It was most probably in the month of Karthik, Vikram samvat 1965 (corresponding to Oct-Nov 1908 AD).
The young Sanyasi, Swami Svatah Prakash came by train and got down at Rajghat station near the bank of Ganga, not far from Narora in District Bulandshehr. Then he walked along the Ganga, northwards, and arrived at the village of Bheriya, which is some three miles south of Anupshehr. And as destiny would have it, the great Brahmanishtta sage Udiya Baba ji (Swami Poornananda Teertha) came walking to this place from the East, at the same time. This was a momentous meeting in spiritual timelessness.
Udiya Baba, like Ramana Maharshi, was a spiritual colossus. Ever established in Non-dual Brahman, he was like the Sun of Jnana. And Swami Svatah Prakash, when he became Hari Baba, was the full-moon of Bhakti. It was a meeting of Ganga and Yamuna. There struck a relationship between these two sages, which was to last all their lives. Such was the love they had for each other, that Hari Baba has said of Udiya Baba that “No one in the world has loved anyone so much, ever, as much as Udiya Baba loved me.” And Udiya Baba on his part, had the greatest respect for Hari Baba. No festival of Hari Baba was complete without the presence of Udiya Baba. It is incredible to read that in all the decades of their acquaintance, Hari Baba never once spoke directly to Udiya Baba. He would have his face down, and speak through a second person. So great was his respect for Udiya Baba… To give an example of how much respect Udiya Baba had for Hari baba, consider this… Udiya Baba, like Jagadguru Kanchi Paramacharya, had taken a vow to only walk. He would never ride on any vehicle – car, bus, train etc. He walked hundreds of miles, month after month, all his life. While he stayed largely in the banks of Ganga, towards the end of his life he settled in Brindavan. In 1947, when Hari Baba was planning to celebrate the Sivaratri festival in the Baandh, he found that Udiya Baba would not be able to come, as he was very ill. But Hari Baba could not dream of having any utsav without Udiya Baba being present. So he and Anandamayi Ma came to Brindavan. Hari Baba tried to convince Udiya Baba to come with him in his car. But Udiya Baba has his vow, and he was in no condition to walk the distance from Brindavan to the Baandh (around 150 kms). So while Hari Baba went on pleading, Udiya Baba kept Mauna (silence), and it became midnight. Seeing how disappointed Hari Baba was feeling, Ma told him – “Pitaji! Now you may please take rest. Whatever is to happen tomorrow, shall happen by itself.” On this advise, Hari Baba retired for the night.
In the morning, when Hari Baba awoke to find that Udiya Baba had already left during the night. Ma laughed and told him – “See Pitaaji! I told you that whatever is to happen will happen by itself!”
What had happened was that Udiya Baba could not bear seeing the disappointment of Hari Baba. So, at 2 O’clock in the night, he started off in another devotee’s car, and left for the Baandh. He broke his lifelong vow of never riding a vehicle, just to keep Baba’s heart. Who can understand this love! Needless to say, that Sivaratri festival in the Baandh was observed with all joyousness, and this was followed by the festival of Holi, which too was attended by Udiya Baba.
Coming back to Bheriya, the first meeting place of Ganga (Udiya Baba) and Yamuna (Hari Baba)…
This meeting in Bheriya was at the place where a venerable sadhu from Bengal had his hermitage. Known as Bengali Baba, his sanyasi name was Sri Ramananda Giri. He was an aged monk, who was held in great reverence by all Sadhu-s in the region. The young Hari Baba came to his hermitage and sat down under a tree, absorbed in inner contemplation. Bengali baba recognized the spiritual fire in young Hari Baba, and asked one of his sanyasi disciples to discreetly care for this young Baba.
Bengali Baba was a great ascetic, who laid great store by Madhukari Bhiksha. He would say:
भिक्षाहारो फलाहारो भिख्सा नैव परिग्रहः |
सदन्नं वा कदन्नं वा सोमपानं दिने दिने ||
Bhikshaa (food got as alms), is equivalent to a meal of fruits. It is never an acquisition (bondage). Whether the Bhikshaa food is pure/good or impure/stale, eating that is like having a quaff of the nectar of Gods, day after day!
Bengali Baba’s asrama was a confluence where many Sadhu-s would gather. One of them was Swami Achyuta Muni. He used to stay in a boat anchored near Deeppur Ghat, a few miles from Gavaan (where the Hari Baba baandh is now). Swami Achyuta Muni was a highly respected sage, well known in the Ganga region. His blissful countenance, deep scholarship, and childlike simplicity attracted many a devotee to him, scholar and lay. The Muni was holding classes on Vedanta treatises like Brahma Sutra, Panchadashi, Vritti Prabhakara etc. Young Hari Baba, who would go to Ganga for his morning bath, joined these classes.
After some time, Achyuta Muni was to leave this place and go to Wardha. He extended an invitation to Hari Baba to come there, and continue his Vedanta tutelage. Hari Baba agreed, and came away to Wardha.
Achyuta Muni was a man of discipline. His rule was that his Vedanta class would commence exactly at Sunrise. Interested students would have to be there punctually. Hari Baba was as sincere as anyone could ever be. He would be up at 2 AM, walk six miles to the river to have his bath etc, do his morning exercises, meditate and be ready for the class at dawn. After the class, he would contemplate on the subject being studied. After lunch, he would take some rest, do some svadhyaya and then again attend Achyuta Muni’s class from 3 to 5 PM. After that, in the evenings, he had no fixed program. He came to know that in a place called Hanumangadi, which was nearby, there was a Satsangha where akhand (non-stop) chanting of “Shree Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama” mantra was going on, for last few hundred years. This place had been associated with Satguru Samarth Ramdas (saint of 16th-17th century, Guru of Chatrapati Shivaji).
Hari Baba went for this Satsangh, and his life changed.
Feeling great joy after his first Satsangha, he started going there regulary. He was being helplessly drawn into Hari Bhakti. His Guru (Swami Sacchidananda Giri) too is supposed to have had a vision of Radha-Krishna in Brindavan, but his outward leaning had been towards Jnana. Hari Baba too had, therefore, been devoted to the path of Knowledge. But now, in Hanumangadi, he was being turned over completely. He started experiencing Bhava Samadhi during the sankeertan (music and chanting). He lost control over himself. At one stage, he started exhibiting all eight Sattvik Bhava-s of pure Bhakti together. These are Ashru (tears), Pulaka (horripilation), stabdhataa (stunned stiffness), svedha (excessive sweating), kampa (trembling of body), svarabhanga (choking of voice), vaivarnya (discoloration) and, finally, moorccha (fainting).
Sri Paranjape, who was in-charge of the Satsangha there, was amazed at this sight. He, along with other devotees there, lifted him and made him lie down on a mat there. Soon, Hari Baba started making Humkaar thunder-like sounds, got up, and went and sat on the altar of the Lord. He became possessed by the Lord. Sitting there, he ordered the devotees to offer Bhog, and then asked them to seek whatever boon they desired. The assembled devotees were all immersed in waves of devotion seeing this unique happening. The singing was charged now. Soon Hari Baba got up and started dancing. The crowd was in bliss. Some fell at his feet, some were laughing or crying uncontrollably – all were lost in the mood. This went on the whole night, and when the Sun rose next morning, Hari Baba fell unconscious.
Upon regaining consciousness, he felt extremely embarrassed. But Paranjape ji consoled him.
Thereafter, he started attending this satsangha every evening. Soon, these happenings reached the ears of Achyuta Muni. When Hari Baba went for his Vedanta class, the Muni asked him about it, whether it was true that he had been going to a Mutt and engaging himself in singing and dancing. Hari Baba remained silent. Taking his silence as affirmation, the Muni asked him to express his view. Hari Baba then conveyed, in all humility, his views. Paraphrasing what he conveyed, Hari Baba’s view was that there is no distinction between Nirguna and Saguna. In sum – ‘The One reality, is worshipped with many names. He said that if we examine the views of all our ancient Acharya-s, there too we will find that there is no distinction between Jnana and Bhakti. There can be no Jnana without Bhakti, and no Bhakti without Jnana. It is only when Brahmanishtta becomes ripe, does one find the right way to contemplate Saguna Brahman. “ In his own case, he conveyed that the bliss he had experienced in Bhakta Mandali was beyond expression. And that experience had only strengthened his Ahamgraha upaasana, Brahmanishtta.
Achyuta Muni ji conveyed that he had no complaints against that path, and that he too had done Japa of Lord’s name one lakh times every day. By that practice, even now the Japa of the name was going on automatically. But the path of practice of pure Vedanta was divergent from the path chosen by Hari Baba, and so he was free to pursue his path. Hari Baba, then took his permission to leave, and went back to Hanumangadi.
There, Paranjape ji gave him a book about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It was a book titled “Lord Gauranga”, written by Sri Shishir Kumar Ghose….
** To be continued **