By Roozbeh Gazdar February 2004 An accomplished medical doctor, Mumbai-based Aniruddha Joshi is today revered by millions as the reincarnation of the Sai Baba of Shirdi. Credited with having performed many miracles, he nevertheless advocates a practical blend of spirituality and science Aniruddha Bapu’s 13-point programmeSocial work, charitable activities, conservation, interfaith thinking and scientific attitude blend seemlessly in this unique programme.1. Charkha: Yarn spun by volunteers is made into cloth to be distributed among needy students and their families.2. Gograss Yojana: Grass grown by volunteers in areas where water is available year round, is collected and sent to famine-stricken areas as fodder for cattle.3. Raddi Yojana: Old paper collected from people is converted into paper bags to use instead of non-biodegradable plastic. Paper pulp is used to make articles for distribution to needy students as incentive to go to school.4. Old is Gold Yojana: Old utensils, clothing, books, toys etc, will be collected for distribution to needy students.5. Warmth of Love Yojana: Torn cloth is used to make quilts for the poor.6. Vidya Prakash Yojana: Candles and matchboxes are donated for use by students who do not have electricity to enable them to study.7. Cleanliness Yojana: Cleaning up of public schools, hospitals and places of worship is undertaken by volunteers.8. Ahilya Sangh Yojana: Will work towards the empowerment of women.9. New Universal Dharmagrantha: To free society of unnecessary ritual and blind faith, a new Dharma—confluence of Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism—will be introduced by Bapu.10. Information Bank: Every Thursday, before his discourse, Bapu will impart scientific information and update devotees on new scientific discoveries.11. Bhartiya Bhasha Sangram: To inculcate a sense of brotherhood among Indians, volunteers will learn at least one language other than their mother tongue.12. Study of the Five Continents: Progress and politics of the five continents will be studied.13. Disaster Management Volunteers: An academy of Disaster Management will train volunteers to tackle natural and man-made disasters. Aniruddha Bapu’s blend of spiritual wisdom and pragmatism appeals in today’s materialistic world with its fast pace and slackening spiritual mores Digambara, Digambara, Shripad Vallabh Digambar…,” a bhajan plays on. It is 7.30 p.m. on a chilly December evening, as I wait in the compound of the New English School in Kherwadi, Bandra East, in Mumbai. People have filled the ground in front of an elaborately decorated stage; beyond, separated by a grill, the school’s lobby is packed to capacity. I am lucky to be here; many others have had to be accommodated inside the school building, and will only witness the evening’s proceedings courtesy close circuit television. Others have settled outside the compound walls, on the footpaths and in an open ground across the road, eyes glued to a big screen put up for their benefit. Around 7.50 p.m., the excitement among the gathering is palpable. Suddenly, the blowing of a conch shell causes a stir in the crowd. All eyes expectantly turn towards the path leading to the gate. A whisper rings through the throng: “Bapu aale, Bapu aale”. A pair of turbaned, traditionally dressed musicians march stiffly blowing on tutaris (wind instrument), followed by a pair of similarly dressed sentries. Behind, walking briskly, casually waving to the crowd, in white shirt, black trousers, and leather chappals, is a fifty-something man, tall and athletic. The people in the audience bow in reverence, hands folded. He responds, arms raised in blessing. As the trademark drooping moustaches accentuate a friendly smile, his eyes twinkle; he seems to recognise many faces in the crowd, and greets some individually. For the lakhs of his devotees assembled here, he is Aniruddha Bapu, the reincarnation of the Sai Baba of Shirdi. Born in 1956, Aniruddha Joshi studied at a school in Parel, before following in his father’s footsteps, by opting for medicine. A brilliant student and gold medallist, he gained his MD, specialising in rheumatology. A lecturer in Nair Hospital till 1985, he later started his private practice in Dadar and Parel, which he continued till 1998. A married man with two children, Dr Joshi led a normal life, until around 1981, when he started studying ayurveda from Vaidya Antarkar and experienced a radical shift in his thinking. The doctor began to realise the superiority of this system of Indian medicine over allopathy. It also made him mull over what had gone wrong with the system. Why had ayurveda stopped progressing? Looking for answers, he had an insight into the role of spirituality in society. Social progress, he realised, was hindered as spiritual values ceased to be important. But the transition from Dr Aniruddha Joshi to Aniruddha Bapu has an interesting story behind it. Before taking samadhi in 1918, the Sai Baba of Shirdi had given three of his personal belongings to Govind Raghunath Dabholkar (also known as Hemadpant), a close devotee of his, assuring him that he would return one day to claim these articles back. The articles, a shaligram (holy stone used in puja), a small trishul and a rosary passed on to Hemadpant’s son Gajanan Govind Dabholkar, who in his last days gave them to his son Govind Gajanan Dabholkar also known as Appa Dabholkar. This fact was, however, a closely guarded secret, known only to the family. Sai Niwas, the ancestral home of the Dabholkars in Bandra, has always been associated with Sai Baba. The Sai puja, held here daily since 1911, draws hordes of devotees. Dr Joshi, himself a Sai bhakt, thus came first to Sai Niwas in 1993. Known then to the Dabholkars as an eminent doctor, he immediately made an impression on them by his modesty, his simple and joyful ways and his profound, yet lucid explanation of religious scriptures. On May 27, 1996, Dr Joshi went to Sai Niwas, and asked for the articles belonging to Sai Baba. “We were stunned. We bowed in reverence as we saw him manifest in the form of Shirdi Sai Baba,” recalls Dabholkar, whose wife and children were also present to witness the event. However, they were asked to keep this encounter to themselves, till Bapu gave them permission to talk about it in 1998. “This was not the first occasion on which Bapu declared his divinity. It had been predicted to his great-grandfather that Lord Vitthala would take birth in his home and thus his family was always aware of his divine status,” maintains Dabholkar. As word spread, believers started flocking around Aniruddha Bapu or Sadguru, as he came to be known. Today, lakhs of devotees in and outside Maharashtra and even abroad consider him to be the avatar of Mahavishnu. Nandamata, Bapu’s wife, is also worshipped as Laksmi Avatar. A former student of his, Dr Suchit Dada, is worshipped as Sheshnag avatar. Dr Dada’s clinic draws many patients seeking a cure and Bapu is supposed to work his miracles through him. For various devotees from all walks of life, Aniruddha Bapu has proved to be a turning point in life. “It is as if a miracle has taken place in my life,” says Sandhyaveera Jaiker, who is actively involved with the movement. “I have been attending the pravachans (discourses) and taking an active part in the various socio-cultural activities. I have been exposed to a world beyond the four walls of my house. My life has taken such a turn for the better,” she exclaims. For the Dabholkars, their devotion to Sai Baba had borne fruit. The Sadguru had once again entered the lives of the family in human form. “He is full of prem (love) and karuna (compassion) and forgives easily. He teaches that though men make mistakes, they can always be corrected. He remembers the name of every devotee he meets, even children, whom he especially loves. Not only humans, even animals are drawn towards him. Cows come to him when he calls them by name and when he talks to them they have tears in their eyes. Today we are privileged to experience God in the human form,” Dabholkar says. Sadhanatai Upadhye retired as the head of the Marathi department in Wilson College. “When my husband died,” she recalls, “I had lost all hope. Confining myself in my house, I just used to read my books. Meeting Bapu helped me to open the windows of my heart, and I started attending his discourses and participating in his activities,” she says. “He has come to remove the decadence that has set in the world today. His manner of working is upgrading society through education and awareness. He works day and night for the people. When others see the work he is doing, they are also inspired to dedicate themselves to his service. Working for Aniruddha Bapu, I feel that I am working for society and the nation.” In fact, Sadhanatai had been first graced with his darshan when, during her pregnancy in 1964, she used to visit the Vitthala Mandir in Wadala. There she once met a small boy with a happy smile, who gave her a peacock feather and touched her belly. A woman accompanying the boy remarked then that her baby had been blessed by Lord Vitthala himself. Years later, when he himself reminded her about the incident, she realised that the child was none other than eight-year-old Aniruddha himself. Dabholkar has an interesting observation to make. “In the Sai Satcharita, Sai Baba has said that he would take rebirth when eight years of age. This refers to his age when the outside world would first experience his grace, just as Sadhanatai did,” he explains. Dr Santosh Salagre, a lecturer in medicine, is also sure that Bapu has come to alleviate the ills of the world. “We see such a lot of the effects of Kaliyug today. I realised that just like Shri Ram and Shri
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