(Chapters from Shri Gulabrao Maharaj’s biography by Shri. Sharad Kopardekar)
17. THE WICKEDNESS OF HIS STEPMOTHER
The stepmother had an eye on the family property. She was afraid that Shri Gulabrao Maharaj might ask her for a share in the family property. Legally, Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was the only heir of the family property as he had no brother or sister. His three paternal uncles had no issue.
The stepmother of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj opened her mind to some of her neighbours and said that she would do everything to see that Gulab was dead.
When Shri Maharaj came to know about this, he realised that it was dangerous to stay in the ancestral house. He felt very sad. He said: “I am not at all interested in the family property. Let the entire property be enjoyed by my mother.” He left the house for good without anything except his clothes. He went to the temple of Lord Mahadeva. Rangubai, the wife of Shri Ramrao Deshpande, his one time teacher and now his disciple, went to the temple and brought Shri Maharaj to her house. Ramrao and his wife persuaded Shri Maharaj to stay with them as a member of their family. From that day, Shri Maharaj lived with Shri Ramrao for the next few years.
18. INITIATION AT THE AGE OF SEVENTEEN
From A. D. 1898 onwards Shri Gulabrao Maharaj was widely accepted as a spiritual master. A number of devotees accepted initiation from him as their Guru. He was only 17 years old at that time. Even at that early age, he could study the mental make-up and spiritual development of a person and could guide him properly on the spiritual path. Some of his disciples were more than his grandfather’s age. Shri Maharaj taught a number of subjects to his disciples simultaneously, even at that early age.
Manakarnikabai, his wife, was his first disciple. In those days, husband and wife could not talk to each other in the presence of others. It was also customary not to give education to ladies, even in cities. It is difficult to believe then that in an interior part of northern Maharashtra. Shri Maharaj insisted that his wife must get education. He taught her to read and write. He advised her to read Dnyaneshwari and Gita regularly. Though his wife came from a poor family in a village, she picked up education and started reading Dnyaneshwari and other scriptures in a short time.
Vishrambhau a disciple came to Shri Maharaj regularly to learn the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Sakharam Appa, a practitioner in Ayurveda, learnt Ayurveda from Shri Maharaj. Sakharam, himself a noted Ayurvedic practitioner, always wondered how Shri Maharaj had so much knowledge of that subject, where and when did he get it. Shri Rajaram Deshmukh of Sirasgaon learnt Gita from Shri Maharaj. Shri Ramchandra Bapu learnt Yoga and Smt. Rangubai learnt religious poems from Shri Maharaj. Shri Maharaj explained to her the deeper meaning of those poems. A Muslim disciple used to read Koran and Shri Maharaj explained to him the finer shades of meaning of different verses in Koran. Shri Maharaj taught Upanishads to another disciple. A Brahmin priest used to come to Shri Maharaj to learn how to recite the Vedas in the traditional style.
One disciple learnt Yoga practice from Shri Maharaj as per an old treatise known as Hathayoga Deepika. Another disciple learnt “Kapil Gita” from Shri Maharaj. One disciple learnt “Aparoksha Anubhuti” and “Advaita Mimansa”. Shri Maharaj used to give discourses to the villagers formally and informally.
19. UPLIFTMENT OF A PROSTITUTE
A sister of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj’s mother lived at Kharala. Her name was Tuljabai. Her husband had kept a concubine named Hirabai. Once Shri Maharaj visited Kharala to meet Tuljabai and her husband. Hirabai had already heard about Shri Maharaj. She thought a great saint like Shri Maharaj would not tolerate her illicit relations with Tuljabai’s husband and she was afraid she would have to leave him and perhaps the village also.
Hirabai went to meet Shri Maharaj and narrated to him her entire life story. She said : “Maharaj, I am a prostitute. The whole world knows that I have committed many sins in my life. I pray to you. Please advise me what I should do to earn my livelihood. I will do whatever you order me to do.” She further said, “I am completely dependent on Tuljabai’s husband. I have remained faithful to him after I came in contact with him. He provides for my bread. If he leaves me, I have no way to earn my livelihood.”
Shri Maharaj listened carefully to her entire life story. He told her: “Hirabai, you should not leave your present master. Even if his financial condition changes, you should remain faithful to him. He then explained to her: “This worldly life is as transient as a bubble. So one should love god with full devotion. Then only we can say that one has lived a truthful life.” He advised Hirabai to read the writings of Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj. Hirabai was overwhelmed to hear Shri Maharaj. She was expecting that Shri Maharaj would hate her. But what she received from Shri Maharaj was sympathy and compassion. Shri Maharaj gave her guidance as to what exactly she should do. She promised Shri Maharaj that she would do exactly what Shri Maharaj had told her. During that year she was completely devoted to god. There was a remarkable change in her life after she met Shri Maharaj. There was great spiritual upliftment in her life within a few weeks. It is unbelievable. But it is true.
Hirabai followed the advice of Shri Maharaj faithfully. She read Dnyaneshwari regularly. She recited the spiritual poems from “Haripath” composed by Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj. Gradually her mind was so much purified that she lost interest in material life. She devoted more and more attention to god.
A year passed. Hirabai became seriously ill. She did not recover. But her faith in Shri Maharaj became stronger. At the time of her death, she repeated the name of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj. She folded her hands in obeisance to him and breathed her last. When Shri Maharaj heard about this, he had tears in his eyes. He remarked, “One who prays to God in sincerity at the time of his death becomes one with God.'”
It is difficult to say whether Shri Maharaj had foreseen Hirabai’s death when he met her. But it is true that she lived thereafter for one year only. But in such a short time. Shri Maharaj uplifted her to a higher plane.
Shri Maharaj had not given any advice to Tuljabai or her husband. But as Hirabai lived a purified life, this change was reflected in the life of Tuljabai’s husband also. He became more and more pious. He remained faithful to Tuljabai for the rest of his life. Tuljabai also showed greatness of heart in forgetting the unpleasant incidents and accepted her husband without reservations. Both of them lived a normal life thereafter.
The above story shows how the blessings of a great saint can transform the life of even a prostitute like Hirabai. The whole story also shows how an ordinary man full of worldly failings can improve his life. Tuljabai’s husband had weaknesses for many vices. But Shri Maharaj’s blessings changed the entire course of his life. Not only did he remain faithful to Tuljabai, his wife, but he also became more and more religious. Tuljabai was full of gratitude to Shri Maharaj for all the above changes in her life.
20. A CEREMONY TO CONSUMMATE MARRIAGE
Shri Maharaj married Manakarnikabai in 1892 when he was only 11 years old. His wife was 7 years old at that time. It was a custom in those days in Maharashtra to celebrate the marriage at that age. When the wife attained the proper age to consummate marriage, it was customary to observe a ceremony known as “Garbhadhan” and the bride and bridegroom were then permitted to consummate their marriage.
In 1898 A. D. according to the then prevalent custom, the relatives and friends of Shri Gulabrao Maharaj decided to observe the “Garbhadhan” ceremony. Shri Maharaj was not at all interested in this ceremony.
At the time of ceremony, Shri Maharaj said “If Manakarnika agrees to what I say. I would allow her to complete the religious ceremony.” He also said “She should forget her parents and an ordinary life. She should desire her husband only for spirituality and nothing else ”
Manakarnikabai, by this time, had understood the greatness of her husband. Perhaps she had realised in her mind that Shri Maharaj was not born just to lead an ordinary family life. He was born to do some great work. So without hesitation for a moment, she spontaneously touched the feet of her husband and took a vow : “I would not be attached to my parents. I do not aspire for an ordinary family life. I want my husband for spirituality only.”
When Shri Maharaj heard this, he was happy. The ceremony was then completed.
It is difficult to believe that a husband of 18 years and a wife of 14 years do not have rosy dreams of an ordinary family life and that they decided to devote their entire life to spirituality. Manakarnikabai lived her entire life according to the vow taken by her. The world has heard the immortal story of Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Sharada Mata, his wife, as to how they lived a life based on spirituality. Shri Maharaj and Manakarnikabai also lived the unusual life of spirituality. The chariot of their family life had two wheels—one wheel was devotion to the Almighty and the second wheel was the spread of spiritual knowledge. Both of them devoted all the years of their life to spreading the spiritual message.