THE EARLY YEARS
On a rainy day was born an enlightened saint
As the harsh cold turned to spring.
He would live true to his given name;
Rise to become the King of Kings.
On an overcast day in the early spring of 1938, Gurudev was born into a simple Brahmin family consisting of his parents, elder sister, and maternal grandparents. His father, Bhagat Ram ji, a chemicals trader by profession, and his mother, Ram Pyari ji, were a kind and pious couple.
Gurudev’s birthplace, Hariana, was a tiny hamlet situated in Hoshiarpur district in Punjab, India. Its small population of Muslim Rajputs and Hindu Brahmins were a paragon of communal harmony and solidarity. Before moving to Hariana, sometime before Gurudev’s birth, his family lived in the state capital of Amritsar. As Gurudev’s mother was unable to conceive after the birth of her first child, a daughter named Bimla, Gurudev’s paternal grandfather contacted a sant (saint) at the Golden Temple, to seek divine intervention. The sant gave Gurudev’s mother jal (sanctified water) to drink for forty days. Gurudev was conceived soon after.
The sant instructed Gurudev’s parents to name the unborn child Sant Prakash which means the enlightened saint. However, when the heavens opened shortly after Gurudev’s birth, his grandmother saw the inclement weather as a good omen. Fueled by a desire to pay homage to the god of rain for what she perceived as a blessing, she insisted upon a name for her grandson that included the name Indra (the rain god in Hindu mythology). To honour her wish, Gurudev’s parents named their newborn son Rajinder which means the King of Kings. Interestingly, Rajinder also means the ruler of the rain god, Indra, and decades later, Gurudev would acquire the ability to control the rain and many other elements of nature.
Sage Brighu, one of the seven great sages of Hinduism, who wrote the Brighu Samhita around 5,000 years ago, knew this realized soul was destined to be named Rajinder and not Sant Prakash. The Samhita had this to say about Gurudev– ‘An ansh (part) of Shiv will take birth in a village named Hariana and his name will begin with ‘Raj’.
The first indication that Gurudev did not have an ordinary future came when he was just a few weeks old. A Muslim carpenter known to Gurudev’s father gifted the family a handcrafted wooden crib on the baby boy’s birth. One spring morning, Gurudev’s mother placed her infant son in the crib on the terrace of their house, only to return a few minutes later to find a hooded cobra seated on him. As she stood paralysed with fear, the cobra slid out and disappeared through a crevice in the wall. Unsure of what the cobra sighting meant, Gurudev’s parents consulted a pandit (priest), who told them that it was a very good omen indicative of the boy’s exalted future.
A similar prophecy was made by a sadhu (ascetic) who visited Gurudev’s house a few years later. He informed Gurudev’s mother that her son would become a powerful saint, ‘someone like Shiv’, when he turned 35.
Shiv is a power that is the amalgam of a set of qualities and attributes. A person who has spiritually evolved to achieve a state of mukti (release from the cycle of life and death) can be defined as a manifestation of Shiv because at that stage of evolution, he has in him all the attributes of Shiv which are illustratively manifested in Shankar. Such a being could either be in a human or ethereal form. Many deities have evolved to the level where the power of Shiv has manifested in them. Some of the manifestations of Shiv in human form are Hanuman, Parshuram, Gurudev, Buddhe Baba, Gorakshanath, etc.
Despite predictions of the little boy’s future being anything but ordinary, Gurudev’s early years were seeped in normalcy. When he was around 5 years old, he joined DAV Modern School in Hariana and studied subjects like Hindi, Urdu, and Farsi. His schoolmates remembered him as an easy-going boy who prioritized mischief over academics and made friends with ease.
Sometime in 1948, Gurudev was struck by a debilitating illness after consuming food offered to him by an acquaintance. Despite receiving medical attention, he found no relief and was eventually bed-ridden. Desperate for a cure, Gurudev’s mother insisted on taking her son to the famous temple of Baba Balak Nath in Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, situated approximately 100 km from Hariana, for healing.
Gurudev’s parents undertook the herculean task of carrying their immobile son up many kilometres of mountain road that led to the temple. On reaching there, a disciple of Baba Balak Nath gave Gurudev jal to drink, and on drinking it, Gurudev vomited buttermilk and masaan (ashes). Mataji (Gurudev’s wife) believed the miraculous recovery that followed left an indelible mark on Gurudev and may have served as a trigger for his quest for spiritual knowledge.
Healed and mobile, Gurudev returned to his mischievous ways. His schoolmate, Subhhash Sabharwal, and he would race back from school, making pit stops to pluck fruits from the fields that lined their path. Acting on the complaints of irritable farmers whose fruit had been picked, Gurudev’s father would berate and threaten him with dire consequences if he did not mend his naughty ways, but Gurudev remained unfazed.
During one such fruit picking escapade at a dargah (shrine of a Muslim saint), Gurudev and Subhhash were caught red-handed by a fakir (Sufi mystic) who lived there. He asked the boys to bow their heads at the shrine to atone for the act. They did as instructed. After this incident, Gurudev visited the dargah regularly to spend time with the fakir. Only this time, the eagerness was not for the fruit but for the seed of spiritual knowledge.
Since Gurudev’s time, Basant Panchami, an Indian festival that heralds the arrival of spring, has been celebrated as his birthday. However, Gurudev expressed disenchantment with such celebrations. When his disciples would bring him flowers and gifts on his birthday, he would ask them to refrain from such fanfare. He always said, “I wasn’t born, and I will not die.” As a Mahaguru, he spent a lot of time making people aware of the temporal nature of the things they formed deep attachments to–be it people, places, or things. Instead, he advocated identification with the aatma (a form of the supreme consciousness) which is eternal and unchanging. As an investment strategy, he believed that ethereal life was ten times longer than human life. Therefore, people needed to focus on the long-term rather than short-term investments.