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Chapter 1 - Birth and Childhood

The divine parents
In India, in the state of Maharashtra, there is a small village Nandani situated in Shirol hamlet in the Kohlapur district. In the 19th century, there lived Appa Joshi, a very pious priest. He was always engrossed in conducting his daily religious rituals and was very helpful and hospitable by nature. He would receive with open arms everyone who needed food and shelter. He was a practicing priest and conducted religious ceremonies and rituals for the people of Nandani as well as for those in the neighboring villages.

Appa was a great devotee of Shri Narasimha Saraswati - the second avatar (incarnation) of Lord Dattatreya (the holy trinity - Lord Brahma, the creator; Lord Vishnu, the preserver; Lord Shiva, the redeemer - in one form). On every Saturday and on every full moon day, Appa would visit Wadi - a place where Shri Narasimha Saraswati stayed twelve long years during his lifetime. To date, his wooden padukas (feet impression / footwear) are symbolically worshipped. On every visit, Appa would ritualistically attend to his divine service and then feed the priests and the poor.

Appa had a wife named Annapurna. Her prime cause of unhappiness was that the couple unfortunately did not have any children. She would often request her husband to pray Shri Narasimha Saraswati to grant them a son, as a boon. However, Appa would disregard her wish, as his standpoint was that Shri Narasimha Saraswati who can bestow Mush (ultimate merging with God), should not be troubled with trivial requests. It was like asking peanuts from an emperor who could give gold and diamonds.

Once on his regular pilgrimage to Wadi, Appa performed his usual rituals and works. When it was time to return home, there was an extremely heavy rainfall causing the river Krishna to flood. Appa was stranded at Wadi for the night. Whilst sleeping there, he had a dream in which Shri Narasimha Saraswati appeared and promised him that he, Shri Narasimha Saraswati himself, would take birth as his son. On his return home the next day, he revealed his dream to an ecstatic Annapurna.
Soon, Annapurna was pregnant. During pregnancy, she would crave for solitude and peace. She would be most happy in secluded places. Often she would go and sit for long in the temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman.

On Sunday, February 7, 1836, [in the month of Magha, 5th day after full moon, according to Hindu calendar],she gave birth to a healthy, radiant child - a son. A group of astrologers predicted that this divine child would remain a celibate and guide thousands on the spiritual path. Appa Joshi and Annapurna named their son Shrikrishna because of his attractiveness and allure which was similar to that of Lord Krishna (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu). Unlike normal babies, Shrikrishna disliked being confined to the cradle or being supported on the lap. He would, instead, be constantly crawling on the floor. Annapurna tried to breast-feed him but he would drink very little. Surprisingly, he was yet very healthy. But even at the age of three years, his mother had to forcibly feed him the small amount of rice and milk.

To the despair of his anxious mother, Shrikrishna would not speak even at the age of five years. Her friends and neighbors would advise her to perform certain rituals like worshipping the peepal (betel tree) tree and feeding the priests and the poor. Annapurna would abide by all their advice. As time passed by, Shrikrishna started speaking but no one could comprehend what he was saying. This disturbed Annapurna.

Shrikrishna reached the age of seven years. His parents decided to arrange for his Upanayana ceremony (thread ceremony - a spiritual initiation conducted by the Hindu Brahmins for their children at the age of seven years). During the ceremony, the sacred Gayatri Mantra (chant to Goddess Gayatri) was recited in Shrikrishna's ears. All that he could repeat were the first two words of the mantra twice, "OM BHURRA, OM BHURRA", causing a peal of laughter from all those present. Appa Joshi was calm and unperturbed, as he was aware that the life of a divine child had to be different from an ordinary child's growing up stages.

Shrikrishna started to play with the children of his neighborhood. He would mount a high rock and sit on it as if seated on a throne. He would call on his friends saying, "Come to me! Surrender to me! Take this holy water and holy ash. These will ward off evil and save you." The ignorant children and their equally ignorant parents could not grasp the meaning of the gems uttered by this divine child. Instead they thought he was a fool. Shrikrishna's words are similar to those described by his namesake Lord Krishna in the Bhagawat Geeta (holy text) instructing his devotees thus, "Leave all your rituals and surrender to me! Only I can save you from your sins and bless you with Moksha."

One day Shrikrishna asked his mother's permission to go to a nearby village Mangasoli to visit the temple dedicated to Lord Khanderaya (another name for Lord Shiva). Annapurna was greatly worried about her son going anywhere alone. She worried as any doting mother would worry about their seemingly helpless child - how would he find his way, who would feed him as he still had to be forcibly fed and so on. Overhearing their conversation, Appa Joshi interrupted them. He readily allowed Shrikrishna to go for the pilgrimage. The anxious but helpless Annapurna packed a few snacks for her son and instructed him to return at the earliest.

The Barren Woman
Shrikrishna started his journey. On the way, he came across a village - Bedagagram. On its outskirts was a well. Shrikrishna decided to take a bath in it. He kept his clothes and the bag of snacks on the wall of the well, and jumped in the well. No sooner had he soaked himself in the water, a dog ran away with his bag of snacks. A little while later, a lady came to fetch water from the well. Hurriedly Shrikrishna came out and found his bag missing.

Naturally, he questioned the lady about his bag of snacks and accused her of stealing it. He directly asked her, "Would you do such a thing to your own child?" The woman was understandably upset, as she did not have any children of her own. She told the divine child, "I have not seen your bag nor taken it. Come to my house and I shall feed you." Shrikrishna readily went with her. She laid in front of him a feast of rice and milk. However, he did not touch it. The lady, therefore, sat next to him and with lots of love started feeding him with her own hands. Shrikrishna ate all the food without making any fuss. Whilst eating, he thought, "By feeding me, all her sins have been washed away. She will be blessed with a son." After finishing the meal, he verbally blessed the lady and told her she will bear a son. Then he started to leave. She repeatedly pleaded with him to stay overnight. He adamantly refused. She gave him some fruits to carry with him for the journey. Shrikrishna started on his onwards journey. In time, his blessings fructified. The lady bore a son. Throughout life she remembered Shrikrishna. She, later, attained Moksha.

Temple of Lord Khanderaya
Upon reaching Mangasoli, Shrikrishna went to the temple of Lord Khanderaya. He paid his obeisance and prayed, "O God, I am so happy to visit this place, to see you. You are Shiva! But, alas where is Goddess Parvati (name of Lord Shiva's consort)? Where is Nandi (name of the bull that is Lord Shiva's vehicle)? You are fond of bhasma (holy ash ] but here, there is only bhandara [turmeric powder). O Lord, you killed the demon Malhara, hence here you are also named Malhari, the enemy of Malhara. O Lord, I pray to you to appear before me. Till you appear, I shall sit here without taking in food and water."

No sooner had he prayed and made his petition, an old Brahmin appeared before him and said, "O child, do not be so adamant, sitting here without food and water. In these days, God does not appear before human beings by praying thus. Please take the holy prasad (eatables offered first to God) and go home." Immediately, Shrikrishna retorted, "how could you read my mind and know my plan? Anyway, it's only been a few years since Lord Vithoba (Lord Vishnu is known in Maharashtra state by this name) appeared before Namdeva (saint of Maharashtra, contemporary of Shrikrishna)". Hearing this, the old man disappeared. Suddenly, Lord Shiva along with Goddess Parvati and Nandi appeared before Shrikrishna. Lord Shiva said to Shrikrishna, "You are a part of me. Now, go home. Later, meet Shri Swami Samartha at Akkalkot. You are born to help people and take them onto the spiritual path." Saying thus, Lord Shiva and his entourage disappeared. An exuberant Shrikrishna happily started on his journey home.

Home again
A week had passed since Shrikrishna had started his journey. His mother Annapurna was worried and anxiously awaiting his return. So, when he came back home, she was happy to see him. Shrikrishna looked more radiant, glowing, illuminating with spiritual enlightenment. Annapurna did wonder as to "who would have fed him or if he was really a yogi (ascetic)?"

Prasad from Pandharpur
Since Appa Joshi was a practicing priest for Nandani and its neighboring villages, the villagers often called upon him to perform the requisite rituals. Once when he was invited to the Jambhali village to perform some rituals, Shrikrishna accompanied him.

After the religious ceremony got over, one of the guests - an old lady started to complain that this year she had lost the chance of going to Pandharpur (place of pilgrimage) to see Lord Vithoba. People consoled her that she could take the pilgrimage next year instead. This made her cry inconsolably, "I am over sixty years of age. I do not know whether I'll be alive next year to make my visit." Hearing her predicament and finding her sincere in her urge to visit Lord Vithoba, Shrikrishna told her, "Don't worry, you need not travel all the way to Pandharpur, instead I shall give you the prasad here." He went out and returned immediately with two packets of prasad and gave them to the old lady. Everyone started laughing at this act of a "foolish child". The old lady opened the packets. Suddenly, there was a stunned silence - for one packet contained churmure ( rice popcorn) and the other contained bukka (perfumed black powder applied on the forehead) - these are offered as prasad of Lord Vithoba, available only at Pandharpur.

Hereafter, people started viewing Shrikrishna differently. Their attitude towards him became more reverential. Many started often visiting him. They found his irrelevant uttering contained answers to their questions, solving many of their problems.

Shrikrishna leaves home

After two years, when Shrikrishna was twelve years old, he felt it was time to leave his household in Nandani for good, to go to Akkalkot. He, therefore, asked his mother's permission. Annapurna was shocked! She pleaded with him to stay, not to leave them alone. When Appa Joshi became aware of Shrikrishna's intent, he resolutely told his wife, "Do not stop him. Let him do what he wants to do. The very purpose of his birth is to help people on their spiritual journey. We do not have the strength nor the power to stop him." With heavy hearts, Appa Joshi and Annapurna bade adieu to their son Shrikrishna. On his part Shrikrishna assured his sorrowful parents that he would appear to them whenever they remembered him. Thus, Shrikrishna left his family and home in Nandani.

Mere words cannot describe the grief of the distraught parents. It was similar to the great sorrow suffered by Nanda and Yashoda, when Kanhaiya (Lord Krishna's childhood name), their foster son, left Gokul and went to Mathura. Likewise, Appa Joshi and Annapurna constantly remembered their son Shrikrishna and repeated his name like a mantra. After a short period, his unhappy parents passed away. They attained Moksha.

Shri Swami Samartha of Akkalkot
Shrikrishna traveled on foot towards Akkalkot where Shri Swami Samartha - the third known incarnation of Lord Dattatreya - was staying. Days before Shrikrishna's arrival at Akkalkot, Shri Swami Samartha had been restless. He was constantly heard excitedly muttering, "Krishna's coming, Krishna's coming". As Shrikrishna approached the boundary of Akkalkot, Shri Swami Samartha speedily came out of his math (ashram or abode of a holy sage), his disciples and devotees followed suit. As soon as Shri Swami Samarth saw Shrikrishna, he held his hand and rushed him to a nearby forest so fast, that those who were following them, could not locate them. Shrikrishna and Shri Swami Samartha remained at an unknown place in the forest for seven days. What divine play was enacted in isolation is not known. Perhaps the elderly Shri Swami Samartha charted the divine course of future action for the young Shrikrishna to undertake. Since they were both incarnations of Lord Dattatreya in manifestation at the same time, it is very unlikely that Shri Swami Samartha gave any spiritual initiation to Shrikrishna. Perhaps because of the age difference, people inferred that Shri Swami Samartha was Shrikrishna's Guru (Spiritual Master who leads us from darkness to GOD). It is, though, well known that Shrikrishna had great love and respect for Shri Swami Samartha, whom he held in extremely high esteem and which was equally reciprocated.

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