Sri Purushotham R. Avasthe, B.A., LL.B., Poona was a retired judge of Gwalior. He is another devotee of Sai Baba whose great merit is the fact that but for him, Sri B.V.Narasimha Swamiji, who was made the instrument of spreading Baba’s faith throughout India, would not have known about Baba, at any rate not enough to make him do that work as he has done. Sri Avasthe was born in February 1870 in a fairly orthodox family and had very good and holy associations and contacts for nearly two decades. In his sixth year, he came in contact with Dev Mamlatdar, as he was known, that is, Sri Yeshwant Rao Basker, Mamlatdar of Satara and when that officer was transferred to Nasik, Sri Avasthe’s father was also in Nasik. Young Purushotham had the opportunity of taking his darshan and receiving one guava fruit as prasad at his hands.
Thereafter the young Avasthe had many opportunities of taking his darshan and learning about his wonderful piety-piety that is said to have wrought miracles like that of Ramadas of Bhadrachalam.
Avasthe was very impressed with him, especially between 1887-90, that is, between the ages of 17 and 20, when Dev Mamlatdar was at Nasik leading the life of a religious recluse. Avasthe and his father often visited him and derived considerable religious influence. This was a very important grounding. Soon after, in his college course, Avasthe went on with his studies of John Stuart Mill and Spencer, and the prevailing scepticism and theism of the West easily captured his mind, and he became materialistic, combative and egoistic. He wished to distinguish himself as a debater and a speaker, and wanted to earn lots of money. The old influence appeared to have left him. Luckily however in 1889, when he was just 19, he got, in a street bazaar, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita for half an anna, and he carefully preserved it in his pocket, and it had become a habit with him to read the Gita everyday during his leisure hours. This stood him in very good stead in later life. This atheistic period lasted for eight years, namely, from 1890 to 1898 when he was in the full flush of youth. As Providence would have it, even in that period his atheism received some shocks, which were noteworthy. He picked up a stray leaf from the Srimad Bhagavata and read it. That contained stanza wherein fear is described as arising out of a sense of duality resulting from one going astray from God and getting caught up by Maya, which veils one’s view of God, and prevents one from uniting with God. Another such opportune interference with his atheism was when he went to listen to the devotional songs of a very charming South Indian lady singing in Tamil or Telugu before the figure of Sri Ram, making gestures and referring to Mira Bai, Mukta Bai, Jnana Bai and others. Sri Avasthe was always very sensitive and impressionable and this lady’s songs brought home to his mind the beauty and advantage of Bhakti. A third such interference was when he indulged in hot discussions with his cousins about the existence of God, in which they appointed their maternal uncle Sri Bala Bima Thakurdas as the judge. The discussion went on endlessly and the umpire was not consulted, each hoping to beat down the other and convincing him about the correctness of his position. Anyhow Sri Avasthe met the umpire, who had a great belief in Kirtan and puranas, and asked him whether he truly and honestly believed that the saints were as great as they were represented to be and whether he could convince him of it. Then that Uncle Sri Avasthe took him before the Sri Ram image inside the temple, and swore solemnly an oath before him that he fully believed every word stated in these holy books, and hoped that it would be P.R. Avasthe’s lot to meet such a saint, he would get into the same certainly. Then Sri Avasthe asked him to mention the name of some saints who were living. That uncle gave him the names of Dondi Bua of Palus, Hari Maharaj of Phaltan and Sri Kumbharaswami of Kolhapur. The uncle took a promise from Avasthe to visit them and that he should test them and get convinced. Luckily, Sri Avasthe was able to meet all the above three.
Sri Avasthe had attended philosophical lectures of Dr. Besant and Dr. Richardson, and read books on philosophy and religion. Poona was suffering from an outbreak of plague at the end of 1896, and the anxiety for life and property on that account drove him to religion and God. He began reading reverentially the lives of Maruthi saints namely Jnaneswar, Eknath, Namdev, Tukaram, and Ramdas, as a refuge from plague. He went to Targaon to his uncle’s house where sacred books on Krishna were all available and read them daily. Enquiring about Dondi Bua of Palus from his uncle, he was told how to get to Palus. He went to Palus and got Dondi Bua’s darsan. He was reading Bhagavad Gita on the way, and stopped suddenly at the IV Chapter, 34th Stanza, where saints are said to give jnana. He resolved to test this with that Dondi Bua and whether he would give jnana to him. In the beginning, Bua treated him curtly, asked him to go and salute the temple, because when he looked at the Bua seated outside and guessed that he was evidently a Sudra, he did not find it easy to bow to him being a Brahmin. When he said, “Go to the temple”, he felt it easy and he went inside and discovered that it was the picture of the same Sudra Bua inside that was worshipped. Anyhow, he had flowers and offerings in hand and placed them there. He discovered that the Sudra outside was the God worshipped inside. There was no image there but only his picture. After a couple of hours spent there struggling against his own doubts; he came out and apologized to the Dondi Bua, and asked him how he came by his powers. He replied, “It is very easy. Simply say Ram, Ram, Rajaram Seetharam and everything is accomplished” Then Dondi Bua asked Avasthe to cook for him and his company. Dondi Bua provided the salt, as he did not wish to eat anybody else’s salt and be obliged to him. He mixed his salt with the food and Avasthe prepared. On the whole Avasthe was not willing to treat Dondi Bua as his Guru, and Dondi Bua also said that he did not want to be anybody’s Guru. Anyhow, he gave him his blessing and Avasthe came back.
The next person he met was a Brahmin Paramahamsa. Avasthe approached him with the mental question. “Can Brahma Jnana be got?” That person made Avasthe lie down and he also lay down on the ground by his side and told him, “Have no fear”. But when that person put his hand across the throat of Avasthe and nearly choked him, Avasthe got frightened and tried to evade the grip. That man said, “You are a coward. Get away. You cannot realise Brahman”.
Sri Avasthe next went to Domi Bua of Satara. After that he came to meet an elderly lady who was on a sojourn at a dharmasala at Poona in the Somvar temple which was said to be free from plague. He went along with a friend, who was the devotee of a yogi, to visit that lady. Avasthe took Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga, in respect of which he wanted to put question as to Kundalini, how it progressed through various chakras, etcetera. They found her surrounded by a motley crowd of devotees, pundits, sceptics and scoffers. They thought that there was very little chance of talking to her. So they sat at a distance and resolved that at a fixed time, say, 5 o’clock they should go away if they got no chance of talking to her. Just five minutes before that hour, the lady got rid of the crowd by a very clever device. She suddenly covered her face and said that she was dying, and asked all the people to go away. The crowd dispersed. Naturally Sri Avasthe and his friend thought that they too should go away, but first went near her to bow to her. As they said that they should not trouble her, as she was not in good health, she said that she was feigning ill-health for their sake, and she gave evidence of her powers. The picture of the Kundalini and chakras was shown to her, and she was asked whether she could enlighten them on the subject. She returned the book and said her Guru Maharaj had shown her only the path of bhakti, and she could therefore, give no help on Yoga. Then, they left her, well impressed with her simple and unassuming manners. So, Avasthe went again to listen to her talks, which were after dusk, sitting in a dark corner outside the assembled crowd. He used to carry some questions in his head for solution in respect of matters he had studied during the day. During the talk he would change her topic, and raise the very question, which he had in his mind. She would then put those questions before elderly people and the pundits near her, who would join the discussion. After sifting and rejecting their answers, she would give the solution, which satisfied Avasthe. She stated that the same question was once raised and answered by her Sadguru. Knowing her powers, Avasthe induced his friends to go with him to pay their respects to the lady. They continued to attend her talks and became more intimate. He had very high regard for her divine powers. One day she sent for him at his friend’s house, and he came along with his friend, his younger brother, and both their wives. She said she was going to leave the place shortly and wanted to give some mantra and instruction under instruction from her Guru Maharaj, if Avasthe and others were willing to accept it.
His initiation into the Panchakshari was in 1898, and his darshan of Rama was in 1912. In 1914, he wanted to go to Pandharpur, and prayed to Pandharinath for the fulfillment of the word of his lady Guru. Then M. B. Rege, a devotee of Sai Baba, came to him and learning about his intention to go to Pandharpur, told him to stop at Shirdi, which was on the way from Indore to Pandharpur. Avasthe promised to go with Rege to Shirdi. So, during Christmas of 1914, they started. It was then that they had the threatened interruption of the rail journey at Mhow. Eventually the Commander who first commandeered the train allowed Avasthe and Rege to continue their journey and when they reached Shirdi, They went to stay with Ramakrishna Ayi and she appeared to him as a Sadguru. She recalled some peculiar incidents that had taken place years ago in the company of his lady Guru, and therefore struck him as a remarkable person. He agreed to treat her as a sister of his lady Guru but not as a substitute for her. “Even if I die will you not agree?” asked Ayi. He said, “No.” Suddenly Ayi cried out that she was dead; and lay flat on the ground as if she was really dead. This was exactly like his first Guru’s conduct on the first occasion when he had met her. He got upset and ran up to her and put her head on his lap and shed tears. Then in order to revive her, he began to loudly recite the Panchakshari mantras, which his Guru had taught him, though his first Guru had said that he should not loudly recite those mantras. He implored each of those gods presiding over each of the Panchakshari letters to revive this lady. He offered to give up all his punya of 16 years of japa of the mantra if she revived. Then she gradually opened her eyes, as if she had come out of her swoon. She said to him, “You go and mind your business.” He felt grateful for having repaired the consequences of his folly. He felt sorry for violating his Guru’s instruction not to pronounce the mantras loudly. Then his mind was so upset that he began to repeat the mantras again. He began to see one deity after another coming down as in a magic lantern show. After the first two or three deities appeared, Ayi told him, “Stop all this show. Lie down. Go to sleep.” He obeyed Ayi. During the succeeding days also, he had similar experiences. On the final day, an Ekadasi day, he got into a repentant mood for having to go Shirdi contrary to the advice of his Guru. He had been told not to visit saints, as they would molest him. Then he feared that his stay at Shirdi would endanger him and his mantras would all lose their efficacy. In this mood, he was slowly beginning to feel that he and even Ramakrishna Ayi were led to astray by Sai, a juggler, an old fakir, who imposed upon the public and upon so many honest and devout people including Ayi, inducing them to believe him to be a saint and an incarnation of God. Suddenly he felt that Sai was trying to overpower him by his sorcery and felt he must protect himself and overcome him. So, he began uttering loudly and vehemently Sri Ram, Sri Ram, and carried on that Nama japa for a long time. Ayi and Rege went up to Sai to free Avasthe from this fit of craziness, having passed the whole night in this way. He was cured of this spell instantly when he heard in the morning Baba uttering the words, in a solemn and melodious way, “Allah Malik hai” from the chavadi, which is fairly near the sala where Avasthe was staying. He then mentally apologized to Baba for his thought and behaviour. As soon as the morning prayers and Aarti were finished, Baba sent for Rege and told him to take Avasthe away from Shirdi. A Tonga was soon got ready and he and Rege started off. They saluted Baba near the village gate and got his blessings for leaving. Every male bird or beast on the way appeared to Avasthe as Baba and female birds and beasts as Ayi. That was so till they reached the Lendi rivulet. After that, this spell left him. He lay quietly on his friends lap and slept. He reached home safely.
One result of his visit to Shirdi was that his desire to go to Pandharpur vanished. Baba had shown himself as Vittal. Thereafter Avasthe repeated his visits to Shirdi along with his family or friends, twice or thrice each year, until Baba’s Mahasamadhi in 1918.
In November 1917, in the early hours Sai Baba manifested in his residence at Ujjain. He got up from the bed and bowed to Him reverentially. Baba suddenly disappeared. At that very moment Avasthe heard the familiar voice of Abdul Bhai calling him by name from the garden. Avasthe opened the door and rushed out to find Abdul Bhai. But he found only his friend plucking flowers who on enquiry told him that no one else had come and called him by name!
Avasthe was wondering about the significance of Sai Baba’s visit to his house. On the third day of this incident, Avasthe received a letter from Sri Waman Rao Patil of Shirdi about the sad demise of Mother Radhakrishna Ayi in the early hours of the very day Sai Baba had visited Avasthe’s residence.
In May 1918, Avasthe visited Shirdi along with his sister and niece. They wanted to offer ‘Naivedya’ of pithala to Sai Baba and were preparing it in the very room that used to be formerly occupied by Mother Radhakrishna Ayi. The fuel was wet and smoke covered the entire room. Unable to bear the smoke, Avasthe’s sister thought of Mother Radhakrishna Ayi to come and help in kindling the fuel. At once they fancied that Mother had come downstairs and helped them in enkindling the wet fuel and then disappeared. While they felt the ethereal presence of the Mother amidst them, reality dawned that Mother had cast off her mortal coil in November 1917 itself. But they were inwardly happy for having her darshan.
Another incident Avasthe recalls was in October 1918. At Ujjain, ladies in his household had inadvertently washed the husked rice grain twice or thrice and went into the kitchen. Soon they realized the mistake and were at their wit’s end as to what is to be done. By chance, Avasthe happened to go there and when they told him about this, he casually asked them to prepare ‘Sakhar Bath’ as Sai Baba liked it (rice mixed with sugar and fried in ghee and a little quantity of saffron added to it). After they offered ‘Naivedya’ to Sai Baba and partook ‘prasad’, they got a letter from Shirdi conveying the saddest news of Sai Baba’s ‘Mahasamadhi’. The news was like a bolt from the blue and all of them became benumbed and overtaken with grief.
A friend of Avasthe who was there remarked that on such occasions, sweet rice or Meeta Bath is generally prepared according to Muslim rites and Sai Baba, in His own inimitable manner had received ‘Naivedya’ through him. What a coincidence.