26 February, Shegaon, Buldana, Maharashtra –Bharata Yatra 2006
The drive from Nagpur to Pune is 800 km. Even though the roads are decent, the drive would take a minimum of 20 continuous hours. So Amma decided to break the journey in two, accepting the overnight hospitality of the Sri Gajanan Maharaj Sansthan in Shegaon.
Sri Gajanan Maharaj was an avaduta* who appeared in the village of Shegaon in 1878 and inspired the people there with his miracles, kindness, advaitic teachings and acts of renunciation. Maharaj predicted the day of his own maha-samadhi** two years in advance, shedding his mortal frame in 1910. The sansthan [organization] was set up in Maharaj’s lifetime itself, with the mission of serving the world, seeing everyone as embodiments of God. Today, the sansthan runs a broad range of social-welfare programmes, including the provision of water to remote villages, disaster-relief, values-based education, free medical care, as well as loving treatment to those who come to the samadhi temple of Maharaj.
Amma arrived at the temple after dusk on the 25th, and she was welcomed by a large group of Maharaj’s devotees, who chanted mantras and performed padapuja. Amma spent some time giving darshan and then went to the roof of the temple so as to be able to see the thousands who had gathered.
A classical Hindustani duo of shehnai and chaugada was performing for Amma, and Amma simply stood there for some time, taking in the sights and sounds, including the banana plants used to decorate the temple in her honour and a pundit dressed as Tukaram giving a poetic discourse on the saint’s abhang [teachings in verse] on Guru bhakti. As the pundit would recite the verses, the devotees would respond with the joyous ringing of hand cyambals and the crying of “Vithala Vithala Vithala.”
The next morning at 4:30, Amma came down to the temple proper. The regular worship by the devotees was in full swing. The various chambers of the temple were abuzz with the ecstatic cries of horns, drums, cymbals and human voices. It was a world of devotion without end, for even when the temple closes at night, the many devotees who have travelled to the temple sit outside singing and chanting. Everyone was lost in the adoration of God. Some cried out to Lord Vithala, others chanted the Vishnu Sahasranama, others sat in meditation or prayer or studied from books of Maharaj’s teachings. The queues to Maharaj’s samadhi shrine and to the Sita-Rama-Lakshman murti were both full.
The head of the sansthan guided Amma to Maharaj’s samadhi shrine first. Amma walked down into the underground chamber and reverently offered flowers. Amma was then lead to the Sita-Rama-Lakshman murti temple, to the Radha-Krishna shrine and then to the ananta jyoti, the immortal flame lit by Maharaj himself.
The temple authorities then took Amma to various rooms in the temple, including the area where they prepare the thousands of laddus needed every day for prasad, the area where they offer meals to the devotees and a room for meditation.
As Amma followed the temple authorities around the temple, at one point her attention was became fixed an old blind man participating in a bhajan to Lord Vithala. Peacefully sitting amongst his fellow devotees, he clapped along and called out “Vithala… Vithala… Vithala… Vithala….”
Amma was later taken to Ananada Sagaram, a huge temple-garden managed by the sansthan in the name of peace and universal harmony.
Spending time in Shegaon village and the temple, one clearly see the impact of Sri Gajanan Maharaj in the sevaks and villagers. The loving, reverential and impeccable manner in which the sevaks serve the devotees touched the hearts of Amma’s devotees and disciples.
Upon leaving, Amma spoke to the head of the sansthan. “I bow down to your attitude of service,” she said. “I see your Guru in you.”
* An avaduta is a realized being who cares not for social norms, such as the wearing of clothing. Their actions are often incomprehensible, and as such they are often mistaken as insane.
** Maha-samadhi is the wilful death during one-pointed meditation of a realized being.