The setting is New English School, Kherwadi, Bandra East. It is close to 7.30 pm and suddenly the loudspeakers come alive with the bhajan “Aala re Hari aala re....” and there is a flurry of activities of volunteers, with a collective whisper from the crowd “Bapu Aale, Bapu Aale” (Bapu has arrived). Bapu steps down from the vehicle and pauses to wave at the crowds. He moves towards the stage with a majestic gait, with devotees standing on either side of the pathway showering rose petals and performing aarti. To them he is their messiah, their Sadguru, their God, who has come to relieve them of their sufferings.
Born as Aniruddha Dhairyadhar Joshi on November 18, 1956, in Mumbai, on Tripuraari (Kartik) Pournima he grew up in a simple environment. He chose the medical profession and specialised in rheumatology. He worked as a lecturer at Nair Hospital till 1985, after which he started his private practice at Parel and Dadar, which he continued till 1998.
Married, with two children, his transition from Dr Aniruddha Joshi to Sadguru Shree Aniruddha Bapu has an interesting background. As the story goes, Shirdi Sai Baba had given one of His devotees, Govind Raghunath Dabholkar, alias Hemadpant, three of His personal belongings for safekeeping before taking samadhi in 1918, with a promise that He would, in around 80 years’ time, return to reclaim it. The belongings were a small trident (trishul), a rosary (rudraksha mala) and a precious stone (shaaligram). On May 28, 1996, Sadguru Shree Aniruddha Bapu who had been visiting Sai Niwas since 1993, asked for these items from Shri Appa Dabholkar, grandson of Hemadpant. Appa Dabholkar fondly recounts the historic occasion when he, his wife and their children witnessed Bapu reveal himself in the form of Shri Sainath, no sooner than the three belongings were handed back to him.
“In the Sai Satcharita, Sai Baba has said that He would take rebirth at eight years of age. What it actually implies is that the outside world would first experience His grace when He is eight years of age, which is what the late Prof. Sadhana Upadhye, former head of Marathi department, Wilson College, Mumbai, experienced when she encountered an eight-year-old boy at the Vithala Mandir in 1964. The boy presented her with a peacock feather and affectionately caressed her belly (she was pregnant). Years later, when she was having a conversation with Sadguru Shree Aniruddha Bapu, he recounted that incident and that’s when she realized that the eight-year-old boy was none other than Sadguru Aniruddha Bapu.
However, Bapu never claims to be an avatar of anybody. Bapu repeatedly informs his followers that he should be treated like a normal human being and not a God. He is not in the league of power gurus. His mission is only to show man the path to be friend of the Paramatma through unselfish and unconditional service, truthfulness and love. He shuns any kind of publicity. Every Thursday evening 60,000a lot of bhaktas congregate at his prayer gatheringfor upasana at Bandra. The majority comes from middle and lower middle class population of Mumbai’s suburbs. Bapu makes no distinction and grants no special favours. Only senior citizens are given chairs as sitting on the bare ground is difficult for some of those who suffer from backache or joint pains. He accepts no Guru Dakshina, not even flowers or fruits or sweets.
What is it that has drawn nearly 3 crores of unflinching devotees from all communities and religions to a man who never claims to be a God or Godman?
Dr Keshav Narsikar, Bapu’s classmate at Ruia College, and thereafter at the Nair Medical College, and now his staunch devotee, recalls: “He was an exceptionally brilliant student, who could offhand cite references from any textbook. He was extremely proficient in dramatics and was well known for his excellent oratory and mimicry skills. He was ever willing to go out of his way to help others. With his entirely different outlook towards life, he stood out from the rest of the crowd.” Although Narsikar had no inkling whatsoever about Bapu’s spiritual prowess, he says, “He was one whom I always looked up to and in whose company I felt secure and reassured.”
Bapu’s prime message to his devotees has been the message of service to mankind, any service that can uplift and significantly improve the lives of the less privileged and less fortunate in the society. Some of the services rendered by his followers in obedience to the wishes of Bapu are:
l Spinning the charkha to produce yarn which is converted to cloth and then these clothes are distributed to needy students and old people.
l Growing grass and sending it to famine stricken regions as fodder for starving cattle.
l Collecting old newspapers to make paper bags and paper pulp.
l Collecting used and old utensils, clothes, books and toys to distribute among the poor and needy.
l Collecting torn saris and clothes to make quilts for distribution to the poor and in municipal hospitals.
l Cleaning up school premises, hospitals, public places and places of worship.
l Recording entire text books on audio cassettes and CDs for visually challenged students.
Besides these services, Bapu has instituted the Anirudha’s Academy of Disaster Management which has trained over 50,000 citizens to manage crisis and help the common man in times of distress and disaster. “Whether disaster strikes in the form of floods or earthquake, epidemics or riots and terrorist attacks, we are trained to provide support and relief,” says Samir Dada, a devotee of Bapu.
A major programme every year is the Kolhapur medical camp. This year about 40,000 villagers from 200 remote villages in Maharashtra were treated at the camp. The Kolhapur medical camp is an extension of the first NGO launched by Bapu in 1950 called Dilasa Medical Trust and Rehabilitation Centre. His exposure to the helplessness and sufferings of the patients has a lot to do with his resolve to enlist the support of the medical fraternity in the free medical camps for the poor.
It is not difficult to fathom the secret of the reverence and love of the thousands of men and womenfollowers who throng the New English School at Bandra East on every Thursday evenings. He has won the heart of each of his followers with his message that prayer can purify and heal. And service, without expectations and conditions, can make man worthy of God’s love, protection, compassion, benevolence and forgiveness.
Bapu’s mission is only to show man the path to befriend the Paramatma through unselfish and unconditional service, truthfulness and love