Brush with Mahanubhav Sect, Theosophy – and Arsenic!


(Chapters from Shri Gulabrao Maharaj’s biography in English by Shri. Sharad Kopardekar.)


The grandmother of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was a follower Of the Mahanubhav sect, a particular religious group in Maharashtra. When Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was at Loni Takli, Shri Karanjkarbuva, an old saint from that sect had come to the village. Shri Gulabrao Maharaj met him. He showed great interest in the philosophy of the Mahanubhav sect. Shri Karanjkarbuva gave a book of that sect to Shri Gulabrao Maharaj. Shri Gulabrao Maharaj got it read and he learnt it by heart within two days. He then discussed with Shri Karanjkarbuva how some of the important verses in that book could be interpreted in different ways.


The Vedas are the most ancient literature available to mankind. Shri Gulabrao Maharaj had studied the Vedas, particularly the Samaveda. At the request of Shri Karanjkarbuva Shri Maharaj recited some of the verses from the Samaveda in the traditional style of recitation. then discussed with Karanjkarbuva the principles of classical music. Shri Karanjkarbuva was greatly impressed by the study of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj at the tender age of 15 years. He said: “Gulabrao is Bal Brihaspati,” a child incarnation of Brihaspati, the legendary sage in Hindu mythology.

Karanjkarbuva accepted Shri Gulabrao Maharaj as his disciple. He gave some idols to Shri Maharaj and asked him to do meditation and worship the idols daily as per the tradition in the Mahanubhav sect.

Patilbuva, the eldest uncle of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj, came to know about his initiation into the Mahanubhav sects. He was not happy when he knew that Gulabrao Maharaj had taken initiation into that sect. He called back Shri Gulabrao Maharaj and asked him to throw away the deities given by Karanjkarbuva. But Shri Gulabrao Maharaj continued the worship and meditation in spite of this stiff opposition.

In course of time, when Shri Gulabrao Maharaj studied the philosophy of the Mahanubhav sect in depth, he found many deficiencies in it. He also noticed many malpractices in the sect. Then he criticized the sect openly. He did it in the course of time when he was convinced about it and not because his uncle opposed it.





Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was very eager to study different branches of knowledge. He collected many books on religion, philosophy and physical and occult sciences. Whenever he heard about a good book on these subjects, he tried his best to get it. “Beg. borrow or buy” was his principle in collecting books. He made a big wooden box and kept all these books in it systematically. He regarded these books as his greatest treasure and took great care of his books, more than that of anything else.

Chandur Bazar. a small town, is 10 miles away from Madhan. Shri Rupchandji, a great Sanskrit scholar and an astrologer, lived at Chandur Bazar. Gulabrao Maharaj would walk this distance alone without anybody’s help with his box of books on his head. Shri Rupchandji had great affection for Shri Gulabrao Maharaj. In age, he was like a grandfather to Shri Gulabrao Maharaj. But they discussed astrology and many occult sciences at great length on the same wavelength. Shri Kuryabhai, his son, was like a father to Shri Gulabrao Maharaj in age. He was also a great Sanskrit scholar. He had studied Indian philosophy in depth. He also used to discuss philosophy with Shri Gulabrao Maharaj for hours together.

In course of time, Kuryabhai realised that, even at the tender age of sixteen, Shri Gulabrao Maharaj knew much more than himself. Before he met Shri Gulabrao Maharaj, he believed in the Dwaita doctrine of philosophy. But after discussions with Shri Gulabrao Maharaj, he realised the limitations of his own study and knowledge. One day, he touched the feet of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj and prayed to him to accept him as his disciple. He accepted Shri Maharaj as his spiritual master.

Shri Eknath Barhate was a Theosophist. He lived at Brahmanwada, a nearby town. He had studied yoga in depth. Shri Maharaj used to go to Brahmanwada to meet Shri Barhate and discuss Theosophy and yoga with him. One day Shri Barhate also realised the limitations of his knowledge and .accepted Shri Gulabrao Maharaj as his spiritual master.

Shri Maharaj also used to visit Jain, Parsee, Muslim and Christian families to discuss the teachings of their religions. On one side, Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was a gigantic scholar. He could easily apprehend the books of different religions. But on the other hand he was a teenage boy. When he met boys of his age, he would play games like hide-and-seek. But such occasions were rare. He used to play pranks like boys of his age. He would go to a bylane in his village and make barking sounds like a dog. Many dogs would gather and bark at him. Shri Maharaj enjoyed the fun.





At the tender age of sixteen Shri Gulabrao Maharaj experienced the awakening of the divine inspiration in him. He now composed many poems. Boys write poems at this tender age on calf love, beauty of Nature, love and affection of family members, etc. But to everybody’s surprise Shri Gulabrao Maharaj wrote poems on yoga and spirituality. He composed many poems on the ideas in the Upanishads, like Divine Love, Union with the Divine, Divine Compassion, Blessings of the Almighty, etc. At the age of sixteen, he wrote a series of articles to show deficiencies in the philosophy of the Mahanubhav sect. He also wrote an essay to explain the philosophy of Shankaracharya about “How life is a myth and this world is false, and how Brahman is the only Truth?’ He wrote many poems depicting the finer shades or the emotions of the Gopis in Gokula, how they loved Lord Krishna, how they pined for union with Lord Krishna on the spiritual plane.





In 1896, epidemic of the plague spread in Maharashtra. A number of persons in Madhan caught the infection and most of them died in a day or two. The wife of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was also affected. She, however. recovered. But Gonduji, the father of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj became a victim of the plague and died the same evening. Tai, his aunt who bad loved Shri Maharaj and had protected him all the time, also died in the epidemic.

Shri Gulabrao Maharaj had lost his mother when he was only four years old. Gonduji had married again. The stepmother had no love for Shri Gulabrao Maharaj. She would force Maharaj to do all menial jobs in the house. She would use very nasty language all the time to address him. She never gave him good food. He was served with stale left-over food of the previous day and often even these were not enough to make a full meal. Patilbuva, the eldest uncle of Shri Maharaj, also hated him. He spared no words to shower his wrath on Shri Gulabrao Maharaj.

All the three brothers of Gonduji had no issue. Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was the only heir of all the ancestral property. But what he received was hatred and bad names from his stepmother and from his uncles. At times, Shri Maharaj would become gloomy and dejected due to this ill treatment. But such moods of dejection were temporary. He would recover very quickly.

One day in such a mood of dejection Shri Maharaj took forty tolas of somal brought by Patilbuva. (Somal, or arsenic, is a deadly poison which kills a person instantly). Then Shri Gulabrao Maharaj went to the temple of Lord Mahadeva and swallowed the entire quantity of the poison. He became unconscious. The news spread in the village like a wild fire. His friends and relatives rushed to the temple. Patilbuva brought Shri Maharaj to the house in an unconscious state. The relatives and neighbours sat by his side the whole day and night. They thought Shri Maharaj would not survive.

At 4 o’clock in the morning, there was some movement in the body of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj. He regained consciousness. He asked them to give him some butter. It was given to him and Shri Gulabrao Maharaj slowly recovered. His uncle was touched to his heart. He said: “Gulab had consumed forty tolas of somal poison, sufficient to kill 5-6 persons. Still he survived. He is not an ordinary man.” But this awakening of affection of Patilbuva was short-lived.

In spite of this unpleasant incident. the ill-treatment of his stepmother and uncle continued. Even though Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was blind, he was asked to fetch water from the well at any time even at night. He was also asked to collect cowdung and make flat cakes thereof for fuel. He used to do these odd jobs without a word. But what he received in appreciation was just nasty remarks and curses from his stepmother and the uncles.

Though he was not respected by the members of his family, day by day the knowledge and the saintly nature of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj were appreciated more and more by the neighbours. The villagers in and around Madhan began to respect him. One person from a nearby village used to come regularly to learn Yoga from Shri Gulabrao Maharaj. He used to say, “Shri Gulabrao Maharaj is a great Yogi and it is possible for him to perform any miracle.” Many nearby villagers started coming to meet Shri Gulabrao Maharaj to understand religious scriptures from him. He would explain the teachings of religious books in simple words which could be understood by them very easily.

Shri Gulabrao Maharaj knew many herbal remedies prescribed in the science of Ayurveda. He used to give herbal medicines to the needy patients free of charge.

Shri Ramrao Deshpande, a school teacher, had accepted Shri Maharaj as his Guru when Shri Maharaj was only twelve years old. Since then, Shri Maharaj used to visit his house every day. He would sit in Shri Ramrao’s house and compose religious songs. Ramrao and his wife regarded him as a member of the family. He would request Shri Ramrao’s wife to give him something to eat when he was hungry.

Though Shri Maharaj was only sixteen, he could explain the Gita in the Marathi language. His discourses on the Gita were liked by the villagers. One listener said, “We are spellbound by his teaching.” He persuaded Shri Maharaj to explain the Gita every day in the evening. Occasionally Shri Maharaj gave lectures on other scriptures also. In course of time he started giving discourses on Dnyaneshwari, the greatest creation in the Marathi language. It was composed in the twelfth century by  Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj at the age of sixteen. In the nineteenth century, Shri Gulabrao Maharaj interpreted it most appropriately at the same age of sixteen.

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