I had landed in Haridwar in April 1980 at the Ardha Kumbh Mela on the advice of a photographer in Delhi without knowing what to expect. He had mentioned that a festival was being celebrated there, but I had no idea what type of festival it was and what amazing crowds it would attract. He had sent me into spiritual India and I am eternally grateful for that.
A few days after reaching Haridwar I met an impressive yogi.
I sat on the bank of the Ganges behind the Tourist Bungalow (now Alaknanda Hotel) and saw on the other side of the broad riverbed a wooden hut on poles, which was constructed on the sandy beach. An American, whom I knew from the Tourist Bungalow, waded through the Ganges straight towards me. “Would you like to see an extraordinary man? If yes, I help you cross the Ganges”, he offered. “Over there, in that hut, Devraha Baba is presently staying. He is supposed to be more than 300 years old and enlightened. He is one of those who know what life is all about. And it is always worthwhile to meet such people.”
Of course I was interested and we crossed the Ganges together. The river had appeared peaceful and calm from the bank, yet the current was amazingly strong and the stones on the ground were slippery. I was glad that my companion was over two meter tall, and gave the impression that there was nothing to fear.
Devraha Baba had watched us coming because he scolded us, when we reached him. It was far too dangerous to cross the river. We should take the bridge, which was about two kilometres up the river. A sadhu with matted hair piled high up on his head, translated this for us.
Baba waved us closer and asked me where I came from. He benignly nodded his head a few times. He murmured a mantra in Sanskrit and asked us to repeat it line by line.
Then he instructed the sadhu to give us sugar candies, so many, as we just managed to hold with both our hands. With difficulty, we wrapped them into a shawl, including those, who had landed in the sand. Baba gave us his blessing and sent us abruptly away. He turned to others, who had come by car via the bridge and carried a basket full of fruits to him.
Back in my room in the tourist bungalow I noticed that I liked Baba. In fact, I like him very much. My heart jumped with joy at the thought that I would see him again the next day – almost as if I was in love, which seemed inexplicable.
From then on, I went every morning to him. Sometimes I walked over the bridge, sometimes I waded through the river with the tall American and sometimes I got a lift by a car. On one of those lifts, an elderly gentleman told me that his grandfather took him to Devaraha Baba since he was a small boy. And his grandfather had assured him that, when he himself was a small boy, Baba looked already like a very old man.
Baba usually sat on the narrow wooden balcony that was supported by poles. One could only see his head with the unkempt, long hair and the aged, bluish eyes. His arms were hanging down from the balustrade and he often raised his hands to give his blessing.
Occasionally he was not there. Then he either was in the small room behind the balcony or took a bath in the Ganga, and all of us, who had come for his darshan, were sitting in the burning sand, from time to time dipping a handkerchief into Ganga Ma and placing it on our heads to cool down. Sometimes we waited for half an hour and not a single tree nearby to give shade. The Indians quietly chanted “Siya Ram, Jay Siya Ram”. They could chant those names hundred, thousand and probably even million times without feeling tired.
Why did we wait so meekly? I could not find an explanation. Yet I also didn’t want to leave, even though at times my mind played up and resisted the waiting, when the discomfort became too evident. I asked myself, why I took upon myself the heat, the waiting, the hot sand, just to see an old man. I wondered whether the others also faced such rebellious thoughts. Nobody left.
Then, when all of a sudden, the door opened and Baba appeared on the veranda, a whisper went through the crowd and it surged towards him. The atmosphere was suddenly charged and light. The heat and the waiting were forgotten. He radiated strength, confidence and above all kindness, when he, like a father figure, compassionately inquired about the problems of his devotees or brushed them aside, whatever he felt was more appropriate.
It was an odd picture:
On one side there were cultured, often rather wealthy people, the ladies in silk, with lots of jewelr, and their car parked nearby with a driver waiting. And yet they were the supplicants, who with folded hands and barefoot tripped from one foot to the other to avoid burning their delicate soles in the hot sand and imploringly looked up to Baba, hoping, that his blessing would make their difficulties vanish and fearing, that maybe they won’t get what they wanted or that he would give them a short shrift and not spare time for them.
And on the other side up on the balcony there was the ancient Baba, naked, with unkempt hair, but free – free from fear, free from desires, free from the world and full of confidence and radiance.
No matter which problems his devotees had mentioned, his advice was basically always the same:
‘Trust in Bhagawan, think of him, repeat his name, hand over your worries to him, and don’t be attached to the world, to family and money. Make Him the centre in your life. Develop love for him and do not be afraid, because everything is in his hand. Understand that the world has nothing worthwhile to offer to you. Find out, who you really are. Realise that God and you cannot be separated.’ And:
‘Always tell the truth. Be righteous. Contribute to the welfare of society. Don’t harm anyone and help, wherever you can. If you honour dharma (right way of living), dharma will protect you.’ And so on.
His devotees probably had heard this umpteen times. Yet they rushed to him whenever they got a chance to hear it again. Baba was by far not the only one, who gave this advice. During the Mela, I heard it being broadcasted via loudspeakers to the crowd from many platforms. Often those sermons sounded like obtrusive advertisement. I realised that all depended on who gave the sermon. Was it someone who wanted to show off or who wanted to be helpful? Did he know what he talked about when he spoke about truth, trust in God and having no fear and desires or did he not know it and he himself was still full of desires and fear, didn’t quite trust God and knew about truth only by hearsay?
Regarding Devaraha Baba, I was sure that he was genuine. I could sense that he wished us well and that he couldn’t quite understand why we take our problems so seriously and why we don’t just shake them off and laugh about them.
One morning, Baba had disappeared. I saw it from my window already before breakfast and did not want to believe it. The few sadhus, who stayed around him, had dismantled the hut before dawn and moved with him to Varanasi. The sandy beach on the other side of the Ganga looked now very deserted – painfully deserted.
Some ten years later, in 1991, I stood in the queue in the dining hall of the Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry. A friend joined the young man in front of me and they started talking in English. Suddenly I listened to them intently. “Really? Devaraha Baba has died?” I butted in. They nodded their head. “Yes. Devaraha Baba has left his body.”
A film passed before my inner eyes. I saw him sitting on his balcony in bright sunlight with long, unkempt hair, murmuring mantras and his hand raised for blessings. I was grateful that he had been here with us. And personally, I was especially grateful to him for a small episode:
It was in Haridwar, shortly before he disappeared: It was the first and only time that I took courage and talked to him. I told Baba that I would like to stay longer in India – longer than the tourist visa allows. The sadhu with the pile of matted hair on his head translated that Baba gave me his blessing. Yet Baba didn’t seem to agree with the translation. He spoke to the sadhu with a lot of gestures, but unfortunately, I didn’t understand a word. Then the sadhu turned to me again and said: “Baba gives you his special blessing.”
By Maria Wirth
This darshan of Devaraha Baba is also a chapter in my book “Thank you India”.
Here is some info about Devraha Baba from the internet:
Devraha Baba was from Deoria District in UP and was called, “The Ageless Yogi.” Nobody knows for sure how long he lived – at least 200 years, but probably much longer. The first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad stated that his father had sat at the feet of Devraha Baba as a child in the middle of the nineteenth century, and Devraha Baba was already elderly at that time. An Allahabad High Court Barrister had stated that seven generations of his family had sat at the feet of Baba. One legend has it that Devraha had blessed Tulsidas (1532 – 1623). Devraha Baba himself allegedly claimed that he has lived for over 700 years.
Baba was observed staying under water unaided for half an hour. He also allegedly could be in two places simultaneously and understand the language of animals, control wild animals, heal people by his look or word, and tell the future.
Devraha Baba had supposedly predicted the time of his death five years in advance. His samadhi shrine is located across the Yamuna River from Vrindavan.