(Chapters from biography of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj by Shri Sharad Kopardekar).
21. THE TERRIBLE FAMINE OF 1900 A. D
The financial position of the family of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was not very satisfactory. Patilbuva and the stepmother of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj lived beyond their means. There were differences of opinion among the three brothers. Shri Maharaj had left the house for good. But out of compassion for his family, he gave them many suggestions for creating harmony in the family and for improving the financial position of the family. The elders however did not pay attention to what he suggested.
In 1900 A. D. there was a severe famine in the whole of Maharashtra. The farmers found it extremely difficult to get food. In the absence of rain, most of the agricultural lands did not yield. Farmers were starving. They had no fodder to give to their cattle.
The mother-in-law of Shri Maharaj and her children were starving in their own village. The father-in-law of Shri Maharaj had died two years ago, and there was no elderly person in the family to earn for their livelihood. Most reluctantly the mother-in-law of Shri Maharaj came to Madhan village to stay with him. She had brought all the other members of the family with her. But she found that her son-in-law himself depended on the neighbours for his own livelihood. No relative of Shri Maharaj was in a position to offer shelter to Maharaj’s mother-in-law.
At last Shri Ramrao Deshpande (with whom Shri Maharaj was staying) invited the mother-in-law of Shri Maharaj and her family to stay with him. They stayed with Ramrao until the famine was over. The mother-in-law did the household work of Shri Ramrao and the children in the family attended school. Shri Ramrao was an ordinary school teacher. How much income an ordinary school teacher can earn? But due to his devotion to Shri Maharaj whom he had accepted as his spiritual master, he bore all the expenses of the family of the mother-in-law of Shri Maharaj until the famine was over.
Though Shri Ramrao had offered shelter to Shri Maharaj, Manakarnikabai, Maharaj’s wife, continued to stay at the ancestral house. The elderly ladies of the family did not treat her well. Even though Shri Maharaj was not staying in the ancestral house, they used to send for Shri Maharaj and tell him to do many menial jobs in the house. For example, at midnight he would be sent for and he would be asked to go to the well and fetch water for the family. He would be asked to collect the cowdung from the fields and prepare fuel for the kitchen. Shri Maharaj always respected elders in his family. He would do all the menial jobs assigned to him without a word of protest.
Though the elders of his family did not respect Shri Maharaj, the villagers had a deep reverence for him. Most of them had realised how great he was. Shri Maharaj regularly gave discourses in the village and in the nearby towns. During 1898 to 1900 Shri Maharaj gave discourses on Hathayoga Deepika, Yoga Darshana, Kapila Geeta, Vedanta Darshana, Aparoksha Anubhuti, Advaita Meemansa, Eighteen Upanishads, etc. He used to give discourses on Ramayana, Bhagavata and Dnyaneshwari also.
- COMPLETE DEVOTION TO RELIGIOUS WORK
One day Shri Maharaj kept an ornament of his wife with him. He forgot to tell this to his wife. Next day when Manakarnikabai found that the ornament was missing, she was worried. Hurriedly she started searching everywhere in the house. The news spread within no time. The stepmother was furious. She accused Manakarnikabai that she must have given the ornament to her mother who was in a bad financial position. Manakarnikabai just wept. She did not answer back. But Patilbuva and the stepmother used very bad language to blame Shri Maharaj and his wife.
Shri Maharaj was terribly upset to hear this. He was so upset that he went to the Mahadeva temple. For eleven days he stayed in the temple just praying to the Lord. He refused to eat anything or even to drink water for eleven days. It is said that Lord Mahadeva appeared before him on the 11th day and consoled him. Lord Mahadeva blessed him and instructed him to devote himself to spiritual work.
On the 12th day Shri Maharaj returned to the house of Shri Ramrao. From that time on, he devoted his life completely to spirituality. He gave discourses, dictated books and articles and composed poems. He refused to go to his ancestral house and to do the menial jobs in his house.
The elders in the family of Maharaj became very wild when Shri Maharaj refused to do the menial jobs in the house.They sent for Shri Maharaj and used many nasty words to tell him that he was not doing any work for the family. Shri Maharaj’s uncle said that Shri Maharaj would have to beg from house to house for food in his future life and that he was not worth more than a poor beggar on the streets.
With a balanced mind, Shri Maharaj replied, “Why should I beg for food? On the contrary, people would be after me with rich food requesting me to take it and favour them. My wife will accompany me and help me in my work, for I have now devoted my entire life for the work of religion only.”
In order to instigate Shri Maharaj, his eldest uncle said : “Because you are not capable of earning anything, you have become a saint now. How can you run your house? How can you earn your livelihood? He further said: “Since you have become a saint, we will not give anything to you or to your wife. The entire house and the agricultural property will be given away to a priest as an offering.”
Shri Maharaj immediately said: “I am agreeable to this. Please call a brahmin. I would be happy to give the entire house and agricultural land to a worthy brahmin.” The other members of the family used hot words. But Shri Maharaj remained calm and quiet. He told them he was not interested in the family property. His uncle said: “We would not allow your wife also to stay in the family house.”
From that day Manakarnikabai also came to stay with Shri Maharaj at the house of Shri Ramrao.
Shri Maharaj was the only legal heir of the entire family property, but he never asked for any money from his uncles. Shri Ramrao Deshpande with whom Shri Maharaj and Manakarnikabai were staying was an ordinary school teacher with a meagre income. But he offered adequate food to Shri Maharaj before he took his own food. Shri Maharaj and Manakarnikabai had to live a poor material life in those days. They would not have sufficient clothes. They bad no money to buy anything. But they remained happy all the while and devoted their time to the spread of spiritual knowledge.
When Shri Maharaj visited other villages and towns to give discourses, he was surrounded by many devotees. The discourses were invariably followed by informal meetings and discussions at night at the places where Shri Maharaj stayed. Such informal discussions continued late in the night.
- CAME TO SIRASGAON
Shri Rajaram Deshmukh was a rich farmer at Sirasgaon, a village near Madhan. He developed great faith in Shri Maharaj. He used to visit Madhan regularly to hear the religious discourses of Shri Maharaj. He was greatly impressed by his teachings. He took the initiation from Shri Maharaj.
He felt unhappy when he saw how Shri Maharaj was living a poor material life.
He invited Shri Maharaj and Manakarnikabai to stay with him at Sirasgaon. Shri Ramrao Deshpande felt very sad when he heard about this. But he persuaded Shri Maharaj to go to Sirasgaon, first because his means were too limited to offer a decent life to Shri Maharaj and Manakarnikabai. Secondly he felt Shri Maharaj would be happy if he left Madhan, where his relatives lived. His relatives had been maligning Shri Maharaj even though Shri Maharaj did not depend on them.
Shri Maharaj lived for the next few years at Sirasgaon. Shri Rajaram Deshmukh had a big house, acres of land and a number of servants. He paid personal attention to see that Shri Maharaj got all material comforts.
Shri Maharaj gave regular discourses at Sirasgaon. He visited a number of other villages and towns for giving discourses. Wherever he went, he called all the villagers of different castes and creeds to gather in a temple with their food. At that time he would recite poems, many of which were composed by him spontaneously.
Shri Ganapat Appaji Dhote was a clerk-cum-accountant with a rich farmer at Sirasgaon. He was so infatuated by the teachings of Shri Maharaj that he left his services, accepted initiation from Shri Maharaj and spent all his life with Shri Maharaj. He noted down the poems composed by Shri Maharaj. He also noted down the discourses of Shri Maharaj which were later published. Shri Ramrao Deshpande with whom Shri Maharaj and his wife had stayed at Madhan came to Sirasgaon every evening. He stayed with Shri Maharaj for the night and returned to Madhan every morning to do his work in the school as a teacher.
Shri Maharaj used to visit nearby villages and towns alone without anybody’s help or guidance. He never stumbled on the road. so his followers believed that he could see with his inner perception. Shri Ramrao Jathar has said: “It is wrong to say that Shri Maharaj was blind. He could see what we could not see with out two eyes. A peacock has a thousand eyes on his feathers. But they are useless. Shri Maharaj could see everything with the eyes of his inner perception.” That is why people described him as “Pradnya Chakshu”, i e., one who could see through the eyes of intellect. It is difficult to believe, but it is true that the blind was guiding the unblind.
Shri Maharaj would dictate letters to authors, booksellers and publishers at different places and request them to send him books. He was interested in the books written on occult sciences, development in the physical sciences, etc. He collected books in English by Spencer, Hamilton, Myres, Darwin, Annie Besant, etc. He also purchased the books on the teachings of Shri Vivekananda, Shri Dayananda Saraswati, Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, etc.
- VISIT, TO ALANDI IN 1901 A. D.
In 1901, Shri Maharaj, Manakarnikabai and six disciples visited Alandi. This was his first visit to Alandi, the place where Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj entered the stage of Samadhi in the twelfth century.
Shri Maharaj was overwhelmed when he reached the temple of Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj. Streams of tears flowed from his eyes. He sat at the lotus feet of Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj for three days. He did not accept food or water for three days and prayed to Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj to appear before him. It is said that Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj appeared before him on the fourth day, took him on his lap and blessed him. Shri Maharaj said later that by the blessing of Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj he got many occult powers. His inner perception developed beyond imagination. He could recite the writings in the books word by word, page after page. He could also understand the speech of others in any language. It is said that in later life Maharaj understood the speech of others in English, Japanese, German, Bengali, Telugu, Kannada, etc., even though it was not translated to him. He could understand such speech and would reply in Hindi, Marathi or Sanskrit.