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Chapter 4 - Some Devoted Followers

Balkrishna Rashivadekar, a youth of seventeen years of age, was informed by an astrologer that according to his horoscope he had a short life span of twenty-two years. Nevertheless, the astrologer advised that if he sought the grace of a godly personage, his lease of life might be increased. Obviously, Balkrishna was worried. He was frantically in search of a spiritual sage who could bless him with longevity. When he heard about Swami, he rushed to him and bowed. Before Balkrishna could open his mouth, Swami said to him, "Some time or another, everyone has to leave their physical body. Then, why should one fear death? Come, we shall remove your fears". Balkrishna was astounded! That moment onwards, he became Swami’s ardent devotee. Throughout the day, he would chant Swami’s name. Twice a day, he would come to pay respects to Swami. However, his parents disapproved vehemently. To add to their indignation, after a few days, he left his job. Throughout the day, he would stay with Swami. Annoyed with his behavior, his parents started ill-treating Balakrishna. Due to his good behavior and devotional nature, Balakrishna made deep impression on Swami. Fondly, Swami would address him as Balakoo. Balakoo was strong and well built. Whenever Swami went out, he would carry Swami on his shoulders. One afternoon, as Balakoo carried Swami on his shoulder, accompanied by other devotees, they passed Balakoo’s house. Swami urged Balakoo to take him to his home. Balakoo was in a dilemma. He could not say no to Swami and at the same time, he was apprehensive that his parents would insult his beloved Guru. Nevertheless, he took Swami to his home. As they reached the entrance, Balakoo’s mother came out. She was enthralled by the sight of a short man with a fair complexion, with warm and kind twinkling eyes with a beautiful smile that brought radiance to his face. He exuded the glory of divinity. The moment her eyes fell on Swami, a gamut of emotions ran through her. But, her inner spirituality surfaced. She fell at Swami’s feet and surrendered to him. With tears trickling down her face, she said, "O Lord! Please forgive me. It was erroneous on my part to talk ill of you. You are kind hearted, please forgive me. Please accept my son Balakoo as your child". At once, Swami retorted, "Do not worry, Balakoo is my child".

Balakoo’s mother invited Swami and the other devotees into her house and made them comfortable. She requested Swami to stay and have lunch with them. Swami replied, "If your offer of lunch is for everyone present, then only shall I accept your invitation". Balakoo’s mother sincerely answered, "Whatever I have cooked, I will offer it to all". Swami and the accompanying devotees partook of the lunch offered with plenty of love by the gracious lady. While Tarabai had to forcibly feed Swami, here he ate with his own hands and relished every morsel. This shows that God is ever hungry for true love and devotion.

From that day onwards, at noon, Swami and his devotees would go to Balakoo’s home for lunch. With Swami’s permission and blessings, Balakoo made marble padukas. Swami showered his blessings and empowered the padukas. He promised that "Whosoever worships my padukas; I shall give that person audience and fulfill his wishes". Throughout his life, Balakoo worshipped Swami’s padukas. After his demise, they were passed on to Krishna Lad. Later, they were given to Vyas. Vyas built a small mathi at a place known as Gangaves at Kolhapur. In approximately 1902A.D. the padukas were installed there. From that day to date, at this very place, there is a non-stop chanting of Swami’s sacred name and continuous singing of devotional songs.

When Balakoo died due to a minor illness, he was chanting Swami’s name. He was fretful that he should have got more time to serve Swami. The wish one makes at the end of one’s life is always fulfilled.

A few months after Balakoo’s death, his sister became pregnant. In a dream, Swami said to her, "Balakoo is coming back as your son. Take good care of him".

Balakoo’s sister delivered a baby boy. The moment the news reached Swami’s ears, he rushed to her home. He took the infant on his lap; oil massaged him and gave him a bath with warm water. Swami clothed him in the new clothes he had brought and named him "Na". Swami put Na in a cradle and started singing a song to him. Though one cannot fully understand the deeper esoteric meaning of the song Swami sang, the literal meaning is as follows:

"Son, one gets a rebirth as per your desire at the last moments and thus he gets

Involved in this cycle of birth and death again and again.

He is awfully disturbed by shadripus like sex and anger.

Do not worry; they will not trouble you due to meeting with Shrikrishna.

You would be having control on your sensing organs. Your mind would be

Thoughtless. Na, have a peaceful sleep

I am keeping here two guards- peace and forgiveness for your protection.

Egoism would not show you fear and urges would not make noise to disturb you.

They would run away by seeing Shrikrishna.

I have shown you a secret fine path to go to the citadel of peace.

Go to the ultimate destination.

On reaching there, your joy will have no bounds.

Na, now sleep peacefully."

Swami, then, kissed the child several times. He said to the people present, "Na is my good child". Everyday after kakad aarti (the first worship of the day before sunrise), Swami would rush to Na’s house. Swami would get him new clothes, sing songs to him, carry him around while going for walks or take him to a corner shop. Swami would whisper in Na’s ears and this baby of less than a fortnight old would answer him saying, "Hum", as if he understood all that Swami said to him. Na became more attached to Swami than his own mother.

Three years passed thus. One day, Na had fever. After a couple of days, he breathed his last on Swami’s lap. Hugging and kissing him, Swami wept like a common man. After the funeral, Swami told the mourners, "Na is sitting here in the dark. Please light a ghee lamp here". In India, it is a custom to keep a lit lamp for ten days at the spot where death occurred in the house. The same night, Swami appeared in the dream of Na’s mother. He consoled her by saying, "Do not be sad. Na has attained Moksha. Who survives on earth forever? When God incarnated on earth in the form of Lord Ram and Lord Krishna, even they had to go. Where are your beloved ones – your father, your uncle, your grandmother? Are they alive? Henceforth, you concentrate on your own life. Lead it as well as you can". With this divine dream, Na’s mother felt at peace. She, too, became an ardent devotee of Swami’s and started worshipping him.

A Brahmin couple of Vene village, which is situated near the city of Ratnagiri, were very worried as all the children born to them would die at birth. They went to several temples to seek divine intervention. One day, they came to Lord Shiva’s famous temple at Ratnagiri. Here, Lord Shiva is commonly known as Lord Kedarnath or Lord Revananath. The couple prayed ardently to the Lord to give them children with long life. In return they pledged that they would gift their first born to him. Soon, God granted them their wish. They named their first born Madhava.

When Madhava became seven years old, his upanayana ceremony was performed. With a heavy heart, the Brahmin couple decided to fulfill their vow. The Brahmin brought Madhava to the temple of Lord Kedarnath and left him there alone. The child was confused, sad and scared. With no one to look after his needs, he started begging for alms. Rest of the time, he would stay at the temple and chant Lord Shiva’s name. Whatever he received as alms, he would first offer to Lord Shiva, then take the rest.

In the short period he had spent with his family, his father had educated him in the performance of rituals and how to read the panchanga (Hindu calendar signifying the auspicious and malefic days) and interpreting it. Slowly, he started performing rituals and interpreting the panchanga to the devotees. People started seeking his help and posed questions. He, in turn, would pray to Lord Shiva and happily dispense advice to them, which was usually the very first thought that occurred in his mind. People soon realized that the little bhatji’s (priest) words were efficacious. Soon, little Madhava started earning well. He did not have to beg for alms anymore. From his daily earnings, he would conduct rituals to worship Lord Kedarnath and offer him food. Thus, three years passed. One night, Lord Shiva appeared in his dream and instructed him, "Life is useless without a Guru (spiritual master who guides you from darkness to God). Go to Kolhapur and offer your services to Shri Krishna Saraswati Swami". The next day, the exuberant Madhava quickly finished his daily work and rituals, bowed to Lord Kedarnath and proceeded to Kolhapur.

He reached Kolhapur. He started to wonder where to search for his Guru. Just then, Swami who was taking a walk along with his other devotees saw this ten-year old boy wandering about. He stopped him saying, "Bhatji, are you searching for a Guru?" Madhava immediately understood the identity of this divine personage. He, at once, bowed and surrendered at his feet on the road itself. Swami lovingly said, "I have to help you as Lord Shiva has sent you into my care".

Madhava stayed with Swami. His charming manners endeared him to Swami and all those lived at the mathi. Swami addressed him by several names – Venimadhava, Veni, and Venkarbhatji. After a few days, Swami instructed him to return to Ratnagiri to serve Lord Kedarnath.

So, Venimadhava returned to Ratnagiri and commenced his daily routine. Within a few days of his return, Lord Kedarnath re-appeared in his dream and instructed him to return to Swami. This confused Venimadhava and put him in a dilemma. He was fed up of being shoved to and fro. He wondered why he should keep shuttling between Ratnagiri and Kolhapur. Like any irritated ten-year-old, he decided not to stay at either place. He decided to move to yet another place.

He left Ratnagiri and started walking towards the forest. He moved on and on, climbing a mountain to find a lonely place for him to stay. On top of the mountain, he came across a small temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess. He decided to stay put at the temple. The whole day he chanted Swami’s name. Tired, he fell asleep. When he woke up in the morning, he found that someone had left food articles, viz., rice, lentils, wheat flour, oil, vegetables, utensils, wooden logs for fire and everything else that is required for cooking a meal. Venimadhava’s joy knew no bounds. He went to a water stream nearby, had a bath, carried some water back with him and cooked a meal. He carried out rituals to worship the Mother Goddess in the temple, offered food to her and then, sat down to eat. Since his needs had been met without any effort on his part, he spent rest of his time chanting Swami’s name.

A week passed. Everyday food articles were present when Venimadhava woke up in the morning. Venimadhava thought, "Whoever is supplying these food articles, if only they would serve me cooked food". When he woke up the next morning, he was dumbstruck to find food lay out on a plate – hot steamed rice, chapattis (Indian bread), cooked vegetables and lentils. It suddenly dawned on him that it was indeed Swami who was taking care of him even deep in this dense forest. His throat choked as he remembered Swami and the love he had showered on him during his stay with him. He had a quick bath, performed the rituals and rushed hastily to Kolhapur.

Venimadhava reached Kolhapur, went straight to the mathi and entered in. He bowed to Swami. Swami was exuberant to receive his prodigal child back. He pulled him and sat him onto his lap and affectionately kissed him. He said to his devotees present, "Look at this brave ten-year-old. He stayed alone in the forest. He had no fear of tigers, lions or snakes. For a week, Goddess Annapurna (another name of Goddess Parvati, provider of food) fed him". Swami, then, showered his blessings on Venimadhava and gave him a spiritual initiation through a secret yogic (state of union of man and God) process. With this, the little boy went into a meditative trance. For quite some time Venimadhava stayed on with Swami. One day, Swami reluctantly called him and told him that Lord Kedarnath was calling him back to Ratnagiri. Venimadhava felt very sad at leaving his beloved Guru. But since that was his Guru’s order, he decided to abide by it. At the time of departure, he could not control his emotions and started crying. Swami consoled him with a promise that he would always be present by Venimadhava’s side throughout life. Reluctantly, with a heavy heart, Venimadhava trudged towards Ratnagiri.

On reaching the temple, Venimadhava surrendered himself before Lord Kedarnath. He put his head down on the Shivalinga and sobbed like a baby. It was a heart-wrenching scene. Even God must have been moved by the plight of this child. A few minutes passed thus. Absorbed in his own sorrow, Venimadhava was suddenly brought out of his despondency by a solemn voice that said, "I reside everywhere in the cosmos. I observe everything at all times. And I personally promised you that I would always be with you. Then my son, why are you so sad? Why are you weeping?" Wondering as to who was talking to him thus, Venimadhava lifted his head and opened his eyes. Lo behold! He was shocked to see Swami smiling and lovingly looking at him in place of the Shivalinga. The very next moment the scene changed. Swami disappeared. In place was the Shivalinga covered with flowers which were only available at Kolhapur and used at the rituals conducted at the mathi. These flowers were not available at Ratnagiri at all. This divine experience acted as a balm to the sad boy. He started to carry on his duties at the temple. The devotees at the temple who revered him for his accurate predictions saw a new side. He had become more disciplined. Material objects no more attracted him. People now started giving him the respect and devotion that a divine sage commands and deserves.

Childless couple
A childless Brahmin couple was visiting temples and holy shrines all over Maharashtra. They were on the look out for blessings by which they could have children. They came to Kolhapur to pay their respects to Swami. Swami explicitly told them, "Due to very serious sins in your past life, you will not have any children". Disappointed, but not disheartened, the couple started visiting other holy places, meeting other holy people.

They finally reached Ratnagiri. The people there directed them to Venimadhava. Venimadhava blessed them. He promised them a son within a year. Gently he said to them, "My Swami is very kind. He can do and undo anything and everything on this earth. With his divine powers and blessings, your wish will be fulfilled. Go to Kolhapur and serve him". With hopes raised, the couple went back to Kolhapur to meet Swami. Before the couple could restate their case, Swami said, "I give you what he has promised". Within a year, a bonny baby boy was born to the now joyous couple. Thus Swami altered the course of destiny of the couple to fulfill the promise made by one of his dearest disciples.

Scholar of Vedanta
At Kolhapur there was a famous Brahmin scholar of Vedanta (interpretation of philosophy revealed in the Vedas). He had a young son whose name was Vyas. Vyas had learned Vedanta from his father and had in fact mastered it. He was so well versed on the subject and was such a beautiful orator that he was invited to give discourses at various religious meetings. He would usually talk of the relationship of the Atma (soul) with the Parmatama (God), their main characteristics being nirakara (without form) and niraguna (without criterion), and how they pervade the entire creation. Since Vyas had no spiritual experiences, after a while he got bored preaching the same old sermons.

Vyas happened to meet an illiterate man in his neighborhood who often visited Alandi, the shrine of the famous saint Dnyaneshwar who lived in the 11th century and wrote Dnyaneshwari – the poetical interpretation of the Bhagwat Geeta in the Marathi language. In a casual conversation, the man described that on sincere prayers the saint would appear before him and guide him on the spiritual path. This advice perplexed Vyas as it was six hundred years since Dnyaneshwar had taken live samadhi He wondered how the saint could give him an audience or dispense advice to him – impossible, unimaginable. Vyas then asked other people for advice but was not satisfied. He, therefore, decided that if someone else directs him to Alandi, he would take it as a hint for him to visit the shrine of saint Dnyaneshwar.

Yet somebody else guided him to meet Swami. As he entered the mathi, Swami said to him, "You must visit Alandi". This left Vyas astounded as he had not even asked Swami for his advice, but had already received it.

The young man immediately went to Alandi. He sat under the sacred ajanavriksha ( tree) and started reading the Dnyaneshwari religiously. A month passed thus. Nothing happened – no dream, no spiritual experience, saint Dnyaneshwar did not appear.

One day, a devotee approached Vyas and requested him for some spiritual guidance. He said, "Sir, you seem to be a devout and learned man. I see that you are undergoing hard penance. For the past twelve years, I have been praying to saint Dnyaneshwar. I regularly visit his shrine. Please guide me so that he may give me an audience". Immediately Vyas retorted, "Visualize saint Dnyaneshwar’s image in front of your eyes and chant his name with full devotion. He will definitely appear before you". The next morning, the grateful and exuberant devotee came running to him. He said, "Sir, I am deeply grateful for your advice. I obeyed your instructions. At night, saint Dnyaneshwar appeared in my dream along with his brothers Nivruti and Sopan, and his sister Mukta". You can well imagine the state of Vyas’ mind. He was shell-shocked. He had given the advice only to get rid of the devotee who was wasting his valuable time. And on his advice, he had already had a spiritual experience! Perhaps his devotion was more sincere.

Vyas then thought that perhaps he needed to go inside the shrine and pray. Thus he started walking towards the shrine temple. While walking, he started to think that "God is everywhere and so is Dnyaneshwar. Thus, he is right besides me. So, is it really necessary to go inside?" As he walked to the entrance, the doorkeeper stopped him and said, "Why do you need to go inside. You can as well see it from outside". Vyas started to think, "Although I have had no spiritual experience, yet I simply know that God is everywhere. Henceforth, I shall chant saint Dnyaneshwar’s name with full devotion. Today onwards, I shall stop eating and drinking till the saint guides me onto the spiritual path". A week passed thus. Saint Dnyaneshwar appeared in his dream and said, "Now wind up your penance. Go to Kolhapur and serve Shri Krishna Saraswati Swami. He is Hanuman himself".

Vyas’ joy knew no bounds. It was noon when he returned to Kolhapur and entered the mathi. Swami embraced him, "Come my son. Since saint Dnyaneshwar has sent you, I must do your work". Swami sat besides Vyas and lovingly fed him lunch with his own hands. Vyas was very dear to Swami who lovingly called him shendephal (an endearing term used to address the youngest child of a family)

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