(Chapters from Shri Gulabrao Maharaj’s biography in English by Shri. Sharad Kopardekar).
29. A DEVOTEE AT BRINDAVAN
Shri Damodar Appaji was a great devotee of Shri Maharaj. He was from Arvi, a village near Sirasgaon, where Shri Maharaj was staying. He used to visit Sirasgaon regularly just to meet Shri Maharaj and listen to his discourses. Once he had gone to Brindavan the place where Lord Krishna had spent his childhood. When Shri Damodar Appaji went to the main temple of Lord Krishna at Brindavan. he saw Shri Maharaj in the place of Lord Krishna. He closed his eyes for a moment and opened them again. Still Shri Maharaj was standing in the place of Lord Krishna’s image in the temple. He was overwhelmed with devotion towards Shri Maharaj.
When Shri Damodar Appaji came back from Brindavan he rushed to Sirasgaon. In a moving tone he said with eyes full of tears, “You are the incarnation of Lord Krishna. I saw Lord Krishna in your from.” Shri Maharaj pacified him.
In later life Shri Maharaj and Damodar Appaji used to have a lot of conversation in private. During such meetings, Shri Damodar Appaji explained his spiritual experiences to Shri Maharaj and prayed for his help in spiritual progress. Shri Appaji revered Shri Maharaj as the incarnation of Lord Krishna all his life.
30. KATYAYANI VRATA—A FESTIVAL OF DEVOTION
From 1904, Shri Maharaj started a yearly festival of devotion known as Katyayani Vrata. Shri Maharaj started the festival to reinstate devotion to Lord Krishna in its purest form.
Following the instructions of Shri Maharaj, his followers gathered at Vathoda, a place on the bank of the river Payoshni in Northern Maharashtra. Shri Maharaj worshipped Lord Krishna and instructed his followers to read Dnyaneshwari.
In the evening Shri Maharaj gave a discourse to explain Devotion in its purest form. He said, “The devotion of Gopis towards Lord Krishna as described in the Bhagavatam is an ideal one. It is devotion par excellence. Gopis’ devotion was in its most intense form. They loved Lord Krishna in the most selfless way on the highest plane. Narada has also advised the devotees to develop love towards Lord Krishna as Gopis did in the Bhagavatam.”
(Image courtesy: http://www.harekrsna.de)
Shri Maharaj advised his followers, “Imagine that you are a gopi for a moment and try to experience at least an iota of their intense love towards Lord Krishna. This is the easiest way to experience union with the Lord.”
Shri Maharaj continued to celebrate the Katyayni Vrata, the festival of devotion, all his life. His followers celebrate the yearly festival even today. Thousands gather at the place on the bank of the river to participate in the worship of Lord Krishna.
To develop selfless devotion in its most intense and the purest form, Shri Maharaj imagined himself to be a daughter of Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj and a wife of Lord Krishna. He has written hundreds of poems to depict various shades of emotions in these roles as a daughter of Shri Dnyaneshwar Maharaj and as wife of Lord Krishna. Sometimes he even used to dress as a woman to experience Madhura Bhakti, i.e. devotion par excellence at the highest spiritual plane.
Since 1904 Shri Haribhau Kevale, Nanaji Kavimandan, Vyankatrao Deshpande and a few other devotees always stayed with Shri Maharaj and noted down his dictations. They accompanied him during his visits to other towns also. Shri Haribhau Kevale virtually became his manager and looked after the arrangements of the travel and stay of Shri Maharaj and the devotees who accompanied him.
31. FAMILY LIFE AT THE HIGHER PLANE
Shri Maharaj always wished that Manakarnikabai, his wife, should not expect ordinary family life from him. She had understood him. She realised that though her husband was blind he lived the life at the highest spiritual plane. She, therefore, had taken a vow at the feet of her husband in 1898, “I would not be attached to my parents; I do not aspire to live the ordinary family life. I want my husband for spirituality only.”
She lived her life as per this vow all her life. Shri Maharaj always appreciated this.
When she was living at the ancestral house at Madhan with the stepmother of Shri Maharaj, she had to face a very hard life. Patilbuva, her father-in-law and the stepmother of Shri Maharaj compelled her to do entire household work all the day. She did it without a word of protest. Still Patilbuva and her mother-in-law never treated her properly. They did not give her enough food. For days together she could not get even drop of coconut oil for setting her hair. She had only torn clothes to wear all the time. On top of that Patilbuva and the stepmother used nasty language every time in addressing her. Life was indeed very difficult for her – no love, no affection, no food, no appreciation. Only hard labour all the time. But she bore it all without a word.
When she came to stay with Shri Maharaj at Shri Ramrao Deshpande’s house, life became a bit easier. But financial difficulties continued. In spite of that, she never lost faith in her husband. She always looked up to her spiritual master.
Shri Maharaj taught her to read and write. He asked her to read Dnyaneshwari and some other scriptures regularly as a spiritual discipline. She observed the practice meticulously with all faith in her spiritual master.
When Shri Maharaj and his wife came to Sirasgaon to stay with Rajaram Deshmukh, she could fully devote herself to the work of Shri Maharaj. She loved him immensely. But their love was only at the spiritual plane and not at the physical level. So the innocent rural folk used to whisper in one another’s ears, “What type of husband and wife they are!”
The world knows the spirituality of family life lived by Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Sharada Mata. Shri Maharaj and his wife also lived life on the same spiritual plane.
At Sirasgaon Shri Maharaj composed poems for women which were like the folklore. He composed about 1100 poems and set them to tunes which were simple like folk tunes. Shri Maharaj and his wife used to sing them together. These songs gave the message of spirituality to the women in the language which could be understood by them.
Gradually women developed faith in Manakarnikabai and took counsel with her in their marital difficulties and spiritual problems. She on her part guided them suitably.
In 1903, Shri Maharaj wrote her a letter from Brindavan. This letter is a classic example of spiritualisation of love between husband and wife. Even an ordinary woman can draw inspiration from this letter and take guidance for living a life at a higher plane. Shri Maharaj writes: “Please live the life with an eye on spirituality all the time. You should perform all your worldly duties, but keep remembering the Almighty in your heart always even while doing your daily work. You should also purify your heart by remembering the spiritual master. You should spend some time every day to think who you are, from where you have come and where you are going. You are neither a man nor a woman. You are that Brahman, the divine light. The soul is different from the body. When you realise this you will develop real devotion towards the Lord and purify yourself. Relatives are there for their own selfish motives. You should develop spirituality and guide the other women around you on the right path towards the lord. This is what I expect from you in your life.”
This letter is in the form of a poem and is a masterpiece of spiritual literature of the highest order. It is worth everybody’s effort to try to understand the deeper meaning of it.
Manakarnikabai could fully understand what her husband expected of her. She replied to the letter on the 26th of June 1903. She wrote as under:
“You are my spiritual master and I would always follow you. I would always practice what you teach me. You have explained to me that I am neither a man nor a woman but that Brahman, the divine light. I fully appreciate this. I also understand that so long as one lives in the physical body, one should spend one’s time in the service of the Lord and the spiritual master. whether one be a man or a woman.”
She practiced what she wrote. She spent all the time in the service of her spiritual master. Sometimes, Shri Maharaj got angry with his disciples. At such times she would console the disciples like their mother. She treated all disciples with this affection of a mother. But if somebody committed a mistake, she would not spare words to bring it to his notice. so that he could improve.
Though it took some time for the world to realise the spiritual greatness of Shri Maharaj, she had realised his greatness much earlier. So she followed him on the spiritual path with all sincerity, faith and devotion. In course of time she could also give discourses on the Geeta and the Dnyaneshwari. In the later part of her life, she guided many women on the spiritual path.
32. BIRTH OF A SON
Though Manakarnikabai kept step with her husband on the path of spirituality all the time, there were occasions when she felt she should have at least one son from Shri Maharaj. She did not, however, open her mind to anybody about this.
Shri Kuryabhai, who was like a father to Shri Maharaj at one time and who had later become his disciple, realised this. He noted that Shri Maharaj had no brother or sister or even a cousin. So in course of time the very existence of the Mohod family would be threatened. The only way in which the family line could continue unbroken was for Shri Maharaj to get a son, thought Shri Kuryabhai.
Whenever Shri Maharaj visited Chandur Bazar he used to stay with Shri Kuryabhai. On one such visit, when Shri Maharaj was resting on a swing, Kuryabhai’s wife came forward and prayed: “Maharaj, though I am your disciple, I am your mother’s age. With the privilege of my age, I pray to you, please promise me that you will do what tell you to do.”
Shri Maharaj said, “You are indeed like my mother. I would be pleased to do what you want me to. But why do you want a promise? Please tell me what I should do.”
But she insisted that unless Shri Maharaj promised her she would not reveal what she had in her mind. This argument continued for quite some time. At last Shri Maharaj yielded. He said, “All right, I promise you. I shall do exactly what you tell me.” This made Kuryabhai and his wife very happy. She said, “Maharaj, even the scriptures argue that every married man has a duty to beget at least one son. Please bless your wife with a son, may be only one.”
Shri Maharaj was totally nonplussed to hear this. He could not have imagined that such a request would be put before him. He tried to explain that his marriage and family life was on the spiritual plane only. But Kuryabbai and his wife refused to listen. They insisted that a marriage after all was a marriage and being a married man Shri Maharaj was a “householder” who, according to the Hindu Shastras, was bound to beget at least one son. He quoted a number of references from the scriptures in support of his argument.
At last Shri Maharaj had to yield. He kept his promise and in course of time Manakarnikabai gave birth to a son in 1905. This is how Shri Anant Mohod, the son of Shri Maharaj was born. The mother-in-law of Shri Maharaj was very happy to look after the mother and the child during and after the birth of little Anant.