It is an established fact that contemporaneous with the fall of kingdom established by Harihar and Bukka, the invaders were mostly successful in ravaging Maharashtra and most part of the southern India till the resistance put forth by Chhatrapati Shivaji Majaraj made them retreat. One can easily perceive these as really dark days in the religious history as geographical occupation resulting from political wins invariably resulted in cultural repression of the natives. The religious thrust which followed the conquests by these rulers resulted in overall gloom and doom amongst majority of the population, especially from the 14th century onwards. It is in these times we find the rise and spectacular role played by the revered mystics from Datta Sampradaay quite amusing. As is commonly observed among devotees of Lord Dattatreya, most of these mystics were monks, had no family bonding and never inclined towards worldly pleasures; but simultaneously carried unconditional love and concern for the unshackling of society from the clutches of religious bigots and acculturation of ancient roots and cultural heritage of centuries. Be it Sripaad Srivallabh or Shree Narasimha Saraswati Maharaj, people from all walks of life were enlightened and encouraged by them to seek and achieve the full potential life. Though this sampradaay is usually associated with the philosophy of Nivrutti, perhaps these visionaries were equally mindful of the incidence appearing in Vishnudharmottar Purana wherein it is stated that it was the Lord Dattatreya’s blessings which enabled Kartavirya to get rid of his enemies and hence; as for those seekers walking on the path of nirvana, Lord Dattatreya is equally inspiring for one’s social and political endeavors. When it was not possible to fight the oppressors in a full blown frontal fight, it was the sacred flame of sacrifice of personal pleasures for common good, ignited by such saints which helped the society find a ray of light to keep itself entangled with its cultural roots. Such tilling of cultural landscape by various saints including the torch bearers of vaarkari sampradaay, did aid the warriors like Chhatrapati Shivaji Majaraj sow the seeds of freedom in the minds of local populace. Even though one’s suspecting intellect can choose to be reluctant to accept the impact these saints had on the societal wellbeing by dismissing their teachings as a form of too simplistic and status quoist happiness inducing bhakti marg; one can never deny that during those repressive decades, it was this mysticism which somehow helped people latch on to bouts of optimism in their otherwise dreaded life struggles.
In this background when one tries to draw the life sketch of Shree Swami Samartha Maharaj of Akkalkot (Swami); the devout mind can easily decipher, based on Swami’s various life instances, the overlapping colors of Swami being an outlier, equalizer and integrator. Just to emphasize the integration aspect a bit, like most other things, why Swami chose Akkalkot as his perpetual abode is also a mystery. But as deduced by few scholars like Sripad Shastri Kinjawadekar, Swami was an epitome of integration of innocent Bhakti originating from Pandharpur; Maharashtra’s primary source of Shakti situated at Tuljapur and the activist Vairaagya overlooking the bhima-amarja sangam of Ghanagapur! The triangle of Bhakti-Shakti-Vairaagya with Akkalkot at its center, does make an interesting analogy for someone enamored by Swami’s sheer existence, his uber mystic actions and confounding profoundness emanating from various efforts of interpreting his actions. Perhaps a look at the map will clarify this in more detail:
The use of cuss words was as natural for Swami as was his ways of living. In fact there are lot of incidences noted in Swami’s bakhar authored by Gopalbuva Kelkar wherein Swami has blessed his disciples and fulfilled their desires by rattling unimaginable cuss words at them. Swami could sleep anywhere, eat whatever and wherever and stay even in burial grounds. Caste or religion never mattered for him. He never carried any typical articles usually adorn by Indian monks and no literature depicts him carrying out any regular rituals as well. Such idiosyncratic behavior made him a complete outlier, in the eyes of a layman, when seen in context of contemporary monks like Tembe Swami Maharaj who preached, practiced and is still perceived by millions, as the pinnacle of purity in thoughts, words and actions.
Among those who came to see him and seek his blessings, all that Swami cared for was the innocuous intensity of the devout mind to first surrender and then seek. Whenever he realized the disciple is worthy of his blessings, he ensured the concerned person remained in a perpetual bliss. But those like Vishnubuva Bramhachari who came with a motive of testing him and defeating him in a war of words, were left dumbfounded. Swami not only eradicated his ego, but made him realize that innocence laden devotion is an equally pious way of attaining nirvana. No one was spared who came to see him with a sense of pride, arrogance of power and a mind, full of prejudice. Even the Akkalkot royalty was once slapped hard for such display of convoluted feudal signage! Another stark example of Swami being a true equalizer can be found in the instance where the priests from Rameshwar or Dwaraka who were living in own ivory towers by robbing the devotees of money even for a glimpse of deity or bath in the holy lake; were made to pay a heavy price for their unbecoming behavior.
By alleviating such priests of their misdeeds, Swami reconnected them with their spiritual roots and integrated them with the masses whom they were supposed to serve. The factionalism between Shaivism and Vaishnavism rested at Swami’s feet when he helped the Vaishnava’s regain their rights from the local king. Behind his weird sounding behavior, one can always argue was the motive of ridding his disciples of their caste, creed or religion based identities and forge an integrated society.
To conclude, the life lessons of such extraordinary spirits like Swami, are always baffling for a layman and it falls upon the social stalwarts of the bygone era to interpret the teachings embedded therein. This can be obviously a view seeped with the hindsight bias but had there been more successful attempts to spread the message of social integration irrespective of caste or religion and agenda of social reforms as espoused by lifelong deeds and actions of such sacred souls; Indian political leaders would have found it much easier to garner masses in the fight against British. Perhaps these spiritual stalwarts had an inclination that a country cannot afford to keep its majority sulking in the social distress if it has to wage a war against a mighty enemy. It is a no brainer that had the society at large been able to bridge or at least blur the fault lines of caste and religion, the freedom movement would have acquired a more pugnacious and more rigorous thrust much earlier and India might not have required to wait for the Britain to weaken its grip over colonies in the post World War II era. Had all the constituents of society been successful in according the due respect and rights to the repressed class citizens and offering them opportunities for social integration, financial inclusion and political assertion well in time; perhaps Hinduism would have been successful in preventing the onslaught of voluntary conversions.
Let’s pray and pledge to ensure that we inculcate the learnings from the life stories of such mystics and unlike the 19th or 20th century, the present 21st century turns out to be a period of progressive communal and social harmony.