Madhav Rao Deshpande (Shyama) was among Baba's most intimate devotees, and acted like his personal secretary. The relationship between Baba and Shyama can be comapred to that of Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Shyama was “The Nandi to Bhola Baba”. 

Photo of Shyama in his Ancestral House

He was born on Margashirsh Shudda Panchmi day i.e., 6th December 1880 to a Yajurvedi Deshasth Brahmin family from Nimon. His mother was his father's fourth wife. The first three could not bear any children. So his father married Lakshman Mama Kulkarni's sister. Shyama was the eldest son in the family. He had two younger brothers - Kashinath Balwant who was adopted by the family and was named Ganesh Sridhar, and Bappajee Balwant. He came to Shirdi at the age of two years along with his parents and stayed in this house till his last breath. In Nimon Gaon his ancestors were tax collectors and had vast acres of land. They also received some income from that post. He studied in Shirdi and later became a assistant master in a Junior School and  taught the students in a room next door to the mosque (Dwarakamai). Then he took up the post of 'Patil' of Ashtha Gaon, a village about twenty miles from Shirdi. The room which Shyama taught was later turned into a stable for Baba's beloved Horse Shyam Karan. Baba called Mahdav Rao as "Shyama" or more often "Shamyaa" in a tone filled with love and affection. The word "Shyam" in Sanskrit means black, but a flawless and pleasing black colour. There was a small window in the this room which overlooked the mosque and Shyama used to watch Baba through it soon realizing Baba's remarkable powers and so kindling his faith.

Shyama had also learnt Ayurveda and administered medicines to the sick and ailing. Many people from Mumbai came to consult Shyama. Interestingly, he did not go to any school to learn Ayurveda. He just read various books and was self-taught. Patients from far and wide used to visit him for getting treatment. Whenever he gave or administered any medicines to patients, he never failed to mix Udi in the medicines. And only after taking Baba's name he used to start the treatment.

Shyama used to address Baba as "Deva" but often took liberties with Him. The other devotees did not have the courage to ask Baba to come and sit for lunch. But Shyama, after the noon Aarti got completed, used to say "Deva get up and go and take your seat. And make Kaala of the prasad". Baba without uttering a word would get up at once and sit near the Nimbar.

Mention is made in Sai Satcharitra when Baba asked Dhabolkar to go to Shyama’s house and take Dakshina from him and sit and chitchat for a while. Shyama came out of the inner room and told Dhabolkar to be seated, as he was about to do Puja. So saying he went into the inner room. Dhabolkar sat on the Verandah and waited till he finished the Puja. Then Shyama came out and told him the beautiful story of Radha Bai Deshmukh (Refer Sai Satcharitra Chapter 18 and 19).

Once Bala Saheb Miriker visited Shirdi and after darshan he wanted to return to Chitale. Baba knowing that he was to have an encounter with a Snake averted it by asking him to take Shyama with him. (Shri Sai Satcharitra Chapter 22).

Shyama was a very intimate devotee of Baba and Baba wanted to favour him in a particular way by giving him a copy of Vishnu-Sahasra-Nam as Prasad. This was done in the following way. Once a Ramadasi (follower of Saint Ramadas) came to Shirdi and stayed for some time. The routine he followed daily was as follows: He got up early in the morning, washed his face, bathed and then after wearing saffron-coloured clothes and besmearing himself with sacred ashes, read Vishnu-Sahasra-Nam (a book giving a thousand names in praise of Vishnu, and held second in importance to Bhagwad Geeta) and Adhyatma-Ramayana (Esoteric version of Rama's story) with faith. He read these books often and often and then after some days Baba thought of favouring and initiating Shyama with Vishnu-Sahasra-Nam. He, therefore, called the Ramadasi to Him and said to him that, He was suffering from intense stomach-pain, and unless He took Senna-pods (Sona-mukhi, a mild purgative drug) the pain would not stop; so he should please go to the bazar and bring the drug. The Ramadasi closed his reading and went to the bazar. Then Baba descended from His seat, came to the Ramadasi's place of reading, took out the copy of Vishnu-Sahasra-Nam, and coming to His seat said to Shyama- "Oh Shyama, this book is very valuable and efficacious, so I present it to you, you read it. Once I suffered intensely and My heart began to palpitate and My life was in danger. At that critical time, I hugged this book to My heart and then, Shyama, what a relief it gave me! I thought that Allah Himself came down and saved Me. So I give this to you, read it slowly, little by little, read daily one name at least and it will do you good." Shyama replied that he did not want it, and that the owner of it, the Ramadasi who was a mad, obstinate and irritable fellow would certainly pick up a quarrel with him, besides, being a rustic himself, he could not read distinctly the Sanskrit (Devanagari) letters of the book.

Shyama thought that Baba wanted to set him up against the Ramadasi by this act of His, but he had no idea of what Baba felt for him. Baba must have thought to tie this necklace of Vishu-Sahasra-Nam round the neck of Shyama, as he was an intimate devotee, though a rustic, and thus save him from the miseries of the worldly existence. The efficacy of God's Name is well-known. It saves us from all sins and bad tendencies, frees us from the cycle of births and deaths. There is no easier sadhana than this. It is the best purifier of our mind. It requires no paraphernalia and no restrictions. It is so easy and so effective. This sadhana, Baba wanted Shyama to practise, though he did not crave for it. So Baba forced this on him. It is also reported that long ago, Eknath Maharaj, similarly, forced this Vishnu-Sahasra-Nam on a poor Brahmin neighbour, and thus saved him. The reading and study of this Vishnu-Sahasra-Nam is a broad open way of purifying the mind, and hence Baba thrust this on His Shyama.

The Ramadasi returned soon with the Seena-pods. Anna Chinchanikar, who was then present and who wanted to play the part of Narada (the Celestial Rishi who was wellknown for setting up quarrels between Gods and demons and vice versa), informed him of what had happened. The Ramadasi at once flared up. He came down at once on Shyama with all fury. He said that it was Shyama who set Baba to send him away under the pretext of stomachache for bringing the medicine and thus got the book. He began to scold and abuse Shyama and remarked that if the book be not returned, he would dash his head before him. Shyama calmly remonstrated with him, but in vain. Then Baba spoke kindly to him as follows - "Oh Ramadasi, what is the matter with you? Why are you so turbulent? Is not Shyama our boy? Why do you scold him unnecessarily? How is it that you are so quarrelsome? Can you not speak soft and sweet words? You read daily these sacred books and still your mind is impure and your passions uncontrolled. What sort of a Ramadasi you are! You ought to be indifferent to all things. Is it not strange that you should covet this book so strongly? A true Ramadasi should have no 'mamata' (attachment) but have 'samata' (equality) towards all. You are now quarrelling with the boy Shyama for a mere book. Go, take your seat, books can be had in plenty for money, but not men; think well and be considerate. What worth is your book? Shyama had no concern with it. I took it up Myself and gave it to him. You know it by heart. I thought Shyama might read it and profit thereby, and so I gave to it him."

How sweet were these words of Baba, soft, tender and nectar-like! Their effect was wonderful. The Ramadasi calmed down and said to Shyama that he would take Panchratni' Geeta in return. Shyama was much pleased and said - "Why one, I shall give ten copies in return".

So the matter was ultimately compromised. The question for consideration is "Why should the Ramadasi press for Pancha-ratni Geeta, the God in which he never cared to know, and why should he, who daily read religious books in the Masjid in front of Baba, quarrel with Shyama before Him?" We do not know how to apportion the blame and whom to blame. We only say that, had this procedure been not gone through, the importance of the subject, the efficacy of God's name and the study of Vishnu- Sahasra-Nam would not have been brought home to Shyama. So we see that Baba's method, of teaching and initiating was unique. In this case Shyama did gradually study the book and mastered its contents to such an extent, that he was able to explain it to Professor G.G. Narke, M.A. of the College of Engineering, Poona, the son-in-law of Shriman Booty and a devotee of Baba. (Shri Sai Satcharitra Chapter 27).

Once Vaman Narvekar who had immense love for Baba brought a beautiful coin to offer it with great devotion. On one side the fascimile of Ram, Lakshman and Sita was engraved and on the other, was a pleasing image of Hanuman. His intention in making the offering was to get it back after Baba had touched it, with Udi and Prasad. Baba always knew the innermost wishes of other fully. Yet when the coin was placed in His hands, He promptly put it in His pocket. Madhavrao explained Vaman Rao's desire to Baba and earnestly entreated Him to return the coin to him. However, Baba replied in clear tones in front of Vaman Narvekar "why should it be given to him? We should keep it ourselves. However, if he is ready to give Rs.25/- as its price, I will give it to him in exchange". Then to get back the coin, Vaman Rao quickly collected the required money from here and there and gave it to Baba. Baba keeping that amount too in His pocket said "even a heap of rupees cannot equal this one in value. Their value will be less than that of this coin Shyama you take this. Let it be in our collection. Keep it in the Shrine and keep worshipping it". Only Sai knows why He acted like this. He knows what is right and what is wrong. He is the mighty giver and reciver too (Shri Sai Satcharitra Chapter 29 Ovi 180 to 190).

Once a devotee by name Smt.Aurangabadkar asked Shyama to help her in opening her heart to Baba, as she was seeking a cure for her infertility. Shyama waited for the right opportunity. One day when Baba was in a joyful mood, He pinched Shyama's cheek. Shyama pretended to be offended. When Baba said "in the seventy-two generations that we have been together have I ever touched you? Just try and remember". Thus Baba indicated to Shyama that their Rinanubandhic ties spanned for a period seventy-two generations. (Shri Sai Satcharitra Chapter 36).

Once Shyama was suffering from a fulminating eye infection. His eyes were red, swollen and watered profusely. He tried various ointments and pills. But the infection went from bad to worse. The swelling increased and the pain became quite unbearable. At last he went to Baba and confronted Him. Baba asked him if all was well. This upset him very much and hence he said angrily 'Deva I haven't seen such a callous, and unconcerned God like you. You cure the whole humanity. For the last four days I am in agony. My eyes are swollen, watering continuously and the pain is unbearable. Because of the throbbing I am crying, shouting and dying of pain, but you are oblivious to this. Aren't you ashamed of Yourself? Are you blind? Are you deaf too? What use is such a God? If by tomorrow my eyes are not cured, I will drive you out of the Dwarakamai or my name is not Shyama'. To this Baba said in Marathi language 'Ugach, vat vat karu nakos Shamyaa, saath meeryanch daane ugaal aani de doolyath ghalun mange bhag thuje doole vingaavani hothil' (meaning Shyama, don't grumble for nothing. Take seven black pepper seeds and boil them in some water and put this in your eyes. And your eyes will become crystal clear. Here take this Udi and go). These words of Baba further infuriated Shyama. Hence he told to Baba 'Deva you think you are very smart? Where on earth did you learn this Vaidgiri? I will put the pepper in my eyes and my eyes will burst. How great is your prescription? It's a prescription only to burst people's eyes'. To which Baba calmly said, 'Don't act smart Shamyaa. Go and do what I said, and if your eyes don't become clear then you can get angry'. Eventhough Madhav Rao shouted at Baba he had utmost faith in Baba and His words. Shyama did as directed by Baba and at that very moment Shyama's eyes became crystal clear. (Shirdi Che Sai Baba, Dr.Keshav B.Gavankar).

Once Shyama asked Baba whether there really was a 'Trilok'.He asked baba was there a Brahma Lok, Vishnu Lok and Shiv Lok. To this Baba replied in the affirmative. Shyama immediately said "Arre Deva why don't you show it to me?". Shyama insisted on seeing the Trilok. Then Baba asked him to close his eyes and then open them. And lo! Shyama could see Brahma Lok. He saw the most beautiful, ornate diamond studded throne on which lord Brahma was sitting. He was holding court with his Ministrels. They too were sitting on beautiful, golden chairs studded with gems. There was so much gold and gems that it was indescribable. Baba said "Shyama this is Satya Lok, and this is Brahma Dev". Baba then asked him to open and close his eyes again and He showed him Vaikunth Lok. Lastly He showed him Shiv Lok. Each time Shyama saw one of the Loks, Baba explained to him what he was seeing and who the presiding deity was. Shyama was overwhelmed by what he saw. He was slightly frightened and at the same time joyful to see the abundance of wealth and opulanence. Again Baba emphasised, "Shyama all this is not for us, our goal is quite unusual". Shyama could see all this because Baba gave him Divya Drishti (Cosmic Vision). (Shirdi Che Sai Baba, Dr.Keshav B.Gavankar).

Indian Freedom Fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak had given a Kafni to Sai Baba which is now in the ancestral house of Shyama.

Kafni given by Bal Gangadhar Tilak to Sai Baba

Chillum given by Sai Baba

Chipli used during Chavadi Procession

Baba distributed vast amounts of money on a daily basis to many devotees. But He did not give any money to Shyama. Instead Baba gave him spiritual gifts that were invaluable. Baba often gave him religious books, Pothis and Shyama read and reread them with great zeal. The other spiritual gift that Baba gave to Shyama was to send him on pilgrimages. Shyama travelled across the length and breadth of India and visited many Holy places like Kashi, Char Dham and Jagannath Puri.

Sometime after Kakasaheb Dixit was introduced to Sai Baba, he decided to perform the thread (Upanayan) ceremony of his eldest son, Babu, at Nagpur. At about the same time, Nanasaheb Chandorkar’s eldest son was getting married at Gwalior. Both Dixit and Chandorkar came to Shirdi and lovingly invited Baba for these events. Baba asked them to take Shyama as His representative. When He was pressed to come in person, Baba told them to take Shyama with them and said, “after visiting Banares and Prayag, I will be ahead of Shyama.” Now mark these words, for they show Baba’s all-pervasiveness.

With Baba’s permission, Shyama decided to go to Nagpur and Gwalior for these ceremonies and from there to Kashi, Prayag and Gaya. Appa Kote decided to accompany him. Shyama left Shirdi on 25th February 1912. They both went first to Nagpur for the thread ceremony. Kakasaheb Dixit gave Shyama 200 rupees for his expenses. Then they went to Gwalior for the marriage. There, Nanasaheb Chandorkar gave Shyama 100 rupees and his relative, Mr.Jather, also gave him 100 rupees. Their next stop was Kashi and then Ayodhya, where they were well received in Jather’s beautiful temple of Laxmi-Narayan at Varanasi and in the Rama-Mandir at Ayodhya, by Jather’s manager. They stayed for 21 days in Ayodhya and two months in Banares. Then they left for Gaya; On the train, they were a little uneasy upon hearing that plague was raging in Gaya. At night, they alighted at the Gaya station and stayed in the local boarding house. In the morning, the Gayawala (the Priest who arranges and provides for the lodging and boarding of the pilgrims) came there and said, “The pilgrims have already started, you better come soon.” Shyama casually asked him whether there was plague in Gaya. “No” said the Gayawala. “Please come without any fear or anxiety and see for yourself.” Then they went with him and stayed in his house which was a big and commodious Wada. Shyama was pleased with the accommodation provided for him. However, what pleased him the most, was the large, beautiful portrait of Baba fixed in the central portion of the building. Seeing this portrait, Shyama was overwhelmed with emotions. He remembered Baba’s words, “After visiting Kashi and Prayag, I will be ahead of Shyama” and burst into tears. His hairs stood on end, his throat was choked and he began to sob. The Gayawala thought that Shyama was afraid of the plague and was therefore crying. But Shyama asked where he had got Baba’s portrait. He replied that he had 200 or 300 agents working at Manmad and Punatambe, to look after the convenience of the pilgrims to Gaya. And it was from them that he had heard about Baba’s fame. Then about 12 years ago, he went to Shirdi and received Baba’s darshana. While in Shirdi, he wanted Baba’s portrait which was hung in Shyama’s house, and with Baba’s permission, Shyama gave it to him. This was that very portrait; Shyama then remembered this incident. The Gayawala’s joy knew no bounds when he learnt that the same Shyama who had obliged him before was his guest. Then they were both very delighted. The Gayawala gave him a royal welcome, as He was a very rich man. He treated Shyama to a ride on an elephant and attended to all his comforts and conveniences (ref: Shri Sai Satcharitra, Chapter 46).

Baba was once returning from the Lendi, when He saw a herd of goats. Two of them attracted His attention; He went to them, caressed and petted them and bought them for 32 rupees. The devotees who were with Him were surprised at Baba’s conduct. They thought that Baba had been duped in this deal, as the goats would fetch two rupees each or at the most 3 or 4 rupees each (8 rupees at most for both). They began to take Baba to task for this, but Baba remained calm. Shyama and Tatya Kote asked Baba for an explanation. He said He did not need to save money as He had no home or family to look after. He asked them to purchase, at His expense, 4 seers of lentils and feed the goats. After this was done, Baba returned the goats to the owner of the flock and told the story of the two goats.

“My dear Shyama and Tatya, you think that I have been deceived in this bargain; I haven’t. In their former birth, these goats were human beings and had the good fortune to be My companions. They were uterine brothers who loved each other at first, but later on they became enemies. The elder brother was an idle fellow, while the younger one was an active chap and earned a lot of money. The former became greedy and jealous and wanted to kill his brother and take his money. They forgot their fraternal relationship and began to quarrel with each other. The elder brother resorted to many devices to kill his younger brother, but all of his attempts failed. Thus, they became deadly enemies and finally on one occasion the elder dealt a deadly blow with a big stick on the latter’s head while the latter struck the former with an axe. They both fell dead on the spot. As a result of their actions, they were both born as goats. As they passed by me, I at once recognized them and remembered their past. Taking pity on them, I wanted to feed them and give them some rest and comfort. It is for this reason that I spent all the money for which you reproach me. As you did not like the deal, I sent them back to their shepherd.” Such was Sai’s love for the goats (ref: Shri Sai Satcharitra, Chapter 46).

Sri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, Varanasi

Sri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, Varanasi

Everyday Baba received many letters and Shyama would read them aloud to Baba. And according to Baba's orders would reply to them. If any devotee sent any money Shyama used to go to the post office, collect the money and hand it over to Baba. Once a devotee had sent a money order for two rupees. Shyama went and collected the money from post office. But while returning from the post office, he changed his mind and came and hid the money atop the Rath room inside Dwarakamai. The omnipresent Baba knew this but did not utter a word to Shyama. But after few days, disaster struck. One night there was a theft in Shyama's house and the thief robbed him of two hundred fifty rupees. Shyama searched for the money everywhere and later reported the matter to the police, but to no avail. Then in desparation he went to Baba and said "Baba there was a theft in my house and the thief stole two hundred and fifty rupees. Do you feel good about this? That a poor man like me lost so much of money. Arre Deva who can I tell my tale of woe to but you?". To This Baba calmly said "Arre Shamyaa what is the matter? Because there was a theft, and you lost money, you came to Me with your complaint. But when My two rupees were stolen to whom should I complain?". Shyama immediately understood the meaning of Baba's words. Baba further said to Shyama "the value of two hundred and fifty rupees for a poor man like you, has the same value of two rupees for a Fakir like Me" (Shri Sai Leela Magazine, Ank 5, Year 17, 1940).

Shyama did not perform ritualistic pooja to Baba like many other devotees. But he had intense faith in Baba. This faith is impossible to describe. Shyama had utter, one pointed, concentrated and selfless devotion towards Baba. Shyama used to perform Sai Nama Jap with every breath that he took. This has been mentioned very clearly in Shirdi Diary. The entry for 8th December 1911 states as follows: "Madhavarao Deshpande was here and fell asleep. I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears what I only read about but never experienced. With every outgoing and indrawing breath, comes the clear sound of 'Sainath Maharaj, Sainath Baba'. This sound is still clearer when Madhavrao snores as the words can be heard at a distance. This is really wonderful".

Shyama was married twice. His first wife was Savitri Bai, the daughter of Gopal Katchwar Kulkarni of Nimon. She had a son named Eknath. His second wife was Dwarka Bai. She had two sons - Udhavarao and Jagannath Panth and a daughter by name Baby Tai.

When the Shirdi Sai Baba Sansthan was formed Shyama was staying in Dixit Wada. About four months before he expired there was some misunderstanding and Shyama was asked to vacate Dixit Wada within two months. He did so and came back to his home which is near Baba's Dwarakamai. Shyama was quite a healthy villager and lived upto 80 years.

On 25th April 1940, Thursday at about twelve noon Shyama lost consciousness. And on the late night of same day Chaitra Krishna Chaturthi day i.e., on Thursday, 26th April 1940 Shyama breathed his last and became one with his Sadguru (ref: Sainchyaa Saanidhyaat).

Shyama's house is situated towards the right bylane while going from Dwarakamai to the Bazaar. After Shyama, this house was looked after by his son Udhav Rao Deshpande who breathed his last on 27th June 1998. Udhav Rao stated that he was a young lad before Baba’s Mahasamadhi and often he would play with Baba. Baba loved children a lot, and he spent many evenings playing with Baba. Once Shyama asked Baba “What would happen to this child?”. It is stated that Baba said “He will grow up in the Masjid and that there will be no dearth of funds for his livelihood”. The widow of Udhav Rao Smt.Kusuma Bai Deshpande used to looks after the ancestral house. Smt.Kusuma Bai Deshpande merged in the lotus feet of Sai Baba at 6:00 PM on Monday in the year 2023. It was Sankashta Chaturthi day as well.

Udhavrao Deshpande - son of Madhavrao Deshpande

Smt.Kusuma Bai Deshpande- Daughter-in-law of Madhav Rao Deshpande

This house is very sacred as Baba gave him various books to keep and read. There is a statue of Ganapati towards the right hand corner in the main room and it is said that this Ganapati was given by Baba. There are some original photographs of Baba (going to Lendi Bagh and Baba sitting with Shyama to his left and Mahalsapathi to his right).

Pooja Room at Shyama's Ancestral Home

Ganapati Idol given by Sai Baba

(Source: Baba's Rinanubandh by Sai Bhakte Vinni Chitluri, Shri Sai Satcharitra, Shirdi Che Sai Baba by Dr.Keshav B.Gavankar and Shri Sai Leela Bi-Monthly Magazine; Photo Courtesy: Shri.Nagaraj Sham, Pune, Smt.Suma Shekar, Bangalore and Shri.Jignesh C.Rajput, Surat)