thereby absorbing them [the dead] into himself and freeing them from the cycle of births and deaths” (SSS:7). The Desai version is more restrained, nevertheless expressing a belief that those people who had full trust in Upasani were saved from death. A translation states that Upasani would bury the corpses “in the cemetery” (DSS:653). This is discrepant with the description of his habitat, in other reports, as a cremation ground, including Upasani’s own description in Talks. Cremation was the customary recourse for Hindu corpses, although not all Hindus observed this practice. Burial was an exception usually reserved for saints or holy men, also very young children.

(302)  DSS:652-53. On a completely different occasion, when the wife of Sakharam (the village headman) came to worship him, Upasani would not allow the performance. This was an episode occurring in May 1919, at a time when Hindu women offered worship to the banyan tree on the day of full moon. The petitioner had not worshipped the tree nearby, so he was able to disqualify her intention. Upasani told this lady to worship a bush of nirgul thorns instead (ibid:653; ISS:434). She complied with the unconventional instruction.

(303)  DSS:653. Upasani himself was indifferent to his birthday. The devotees thought in a contrary manner. Upasani treated the gifts as an opportunity for redistribution to the poor.

(304)   The diary of Hari Dixit is reported as lost. However, “a copy of some portions of the diary is available” (NF:142). This version has appeared online. Authenticity of the content was verified by Dixit’s grandson Anil (ibid). See The Diary of Kakasaheb Dixit. The introductory material informs that Sai Baba told Dixit there was no need to terminate his business. As a consequence, Dixit continued his profession as a solicitor.

(305)  ISS:435. Upasani is reported to have mentioned Kashi every day at this period.

(306)  Bapusaheb Jog (d.1926) is not to be confused with Bapushaeb (Gopalrao) Buti (d.1921), a permanent resident of Shirdi from 1910, and the creator of Butiwada, a building which became the tomb of Shirdi Sai Baba (SBI:265-266).

(307)  No date is supplied in ISS:437; DSS:655-65. Cf. SSS:7, referring to early 1920. Cf. LM:284, implying late 1919, stating that in November, Upasani “telegraphed Sadashiv [Patel] to bring Merwan Seth [Irani] to Sakori to join him on a trip to Benares.”

(308)  DSS:656. Cf. SSS:7, informing that Upasani visited Agashti ashram on the hill near Ankai. This version says that nothing is known of how he travelled on to Varanasi. “It is believed that he had recourse to the same yogic powers as had brought him from Kharagpur to Nagpur within a couple of hours” (SSS:7). The hagiology is not convincing. Subbarao then gives a more realistic version of the traveller visiting Omkareshwar (on the banks of the Narmada), and afterwards Ujjain and Allahabad, where he stayed with a Muslim.

(309)  A late and confusing report in Shri Sai Leela (1983) says that Upasani went to Kashi “on the 60th day” after Sai Baba’s decease, there to perform “hawan as per Vedic rituals,” also giving alms (NF:8). There is no mention of Jog in this version. Upasani did provide alms on a significant scale at Kashi in 1920. Dabholkar also refers to him “feeding the Brahmins” (DAB:732) on the occasion of the Hom-havan rite. Although Upasani was capable of performing such a rite, he was not in the habit of conducting priestly rituals. Dabholkar does not provide any date for the event in question. In March 1920, at the instruction of Upasani, about forty priests at Kashi performed an elaborate nine day yajna or fire ritual on behalf of Sai Baba. In more general terms, a havan (homa) is a rite often simplified today in Hindu homes, the practice deriving from the Vedic era. Dabholkar was evidently referring to the event in 1920, which would have impressed brahmans in Maharashtra and elsewhere. Such a prolonged nine day rite at Kashi was the ultimate priestly commemoration.

(310)  ISS:444; DSS:664. The Gujarati report identifies the temple as a Dattatreya shrine, whereas Subbarao refers to a Maruti temple. The Maruti auspices were more likely in Benares.

(311)  DSS:665. The 1920s discourses of Upasani contain some reference to the topic of a sadguru. For instance: “Without the help of a sadguru or a spiritual preceptor, spiritual or yogic practices will bear no fruit. One cannot attain the state of Non-Duality without the aid of a spiritual teacher” (CIC:6).

(312)  ISS:467; DSS:694; SSS:8, merely stating that Rao Saheb Sathe came to Kashi. This was Rao Bahadur Hari Vinayak Sathe, a prominent devotee of Sai Baba, and a victim of Nanavali. Based at Poona, he was sympathetic to Upasani. Sathe was in conflict with the Sai Baba movement because of extremist behaviour on the part of Nanavali, who was one of the hindrances to his project known as Dakshina Bhiksha Sansthan (NF:111-137; see also SBI:247-251). Sathe saw Upasani whenever the latter came to Poona, inviting the saint to his home (SSS:57). During the early part of the sojourn at Kashi, Upasani encountered a woman, working in a school, who was connected with Sathe and the latter’s father-in-law Dada Kelkar. “Both [Sathe and Kelkar] were close to Maharaj” (DSS:663). Sathe himself related an episode that is now obscure. He says that when Upasani returned to Shirdi from Kharagpur and other places, devotees from Kharagpur and Nagpur went to him for upadesha (instruction). Upasani is here described as offering to explain the Panchadashi to Sathe. The precise date is elusive. Sai Baba is said to have advised Sathe against reading the Vedantic text. There is no record of Sai Baba’s words, in this instance, but merely the connotation of a “negative reply” (NDE:122).   

(313)  LM:284-285. See also SBM:78-80. The late version of Kalchuri et al exhibits some differences to earlier versions. Lord Meher refers to seven hundred devotees surrounding Upasani, which may be regarded as an exaggeration. Sakori na Sadguru does not supply any number. Kalchuri gives the number of brahman ritualist officiants as one hundred and eleven, whereas Desai and Irani mention about forty. However, Lord Meher is realistic in other ways, details of the feast being neglected by the Gujarati precursor, which tends to provide a glowing account of priestly activities.

(314)  ISS:467; DSS:694. On the whole, the sojourn at Kashi (Varanasi) is presented with a fair degree of detail, though in general remaining little known.

(315) Cf. ISS:471; DSS:699. Cf. SSS:4, informing that the first pujari at Sakori ashram was Govind Kamalakar Dixit, an old devotee of Sai Baba who had been in contact with Upasani at the Khandoba temple. He performed puja and arati at the tomb of Sai in Shirdi, an arrangement made by Gopalrao Buti of Nagpur. However, Dixit left this prominent role to settle at Sakori, despite protests from Upasani, who strongly resisted worship of his own person. The date of Dixit’s move from Shirdi is uncertain.

(316)  SSS:4-5, informing that Jog moved to Sakori a few months after Govind Kamalakar Dixit, apparently joining this man as a pujari. Shortly before the death of Sai Baba, the faqir said that Jog would thereafter see him (Sai) as a digambar (naked one).  After the saint’s decease, Jog experienced visions in which he saw Sai and Upasani as one. The digambar was Upasani. These events are largely obscure. Upasani protested when Jog moved to Sakori. However, the new devotee was determined to stay alongside Dixit. Upasani did not invite either of these pujaris, instead attempting to offput them. One impression conveyed is that he would not allow arati to be performed before him until 1923, when Jog took the initiative in that direction. However, Jog is reported to have performed arati and puja at a Sakori festival in July 1920 (ISS:470). This was the occasion of Guru Purnima.

(317)  SBM:86. On Gustad Hansotia, see also SBI:272-276. Gustad visited Sai Baba from 1910, eventually staying at Shirdi for six months in 1918, being present at the time of Sai Baba’s death. Sai directed the attention of Gustad to Upasani, whose disciple he eventually became. However, this relationship was not permanent, because Upasani himself transferred Gustad to Meher Baba.

(318)  Cf. DSS:700-702; ISS:472-473. "A huge sum was decided for his photograph but Maharaj refused" (DSS:701). After returning to Sakori, the festival of Diwali was celebrated, with many devotees arriving from various cities. Food and clothing were distributed to the poor. The Dattatreya festival followed in December 1920. On the subsequent occasion of Shivaratri, Yeshwantrao Borawke distributed gallons of sugar cane juice (ISS:474; DSS:702). At some point however, Upasani became annoyed by the number of visitors. He then retreated to his new hut at the cremation ground, where he preferred to live in silence. He was still favouring the “second hut” at the end of 1922, just before the book Sakori na Sadguru was published at Bombay (ISS:474; DSS:702).

(319)  One reported interchange reveals a more conservative approach. In February 1924, a visitor to Sakori was Dr. Palkhiwala, a Parsi. Upasani expressed some deference to Zoroastrianism, while also implying that something was lacking in the lifestyle of dasturs, the Zoroastrian priestly class. “If they (the dasturs) could take to the purity described in Vedic religion, it would be very advantageous; you people lack a little in that ideal purity and the mode of life and behaviour” (GT, 1:276-277). Upasani added that Zoroastrianism “can give you the desired results in that country [Iran] as it was enunciated to suit that place, but not in a country where the Vedic religion is in vogue” (GT, 1:277). To this emphasis is appended an argument as follows: “The wheel of Time, however, affects everything, and naturally the degradation creeps in; when God finds that the degradation has lowered everything, He once again takes an incarnation in that country, and re-establishes or modifies the Faith to suit the place once again” (GT, 1:277). Upasani evidently viewed the two religions as being linked in terms of origin. “The God, who established Vedic religion, also established your [Zoroastrian] faith; He Himself is the Jarathosta (Zarathushtra) Maharaja. There are so many faiths and all of them are laid down by Him – by the same God; they are all modifications of the original Vedic religion laid down by Him. When He finds that people are giving up behaving according to what has been laid down for them, He again appears as an incarnation and re-establishes the Faith” (GT, 1:279). This avatar theme is associated with famous verses in the Bhagavad Gita.

(320)  ISS:476; DSS:703-704; Irani MBJ 1941:244-245; LM:274-278,300-301; SBM:80-87; LM online:237-238 (accessed 05/03/20). Gulmai appears in the Talks, where she is referred to as Gulbai (in the Meher Baba literature, the name is usually Gulmai). In Talk 215, Upasani says: “I was talking about Gulbai. If she is sweet like a good mango, then she is bound to pass safely through all sorts of obstacles to the state of Amrita” (GT, 3:253). The date was here November 1924.

(321)  Irani MBJ 1941:244-245, relaying that Upasani told Khan Saheb: “Your Prophet Zoroaster will be manifested when I will supply an engine to Merwan.” The allusion referred to Meher Baba, whom Upasani always named as Merwanji. This young Irani was amongst the assembly in Sarosh Manzil at Khan Saheb’s housewarming. Sakori na Sadguru refers to Khan Saheb as Kaikhushru Seth Irani, the word seth having mercantile associations. Khan Saheb was a more prestigious title, one devolving upon this merchant a little later, because of his substantial economic prowess in Ahmednagar. His spacious new home had the rare amenity of a ballroom.

(322)  LM online:239-240 (accessed 05/03/20). Jindewali is named as Jawahar Ali in the hagiography Shri Sai Satcharita (SBI:106-110). Some uncertainty existed about his date of death, which is missing in the report by V. B. Kher (ibid:11). According to Kalchuri et al, Jindewali was a “God-realised majzoob,” this description apparently originating with Meher Baba. Jindewali has been confused with the retiring Hazrat Maulana (Maula) Gilori Shah (d.1924), another saint of Ahmednagar, being known to Gulmai and Khan Saheb. Gilori Shah would sometimes go to the home of Gulmai for a meal; he had long ago been employed in England as a butler or cook for Queen Victoria. He was buried at Meherabad, according to his express wish.

(323)  Judson 1989:13-17; MM:62-67, 75-79, 84-86. The 1930s account (in Sage of Sakuri) by Narasimhaswami is useless for the early years at Sakori. Subbarao compensated for this deficiency, but is not by any means exhaustive. The later report by Mehera Irani provides a useful supplement that substantially enlarges the detail. This material is included in a lengthy three volume biography of Mehera, derived primarily from tape-recordings made at Meherazad in the 1970s. The biography is primarily concerned with Meher Baba, Upasani achieving a cameo appearance.

(324)  Deshmukh 1965:39. Cf. SSS:16, which is more specific about the general situation. Subbarao attributes to Upasani the statement: “Sai Baba is here, and I am forever here [in the pinjra] in a subtle form.”  Cf. LM:110. Upasani said that he was in the situation of a man obliged to be jailed for the crimes of others. He also asserted that “with him in the cage were the gods and saints of all religions” (Harper 1972:48). “The belief developed that whoever died thinking of the cage would attain liberation (mukti), a belief which is difficult to credit” (SBM:91). Dates have varied for the commencement of this confinement. Deshmukh says 1920, while both Subbarao and Kalchuri et al give the date as 1921. The correct date is December 1922 (CIC:27). Deshmukh says the confinement lasted three years; this is an error found also in Harper, who says: “For three full years Upasani Baba never left the cage even for a moment” (Harper 1972:48). Cf. AU:1, reporting that Upasani “voluntarily confined himself for about 15 months in a Pinjra (cage) made of bamboos.” I gave the date of commencement as December 1922 in Shepherd 1986:126. Lord Meher is correct in stating that the confinement lasted over thirteen months. See also note 327 below.

(325)  SSS:18-19; SBM:91. The impression is conveyed in some accounts that Jog and others summoned courage to perform arati because Upasani was then behind the cage bars. The ascetic appears to have continually evaded and deferred the prospect of arati, eventually giving reluctant permission. Subbarao does not refer to the brahman girls, or kanyas, unlike two firsthand reports found in the Meher Baba literature.

(326)  SBM:91-92. A priority of Upasani was due attention to lepers. That tendency was not a brahmanical custom, and could meet with puzzlement in high caste circles. Upasani allowed three lepers to live at Sakori ashram, namely Shantarama, Vasant, and Tiwari (SSS:34). These unfortunates would have been shunned at most ashrams and temples.

(327)  Deshmukh 1965:40. Deshmukh dates the commencement of the pinjra phase to December 1920, which apparently represents a misprint, being two years too early. More relevant is his statement that “Maharaj preferred to sit in the cage for long periods” after January 1924. Cf. Natu 1994:19, who reports: “From then on he would go in and out of it [the cage] at his will and pleasure.” We know from the Talks that Upasani was back in the cage after January 1924, and still in the cage during November 1924 (GT, 3:133; 3:391). He is known to have expressed enigmatic statements such as: “Thousands of Jivas reside in this cage” (GT, 3:391). This was one of the cautioning remarks made when a girl, Dalibai, managed to get inside the cage (through the new door) and started to massage his feet. A reference in Talk 174, dating to September 1924, informs that Upasani addressed the various devotees present, some sitting inside the hut by his side, while others were outside facing him (GT, 1:456). A hut is here specified, not the cage. The ambiguity may reflect the fact that the cage was located within the second hut. In December 1924, Upasani remarked: “I call this cage a latrine.” The purport was that “people throw their dirt here,” meaning the desires and confusions they brought with them. He clarified: “I am forced to take your papa (sin, vice, demerit) and give you happiness” (GT, 3:177).

(328)  Shepherd 1986:128. The date for this event is variously given as 1927 and 1928. The recuperative sojourn at Nasik may have commenced in late 1927, after a dramatic episode in which Upasani ingested poison prepared for him by resentful devotees averse to new developments. The terminus ad quem for this chronology is the Gurupurnima celebration of July 1928, during which Godavari Mataji was exalted.

(329)  Harper 1972:48, informing: “Upon [Upasani] Baba’s insistence a few of the bamboos, which still can be seen, were returned to their former positions.” Cf. CIC:30, stating: “There is still preserved the wooden cage, encased in a silver one.” More detailed is SSS:22, informing that the bamboo poles eventually became worm-eaten. Yet Upasani would not allow the defective poles to be replaced. When he returned from Nasik in 1928, he was very angry to find that devotees had replaced the bamboo poles with silver bars. He insisted upon a redressal of this situation. A compromise was reached by refitting a few of the old bamboo poles behind the front row of silver bars. Cf. NSS:186 footnote, referring to “silver-plated metal bars and bamboo bars” of the 1930s pinjra.

(330)  Ranga Rao was a vakil from Hyderabad, also known as Vakil Mama. The Persian and Urdu word vakil can mean lawyer or agent. According to a 1940s commentator, Ranga Rao was a fast writer and would record on the spot in the Modi script of Marathi. His version was later transcribed into Nagauri (SSS:20-21). This reference does not mention the drawback (emphasised by Godamasuta) of Ranga Rao recalling some details from memory.

(331) Talk 99 appeared as a separate booklet (AU). This translation by Subbarao reveals a markedly different editing to the Godamasuta version. The title is Anushthan. Some ritual prescriptions here feature. The Godamasuta version incorporates a conventional brahmanical warning: “No mistake is allowed in the performance of an anushthana or a satkarma; even a slight mistake in the procedure brings on great suffering for even generations to come. Hence the anushthanas advised for the Brahmanas should only be done by them and none else; because nobody else is capable of observing the various strict rules in reciting and revealing the meaning of the different Vedic mantras; a slight mistake in uttering a Vedic mantra leads to disaster” (GT, 1:201). Whether Upasani actually uttered these words may be considered a matter for doubt. Some editorial preferences appear to have been inserted into the format of Talk 99.

(332)  Fischer 1951:419-20; SBM:94. In his 1920s journal Young India, Gandhi emphasised positive aspects of the caste system, alongside his criticisms. In February 1926, the same journal relayed his statement: “I do not believe in caste as it is at present constituted, but I do believe in the four fundamental divisions regulated according to the four principal occupations. The existing innumerable divisions, with the attendant artificial restrictions and elaborate ceremonial, are harmful to the growth of a religious spirit.” Gandhi early opposed the multiplication of sub-castes known as jatis.

(333)  CIC:231. Tipnis is more comprehensive than writers like Harper, and also more technical. The Indian commentator observes that the talks of Upasani were recorded in the old Modi script of Marathi, not the now more familiar Devanagari (CIC:61). The Modi script was used for the Marathi language until the 1950s, being replaced by Devanagari. During the lifetime of Upasani, a part of the corpus remained unpublished. This appeared as Aprasiddha Pravachane (3 vols, Bombay 1955), sometimes referred to as the Unpublished Talks.

(334)  Narasimhaswami wrongly states that Upasani only took to study of the Ashtavakra Gita after 1935. The Talks confirm that the Sakori sage cited this text in 1924 and 1925, proving that he was familiar with the Advaita treatise many years earlier (see, for example, Talk 175, Talk 285, and Talk 294). Godamasuta described Upasani as the “living embodiment of the Ashtavakra Gita” (GLS:18). This assessment contrasts strongly with the portrayal found in the Life of Sai Baba. Narasimhaswami completely misunderstood the angle of Upasani in relation to Vedanta. He writes that, only after 1935 did Upasani accept the Advaita doctrine of the Absolute, formerly thinking “on purely dualistic lines” (LSB:409). This contention formed part of Narasimhaswami’s superficial attempt to portray Upasani as failing to assimilate the supposed Advaita teaching of Sai Baba, which the Madras sannyasin presents in terms of: “Search the Shastras and see whether the Atman is one or many” (a statement found in Charters and Sayings). The non-dual experiences of Upasani were lost upon Narasimhaswami, but recognised by Godamasuta, Meher Baba, Sohrabji Desai, Professor C. D. Deshmukh, and others. Following the interpretation of Meher Baba, Dr. Deshmukh early stated: “Maharaj had become Purna Parabrahma (God Absolute), and therefore had no regard for the distinctions of the world. Being one with all life, he felt at home even at the houses of those who are regarded as the lowest strata of the caste-ridden society” (Deshmukh 1965:35). Some decades later, again following the cue of Meher Baba, Kalchuri et al wrote: “With the grace of Sai Baba, he [Upasani] regained consciousness of the three worlds – mental, subtle and gross – after having attained the Consciousness of God” (LM:102). The complexity of such matters is rather more involved than searching the shastras.