Swami Keshavaiahji, the Founder - President of Sri Sai Baba Bhaktha Samajam, Shenoy Nagar, was an ardent devotee of Shirdi Saibaba and His chosen instrument for spreading His divine message to the world.
Swami Bala Keshavaiahji was born in a pious Sri Vaishnava family in Pamidi on the banks of Pennar River, in Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh in South India.
Swamiji was born on Shravana Bahula Amavasya Day of Hevilambi year, at the end of 19th Century. His father Sri Swami Balaiah was a devout person.
Swamiji's entire childhood was spent at Pamidi village. He was attracted by the three Temples of Bhogeswaraswami, Chennakesavaswami and Anjaneyaswami in Pamidi. The holy and sacred atmosphere around the banks of the Pennar River where these Temples were situated had also attracted him. He used to regularly visit these temples and sit there for long hours in meditation. The influence of the place and the legends associated with the place impressed on the illuminating mind of Bala Keshavaiah, godliness, love, affection and kindness to all beings which have all moulded him even at his tender age into a devout soul of extraordinary calibre.
He was brought up in good discipline. He was very dutiful to his teachers. He had an enquiring mind. He was of charitable disposition even as a boy. He did not believe in rituals.
He preferred charity to breaking a coconut in the temple. In his school days he stood first in Bible classes and had a vision of Jesus Christ. He learnt the Koran and had a vision of Prophet Mohammed. His common sense was strong and his power of observation keen. Soothsayers had predicted about his sainthood during his early days itself.
Bala Keshavaiah had not gone to any school till his fourteenth year, and it was only when he was 14 years old he joined the London Mission Middle School at Pamidi. He started learning English alphabets under Mr.E.D.Lekler who was then Headmaster of the school. Bala Keshavaiah in no time impressed Mr.Lekler with his pleasing manners and keen interest and curiosity to learn. He was always in the company of his teacher and accompanying him to his house or wherever he went, and utilised every opportunity to get more and more knowledge on subjects pertaining to God and religion. Within a short span of 2 years he completed his Middle School education, and obtained eligibility for admission into 4th Form in the High School at Anantapur. During this period of schooling, his progress was always above the standard in his classes. Further he showed keen interest in knowing more and more about Jesus Christ and made a deep study of the book "33 Years life of Jesus", and got a First Prize in the Bible Course. He was fortunate that he had not only had the manifestation of Jesus Christ, but also of Mohammed the Prophet for which he had all the environmental help in his School. Miss Christlieb, a German Lady, who was the Chief Administrator of the School, observed with delight and admiration the power of intuition of Bala Keshavaiah and she took special interest in imparting him the best of education. Although Bala Keshavaiah showed keen interest in all religions, his faith in Hinduism was unshakable. The two years of his study in the London Middle School at Pamidi under the tutorship of Mr.Lekler and Miss Christlieb laid firm foundation for the inspiring future of Bala Keshavaiah who came to be known as Swami Keshavaiahji in later years. Mr.Lekler personally took Bala Keshavaiah to Anantapur and got him admitted into 4th Form in the Municipal High School there. He passed his higher forms, and Matriculation from that school. Since his family circumstances did not permit for continuing higher studies, he made up his mind to get into a suitable service, and further secured the required qualification for eligibility to a Government Job.
Swamiji began his life as a clerk in the Registration Department in the composite State of Madras. Very soon he was a sub-registrar and earned for himself good name. He was sympathetic to the poor who described him as a "Saint Sub-Registrar". His superiors recognized his worht and paid encomiums and credited him with the coveted Rend Entries six times. He was a kind-hearted householder, an honest and hardworking officer, coupled with integrity and character. During the entire period of his service in the Registration Department, Swami Kehsavaiah maintained a spotless character, and he could not be lured with any presents or baits which are invariably common in the Registration Department. His whole service was without any blemish, and he had the distinction of winning laurels and high encomiums from the public as well as his superiors. There were annual inspections of his office by his superiors and all the inspection reports spoke very high of his character and efficiency.
Wonderful was the grace and kindness of Shirdi Saibaba for he drew the devotees to him or how else could Swami Keshavaiahji then working at Dharmavaram know Him? By the grace of Shirdi Saibaba he became a Kripa Siddha overnight on 1st July 1939. Without reading Sai Satcharitra and without hearing the leelas of Sri Sai Baba from anybody this great devotee realized Shirdi Saibaba in a few hours after merely hearing His name from his friend Mr.Malli Reddy, an Advocate of Anantapur. Swami Keshavaiahji mentioned this to his dear wife Smt.Govindammal. On the night of 1st July 1939 Saibaba came to Swami Keshavaiahji in his dream. He remained with him for four or five minutes. Swami Keshavaiahji felt blessed and overjoyed. He wanted to buy a picture of Saibaba the next day and worship Him. Strangely enough, on the same day a picture of Saibaba and a packet of Udhi one day later arrived from Shirdi although the name of the sender was not known.
H.H.Swami Keshavaiahji did not go in search of Him. But Saibaba came in search of him and made him an instrument to convey his grace to humanity. The choice was appropriate and well proved by Swamiji's service to the devotees during the last four decades. The history of Swamiji after 1939 is the life of Shirdi Saibaba. On April 7, 1941, he came to Penukonda on transfer and his Poojas of Shirdi Saibaba on Thursdays attracted many devotees towards him.
Swami Keshavaiahji once visited Palani, the Hill temple of Lord Muruga in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu. After worship he closed his eyes in meditation. When he opened his eyes he had a wonderful experience. He saw a Jyothi (wonderful light) in the place of the idol. He felt his body light. He had a spiritual experience. From that day he seemed to prossess rare powers. He could tell the past events in the life of anyone who came to him. He could even know their future. He would advice them as to what they should do to free themselves from any calamities.
All the siddhis were at his command. He neither practised nor craved for them. They flowed in profusely and naturally just as the sacred Ganga flowing from the matted locks of Lord Shiva sanctified the earth by washing away the sins of all people.
In addition to daily worship, Swamiji performed special worship every Thursday, which was attended by hundreds of devotees. As soon as the devotees enter the Pooja Room, Swamiji looked at Shirdi Saibaba's picture, spelt out the grievances for which the devotees had come to him, and gave them necessary remedies. When he spoke to them, he was not conscious of Shirdi Saibaba in him. He did not do anything without Shirdi Saibaba's permission. If devotees were not able to go to him, they wrote letters about their ailments and worldly worries which Swamiji placed before Shirdi Saibaba's picture at the time of worship, got correct answers, and sent replies. Shirdi Saibaba talked to him through the picture, through dreams and in a variety of ways and always helped him to do humanitarian work without hampering his official work.
In 1947, Swamiji constructed a Mandir for Shirdi Saibaba at Penukonda. Swami Keshavaiahji's services in organising the Mandir at Penukonda were gratefully remembered by friends there. People from far and wide used to go to the Mandir. They were relieved of their difficulties and illnesses. They were given Theertham (Holy Water) and Udhi (Sacred Ash). Swamiji would bless everyone. People saw Baba's grace shining through him. He infused strong faith in the people, rich and poor, high and low. He did not claim any powers of his own. On one occasion by his prayer to Shirdi Saibaba he brought rainfall in Gooty after a severe drought.
Swami Keshavaiahji visited Shirdi 73 times after he was first blessed by Shirdi Saibaba in 1939. He helped to construct and open Mandirs for Shirdi Saibaba in many places.
Swami Keshavaiahji came to Chennai (then Madras) in 1948 for medical treatment. After his recovery in 1949, Swamiji conducted Thursday Poojas at Sai Nilayam, Shenoy Nagar, Chennai. Thousands of devotees gathered on these days, and in silence sought relief from spiritual and materialistic worries. Shirdi Saibaba's merciful glance was the strength behind Swamiji. In the pooja, Swamiji gave Shirdi Saibaba's Udhi got from Shirdi as Prasad, which was gratefully received by the devotees and acknowledged as a panacea for all ills and woes which afflicted mankind.
Special occasions like Guru Poornima, Sri Rama Navami, Gokulashtami and Shirdi Saibaba's Samadhi Day (Vijayadashmi Day) were celebrated with great devotion and solemnity. Men, Women and Children participated in these functions in large numbers. Swamiji's messages on these occasions were inspiring. The Poojas were attended by thousands of devotees from far and near.
Week after week, the number of devotees participating in worship at Sai Nilayam began to increase rapidly. Swamiji's heart overflowed with love for the devotees who stood in scorching heat, biting cold, drizzles or heavy showers, and even those who came to see him in the night.
Swami Keshavaiahji's wish had been to build a big mandir and meditation hall, to accommodate the increasing number of devotees. This was a mighty task. It was very difficult to get a piece of land. He had to face many difficulties patiently. Finally, Swamiji, by the grace of Shirdi Saibaba, secured the use of the land opposite to Sai Nilayam.
It had been the dream of Swamiji to have the mandir in the spacious open ground in front of Sai Nilayam. This Shirdi Saibaba Mandir was inaugurated on 14th March 1975 amidst great enthusiasm and acclamation by the Honorable Home Minister of Government of India Shri.K.Brahmananda Reddy. The Meditation Hall was opened by Honorable C.Subramanian, Finance Minister, Government of India. He also released the Souvenir, on 15th March 1975.
The most remarkable feature of Swamiji's life was his success in reforming the characters of some men and women. He could do this through the benediction he received from Shirdi Saibaba. Atheists became believers and devotees of Shirdi Saibaba. Swamiji, the chosen apostle, was revered and adored by multitudes of people who came to him. To these devotees, Swamiji gave a soothing touch, a kind word, guidance and comfort. He was a unique personality in the Sai Cult.
Many eminent personalities like Late Shri.B.V.Narasimha Swamiji, Shri.Prakash, former Governor of Madras, Justice P.Ramakrishna Iyer, ICS, Judge, Madras High Court, Dr.H.T.Vira Reddi, FRCS, FICS, Shri.K.K.Shah, former Governor of Tamil Nadu, Shri.V.V.Giri, Former President of India, Smt.Jyothi Venkatachellam, former Governor of Kerala, Shri.M.Uttam Reddy, then Chairman of Bhakta Samajam, Shri.Prabhudas Patwari, former Governor of Tamil Nadu, Honorable Justice P.R.Gokulakrishnan, former Chief Justice of Tamil Nadu High Court have showered praises on Swamiji for his wonderful service to the mankind.
Swamiji was a Godman with a difference. He never claimed to be Shirdi Saibaba. On the other hand, he firmly believed that no one, however great, could become Shirdi Saibaba. There is no second Ramdas, there is no second Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swamiji used to say. Swamiji was not a great scholar in the worldly sense, but his works were full of philosophical truth and spirituality. He was not a great orator, but his speeches were charged with devotion and sincerity. He attracted huge audiences wherever he went. Although he is no longer seen in mortal form, his spirit remains eternally to serve mankind and guide the destinies of Shirdi Saibaba's devotees. Swamiji had made such a promise. He was a saint of the highest order - an embodiment of love, service, compassion and simplicity. He was a star in India's spiritual firmament. Such pious souls make rare appearances in the world to remind people of higher values and to turn erring humanity to the right path.
Swami Keshavaiahji attained Samadhi on August 9, 1981, Shravana Suddha Dashmi Day. Before he took Mahasamadhi Swamiji had asked for Udhi. He applied it to his forehead and swallowed. This occured at Sunset. Still seated, he said "Allah Malik" and closed his eyes. After a while, he was made to rest on his bed. At about 6:30 PM, the sage of Shenoy Nagar left his mortal frame. Swami is survived by a son and two daughters.
Glory to Shirdi Saibaba and Glory to the hallowed memory of His chosen devotee H.H.Swami Keshavaiahji.
(Source: H.H.Swami Keshavaiahji's Life Sketch book published by Sri Sai Baba Bhaktha Samajam, Shenoy Nagar, Chennai).