zondag 26 maart 2017

Siddharameshwar Maharaj
Guru of Nisargadatta Maharaj (and many others)

Questioner to Nisargadatta: “Does Maharaj consider 
                                                                                himself  as following in the footsteps of his Guru?”
                                                                                Maharaj: “He has no footsteps. He has no feet.”
                                                                                                                                                     (Seeds, p. 121)

In December 1989 I traveled for the first time to India. As I was deeply touched by the Advaita teachings of my teacher Alexander Smit and his teacher Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I was eager to know more about its background. Everything Nisargadatta told about himself and his Guru Shri Siddharameshwar Maharaj in I Am That felt as a great example. To me, these descriptions were the most beautiful I knew about the teacher-disciple relationship. That’s why I wanted to taste the atmosphere of what is still left of this tradition, this guru-parampara, or guru lineage. ‘Inchageri tradition’[1] it was called, after a small village in northern Karnataka.

Inchageri. That’s where I wanted to go, that became clear to me.

After traveling by airplane and train and staying a night in a hotel in Sholapur in southern Maharashtra, I arrived in the town of Bijapur, which is close to Inchageri. Luckily I had received some information about someone in Bijapur who belonged to the tradition and had connections with others in the neighborhoods of the town. Through him I first arrived in Kannur, a spot in the middle of no man’s land. Here Shri Ganapatrao Maharaj, another disciple of Siddharameshwar, had founded a math (which in the West is usually called ashram): the Shanti Kuteer. Right on arrival it appeared how extraordinary the ashram looked like: it was almost completely covered by mural paintings.[2]  

Also inside this turned out to be the case. The bottom picture shows the main hall, with the paintings. A painting of Siddharameshwar is behind the right pillar (this is the painting of which an enlargement is placed at the top of this article). He is the one to whom this ashram is dedicated. He is the Sad-Guru, despite the presence of the living Guru, Ganapatrao. The image of Siddharameshwar is flanked by two great Advaita teachers: at the right Ramana Maharshi and at the left (regrettably invisible on the photo, behind the father and daughter) Shankara, the eighth-century founder of Advaita Vedanta. On the left wall you can see the picture that is shown more clearly in the photo below.   

This painting shows the lineage ­– the two yellow circles show what it’s all about. The lower circle is radiating from Siddharameshwar (1888-1936), and his spiritual lineage is shown in the circle above. Right above him, painted at the same size, is his teacher Bhausaheb Maharaj (1843-1914).[3] Above right is Bhausaheb’s teacher, Nimbargi Maharaj (1790-1885), and on the left at the top you can see the supposed appearance of a certain Muppina Muni, who initiated Nimbargi. The six figures grouped to the right and left around it were disciples of Bhausaheb Maharaj, so co-disciples (guru-bandhus) of Siddharameshwar. I know the name of only three of them. First, top left Girimalleshwar Maharaj; he is the one who built a temple in Inchageri for his teacher Bhausaheb. Bottom left, only partially visible, is Amburao Maharaj (1856-1933), who played a major role after the death of Bhausaheb in 1914 by continuing the Inchageri tradition when the other co-disciples were young. At the bottom right, unfortunately a bit sketchy because of the mirrored light, you could see one of those co-disciples: Gurudev Ranade, who is also known in the academic West, as Professor R. D. Ranade. He let the West become acquainted with the great Marathi teachers and poets such as Jnaneshwar, Tukaram and Ramdas.[4]
In towns like Bijapur and Sholapur you can buy images of Siddharameshwar on the street. Here you see one of those. 
      Let me first tell a little bit more about Siddharameshwar’s life. He is born in August 1888, in a village called Pathri (in the Sholapur district of the Bombay Presidency).[5] Around the age of eighteen he marries, and he starts living in Bijapur. In 1906 he is initiated by Bhausaheb Maharaj, who had established his math in Inchageri in 1903 (before that it had been in his hometown Umadi). In 1914 Bhausaheb dies. Touched by the loss of his Guru, Siddharameshwar leaves his work at a cotton company, and wanders around, almost without food.

            Around the year 1919 he starts an extreme period of meditating only, which will last nine months. Bhausaheb had transmitted a path that came down to Nama mantra, which means constant meditating on the name of God. Siddharameshwar realizes at this time that this is not sufficient for him. “Okay! Can one not go beyond that?” he asks his brother disciples, who unfortunately can not sympathize with him in this.[6] In long-secluded sitting he finds his own way, by realizing immediacy – he realizes what is beyond (and prior to) meditation. He realizes the heart of the matter: Ultimate or Final Reality (Paramartha – which will later also be called Vijnana by him, as term for ‘Beyond Knowledge’).

            What he discovers has sometimes been called ‘the way of the bird’, as opposed to ‘the way of the ant’. He discovers within himself the direct path. You can also say that he discovers a ‘holy sequence’. Although his Guru Bhausaheb had stressed that desirelessness (vairagya) and devotion (bhakti) should be first, and only then knowledge (jnana) can emerge, Siddharameshwar stresses that it should be the other way around: first knowledge and insight, and then desirelessness and devotion.[7] So his teaching is really different from that of his Guru, though he remains totally devoted to him and carries his teacher’s portrait always with him for the rest of his life. This is what in my eyes makes Siddharameshwar so special, even now: the beautiful combination of devotion to your teacher and yet also a kind of ‘piercing’ this ­– so that a complete confidence in yourself remains with a true ‘own’ way of expression.


Through a co-disciple who works at the civil court in Bagewadi, Siddharameshwar starts at a certain moment working at a solicitor’s office in that place. For his work he visits Bombay in 1920. There he meets the solicitor Vakharia, who becomes a disciple of him. From the descriptions of the life he leads, it is often unclear what exactly is his work; sometimes the term ‘accountant’ is used. For his work he has to attend court trials and also has to travel – though in his biography it seems that the traveling between the places where he is lecturing, is not for work, but entirely for spiritual instruction. Certainly Vakharia gives him a lot of support, so he is able to travel and to spread his teachings in the whole area. He always stays one or two months in one of the places (Bombay, Sholapur, Inchageri, Bijapur and Bagewadi) and then he travels to one of the other. In all these places he is teaching and holding devotional meetings. He also visits Pathri regularly, where his wife and children and his father and mother live. In 1928 he builds a math in Bagewadi. 
       Fully in line with his tradition, he pays much attention to some classical texts in his lectures, particularly Dasbodh of the seventeenth-century Samarth Ramdas. In 1925 he writes an article which is published in Marathi and translated later into English as ‘Golden Day’. In it, he stresses “that any discovery or invention of physical science would result in humanity going towards death, if it did not have spirituality as the base.”[8]       

During a lecture on Yoga Vasishtha, in 1933 in Bombay, Nisargadatta gets to know Siddharameshwar Maharaj. A few days later Nisargadatta is initiated by him, which makes a very deep impression. From that moment Nisargadatta attends Siddharameshwar’s meetings whenever he is in Bombay. He accompanies his Guru repeatedly in his visits to Inchageri and Bagewadi – places he will continue to visit even after the death of his Guru. During the lectures Nisargadatta often “used to stand in a corner with a note book and a pencil and write down whatever fell from the lips of his Guru. He used to say that his Guru’s words were his food and that he used to eat them and not hear them.”[9] So the series of lectures on paper arises which is later published in English as well, entitled Master of Self-Realization. In the biography it is told that Siddharameshwar in 1935, while summing up the previous ten years of his lectures on knowledge (jnana), placed on top of that ‘the pinnacle of Vi-jnana, (that is, how to go beyond knowledge)’. Vijnana is used by him as a term for Supreme or Absolute Knowledge[10]. We, as Westerners, got to know this approach of the transition from Jnana to Vijnana later as ‘the specific Nisargadatta approach’ – but in fact this approach turns out to be Siddharameshwar’s pioneering work already.
       Siddharameshwar tells every disciple with absolute certainty: “You are nothing but Reality.”[11]
        In the year 1936 a tumor erupts on the back of Siddharameshwar, who is suffering from acute diabetes. Numerous attempts are made to cure him; he stays for a while in a sanatorium and also in an elevated hill station, because of the better climate. It does not help, his health is getting worse by the day. He does not accept surgery; he feels death approaching and wants to be transported to Bombay as soon as possible. There he leaves his mortal body at 9 November 1936. He is cremated the next day; his ashes are then taken to Bagewadi, where a samadhi[12] is being installed.

Back to my stay at the Kannur ashram, in 1989. The Guru of the ashram, Shri Ganapatrao Maharaj, had been initiated by Siddharameshwar in 1923.[13] It is a very friendly man, who speaks English. I have a memory of him as being very calm and gentle (in this quite different from the fiery energy of Nisargadatta). I had a private conversation with him, in which I asked him if he would be willing to tell something about his realization. In those days I still had the idea that it could be pinpointed as some specific experience (I was influenced this way by Alexander Smit, as realization necessarily being a breakthrough event at a particular moment), but he said something in the direction of “Aah, gradually, well... you see, atcha... thus it went.” His way of describing was very informative to me, and I can say he completely convinced me – by the whole setting, the power and truthfulness.

Here you see him in his usual foldaway seat. The sunglasses he wore almost always due to an eye disease. Here we all together do bhajans, which amounts to some singing and rhythmic clattering of cymbals, whereby one repeatedly makes a rotation with the body. Bhajans (songs) are sung as a tribute to the Guru, in this case to Siddharameshwar Maharaj.
            On the big picture you can see Siddharameshwar again, with the small portrait of Bhausaheb painted in it. At the right the mother of Ganapatrao. Here, just as in the main hall, the picture frames are painted as well, very nice; also the Marathi-quote top left. Only the portraits at the bottom (the same teachers again) are ‘real’, movable objects; the two packed books at the right are both editions of Dasbodh. One is a Marathi edition, the other a translation by Ganapatrao in Kannada, the language spoken in Karnataka (the letters that are visible in the lineage tree photograph, are Kannada script).

I have stayed a few days at the ashram; I found it a very pleasant place. Here you see the courtyard. It was usually as peaceful as at the picture. 
          The manager, Ratnakar Kulkarni, with whom I had a nice contact, was so kind to guide me in a taxi to the surrounding villages, and to tell me many details about it. 
          First of course to Inchageri.

I still remember how it felt when we arrived there. It seemed as if these three men (and the fourth in the background) were all that the term ‘Inchageri’ implied. ‘The Inchageri tradition: would this be it?’, flashed through me. It was a very beautiful and peaceful scene, no question about that. Then I discerned a few small buildings, that appeared to be the actual math. 

The building at the left turned out to be a temple dedicated to Siddharameshwar. The right-hand building contained the samadhi of Bhausaheb and his Guru Nimbargi,[14] which were placed opposite to each other, at the opposite sides of the room. This is the Inchageri tradition, the origin of the lineage in one room. I spent some time sitting on my own, near the samadhi of Bhausaheb (who felt a bit like a great-great-grandfather to me).
            In the left building, dedicated to Siddharameshwar, I found a few pictures of him – confronted with one of them I found it hard to suppress a whoop of joy because of its direct effect and beauty (I knew till then only one photo of him, which had never really touched me). When the people who were present felt my love for their great Guru, they offered me the photo, for a small donation. O! That moment was beautiful. I was really touched.

My joy was great again when I later, back in Amsterdam, showed the picture straight away to Alexander: I believe I had never seen him so elated. Years later, a parallel photograph of it became known, by being depicted on the cover of the book Master of Self-Realization – a shot without the OM symbol in the foreground.

            I also bought a beautiful picture of Bhausaheb Maharaj, and I photographed a mural of his Guru Nimbargi Maharaj (Nimbargi’s original name was Narayanrao, and he is also known as Gurulingajangam Maharaj, but mostly he is called after his village Nimbargi).

Then I went along with Ratnakar to the village Nimbargi. You see Ratnakar on the photo below, standing left in the background, with the black cap. The man next to him, with the yellow turban, is the very spry great-grandson of Nimbargi Maharaj. We are here again singing bhajans, around the samadhi of Nimbargi, which is only partially visible.

Ratnakar and I paid a short visit to Nimbal as well that day, where a math is built near the samadhi of Professor R. D. Ranade.
The next day I went on my own to Bagewadi, just southeast of Bijapur. Here Siddharameshwar lived – it has been more or less his home base; it has been described as the place where he, after a tour of lecturing at several places, could rest. In his house is his samadhi, which you see on the left picture.[15]  

Later, a white marble statue of him has been placed on top of it, but when I was there only a linga was on top. In the background, the picture that for years was the only one which was known in the West. Furthermore virtually nothing in the room. In his house was also this painting of him.

In the picture above you can see the bed Siddharameshwar built for his Guru Bhausaheb (then deceased for years already), with his framed picture put on it. The right picture shows me, in that room. An Indian man being present suggested to photograph me thus.

A few weeks later I returned to Bombay. I visited the room of Nisargadatta I had heard so much about from Alexander, in 10th Lane, Khetwadi. Nisargadatta’s daughter let me in and showed the room. The whole interior, with all the pictures of the Gurus, was left in completely the same state as it was in 1981 when he died. I was allowed to abide there for a while on my own, which I considered extraordinary. It went through me how much I owe to Alexander, to Nisargadatta, and also to his Guru Siddharameshwar.

I wrote in my book ‘I’ is a Door[16] that for me three teachers of the twentieth century remain as truly great, by which I mean that they are the ones who have influenced all the others. They are the real Sad-Gurus. Increasingly, I started to feel that there is a fourth: Siddharameshwar. He is, as I said, the one to whom we owe the specific teachings that we usually refer to as ‘typical Nisargadatta’. Although the transmission of it by Nisargadatta was more attuned to Westerners and is therefore in some way more digestible for us, the true origin of it lies with Shri Siddharameshwar Maharaj.
N.B. Here I would like to thank Ratnakar Kulkarni, who handed me all sorts of details verbally and via airmail letters, and to Shri Ranjit Maharaj, who has made efforts to capture the life story of his Guru Siddharameshwar, Master of Self without self.

1. In most reports on this tradition it is mentioned that this is a Nav Nath tradition (‘the Nine Masters’). How important this is in itself, I still have noticed increasingly that this element can distract quickly, and could lead to conclusions that have nothing to do with the Inchageri lineage that is being discussed here. The Nav Nath traditions are so widespread and of such different character that it gave me a feeling of ‘too much’ to go into it. If someone is interested in details about the Nav Naths: the most informative book on this is The Alchemical Body. Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, by David Gordon White. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Also highly recommended, especially on the Nav Nath tradition in Maharashtra, is the Introduction by Shankar Mokashi-Punekar to Shri Purohit Swami’s translation of Avadhoota Gita. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1979; p. 1-73.
2. The murals in Kannur are painted by Bhimrao Jambagi. What looks like the frames of the paintings is in fact painted as well.
3. Bhausaheb was a contemporary of Ramakrishna, 1836-1886, and Shirdi Sai Baba, ± 1835-1918. He was initiated by Nimbargi Maharaj in 1857.
4. R. D. Ranade’s well-known book on this is Mysticism in Maharashtra. Pune: Bilvakunja Publishing House, 1933.
5. Pathri: this is 12 miles west of Sholapur. In those days there were no states like Maharashtra and Karnataka yet; though the language border between Marathi- and Kannada-speaking people was already here in this area, but administratively it was all part of the Bombay Presidency of British India. Siddharameshwar spoke both Marathi and Kannada fluently. The letters appearing in the picture of the lineage tree, under the guru portraits, are in Kannada script. Before the time of Siddharameshwar the Inchageri tradition was a Kannada-speaking tradition. Due to the fact that he originated from the district of Sholapur, and so often had to stay in Mumbai, the tradition has become Marathi-speaking as well. Moreover, he could teach the many Gujarati-speaking disciples fluently in Gujarati.
6. See Preface of Master Key to Self-Realisation, 1994 edition; p. vi.
7. Master of Self without self; p. 115-116.
8. Master of Self without self; p. 67.
9. Sadguru Nisargadatta Maharaj, Life & Teachings, by G.K. Damodara Row; Bangalore; p. 24.
10. It is to be found in Master of Self-Realization, from page 247 (which involves a lecture from September 1935). In the biography, Master of Self without self, this is described on page 126. In most classical texts, including Buddhist, the word vijnana is used just to denote ‘consciousness in its usual or ordinary sense’; sometimes also to denote discrimination or insight, but mostly this concerns a less ‘wide’ (or less ‘deep’) insight or knowledge than jnana.
11. Master of Self without self; p. 126.
12. A samadhi is a temple or tomb built to honor a Guru, wherein the ashes of the Guru are kept.
13. Shri Ganapatrao Maharaj was born in 1909 and deceased in 2004.
14. Nimbargi’s ashes are divided between the samadhis in Inchageri and Nimbargi.
15. Although I did not find this in the biography, but a part of his ashes must have been brought back to Bombay, where at the Banganga Cemetery (exactly at the spot where he had been cremated) a samadhi of him is erected as well. Nisargadatta visited this samadhi regularly.
16. The book ‘I’ is a Door is forthcoming; it will be published by Zen Publications in Mumbai. As a series of four articles it appeared in (The) Mountain Path, in 2004-2007. See also www.advaya.nl.

Text of Siddharameshwar
Golden Day, or Perfection of Material Science.
Master Key to Self-Realisation (Atma-Jnanachi Guru-killi). Bombay: Siddharameshwar 
              Adhyatma Kendra, 1994.
Amrut Laya (The ‘Stateless State’). Which includes Master Key to Self-Realisation. Mumbai: Siddharameshwar Adhyatma Kendra, 1998.
Master of Self-Realization, An Ultimate Understanding (Adhyatma-Jnanacha Yogeshwar). Which includes Master Key to Self-Realization. Mumbai: Shri Sadguru Trust, 2006.
Vachanamrut. Immortal Words. Kannur: Adhyatma Bhandar; Shanti Kuteer. http://www.shantikuteer.org/catalog_itemdetails.php?id=57

About Siddharameshwar and his tradition
Master of Self without self. Life Story of Shri Sadguru Siddharameshwar (Jnana Vijnana Yogeshwar). This is what I call in the article ‘the biography’. © Sadguru Shri Ranjit Maharaj, 2010. 
Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj (Life-Sketch and Nama-Yoga); by M.S. Deshpande. Collection of his statements in letters, entitled Nama-Yoga. Belgaum: Academy of Comparative Philosophy and Religion, 1978.
Sri Nimbargi Maharaj (His Life and Teaching); by ‘disciples’. Collection of his statements, entitled Bodha-Sudhe. Belgaum: Academy of Comparative Philosophy and Religion, 1978.
R.D. Ranade and his Spiritual Lineage; by V.H. Date. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1982.
The Sociology of Religion. A Case Study of Nimbargi Sampradaya; by K. B. Dabade. Mangala Publications, 1998.
‘The Navnath Sampradaya and Nisargadatta Maharaj’, by Catherine Boucher. In six parts; Mountain Path 2014-2016. Part Four, on Siddharameshwar, is Vol. 52, No.3; July 2015. For Catherine Boucher see also:

1 opmerking:

  1. Wat een mooi verslag van je tocht naar India, Philip. Indrukwekkend. Wat een geluk dat ik van jou teaching heb ontvangen in de traditie van Siddharameshwar en Nisargadatta.