By Rashme Sehgal
A devotee looks back on the exceptional love, acceptance, and protection exuded by Guruji Nirmal, a Delhi based preceptor to some of the most powerful people in the land
Guruji Nirmal had a following that included Sharad Pawar, Amar Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, a host of other politicians, and members of Delhi’s who’s who. Yet, he remained one of the most private and little known of spiritual preceptors in the capital. He had no ashram, having built only a small Shiv Mandir where devotees gathered for his birthday, Baisakhi, and Shivratri. Other times, we met at a devotee’s house in Mehrauli.
Well-built and burly, with strong features and a shaved head, he was a handsome man, with great personal charm. He was remarkably inclusive and open. He allowed devotees to cluster around him, touch his feet and knees, or even drop a kiss on his head, as one American was fond of doing.
His demise in the end of May this year has left many of us orphaned, but it also compels us to record for posterity his unique nature, and come to terms with his mystique.
Little is known about his early life, save that he was born to a humble farmer’s family in Dugri, a village in Melerkotla district in the Punjab. He moved to Delhi almost a decade ago. Devotees talk of miracles he performed while still in school, such as, for instance, filling an empty inkstand with ink by touching it. Despite being an excellent student both in school and in college, he chose to follow the spiritual path.
I often ask myself what is the legacy Guruji left behind, and how did he transform our lives in such a comprehensive and meaningful manner?
Guruji gave no discourses; he wrote no books; he was not interested in creating an organisation to perpetuate his name. His persona epitomised goodness, kindness, and a benevolent love that permeated the hearts of his devotees. A spiritual powerhouse, his radiant presence in his evening sangats helped transform the lives of those who attended it.
Guruji’s sangat met four times a week on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. It culminated in everyone partaking in the bhandara, which Guruji always referred to as prasad. This comprised of rotis, dal, sabzi, and something sweet. For the most time, Guruji spent the entire evening sitting in silence with the Gurbani playing in the background. His devotees – professionals, senior bureaucrats, politicians, the rich and middle class – sat around him, also in silence. Occasionally, he would break the silence by allowing a devotee to come up and sit next to him, and Guruji would then quietly exchange a few words with him. He knew exactly what to say to whom, usually in chaste Punjabi. A puckish sense of humour marked these exchanges.
As a routine, when he met his devotees in the earlier part of the evening, he would be wearing a bright-coloured shirt and black trousers with walking shoes, and would be sitting, legs crossed, on a sideboard kept just outside the kitchen. Dressed in this way, with his head shaved bald, he looked almost like a rock star. But later in the evening when he came to sit on his special chair, he wore a colourful, brightly embroidered choga with special appliqué work done around the neck, sleeves and hem.
He personified the spirit of Punjabiyat. It was reflected in his conversation, the shabads that were played through the evening, and the Patiala shoes which he carried off with such aplomb. Some of his favourite expressions were, “aish karo” (enjoy yourself) “tera kalyan kar dita”(I have blessed you) and “practical hone chaida he” (one should be practical). Once he had said, “tera kalyan kar dita” it meant that whatever the devotee had sought would be fulfilled.
I began attending his sangat from February 2005. The first thing that struck me were the pains he took to make his devotees feel at ease. It was as though he was trying to emphasise that a life of prayer and devotion was not different from our everyday life. Rather, it should be considered an integral part of it, and the message of the sangat must be allowed to permeate every aspect of one’s daily routine.
Occasionally, he would elaborate on how the essential message of all religions was devotion to God and mankind. He once asked a close devotee, General C. Kapoor and his wife, at 1.30 am in the morning, what they knew about religion.
“I know nothing about religion; religion has very little role in the army,” Gen Kapoor replied.
Guruji kept quiet. A few minutes later he went into a trance, and began quoting extensively from several religious scriptures, including from the Bible, Quran, Granth Sahib, and the Bhagavad Gita.
When he came out of the trance, he asked Kapoor, “Did you understand the meaning of those verses?”
“No, Guruji, I understood nothing at all,” Kapoor declared.
Guruji said succintly, “The message of all religions is the same – remember God at all times. If you can help someone, do so, but if you cannot, don’t harm him either. Also, don’t ever get so involved in the materialistic world that you do not have time to remember God.”The Grace
A great healer, he cured a large number of his people. This was one more way of helping them understand the power of prayer. Sometimes, he would allow his devotees who had been cured to speak about how they or their close relatives had emerged from near-death experiences. These were precious exchanges, and helped reinforce just how generous and all-knowing Guruji was. A retired army colonel recounted how Guruji had helped cure his son.
“My son was born deaf, and ever since I could remember, my wife and I were taking him from one ENT specialist to another, but no one could cure him. Finally, one of my friends suggested that we take him to Guruji who advised me to start putting some badam rogan (almond oil) in his ears, which we did for many months. One morning, his ear was covered with a fungal infection. I spoke to Guruji and told him what had happened. He advised me to take him to an ENT specialist, which we did. The minute the doctor began removing the fungal growth, the boy felt giddy, fainted, and fell to the ground. The same thing happened the next morning. He said he fainted because he found the sound of his ear being cleaned very loud. When he returned home, he heard the words of his mother talking to him. These were the first words he had heard in the 16 years of his life.”
At another time, a Patiala-based college lecturer recounted how some relatives had tried to poison her in order to inherit her property. “The poison was so strong that my skin turned black, and I became bloated and obese. Since I was not getting better, a friend of mine suggested I visit Guruji. When I arrived at his darbar, I sat in one corner. Guruji did not say anything to me except that I must attend the sangat for one month at a stretch, and not leave before eating the langar. I did as he told me, and strangely enough, one month later, I began to feel better. I shed the extra weight I had put on, but my skin remained dark.”
One evening, out of the blue, Guruji asked her what cream she was using in order to become fair.
“Bring the bottle of cream you are using when you visit here the next time,” Guruji told her.
She did as she was told. Guruji then asked her to apply the same cream on his feet. To her delight, she found herself returning to her original complexion. “A guru gives you his strength, he gives you his love, and most important, he gives you his protection,” she told the sangat.
The cures Guruji offered were simple, almost like homespun remedies. Cover a wound with paan ka patta, buy channa and gur and offer it at a Hanuman temple, wear an OM pendant that was blessed by him. However simple these remedies may appear, the fact that he had blessed the devotee and had prescribed them seemed to make all the difference, because patients who had tried every other treatment and failed, would invariably get cured by him.
“Pray, and give time to God to effect a cure,” he would sometimes tell his devotees. Healing and curing must be preceded by a change of attitude. This attitudinal change comes about when we understand that there is a moral world that rules this planet, and that this moral order is interwoven with the laws of nature. Nothing that happens on this earth happens in a random manner.
Guruji would listen to these anecdotes with a smile on his face. It was not as though he was taking any personal credit for these experiences. He always said that whatever happened did so because of the grace of God.
A young girl spoke about how she had developed a very painful kind of skin cancer, and the doctors had given her only a few days to live.
Again, she was told to visit Guruji consecutively for an entire month, and to partake in the langar which he considered to be prasad. She did so, and her body began to heal. On getting cured, she grew so confident of her relationship with the Guru that she stopped lighting the jyot in her temple. One day, she tried lighting the jyot. Despite several attempts, it did not light. Frustrated, she threw the matchstick down, and began to cry.
“Guruji has abandoned me,” she cried.
When she came out of her bath, she found that the jyot had lit of its own accord. “It was then that I realised that the Guru never forsakes you; though we may forsake him,” she affirms.
At a personal level, I started attending Guruji’s sangat a little before my husband, Anil, was found suffering from cancer. Guruji was visiting the house of photographer Rahgu Rai and his wife, Meeta Rai. When I came to seek Guruji’s blessings, he indicated to me that I should start attending the sangat. He obviously knew that I was going to go through a difficult time and he would help me through this period.
His words proved prophetic because this turned out to be the most turbulent time in my life. Not once did Guruji tell me that Anil would be cured though I knew he had cured several cancer patients. He just extended his love, and made sure that my husband did not have to suffer physically. Rather, it was a period when the whole family came together to help him through this difficult time.
The Guru’s Gift
When I would visit Guruji during this crisis period, I would keep asking myself the question, “Who is a guru and why does he have so much importance in our life?”
The answers to this question came slowly to me. It dawned on me then that a guru is someone who helps us understand our essential reality. The guru is not bound by a physical body, and therefore he is always more than a mere physical teacher. The guru is the vital force that creates and sustains and infuses the whole universe. The guru-principle or guru tattva is the universal power of consciousness that gives rise to and supports the universe.
I also came to realise that a guru and his disciple share a unique relationship grounded in a powerful union of love. Often, one hears a devotee say he has fallen in love with the guru. This basically means that he has discovered a boundless fountain of love in his heart, and the guru-disciple relationship allows him to express that love unconditionally. The guru is one who can awaken the transformative spiritual energy that resides deep within our own being.
A guru operates from a space of complete freedom. It is for this reason that Guruji would tell his devotees, “Nobody is close to me and nobody is far away. Nobody is old for me and no one is new.”
Guruji’s advise was sought at many levels. Devotees consulted him when their children had to be married, for their business and job-related problems, if they were facing domestic problems… there was no issue in which he was not consulted. He gave advise or an upaya that would provide a solution, and his advise invariably turned out to be correct.
A guru makes you become more compatible with your own limited self. But he also makes you realise that devotees need to bond with one another to ensure the spirit of the sangat can come alive.
Today, it is on this sangat that we must now lean in order to survive the sudden loss of this great guru. Guruji liked people to live in families. Human beings need families to sustain them, he used to say. He called his sangat his family. A family is truly happy when its members sit together, and chant the name of God. His words ring true through our hearts as we thank this wonderful being who helped us through the vicissitudes of our life.
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