Sitaram Shenoy was the family of Gopal Krishna Shenoy and a householder devotee of Baba Nityananda. He was widely respected and was considered to be the exemplar of devotion. Swami Muktananda, Saligram Swami, Padiyar Swami (Sadananda of Kanhangad), Govind Swami, Tulsi Amma and other devotees of the order of monks held Sitaram Shenoy in high respect for his devotion to Bhagawan Nityananda.
Sitaram used to live in Mumbai along with his family. It was a close-knit Hindu family where the grandparents, parents, the uncles and aunts, children and cousins, and grandchildren lived under one roof. Such a vast gathering of relatives under one roof had its own advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages was that the ladies of the house never got along. And the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law was a tug-of-war for supremacy. As is common in this type of traditional living situation, Sitaram’s wife did not get along with his mother either. Now, both of these ladies were very head strong. One day, in a fit of anger, Sitaram’s mother left their Mumbai house and returned to her native town at Padbidri in South Karnataka state. Sitaram just could not have any say in the matter because his mother was very firm in her decision. His mother’s hardheadedness, coupled with her move back to Padbidri, created a situation where Sitaram was no longer on good terms with his mother. They did not speak.
Now, it was Sitaram’s long-standing desire to build a house close to where Baba Nityananda was living at the time. He wanted to be closer to his Guru. During those days, in the late 1940s, Bhagawan Nityananda used to stay at Vajreswari, about a kilometer away from Ganeshpuri. Baba used to sit opposite the Vajreswari Temple where there were Samadhi Shrines (tombs) of several saints. Two of these tombs were assigned by Baba Nityananda as those of Machendranath and Gorakshanath of the Natha lineage (Natha Sampradaya).
Followers of Nathsampradaya believe Shiva, in the form of Dattatreya, to be their Sadguru. They refer to Lord Shiva as Adinath. There were nine main Naths (Janma Siddhas) who manifested on this Earth as Avatars (born God-realized) to reinstate Dharma and to be Acharyas to those disciples seeking Moksha (Liberation). These Avatars were reincarnations of Lord Vishnu, Shiva’s manifestation known as Narayana. Of these, Machendranath was the first Guru and Gorakshanath was second. It is also believed by some that Bhagawan Nityananda was the reincarnation of Machendranath.
So, Baba used to sit at this place. He built a small temple there, calling it Nath Mandir. Nath Mandir includes the Samadhi Shrines of both Machendranath and Gorakshanath. It is a very powerful place with very high spiritual vibrations. In fact even today, those who seek to have the direct experience of Spanda Shakti of Shiva are recommended to meditate in this Nath Mandir during early morning hours and early evenings. In fact, in the original book on Navnath (Nine naths) called Navnath Granth, there is mention of Machendranath meeting the Goddess Vajreshwari and she blessing him with various spiritual powers. According to Baba, in and around Nath Mandir, the manifestations of Vajradevi, known as Renuka and Kalika, along with their attendants, come for a stroll every evening. It is believed that they sit there to chat with Machendranath and Gorakshanath (it is strongly recommended that one should not venture inside the Nath Mandir after dark). The visit to this temple is a must for those who wish to follow the path of Navnath and for those who wish to perform Shakti Aradhanha, worship of Maha Spandana.
So, Bhagawan Nityananda recommended this place for Sitaram to build his house. Sitaram got the place on lease from the Trustees of Vajreswari temple. By then Baba had moved his ashram to Ganeshpuri. On taking possession of the place opposite the Vajreswari Temple (adjoining the Nath Mandir), Sitaram Shenoy decided to build a house and a motel with lodging and boarding for the devotees visiting Ganeshpuri. Sitaram visited Ganeshpuri to invite Baba for the Bhumipujan (ground breaking) ceremony of his house and motel. Baba was then living in the old Ganeshpuri ashram, then called Vaikuntha (where the present Samadhi Shrine of Bhagawan Nityananda is).
Before beginning construction, Sitaram went to see Baba. He prostrated himself in front of Baba and said, “Dear Deva. I have decided to construct my house and hotel, as per your recommendation, opposite the Vajreswari Temple. I have one desire. It is that you, as my Guru, should grace the ceremony of Bhoomipujan.” To this Bhagawan Nityananda replied, “Go get your mother and ask her to grace the ceremony.” Now, Sitaram was as stubborn as his mother. His ego would not allow him to surrender to his mother. So, he outright refused Baba’s command. He looked upon Bhagawan Nityananda as his rightful mother and often took liberty to argue with and counter Baba’s commands to him. He just said, “You are my God, my Mother, my Guru and my everything. None other than you can grace this great event in my life.”
Baba would not budge. Baba said, “Only your mother should be given this honor.” To this Sitaram challenged “I will not go and surrender to my mother. If you do not accept my invitation to grace this ceremony, I shall still hold it. By keeping your photographs at the ceremony and offering my respect to you alone, I shall build this house.” Sitaram then left Ganeshpuri in huff.
Here one should understand the relationship between Bhagawan Nityananda and Sitaram Shenoy. Sitaram’s love for Baba was so strong that he felt he could venture enough courage to challenge Baba. He considered Baba to be everything in his life and nothing else mattered to him. In truth, like Namadeva, Sitaram thought that, with Bhagawan Nityananda on his side, he was above everything and everyone else. His ego was out of control. Now, between the two, Baba had even more love for Sitaram than Sitaram knew. This is the reason Baba tolerated Sitaram’s outbursts and retorts. Baba really wanted Sitaram to go beyond the limitation of his ego. He also wanted to cure the lose of spiritual merit created by Sitaram’s obstinance towards him. He also wanted to reverse the Karma created by the riff between Sitaram and his mother. Now, Baba knew that there was an important lesson on the way for Sitaram.
The next day, Sitaram called a priest and, keeping Baba’s photograph where it was visible, offered his prayers to Baba and began the groundbreaking ceremony. On completion of the Puja, the workers began building. The buildings were constructed of large stones. The following morning, there was commotion outside Sitaram’s room. He rushed to the construction site, only to find that the walls built the day before had collapsed. His engineers were perplexed. He made them build it again. Again, on the following morning, the walls had collapsed. This happened for three consecutive days. Sitaram finally understood his folly.
He went straight to Ganeshpuri and fell at the feet of Bhagawan Nityananda. Baba was laughing. Baba said, “Now that you have started the construction work, go and build your house. For the housewarming (Graha pravesh), invite your mother with great respect and honor. Bring her to your house, wash her feet with water, offer her a new sari (dress) and, with her blessing and well-wishes, start your life in your new home.” Realizing how important it is to follow the command of the Master without resistance, Sitaram went back and did as Baba instructed him to do.
It was Kartik Ekadhashi on the 1st of November, 1949. Sitaram Shenoy had taken ill and was staying in his home at Vajreshwari. Just ten years earlier, he had suffered a massive heart attack. He survived due to Bhagwan Nityananda’s Grace and Blessings and had lived another ten years. His children were still young. His eldest son, Prabhakar, was looking after his business and was assisted by his other son Ratnakar. In his efforts to expand his business, Sitaram had reinvested heavily in the business. The house and hotel in front of the hill on which the Vajreshwari temple is located had demanded a lot of attention. It was uncertain that the business could be maintained and he was worried for his family. Now he was sick again and it was frightening.
Just a few days before, he had sent his brother to Bade Baba with the message “I am frightened.” Baba had sent his brother back to him with the message, “Watch where your soul shall go!” When his brother conveyed this message to Sitaram, Sitaram smiled and said “Thy will be done.” Sitaram understood the message from Bhagawan Nityananda to mean “You shall merge in me. So why worry.” After receiving this message from Baba, Sitaram, though bedridden, became calm.
Sitaram’s wife has a cousin, Upendra Bhatt (also known as Upi) who has his house at Siwan on the way to Ganeshpuri. It was now the celebration of the Mahasamadhi of the poet saint Tukaram. This is a very auspicious day when devotees visit Pandarpur to have the darshan of Lord Vittal. On the evening of this very day Sitaram said, “Hey Upi. It is a very critical day for me today. If I survive tonight then I shall have the honor of Ethchamarni. I can die if and when I wish.”
That evening the bells of the temple were rung to announce the Arati of the Goddess Vajreshwari. Sitaram called out “Hey Upi. Raise my body.” Upendra Bhat raised Sitaram’s torso. Sitaram curled his thumb and forefinger in yogamudra and uttered in his deep voice “Om.” He then gave up his body. There was a slight smile on his lips. Thus, passed away Sitaram Shenoy, on the 1st of November, 1949 just as the Arati was being performed to Goddess Vajreshwari. A householder disciple of Bhagawan Nityananda who lived all his life like a Yogi, died like a Yogi.
Today, Sitaram Shenoy is recognized as one of the foremost disciples of Bhagawan Nityananda. He was respected by Swami Janananda, Shaligram Swami, Muktananda Baba and other devotees of Swami Nityananda. In the early days, Janananda Baba used to stay at his gymnasium whenever he visited Mumbai. In fact, just before his Mahasamadhi, Swami Muktananda visited Vajreshwari Temple. On his return, he walked into our Vajreshwari home unannounced. This took all of us by surprise, as we were not prepared for his visit. He sat like an ordinary person, on our bed, facing the alter. All his associates and followers were surprised by his very casual approach with us indicating his familiarity with our family. This was all due to his great respect for Sitaram. After this visit, Swami Muktananda invited us all to his ashram. After the Mahasamadhi of Bhagawan Nityananda, we had never visited Muktananda Baba. He wanted to honor our family as Gurubandhus. In 1982 he received us with great honor and introduced us to all around him as disciples of Bade Baba.
Sitaram’s wife, Sushila, and his son, Ratnakar, could not accept the reality that Sitaram had passed. His relatives believed that, having a Sadguru like Bhagawan Nityananda, Sitaram could never die. In a fit of disappointment, pain and anger, they all decided to carry the body of Sitaram to Ganeshpuri to challenge Baba. So, Sitaram’s body was placed in a car. Just after pulling away, a large snake crossed their path. This was a bad omen. Yet they stubbornly persisted. Soon they got a flat tire. The body was transferred to another vehicle. After traveling some distance, the engine of that vehicle caught fire. This was at the crossroad where presently there is a statue of Shivaji. Finally they decided to leave the body there and walk to the Ashram.
Just as they stepped into Vaikuntha, Baba shouted at the top of his voice, “Why the hell have you come here!? Go and perform the last rites!” Sushila Shenoy approached Bade Baba and lamented “My husband died because of you. In your obsession he came and settled in this jungle. Were we to be in Bombay, I would have saved him with the best medical treatment. We took you for God and surrendered totally to you. This is what has happened to us.”
Just as Sushila spewed these angry words, Bhagawan assumed the form of Lord Rudra (Shiva the destroyer). “What!? If you say you have surrendered totally to this one then you have lost all claims for yourself. What would have happened if his death took place ten years ago? The children were small then and you would have suffered. Kal (destiny), Vel (time) and Yog (coincidence) rule over all. Even this one has to go some day. It has happened to Rama, it has happened for Krishna. You will not die some day!? Get up now and perform his last rites. Sitaram has merged in the Sun.” Sushila and Ratnakar were thus consoled and the party left to perform the last rites.
Bhagawan Nityananda had conveyed that he did save Sitaram Shenoy’s life ten years earlier. Sitaram’s surrender to Gurudev Nityananda was perfect. He did not question Baba’s Grace. But his family had not taken his example. Sometimes we forget that all embodied beings, even Siddhas, are governed by God’s law. All who take birth here must also pass. Later, when a devotee asked Bade Baba why he did not extend the life of Sitaram further, Baba said “If that is done then no dead body will go to Chandanwadi (famous cremation ground at Kalbadevi, Mumbai). Everybody will bring their dead one here.”
For several months Sushila was restless and could not come to terms with the fact that her husband was no more. Her emotions were all bottled up inside her and she had not released them by crying it out. One day she went for darshan of Bhagawan Nityananda. She said to him, “I do not have any mental peace. Give me some mantra to meditate upon.” Baba lifted his hand and counting on his fingers said,
Om Namaha Shivaya
“When you say this it can be counted as one set. Repeat this in sets whenever you find free time and while performing your duties. God will protect you and your children. Everything will be set right at the right time.”
Blessing her thus, Shushila wept like a child. All her bottled up emotions thus found their way out bringing peace. Sushila meditated on this mantra all her life and it became an integral part of her life. She died on August 15th, 2005. Even in her unconscious state one could notice her counting the mantra on her fingers. In her pain she called out “Nityananda.” To us Shenoys, Swami Nityananda means everything. He is our God, our mentor, our friend, our doctor. In fact, he was and is the source of our worldly and spiritual needs. A complete God, with infinite love for all of us.