Shri Upasani Maharaj
Kasinath, as Upasani Mahraj was originally called, is the second of five sons in a Maharashtra family of priests famous for their piety , learning and devotion. He was born on May 5th, 1870. His backwardness in studies and the consequent cruelty of the teachers created in him a permanent aversion for the school. Endowed with a sturdy physique he appeared to have had a great disregard and detachment for his own body. As he grew up he was more and more attracted by the spiritual side of life and observed all the austerities enjoined by scriptures meticulously. This included Sandhya (twilight meditation) and worship of Sri Rama and Maruthi. He soon started practising yoga asanas and breath control, and reciting Vishnu sahasra namas (the thousand holy Names of Vishnu). He often resorted to the burial ground for his devotional practices. His ideal was to carry on Tapas in a lonely place.
At the same time Kasinath was painfully conscious of his uselessness to his family as a bread-earner and opposed all proposals of his marriage. But his elders forced it on him and he married to a girl of eight, named Durgabai.
However, his parents were soon disillusioned in their hope that the yoke of marriage would render Kasinath more responsible in his ways. Married life only further hurt his self-esteem. One morning he deserted his home leaving behind a letter the reasons thereof and reached Nasik eighty miles away on foot. But soon he regretted causing anxiety to his aged parents and so wrote home. Two months later, a letter alleging his mother's illness brought him back.
Not long after, his wife died but very soon he was forcibly remarried. He felt miserable and again left on his travels. Mostly he was in Poona where he lived by rendering menial service or begging. He often tried in vain to quench his hunger with water and margosa leaves and slept on bare earth. But all the while he sought the company of holy sadhus. Then one of these, a celebate sadhu, impressed upon him the merits of celibacy and devotion to Lord Shiva.
In one of his moods of depression, an old Marathi lady had taught him the verse which meant, "Maintain your life, even with water and other things if needed. Love God and bear your lot. Be patient in misfortunes and spurn the smiles of fortune. Break the bonds of desire. (But) never leave the company of saints."
After another brief stint at begging, he made for his home town of Satana. On the way he saw in a dense wood, with a cave in it, very difficult of access. He was very tired and with a thirsting spirit immediately decided to enter the same and there fast unto death and watch the coming of the end. He climbed a nearby tree and leapt from the tree-top into the cave.
The cave was four or five feet high, nine feet long and four feet broad. After two days of fasting he decided to devote his time for the repetition of the Lord's name. So he started silent repetition of sacred syllables. Soon he attained a high state of mystical trance, i.e., Samadhi. When he woke up from it he was shocked to see someone standing by his side and skinning him alive. His skin was coming off like the slough of a serpent. The shock of the vision had brought him to normal consciousness more fully and he found that there was no one there and his skin was intact. He felt very thirsty. His throat was too parched to cry for help and there was nobody around too. His body became stiff, except his right arm which was free to move. His desire to die was still strong. His thirst too was intense but could be alleviated when he fell again into trance. Soon there were clouds and a heavy downpour. Water streamed near him in the cave, by the time he regained his normal consciousness. He scooped some water with his right hand and slaked his thirst. He then massaged all his limbs till they regained their normal tone.
Three days passed when he had a vivid vision: Thirsty, he was approaching a stream for water. Two figures, a moslem and a hindu were by his side. They pulled off his old skin and displayed to him the shining body within and said, 'Why do you want to die? We are behind you and we wont let you die.'
When the vision passed, he realized that fate would not let him die. Weak as he was, with great effort he reached a nearby village of tribesmen, who fed him adequately. He returned home on 22nd of July, 1890 and realized that he was in a deep Samadhi state for many months on end.
When three weeks of his arrival at home, his father died on 8th August, and he performed the last rites. His grandfather was laid up and young Kasinath had to attend on him. This inspired Kasinath to take up the medical profession. Soon his grandfather too passed away, leaving his family in debts. They had to live henceforth by the generosity of Sri Balgangadhar Tilak. At this time Kasinath's second wife died. Then Kasinath left for Sangli to learn Sanskrit and medicine. Later he became a prosperous doctor in Amroati but his spiritual discipline continued. he invested his savings on a huge real estate which resulted in a loss forcing him to return to Amroati. But his medical practice did not revive and so he gave it up and set on with his third wife on pilgrimage. The couple visited a temple of Gowri Shankar in the midst of a jungle on the banks of river Narmada and worshipped the Omkara Linga there. Kasinath started practicing breath control. Once he lost all consciousness and his wife was terrified. She revived him by splashing water on his face but his breathing could not be restored to normalcy. When he massaged certain muscles of his body, he could breathe with difficulty. But off and on it used to be suspended, especially when he tried to sleep or eat. One visible effect of this was that his belly grew big. He went to Nagpur and then to Dhulia searching for a remedy, but to no avail. Finally he concluded that only a great Yogi can cure him and started in search of one in April, 1911.
Yogi Kulkarni of Rahuri received Kasinath worshipfully and assured him that the latter had attained an advanced stage in Yoga practice. He advised him to see a great Aulia, Sri Sai Baba of Shirdi. Despite the yogi's assurance that Sai Baba is above the distinctions of caste, due to his Brahminic pride Kasinath continued to search for a Yogi. An old man met Kasinath on the road to Rahuri and told him, "Drink water as hot as your tongue can bear. Avoid cold water, and you will recover." Kasinath ignored the advice and marched on to meet a Yogi named Phatak Mahraj at Moregaon. On the way, at Jejuri, he gave up all concern for his body and spent a week in Samadhi in a lonely place. On the eighth day when he made for a stream for drinking water, the old man that he met at Rahuri suddenly appeared before him and admonished him for ignoring his advice to avoid cold water. He commanded him to take hot water in the nearby village and vanished as mysteriously as he appeared. Amazed at the incident, Kasinath heeded the warning and his condition improved greatly. But fearing possible relapse of the trouble he visited Sri Narayan Mahraj of Khedgaonbet, of famous saint. The Mahraj received Kasinath with great respect and told him that he was as if coated with gold both inside and out, that the latter had attained a high spiritual condition and had no reason for concern. The next day again, he was told that his business was over and there was no need to visit the Mahraj again.
He then visited Yogi Kulkarni again who advised him one more time to visit Sai Baba at Shirdi. Accordingly when Kasinath visited Shirdi on 27th June, 1911 his malady disappeared miraculously. Two days later he sought the permission of Sai Baba to leave for home. Baba asked him to stay in Shirdi for good or come back after 8 days. Kasinath was not prepared for either alternatives. Baba then said, "Well, go if you like. I'll see what I can do."
Kasinath was mystified to see that during the next week instead of rushing home, he had been slowly moving about within fourteen miles of Shirdi. On the eighth day, at Kopergaon, pilgrims to Shirdi pressed him to take them to Sai Baba and he did. On seeing him Sai Baba smiled and asked how long it was since he took leave. Kasinath humbly conceded that it was the eighth day! Sai then ordered him to go and stay in the building built for devotees there.
In the course of time, experiences of various devotees of Sai Baba cultured faith and devotion in Kasinath. The finishing touch was however given by Baba one day. Kasinath was sitting in the mosque along with other devotees. Sai then told the gathering, that once he saw a pregnant woman who did not deliver the child even after years of pregnancy; he later advised her to drink only hot water which will help her in an easy delivery. The lady ignored the advice and approached a stream for drinking water. Feeling that 'she' would needlessly 'die', with the foetuses in her womb, Sai Baba again approached her and admonished her to take hot water from the neighboring village. So she did and got relief immediately.
Kasinath immediately realized that it was indeed his story, and the old man who advised him to drink hot water was Sai Baba himself! He realized the truth of Sai Baba's characteristic statements: "I will not allow my devotees to fail; day and night I think of them," and "I'll never leave anyone in the middle."
To clear the remaining doubts in Kasinath's mind even while he was so wondering, Sai Baba addressed him thus: "There is runanubandha between us. Our families have been closely connected for thousands of years. So we are one." Tears of gratitude rolled down Kasinath's eyes.
Another time Sai Baba hinted at this contact between them through many former lives in his characteristic cryptic laguage: "Two birds lived on a tree on the verge of a well. One of them fell down and was about to be drowned. The second one jumped down and saved it though it nearly lost its own life in the effort."
That this strange parable of Baba is a definite hint at something that had really happened in a former life of both of them - Sai Baba and Kasinath - is borne out by another experience that Kasinath's elder brother had much earlier. When the latter visited Tapovanam at Rishikesh in 1898, hemet a sadhu who told him, "There was a tree. Two persons went up. One fell down and the other went up!" When asked of the significance the latter simply said, "You will know." In 1912, Upasani's brother visited Sai Baba at the mosque and Sai Baba literally repeated the same statement. Thereby Upasani's brother realized that Sai Baba must have appeared before him at Rishikesh in the form of that sadhu, but he did nothing more to know the details of the incident of the two birds.
In short, Sai Baba showed a marked favor to Kasinath and this made several of the devotees jealous. Kasinath stayed in the village shrine of Kandoba and kept alone most of the time on the orders of Sai Baba who said, "He must simply sit quiet in the temple doing nothing." He told Kasinath, "Have nothing to do with anybody. Your future is excellent. No other has such a future."
But the annoyance caused by the jealous devotees of Sai made Kasinath long to go away from Shirdi. He sought Sai's permission through Shama again and again. But Baba always said that he had to 'clear his accounts' with Kasinath and did not permit him to go. He told the devotees, "Everything I have got has been completely given to him." He told Kasinath in 1911, "Hereafter you need not come to me frequently. Come only occasionally. You should not however talk to me. Nor will I talk to you. After 4 years you will have the full grace of Lord Khandoba."
Kasinath still longed to return to his sweet wife and petitioned to Baba occasionally for his permission, but Baba somehow managed that it did not come off. In January, 1912 Kasinath's third wife died and he was very much upset. Baba consoled Kasinath saying that He Himself took care of the peace of her soul and added, "I am fully responsible for you."
The four years that followed were most eventful to Kasinath. It is punctuated with bitterest tears and the sweetest joys. Once for example, Sai said to Kasinath, "I shall be coming there, but will you recognize me?" Kasinath used to cook his food and offer it to Sai Baba before eating it himself. One day a black dog followed him and craved for the food but Kasinath thought of feeding it only after offering it to Sai. On his arrival at mosque Sai said, "Why come here? I was there?" Kasinath said, "But there was none except a black dog." "I was that dog," came Sai's reply.
Kasinath resolved not to repeat the error of not recognizing Baba again. But the next day he found a sudra beggar staring at the food eagerly as it was being cooked. Kasinath drove him away with harsh words. Later when he went to Sai with food, the latter drove him away and refused to accept food. The words of Sai, "Wherever you may look, I'm there," were deeply impressed on Kasinath's heart. Henceforth he lived in a steadier awareness of his Guru's omnipresence.
Besides such thrilling experiences, Kasinath had to experience an extreme aversion for food and he used to throw it away to dogs. Sometimes he went and saw Sai Baba when the latter was on His rounds. Baba always assured him, "I am always with you, you need not fear anything. The more you suffer now, the most excellent and happier your future will be." Pivoted on such trust in his Guru, he stopped eating altogether for one year during 1913-1914. Strangely enough, although he was going without food and lost considerable weight, he was doing hard manual work like grinding, road-laying or ploughing fields! It was on a full moon day in July-August, 1913, that Sai Baba indicated the near completion of His spiritual dispensation with Kasinath when he ordered his devotees to worship the latter in the temple even as Sai Baba was worshiped in the mosque.
During this period, Sai Baba took away all the money that Kasinath had brought with him to Shirdi initially, by asking Dakshina from him repeatedly. So he had no money left. Soon his clothes became rags, but Sai never allowed him to put on the new clothes sent by Kasinath's elder brother. Baba was teaching him practically the significance of His own statement, "What man gives never lasts; what God gives never wears out."
The spiritual training Sai baba gave to Kasinath was mainly through a number of visions which gradually brought about a transformation in him. One such a vision is worth noting. Kasinath had a vision that he entered a house. Sai Baba who was seated inside beckoned to him with a view to whisper some instruction in the former's ear. But when He was about to do so, a dark counterpart of Kasinath pulled him away and asked him not to heed Sai Baba's words. After repeated warning to the dark figure, Sai Baba beat him took him to a stream and burnt him on a pyre. The Sai returned and said that Kasinath was free of sins now. "You are now free from sin. By our united effort there is much to be accomplished." Sai added - "You will yourself understand without a word from me." Then Sai Baba's Guru prostrated before Kasinath to the latter's amazement. Thus ended the vision proclaiming the flowering of Kasinath into a full-fledged saint, Sri Upasani Baba Mahraj. Similarly, on another occasion Sai Baba showed the slowing person of Upasani Mahraj's spiritual glory to him. Upasani Mahraj asked Sai, "If this figure is the form of my virtue and if the one you destroyed was the form of sin, who indeed am I?" Sai replied, "You are beyond these two. That which constitutes 'me' constitutes 'you'. There is no difference between you and me."
This transformation of Kasinath into Upasani Baba was not a mere subjective experience to him. His inner glory started revealing itself in a large number of miracles which his visitors had witnessed. Sitting in the temple, for instance, he would describe everything that happened in the mosque. He knew the innermost thoughts of all and their past, present and future. In short, Sai Baba moulded Upasani Mahraj into His own likeness and once told him, "You must plant trees that will live for many centuries - from which people will derive benefit," implying that thousands will spiritually benefit through him. The nightmare of his life in the temple amidst countless scorpions and cobras, the terrible persecutions he had suffered at the hands of the youths of Shirdi, the jealousy of Sai's devotees, the pangs of separation from home, all vanished like mist before the rising sun.
At the end of three years of his discipleship in July 1914, one night Upasani Mahraj took silent leave of His Master and left for Nagpur. He later went to Kharagpur, Varanasi, Allahabad and other places where, inspite of himself crowds flocked to pay obeisance to him. Countless miracles manifested themselves to his devotees. He visited Baba in 1915 and 1916 and finally in 1917 he settled in Sakori, a hamlet a few miles away from Shirdi. Sakori today is a great spiritual center where devotees receive great inspiration and training along the principles laid down by Sri Upasani Baba Mahraj. Sri Upasani Baba attained samadhi on 24th December, 1941. A big samsthan has taken shape there to meet the needs of the seekers who go there for light.