Meeting an avadhut
In 1921, after returning from my first meeting with Sri Aurobindo, I accompanied my father and my aunt Motiben on their pilgrimage to Nashik, Tryambakeshwar, etc. On our way back we visited Chanod and Karnali' where we bathed in the holy Narmada. The stone stairs of the ghat along the river start unusually higher than the level of the water. I was sitting on the topmost stair, enjoying Nature's beauty all around, when suddenly I heard someone singing in a grand but melodious and soothing voice. Two lines of this song specially drew my attention:
The Soul is all, the Soul is all is the refrain;
But who gives up this bodily attachment?
These words were sung again and again, and were infused with
such feeling that they could penetrate the listener's heart and awaken his inner consciousness.
The voice came from the window of a house on the riverside. I was attracted to it and felt like going there. While I was wondering which way to go, a student passed by on his way to the ghat. I asked him, "Which way should I go if I wish to meet the singer of this melody?" He said, "It is not possible to go there now. You are extremely fortunate to have heard him sing at this time. He sings only at the evening collective devotional singing; and he never meets anyone, whosoever it may be. But all are allowed to attend the evening singing; that is the only time you will be able to meet him."
C: "What is his name?"
Student: "He calls himself Paagal [Madman], Ghanchakkar [Idiot] etc. His real name is Janardan."
C: "I want to go there; will you show me the way?"
Student: "There is no point in going there now. It will be in vain. Even if you go, he will definitely not open the door."
But I made him show me the way and managed to reach the place on my own. I knocked on the door and at once it was flung open as though he had been waiting just behind it for me. I was astonished to see him; it was the same saint I had met at Jhadeshwar2 — his father was once Kashibhai's secretary! There was a lady beside him and he told her, "Now you see? Hasn't he come?" Turning to me he said, "I saw you sitting there. At this time I rarely open my window and look out, but today I spontaneously opened it and looked to where you were sitting and felt impelled to call you here. I told this lady that the man who is sitting there will soon come, for I am going to call him. Then I sat down with the tanpura. I sang just to bring you here. And see, you have arrived! Otherwise, I never sing at this time."
Then he asked me to attend the collective singing in the evening. My father, aunt and I went there. Some of his melodies were so touching and so simple that they just stuck in my memory:
Abandoning your hankering after earthly tastes,
Echo, 0 tongue, His nectarous Name.
Who is Chhagan and who is Magan, who Chandu or Bandu, Mere illusions are these names and forms!
When vairagya has not stung you,
what can your guru do?
When there is no child in the womb,
what can the midwife do?
Thus we saw that he was an impromptu composer. These couplets seem quite ordinary but when he sang them the effect was so powerful that one would forget everything and just sit there. At Jhadeshwar, I had seen Kamala's father spend the whole day in his company. He used to keep a dhuni [a sacred fire tended with pungent herbs etc.] constantly lit in front of him. His massive physique reminded one of Bhimasen of the Mahabharata but his loving and carefree personality captivated everyone. As we were already concentrated on Sri Aurobindo's yoga, his personality did not touch us to that extent, but had I nor already come in contact with Sri Aurobindo, I might have joined him.
To resume the tale of Chandod-Karnali. After he finished singing in the evening he told me, "Come tomorrow to my house at midnight. I will take you to an avadhut [ascetic]. Even if he abuses you or loses his temper and asks you to get out, do not leave." The next night we went to the avadhut. His fair complexion and white beard added to his luminous personality. He was sitting peacefully in front of his dhuni. Smilingly softly at me, he gestured to me to sit near him and asked: "Is it going on constantly this way?" At that time I was following the sadhana given by Sri Aurobindo. I replied, "I am trying." Then he said, " Jumna maiya will fulfil your sankalpa. I can see your Guru behind your head. Jumna maiya will help you attain your goal. I may get a chance to meet you again." He thus welcomed me very nicely and instead of abusing, blessed me.
On our way back, I was shown another sadhu, but from a distance: "That man too is a saint." His dress was in tatters and his actions seemed those of a madman; but he was only pretending to be mad, so that people stayed away from him. He filled a vessel
with water from the river and, standing on the last step of the ghat, splashed it all around. I had met this 'mad' sadhu before in a small hut in Jhadeshwar and had been very impressed by his carefree nature. He had spoken a lot about Swami Ramatirth but as we had already met Sri Aurobindo, we enjoyed his company without being overwhelmed. When we first met, he wanted to make me his disciple. But nowadays, when we meet, he introduces me to his disciples as his close friend.
1. Chandod is on a tributary of the Narmada; Karnali, only a few kilometers away, is on the Narmada. It was during a visit to Karnali that Sri Aurobindo had a vision of the World Mother in a Kali temple. He described it in his poem "The Stone Goddess". Sri Aurobindo: Archives and Research, December 1978, pp. 209- 10.
2. Jhadeshwar is near Bharooch; both are on the estuary of the Narmada.
3. Mother Jamuna or Yamuna - a holy river of North India.