Social Hygiene


A few months before he moved on, Gurudev informed his eldest daughter, Renu ji, that he was absolving her and his other children of any responsibility towards the sthan but holding them liable to caring for the cows at his farm. He had named them after Hindu feminine deities and actively conversed with them, especially while milking. Their responsive modulated moos ensured the chatter stayed interactive.

Pehalwanji, who spent several hours with him daily at the farm, recalls how Gurudev went on paath when he heard that the monkey who regularly pranced around the farm had lost her infant. The mahaguru granted the dead infant a human’s birth in his next life since his mother tirelessly entertained the guru with her antics. Another time, Gurudev agreed to a snake’s request for release from a tantrik who had enslaved it. First, he had the snake killed and buried ceremoniously, and then allowed it to take human birth. Reminiscing about the incident, Bittu ji remarked that the erstwhile snake was the most beautiful baby he had ever seen! Even if they were animals, the mahaguru’s benevolence to those who served him or sought his help remains unparalleled.

Gratitude was an integral part of Gurudev’s social hygiene, and its seeds seem to have sprouted early in his childhood years. It was probably gratitude to the fakir of the dargah from which he and his friend, Subbhash ji, stole jujubes during their childhood that the admiration for the mystical arose. Even though he seldom spoke about his guru, he was always watchful of his presence. In fact, on significant days like Mahashivratri and Guru Purnima, he refused to allow garlands around his neck, preferring instead to have them offered at the sthan, which he generally referred to as his guru’s abode. To be seen with more garlands than his guru was not in line with his thinking.

Being a guru, gratitude was also his way of offsetting the obligation of being served. With his disciples and other associates, he was the server, not the served. Bittu ji affectionately remembers the gentle nudge of his guru waking him at 3 a.m. in the wintry mornings of Renuka, offering him a cup of chai he had freshly brewed. Raji ji is misty-eyed while remembering how the great guru helped him offload from the trunk of his car, gunny sacks filled with fabric. Pratap Singh ji, Gurudev’s boss at work, lived his life feeling special since at the camps, the mahaguru personally cooked breakfast for him. To date, the nonagenarian Rudra ji, whom Gurudev saw as his brother-in-law, no less and no more, believes the person who respected him the most in this world was his sister’s husband! Santlal ji recalls the time Gurudev visited the sthan in Sonipat to look up Mataji, who was recouping there after her accident. Instead of just spending time with his wife, the mahaguru also chose to visit the poor and ageing parents of his farm’s caretaker, only because months earlier, the caretaker had requested Gurudev to visit them during his subsequent visit to Sonipat. A request made in undertones was honoured in overtones!

He always asked us to be grateful to those who allowed us to serve them. This concept redefined my view of seva. The idea that I was able to serve only because It was enabled by another, bridged the mental divide between “I” and “You”, creating a sense of unity.

Gurudev’s connectivity with others manifested in diverse ways since he underplayed or role-played to attune to their level of thinking. So, children were treated with naughty affection while elders, with the utmost respect. Some evenings draped in his lungi, he would join the neighbourhood kids in gully cricket, cheating at the game but ensuring he had bought them a packet of sweets beforehand to keep them from complaining! Dr Shankar Narayan was at a loss for words while describing a time in 1990, when he accompanied the mahaguru to his in-laws in Bilga. On seeing his mother-in-law, the great guru adhered to the Hindu custom of touching her feet to show respect. The mahaguru whose feet millions waited to touch was touching the feet of an ordinary woman! In Gurudev’s world, humility aligned with humanity to take centre stage.


Respecting socio-centric beliefs was another facet of his social hygiene. He knew better than most of us that people perceive the world as per their upbringing and conditioning.

Aware that the Sikhs were religiously averse to smoking, he would quickly stub his cigarette if he noticed any of them approaching him. While he prescribed a vegetarian diet to his disciples, he allowed those from West Bengal to occasionally eat fish as it was their staple food. Even though he advised abstinence from alcohol since it was a downer, he did not abandon devotees like Billu ji, who was unsuccessful in giving up alcohol despite several genuine attempts. However, he did not allow his devotees or disciples to come to the sthan in a state of drunkenness. Those who ventured knowingly had to face the ire of guru avelna. Although the mahaguru was flexible in his ways, he was principled in his thinking.

Within the framework of social tradition, he was also an out of the box thinker. He was against dowry since he believed that giving away a daughter in marriage or kanyadaan is among the higher forms of seva. He would himself (and sometimes along with his disciples) contribute to a bride-to-be’s trousseau so that her father was not be staved off his lifelong earnings.

In an era where Indian women were only profiled as daughters, wives and mothers, he looked at them as independent equals. His wife was a qualified schoolteacher by profession and an equal contributor to the household. Although grihasth was his prescribed path, he did not insist on women getting married early on in their lives. Marriage was about companionship, not compulsion.