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Jagad Guru Bhagavaan Gopi Nath ji – a Saint Apart

by T.N. Dhar 'Kundan'

A Miracle

It is by now an open secret and a matter of common knowledge that the officers and personnel of the Indian Army, who had never even heard of him saw Bhagavaan Gopi Nath Ji at the front during Kargil conflict with Pakistan Army, guiding them during the operations. These Army Officers have attributed the successful recapture of the Tiger Hills mainly to the directions they received from him during the counter assault launched by them. It was an officer of 18 Grenadiers, who first revealed how this mysterious saint of Kashmir directed the operation and how the commandoes acted according to his command with the result that the strategically important feature of Tiger Hills was snatched from the clutches of the enemy. The officer had heard about him from a Kashmiri Army Officer and had seen a locket in his neck with his photograph. It was because of this background that he had recognized the saint with a white turban and a red ‘Tilaka’ on his forehead. He vouched that in the first instance the Indian Army encountered enormous difficulties but after this great and mysterious saint appeared on the scene, the strategy was restructured and it bore fruit. He had no doubt in his mind that this success in recapturing this formidable and strategically all important peak was made possible by this unforgettable character emerging on the scene on July 3.   

Bhagawaan Gopinath Ji
Bhagawaan Gopinath Ji

The higher echelons of the Indian Army also were curious to know more about this strange episode. They were informed that according to some war heroes this saint had already guided the forward ranks of the Army during 1947, 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan. There should be nothing surprising about this. Shri B.L.Kak, a well-known journalist has quoted Swami Yogananda as having recorded in his book, ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ that ‘yogis can materialize and dematerialize themselves and move with the velocity of light and utilize the creative light rays in bringing into instant visibility any physical manifestation’. Men of common prudence cannot, however, account for these things. It is perhaps because of this that the Army Officer has recorded in his diary that nobody would believe him when he would reveal that it was Bhagavaan Ji who led this 11-hour assault leading to the recapture of this dominating peak called Tiger Hills in the Kargil region that proved to be the turning point in the 40 days old conflict with Pakistan. 

Some devotees of his who were very close to him have said that during 1962 when the Indian Army was engaged in halting the onslaught of the Chinese troops, one day he left his residence and returned only the next day. His body was cold and shivering and he had caught cold and was having the symptoms of bronchitis. When asked he replied that he had gone to Tibet border to settle scores. A few days soon thereafter there was ceasefire on the battlefront. When the decisive war of 1971, which created the separate country of Bangla Desh, was being fought, some devotees of Bhagavaan Ji prayed in his Ashram at Kharyar in Srinagar throughout the day and begged of him to save the country. Bhagavaan Ji appeared before one of them in response to their prayers and directed him that a particular item should be offered by all of them jointly before the evening ‘Aarti’ by way of oblation for four consecutive days. After these four days there was an announcement on the Radio and Television by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India that General Niazi of the Pakistan Army had surrendered before the Indian Army and the war was over. This was his way of influencing the matters of his country even long after giving up his mortal frame.

A Saint Apart

Bhagavaan Ji was a saint, who did not believe in creating a sect or a group around him. He was not given to discourses or philosophical sermons. His aim had been to know the truth, mitigate the suffering of people and give spiritual guidance to those who sought   it from him. Because of these peculiarities nobody could see anything unusual in him that would suggest his eventual sainthood. Leading a group of young friends to various shrines or arranging ‘Rasa Leela’, the spiritual dances, remaining celibate or even seeing some prominent saints occasionally could not be sufficient indication of his being a ‘Sadhu’. He did no miracles in his childhood and demonstrated no super natural powers. Why should he have done so? After all he had not to impress anyone or prove his stature or position. He was a quiet, shy lad who was of religious bent of mind no doubt but in the conventional manner only. Every household in Kashmir had a ‘pooja’ room called ‘Thokur Kuth’ earmarked for daily worship. Small ‘Shiva Lingam’ of crystal, a ‘Saligram’ of a crimson coloured stone, a coin showing Shri Rama Panchayatan, Ganesha and replicas of other deities would be kept there with devotion. Every morning these idols would be washed, smeared with sandal-paste, decorated with flowers of all hues and then propitiated with devotional hymns, ‘Bhakti Stotras’. In these private worshipping sessions as also at different pilgrimage centers popular ‘Stotras’ like Bhawani Sahasranam, Indrakshi, Panchastavi, Shad-akshar and Pancha-akshar hymns would be sung. People would also sing ‘Leelas’ and ‘Bhajans’ in praise of their choicest Deities, either in chorus with the accompaniment of Harmonium, Tabla and earthenware pitcher called ‘No’t’ or solo, in individual ways, with faith and dedication. 

This was the general religious scenario of an average Kashmiri family. Then there was extra religious fervour and atmosphere in his father’s house and in the house of his maternal grandfather. No wonder, therefore, that Bhagavaan Ji turned out to be an ascetic of highest spiritual attainment. He was simple in manners, straightforward in demeanour, man of few words, agile and restless in mind but firm and resolute in his aspiration to know the Divine. He never adopted any outward garb of a saint. Neither did he grow a beard nor did he wear any ochre dress like the usual mendicants. His dress was that of an ordinary Kashmiri Pandit, a shirt, a waistcoat, a ‘Pheran’ with a detachable white lining and a turban tied on the head. During the winters he would put a black blanket over his shoulders and take a ‘Kangri’ inside his ‘Pheran’. There was nothing unusual in all this that would give an impression that he was a sage of highest order. Yet he was a saint, a seer, a sage, and a saviour of the mankind. When he grew up, however, he did smoke a ‘Chillum’ and had a ‘Dhooni’ lighted in front of him. At best this gave an impression of his being a ‘Mastana’ or one lost in the world of his own and not that of an accomplished emancipated soul that he actually was. How could one gauge the spiritual plane at which our Master was or the level of spiritual accomplishment that he had reached. Strange are the lives of such yogis and mysterious are their ways. 

The Abode of Sages

After draining the waters of Satisar with due penance at the instance of his son Nila, it was the desire of the great Kashyap Rishi to make Kashmir a haven for Rishis and convert this holy land into a hermitage. No wonder, therefore that every household in Kashmir has given birth to a sage. It is the unique feature of Kashmir that whereas every mountain peak is celestial, every spring is sacred and every nook and corner is a place of pilgrimage, every village and every township has produced a sage of eminence. Consequently a great number of ‘Grihasta Sadhus’, household ascetics have lived in this pious land. They have given spiritual guidance and mental peace to a host of their devotees and others from time to time. Some of them have composed mystical and devotional poems in a variety of forms, Bhajans, Leelas (Hymns in praise of God), Vakhs, Shrukhs (Quatrains containing moral and spiritual message) and so on. The message they gave was one of righteousness, piety, purity and penance. In the Hindu period of our history there have been great scholar-sages from Vasugupta, Utpaldev, Somanand and down to Abhinavgupta, and others, who propounded the world famous Trika philosophy – a monistic doctrine unique in many ways. They wrote original texts, treatises and commentaries in Sanskrit notably Spanda Karika, Shivastotravali, Shiva Drishti, Parmarthasara, Tantralok and the like.  

From the fourteenth century onwards and with the advent of Islam, we have had saints who wrote or preached through the medium of Kashmiri language. At the head of this list is the great Lal Ded who was followed by Nunda Rishi, Roopa Bhawani, Paramananda, Krishna Razdan, and others. There were quite a few Muslim Sufis as well, notable among them being, Swachha Kral, Rahman Dar, Shah Gafoor, Waza Mehmood, Shamas Faqir, Wahab Khar, Nyama Sahib, Asad Paray and Ahad Zargar. Kashmiris sing their compositions with reverence and devotion and these provide light and guidance. There, however, have been other saints and sages, who may not have written or composed any text or any poetry but they have guided many a seeker and provided solace to the suffering humanity. Some of these holy men revered and remembered by all Kashmiris are Krishna Kar, Reshi Peer, Sona Kak, Jeevan Shah, Mirza Kak  Kash Kak, Nanda Bab, Swami Nanda Lal, Grata Bab, Mathura Devi, Swami Laxman Joo, Shankar Razdan. In this galaxy of stars there appeared a shining Pole star called Bhagavaan Gopi Nath Ji, who in his lifetime got the title ‘Jagad Guru’ or the preceptor of the world. He was born towards the end of Nineteenth century and lived in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir State throughout his life.

Birth and Background 

Srinagar city is situated on either bank of the river Vitasta, also known as Jehlum. This river is the lifeline of the valley and sprouts forth from the spring of Verinag. Its source is known in local language as ‘Vethavotur’ and is a sacred place of pilgrimage. In olden days the two sides of this river were connected in Srinagar by seven bridges, now there are nine. Between the second and the third bridges, on the right bank there is a densely populated area called ‘Bhana Mohalla.’ As the name itself indicates the mohalla is named after the family of Bhans, who lived in this area. Shri Lachhman Joo Bhan, a Wazir Wazaarat (present day Collector) in the Revenue Department of the Dogra Maharaja lived here. His son Pandit Narayan Joo Bhan was married to Shrimati Haara Maal, daughter of Pt. Prasad Joo Parimoo and the couple were blessed with a son on the 19th Ashada 1955 (Vikrami) corresponding to 3rd of July 1898 AD, who was named Gopi Nath. There is an unconfirmed report that sometime before his birth Swami Vivekananda, who was in Kashmir then, had paid a visit to that place. Some say that he called on the family and others say he stopped short of entering the house and sat on a tailor’s shop below it. Coming events cast their shadow before. Probably Swami Ji was aware that a great and a pious soul was going to be born there. Sometime around that time in 1898 was born Ronald Nixon in Cheltenham, UK, who came to India in 1921, became a Sanyasi, a monk and was eventually known as Shri Krishnaprem Vairagi, a worthy disciple of Yashoda Ma.  Two years earlier in 1896 were born A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the founder of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON and Anandamayi Ma, who was referred to as ‘the purest flower the soil of India has ever produced’ by Swami Sivananda Saraswati, the founder of the Divine Life Society of Rishikesh. 

Obviously there was something celestial about the last decade of the Nineteenth Century. It is no surprise, therefore, that Bhagavaan Ji should have been born in this auspicious decade. His father Pandit Narayan Joo was a highly religious person, a devout and spiritually very elevated. He dealt with Pashmina wool business. That he was a pious person of highest order devoid of any greed and coveting is clear from the fact that he gave up his ancestral home at Bhana Mohalla and other possessions inherited from his father, in favour of his stepmother and her children. Himself he shifted to the house of Pandit Shiv Ji Khyberi in Bhana Mohalla itself, along with his parents and family including young Gopi Nath Ji, about ten years of age. He had two other sons. The elder one Pt. Govind Joo Bhan remained a bachelor. He worked in the Customs and Excise department and died in 1946. The younger one, Pt. Jia Lal was given in adoption to a family of Kaks at Sathu Barbarshah. He was married but had no issues. He was a draftsman in the State PWD and died in the year 1964. He too was spiritually inclined and would always be seen engaged in the service of Sadhus and the poor and downtrodden. At the time of his death Bhagavaan Ji is said to have remarked that the departed soul had merged with the Divine and, therefore, it was not surprising that he had given up his gross body. This is an indication enough that he too was spiritually at a very high level – a typically household sage, ‘Grihasti-Sadhu’. 

Shrimati Haara Maal, Bhagavaan Ji’s mother was the daughter of Pandit Prasad Joo Parimoo, who lived at Sekidafer. He was also a saint in his own right. He and Swami Anand Ji of Jamanagari, Shopian were the disciples of the same Guru and Pandit Parimoo was considered to be spiritually so profound that he was fondly called ‘Zada Bharata’ after ‘Jada Bharata’, the legendary saint of the Puranas. It is said that in the beginning he had no issues and, therefore, he adopted a son, Madhav Joo. Soon thereafter he had a vision of Shri Rajna Bhagavati while in samadhi at Tula Mula shrine. The Bhagavati chided him for having gone for adoption when she herself was desirous of taking birth in his house. Eventually Haara Mal was born, who was to give birth to Bhagavaan Ji in course of time. Shri Parimoo, the grandfather of Bhagavaan Ji had two more daughters, Badar Ded and Zapaer Ded and two sons, Bhagawan Das and Dama Kak.  Holding ‘Satsang’ or spiritual meetings was a matter of routine in their house. Prasad Joo initiated his younger daughter, Zapaer Ded into ‘Japa-yoga’ himself as a result of which she was recognized as an accomplished saint when she was around fifty years of age. His son, Pandit Bhagawan Das Parimoo was a devotee of Bhagavati Sharika and would go to Hari Parbat daily for circumambulation. Teaching of the scriptures like ‘Yoga Vaasishtha’ of Patanjali was a regular feature in their house. He would also go to ‘Pokhribal’ at the foothill of Haari Parvat towards the exit gate of Kathi Darwaza and return by dawn to his home. The spring at ‘Pokhribal’ used to be desilted once or twice every year. The young Gopi Nath would undertake this job. He would descend into the spring and remove the silt, mud, rotten flowers and other offerings from its bottom to clean the water. He would also attend the annual yajna at this sacred shrine. These activities of his showed that the seeds of spirituality and religious bent of mind were ingrained in the young lad from the very childhood.

Religious Legacy 

Bhagavaan Ji had thus, it appears, inherited religious discipline, yoga practices, sainthood and spiritual atmosphere from his mother’s side, Whereas his mother was an incarnation of Bhagavati Rajna, his grandfather, his aunt and his maternal uncle, all were initiated saints and devout practitioners of religious rituals. Periodical religious meetings, ‘Satsang’ had made the whole atmosphere in their house divine and pious. The atmosphere in his own house also was strictly religious as his father was at a high spiritual level, his elder brother practised celibacy throughout his life and the younger one was also given to service of Sadhus. No wonder, therefore, that he was drawn to ‘Dharma sadhana’ or the religious pursuit from the early age and as a young boy took pleasure in doing pious jobs as service unto the Divine. Mundane activities and normal household life did not, therefore, interest him at all. He developed aversion to sense objects and became indifferent to food, clothing and other means of comfort. This was manifest in his attitude in later years of his life. It is well said that coming events cast their shadows before. The seeds of his future exalted spiritual position were sown in his young age itself. Yet he was not given to ostentation or exhibitionism and remained throughout a silent and hidden seeker. He spoke very little and that too in low whispers and remained engrossed with the spiritual world of his own although outwardly appearing to be very much in this mundane world. He would seldom address any visitor directly. The conversion would either be indirect or through gestures. 

Bhagavaan Ji had two sisters. The sister elder to him was Deva Maali. She gave birth to two daughters and was widowed at a young age. Probably the destiny had willed that she should be free from the worries of her own family so that she gave her full attention to sustain Bhagavaan Ji during the period of his rigorous ‘Sadhanaa’ or the spiritual pursuit. She remained with him for a major portion of his life, taking care of his food, clothing and well being, till she died in 1965. She was with him during pilgrimages and occasionally on his visits to some prominent saints of the time. Her elder daughter, Shrimati Kamala Ji was married to Pt. Shyam Lal Malla and the couple got one son and two daughters. It was in their house at Chandapora that Bhagavaan Ji spent the last eleven years of his life and gave up his mortal frame in 1968. The younger daughter, Chanda Ji was married to Pt. Madhav Joo Sathu. Bhagavaan Ji stayed in their house at Rishi Mohalla for ten years before moving to the house of Mallas in 1956. Bhagavaan Ji’s younger sister was Shrimati Janaki Devi. She died at a young age after giving birth to two sons and two daughters. She was also devoted to her brother and used to serve him on various occasions. 

Living in ‘Vangaejvore’ (hired houses with or without rentals), moving from house to house, losing near and dear ones and the resultant turmoil made this young boy vividly aware of the frivolity of the worldly matters and the need to strive to know the Supreme Truth. Consequently he became an introvert. It is because of these traits and the fact that from his childhood itself he was not open and communicative that many people have observed that there were no signs of sainthood in him in his younger days. He had inherited piety and spiritual bent of mind both from his father and mother’s side. The seeds of ‘Saadhana’ were there and the deprivation, turmoil and grief that he experienced made these seeds sprout and he chose a path of sainthood that was destined for him. No doubt the cumulative virtue ‘Sanchit punya’ of the previous many births had a big role to play in shaping his spiritual life. Without the intrinsic qualities of sainthood and the inclination towards ‘sadhana’ carried over from the previous births, the turmoil would only have caused depression and turned him an escapist and would not have given rise to the positive aptitude towards seeking the Divine. 

He must have been around ten years of age when his father shifted from his ancestral home to the house of Pt. Shiv Ji Khyberi in the same area, Bhana Mohalla. He had given up his palatial three-storeyed ancestral house and property in favour of his stepmother and her children. The family lived there for about one and a half years. In 1909 they moved to the house of Pt. Keshav Joo Nagri in Shaalayar where they lived for three years. These were the days of schooling for the young Gopi, who passed the middle standard, which at that time was of good reckoning. It was here that he lost his mother when he was just twelve years of age. In 1912 the family moved to Razverkadal house of Pt. Kailash Joo Bhan. During this period Bhagavaan Ji joined his maternal uncle in Pashmina wool business for some time. Thereafter he took employment with Vishi Nath Printing Press as a compositor. This engagement continued for three years and in between the family again shifted to Sekidafer in his maternal grandfather’s house. His sojourn here seems to have intensified his spiritual activities. Earlier he used to visit the saint Zana Kak and now he would press the feet of the Jatadhari saint Balak Kaw, fondly known as Bal Ji. The family stayed at Sekidafer for seven years. His stint with the local press lasted just three years and then he started a grocer’s shop at a place called ‘Chaidob’. In 1920 the family took up residence at Safa Kadal in the house of Pt. Keshav Joo Dhar. Bhagavaan Ji shifted his Kiryana shop to Sekidafer. He formed a group of young friends and as the leader of the group arranged occasional trips to holy places like Tula Mula, Vitsarnag, and Mahadev. He was fond of going to various saints, meeting them and having their darshan. It is possible that during these meetings he might have been discussing the problems encountered by him as a seeker in his quest for the Divine and sought answers to his queries. Alas these secret conversations are not made public and, therefore, one has just to presume what must have transpired between these sages. Surely they would not talk about worldly matters unless the topic veered round the good of the mankind at large.   

It is not uncommon in Kashmir that a sage is born in an apparently ordinary household. There is a saying in Kashmiri, ‘Lembi chhu pamposh phatan’ meaning that a lotus grows in muddy waters. We have had a galaxy of such saints, both men and women. In 14th century we had the great saint-poetess Lal Ded whose ‘Vakhs’ or sayings are on the tip of every one’s tongue. We have had Roop Bhawani in the 17th century who was an incarnation of Goddess Sharika. We had Krishna Kar, the illustrious preceptor of another great saint, Rishi Peer, who was called ‘Peer Pandit Padshah, Mushkil Kusha har du jahan’ meaning a King of saints capable of removing all the difficulties of both the worlds, here and beyond. In the contemporary scene also we had big names like Kash Kak, Nanda Bab, Grata Mo’t, Mathura Devi, Sati Ded et al. In the lineage of Kashmir Shaiva Philosophy luminaries we had Vasu Gupt, Utpal Dev, Somanand, Abhinav Gupt, Swami Ram, Swami Mahtab Kak and Swami Laxman Joo. They have left behind a treasure of literature expounding the tenets of the unique ‘Trika’ Philosophy of this pious land. 

This basically a non-dualistic philosophy, propounds that the whole creation is the manifestation of the Divine and is, therefore, real and not an illusion. It comprises thirty-six elements and the spiritual quest consists in moving from objectivity to subjectivity or vice versa and attaining the position where the two get merged. In this doctrine the Divine is perceived as the Supreme Universal Consciousness, which manifests itself in the form of the creation with the help of its own inseparable energy aspect out of its own free will. Kashmir has been fertile enough to give birth to saints like Bhagavaan Gopi Nath, who during his lifetime got the epithet of ‘Jagad Guru’, the Preceptor of the World. To his numerous disciples he was ‘Bab’, the loving father. Some of his disciples have fondly called him ‘Bab Bhagavaan’ or the God father and God father no doubt he was to his numerous devotees and fortunate persons who gained proximity to him. He was their ultimate hope for support, succour and spiritual guidance. He continues to provide this support in his astral form even now to the people in various nooks and corners of the globe. His birthday and Nirvana day are celebrated every year throughout the length and breadth of the country and abroad with devotion and dedication. 

Attractive Disposition

Even today long after he has ceased to exist in human form, Bhagavaan Ji is as radiant as the Sun. He is as cool and soothing as the Moon. He is deep as an ocean and vast as the sky. He is ever fresh as the morning dew. He provides shelter like a mighty Bunyan tree. Whenever we see his portrait, picture or statue a strange kind of magnetic attraction is felt. We are drawn to him by the intensity of the gaze of his eyes. It is as penetrating as the rays of the morning sun entering a closed room through the mesh windows. It is so enchanting as the sight of the rising sun from behind the mountain peaks. It is so captivating as the thousand flowers of all hues blossoming simultaneously. We are drawn towards him because of the attraction of his half open lips, which are eloquent enough to give an impression that they are reciting ‘Richas’ of the Rig Veda or singing ‘Sama’ of the Sama Veda or uttering the eternal seed syllable ‘Om’. Incidentally he was himself very fond of Shastriya Sangeet or the classical music. We are drawn to him due to the radiance reflected from his glittering countenance and the splendour and grace radiating from his white turban and coloured ‘Pheran’. This radiance spreads throughout the atmosphere around and envelops the entire audience. We are also drawn to him by the fountain of lights sprouting forth from the vermilion ‘Tilaka’ of his shining forehead, likened by many with the ‘Sharika Shila’ at Hari Parbat. 

He was a recluse who lived an austere life. He was an ascetic and an introvert who was never after name or fame. He had taken birth not only to achieve the supreme truth himself but also to uplift others spiritually, rescue those in difficulty and relieve the suffering of their pain. He proved to be a pole star guiding the course of the ship of life for a number of devotees. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan has rightly observed about such an experience, ‘It is good to know that the ancient thinkers required of us to realize the possibilities of the soul in solitude and silence, and to transform the flashing and fading moments of vision into a steady light which could illumine the long years of life.’ He was always engrossed in his own divine spiritual world, in communion with the Divine, whom he could approach at will. He was not in favour of getting married. Perhaps he thought that he would not be able to devote his full attention to the ‘sadhana’ that was his main interest and the aim of his life. We have had many examples of sages who did not marry for the same reason or if they did under force and coercion of their parents, they had to neglect their family, which pained them. The 14th century saint Nunda Rishi was forced to marry and got two children. Eventually his wife died and he himself went into a cave for intense penance. The burden of bringing up the kids fell on his aged mother. It is said that the old lady approached him and asked him to relieve her of this troublesome responsibility. The sage looked up towards the sky and requested God to take away the children since household duty was not his forte. Instantaneously the children died and that was the end of this distraction for him. To avoid such a grave and pathetic situation it was in the fitness of things that Bhagavaan Ji should have from the beginning decided not to marry and lead the life of a celibate. He had special liking for the celibates although he was equally considerate and kind towards the devotees who were householders. He recognized that even they could attain spiritual heights but the path for them was more arduous.

Aptitude and Inclination

In 1923 on Vijay Saptami he joined a group of people comprising the families of Shalis and Parimoos for pilgrimage to Mattan. When they reached Khanabal by boat, he along with a couple of his associates separated from the group and dashed off to see the saint Jeevan Sahib, who lived somewhere that side. There are other instances when he similarly went to see other saints. He would likewise organize trips to Kshir Bhawani, Mahadev, Vitsarnag and other holy places along with a group of people as their leader. This shows that Shrines and Saints attracted him a lot. Shrines would provide him the right atmosphere and a serene environment for his spiritual ‘sadhana’. Saints would provide him the proper forum to talk about his spiritual experiences and also help him choose the right mode of ‘sadhana’ best suited to his genius and temperament. He must have carried forward the ‘sanskaras’ of his previous births because of which the latent sainthood in him started flourishing right from his young age. Shrimad Bhagavad Gita says, ‘Aneka janma sansiddhah tato yanti paran-gatim – a seeker gets perfected over a number of births and then only attains the exalted spiritual position’. The exalted spiritual position that Bhagavaan Ji attained during his lifetime stands testimony to the fact that he had a number of highly successful spiritual lives in the past, the cumulative effect of which enabled him to merge with the Divine during this life. 

Although the formal school education did not satisfy his mental needs, he did continue his studies till he completed the Middle Standard. He was a student of the Church Missionary School, Fateh Kadal, just across the river from his house. A renowned missionary educationist, Tyndel Biscoe had established this school as a part of his missionary work. The two of Bhagavaan Ji’s close classmates were Pt. Vish Nath Kukiloo and Pt. Gash Lal Bhan. The trio would jump into the river Vitasta from the diving board of the school and swim down the river right up to the Veer after the seventh bridge ‘Safa Kadal’ and then swim back to the third bridge, Fateh Kadal. It is authentically known that he had a good command over Persian, Sanskrit and Urdu. He knew both Devanagari and Sharada scripts. Whether he had read these languages or acquired their knowledge by the dint of his spiritual acumen is, however, not known. There are many devotees of his who have vouched that in his ecstatic mood he would sometimes utter beautiful sentences in English as well. It is also said that when the Kashmir question was being discussed and debated in the Security Council he had uttered a few sentences in an unintelligible language, which turned out to be Russian eventually as these very sentences were spoken by the Russian Delegate the next day while vetoing the resolution of the Council sponsored by the Western powers, which was detrimental to the interests of India. In his early life Bhagavaan Ji would recite Bhawani Sahsranama, Indrakshi, Panchastavi, Vishnu Sahasranama, Mahimnastotra and Shivastotravali. He would occasionally recite the Vaakhs of Kashmiri Saints as well. He was an ardent reader of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, a copy of which was always by his side. 

Himself also he did not attach too much importance to his external self, the body or its upkeep and maintenance. Every morning he would wash his face and Yajnopavit with water at a water tap. Then he would be seated on his ‘asana’. Here he would tie his turban and put on a tilak of saffron with a little ash in the centre. Thereafter he would light his ‘Dhooni’ in an iron sigdi placed on a stone slab or in a large iron tray. The ‘Dhooni’ would be kept burning with firewood from morning till evening. In the morning some oblations would be offered in the ‘Dhooni’ and then he would fill his ‘chillum’ and engage in smoking. Oblations into the fire would consist of ‘Shakkar’ (raw sugar, yellowish-brown in colour), rice, barley, dry fruits, mint and skimmia leaves, ‘bel patra’ and flowers of sorts. This ‘yajna’ was a detached ‘sattvika yajna’ described as the yajna of the highest order in the Bhagavad Gita in the following verse: ‘Aphalakankshibhir-yajnah vidhi drishto ya ijyate, yashtavyam-eva-iti manah samadhaya cha Sattvikah – Yajna performed without desiring any fruit, as per procedure, with mind fixed on yajna only for its own sake is categorized as a sattvika yajna’. He was particular that the ‘Dhooni’ was always in flame and it was not merely a burning charcoal. This indicated the importance he imparted to the light ‘Prakasha’ represented by the flame and blaze. This is in consonance with the Vedic prayer, ‘Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya – lead me from darkness to light’.

Signs of Sainthood

He was indifferent to everything external. In the matter of food also he showed a lot of indifference. He used to say that one should not eat when one is hungry but feed this body only when there is no urge for eating or appetite. This was obviously to conquer hunger and thirst. He would go without food for days together and sometimes eat ferociously. Perhaps he believed in what is stated in Shri Gita about digestion, ‘Aham Vaishvanaro bhutva praninam deham-ashritah, pranapana-samayukhtah pachami annam chaturvidham – Abiding in the body of living beings as Vaishvanara, associated with pran and apana, inhale and exhale, I digest the four types of food’. Normally he would take a cup of Kashmiri black tea called ‘Mogael chai’ at about 9 a.m. At about 1 p.m. he would have his lunch consisting of rice, vegetables etc. For this he had to be reminded by his sister and many times he would decline saying that either it was too late or too early. In the afternoon he would again take a cup of ‘Mogael chai’ or salted tea with milk, called ‘Sheer chai’ in Kashmiri. More often he would take only one meal a day and even that he stopped eight months before giving up his gross body. Even while eating or taking tea he would be lost in his own contemplation, in his own ‘Sadhana’ and in his own spiritual world. The tea in the Kashmiri bronze cup called ‘Khose’ would get ice cold while in his hand for a prolonged time. Then he would either gulp it down or throw it away. During fasting he would be physically weak but mentally alert. ‘Chillum’ was his constant companion and as per his own statement it would give him enough nourishment. It seems he had complete mastery and control over his sense organs because of which he did not feel hunger or need for any thing else. 

In his later years he would recite a shloka or two from these scriptures but would not read from them; perhaps he had memorized them thoroughly. He seems to have been particularly fond of the fourth ‘Stava’ called the ‘Ambastava’ or the Hymn to Mother. He would himself recite a verse or two from it. Once when Shri S.N.Bakshi was introduced to him as a melodious singer of the ‘Panchastavi’ he asked him to recite the same fourth hymn in a singing tone. Another important text that was very dear to his heart was the ‘Guru Gita’, a hymn in praise of the preceptor. This clearly demonstrated the amount of importance he gave to a preceptor for those who aspire for the Supreme Truth. His attendance at the Satsang of saints and scholars shows that he took keen interest in Vedanta and Kashmir Shaiva Darshan in particular and in other disciplines discussed at these meetings in general. For him the different paths of devotion and self-realization did not matter. It was the goal of merger with the Divine, which was of utmost importance for a seeker. The Scriptures were, therefore, of secondary importance to him and what mattered was the personal spiritual experience. Some Sadhu is reported to have made a comment about his not being well versed in scriptures to a disciple of his. Endowed with a clear vision as he was, he made a mention of this comment when the disciple visited him. By this he proved that knowledge does not come to a seeker by merely reading and memorising like a parrot but by perception, vision and yoga and that the experienced truth is supreme and is superior to that acquired by reading scriptures or by listening to discourses. He believed in this shloka from ‘Panchadashi’: ‘Adhitya chaturo vedan sarva-shastranya-anekshah, Brahma tattvam na janati darvi sooparasam yatha – Just as the feeding spoon does not get the taste of the soup served with it, a person does not get to know the Divine merely by reading the four Vedas and all the scriptures many times over’. The idea conveyed here is that the scriptures are there to help. They are the means but it is the perceived and experienced truth ultimately that matters. 

The Spiritual Attainment

What brought him emancipation and what gave him the spiritual height of a rare order, nobody knows. However, one thing is clear that he had attained ‘Moksha’ through his spiritual insight, ‘Jnana’. It is rightly said, ‘Jnanena cha-apavargo- it is through knowledge that one gets liberated’. Righteousness takes one to spiritual heights, ‘Dharmena gamanam-urdhvam’, lack of righteousness throws one in the abyss, ‘Gamanam-adhastad-bhavati-adharmena’, and through sub-conscious aspirations ‘Vasana’ one is tied to vice and virtue, ‘Viparyayadishyate bandhah’. Knowing these facts fully well Bhagavaan Ji seems to have cleaned his mind of all conscious and sub-conscious aspirations and inclinations. He was ‘Vasana-rahita’ and had instinctively and intuitionally directed his mind and soul towards the Divine. He was a ‘Jeevana-mukta’ – an emancipated soul during his lifetime. He had transcended all distinctions of being and non-being, right and wrong, true and false, loss and gain, respect and disrespect, love and hate. Even when circumstances demanded of him to attend to some worldly chores or family problems, he did it in a dispassionate and detached manner. He lived like a lotus in a pool of water, unscathed and unaffected, ‘Padmapatram-iva-ambasa’. What brought him emancipation and what gave him the spiritual height of a rare order, nobody knows. However, one thing is clear that he had attained ‘Moksha’ through his spiritual insight, ‘Jnana’. It is rightly said, ‘Jnanena cha-apavargo- it is through knowledge that one gets liberated’. Righteousness takes one to spiritual heights, ‘Dharmena gamanam-urdhvam’, lack of righteousness throws one in the abyss, ‘Gamanam-adhastad-bhavati-adharmena’, and through sub-conscious aspirations ‘Vasana’ one is tied to vice and virtue, ‘Viparyayadishyate bandhah’. Knowing these facts fully well Bhagavaan Ji seems to have cleaned his mind of all conscious and sub-conscious aspirations and inclinations. He was ‘Vasana-rahita’ and had instinctively and intuitionally directed his mind and soul towards the Divine. He was a ‘Jeevana-mukta’ – an emancipated soul during his lifetime. He had transcended all distinctions of being and non-being, right and wrong, true and false, loss and gain, respect and disrespect, love and hate. Even when circumstances demanded of him to attend to some worldly chores or family problems, he did it in a dispassionate and detached manner. He lived like a lotus in a pool of water, unscathed and unaffected, ‘Padmapatram-iva-ambasa’.    

It seems he was deeply seeped into the dictates of Patanjali’s Yoga Vasishtha. He would strictly adhere to ‘Yama’ and ‘Niyama’, do’s and do not’s prescribed therein. He adopted the laid down posture ‘asana’ and engaged in ‘Dharna’ and ‘Dhyana’ or contemplation, concentration and meditation. His aim was ‘Samadhi’ or complete merger with the Divine and this art he was perfecting slowly and steadily, largely unnoticed by others. With his constant companion ‘Chillum’ and occasionally  Khos’, the Kashmiri teacup in his hand also he would be miles away absorbed in his own ideas wandering in his own world. The sparks from the fire in the ‘Chillum’ would burn his dress even his lips sometimes, the tea in the cup would become ice-cold and he would be unmindful of all this, himself dwelling in his spirit and not the gross body. An eminent Urdu poet has said, ‘Rehte hain apne jism main kuchh istarah se ham, Apne nahin kisi gair ke ghar mein hun jaise’ meaning that I live in my own body in such a detached way as if I live in somebody else’s house and not in my own. This was exactly what Bhagavaan Ji must have lived like. His real self was his soul and the spirit that was embodied in the gross body and only carried by it. 

When he lost his father in the house of Pt. Dina Nath Bota at Rangateng, it seems his last link with the mundane world was severed. He plunged headlong into the rigorous discipline of ‘Yoga Sadhana’. His communication with outside world was minimal and he remained in communion with his inner self all the time. May be he also believed in what Lal Ded had said six hundred years ago: ‘Go’ran dopnam kunuy vatsun, nyabra dopnam andar atsun. – My preceptor told me but one secret, to go from without to within to seek Him’. There are eyewitness accounts that while at the shop he would seldom speak to others and would remain lost in his own inner world. Many a time he would leave the shutters of the shop unbolted and unlocked and rush to Hari Parbat. This shows the aversion he had towards the worldly affairs although the circumstances compelled him to attend to family matters occasionally. That sure must have been a detached involvement, an outward act. 

Effect of The Gita

While there are authentic accounts of his knowledge of various ‘Stotras’ and devotional texts, it is not known if he had studied various scriptures and texts relating to Vedanta, Kashmir Shaiva Darshan or the like. Even otherwise ‘Bhawani Sahasranam’ and ‘Panchastavi’ are the two texts very popular among the Kashmiri Pandits, the all-Brahmin community. There are two possibilities in this regard. Either he had studied some of these texts or he had experienced through his own ‘Yoga sadhana’ all that is written and explained in these scriptures. Such things are not uncommon with many a saint of high spiritual order. In Kashmiri language it is called ‘Apaer achhar’ or acquiring knowledge without reading any text.. Even so it has been reported that he had recited the following three selected Shlokas to Pt. Shankar Pandit and Pt. Nila Kanth of Ali Kadal: 1. Na jayate mriyate va kadachit. Naayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah. Ajo nityah shashvato-ayam purano na hanyate hanyamane sharire – The soul has no birth and death. It neither comes into being nor ceases to exist. It is unborn, eternal, constant and ancient, it does not get killed when the body is slain. 2. Indriyani paranyahuh indriyebhyah param manah. Manasastu para buddhih yo buddheh paratestu sah – The senses are said to be superior to the body; the mind is superior to the senses; the intellect is superior to the mind and beyond intellect is that or the Brahman. 3. Na tad bhasayate Suryo na shashanko na pavakah. Yadgatva na nivartante taddhama paramam mama – The eternal abode of Mine is such that it needs no Sun, Moon or fire to illumine it and having attained it there is no return from there. On one occasion he is said to have recited four of the five ‘Stavas’ or cantos of ‘Panchastavi’. 

The year 1929 seems to be a landmark in his life. Till then he must have been in search of the spiritual discipline best suited to his temperament. As soon as he moved to the house of Pt. Tika Lal at Rangateng he intensified his ‘Sadhana’ on the path finally chosen by him. There was no looking back for him thereafter. In his typical ‘Asana’, with a bolster on the right and at the back, was seated his ‘Sthoola Sharira’ gross body only. His ‘Sookshma Sharira’, the subtle body was engrossed with his ‘Ishta Deva’, the Brahman. His was an embodiment of a single-minded devotion described in the Gita as ‘Eka bhakti vishishyate – excelling with single minded devotion’. He stayed at this house for seven years. Thereafter he shifted first to the house of Pt. Nila Koul Saraf at Dalhasanyaar and then to the house of Pt. Madhav Joo Sathoo at Rishi Mohalla and stayed in these houses for a period of ten years each. It was in the house of Shri Saraf that for the first time he began to be addressed, remembered and called as Bhagavaan Ji. Finally he moved into the house of Pt. Sham Lal Malla at Chondapora, which turned out to be his last resting place. Here he stayed for eleven years till his ‘Maha Nirvana’ in 1968. All these places were sanctified and made holy by his presence and by the dust of his lotus feet. Hundreds of people had the good fortune of having his darshan at these places, many blessed people had the good luck of listening to his golden words though limited and very brief, many were cured of their ailments and many more got answers to their queries and remedies to their needs. These answers, however, were always indirect and one had to be very alert and sharp to catch, understand and interpret these. 

His subtle self was the most valuable possession with him. He kept nothing for himself. Whatever people brought and offered to him was there and then distributed among all those present. Favoured were those who got a pinch of ash from his ‘Dhooni’ and ‘Dhoop’ or those who were allowed to have a puff at his ‘Chillum’. Fortunate were those who were treated to a cup of tea or even to a meal at his place. Theirs is an enviable lot as they got the most precious things one could aspire from this seat of ‘Dharma’, truth and righteousness. His ‘Aasana’ was a Sanctum Sanctorum, ‘Garbha Griha’ and his lotus feet were as sacred as the Flagstaff, ‘Dvaja-stambha’ of a temple. The sacred fire in his Dhooni was the ‘Agni’ about which the Rig Veda says, ‘Agnimile purohitam, ratna dhatamam – I bow to the fire, which has always in the past kept my interests supreme and which is the giver of wealth’. Agni is next only to Indra in the Vedas. It is significant to note that in Rig Veda alone there are more than 200 ‘Richas’ in favour of Agni. While the white turban above his broad forehead bearing a glistening ‘tilaka’, a coloured ‘pheran’ and a blanket over his shoulders were prominent in his external appearance, a ‘Chillum’ in his hands, a ‘Dhooni’ with a blazing flame, a pincer, a long iron tong, a spoon for oblations in front of him and a few pillows and bolsters on the right and at the back of his ‘asana’ constituted all the wherewithal he had in his room wherever he stayed. He believed in no sermons, no scriptural discourses and no scholastic discussions. Physically he would be seated in his ‘Aasana’ and his real self would be miles away, in communion with his ‘Aradhya’, the beloved one. Occasionally the word ‘Narayana’ would, as it were, slip out from his lips in a feeble low whispering sound. At times he would mutter a few words in such a low tone as if he were talking to himself or to Him who was all the time within him as the great Lal Ded would have it, ‘Vuchhum Pandit panani gare – I perceived Him within myself’. Normally, however, his eyes would be looking up with his gaze fixed upwards. He was seldom in direct conversation with any one present before him, lost in the world of his own. At times while puffing at his ‘Chillum’ he would go in a trance, stay in that position for quite sometime and then return to this world. This situation is called in spiritual parlance ‘Sahaja Samadhi’, or easy communion with the Divine. This is the high point of ‘Yoga’.    

A Self-Initiated Saint

There is a controversy about his preceptor. Many names are mentioned in this regard and many arguments are put forward. Although he has many times stated that one’s own effort and preceptor’s grace are required for spiritual uplift, yet when himself he was asked who his preceptor was he is reported to have said that any one shloka from the Bhagavad Gita could be the preceptor. It is, therefore, clear that he was self-initiated. Many a miracle is ascribed to him. He delayed death of a person till the wedding of his daughter was solemnized. He cured many patients from severe ailments. He rescued many of his devotees from imminent dangers. Above all he caused a lucky few to have a glimpse of the mother Goddess in the form of a small girl, whom he fed by his own hands with some savouries. He caused rain when it was needed and warded off the clouds when they were likely to cause hindrance in some programme. Many Sadhus who came for the pilgrimage to Swami Amar Nath Ji would call on him. He would pay a Rupee each and then funds would flood from unexpected corners for them to meet their expenditure. He would empty his cloth purse to the needy parents of any marriageable girl and all their needs for the wedding of the girl would be met easily. He was furious to see an unchaste woman or a man of doubtful character, yet he would eventually show compassion towards the erring persons. He inspired householders and celibates alike to take up spiritual ‘Sadhana’. 

No body knows the path he chose for self-realisation and realization of the Divine. It appears that he taught different methods to different disciples, each according to his capacity, aptitude and inclination. Himself he started with traditional ‘Panchanga Upasana’ of Ganesha, Surya, Narayana, Shiva and Shakti. Ganesha is the ‘Adi Deva’, the primary deity and has to be propitiated before any other deity. Surya is described as ‘Pratyakhsha Deva’ or the visible deity. Narayana represents the Vaishnava stream and Shiva the Shaiva stream. Whereas Shiva is Prakasha, the Eternal Light, Shakti is the inseparable energy of the Divine with the help of which He controls and manages the entire creation, animate and inanimate. The five together complete the ‘Panchayatan’ or a group of five that is worshipped traditionally by the Kashmiris. Later on Bhagavaan Ji seems to have concentrated on Shakti, the energy aspect of the Divine. This must have been the result of his having a vision of the Divine Mother when he was a young man of around 25 years of age. From the age of 22 years itself he had started daily circumambulation, ‘Parikrama’ of Hari Parbat. He would rush to Hari Parbat, worship and meditate at Devi Aangan and smoking his Chillum in an open hut there be absorbed with his ‘Ishta’, the desired one. There should be no doubt about his having been a regular practitioner of Yoga as propounded by Patanjali in his ‘Yoga Vasishtha’. One has to look at his life and habits in their totality in order to arrive at the conclusion that he had discreetly adopted its tenets of ‘Yama’, ‘Niyama’ and ‘Asana’, gone through the stages of ‘Dharna’, and ‘Dhyana’ prescribed therein and eventually attained the highest stage of ‘Samadhi’ described in this text. No wonder, therefore, that he would often be seen puffing at his ‘Chillum’ gazing upwards unmindful of his surroundings. He appears to have experimented with control of senses by observing silence at times and by fasting for days on end. He may have practised ‘Pranabhyasa’ (a Tantric technique of meditation) as well as is clear from the fact that he is reported to have vomitted large quantities of blood at times, which is not uncommon in this process. Some persons have recorded that he would also propitiate Saturn. 

Patrizia Norelli Bachelet, the Director of Aeon Centre of Cosmology has given a different reason for Bhagavaan Ji paying homage to the Saturn in his daily practice. According to her Saturn rules Capricorn and Capricorn is the planetary ruler of India.  Furthermore Saturn has been equated with Chronos, the Time-Spirit. This is considered to be Shiva in his ‘Mahakala’ or the ‘time supreme’ form. She has, therefore concluded that since this planet is central to destiny it is no surprise that Bhagavaan Ji used to pay homage to this planet everyday. She has also observed that such saints, who are perfectly realized souls, perform such acts guided by their own inner command that this must be done. Finally Bhagavaan Ji seems to have settled for ‘Aghor-upasana’ of Shiva. This is indicated by the two items, which were his lifetime companions, the ‘Chillum’ and the ‘Dhooni’. This ‘Upasana’, or worship gave him a vision of the past, present and future, powers extra-ordinary to control even death and capacity to transcend time and space and remain engrossed with the Divine at will. May be he sometimes dabbled in ‘Kundalini yoga’ as well. This can be deduced from the accounts of many of his disciples who have found him often in an ecstatic state. This ecstatic state is the result of awakening of Kundalini, the dormant energy coil, which has been described by Adi Shankara in his ‘Soundarya Lahari’ as ‘Cidananda Lahari’ and ‘Paramananda Lahari’, or bliss of the Consciousness and the bliss Supreme, respectively. The ‘Sadhaka’or the seeker remains glued to his ‘Aasana’ for hours together, enjoying the feeling of an eternal bliss. 

Bhagavaan Ji appears to have reached a ‘Jeevan-mukta’ (emancipated in lifetime itself) state at quite a young age in the prime of his youth. Normally this age leads the young men of ordinary prudence astray and they are attracted towards the worldly pleasures. For him, however, the youth was a different cup of tea. It was the time to reflect on the purpose of the life and explore the right path for attaining the Supreme Truth. He did not consider the gross body as the be all and end all of human existence. He would refer to his legs as mere logs of wood. He was unmindful of his body even when it was swollen, unsteady due to prolonged fasting or weak due to some ailment. Once a rat nibbled a hole in one of his heels that remained so for a long time. This shows that he enjoyed himself in his ‘Sookshma Sharira’ (Subtle body) of ‘Sat, Chit and Ananda’ or Being, Consciousness and Bliss and bothered little about his ‘Sthula Sharira’ (Gross body) of flesh and blood or the ‘Karana Deha’ (Causal body). He had no qualms in taking non-vegetarian food and sometimes showed extreme habits by either not eating at all for a long period or by eating unusually large quantities of food. Taking opium, Datura seeds, ‘panak’ and other intoxicants, emptying bottleful of whisky or brandy when offered at times were the other extremes he engaged in and baffled those present on these occasions. Strange are the ways of such saints and nobody can fathom their depth, vastness or gravity.

A Mystery

It is very difficult to classify his method of ‘Sadhana’. He has guided many a disciple transmitting knowledge either through his ‘Chillum’ or by a mere gaze or by touching them with a pair of tong used for the fire in his ‘Dhooni’. There are indications that he prescribed different methods of ‘Sadhana’ to different disciples of his. This shows that he would examine the capacity, genius and aptitude of a devotee before suggesting what particular path he should follow to achieve the Supreme Truth. His frequent visits to holy places and shrines and his having shown some people a vision of the Divine Mother in the form of a girl indicates his ‘Sakaara Upasana’ or worship of the Divine with form. Hymns to various deities written in his own hand show his inclination towards ‘Bhakti’ or devotion. This is also indicated by the fact that the portraits of gods and goddesses, and great saints like Guru Nanak and Sri Rama Krishna Paramhamsa adorned the walls of his room. This is further corroborated by the fact that he was very fond of classical music. Shri Shivpuri, who would normally go along with his disciples carrying a Harmonium and a pair of Tabla to sing before him, was once asked by him to bring a Tanpura along giving a clear indication that he preferred Classical music to other forms of light music. He would present various ragas like Kedar, Malkauns, Jogia, and Bairagi Bhairav etc.  Many well-known Musicians like Shri Shivpuri, Mohd. Abdullah Tibetbaqal and Ved Lal Vakil would present Kashmiri Sufiana Kalam and Bhajans before him. 

This indicates the state of proximity or ‘Samipya’ in his spiritual life, which is an essential ingredient of the ‘Bhakti Marga’ of the dualistic school of Philosophy propounded by Madhvacharya. He would concentrate on ‘Om’ and has written this seed syllable, symbolizing the crux of the Vedas in his own hand in Sharada script. Shri Gita says, ‘Pranavah sarva Vedeshu – I am the Om, the crux of all the Vedas’. He has also written Rama and Shiva decoratively around this Pranava. This shows his firm belief in the fact that Shiva and Vishnu are one and the same. He was so much enamoured about the worship of ‘Om’ that he once explained that it was the throat of the godhead. Om is described in Maitri Upanishad in these words: ‘the sound of Brahman is Om. At the end of Om is silence. It is a silence of joy. It is the end of journey where fear and sorrow are no more, steady, motionless, never falling, ever lasting, immortal. In order to reach the Highest consider in adoration the sound and silence of Brahman. For it has been said, God is sound and silence. His name is Om. Attain, therefore, contemplation – contemplation in silence on Him’. Bhagavaan ji advocated this contemplation on Om.  This is also indicative of his ‘Nirguna Nirakara upasana’ or worship of the attribute-less and formless God and the state of similarity or ‘Sarupya’ in his spiritual life, peculiar to the Vishishta-advaita or qualified monism of Ramanujacharya. One has, therefore, to conclude that for him all paths led to the same goal or that he believed that different methods of ‘Sadhana’ were useful at different levels of spiritual quest and for seekers with different capacities and attitudes. 

Ultimately he became a ‘Siddha’, an accomplished soul conquering death, transcending time and space and remaining in constant communion with the Divine and thus attaining the state of identity or ‘Sayujya’ as a spiritual entity, the ultimate goal envisaged in the Advaita or non-dualistic doctrine upheld and elaborated by Adi Shankara. It is astonishing that while analyzing and writing commentaries on the ‘Brahma-sutra’ of Badarayan, the Upanishads and the Gita, called the ‘Prasthana Trayee’ the three great commentators, Shankaracharya, Ramanuja and Madhva should have propounded three different schools of Philosophy. This justifies Bhagavaan Ji’s saying that one can hold on to any branch of the tree and yet reach the Truth. A saint is once reported to have found it rather baffling that he should have come to the shrine at Tulamula and without performing any puja at the holy spring should have straightaway gone to a hut in the periphery and got absorbed with his own ‘Chillum’. Here one is reminded of a couplet written by an Urdu poet, ‘Jo khud se guzar jate hain sijda nahin karte – one who has transcended the self seldom bows’. No doubt he had reached that elevated stage in spirituality where he had transcended his self and had become one with the Divine. There was thus no need for him to follow the routine rituals or routine practices. 

 He was a ‘Virakhta’, a detached ‘Sadhaka’ although occasionally he attended to his family matters as well as social customs. Shri Shali has stated that he once attended the tenth day ceremony of someone who had died but was seen absorbed with the Sun above. He was compassion personified and that is why he sometimes deferred the death of a person when the situation so demanded and so often relieved people of their pain and suffering. God only knows how many people have benefitted due to his benign and compassionate nature and how many have got solace sitting at his lotus feet. Even a cat was allowed to sit in his ‘Asana’ in spite of the remonstrations of some devotees. It is, therefore, meaningless to enter into a discussion as to which Guru initiated him and what method of worship he professed. Let us not forget what Pushpadanta has said in his ‘Shiva-mahimnastotra’, which Bhagvaan ji often recited in his younger days, ‘Trayi sankhyam yogah pashupatimatam vaishnavam-iti, prabhinne prasthane param-idam adah pathyam-iti cha, ruchinam vaichitryat riju kutila nana patha jushyam, nrinam eko gamyah tvam-asi payasam arnava-iva- At different times different people professing Vedas, Sankhya, Yoga, Shaivism or Vaishnavism due to their personal preferences proclaim their faith as beneficial. Yet all these people treading different paths, whether straight or involved, seek you alone O Lord! Just as all the rivers are heading towards the ocean only.’

Achieving Immortality

The fateful day of Jyeshta Shukla Dvitiya corresponding to 28th May 1968 arrived. It started as usual and Bhagavaan Ji had his usual routine. There was nothing abnormal or unusual about it and no indication of any major event going to take place. Some people came for his darshan throughout the day and got his blessings and prashada of the holy ash. In the afternoon some three Sadhus came and got the customary ‘Dakhshina’ of Rupee one each. He puffed at his ‘Chillum’. A devotee made some tea for him but he declined to have it. Then he drank a glassful of sugar-mixed water. A lady devotee wanted to have ‘Prashada’ from him. She refused to budge an inch until and unless she received it from him and not from any one else. At the end he did oblige her by taking out some dry fruits from his pocket and gave it to her. Finally the time came and at 5.45 p.m. he uttered the ‘Shad-akhshar’ Maha mantra of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ and closed his eyes forever. This was in keeping with what the Lord has said in the Gita, “Om iti-ekaksharam Brahma vyaharan mam-anusmaran, yah prayati tyejan deham sa yati paramam gatim – He who remembers me by uttering the single word ‘Om’ while giving up the gross body certainly attains the exalted spiritual position”. Uttering these immortal words with the last breath was very significant. It sheds light on his entire life and sums up his message. All along he had attached a lot of importance to the seed syllable ‘Om’. He used to call it the throat of godhead. Om is the crux of both Nigamas or the Vedas and Agamas or other scriptures. It represents the Absolute God, its Energy and the resultant manifestation in the form of the creation. Shiva is the Divine in his attribute-less and formless state, attaining whom is the high point of spiritual seeking. When we pay obeisance to Him by saying ‘Namah’ we recognize the limitless ‘I’ being sought after by the limited ‘I’. After all the spiritual ‘Sadhana’ is nothing but a journey from this limited ‘I’ circumscribed by time and space to the limitless ‘I’ transcending all the barriers of time and space. By uttering these words while giving up the mortal coil he gave a clear indication that he had accomplished the highest point of ‘sadhana’ and was one with ‘Param Shiva’

Bhagavaan Ji might have ceased to exist in his embodied form but he lives in his astral form even today. A distinction has to be made between ‘Kshetra’ or the body and ‘Kshetrajna’ or the knower of the body, the terminology used in the Gita. As ‘Kshetra’ he may not exist today but as ‘Kshetrajna’ he continues to be there. He lives in the hearts of those who loved and adored him. He lives in the memories of those who were relieved of their suffering by him. He lives in the gratitude of those who consider themselves indebted to him for one reason or the other. He lives in the spirit of those who were guided by him in their spiritual quest. He lives in the gatherings where hymns in his praise are sung, where oblations in his name are offered into the holy fire and where the soul-satisfying ‘Mantra’ of ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Gopinathaya’ is chanted with dedication and devotion. He lives in the captivating gaze emanating from his resplendent eyes in the photographs and statues. He lives in the unspoken words that appear to sprout forth from the half-open lips of the statues and portraits placed on pedestals in the Ashrams at different places. He lives in the dreams, thoughts and feelings of his devotees, admirers and beloveds. He had come to this world with a purpose and the purpose was first to complete his own spiritual journey and then to serve the humanity both in mundane and spiritual matters. He accomplished the first purpose by bringing his sadhana to fruition and realizing Self and the Divine. He fulfilled the second purpose by coming to the aid of the suffering and deserving and by guiding the aspirants in their spiritual quest. From all accounts given by various people within the country and abroad he continues to fulfill his mission in his astral form. People have seen him in their dreams, perceived him in human form and seen a glimpse of this great soul in their imagination. This has established his oft-quoted utterance, ‘Amar chha maran – How can death come to an immortal.’

Importance of A Preceptor

From different accounts of the devotees it is clear that Bhagavaan Ji attached a lot of importance to the grace of a preceptor. By this he meant that a preceptor was always a must in order to evaluate the need, the capacity and the temperament of a seeker. Although he has emphasized that the effort of the seeker is of paramount importance and that he has himself to strive for the truth, yet he feels that the preceptor helps him in selecting the method best suited to his genius, guides him in spiritual exercise and assists him in warding off the difficulties and overcoming the hurdles. Just as destiny and actions govern the course of one’s worldly affairs the two important elements that shape the spiritual ‘Sadhana’ of a seeker are ‘Guru Kripa’ or the grace of the preceptor and ‘Parishrama’ or the effort of the seeker himself. 

A World-View

It is clear from the account given in the preceding paragraphs that he experimented with all sorts of spiritual disciplines, different methods of worshipping and various procedures of penance and thus climbed the ladder as it were, step by step. This position also suggests that he had no formal initiation from anyone. For had he got initiation from a Guru he would have been directed on a specific spiritual path and he would have no need for all the experimentation that he actually had to undertake. In that case he would have adopted the path prescribed by his preceptor and stuck to it up to the last. He would give a lot of importance to the path of ‘Vichara’ or contemplation, the path leading to supreme awareness and universal consciousness. He used to talk reverentially about persons whom he thought were ‘Vicharavan’ or thoughtful. This vichara took him to the level of totality, universality and limitless eternity. He appeared before Mr. Simpfendorfor, an Australian devotee in 1978 and remarked: ‘World harmony depends on a globally inter-connected network of light among sacred places and groups of people without regard to nationality or religion’. This is a glaring demonstration of Bhagavaan Ji having attained a universal vision and having dismantled all man-made barriers of religion, cast, creed sects and faiths. This is perhaps the elevated position where saints like him quite naturally make statements like, ‘Aham Brahmo’smi – I am the Brahman, the Divine’ or ‘Man Khuda – I am God Almighty’ or ‘Anal Haq – I am the Truth’ or ‘Chidananda Rupo Shivo’ham Shivo’ham – I am Shiva, I am Shiva, in the form of Consciousness and Bliss, or in the words of the Upanishad Tat Twam asi – That Thou art or the Sufi’s Hama-O-ast - I am He’. 

Shri Rama Krishna is reported to have experimented with Muslim and Christian methods of attaining the Truth with the same amount of success as he had achieved by following the traditional Indian methods of ‘Advaita’. Even the great Lal Ded, the 14th Century saint-poetess of Kashmir has said, ‘Shiv Chhui thali thali rozan, mo zan Hyond ta Musalman – God pervades everything, do not, therefore, discriminate between a Hindu and a Muslim’. Bhagavaan Ji also has remarked once, ‘Hyond chha akh ta Musalman byakh – is there any difference between a Hindu and a Muslim?’ In fact there is an interesting story involving a Muslim. It is said that a lady came to see him. A Muslim servant accompanied her carrying a bagful of yellow pears called ‘Bagugosha’. He directed that these be distributed among all present beginning with the servant. A devotee who was distributing the fruit gave one pear to him but Bhagavaan ji signalled that he be given more. One after the other he got five pears whereas others got only one pear each. Later he revealed that when the lady was purchasing the fruit he had a craving to get some for his consumption but he was not sure that he would get even one as he did not know the person for whom these were being purchased. It is the saints of his stature who have a universal outlook, a world view and an unlimited vision who are able to perceive the truth and express it spontaneously in these expressions: ‘Ishavasyam-idam-sarvam yat kinchit jagatyam jagat – All this that is and that takes place here in this world is pervaded by the Divine’ or ‘Vasudevah sarvam-iti – Everything here verily is Shri Krishna only’ as clearly stated in the Ishavasya Upanishad and the Gita, respectively. 

Lessons to Learn

Bhagavaan Ji was a saint of very few words. He seldom gave a straight answer to any one. He would always refer to himself in plural and would say sentences like, ‘We have eaten already’ or ‘we shall go to Hari Parbat’. Even so he did utter some pithy and meaningful statements from time to time, which have been devotedly recorded by his disciples. Some of these are:

·        A person should be endowed with three qualities of ‘Sezar, Shozar and Pazar’ or straight-forwardness, purity and truth.

·        Amar chha maran’ meaning that cease to exist which is immortal. Here he refers to the immortality of the soul.

·        Ahankaras namaskar, sui gav omkar, tami saet bani sakhshatkar’ . It means that a seeker must realize his self. In so doing he shall realize the Divine and perceive Him as Om. In this situation the subjectivity and objectivity shall get merged.

·        Yi chhu kitab paran, tor chha gash’. Here he says that mere reading the scriptures does not bring enlightenment and by inference enjoins upon the seeker to experience the truth.

·        A seeker can achieve his goal only if he strives for it and has the grace of his preceptor. ‘Mehnat panan ta Gora kripa’ or one’s own effort and the kindness of the preceptor.

·        Seeking the truth by contemplation is superior to worshipping the Divine with form. ‘Yi gav taf parun, yi gav veeri shihlis tal pakun’ meaning that worshipping God with form is an easy-going way like walking under a shade and avoiding the Sun.

·        A seeker must put his own mind and breath on the same wavelength as that of his preceptor. This happens only if God so wills, ‘Yi gatshi yatshun’. 

Bhagavaan Ji had a simple message for a common man that he should earn his living honestly, spend some of his money in charity and remain honest in his dealings. For him all men were equal irrespective of their faith. He used to say, ‘Bata chha akh ta Musalman chhu byakh’ meaning that a Muslim is no different from a Hindu. For the seekers of the truth he emphasized to have a positive attitude, be prepared for a strenuous effort and keep on loving God. He attached a great importance to the Gita as a guide and the Panchastavi as a document of penance. He had a world-view of spirituality. He desired that the forces of peace, piety and righteousness world over should pool their efforts and serve humanity so that universal brotherhood prevails and the forces of dissention and division are defeated. 

A question is often asked whether a saint can change the ‘Prarabdha’ or the destiny of a person. Shri Krishna has said in the Gita ‘Yo me Bhakta sa me priyah – one who is devoted to Me is my beloved’. Once a devout commands the love of the Lord, he is in a position to get anything done through Him. There is a story about the sage Narada. He was once going to ‘Vishnuloka’ when he happened to pass through a township. A couple living there desperately desired to have a child. They requested Narada to give them a boon so that they got a child. The sage told them to wait till he enquired from Lord Vishnu. The Lord told him that the couple was destined to remain childless. He conveyed this to them but they did not give up their hope. They approached another saint who gave them a boon and in course of time they begot a son. After many years Narada happened to drop in the same house for alms and was surprised to see their son. He was furious when he was told how they had got the child and in a rage he went to Vishnu to complain about his having been let down by the Lord. The Lord explained that He was duty-bound to keep the word of His devotees, who are dear to Him. Narada instead of recommending a child for the couple had made only an enquiry whether a child was in their destiny. On the other hand the other saint had straightaway ordered, so to say, that a child be given to them and the Lord immediately accepted his command and blessed the couple with a child. 

This mythological story illustrates that the accomplished saints can, if they so desire, give any boon and fulfill any desire of their beloved devotees. Ordinarily, however, they would desist from interfering with the nature or tampering with the destiny. These may be termed as their miracles or the manifestation of their compassion or their concern for the suffering humanity. We can get anything at their lotus feet but it depends on us whether we seek transient impermanent pleasures of worldly nature or eternal and limitless bliss and joy of the spiritual realm. To illustrate this it may be stated that once a devotee came to him with a huge number of fresh lotus flowers brought from the Dal Lake. At his insistence Bhagavaan Ji remained motionless – in fact he went in ‘Samadhi’, engrossed with the Divine, while he decorated the Master with these flowers from top to toe in his own choicest way. In order to oblige him and give him the benefit of deriving supreme pleasure he remained in this position for hours together. What better example of selfless love and ecstatic devotion one can give. Yet these acts give eternal joy to the devotees, after all there is a thin line of demarcation between love and madness.

Towards Bhagavaan Consciousness

These directions and the spiritual message received from this saint extra-ordinary have encouraged a band of his devotees to launch a movement of bringing people under the fold of what they call ‘Bhagavaan Consciousness’. Ashrams and centers of worship have been established within the country and abroad. These serve as hubs of twofold activity, ‘Sadhana’ or spiritual quest and ‘Seva’ or service of the mankind. During 1997-98 yearlong functions were held in India and abroad as a part of centenary celebrations of the Master. The Government of India, Department of Posts issued a special Rs. 3 stamp and the first day cover to commemorate his hundredth birthday. Mayor Schundler of New Jersey proclaimed July 26, 1997 as Jagadguru Bhagavaan Gopinathji Day when a colourful function was held there with devotion and religious fervour. 

In one of his articles on Bhagavaan Ji Philip Simpfendorfer, his Australian devotee has recorded his experience in these words: “In the dark of the night, somewhere beyond deep sleep, I sometimes glimpse awareness of his presence. He is not in human form, but his presence is unmistakable. Perhaps his body is an energy field, perhaps a vibration. It touches one of my subtle bodies with light. I suspect that it touches the whole earth because the presence does seem to pervade some rocks and caves and canyons on the bushland property where I live. Several years ago when I knew him more in his astral form, I asked where he really was, and the reply was to the effect that ‘We are in the circle of the Shaktis.’ The reply is still an enigma to me. Does it mean he is like the hub of a wheel and his emanation like the spokes, connecting with the rim of powerful blessing as it whirls in energy paths across the earth? Nothing can block or stop the waves of power. All nature receives its good-ness as do receptive humans. To others, it just passes through them. It is an energy of infinite Consciousness.” He has concluded with a significant remark that if all of humanity lived in Bhagavaan Consciousness, all creation would be open to infinity. He is sure that Bhagavaan Ji is constantly breathing his consciousness into us. If we also perceive the situation in a similar way any apparent miracle performed by our master will cease to be a miracle and will be seen as a natural and logical phenomenon, irrespective of whether the occurrence has taken place before or after his giving up the mortal coil. 

T. N. Dhar Kundan's Articles

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