Sri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj of Nareshwar,
Part – II
(The information of this post is based upon the biography “Nareshwarana Rang Avadhoot” written in Gujarati by Shri Dhirubhai Joshi. This book is published by “Shri Avadhoot Sahitya Prakashan Trust, Nareshwar,” August 22, 2011).
Teaching and Writing:
After receiving his degree from Gujarat Vidyapith, Pandurang Vitthala Valame (Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj) started teaching in a school. His motto was, “Chhatra Devo Bhava.” meaning “Consider student as god.” He put his heart and soul in teaching. During his teaching time, he wrote two books on Sanskrit Grammar, parts I and II. He selected excellent quotations and sentences from rich Sanskrit literature as examples to learn the rules of grammar and he also created some values-based phrases. For example, he wrote, “’Sarve gunah kanchanam ashrayante’ iti murkhah vadanti. ‘Sarve gunah sheelameva ashrayante’ iti budhah vadanti.” Meaning, ‘Foolish people say that ‘all values are based on wealth,’ but, the wise people say that ‘all values are based on good character.’ A well-known writer and thinker Shri Kaka Saheb Kalelkar liked these volumes.
Pandurang also collected fourteen inspiring stories from the Upanishads and published a book called “The Stories of Upanishads.” This book was translated in Hindi and published as, “Fourteen Jewels of Upanishads.”
Once, Shrimati Ansuyaben Sarabhai was looking for a teacher who could teach her Sanskrit, read excellent Sanskrit literature books and explain them to her. She asked Kaka Saheb Kalelkar for such a teacher and he suggested Pandurang’s name to her. Shrimati Ansuyaben was very busy with her work and found time only for fifteen days in a month to learn from Pandurang. However, she paid Pandurang his salary regularly for the whole month. One day, Pandurang told her that he was not happy to receive full month’s salary since he was not teaching her for the full month. She hesitantly asked him to translate a couple of books when he did not have any teaching. Pandurang was very happy. During this time he translated Tolstoy’s famous booklets “Tolstoy and shikshana” (Tolstoy and Education) and “Tyare karishu shu?“ (Then, what should we do?) in Gujarati.
Pandurang compiled stories from Vishnu Purana into a book titled “Vishnu Puranani Vato.” He also compiled a book “Prashnottara Gita” (Question-Answer-Gita). These two books were published later by Avadhoot Sahitya Prakashan, Nareshwar.
Kaka Saheb Kalelkar had compiled 108 sholkas from Shri Bhartruhari’s Niti Shatakam into a book titled “Sad-Bhodha-Kshataka.” He asked Pandurang to write a commentary of this book in simple Sanskrit which would be good for students. Pandurang wrote his commentary in a book form titled “Bala-Bodhini.” Kaka Saheb read it and was very pleased. Bala-Bodhini was also published later.
Teaching through Trust:
Pandurang fasted on Thursdays. During his break he used to give one rupee to a student to go to a nearby shop and buy sweets. Sometimes the student stole one or two coins from the change or ate part of the sweets. Pandurang showed his trust in the student and accepted the change and the sweets that the student gave him without any inquiry. After couple of Thursdays, the student felt very bad. With tears in his eyes he apologized to Pandurang for stealing coins and sweets. Pandurang said, “I am your teacher. I knew that the stealing was going on. But I thought that you were taking your own reward for buying the sweets. That is why I did not say anything. It is good that you realized your mistake.” Pandurang accepted the student’s apology and forgave him.
Teaching through Example:
As part of India’s Freedom Movement, Mahtma Gandhi had asked people to give up the bad habit of drinking alcohol. Many families’ had been ruined due to uncontrolled drinking. Pandurang along with a group of volunteers visited people who were addicted to drinking to explain to them the ill effects of drinking and requested them to stop drinking. There was one lady who was a heavy drinker. She would not get convinced by anyone. She said that as people had other habits, she had the habit of drinking. What was wrong in that one? Volunteers asked Pandurang to say something to her. Pandurang told them that he would try to convince her after a few days. After three-four days Pandurang went with the volunteers to the lady. He addressed her as “sister” and told her that drinking was not good and that it was ruining her life. The address “sister” and the words of Pandurang created a magical effect on the lady. She became emotional and renounced liquor at that very moment. The volunteers asked Pandurang about how he could manage to have such an effect on her. Pandurang said that he had the habit of drinking tea. Within three-four days he tried to give up this habit. It was hard for him in the beginning, but eventually he succeeded in giving it up. Pandurang said that only after giving up his own habit he was ready to talk to the lady about her habit.
Inspection of Pandurang’s teaching:
One day, a government inspector came to examine classroom teachings of all teachers. When the inspector and the Principal of the school went to Pandurang’s classroom, they found that Pandurang was not in the room. All the students in the class were sincerely doing their work. When the inspector entered in the class, they all showed great respect for the inspector and the Principal and again started doing their assigned work. The inspector was amazed to see that students followed the teacher’s instructions and were sincerely studying even in the teacher’s absence. The inspector asked the principal where the teacher was. The Principal said that he had gone for his lunch. They had an agreement in the contract that Pandurang would take his lunch break from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The inspector finished his observation of Pandurang’s class. When they came out of the class, Pandurang was back. He invited the inspector to his class for an inspection. The inspector said that he had already been to the class and was very much impressed by the discipline and sincerity of the students. He did not have any question about Pandurang’s teaching ability and control on his class. But, he had a question about why Pandurang had his lunch at 8:00 a.m. Pandurang laughed and said that people typically ate their lunch around six hours after they woke up. He woke up at 2:00 a.m. in the morning and got hungry by 8:00 a.m. The inspector laughed and left.
Since childhood Pandurang did japa of Lord Rama. He used to get up early and do Yoga Asanas and spiritual practices like pranayama and meditation. He used to read inspiring books. In Vadodara, Pandurang regularly met a saintly person Bhagavan. Every now and then Pandurang looked for a secluded place to intensify his spiritual practices.
When Pandurang’s younger brother Narayana finished his studies, started his job, settled in Mumbai and was ready to take care of his mother, Pandurang went to his mother and said, “Mother! Since long I had this desire to give up the world, go to a secluded place like a forest and plung into my spiritual practices.” His mother was shocked. After her husband had passed away, she wished that her sons would get married and settle down. Pandurang said that if she forced him to marry, she would be unhappy as he was not interested in living as householder. Pandurang said that by his marriage if she was looking for a daughter to look after her and ask for her blessings, then she would find that many daughters would come to look after her and seek her blessings if she would let him go for spiritual practices. Seeing an intense desire for spiritual practices Pandurang’s mother gave her consent and blessings.
Pandurang was anxious about finding a secluded place and plunge into spiritual practices. He met many saints and asked for their guidance. He went to Saint Shri Keshavanandaji of Saikheda. Many people used to go to him for instructions. Usually, the saint observed silence. Pandurang found out that the saint sometimes spoke to sincere people at midnight. Pandurang went at midnight to see the saint. He offered couple of mangoes to the saint. He saluted the saint and asked for his guidance. Shri Keshavanandaji said that it was not good for Pandurang to stay with him as many people used to come there and Pandurang would not be able to find a quiet time. He asked Pandurang to go to the bank of Narmada and find a proper place there. Shri Keshavanandaji was happily eating the offered mangoes and kept telling Pandurang, “Jungleman Maangal” (It is good in a forest.) Pandurang felt that he had received the saint’s blessings. Later when Pandurang ate a mango from the same basket of the offered mangoes, he found that the mango was very sour. Then he realized that the saint was very compassionate and he had to enjoy everything even if the things were not of his taste.
Finally, a well-wisher Shri Haragovinddas Soni suggested Pandurang a place called Deharaa (now Nareshwar) on the bank of Narmada. Deharaa had a cremation ground which was used by seven villages, a dense forest and was filled with snakes and scorpions. Pandurang liked the place and in the cold winter of 1925, he settled there. After three months he had a livable hut there for his stay.
Daily Routine of Spiritual Practices:
Pandurang used to wake up around 3:30 a.m. He would take a shower with a pot filled with Narmada water which was brought the previous night. Then, he would do meditation untill dawn. At that time he would put “khichadi” (a mixture of rice and daal) on a wooden stove to get cooked. Then, he would go to Narmada River for his bath. While leaving he would tell the “khichadi” that it better be cooked when he returned, otherwise he would eat it uncooked. While taking bath in Narmada he would do japa. Sometimes he would get absorbed in japa so much that he would forget everything around him. Once when he opened his eyes, he found himself surrounded by three alligators.
He said that he sprinkled water on them and told them that they had seen him and now they could go. Somehow the alligators went away and he was saved. After his meal, he would rest a little bit and then again spend time in meditation and thinking about God. If someone visited him, he would talk a little to the visitor. Otherwise, he stayed absorbed in his spiritual practices.
He expressed his state in a song. It says that in the cool shade of a forest, a Yogi is living happily. Sometimes he laughs, sometimes he sings, and sometimes he cries. His day goes with the sun and night with the stars. He talks to the trees and plays with the birds. He burns his ego and hatred within and never enjoys lust or greed. He remains awake day and night and considers the objects of the senses as poison. He takes names of God with every breath and enjoys peace within. All of his doubts get destroyed within moments. When he becomes one with the thinking of God, Moksha falls at his feet. With the background music of tanpura of “Tat Tvam Asi” (That Thou Art) the “Rang” (joy) of singing glories of God heightens and he attains the Supreme Knowledge.
Harassment by People:
As Pandurang enjoyed bliss of God, many neighboring people became skeptical and suspicious about him. They started thinking: ‘Why this person lives alone in a forest?, ‘ ‘Is he a secret agent?,’ ‘People come to see him and sometimes he talks in English – maybe he is a freedom fighter and hiding himself’ and many other things. Some people did not like his calm demeanor. They would have been happy to see a Sadhu smearing his body with ashes, keeping a trident, burning leaves or woods, and smoking pot. To disturb his peace, one person killed a peacock and left its dead body near his hut.
Peacock is the national bird of India and to kill it is a major offence. The person thought that the police would come and find this major offense and drive Pandurang out from there. However, guided by a Sadhu, Pandurang met the leaders of the village, filled in a few appropriate documents and submerged the body of the peacock in the Narmada river.
Once, few people told a police inspector to visit Pandurang and find out who he was. They thought if he was a freedom fighter, then the police would arrest him and put him in jail. Accordingly, a police inspector came and sat among the group of people with whom Pandurang was talking. Pandurang noticed, but he continued as if he had not seen the police inspector. After a while, the inspector asked Pandurang if Pandurang knew that he was a police inspector. Pandurang told him how he could have known that he was a police inspector. If the inspector had come with few police officers, then he would have known him who he was. Coming with few ladies, no one could recognize him as a police inspector. Then, the inspector asked Pandurang whether he knew some tricks. Pandurang said that he knew tricks which make an arrogant person like the police inspector himself into a humble human being. The police inspector was stunned by the fearlessness and straight talk of Pandurang. After some time he quietly left the place.
One night Pandurang was lying down outside his hut. Two thieves thought that Pandurang may have some money that he was hiding. They came with “dharia” (a sharp weapon which can kill a person). One stood at Pandurang’s head and another near his feet. Pandurang did not panic. He was calm and did not move or show any fear. One of them said, “Open the door of the hut.” Pandurang said while lying down, “The door is open. Inside, I have wealth of the whole universe. Take as much as you want.” The thieves figured that he did not have anything in the hut. But they were amazed by his fearlessness. They asked him, “Maharaj! (Sadhu) Aren’t you afraid of anything?” Pandurang said, “Whom to be afraid of? Dwitiyat vai bhayam bhavati” (which means fear comes when there is another person). “When there is no other person, then whom I should be afraid? You and myself, we are all Brahman. There is no difference between you and me.” One thief said, “What would you do if we kill you?” Pandurangji said, “Well, one of you hold me and one of you kill me and see what I can do.” The thieves realized their mistake of coming to a wrong person to rob. They just left him unharmed.
Once, at midnight, when Pandurang was sleeping a wild scorpion suddenly fell on his bed. Before Pandurang realized what it was, the scorpion bit him on his hand.
Pandurang felt as if his whole body was on fire. He did not know what to do. In the dark, he went to Narmada River which was flooded at that time. He put his hand into the water of Narmada. After a long time, the pain was gone. Later Pandurang described this incident in a letter and wrote that his mind was filled with great joy and there was no one to share it with. After this painful situation his inner joy doubled.
With intense spiritual practices Pandurang Vithalla Valame transformed into a saintly person Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj. Many people started to visit him. In his presence people felt divinity and peace within and were uplifted by his talks.
In the foreword of “Avadhoota Gita” translated from Sanskrit to English by Swami Ashokananda, published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 2009, there is the following explanation.
“Avadhoota means a liberated soul, one who has “passed away from” or “shaken off” all worldly attachments and cares, and has attained a spiritual state equivalent to existence of God. Though avadhoota naturally implies renunciation, it includes an additional and yet higher state which is neither attachment nor detachment but beyond both. An avadhoota feels no need of observing any rules, either secular or religious. He seeks nothing. He has neither knowledge nor ignorance. Having realized that he is the infinite Self, he lives in that vivid realization. To the Hindu mind, Dattatreya is a symbol of this realization.”
People found all these qualities in Sri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj and that is how he was known later on as an Avadhoota. People also considered him as an incarnation of Dattatreya.
Swami Vivekananda said, “Men like (Dattatreya) the one who wrote this Song (Avadhoota Gita) keep religion alive. They have actually realized; they care for nothing, feel nothing done to the body, care not for heat, cold, danger, or anything. They seat still, enjoying the bliss of Atman, and though red-hot coals burn the body, they feel them not.”
Lectures on Gita:
During that time, a Sadhu named Niranjan came to a village called Diver (Shinor District) and started spreading wrong ideas about Bhagavad Gita and Hindu religion. The noble people of the village were worried and wondering about how to stop this wrong propaganda. They had heard about Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj and they decided to talk to him. They went to Nareshwar and requested him to visit their village and talk to the people. Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj agreed to it. As soon as the Sadhu heard that Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj was coming, he left the village. Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj gave lectures on Bhagavad Gita for one month. He brought out the essential meaning of Bhagavad Gita, and purged all the wrong degrading ideas from the villagers’ minds.
“Be Like Me”:
Shri Rang Avadhootji thus started guiding people. Once he was in Rajpipala. Many people came to listen to him. At that time, the King’s family members also used to come to listen to him. One day, a beggar came and spreading an empty bag to him and said, “O Avadhootji! I do not have any support. This bag is my support. Please ask these rich people to give me something.” Shri Rang Avadhootji said, “You are lucky that you have the support of your bag. I do not have even that. Throw away your bag, and be like me who has no support. God supports those who have no other support.”
“Why People go to Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj?”
People felt divine peace in the presence of Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj. Just by being with him, many people found answers to their questions. They did not have to ask. If a person was sincere and had a genuine question, then Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj would answer. If he felt that the person was not sincere then Shri Avadhootji would just sit quietly. Some people experienced that when they visited Shri Avadhootji to ask couple of questions, to their surprise he was talking to others on the same topic and in conversation answered their questions.
One lawyer thought that many a times Shri Avadhootji did not give lectures and did not even talk, then why people kept going to see him. The lawyer wondered what they must be getting from seeing him. He wanted to ask Shri Rang Avadhoot Maharaj himself about it. He regularly went for a few days, but could not ask. One day he gathered courage and asked him the question. Shri Avadhootaji said, “I found that you were coming for a few days regularly. Tell me why did you come here?” The lawyer said that he did not know why he felt an attraction to visit him for few days. Shri Rang Avadhootji said in English, “That something which you cannot see, know nor explain, but the existence of which you cannot deny, is divinity of God. Just like you, all these people come here attracted by that divinity.” (to be continued in the next post)
(Thanks to Jyoti Champanerkar for editing this post.)