A compact Biography of Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati Tembe Swami Maharaj

The Apostle

This was a turning point in this complex relationship. From now on Shri Swami Maharaj was an authorized agent, messenger, His empowered delegate, to wit an Apostle of the Lord, to carry out the Divine Mission. Datta Prabhu ordained all the activities of Shri Maharaj viz. his travel, itinerary, discourses, literary composition, the chaturmaas sites and so on. Again Shri Maharaj was penalized for the slightest deviations. After the Mahatpur Chaturmaas, Datta Prabhu ordered Shri Maharaj to leave immediately for Brahmavart. Since a solar eclipse was imminent, Shri Maharaj intending to complete the ecliptic rituals there stayed on. This led to his being bitten by a highly poisonous snake and in spite of almost continuous yogic Samadhi he suffered for ten days. He fully recovered only after he left Mahatpur.

On another occasion Shri Maharaj, on the entreaty of local people and their threat to otherwise sink all food into the river and fast, extended his stay by a day. The same day, the Lord appeared to him in dream and slapped hard in his face. The next morning, not only that side of face was swollen, but the corresponding eye was also blinded. Shri Maharaj, recognizing this as the punishment for the disobedience, prayed, “Oh Lord! I have not defied your orders for any personal reason. I just meant to spare the Brahmins from going without food. If you still disapprove, your are welcome to blind the remaining eye!” Datta Guru just smiled and Shri Maharaj regained his eyesight.
Even while traveling, if Shri Maharaj did not take the direction commanded by the Prabhu, there would be a loud and painful banging in his ears till he corrected the direction. Once, after the Muktyala chaturmaas, Shri Maharaj took a jungle path to avoid crowds and settled down at Manthankaleshvar on the bank of Godavari. Datta Guru instructed him to move on since the Chaturmaas was still not due. On Shri Maharaj protesting that there will be too much throng of people ahead and he would like to have a quiet Chaturmaas in the jungle. Shri Guru again urged him not to stay in the uninhabited forest for Chaturmaas. When Shri Maharaj appeared to be adamant, Datta Prabhu suddenly appeared in the form of a White rider flourishing a cane and threatened to lash him if he did not move on instantly. Beholding the anger and the fierce demeanor of Datta Prabhu, Shri Maharaj praised him in Marathi verse:
(Salutations to the rage of Rudra, salutations the arch of Ram). This pacified the Lord and Shri Maharaj moved on. Numerous people reformed their ways and started following the Vedic path under the influence of Shri Maharaj. Though firm in their faith, when confronted with the criticism of family and friends, they found themselves inadequate to defend their transformation. Many such followers once requested Shri Maharaj to write an article to help them counter the verbal assaults of their critics. As soon as Shri Maharaj started writing the article he developed fever. This recurred every time he resumed the said piece. Finally the Prabhu said, ”You should be permanently kept in this state (fever) to stop this wayward writing.” Thus realizing that Shri Guru did not approve of it, Shri Maharaj gave up the composition. Similarly, at the instance of some devotees, Shri Maharaj sat down to write an article against remarriage, a burning controversy those days, he heard the Lord’s words, “Put down the pen!” Shri Maharaj stopped all writing for one year. Then he just happened to pick up a small stick and doodle the names of Lord on a piece of paper. Suddenly recalling the Lord’s injunction, he put the stick down. At that time, Shri Guru Raj clarified to him that the restriction applied only to that article and thus Shri Maharaj resumed writing.

The Protector and Provider

Implicit in the insistence on strict obedience is the assurance of full protection and constant sustenance of the devotee. This is best exemplified by two events. When Shri Maharaj commenced his Chaturmaas at Pavani (1909 AD), thousands of devotees and disciples started arriving from all over India. As many of these areas were afflicted by the epidemic of plague, people feared the spread of the epidemic to Pavani. An incidence of a rat death in one of the temples accentuated these fears. When apprised of this, Shri Maharaj prayed to Shri Datta Prabhu, "O Lord! I have initiated the present Chaturmaas on your orders and all these children of yours have assembled here. If any of them happens to succumb, it will tarnish your glory. Hence I am compelled to interrupt the Chaturmaas and move on." The Lord assured him that nobody would be harmed till the conclusion of the Chaturmaas. Shri Maharaj conveyed this to all and their fears were soothed and Chaturmaas passed off without any mishap. However, as soon as Shri Maharaj set his foot out of Pavani, the place was assaulted by the epidemic taking a heavy toll.

Shri Maharaj spent his last year or so at Garudeshvar. During this period also, there used to be a continuous flow of visitors with hundreds of persons camping every day. The expenses towards the arrangements of food and provisions were met from the money people used to offer Shri Maharaj, who himself never even touched it. This money, referred to as the Lord’s treasure was kept in a box. One Mr. Sabnis looked after these arrangements. Once Mr. Sabnis noticed that there remained only three rupees in the box, after paying for the provisions. A bit anxious, Mr. Sabnis brought this to the notice of Shri Maharaj who only said, “ Everything happens by God’s will; why should we worry? Even assuming that no cash flows in, there is always plenty of water in Narmada to drink!” After about 8-10 days Shri Maharaj asked Mr. Sabnis to pay up a supplier. As soon as Mr. Sabnis opened the box, the sight of gold coins spread all over the box pleasantly surprised him. On enquiry he came to know that a devout couple from Varhad had placed those coins worth 3000 rupees in the box.

The Conflicts

We have seen how there arose situations where the Lord and His Devotee were set against each other. During the Pavani Chaturmaas, the priests from Wadi came to Shri Maharaj to seek relief from a chain of calamities that befell them then. Not getting a positive response from Shri Maharaj, once they refused to proceed with their meal unless Shri Maharaj promised to come to Wadi to help them. Shri Maharaj prayed to the Lord for direction. Shri Guru told Shri Maharaj to proceed to Wadi after the Chaturmaas instead of going to North. When this was conveyed to the priests from Wadi, they commenced their lunch. In the evening, at the time of daily discourse, Shri Maharaj was possessed by the Lord and he, flushed with anger uttered the following words, “(should we) come to Wadi to set up shop?” Thus it became apparent that the Lord was annoyed at the coercive behavior of the priests at the lunch. When after the Chaturmaas, Shri Maharaj started his journey to Wadi, the Lord ordered him to return. Shri Maharaj prayed to Prabhu, “It is by your order that I promised the priests to come to Wadi. Now I must keep my word come what may! If you do not approve, this body is at your disposal. But it is not right to break a promise.” For this defiance on his part of Shri Maharaj was afflicted with rheumatism making it painful even to stand up or sit down. When in spite of this suffering Shri Maharaj continued his journey for about 25-30 km in the direction of Wadi, he started passing blood in feces. Braving all these odds, Shri Maharaj went to Wadi to fulfill his promise! There is no record of the Lord’s reaction, but no doubt he must have been very proud of his disciple. One more point of contention between Shri Maharaj and the Prabhu was about visiting Kashmir. On several occasions Shri Maharaj ignored the Lord’s directions to proceed to Kashmir. Once when the Lord was insistent, Shri Maharaj prayed him to physically transport him in the manner of Tantuk- the weaver in Gurucharitra. That was the end of the controversy. One more very touching incident comes to mind. When leaving Mangaon, the Kagal idol insisted on accompanying Shri Maharaj. When Shri Maharaj told that it might not possible for him to offer Him all the services while on the move, the Lord (idol) said He would be content with water and ashes. The idol stayed on with Shri Maharaj and he offered regular worship. Once at Brahmavart, a learned scholar questioned his idol worship, Shri Maharaj said he was ready to give it up, but the idol wouldn’t leave him. On the scholar’s insistence he left the idol into the Ganges. However, as soon as they came out of the water, the idol reappeared before them and the scholar repented and became an ardent devotee of Shri Maharaj.
In 1894 AD, after the Chaturmaas in Petlad, Shri Maharaj came to Chikhalada and stayed on till Deepavali, at the instance of many devotees and seekers who wanted to learn yoga as well as scriptures. On the eve of the first day of Deepavali, the Lord reminded Shri Maharaj of the festival and demanded He be offered Mangal Snaan (auspicious scented hot water bath). Shri Maharaj remonstrated that being a Sanyasi, he could neither touch (use) fire nor obtain any scents and perfumes. He further reminded the Lord of His promise to be content with water and ashes.

Next day, Shri Maharaj bathed the Deity with cold water and applied ashes and proceeded with his routine. At noon, after the Bhiksha, when Shri Maharaj approached the Lord to dedicate the solicited food (Naivedya), he heard the screaming voice of the Prabhu, “ How dare you offer me food on a Deepavali day without the auspicious bath? I am sitting in the Narmada! I don’t want your Naivedya.” When Shri Maharaj came to the riverside, he heard a child’s cry. Following the direction of the sound he went into river, when a mystical light guided him to the location of the deity. Overwhelmed with love, Shri Maharaj dived into the river and clutching the Lord to his heart, came to the bank. In the meanwhile the devotees of Shri Maharaj had already gathered to find out why Shri Maharaj went to the river at the lunch hour. When these people learnt of the Lord’s wish, hot water, perfumes and other requisites were procured and the Lord was ceremoniously worshipped. Shri Maharaj composed the following verse commemorating the Lord’s Leela (play): -

“Even though friends may fight,
They soon enough reunite
When consorts do skirmish
Their love doesn’t an iota diminish.
With the Devotee the Lord’s conflict,
Is a signpost of love transcendent.
Says Vasu such merriment,
Gives Datta deep enjoyment.”

The Medium and the Mediator

One more interesting aspect of this multifaceted relationship becomes apparent when we look at the role Shri Maharaj played in the reform of priests of Narsobawadi. Lord Datta Himself had cultivated the prestige and influence of Shri Maharaj in Narsobawadi. Shri Maharaj himself revered Wadi and the priests as the primal seat and servants of the Prabhu. Once, in Indore, a priest from Wadi arrived just at the time when the devotees there were planning to take out a procession of Shri Maharaj riding an elephant. As soon as he saw the Wadi priest, Shri Maharaj insisted that the priest and not himself should ride the elephant. The priests also had come to recognize the Divine mandate of Shri Maharaj and respected him as such. Gradually, a bond came into being whereby the priests would approach Shri Maharaj with their problems and request him to intercede with the Lord on their behalf. The Lord not only recognized this but also used the services of Shri Maharaj to communicate with he priests. We have had an occasion to examine an episode of this mediating role of Shri Maharaj under “The Conflicts.” Another illustrative episode is recalled here.

After spending three consecutive Chaturmaas in Brahmavart, Shri Maharaj arrived to Wadi in 1898. One evening, after the regular obeisance to the Padukas during the Palanquin ceremony, Shri Maharaj started climbing the steps to his room. Suddenly he went into the trance and the Kamandalu fell from his hand on the stone steps. However, it miraculously escaped any damage at all. Still in the trance, Shri Maharaj continued to walk and sat down in the temple of Shri Narayan Swami. “Call the priests of the four divisions!” exclaimed Shri Maharaj in a forceful voice. Soon the priests gathered and Shri Maharaj continued to speak thus: - “The Lord is weary of your present conduct and has brought me here to improve the same. You are not following the precedents laid down by your ancestors. If you do not still reform, you will invite further punishment, far severer than what you have been suffering these last three years.” The terrified priests prayed most humbly for forgiveness and guidance. After a couple of hours in the trance, Shri Maharaj returned to the normal state. When someone asked him as to the ways to pacify the anger of Shri Datta Prabhu, he answered, “I am just one of you. I don’t know anything.”
Shri Maharaj was in Wadi in the Deepavali festival of 1906 AD. In the five days of the festival, the Padukas are bathed with hot water. On the first day (the dark 14th of Ashvin), Shri Maharaj was also given hot water bath along with the Lord. However, the priests did not check the temperature of water poured over the Padukas. This resulted in Shri Maharaj passing blood in urine. When Shri Maharaj queried Shri Datta Prabhu about this, the Lord said, “If a single hot water bath has caused this to you, imagine what I must be suffering while the priests are pouring scalding water over me every day!” When questioned the priests confirmed that nobody checked the temperature of water before bathing the Lord. Shri Maharaj told them that he was receiving the punishment foe their mistake. On his advice the priests placed a coconut before the Lord and prayed pledging to test the temperature of the water in future. This relieved the suffering of Shri Maharaj.

In a similar incidence in Kurugaddi, Shri Datta Prabhu caused some dead sparrows, eggs and other dirt to fall in the hands of Shri Maharaj. Even as he was throwing these away in disgust, the Lord remarked, “We have thrown these things on your body just to make you realize how we are suffering such filth to soil our place.” The next day, Shri Maharaj actually saw a sparrow killed by a bat fall on the Padukas. He then made arrangements to repair the gaps in the roof of the Kurugaddi temple and to fix a door to the sanctorum.

It should be mentioned here in the passing that, Shri Maharaj was instrumental in reviving some major places of Shri Datta worship like Kurugaddi and Peethapur. At Peethapur the local residents were even not aware of the actual birthplace of Shripad Shrivallabh till Shri Maharaj pointed it out. Shri Maharaj has also installed several Datta idols in different parts of India.


The Supreme Being referred to as the Brahm in Vedic literature, is beyond human concept and articulation. Its attributes like the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer refer to its relation to the world but say little of its nature. The Shrutis (Vedas), after striving to define the indefinable, end up saying, “not such, not such”! Only three major attributes emerge consistently from the subjective experience of the Seers, viz. Truth, Existence and Bliss (Sat, Chit and Anand). These seers could only say that It Exists (Asti), It is Conscious (Bhaati) and It is Beloved (Priya). Thus the Being, Knowledge and Love are the aspects of God that are common to all religions and form the basis of all approaches to Him. Indian tradition, from the ancient Rishis to the Saints, has placed love above wisdom in the pathway to God. This love, referred to as Bhakti, forms the very essence of the fascinating relationship between Shri Maharaj and Shri Datta Prabhu. All the facets of this bond we have so far studied are firmly and deeply rooted in love. It is this deep love that enabled Shri Maharaj to transcend the limitations of human body, mind and ego; it is this love that motivated the tremendous efforts he put in, austerities he practiced, sufferings he underwent; it is because of this love that he could so completely, unreservedly dedicate his whole life, his entire being to God.
The heart of Shri Maharaj was always filled with this Divine love. Sometimes even the utterance of Divine Name sufficed to trigger an outburst of this passion, choking his voice, causing a profuse flow of tears and even leading to a trance. In the 1906 visit of Shri Maharaj to Wadi, he used to perform his evening rituals at the Sangam (confluence) after which he used to explain Shri Krishna Lahari. Once just as he was speaking, the temple bells started ringing as usual for the evening worship accompanied by burning of incense before the Lord. Suddenly Shri Maharaj became speechless and tears started incessantly flowing. Recovering after a short while, Shri Maharaj said, “ Behold our great fortune and rejoice! The Lord, the Ocean of Mercy, has come to live here for the benefit of His devotees! His grace towards his children is indeed indescribable."
Once while teaching grammar to some students in Brahmavart, Shri Maharaj encountered the word “Krishna” which led him into a trance. Such trances were frequent occurrences with Shri Maharaj. He used to lose all awareness of the outside world during such trances. Once at Wadi, when he went into a trance lasting for a couple of hours, the priests formed an enclosure around him with sheets of cloth for his protection. Later on he told them this was neither necessary nor desirable for such a trance could occur in jungle or other deserted places; secondly, the sight of such a trance can be an uplifting and purifying experience. In Wadi again, even as he remained in the trance for almost all day, he appeared at noon on the streets of Wadi soliciting Bhiksha! When Shri Ganda Maharaj asked him as to how this could happen, he pleaded ignorance saying, “You were with all the time! I did not move out.” Listening to Bhajans at times induced such trances, as happened at Sadalage, a village south of Wadi, while he was listening to an Abhang of Shri Saint Tukaram. The trance lasted three hours.

These are some of the obvious expressions of the deep ardor that ever filled the heart of Shri Maharaj. The following incident at Narasi reveals that the emotion was mutual and the Lord returned his love in equal measure. Once when Shri Maharaj had gone to the river for alone for his midday bath (Sanyasis are required to bathe thrice a day), a village woman happened to come there to collect water. She saw Shri Maharaj sitting under a tree and there is six-month-old baby in his lap, sucking left and gazing at Shri Maharaj who is returning the loving gaze. She was so dumb-struck by the sight that she forgot filling her pot and just stood there watching in a daze. In a little while Shri Maharaj happened to notice her when the child disappeared and the lady lost her consciousness. Shri Maharaj went to her and revived her by sprinkling some water and told her she was fortunate to have witnessed the holy sight and told her to keep it secret. She filled her pot with water and returned home. However she could not keep the experience to herself and the story got around.

One and the Same

The more one’s understanding of this spiritual tie gets deeper the less perceptible becomes the distinction between the two and the more convinced one gets of their essential unity. Did not Lord Dattatreya Himself tell Shri Ganesh Bhataji that He would incarnate as his son? The Lord instructed several devotees that He was dwelling in the form of Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati. An evil spirit possessed one Shri Alandikar’s wife as she put on some jewelry gifted by some bandits in return Shri Alandikar’s priestly services. Alandikar tried many means to relieve his wife of the affliction for ten years without any success and finally landed in Ganagapur. After a few days, he was directed by the Lord to leave Ganagapur immediately and go to Garudeshvar on the banks of Narmada where the Lord said, “I am residing under the name of Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati.” Following the Divine instruction, Alandikar went to Shri Maharaj at Garudeshvar and his wife was ridden of the evil spirit by the grace of Shri Maharaj.

Again at Garudeshvar, Shri Maharaj instructed one demon to go to Narsobawadi and serve Lord Dattatreya there. The demon replied, “ The Lord Datta of Wadi is here, what is the of going there?” Shri Maharaj ordered him to shut up and sprinkled a little water over the possessed lady, at once releasing the demon from that mean state.
One Tukaram went to Ganagapur and performed penance in the service of Lord Datta, living only on fruits for three years, with a keen desire to be blessed by the vision of the Lord. The Lord ordered Shri Maharaj, then in Pandharpur, to go to Ganagapur and stay there for three nights. After reaching Ganagapur, he was directed to see Tukaram and fulfill his urge and compose for him, a hymn in the praise of the Lord.
The most authentic first hand account of Shri Maharaj being Lord Dattatreya incarnate comes from one of his major disciples Yogiraj Shri Gulavani Maharaj. In the month of June, Shri Vaman Rao Gulavani, then 23 years of age, had come to Ganagapur to complete seven Saptahas (seven day reading) of Shri Gurucharitra after having completed seven at Wadi. After the sixth Saptah, a Ramal astrologer predicted that if he did not meet his Master (Shri Maharaj) within the next six months, he would never meet him in his life. Shocked by this prediction, Shri Vaman Rao was stricken by an irresistible urge to meet his Master. Completing the seventh and final reading in one day and giving away his umbrella to the priest towards the expenses of the closing ritual (samapti) of the Saptahas, he set out on foot to seek out Shri Maharaj. His two-month pedestrian search for Shri Maharaj, with practically no money, in the hot summer over a dry, dusty terrain, is in itself a saga of indomitable perseverance and penance which was rewarded not only by his meeting his dear, revered Master but also by a ten-day stay in his august and holy company. During this period, he was blessed by exclusive discourses by Shri Maharaj on the entire 18-chapter Bhagvad Gita; Santha of Shr Vishnu Sahasra Naam from Shri Maharaj; instructions on yogic Pranayam and Ajapa Jap; and the continuous grace flowing from Shri Maharaj.

After ten days of this blissful sojourn, Shri Vaman Rao had to leave as the first anniversary of his father’s death was approaching. Starting early, he went to the bath in Tungbhadra river in the sacred company of Shri Maharaj who bathed Vaman Rao with his hands. They went to Madhukari together and at lunch Shri Maharaj served a portion of from his plate to Vaman Rao as Prasad. As the time of departure neared Vaman Rao could not control his grief at the prospect of separation from Shri Maharaj. Finally, the moment of parting came. Shri Maharaj was sitting in his customary Siddha position, with a coconut, sacred ashes and Prasad by his side, on a small platform. Shri Vaman Rao prostrated before him. Shri Maharaj blessed him with customary “Narayan” and gave the prasad, coconut and sacred ashes asking him to take care. Shri Vaman Rao, with tear-strained face and a heavy voice asked, “When shall I see you again, Master?” Shri Maharaj, with an upward shake of his head pointed to himself and said, “Remember this as it is, that is all!”

At this moment, the physical form of Shri Maharaj appeared to become transparent and Shri Vaman Rao saw the figure of Lord Dattatreya clad in tiger-skin, with His feet at the heart of Shri Maharaj, smiling benevolently at him. Shri Vaman Rao prostrated again and as he got up, he saw the usual form of Shri Maharaj asking him hurry up so as not to miss train. Shri Vaman Rao, luckily for us, was an accomplished painter and not only memorized the enchanting image of the Lord but also reproduced it in an exquisite miniature which he placed in his sacred book of Shri Guru Charitra. When Shri Vaman Rao went to stay with Shri Maharaj at Garudeshvar, he, on the latter’s instruction put a metal frame on it. Shri Maharaj placed it on a wooden platform and performed the ritual worship. The picture continued to receive regular worship throughout the stay of Shri Vaman Rao at Garudeshvar at the end of which, Shri Maharaj handed it back to Vaman Rao. This picture is in the sanctorum of Shri Vasudeo Nivas.

Shri Gurudev Datta

We shall now try to examine and if at all possible, try to understand the relationship between Shri Maharaj and his chosen form of the Godhead whom he dedicated his life as completely as humanly possible. At the beginning of the universe the Supreme Being Shri Vishnu created Brahma the creator and ordered Him in turn to create the world. Amongst his first creations were the Seven Great Seers (Saptarshi). The chief amongst these was Atri meaning bereft of (beyond the influence of) the three (basic principles or Gunas of Maya - the power of Brahman the Supreme Being). Atri is the Seer of 5th Mandal of Rigved and is credited with the first correct prediction of solar eclipse. He is also one of the earliest physicians in Indian tradition and the composer of Atreya Sanhita. He was married to Anasuya (the one without malice) renowned for devotion to her husband (Pativratya). Jealous of her fame as Pativrata the consorts of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh persuaded the three Supreme Lords of the Universe to visit the Ashram (abode) of Atri and deflect Anasuya from her steadfast religious path. Disguised as hungry Brahmin guests (Atithti), they presented themselves at the door of Atri’s Ashram at noon soliciting food. A guest arriving at the middle of the day is considered God and Anasuya’s creed ordained her to serve them as such. Welcoming the three guests, she washed their feet and offered them seats. Apologizing for the Rishi’s absence that had yet not returned from his austerities, she asked how best she could serve them. The three Gods pleaded to be very hungry and argued that the Rishi may be indefinitely delayed because of his love for religious deliberations, demanded that they be served food urgently. Complying with wish, Anasuya served their plates and offered them with the usual sacraments. However the disguised Lords refused to consume the food unless she served it naked! Momentarily shocked by this strange and offensive request the great Pativrata argued to herself that these atithis could not possibly be ordinary ones. They had to be some very holy persons or possibly even Gods, testing her steadfastness on the religious path. Besides, she thought to herself, being the consort of the great seer Atri, Kaam or the God of sex, dare not disturb her! Thus determined to guard her religious purity, Anasuya remembered her holy husband and removed her clothes and holding some water in her hands she appeared before the guests and sprinkled the water over them. The power Anasuya’s Pativratya[1] transformed the three Gods into newborn babies. Anasuya’s inherent maternal instinct caused her breasts to overflow with milk as if she herself had just delivered the babies. Moved by their hunger she started feeding them in turn and singing lullabies to soothe them. Atri returning from his meditation, learnt about the miracle from Anasuya and recognizing the Trinity was rejoiced. He prayed the Supreme Lords and apprised Anasuya of her great fortune. The Three Gods appeared before the couple in their original form and commended them at this show of spiritual greatness and invited them to ask for a blessing. At Anasuya’s suggestion the Rishi wished the Gods to be their sons and stay with them. Granting the wish, the Gods departed to their abodes even as their baby forms stayed on in Atri’s Ashram. The learned Seer named the three sons. He named Shri Vishnu, who gave himself as Datta (the given one), Shri Brahma as Chandra and Shri Mahesh as Durvasa. Chandra (comforting one), the Moon-God went to his abode and Durvasa went to forest to practice austerities. They reassured their parents that Datta would stay with them and harbor their quintessence and thus come to embody the Supreme Trinity in One. Thus came into being the Adi (Primal) Guru, the eternal incarnation of the Supreme Brahman, forever working for the spiritual uplift of all sentient beings throughout the ages.
Lord Dattatreya, from his incarnation in the Satya Yuga (the Age of Truth), the first of the four Ages, has been bestowing the True Knowledge, which in essence is the direct cognition (Aparoksha Dnyan), as against didactic understanding (Paroksha Dnyan) of the Self that frees one from the bondage of Maya, the apparently never-ending cycle of birth, death and rebirth, which is the root cause of all misery. He not only guided and helped disciples like Kartavirya, Parashuram, Yadu, Aayu, Prahlad and Alarka, but also through such disciples as Vishnu Sharma, established traditions of spiritual knowledge to help all sincere seekers. The word tradition is used here to refer to the continuous chain of Masters, each initiated by his predecessor, thus comprising a perennial source of spiritual knowledge. The existence of several such live traditions is the unique asset that endows India with the potential to be the spiritual lighthouse of the world.Even in the more recent times, Lord Dattatreya has been the source and sustenance of the major spiritual traditions like the Mahanubhav, Nath and Varkari.
The origin of the main Datta tradition, particularly prevalent in Andhra, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat, was established and propagated by the two incarnations of the Lord. The first one was Shripad Shrivallabh, born in Peethapur, a coastal town in Andhra Pradesh. The second one was Shri Narasinh Saraswati, born at Karanja in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Both incarnations were caused by the Lord’s boon to a virtuous woman to endow her with a revered and wise son like Him. Since there is no other like Him in the universe, He had to incarnate each time to fulfill the blessing. Another similarity in the two incarnations is that they both renounced worldly life at a tender age, without marriage and performed a pilgrimage of India, initiating Yogis and seekers, directing populace to the righteous path and establishing the edifice of Vedic religion, before settling down in a chosen place (Kurugaddi in case of Shripad Shrivallabh, and Ganagapur in the case of Shri Narasinh Saraswati) on the banks of Krishna or her tributary, to carry on their work. Both have “disappeared” from public view with no records or witnesses of their physical death. Their biographies are recorded by Shri Saraswati Gangadhar, the great-grandson of a major disciple of Shri Narasinh Saraswati, Sayandeo, in the Marathi book entitled Shri Gurucharitra, considered sacred by the followers of the Datta tradition. One of the major contributions of Shri Swami Maharaj was translation and interpretation of this gospel of the Datta tradition.We have recalled briefly the history of Shri Datta tradition to set the backdrop for an attempt to understand the relationship between Shri Swami Maharaj and his Lord and Master Shri Datta Prabhu. This task is indeed beyond human capacity and is undertaken here, not with any hope of success but because even a futile attempt may still purify the enquirer’s psyche and push him onwards on the path of Realization.
[1]. Alas, English language does not have words to translate this and many words like these! Even these very concepts are alien to Western culture. Isn’t it a pity?

The wooing

We have seen that Shri Swami Maharaj was born of parents who were ardent devotees of Shri Datta Prabhu and had filled their lives with service to the Lord and their minds with loving devotion to Him. Thus Shri Swami Maharaj inherited these qualities and was well advanced on the path of devotion even as a child. He started regular recitation of Shri Gurucharitra immediately after Upanayan. Since his childhood only he was drawn to Narsobawadi. This pull became stronger after his imposed marriage. We have to conclude that this attraction was mutual as the Lord had to prod him with a dream to overcome his fears about maternal resistance and even arrange for his passage and company. Thus it is the divine will that took him to Wadi where he was destined to meet his spiritual mentor, Shri Govind Swami. Shri Datta Guru also saw to it that Shri Maharaj (then Shri Vasudeo Shastri) could bathe the Padukas through the medium of Shri Govind Swami, against the objections of the priests. The Lord appeared to Shri Maharaj, during the very first visit to Wadi, even though to admonish him for the untimely visit to the temple! Also, in the same visit, Datta Prabhu initiated the reluctant Vasudeo Shastri to Dattopasana (worship of Datta) in the dream. All these events suggest that at this stage, it was the Lord wooing his devotee rather than the other way round. This peaked of course into the Lord inviting Himself to Mangaon for a long seven-year stay!

The Master and the Disciple

The seven years in Mangaon, Shri Guru Raj closely guided Shri Maharaj in every aspect, be it daily worship, family problems, scriptural knowledge or yogic practice. During this phase, we find their relationship predominantly a Master-Disciple one. The Lord directed every action of Vasudeo Shastri and the slightest deviation invited harsh punishment. Examples of such disciplining are numerous. Once when Shastriji was forced by his mother to accompany her to Gokarn for pilgrimage, he was bitten by a viper on the way and felt better only when the pilgrimage was abandoned. Tasting a sweet at the instance of mother against the Lord’s wishes led to Shastriji developing a stroke only to be relieved by the mother’s prayer to the Lord for forgiveness and a promise not to force Shastriji to disobedience. Shastriji’s father-in-law, Babaji Pant once compelled Shastriji to take some medicine for a prolonged fever urging that the medicine was pure. As soon as Shastriji took the medicine, he threw up and fell unconscious. The terrified Babaji Pant confessed to have lied and prayed for the pardon of the Lord. This led to Shastriji’s quick recovery; but he had to perform absolutions afterwards.
Whenever in doubt Shastriji used to pray to the Lord and he used to receive instructions either in the dream or in waking state as a spoken word. Step by step, the temple of Mangaon evolved into a pilgrimage place for the devotees of the Lord; and simultaneously Shastriji grew in spiritual stature, attaining perfection in Yoga and in Vedic knowledge even as his devotion became more and more intense. On occasions, the Guru Raj used to test him. Once Shastri Maharaj had a vision during meditation. A man came with a palanquin and informing Shastriji that his stay on earth had come to an end and instructing him ride the palanquin. As unperturbed Shastriji complied the vision disappeared. On another occasion, he was forewarned during meditation of his imminent affliction by leprosy. On waking up, a hand and a foot of Shastriji were numb. This continued for four days. Shastriji accepted it as Prarabdh. However, he was soon cured of the malady. When enquired about the incidence, the Lord said, “Just tested your determination!”
In seven years, Shastriji’s preparation was complete and so was his utter surrender to the Lord’s will. Thus the guest from Wadi returned with his host. After a brief stay during which Shastriji served his mentor Shri Govind Swami in the latter’s terminal illness and received important scriptural instructions. The Lord put him through a severe test after leaving Wadi when confronted with death within a few days of his wife’s demise. His frustration and verbal tirade against the Lord was a sign of his deep desire for a monastic life and service to people. This had in fact been the Divine design throughout. Perhaps Datta Guru wanted to Shastriji’s commitment. Once this was accomplished, Guru Raj himself initiated Shastriji to Sanyas at Gangakhed.