He was born in the village of Managaon near Savantwadi, then a princely state in southern Maharashtra, in a traditional, religious Brahmin family, devoted to Lord Dattatreya. His grandfather Haribhataji used to recite Shri Gurucharitra regularly. He also used to make manuscripts of the holy book to supplement his meager income. His father Shri Ganesh Bhataji Tembe was a devotee of Dattatreya, spending long periods, sometimes years together, in the remote Ganagapur temple of the Lord in Karnataka. His mother Ramabai also used to spend her time in religious pursuits like jap (recitation of mantras), pradakshina, path(reading holy books), atithisatkar (hospitality) etc. After a particularly long stay in Ganagapur, Lord Dattatreya appeared in a dream and instructed Shri Ganesh Bhataji to return to Managaon and attend to the duties of a householder (grihastha), promising to incarnate as their son. It was after his return from Ganagapur that his eldest son Vasudeo was born on the 5th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Shravana of A.D.1854. Tembe family was endowed with spiritual riches (daivi sampat) but had little temporal wealth. Their priestly duties were not adequate for the livelihood and Vasudeo’s grandfather took to agriculture as a side business.
He woke up daily before sunrise and took his bath and insulated himself from all impurities and contamination during the religious practices. He only took fresh pure ( and vegetarian food prepared by himself or by his mother and never ate outside his home. The food thus prepared, he used to offer to sacrificial fire (Vaishvadev), the cow (Gogra), to the crow (Kaakbali) and finally to the Lord Datta, before partaking it in the manner ordained by scriptures. During the meal any impurity in the environment led him to leave his food and fast for the day. He used to observe the fasts on the 11th days (Ekadashi) of each fortnight, without even drinking water and abjuring sleep during day or night.
Vasudeo, with his sincerity, sharp intellect and phenomenal memory, soon completed his study of the Vedas and became proficient in the priestly duties. As a result he became a respected and beloved figure in the Managaon and neighboring villages and started contributing to the family livelihood.
Vasudeo’s austerities, dedicated practices and devotion soon led to his acquiring Mantrasiddhi i.e., supernatural powers manifested through Vedic mantras.
Once at his sister’s place, Vasudeo displayed his mantric prowess by turning her intractable cow docile. He also helped local police by providing an accurate description and modus operandi of a particularly evasive gang of robbers. Another time, he correctly predicted the capture of the accused by the police of another state. He also helped people in distress by relieving them of their chronic ailments. This augmented his reputation in Managaon and the surrounding area. He was now respectfully addressed as Shri Vasudeo Shastriji.
However, it must be emphasized here that Shri Vasudeo Shastriji never employed his powers for either monetary gain or to impress others in any way. He only used his powers to help the needy and to relieve suffering. We shall see that this compassion for his fellow beings continued to be a major motivation in his entire life.
WIFE'S DEATHAt Gangakhed, his wife died of cholera on the 14th dark day of Vaishakh, 1891 AD. Buwa looked after her in her last illness and performed the last rites. Thus he was now completely free of all family bonds. Even as he was looking forward to be initiated to the monastic life, he had a premonition of his own death by cholera. He was so frustrated and angered that he started abusing the Lord. He blamed the Lord for not permitting him to take sanyas and now confronting him with an unclean death. By the Lord’s Grace, the death was averted and on 14th day after his wife’s death Buwa took the vows of asceticism.
Meticulous observance of religious conducts viz.
Dev Puja (worship),
five major Yadnyas (sacrifices),
Atithti Satkar (honor to the guest),
service to Gomata,
Sincere attendance of Katha, Keertan, Bhajans, Puran etc.,
Soft and kind speech,
Refraining from harming anyone in any way,
Service and obedience to parents (for men)
and to husband, in-laws (for women) and other elders.
The Eternal Physician
When the devotees started pressing Shri Maharaj to take some medicines, he replied, “ I am soon quitting this body; as such no medicines are necessary. Shankaracharya lived only 32 years. This frame has endured much longer. This was afflicted twice by snakebite, thrice by cholera, once by Sannipat, once by plague, twice by leprosy and twice by leukoderma. Dysentery is almost constant. Who gave medicine then? The physician engaged (Shri Datta Prabhu) at birth is still there!”
Shri Maharaj was originally scheduled to depart on the dark 8th of Jyeshtha month; however he did not prefer to go that day. Hence, noting the exact timing of the Tithi, Shri Maharaj made someone sit him up and went into Samadhi for three hours. On waking up from Samadhi he said, “today’s scheduled departure has been avoided.” By the dark moon (Amavasya) of Jyeshtha, he was very weak in acute pain. He called Shri Appa Shastri Jere from Wadi and whispered in his ears, “I have been a subject of black magic in my householder days; however I have no desire to retaliate.” Even on that last day he tried perform Nityakarma; but he could not even hold water in his hand and gave the effort saying, “God’s will”. “Once today’s Amavasya is past, this body has to be quit” he said. Accordingly, as soon as the Amavasya gave way to bright Pratipada of Ashadh, Shri Maharaj sat up facing the Lord to the west, performed Tratak (steady gaze), controlled breath and quit the body with a loud chant of “Om”. The day was Tuesday, Nakshatra Ardra, Ayan Uttara.
MEETING WITH SHIRDI SAIBABA..
Thus, though the two saints never met each other in person, they have, through this episode, made evident, their innate spiritual unity. Outwardly Swami Maharaj was a highly orthodox Brahmanical monk and Shri Sai Baba was a most unorthodox mendicant refusing to conform to any religious tradition. But for this incidence, most observers would feel that they represented to two opposing doctrines. However a close examination of their life and teachings would reveal that their differences were more in form than in essence. Both these saints were motivated by an intense desire to mitigate the sufferings of all persons coming into their contact, irrespective of his caste, creed or persuasion.
Shri Sai Baba of Shirdi A major disciple of Shri Sai Baba and a saint-poet in his own right, Shri Dasaganu Maharaj, met Shri Swami Maharaj during his stay at Rajamahendri in Andhra Pradesh. After offering a Kirtan service in the presence of Shri Swami Maharaj, the latter enquired Dasaganu Maharaj about his plans. Dasaganuji told Maharaj, he was on his way to Shirdi to see his Master Shri Sai Baba. Shri Swami Maharaj gave a coconut to Dasaganu saying, “Please give to my brother”. Dasaganu accepted the coconut and left for Shirdi, with his party. On the way, one morning, the party halted at Kopargaon station, where Gasaganu Maharaj went away to perform the daily religious services. His companions, feeling hungry, proceeded to eat some snacks they had packed. It turned out the snacks were rather too spicy and hot. Everyone was thirsting for water, which, on that hot summer day was not readily available. Some resourceful members decided to break the coconuts in the baggage to satiate their thirst. Among these coconuts, the one from Shri Swami maharaj was also broken and consumed. The snacks and the coconut were offered to Shri Dasaganuji too on his return. When they reached Shirdi, Dasaganu was dismayed by the cold reception he got from Shri Sai Baba, who turned his back on the party and shouted abuses at them, “thieves and scoundrels!” This was markedly in contrast to the loving reception Dasaganu almost always got from Baba. He was stricken with remorse and threw himself at the feet of Baba begging forgiveness. Baba shouted at him, “Where is the coconut my brother gave me? Get me my coconut first!” Dasaganu, unaware of its disposal, asked his companions for it. It was only when they confessed to having eaten it that he came to know of the sacrilege. Having impressed upon Dasaganu and others of the esteem he had for his “brother’s” coconut, Sai Baba gave up his feigned anger and rebuked them for the sacrilege.