‘This was a true devotee of mine’ – was what Sai Baba said about Megha, an ardent devotee who considered Baba as Shiva incarnate.
In earlier days, Sai Baba was not allowing anyone to worship Him. If somebody brought a garland, He did not accept it. His perfect purity, asceticism, general benevolence, harmlessness, non attachment, and other virtues evoked the respect of the saints - Devadas, Janakidas, Gangagir, Anandanath and Bidkar, that met Him, and also of serious and noble minded men like Mahlsapathy and his friends Appa Bhil and Tukaram Darji. Mahlsapathy and his friends regarded Baba as a saint, an Acharya or Guru Deva as Baba was unattached and happily roaming about fearlessly and was a help to those in suffering and misery. So far as the general mass was concerned, it was the fact that He turned water into oil that provoked worship. And the worship took the usual form of offering flowers, fruits and scents. Baba protested and tried to dissuade these worshippers. He asked them to go to their customary objects of worship such as the images they had in their temples and homes. But they would not listen. They felt that He was a saint, a samartha saint. The learned could quote Tukaram's ‘Sant toch dev. Dev toch sant’ that is, Saints are God, God is saints. The Villagers told Him "You are a Bolte Chalte Dev", that is, a talking and walking God. The persistence of the mass idea that His siddhis were evidence of divine power, and therefore, marked Him out as a Guru Deva for worship, could not be combated or resisted. Sri Upasani Baba put it in these words,
Aneka Asruta Atarkya Leelavitasaih
Samavishkrita Isana BhasvatPrabhavam
Ahambhava Hinam,Prasanna Atmabhavam
Namami Iswaram Sadgurum Sainatham.
“I bow to Sainath, the Sadguru, who reveals his divine nature through numerous unheard of and inscrutable lilas, who is free from egotism and has attained Self-Realisation".
So, like in the case of the highly learned pandit, Sri Upasani Baba, as in the case of the uneducated rustics, the ladies of Shirdi, the chamatkars or lilas were the first prompters to worship Sai as a manifestation of divinity. That was how individual worship began and grew. Due to love of various devotees, Baba started permitting devotees to apply sandal paste to His forehead, offer Him flowers and perform Arati (waving of burning lamps). The iindividual worship itself was also neither systematic nor organised. It was Jogeshwar Bhishma, a good Kirtankar and a great adherent of Vittal worship at Pandharpur, drew up the ritual for Sai Baba worship on practically the same lines as the Pandharpur worship, and brought a set of artis that is ritualistic - verses for use by individuals at Shirdi, and these were sent up by Baba to Nanasaheb Chandorkar at Jamner and were approved by him. They were largely in use and tended to develop the worship of Baba on the customary lines of worship in well known temples. The next step was from individual worship to congregational worship. It was in 1908 that the change was started. Congregational worship implied that there would be someone to officiate as the pujari and that he would be available at various periods of worship namely morning, evening, noon and night artis. For this purpose, Hari Vinayak Sathe, a Settlement Officer, who in 1905 was blessed by Baba with the promise of a son in case he married, and who got married in consequence, sent up one Meghashyam called Megha to Shirdi so that he might officiate as the pujari and carry on congregational worship. But that man was an extremely dull and rustic Brahmin having hardly any learning either in Hindu sacred literature or in any other literature. It was Tatyasaheb Noolkar, who had the privilege of first performing such Pooja on Guru Pournima Day. Tatyasaheb describes this incident in his letter to Nanasaheb Chandorkar thus :
"On Saturday just as I got up in bed, I remembered it was GURU POOJA DAY and made preparations. After Bhikshu (begging round of Sai Baba) we were permitted to perform Guru Pooja. Baba allowed us to do upachar (particulars and points of worship) quickly. He returned all Dakshina that was given at the time of Pooja. Then He sent word to Radhakrishna (Radhakrishna Mayi) and Dadabhai (Dada Kelkar, father-in-law of Rao Bahadur Sathe) that Pooja and Arati was being done and they should come. So Radhakrishna sent her Pooja and Dada came with his Pooja articles."
Thus, with Tatyasaheb Noolkar, started the congregational worship of Baba with singing of Arati and playing of musical instruments, which was continued further, first by Megha and then later, by Bapusaheb Jog. Who was this Megha?
Let us see what Rao Bahadur Hari Vinayak Sathe has to say:
“Megha was a very simple yet very devout Brahmin whom I found living at Viramgaon, when I was Deputy Collector there. He would simply repeat Namashivaya always. But he did not know Gayatri, much less the whole Sandhya mantra. I got interested in his welfare, and got him taught Sandhya and Gayatri. I sent him to Broach to worship Siva there, and paid him Rs. 8 for his fare and expenses. He would worship Siva standing on one leg only all the time. Then I told him that Shirdi Sai Baba was in realty the embodied form of God Siva and made him start for Shirdi. At the Broach Railway Station he learnt that Sai Baba was a Muslim and his extremely orthodox and simple mind was highly perturbed at the prospect of bowing to a Moslem and he prayed to me at the station not to send him to Shirdi. I however insisted and gave him a letter to my father-in-law at Shirdi to introduce him to Baba. When he went to Shirdi mosque, Baba was indignant and would not allow him to go into the mosque. ‘Kick out that rascal’, He cried at the very sight of him and He was also angry that I should have sent him a man with such hopelessly crude ideas. Megha then went to Trimbak and worshipped at 'Gangadhwar’ for a year or a year and a half”. He suffered there from severe pains in his abdomen. During that time he got faith in Baba and came back to Shirdi. Dada Kelkar interceded on his behalf and Baba allowed him to stay at Shirdi and worship him at the Mosque.
Sai Baba's help to Megha was not through any oral instruction. He worked upon Megha internally, that is, mentally. Megha was considerably changed and benefited. When even the very orthodox Megha thus became an ardent devotee of Baba, others followed suit and sooner or later gave up their prejudices against Baba and joined in the congregational worship. All this required time, and obstacles like Megha's sentiments, had to be overcome and made stepping stones for further progress.
Megha began to look upon Sai Baba as an incarnation of Shiva. It is said that Shiva is very fond of being worshipped with Bilvapatri (Bela leaves). Megha used to go miles and miles to collect these leaves for worshipping his Shiva, namely Sai Baba. He followed a procedure of worshipping all the gods in the village first and then come to the masjid. There he worshipped Baba’s seat (gadi). After that, he caressingly massaged Baba’s legs. Then he washed Baba’s feet and took the water which passed through Baba’s feet as Teertha. In short, he worshipped Sai Baba as though he was worshipping Shiva Linga.
Baba noting his peculiar idiosyncrasy to worship all the gods in the temples of the village, that is, Devi, Sani, Siva, Maruti and Khandoba, told him, “After worshipping all these, come and worship Me”. Megha did so regularly. Megha was impressed with Baba’s omnipresence, by his directions on some occasions. One day when he went to Khandoba’s, Upasani Maharaj, who lived there, had bolted the door from within, and he could not enter into the temple and worship Khandoba. So he returned to Baba. Khandoba’s temple is very long way off from Baba’s Mosque and is not visible from there. When Megha went to worship Baba on that day, Baba told him, “You have not yet done worship at Khandoba’s. If you go there now you will find the door open. Do the puja of Khandoba and then come here”. Megha then went to Khandoba and saw the door open as stated by Baba. After doing that puja, he went to Sai Baba for puja.
There is a saying that Shiva is abhisheka priya and Vishnu is alankara priya. The Shiva Bhaktas perform Rudra abhishekam regularly. Megha being a staunch Shiva Bhakta, wanted to perform Gangaabhishekam to Baba. The procedure was to initially apply sandal paste to the body and then do the abhishekam. Baba was reluctant, but on repeated requests from Megha, agreed to his request. Happy with this, Megha traveled 8 koss (24 miles) to Godavari River and brought water. He made all the preparations and requested Baba to come to the abhishekam place. Sri R. B. Purandhare, an Ankita Bhakta of Baba, mentions here one chamatkar of Baba. In his anxiety to pour Ganga water on Baba, Megha had brought a whole pot. Baba told him, “Arre, the head is the chief thing,” (sarvasya gatrasya sirah pradhanam), “so put a few drops on the head and that will suffice”. Baba once again requested him to leave him alone, as He was a fakir and had nothing to do with Ganga water. Megha was firm. Baba sat down, and amidst chanting of slokas, Megha began to pour water on Baba’s head. During that process, he was so overcome with love that he shouted ‘Har Har Gange’ and poured the water over the entire body. After emptying the pot, he kept the pot aside and looked at Baba. His mind which was till now full of joy at the abhishekam was suddenly surprised. Strangely, not a drop of water fell on the body of Baba. The whole pot of water had fallen on the head without touching Baba’s body. Only Baba’s head was wet and the rest of the body was completely dry. So, just as Siva had tied up Ganga in his own tuft, Baba also used his head for retaining and throwing away the water so as not to touch his body or cloths.
Megha was treated by Baba very kindly and Baba suited himself to Megha’s taste. As he specialized in Siva worship, Baba gave him a Shiva lingam which is worshipped as Siva.
Megha worshipped Baba at two places. He worshipped Him in person at the masjid and His photo at the Wada. This big picture of Baba was given to him by Nanasaheb Chandorkar. He continued Baba’s worship for twelve months. Happy with his devotion, Baba decided to show His appreciation. Early in the morning, one day, when Megha was still in his bed with his eyes closed, he saw Baba’s form. Baba knew that he was awake. He sprinkled akshata on the bed and said, “Megha, draw a trishul”, and disappeared. Hearing Baba’s voice, Megha got up and searched for Baba but did not find Him. To confirm that Baba had come, there were the rice grains of akshata. He then went to Baba, told Him about the vision and asked His permission to draw the trishul. Baba said, “Did you not hear My words, asking you to draw the trishul? It was not a vision but a direct order. My words are always pregnant with meaning and never hollow.” Megha told about his predicament. He said, “I thought you woke me up, but found that all the doors were closed. So I thought that it was a vision.” Baba said, “I require no doors to open. I have no form. I live everywhere. Like a sutradhar, I carry out all the actions of the one who trusts Me and becomes one with Me.”
Megha went back to Wada and drew a trishul on the wall near Baba’s picture. Next day, a Ramdasi bhakta came from Poona, prostrated at the feet of Baba and offered Him a Shiva Linga. At the same time, Megha also came to the masjid. Baba told him, “See, Shankara has come. Take care of Him now,” and gave the Shiva Linga to him. Megha was surprised to see the Shiva Linga so immediately after he drew the trishul.
Here in the Wada, Kakasaheb had finished taking bath and was having a towel over his head. He was chanting Sai Nama. Then he saw a vision of a Shiva Linga. He began to wonder how a Shiva Linga could come in his mind when he was thinking only of Sai. A few minutes later, Megha showed him the Shiva Linga presented by Baba. Kakasaheb was taken aback to see that it resembled the Linga he had seen in his vision. After a few days, Baba installed the Shiva Linga near the big picture which Megha was worshipping. Worship of Shiva was very dear to Megha. By arranging the drawing of the trishul and the installation of the Shiva Linga, Baba confirmed His faith in Megha’s mode of worship.
When Megha died (in 1912) at Shirdi, after continuous service of Baba doing regular daily Arati service, (noon and evening) Baba passed His hands over his corpse and said ‘This was a true devotee of mine’. The entire village followed the funeral procession. Baba also accompanied the procession. He placed flowers on the body. After the obsequies were performed, Baba wept like any other mortal. Tears rolled down his eyes. It was one of those rare occasions when Baba was overcome with grief and sorrow. He cried as though He had lost a near relative. With a very heavy heart, He returned to the masjid. Baba ordered that, at His own expense, the usual funeral dinner to Brahmins should be given and Kaka Saheb Dixit carried out this order.
Baba had given sadgati to so many of the devotees. Megha was a devotee par excellence, and would be remembered, for ages to come, symbolizing the purest form of devotion to the God he worshipped.