A compact Biography of Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati Tembe Swami Maharaj

Divine encounters

The universe, say the scriptures, was created by the Supreme Lord (Parameshwar) from himself. That is to say the Lord is the maker as well as the stuff of the Universe. This is one of the tenets of Shri Shankara’s non-dual doctrine. Thus the Lord pervades the whole world. This is the basis of the so-called pantheism the Hindus are often accused of. However, the Hindus, even the least educated ones, are very clear in their minds about the unity of all deities that they worship in the forms of Rivers, Mountains, Trees, Snakes etc. They are well aware that all these subsidiary deities, right up to the Trinity of the Creator, the Sustainer and the Destroyer are ultimately rooted in the One and the Only Supreme Being. Further, the belief in these deities, as most religious beliefs indeed are, is engendered by the experiences of Saints and holy persons. Such humans that have purified their minds by austerities, services and devotion to the God in one of His multifarious forms, do encounter the all-pervading Divinity in one form or the other. The lives of such people are full of these encounters. We, the ordinary humans, find it difficult to believe these. However, there are thousands of such instances in the recorded history of mankind, that can be verified and display a remarkable consistency. Thus the least we can do is to keep our minds open. If we are so lucky as to have faith, we can even benefit from these. To the person who has these experiences, these are a part of reality and no cause for alarm or wonder. Shri Swami Maharaj was such a person. He almost constantly came into contact with divine beings from his earliest days. We have seen how at Wadi, he was admonished by Shri Narasinh Saraswati for contravening the rule not to visit the temple after the Lord was put to bed (Shejarati). There are many such instances. Let us recall here a few representative ones.


Once while returning from Wadi, in his householder days, a celestial lady appeared before Shri Maharaj and said, "Please do not proceed without first christening me". Recognising her as the River flowing by Mangaon, Shri Maharaj named her Nirmala at which she disappeared. The name has now been widely accepted.

The two incarnations of Lord Dattatreya in the present age of Kali, have shown a special inclination to the River Krishna. The first one, Shripad Shrivallabh spent most of his earthly life in Kurugaddi, which is an island, about a mile across, enclosed by the two streams of the River. In his seconds earthly sojourn, the Lord appeared as Shri Narasinh Saraswati Swami Maharaj and spent 12 years at the confluence of Krishna with Panchnadi, at Narasobawadi and 36 years at Ganagapur, near where River Bhima, a tributary of Krishna is joined by Amaraja. Thus Krishna occupies a special place of reverence in the Dattatreya tradition. Naturally Shri Swami Maharaj held Krishna in great regard. For years, the priests of Wadi had been requesting Shri Maharaj to compose Shri Krishna Lahari, a hymn to Krishna in Shikharini metre on the lines of similar Lahari hymns composed by major poets like Shankara and Jagannath Pundit in praise of Ganges and other rivers. Shri Maharaj himself had composed Shri Narmada Lahari. On his way to Ganagapur, Mother Krishna appeared to Shri Maharaj and directed Shri Maharaj to compose Krishna Lahari. Un an inspired outpouring, Shri Maharaj composed 51 stanzas in a very short time when the Mother Krishna said, “Enough” and disappeared.

A touching incidence illustrates the special bond of devotion that existed between the two. After the Chaturmaas at Thanjavur, Shri Maharaj, travelling along the banks of Krishna, arrived at a small place on the 14th bright day of Phalgun. The next day being the full moon, Shri Maharaj, as per the rules of Sanyasi, had to perform the ritual tonsure. When he started to look for a suitable place to stay in that village, the villagers, instead of helping him, started asking irritating questions and in general teasing him. Tired and hungry, he went to the Mother Krishna and complained, “Oh Mother! Of what avail is my regard for you? Don’t you reciprocate it in even a small measure? If I have to go without a tonsure tomorrow, I shall never again perform one and renounce the monastic sceptre. It appears futile to obey you in future!” That night Mother Krishna appeared to Shri Maharaj in his dream and assured him that she fully reciprocated his regard and the tonsure would be arranged. The same night she appeared in the dreams of several prominent villagers in her frightening form and admonished them for having ill-treated the great Sanyasi. She further warned them that unless they sought the forgiveness of the saint and arranged for his tonsure, a great calamity would descend on to them and destroy them all. Disturbed by the frightening dream, theses villagers related the same to each other only to find that they all had a similar dream. Scared further by the strange coincidence, they came seeking Shri Maharaj and prostrated before him begging his forgiveness. Needless to add the tonsure was duly arranged and Shri Maharaj accorded great hospitality and respect. At the insistence of the villagers he stayed there for a fortnight.


On his return from a two-year sojourn in the Himalayas, Shri Maharaj was staying at Brahmavart on the bank of Ganges. Mother Narmada wanted him to spend some time in Her vicinity and she conveyed her wish to Shri Maharaj in a dream, which he ignored. Someone advised a Brahmin afflicted by a skin disease to drink the Paad-teerth (washings of the feet) of Shri Maharaj. As Shri Maharaj never let anyone have his Paad-teerth, the Brahmin one day surreptitiously approached Shri Maharaj from behind when he was busy writing with his feet folded back. The Brahmin quickly poured some water over the feet and drank the washings and applied to his body. Startled, Shri Maharaj asked the Brahmin the reason for his behaviour. Brahmin related his misery and begged his pardon. This upset Shri Maharaj very much and in spite of a bath in Ganges and hymn composed in her praise, he contracted the Brahmin’s ailment and developed a rash all over his body. That night he was directed by the Lord to bathe in Narmada for three days to get relief from the contracted disease. Shri Maharaj, then travelled to Nemavar, considered the Navel of Narmada, and prayed to her and composed the hymn, Narmada Lahari in her praise. Thus began the long and loving association between Shri Maharaj and Narmada Mata. Not only did Shri Maharaj spend maximum number of chaturmaas on the banks of Narmada but also found his final resting place, Garudeshvar, in her sacred environs. Narmada Mata used to look after Shri Maharaj like her own child. Thus, she counselled him about the mantra to get over the sprain he developed on the way to his Bhiksha; directed him to the proper village where sufficient Southern Brahmins lived, to ensure proper Bhiksha (food) for him; returned the cooking vessel flowing down her stream; caused her threatening waters to recede even as Shri Maharaj touched the stream with his sceptre praying.

These are only some of the recorded such instances.

Thus, the rivers whose banks Shri Maharaj frequented were, at least to him, conscious, sentient, divine beings. Each river, or for that matter each temple or holy place (Teerth) he visited, he has composed a hymn dedicated to the particular place or its presiding deity. (These hymns can be referred to in the Stotras elsewhere on this site


In the hot summer of 1907 AD, while he was travelling along the banks of Pinakini, a small river in Tamilnadu, the full moon of supernumerary Chaitra month approached. The river was so dried up that it was not possible to take a dip in her stream after the mandatory tonsure. The local Brahmins discerning the difficulty of Shri Maharaj promised to make a hole in the riverbed deep enough for a dip. After the tonsure, even as Shri Maharaj approached the river, the waters started rising and came up to the chest of Shri Maharaj, thus enabling him to immerse himself in the river water and complete the bath. Following verse spontaneously issued forth from the mouth of Shri Maharaj: “ She who from her small form due to extra month of Chaitra In a moment, augmented her stream, for the bath of my tonsured self Pinakini ought to be worshipped by all.”

Shri Nar-Narayan Muni

In his fourth Chaturmaas, Shri Maharaj was on his way to Badri Narayan, when he came across a peak overlooking a steep chasm blocking his path. Even as he was wondering whether to proceed or no, he saw two men descending he peak. They advised him go back since the path was dangerous and he could die. Shri Maharaj answered that he had come to the place to visit Nar and Narayan (ancient seers worshipped as incarnations of Lord Vishnu) and did not mind losing his life in the attempt; hence he would not hear of returning! Suddenly the two men disappeared and Shri Maharaj had the vision of Shri Nar-Narayan muni.


When travelling from Chikhalada to Garudeshvar, towards his final Chaturmaas, Shri Maharaj had to pass the dense and dangerous forest named after Shoolpaneeshvar (the Lord holding a spear i.e. Shankara). There wasn’t even a discernible trail to lead him. Shri Maharaj met a tribal on his way who offered to guide him and signalled Shri Maharaj to follow him. As the temple of Garudeshvar appeared, he pointed it out to Shri Maharaj and started leaving. Suspicious at his behaviour, Shri Maharaj asked the tribal to reveal his true identity. "I am Ashvatthama", the latter replied and beat a hasty retreat. Ashvatthama is a legendary character from Mahabharat, believed to be one of the seven immortals.
In places where visitors are not allowed to touch the idol of presiding deity, Shri Maharaj was allowed to approach the Deity and worship by touching it. Badri Narayan and Tirupati Balaji are two such examples. At Tirupati Shri Maharaj stayed on till the priests sought him out, on communion from the Lord Venkatesh Himself, and escorted him to the sanctum, allowing him to touch and worship the Lord.
There are innumerable accounts of Shri Maharaj communicating with divine beings and even the deities of epidemics and evil spirits and helping devotees with these communications. Perhaps our knowledge of these incidents is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg; Shri Maharaj most probably experienced such encounters daily. The space does not permit inclusion of all such occurrences. Of course, Shri Maharaj was all his life in continuous communion with Lord Dattatreya, his individual (Isht) God, Master and Guide.