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Chapter 3 - At Kumbhar Lane

Tarabai abides by Swami’s directive
Tarabai reached Mahisalkar’s home at Mahisal. The moment she saw Swami, she fell at his feet begging for mercy for not recognizing him and sending him hungry from her house. Humbly, she requested him to come and stay at her home. Swami said, "I was expecting you. In fact, I was awaiting your arrival. Let us go." Mahisalkar was understandably upset and moaned that his holy guest should depart so soon. Swami consoled him, "Kolhapur is not far away. Keep visiting me regularly". Thus Swami left for Kolhapur with Tarabai.

Due to Tarabai’s heartfelt devotion, Swami in this incarnation stayed with her throughout his sojourn on earth. Tarabai was not receiving grace for nothing. She had undergone intense sadhana (meditation] in her previous life that was now bearing fruits. The story of this blessed soul Tarabai’s spiritual journey will be narrated later as Swami’s story unfolds.

For almost forty-five years, Swami stayed at Tarabai’s home in Kumbhar Galli that was situated near the earlier mentioned temple of Goddess Amba. Perhaps that is the reason he is also known as Kumbhar Swami. He is also known as Datta Swami as he is the incarnation of Lord Dattatreya.

Tarabai’s family comprised of her mother Bhimabai and her son. Tarabai personally looked after Swami – she bathed him, washed his clothes, fed him. This completely altered the atmosphere in her house. Day and night visitors would come regularly to seek Swami’s help.

Bhimabai disapproved of this change. She would often grumble that due to the sanyasi residing at their residence, the "business" had stopped completely, there was no income coming in and there was no privacy in the house as people kept on coming, crowding their small house. Slowly, Bhimabai’s irritation and dislike changed to hate for the Swami.

In the evenings usually there would be more visitors to see Swami. One day in the crowd, a visitor lost his gold chain. Everyone suspected Bhimabai. The police was called in. They would not allow any visitor to leave till they completed their search. Understandably, Bhimabai was upset that all were suspicious of her. She was intelligent enough to understand that this was her retribution for ill-treating the holy sage. Remorse took over. Silently, she begged Swami to forgive her trespasses and prayed to be proved innocent. Soon, the real culprit was caught. This incidence changed Bhimabai’s adverse attitude towards Swami. Then onwards, she started to respect Swami.

One afternoon, Tarabai, Bhimabai and a few others were playing a game of saripat (an Indian game, similar to chess but its moves depended on points made by throwing 2 or 4 dices). Swami came in. He made a move in the game and said, "Be careful how you make every move. In life, one wrong move (read "wrong deed") can take you to the path of hell". This is an appropriate advice to every human being, especially disciples on the spiritual path. Perhaps Bhimabai thought that Swami was taunting her. Her suppressed evil nature came to the fore. She got up and firmly held Swami’s hand and dragged him to another room. The room had no ventilation. Except one door, it had no other windows or doors. Bhimabai locked Swami in this room. She was satisfied that there was no way Swami could escape and disturb the game. But, she forgot one thing. Who could lock up God, he who pervades everything, everywhere? The Omnipresent One – Swami.

Unknown to Bhimabai’s mischief, Tarabai and the others played on with Bhimabai till dusk. They stopped as it was getting dark. Tarabai got up. She went to the backyard of the house. She was perturbed to see Swami perched atop the audambar (– a very favorite tree of Lord Dattatreya) tree. She screeched aloud, "Mom! Come and see where Swami is". Hearing her daughter’s scream, Bhimabai, thinking that her daughter was perhaps searching for Swami, replied, "Do not worry Tara. He will soon be out". Hurriedly she opened the lock, lest the others realize her mischief. But alas! The room was empty. Shocked, she almost collapsed. Wondering where Swami had disappeared, she rushed towards Tarabai whose sight was fixed on top of the tree. Bhimabai looked up and was aghast to see Swami perched merrily on the tree. Bhimabai felt disgusted and ashamed at her bad behavior towards the God-incarnated Swami. This incident transformed Bhimabai completely. She started chanting Swami’s name and devotedly served Swami for the rest of her life. She died at an old age. Swami’s grace ensured that she attained Moksha.

Krishna Lad
If you recall an earlier incident at Lord Shri Ram’s temple where Swami exorcised a ghost from a lady devotee, you will recollect that a gentleman by the name of Krishna Lad had witnessed this incident. Krishna Lad had a spiritual bent of mind and would often visit temples and dargahs (tombs of Muslim saints). After witnessing the above incident, once in a while he started visiting Swami. Krishna Lad was an athlete. Daily at dawn he would exercise and then go to bathe in the river. Near the riverbank was a dargah of a well-known Muslim saint Babu Jamal. Krishna Lad’s daily routine was to exercise, take his bath, go and pay his respects at the dargah and then go to work. One day, when he reached the dargah, a fakir (ascetic) came out from the dargah, saying, "Don’t come here anymore. Go to Shri Krishna Saraswati Swami". Stating this, the fakir disappeared. Krishna Lad was stunned. He thought he was hallucinating. He went through his daily work routine and forgot all about the morning incident.

The next morning Krishna Lad finished his exercise and bath, and proceeded to the dargah to pay his respects. The moment he entered the dargah, he started shivering and caught fever. Frightened and at his wit’s end, he rushed to Swami at Kumbhar Galli. The moment Swami sighted Krishna Lad, he said, "Babu Jamal is my friend. Do not worry, your fever will descend". Krishna Lad was flabbergasted for he had not even pleaded his plight. From that day onwards, he became Swami’s ardent devotee.

Vasu Dalvi
Vasu Dalvi, a resident of Kumbhar Galli started visiting Swami regularly. In every visit, Swami would tell him, "Give me your shendi" (tuft of hair). Vasu could not comprehend the meaning of Swami’s regular utterance. Vasu was a good man in every way but he had one vice – he was hot tempered and quarrelsome. He would pick fights on small issues with almost everyone – his family members, neighbors, colleagues at work. His wife was an easy target for his bad temper. One day he had a serious altercation with his wife. When the heated argument reached its crescendo, Vasu decided to leave home for good. He revealed his decision to his emotionally battered wife and left home. In despair, he rushed to Swami’s residence. Swami hugged the distraught man and said, "At least now give me your shendi". The veil which had clouded Vasu’s mind till now lifted. Now, he understood Swami’s injunction. At once he rushed out and went straight to the barber. He had his head completely shaven. He went and bought saffron robes and returned to Swami. With Swami’s blessings, he became a sanyasi (ascetic). He stayed with Swami.

Krishna Lad had been observing these happenings. He requested Swami’s permission to take up sanyas. Swami consented. Both these sanyasis Vasu Dalvi and Krishna Lad stayed with Swami all their lives. With great reverence and devotion, they served him. In fact their devotion has been compared to that of Jaya and Vijaya, the faithful guards of Lord Vishnu’s palace at Vaikunth (heavenly abode of Vishnu). However they begged for their food from householders in Kolhapur and did not impose on Tarabai’s depleting resources.

Ganagapur is a place made holy by Shri Narasimha Saraswati’s stay for two decades. A Brahmin Ramdasbua stayed there, worshipping Shri Narasimha Saraswati by continuously reading the sacred book Shri Gurucharitra. This sacred book narrates the life stories of various incarnations of God – Lord Dattatreya, Shri Shripad Vallabh, and Shri Narasimha Saraswati – and their sojourn on earth. Ramdasbua lived without eating food and only ate neem leaves. He did this for three years. One night, Shri Narasimha Saraswati appeared in his dream and said, "In my present incarnation, I am living at Kolhapur as Shri Krishna Saraswati Swami. Come to me and offer your services. Your vigorous fasting has made you very weak. Travel by bullock cart. I am giving you rupees five for the fare". When Ramdasbua woke up, he cried with joy at finding rupees five by his pillow. This indicated that his dream was indeed true. He came to Kolhapur and resided with Swami throughout life.

Inner Circle
Almost at the same time, a saraswat Brahmin Ramakrishna Farrukh and a weaver Mahadba joined the other three disciples – Krishna Lad, Vasu Dalvi and Ramdasbua. This group of five lived with Swami throughout their lives. They gave their dedicated services to Swami doing menial work like sweeping, cleaning utensils, fetching river water, washing clothes and abiding by every wish of Swami. Rest of their time was devoted in singing bhajans (devotional songs) and doing japa (chanting Swami’s name). Whenever and wherever Swami went out, he was always accompanied by Krishna Lad and Vasu Dalvi.

Many devotees visited Swami daily. They would crowd around him. Most times, it would appear as if Swami was talking to himself or muttering something incomprehensible. However this was not true. It would inevitably be an answer to a question posed silently by a devotee or an advice to someone who needed it. Only the person concern could fathom what Swami said. With more and more devotees experiencing divine help, slowly most devotees realized that the person they had in their midst was indeed God incarnated. They started worshipping Swami with rituals. Three times everyday, they would conduct Swami’s aarti (act of worship by waving lamps lit with ghee, incense and camphor, simultaneously singing devotional songs and prayers).

Swami expected his disciples and devotees to be well behaved and disciplined. He encouraged them to treat all human beings as equal, no matter what caste or status they belonged to. Many a times he arranged situations to rectify the behavior of his devotees and transformed them totally.

Goddess Amba complains about Swami’s devotees

One morning, a young lady hurriedly walked in to meet Swami. In a high pitched tone, she angrily told Swami, "Keep a check on your children. They misbehave and talk in abusive language. This causes trouble to others. I will not tolerate such behavior anymore". Swami lovingly caressed her chin and consoled her, "Mother, please forgive them for they are our children." Hearing this, the lady collapsed. After a short while she got up and left. The devotees who had witnessed this scene were naturally curious. One devotee mustered up the courage to question Swami. Swami explained, "She was Goddess Amba who had come to complain about you all".

Taming of Vasu Dalvi’s temper
One does not become a sanyasi by wearing saffron robes. He should forsake worldly affairs, passions and be free of desires. He should have full control over the six entities viz., sex-urge, anger, lust, temptations, ego, and hatred . What had occurred was that Vasu Dalvi, the sanyasi, had been boiling with anger over some petty matter. So, the Mother Goddess had come to complain about him. Our nature is governed by the food we eat. Therefore, to correct the volcanic side of his nature, Swami ordered him to hereafter eat only soaked channadal (grams). For several years thereon Vasu adhered to the simple meal. One day, Swami found Vasu craving to eat his meal. Swami said to him, "So, are you still desperate to eat channa dal?". Hence for three years by Swami’s grace, Vasu lived without a morsel of food. When Swami felt that his mind was completely purified, he allowed Vasu to eat normal food. Thereafter, Vasu would go to beg for food. Whatever he received he would first offer to Swami. He would eat only as much as Swami would place on his palms. Thus Swami tamed Vasu’s temper.

Haripant Shidnorlikar
Haripant Shidnorlikar, a Brahmin, used to frequently visit Swami. One day, it occurred to him that he should invite Swami to grace his home. Accordingly, one morning he went to Swami to invite Swami for lunch. Although Krishna Lad and Vasu Dalvi were present, Haripant did not extend the invitation to them. This he did purposely as they were non- Brahmins. Swami said he would come to his home provided the food was good. Haripant was so excited that he did not bother to decipher the real meaning behind Swami’s words. He went home and had the most tasty delicacies and sweetmeats prepared. When the lunch was prepared, he set out to fetch Swami.

Before his arrival, Krishna Lad and Vasu Dalvi had just returned after begging alms. Swami called out to them, "Boys, what food have you received today? Come and share it with me for I am hungry". He, then, sat and ate with relish the rotis (chapattis) and the chutney (condiment) that they had received as alms. He finished his meal and got up to wash his hands. Just then Haripant arrived to fetch him. Swami told him bluntly, "I have just finished my lunch". Haripant realized his folly. He felt ashamed of looking down on people of lower castes. After this incidence, he never let his upper caste ego come in the way of treating people. Swami had taught him a lesson of his life – that when all are one in the eyes of God, who is he to differentiate?

Thereafter, Haripant decided to progress spiritually. He took upon himself the task of reading the Shri Gurucharitra daily and continuously chanted Swami’s name. He did this sitting in a nearby temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Daily, at the same time, a cat would enter and sit on the windowsill. The temple was dark with only a dim light peeping through the window. The cat seated there, therefore, blocked the little sunlight that penetrated through. This caused difficulty in the reading of the sacred book. One day, Haripant got irritated by this daily interruption and lost his temper. He threw a utensil at hand at the cat to drive it out. The utensil landed bang on the cat’s face and hit its mouth. After finishing his morning rituals he went to pay his respects to Swami. Haripant was aghast to see Swami’s face swollen. Swami said aloud to the devotees present, "I went to hear Haripant read the sacred text. He hit me instead". Ashamed at what he had done, Haripant repeatedly apologized. Once again, Swami humbled him and taught him a lesson that all creatures are after all one.

What are the lessons learnt in Swami’s stories? Swami is God incarnated on earth to help people and show them the path to him. Since he is the Creator and the Creation, he pervades everyone, everything, everywhere, at all times. He assumes all forms, therefore, one should be good to everyone and everything.

Krishna Lad’s mother
Krishna Lad’s mother was ill due to old age. Naturally Krishna Lad requested Swami to release his mother from the bondage of the cycle of life and death. Swami refused. He said she had to atone for a lot of past sins before she could be freed. He, however, promised that she would stay near him in her next birth and at the end, she would attain Moksha. After a few days, Krishna Lad’s mother started to cry. She was very frightened. She said four demons were advancing towards her and they wanted to kill her. Krishna Lad always wore Swami’s padukas around his neck, he put the same around his mother’s neck. Immediately, the mother’s face turned serene. She said, "The demons have vanished. Four priests are reciting holy chants". Krishna Lad realized the efficacy of his Guru’s padukas. Soon after, his mother died in peace.

After a short period, in the same vicinity where Swami lived, a bitch gave birth to four puppies. On seeing the new born litter, Swami called out to Krishna Lad. Picking up one puppy, he said, "Recognize her. This was your mother". Swami named her Kusari. The puppy stayed on with Swami. She grew up. Unlike most dogs, Kusari was much disciplined. She would not touch anything in the house or mess it up. She would only eat what Swami gave her with his own hands. Many a times, Tarabai tried to feed Kusari some rice and milk, but Kusari would not even touch it, let alone eat it. This annoyed Tarabai. She even tried bribing Kusari with laddus and pedhas (types of Indian sweetmeats), but Kusari would not touch them.

Another devotee who started visiting Swami was a young widow of a lower caste named Shivubai. She was all alone in the world – no relatives, no children. In her hearts of heart, Shivubai wanted to have Swami’s grace to reside with him. Since Shivubai was young, attractive and good looking, Swami wanted to purify her senses more, so she could have more self-control. Swami, therefore, ordered her to go and stay at the cemetery and eat only soaked chanadal. The very thought of living at a cemetery horrified Shivubai. Realizing her fear to reside there in solitude, Swami sent Kusari with her. Ramakrishna Farrukh promised to deliver her staple diet of chanadal everyday. Shivubai moved to the cemetery. Kusari guarded her like a faithful dog. Everyday Shivubai would bathe in the river three times a day and go to seek Swami’s blessings. Rest of the time, she would sit at the cemetery and chant Swami’s name continuously. Shivubai would give part of a meal to Kusari who would eat only as much as was offered. Three years passed thus.

One day while Shivubai was chanting, Kusari advanced towards her. Scared that Kusari would touch her, Shivubai threateningly yelled at her to back off. Kusari walked away and returned to Swami. Realizing her mistake, Shivubai rushed to Swami to relate what had occurred. She regretted her impulsive reaction and apologized to Swami for the same. But Swami remained adamant. He told her that Kusari would no more reside with her. She would have to stay alone at the cemetery. Dismayed, she accepted Swami’s order and then onwards stayed alone. One day a few shepherds warned her that since she was living alone, she might be open to attack by wandering cattle. She, therefore, shifted to a small temple nearby which was dedicated to Lord Shiva. A few months later, Shivubai became more composed, balanced and tranquil. Her mind had become dispassionate and purified. At last, Swami happy with her progress asked her to come and stay with him.

Swami’s throne
Since Swami came to stay at Tarabai’s house, the visitors who flocked here to get his grace increased many folds. A gentleman whose name was Vishnupant was one of the regular visitors. Usually, his sister Annapurna accompanied him. One day, Swami told her to fetch him a ‘Meghdumbari’ (a seat and a canopy held by four pillars covering it). Annapurna could not fathom exactly what Swami wanted. Nevertheless, after consulting her brother, relatives and Swami’s other devotees, Annapurna had a carved and embellished wooden chair made for Swami. It almost resembled a king’s throne.

Swami, the Emperor of all emperors would thereon sit on the throne in his court and give audience to the suffering humanity that came in droves to seek his grace and help. Krishna Lad and Vasu Dalvi like the legendary Jaya and Vijaya stood on Swami’s two sides as he sat on his throne. Now, aarti was conducted five times a day. Many devotees would sit the entire day chanting devotional songs. The entire atmosphere of Tarabai’s house and at Kumbhar Galli had totally changed. Tarabai’s house was now called ‘Vairagya Mathi’. Vairagya means dispassion towards the material world that leads one to God-realization. Mathi means abode of a holy sage.

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