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Chapter 11 - Sunset

Land restored to its rightful owner
One day when Swami was taking his daily walk with the devotees, a man of a low caste came forward and bowed to him. He wanted to serve Swami and therefore requested him to assign some work to him. Swami asked him to fetch two pitchers of water from the river Ganga everyday and deliver them to the mathi. The man was happy to serve Swami thus. He would spend rest of his time chanting Swami’s name. Since he was a stranger, other devotees were curious about him, his family and home. To their queries, he revealed, "I owned agricultural land in a nearby village. One season I took a loan from our village moneylender. He, then, fraudulently, took away my land. My younger brother thought that I had cheated him of his share of the land and therefore drove me out of the house. Frustrated at these turns of events, my wife returned to her parent’s home. Disgusted with life, I came here."

Six months passed. One day the man’s younger brother came searching for him. He pleaded with his older brother to return home. He said, "The moneylender is anxiously waiting for you to return our land to us". The disgusted man replied, "I do not need the land nor the house, nor anything nor anyone". Since he could not persuade his older brother to return home, he suggested they take Swami’s advice. On approaching Swami, the man was advised to return home to his family. Reluctantly the man returned home with his younger brother.

What was the reason for the greedy moneylender to show such generosity? After the moneylender duped this man of his land, the moneylender’s wife died. His aggrieved sons and daughters-in-law started accusing him for her unexpected untimely death. They reprehended him saying, "You rob people of their lands and belongings. We are suffering today because of their curses". The moneylender’s conscience started to bite him. He missed his dear wife and he knew that his children were correct in their criticism of the way he conducted his business. He decided to turn over a new leaf. Thus he started to return the lands and belongings he had fraudulently snatched from his innocent clients. Thus Swami changed the conscience of the moneylender and restored the land to its rightful owner.

Karkhanis was in the royal service. His job was to keep records of the property ownership in the Kingdom of Kolhapur. As is the case everywhere, there would be inevitable disputes over the ownership of properties. Karkhanis would arbitrate and resolve the cases honestly. Nevertheless, there would be people who would lose their claims to the properties and would blame the arbitrators for making unfair decision against them. In one such property dispute, although Karkhanis had made the right decision, an aggrieved person lodged a complaint against Karkhanis with the King of Kolhapur. The King sacked Karkhanis immediately without so much as an inquiry.

Karkhanis’ job had been his only means of livelihood. Now he had to live on his savings. His friends and well wishers advised him to make an appeal to the King to investigate his case. Three years rolled by. No action had been taken on his appeal. Karkhanis had by now sold off all his valuable household articles in order to survive. Finally he was rendered absolutely penniless. In such circumstances, man remembers God. So did Karkhanis!

He came to Swami, surrendered to him and related his plight. Swami advised him, "Go to the temple now and pray to Goddess Amba". A desperate Karkhanis rushed to the temple. There he prayed and begged the Mother Goddess to intervene and help him. After praying, he started to circumambulate round the temple. While walking around, he found a packet fallen on the way. He picked it up to check its contents. Wrapped in a handkerchief were three pieces of laddus (sweetmeat). Since he couldn’t find the owner of the packet, he started to wonder what to do with the packet. Just then his friend appeared there; the friend asked him to accept it as a gift from Goddess Amba. A confused Karkhanis took the packet and rushed back to the mathi. As he entered, Swami rebuked him, "Why are you so suspicious of the prasad given to you by Goddess Amba?"

On the third day after this incident, Karkhanis received a call from the King’s office. The inquiry had been conducted and concluded. The judgement arrived at was that Karkhanis had been fair in his decision and should be reinstated in his job with immediate effect. The King further ordered that he should be paid three years salary as compensation.

Karkhanis came to the mathi with grateful tears flowing down his face. He bowed at Swami’s feet and said, "Swami, thanks to your grace, what did not happen in three years happened in three days".

Swami’s photograph
In the late nineteenth century photography had just been developed. The common man was wary of this magic process by which one’s image would be printed on paper. The British company AGFA was trying to popularize photography by encouraging their representatives to photograph Saints and Kings. Naturally people were more than eager to have these photographs in their homes, thus accepting this technology.

Same was the case with Swami’s devotees, they too were keen to have Swami’s photograph in their houses, especially to help them in their meditation. But Swami refused to have himself photographed. Many photographers came to the mathi and tried to photograph Swami but failed. The plate would come out blank or fogged or only half an image would appear. Whatever the reasons, Swami could not be photographed. There were two friends in the photography business who failed to obtain Swami’s photograph on several occasions. They understood that it was perhaps the sage’s wish. Nevertheless they started visiting the mathi daily, surrendered to Swami and prayed that sometime somewhere Swami would consent to have his photograph taken, atleast for the sake of his devotees.

One day at Kolhapur’s royal palace, a professional photographer from Baroda, Gujarat state, had been summoned to photograph the King and the royal family. In the morning, the royal durbar (king’s court) hall had been spruced up and readied for the photography session. The King’s throne, regal attire, his ornaments, and the royal arms were kept ready in the royal durbar hall. The King had gone for his bath.

At that moment at the mathi, Swami suddenly got up and quickly walked out. A few devotees ran behind him, following him wherever he was off to. Swami walked straight into the royal palace. Who could stop him? He went directly to the durbar hall where the arrangements to photograph the King were ready and walked to the King’s throne and sat down. He removed his white kurta (long shirt) and cap. He put on the numerous strings of pearl necklaces lying nearby. He sat regally as if he belonged there. The King’s staff and servants were left stunned and stupefied. Knowing Swami’s spiritual status, not one of them had the audacity to order him to get off the King’s throne. But at the same time, they were petrified lest the King gets outraged and angry with them. Nevertheless, one member of the staff mustered up enough courage to inform the King of the happening in the royal durbar hall. Far from being angry, the King felt blessed that Swami had arrived at his palace and was sitting on his throne. He ordered that Swami be photographed and be allowed to do as he wished.

The photograph was taken. This is the photograph that is still in circulation and is widely distributed even today amongst devotees as if Swami had got himself photographed for posterity. He had got himself photographed to reach his devotees and to remain accessible to them even in this twenty-first century. As soon as the photo session was over, Swami removed the pearl necklaces from around his neck and placed them back where they were in the first place. He put on his kurta and cap, and left the palace. By the time the King dressed up and walked to the durbar hall, Swami had already left. The King sent his chariot to bring Swami back, but Swami used it instead to return to the mathi. Later the King came to the mathi and offered his obeisance to Swami. He gifted the royal throne and the pearl necklaces to Swami.

Tarabai’s end
Swami was now old. Tarabai started to construct a samadhi place for him in the hall of the mathi. Swami thoroughly disliked the idea and would wonder aloud, "She does not know who will go first". Within a few days, Tarabai passed away. Swami cried like a child at losing a loving parent. Sitting next to her body, he suddenly said, "Mother! Before leaving, please eat one pedha (sweetmeat) from my hand". To the bewilderment of aghast devotees, Tarabai sat up. Swami fed her a pedha. She ate it and fell dead. What could Swami, the Lord of the entire creation not do or undo!

Swami falls ill

Soon Swami fell ill and was burning with high fever. The frantic devotees would bring ayurvedic (Indian herbal medicine) and allopathic doctors for him, anyone or anything that could cure their beloved Lord.

Swami would sarcastically joke with the doctors,

"Will this medicine give me the strength to fight off Yama (God of Death)?"

"Doctor, why should I fear death when you are giving me the elixir of life."

"Yama will run away when he sees this tube (stethoscope)."

Alas! even GOD in human form has to leave the earth

The year was 1900A.D, the month was August end (shravana according to Hindu calendar), and the day was a full moon day. That day Swami kept on mumbling randomly. Most devotees, then, did not understand the importance of his vague utterances. He said,

"O Audambara Tree! You really are great. You offer shadow to one and all without distinction. Now onwards, I shall not be able to sit in your shadow."

"O Light! You are like a saint. You spread your glow equally to all. Whether it is a student studying Vedas, a thief at work or a couple enjoying a private moment."

"O Five Elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky! I will now return the loan I took from you."

"Am I going away somewhere? Where can I go? The entire cosmos is not big enough to contain me! I shall always stay there where my devotees sing and chant".

The few wise devotees understood the eventuality and fell into depression. They felt sorry for themselves and very lonely.

Suddenly Swami’s thoughts wandered and he started calling favorite disciple Namdeva who was away in in Ganagapur. Swami repeatedly murmured, "Why has Namya not arrived yet?"

On the ninth day after the full moon, i.e., on Shravana navami, Namdeva arrived. Swami asked all his other devotees except Namdeva to go out of the room. Swami held Namdeva’s hand firmly and said, "Namya! This tree of spirituality must grow tall like a vata tree. Remember that it is for you to make it grow." Perhaps this was Swami’s way of anointing Namdeva as his heir apparent!

At 3.30a.m. Swami laid his head on Namdeva’s lap. He smiled and said, "Goddess Amba is calling me".

At 4.00a.m. the sounds of bells were heard ringing at the temple of Goddess Amba as the early morning aarti started.

Swami left his physical body!

Namdeva went berserk. He felt absolutely orphaned. He called out to others and informed them hysterically about the great loss. Crying hysterically, he then started running home. As he ran, others present saw a blue flame coming out from Swami’s body following Namdeva. When Namdeva reached home, the blue flame merged into the stone padukas installed at his home.

The other disciples and devotees were inconsolable. After all they had lost their God! Many fell into depression.

Even after Swami was no more, devotees would flock at the mathi. They would remember Swami and talk about him and the miracles they had experienced and witnessed. But they felt an inexplicable void that tugged at their hearts.

One evening, a few devotees assembled at the mathi. There, reminiscing of Swami, their talk steered to him. Just then all of them happened to look at Swami’s throne. Suddenly they fell silent! Each one of them present could see Swami resplendently sitting on his throne, smiling at them. After a moment, the scene vanished. But once and for all, the devotees were convinced that Swami had not deserted them although he had left his physical body. He is very much present amongst all for us!

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