10 - Shri Namdev Maharaj
Birth and childhood
In the state of Karnataka there is a small village called Madiyal.
Shri Namdeva Maharaj’s sister Bhagubai owned a beautiful temple
dedicated to Lord Dattatreya. Behind the temple is an audambara
tree. As referred earlier this celestial wish-fulfilling tree is
the favorite of Lord Dattatreya. In addition, this tree here was
a special – one may call it a botanical wonder – it
had branches like vata tree on one side as well as branches of peepal
tree on the other side. It was truly representing therefore, Brahma,
Vishnu and Mahesh
It was the Hindu New Year day – the first day of the Chaitra
month in the year 1841A.D. Vyankoba Chavan lived with his wife Laxmibai
in a house adjacent to the temple. That day a fully pregnant Laxmibai
was circumambulating round the audambara tree. There itself she
went into labor and delivered a baby boy. A sanyasi sitting nearby
commented that perhaps Lord Dattatreya had taken birth. The boy
was named Namdeva and lovingly addressed as ‘Namya’.
A point to be noted here is that Namdeva was only five years younger
to Swami but he lived up to the age of 130 years continuing the
work of Swami until his samadhi on October 28, 1971.
Namdeva’s family resided at a place known as Halyal. They
were landed gentry, extremely rich and prosperous. They owned huge
fields with rich fertile soil. Namdeva’s father also had a
money lending business. As a child Namdeva used to wear a tubular
bracelet made of solid gold. In those times it was only members
of the royal family, the knights serving them and the very rich,
who could afford to wear it, as it was symbolic of their prosperity.
When Namdeva was four years old he lost his mother. His elder sister
Bhagubai brought her motherless kid brother to Madiyal to stay with
her. From childhood he would frequently visit Lord Dattatreya’s
temple and sit here for hours listening to the various prayers chanted
and the numerous rituals performed here. He would lovingly chant
Lord Dattatreya’s name.
When the holy saint Shri Rajarambua, the disciple of the renowned
saint Chidambar Swami visited Madiyal and stayed at Lord Dattatreya’s
temple, Bhagubai brought Namdeva to seek his blessings. Prophesizing
his divine destiny, Shri Rajarambua foretold Bhagubai with tears
of sheer happiness in his eyes, "This child is destined to
meet Lord Dattatreya in person".
Young Namdeva was fickle in his interest. Nothing could hold his
attention for long. He studied up to class four and then refused
to study further. His father placed him as an apprentice to learn
the carpentry vocation with an expert carpenter. The master carpenter
was an excellent teacher. He was extremely talented and skilled
in his profession. But despite his expertise, he had an extremely
hot temper. There were other ten boys working along with Namdeva.
One day one of them committed an error in his work. The master carpenter
got wild and beat him black and blue. The next day Namdeva stubbornly
refused to go to the carpenter’s workshop.
Then he joined a gymnasium to build his body. As time passed by
he became an extremely powerful wrestler. Shri Namdeva Maharaj’s
chief disciple the Shri Nanasaheb Gadre recalls
that when he met his master the first time, the former was already
one hundred and twenty years of age and yet the wrist of the master
was larger than his own arm.
Namdeva lost his father when he was fifteen years of age. His sisters
were married by now and had settled at Kolhapur. Since his elder
sister Bhaghubai had no children of her own, she adopted her kid
brother. Bhagubai’s husband was extremely rich. He owned vast
agricultural lands and had a big construction business. Being the
sole heir, later on in life, Namdeva inherited great wealth from
his own parents as well as from his adopted parents. It is said
that he inherited gold ornaments, which could fill up three big
Atop a hill laden with thick forest, near the city of Kolhapur,
there lived a great Naga sadhu known as Naglingayya.
He avoided people so that he could have maximum time to meditate.
He would deliberately sit with hundreds of snakes crawling around
him. This he did with the intention to keep people away. If anyone
dared to come close, he would act like a lunatic and pelt pebbles
at that person. One day Namdeva decided to meet the great sage to
seek his grace. He made his way through the crawling snakes. Naglingayya
started pelting stones at him to keep him away. Nevertheless, the
young Namdeva approached him. Naglingayya was more than happy to
meet this determined brave boy. He said, "Son, I cannot do
anything for you. But sometime in the future you will meet Lord
Bhagubai soon got Namdeva married to a very beautiful girl named
Gangabai Jagtap. Despite the distraction of his
lovely bride, Namdeva continued visiting temples and chanting Lord
Namdeva meets Swami
When Namdeva was twenty-two years of age, he lost his adopted father.
The responsibility of looking after his vast agricultural lands,
his big construction business as well as his money lending business
fell on him. One day he decided not to go to work. Instead he was
resting at the entrance of his house at Shukrawar Peth. Just then
Swami with his devotees in tow was out on his daily walk along the
banks of the river Panchganga. They passed the road where Namdeva
lived. Swami stopped at Namdeva’s house. He looked at Namdeva
pointedly and said in his Kannada language, "Remember Naglingayya’s
prophesy. I am Datta Swami". Saying this, Swami left. Namdeva
was dumbstruck and shaken. He wondered who he was and on making
discreet inquiries he found the address of the mathi.
The day Namdeva visited the mathi, it was crowded. Since he wanted
to talk privately with Swami, he stood alone in a corner waiting
for the crowd to leave. After a while, Swami’s glance fell
on him. He at once got up and rushed towards Namdeva. He embraced
him and told the devotees present, "This is Namdeva from Pandharpur".
Namdeva was flabbergasted to know that Swami knew his name. Namdeva
started visiting the mathi daily. He slowly lost all interest in
his work. Three years passed thus. Namdeva was eager to receive
some spiritual guidance from Swami, in the form of a mantra for
chanting or technique of meditation. Swami kept on evading the eventuality.
He would say, "Not yet Namya. Perhaps next week".
Namdeva’s spiritual initiation
Namdeva’s patience was running out. He was becoming desperate
to get spiritual advice from Swami. He had started to think that
perhaps he was not worthy of his master’s grace and therefore
Swami was not bestowing the required blessings.
One day when Namdeva’s family had gone out and he was alone
at home, Swami walked in. A heap of gowari (cow dung and hay dried
in the sun, used as fodder for fuel) had been piled up in the front
yard of the house. Swami called out to Namdeva and asked him to
sit near the wall; Namdeva sat with crossed-legs. Swami placed his
hand on Namdeva’s head. The latter entered a deep state of
trance. Swami arranged the gowari heap in such a way that he completely
covered Namdeva’s body. Namdeva was hidden from outside view.
Then Swami left.
At noon his family returned home. Not finding Namdeva at home,
they presumed he had gone out. Evening set in with no trace of Namdeva.
It was then that his wife Gangabai started to panic. She sent people
in search of her husband. Although they searched everywhere, they
returned without any news of Namdeva. The night passed with his
family and staff worried about his welfare.
The next morning, Gangabai went to the mathi and asked Swami, "Have
you sent him somewhere?" Without a flicker on his face, Swami
replied, "You will find him if you search well". Three
days passed with no news of Namdeva. The desperate wife revisited
Swami and sobbed, "I suppose you should break my bangles now".
For a Hindu woman, this indicates her husband’s death. Swami
just ignored her.
On the fourth day of Namdev’s disappearance, Swami came to
his house. He went directly to the heap of gowari and started shifting
the pile. To the astonishment of his family, Namdeva had been seated
right there for three long days while they searched for him outside;
next moment, Gangabai started crying thinking Namdev is no more.
Swami then placed his hand over Namdeva’s head and brought
him back to consciousness. Swami asked Namdeva, "How long have
you been seated here?" Namdeva replied, "Perhaps half
an hour". This amused his family and staff who started to laugh.
Swami asked him further, "Do you want to learn this technique?"
Namdeva instantaneously said, "No! I do not want such a meditative
state for when it ended I came back to the insecurity of earth life.
All the negativities and worries have started hounding me once again.
Give me that state where I can permanently float in the
ocean of divine bliss". All spiritual seekers should
memorize this perfect answer of Namdeva.
After this event all the members of Namdeva’s family became
ardent devotees of Swami.
Namdeva visits Wadi
One day Swami issued instruction to Namdeva, "Visit my native
place". As Namdeva could not understand what Swami indicated,
he asked the other devotees to decipher what Swami meant. The devotees
surmised that perhaps Swami wanted Namdeva to visit Wadi.
The very same day Namdeva proceeded to Wadi with his wife. At Wadi
a priest helped them to get a room to stay in. There he met an old
friend. After exchanging pleasantries, Namdeva explained the purpose
of his visit. His astonished friend said, "Namya, your Guru
stayed here for a month. He just left yesterday". Namdeva immediately
retorted, "Impossible! My Guru is in Kolhapur and has not gone
anywhere since a month. In fact I met him this morning and because
of his directive I have come here". The bewildered friend protested,
"I am not fabricating the story. Why should I lie? Ask our
friend Vithu who met your Guru".
Strange as it would seem Vithu was passing them
at that very moment. The thoroughly confused Namdeva asked him if
he had met Swami recently. Vithu smiled replied, "Yes. I met
Swami quite often during this month. He was staying here in the
room opposite yours. Krishna Lad, Vasu Dalvi and Mahadba accompanied
him. Everyday more than two hundred people came to seek his blessings.
He was kindness personified. In fact a ghost possessed my wife.
She was so weak that she could not walk. Swami was so kind that
he came to our home and cured her". Namdeva was simply amazed
and yet happy for the good fortune to have such an extraordinary
Guru who was omnipresent, that is ever present everywhere, and omnipotent,
Namdeva on his deathbed
Namdeva was extremely sick. Water was accumulating is his abdomen
and liver. This caused a huge swelling on his body. He was suffering
such severe pain that he could not drink water nor eat food. He
soon became very weak and felt extremely drowsy. Gangabai was always
at his bedside tending to her sick husband. Swami visited him daily.
Everyday when Swami visited Namdeva, he would wipe the kumkum (vermilion
of red color) off Gangabai’s forehead and then go away. Indian
women indicating their marital status wear kumkum. Wiping it off
indicates the death of their husband. Swami’s misbehavior
must have emotionally upset her but because of her immense faith
in Swami, she tolerated him. This continued for over a week. Then
suddenly Swami stopped his visits. Namdeva became weaker and weaker,
till one day he slipped into coma. This is when Gangabai broke down
completely. She ran to the mathi, sat down in front of Swami and
cried helplessly. Swami maintained a stony silence. The shattered
woman lost all hope for her husband’s life and returned home
disappointed. The next two days Namdeva’s health deteriorated
and a frantic Gangabai rushed to seek Swami’s divine intervention.
Since Swami was not present at the mathi then, she ran in search
of him at the places she knew he frequented. At last, she found
him at a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. She fell at Swami’s
feet and implored, "If you cannot save my husband, put me to
death at your feet before he dies". Swami asked her, "Do
you trust me?" She nodded. He continued to give her directives,
"Go back and follow my instructions. Borrow four buckets of
water from your neighbor’s house. Wash the doorsteps of your
house with it. Then sprinkle haldi (turmeric powder) and kumkum
on the steps. Then only go inside". Gangabai rushed home. She
followed Swami’s command meticulously, after all her husband’s
life was at stake. By the time she finished doing what she was instructed
to do, Namdeva called out to her. It was the first time after so
many days that he had regained consciousness and had spoken. He
said to Gangabai, "I am very hungry. Give me something to eat".
From that very moment, Namdeva was on the road to recovery and that
Swami tests Namdeva
One morning Swami visited Namdeva’s home. Namdeva’s
house was a huge mansion, opulent and luxurious with beautiful artifacts
strewn around the house. It was indeed a rich man’s house.
Swami told Namdeva bluntly, "Namya, burn all this and come
to me. If you can’t, then don’t come to me ever again".
Thus saying he left. Gangabai was present and had heard Swami’s
order. Namdeva turned to his loving wife and asked, "Do you
want this wealth or do you want me?" Without hesitation his
devoted wife replied, "I only want you".
Namdeva acted in great hurry to dispose off his great wealth. He
called his relatives and friends and distributed amongst them his
seventy acres land, the gold ornaments, cash, his house and household
articles. He piled up the promissory notes of his money lending
business and burnt them. He picked up a pinch of ash and placed
it in his turban. Accompanied by Gangabai he went to Swami. Before
he could utter a word Swami embraced Namdeva with great love and
said, "Namya, you have become pristine pure. You are mine now.
Only mine". Namdeva had successfully walked through the eye
of a needle. He had passed the test his master had set for him and
emerged glorious! What a beautiful moment it must have been for
the master and his disciple.
After this, Namdeva visited the mathi daily without fail. He would
sit for hours staring at Swami’s face and movements. One day
Swami laughed at him, "Namya, now what do you hope to find
by staring at me? In any case I am giving you what you wished for".
Soon Swami gave Namdeva, spiritual initiation and gave him a mantra
to chant. Swami explained to him the way the mantra had to be chanted.
Namdeva soon commanded expertise in chanting it.
Namdeva invites Swami for a meal
Once Namdeva decided to invite Swami for a meal at his home. He
had khichdi (Indian preparation of rice, lentils and spices) with
papad (roasted or fried flour crackers) and pickles prepared specially
for Swami. Once the food was cooked, he had it served in a plate,
covered it and waited for Swami’s arrival. He had not verbally
invited Swami. He presumed that since Swami was omniscient, that
is he knows everything that occurs in the creation, he would know
he had been invited and would come to eat his meal at his residence.
Namdeva waited long but Swami did not turn up. Disappointed and
disheartened Namdeva had the food served to a cow. He remained hungry
that day. The next day again he had the food prepared and waited
in vain. Adamant, he kept on repeating this farce the next five
days and stayed hungry throughout.
On the sixth day Swami came running to his house saying, "Namya,
I am hungry since five days. Give me some food to eat". The
food that day was already ready and lay out in a plate. An overjoyed
Namdeva was more than happy to feed Swami with his own hand. After
finishing his meal, Swami gave a burp of satisfaction and said,
"Namya, the khichdi was delicious. But please do not repeat
this madness again". Namdeva realized that he had an extraordinary
omniscient master. He promised to never place his master through
such an ordeal. He felt immensely blessed that Swami had let him
feed him. At a later date, he told his son with tears in his eyes
that, "When I die, cut my right hand and keep it as it has
become sacred for having fed the divine Swami".
From that day onwards every afternoon Swami visited Namdeva’s
home and slept here through the siesta time.
Swami tests Namdeva once again
Early one morning Swami turned up at Namdeva’s house. He gave
Namdeva one rupee and instructed him, "Go and stay at my home.
Work for me. But don’t you dare ask for alms there".
Accompanied by Gangabai, Namdeva immediately left for Swami’s
birthplace – Nandani. When they reached there, they received
a telepathic message, "Not here!" Hence they proceeded
to all those pilgrimage sites associated with Lord Dattatreya and
his reincarnations. They went to Wadi, Audambar, Pandharpur, Tuljapur
and Akkalkot. At all these places, they received their meals in
the form of prasad. At Akkalkot, they were commanded to "Worship
the padukas at the sangam". They immediately realized that
they were being directed to go to Ganagapur.
Since they had only one rupee on them, they walked the great distance.
Besides the fatigue caused by walking on foot, they were hungry,
as they could not procure food on the way. At one place as they
slept in a charitable lodge, thieves left their stolen booty in
their room. The next morning they had a tough time proving their
innocence. Since Gangabai was exotically beautiful while Namdeva
looked like a wrestler with his well-built body, at one place people
suspected him of having run away with someone else’s wife.
When they reached Ganagapur a devotee offering 1000 tulsi leaves
daily on the padukas approached Namdeva with an umble request, "Sir,
I would like to visit my native place for a few days. I can do so
if you take up the work of daily collecting a basketful of tulsi
leaves the worship of the padukas". Namdeva was more than happy
at the opportunity providence had provided him. He could serve God
here. He readily agreed to undertake the work.
Everyday Namdeva would go to the forest in search of tulsi plants.
He suffered the prick of the thorns and faced the threat posed by
snakes and scorpions crawling in the forest. Procuring food was
no problem for the couple as Ganagapur is a major pilgrimage place
and prasad in the form of meals is served daily to devotees visiting
the holy shrine. Nine months passed thus.
One day a rich devotee came from another city to get a ritual performed
and arranged for mass feeding. At night Shri Narasimha Saraswati
appeared in his dream and commanded him, "Honor the couple
staying within the temple premises. It will be equal to performing
my pooja". In the morning the devotee ran to the temple in
search of the blessed couple. He found Namdeva and Gangabai there.
He invited them for the ritual and to the meal afterwards. He gave
them the maximum respect he could and loaded them with rich donations.
Namdeva and his wife accepted it gracefully as Shri Narasimha Saraswati
had also visited Namdeva in his dream and told him, "Consider
this worship is reaching me through you".
That night Swami appeared in Namdeva’s dream and said, "Namya,
you have served me well. Now return for a bath at Kolhapur".
The return journey for the couple was pleasant as Namdeva and Gangabai
met relatives who were returning to Kolhapur and were more than
happy to give them a ride home. However the odd phrase used by Swami
had Namdeva worried and scared. He wondered if it was a warning
or foreboding of some future sad event.