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Mahavatar Babaji (IAST: Mahāvatār Bābājī) is the name given to an Indian saint by Shyāmacharan Lahirī and several of his disciples who met Mahavatar Babaji between 1861 and 1935. Some of these meetings were described by Paramahansa Yogananda in his book Autobiography of a Yogi, including a first hand telling of Yogananda's own meeting with Mahavatar Babaji. Another first hand account was given by Yukteswar Giri in his book The Holy Science. All of these accounts, along with additional meetings with Mahavatar Babaji, are described in various biographies of those mentioned by Yogananda.
Mahavatar Babaji's given name is unknown, so those who met him during that period all called him by the title first given to him by Lahirī. "Mahavatar" means "great avatar", and "Babaji" simply means "revered father". Some of the encounters included two or more witnesses—discussions between those who met Mahavatar Babaji indicate that they all met the same person.
There are very few accounts of Babaji's childhood, one source of information is the book Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga tradition by Marshall Govindan. According to Govindan, Babaji was named Nagarajan (king of serpents) by his parents. V.T. Neelakantan and S.A.A. Ramaiah founded on 17 October 1952, (they claim – at the request of Babaji) a new organisation, "Kriya Babaji Sangah," dedicated to the teaching of Babaji's Kriya Yoga. They claim that in 1953 Mahavatar Babaji told them that he had been born on 30 November 203 CE in a small coastal village now known as Parangipettai, in Tamil Nadu, India. Babaji's Kriya Yoga Order of Acharyas Trust (Kriya Babaji Sangah) and their branch organisations claim his place and date of birth. He was a disciple of Bogar and his birth name is Nagarajan.
In the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda in his Autobiography of a Yogi, many references were made to Mahavatar Babaji including from Lahirī and Yukteshwar. In his book The Second Coming of Christ, Yogananda states that Jesus Christ went to India and conferred with Mahavatar Babaji. This would make Babaji at least 2000 years old. According to Govindan's book, Babaji Nagaraj's father was the priest of the village's temple. Babaji revealed only those details which he believed to be formative as well as potentially instructive to his disciples. Govindan mentioned one incident like this: "One time Nagaraj's mother had got one rare jackfruit for a family feast and put it aside. Babaji was only 4 years old at that time. He found the jackfruit when his mother was not around and ate it all. When his mother came to know about it, she flew in blind rage and stuffed a cloth inside Babaji's mouth, nearly suffocating him, but he survived. Later on he thanked God for showing him that she was to be loved without attachment or illusion. His Love for his mother became unconditional and detached."
When Nagaraj was about 5 years old, someone kidnapped him and sold him as a slave at Calcutta (Now Kolkata). His new owner however was a kind man and he freed Nagaraj shortly thereafter. Nagaraj then joined a small group of wandering sannyāsin due to their radiant faces and love for God. During the next few years, he wandered from place to place, studying holy scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishad, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita.
Quest for self realisation
According to Marshall Govindan's book, at the age of eleven, he made a difficult journey by foot and boat with a group of ascetics to Kataragama, Sri Lanka. Nagaraj met Siddha Bhogarnathar and became his disciple. Nagaraj performed intensive yogic sadhana for a long time with him. Bhogarnather inspired Nagaraj to seek his initiation into Kriya Kundalini Pranayam from Siddha Agastya. Babaji became a disciple of Siddha Agastya. Nagaraj was initiated into the secrets of Kriya Kundalini Pranayama or "Vasi Yogam". Babaji made a long pilgrimage to Badrinath and spent eighteen months practising yogic kriya taught to him by Siddha Agastya and Bhogarnathar. Babaji attained self-realization shortly thereafter.
They (who?) also claim that these revelations were made by Babaji himself to S.A.A. Ramaiah, a young graduate student in geology at the University of Madras and V.T. Neelakantan, a famous journalist, and close student of Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society and mentor of Krishnamurti. Babaji was said to have appeared to each of them independently and then brought them together to work for his Mission in 1942.
Reports of meetings, 1861–1966
The first reported encounter with Mahavatar Babaji was in 1861, when Shyāmacharan Lahirī (called "Mahāsaya" by disciples, devotees, and admirers) was posted to Ranikhet in his work as an accountant for the British government. One day while walking in the hills of Dunagiri above Ranikhet, he heard a voice calling his name. Following the voice up the mountain, he met a "tall, divinely radiant sadhu." He was amazed to find that the sadhu knew his name. This sadhu was Mahavatar Babaji.
Mahavatar Babaji told Lahirī that he was his guru from the past, then initiated him into Kriya Yoga and instructed Lahiri to initiate others. Lahiri wanted to remain with Mahavatar Babaji, who told him instead that he must return to the world to teach Kriya Yoga and that "Kriya Yoga sadhana would spread through the people of the world through his (Lahiri's) presence in the world."
Lahirī reported that Mahavatar Babaji did not give his name or background, so Lahiri gave him the title "Mahavatar Babaji." Many sadhus in India are called Babaji, and sometimes even "Babaji Maharaj", which has caused confusion between Mahavatar Babaji and other sadhus with similar names.
Lahirī had many meetings with Mahavatar Babaji, recounted in several books, including Paramhansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya (Lahiri's biography), and Purana Purusha: Yogiraj Sri Shama Churn Lahiri, among others.
The references of Sri Lahiri mahasaya in Sampoorna Sripada Vallabha Charitam, as the guru of Sri Shirdi Saibaba and initiating him to kriya yoga.
Disciples of Shyāmacharan Lahirī
Several disciples of Shyāmacharan Lahirī also said that they had met Babaji. Through discussion with each other, and the fact that some of these encounters included two or more witnesses, they confirmed that the person they saw was the same sadhu that Lahirī called Mahavatar Babaji.
In 1894, at the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad, Yukteswar Giri, a disciple of Lahirī, met Mahavatar Babaji. He was surprised by the striking resemblance between Lahirī and Mahavatar Babaji. Others who met Babaji also commented on the resemblance. It was at this meeting that Mahavatar Babaji instructed Sri Yukteswar to write the book that was to become Kaivalya Darshanam, or The Holy Science. Yukteswar had two more meetings with Mahavatar Babaji, including one in the presence of Lahiri Mahasaya.
Pranabananda Giri, another disciple of Lahirī, also met Mahavatar Babaji in the presence of Lahirī, at Lahirī's home. Pranavananda asked Mahavatar Babaji his age. Mahavatar Babaji responded that he was about 500 years old at that time.
Keshabananda, a disciple of Lahirī, tells of meeting Mahavatar Babaji in the mountains near Badrinath around 1935, after he became lost wandering in the mountains. At that meeting, Pranabananda reported that Babaji gave him a message for Paramahansa Yogananda, that "I won't see him this time, as he is eagerly hoping; but I shall see him on some other occasion." In his book Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda wrote that Mahavatar Babaji visited him before his journey to America and addressed him saying, "You are the one I have chosen to spread the message of Kriya Yoga in the West."
Other disciples of Lahirī who reported meetings with Mahavatar Babaji include Kebalananda Giri and Ram Gopal Muzumdar, who recounted meeting Mahavatar Babaji and his sister, whom he called Mataji. In addition, a disciple of Trailanga Swami, Shankari Mata (also called Shankari Mai Jiew) met Mahavatar Babaji while visiting Lahiri Mahasaya.
Legendary powers and age have been attributed to Mahavatar Babaji by the disciples of Lahirī. These stories have led many to believe that Mahavatar Babaji is a legendary person, rather than a real sadhu that was seen by numerous witnesses from 1861 to 1935.
Paramahansa Yogananda, in his Autobiography, described Mahavatar Babaji's role on earth:
The Mahavatar is in constant communion with Christ; together they send out vibrations of redemption, and have planned the spiritual technique of salvation for this age. The work of these two fully-illumined masters–one with the body, and one without it–is to inspire the nations to forsake suicidal wars, race hatreds, religious sectarianism, and the boomerang-evils of materialism. Babaji is well aware of the trend of modern times, especially of the influence and complexities of Western civilization, and realizes the necessity of spreading the self-liberations of yoga equally in the West and in the East.
In addition, Babaji is reputed to be ageless, according to some accounts, and about 500 years old around the late 1800s, according to Pranabananda. Yogananda reports that, according to the disciples of Lahirī, nobody knows Babaji's age, family, place of birth, true name, or other details "dear to the annalist's heart."
According to Yogananda's autobiography, he has a sister called Mataji (meaning "Holy Mother") who also has lived throughout the centuries. Her level of spiritual attainment is comparable to her brother's, and she lives in a state of spiritual ecstasy in an underground cave. Although only three pages in the book are dedicated to her, she is described by Ram Gopal as "young and surpassingly lovely" as well as a "glorious woman."
Yogananda frequently prayed out loud to "Babaji-Krishna."
Visiting Mahavatar Babaji's cave at Kukuchina
Kukuchina (locals spell it out as Kukurchina) is a hamlet which is around 20 kms from Dwarahat. At the 15th km from Dwarahat on the way to Kukuchina is the Dunagiri Mandir. Kukuchina is the most nearest point which could be reached through road and to start the trek to Babaji's cave. If travelling from Delhi, the easiest way is to board the Ranikhet Express, which leaves Old Delhi railway station at 2230 hrs for Kathgodam. It is better to get down at Haldwani, the station prior to Kathgodam, because it is from Haldwani bus-stand buses leave for Dwarahat or Ranikhet. It is understood that there is one State owned roadways bus which leaves for Kukuchina directly from Haldwani, at 0730 hrs. However, it reaches Kukuchina in the late evening and after halting for the night at Kukuchina itself, it leaves Kukuchina for Haldwani the next day early morning at 0630 hrs and reaches Haldwani around 1400 hrs. The one way fare from Haldwani to Kukuchina is around Rs.230/- (as on May 2015). Alternately, if countinous journey is not preferred, one can reach Ranikhet from Haldwani, which takes approximately 6 hours and then from Ranikhet to Dwarahat which may take another 90 minutes. From Dwarahat one has to board a shared jeep which may charge somewhere between Rs. 40 to Rs. 50 for one way travel upto Kukuchina. For those who can afford for taxi, can hire taxi from Haldwani railway station itself, which do needs a good homework on the tariff and a pretty bargain.
The Yogoda Satsanga Ashram at Dwarahat is nearly 1.5 kms away from Dwarahat bus stand. Members of the Satsanga alone have the privilege to stay at this ashram. Non-members can either prefer to stay at Dwarahat, which preferably has choice of hotels / resort (primitive range) or if one desires to stay away from the hustle bustle of market, Joshi restaurant at Kukuchina is suggested. This is a paying guest house, wherein the tariff for one night varies from Rs. 750 to 1800 depending upon the accommodation. There are rooms and cottages in the guest house. The guest house consist of a meditation hall too, which facilitates group meditation, if you plan a group trek to Babaji's cave. Very simple food (dal & roti) can be ordered in advance to Shri Joshi, who runs the guest house. Caution, there is no choice other than Joshi's guest house, if you want to buy food. Cooking your own food is also ruled out. Beware! if you are one who would need medical attention, there is no medical help available, except for the Gods whose abode is in the adjacent Himalayas.
Morning is the best time to start the trek towards Babaji's cave; because the weather in the hills is unpredictable. 25 meters from Joshi restaurant (actually a tea shop), there are 2 trek paths - one to Pandav Kholi and other to Babaji's cave. The entry to Pandav Kholi can be identified by a small welcome arch at the beginning of the trek; whereas to Babaji's cave, it is a simple pathway. The distance from Joshi's restaurant to Babaji's cave is around 2.5 kms to 3.0 kms. Walking all alone the entire path, one can immerse oneself in the scenic beauty of the mountains and thus get into that much needed meditation mood. The entire path is mostly deserted, except you can find one or two cattle boys or girls. The entire path is a mixture of sand & gravel. Sign boards in small size which indicate direction to the cave could be found to your left. However, these sign boards are not so prominent. After 30 to 40 minutes of the trek one may feel exhausted; for the normal trekkers it is advised that they carry along with them water or energy drinks. They can sit and relax for a few minutes and then proceed. After all you are there to enjoy the journey to the cave. By sitting and relaxing one can have a view of the majestic posture of the mountains and the tall mountains will make you feel humble. A normal trekker may take anywhere between 60 to 90 minutes to reach Babaji's cave. Before reaching the cave you will be coming across Smriti Bhavan which is a concrete structure. If desired one can meditate here also.
Sitting with closed eyes within Babaji's cave is a bliss. You choose to meditate, pray or simply sit and observe yourself. It is simply peace within the cave. The silence of the mountains perked up with croaking voice of insects and humming of bees makes it a perfect stage to meditate. It is suggested to leave the cave by 2.00 pm because it is better to reach Kukuchina before dusk starts settling down. Those who are physically and mentally strong can adventure to climb further up to reach Pandav Kholi which is another 60 to 90 minute climb; but there are no sign boards on the path from Babaji's cave to Pandav Kholi (8800 ft above sea level). Having a magi at Joshi's restaurant after the trek will quench your hunger and provide the physical energy to have a good sleep in the room or cottage.
Modern claims and popular references
In the Book Ultimate Journey (1994), by Robert Monroe Monroe visits a person through his astral projection (although no name is mentioned) who turns out to have lived one single life for 1800 years, which would suggest that he was born around 203 CE.
The 2002 Tamil film Baba written by Rajinikanth was based on Babaji. Swami Maheshwarananda writes in his book The hidden power in humans, that the Guru of the legendary Babaji is Sri Alakh Puriji.
In his autobiography Apprenticed to a Himalayan master: a yogi's autobiography (2010), Sri M (Mumtaz Ali) narrates his meeting with Babaji near Neelkant hill. In his book, Sri M gave description of Babaji as golden complexioned, bare-bodied, except for a shinning white loin cloth that barely reached the knees, and flowing brown hair that fell to his shoulders. He mentioned that a lovely scent emanated from Babaji and he looked divine.
The rock band Supertramp composed a song called "Babaji" in reference to Mahavatar Babaji.
- Hariakhan Babaji – a teacher who appeared in many places in northern India near the Himalayas between 1861 and 1924
- Haidakhan Babaji – a teacher who appeared in northern India and taught publicly from 1970 to 1984
- Yukteswar Giri, Ram Muzumdar, Kebalananda, and Pranabananda Giri
- Yogananda, Paramahansa, Autobiography of a Yogi, 2005. ISBN 978-1-56589-212-5.
- Yukteswar Giri, The Holy Science. Yogoda Satsanga Society, 1949
- Mukhopadyay, Jnananedranath, Srimad Swami Pranabananda Giri, Sri Jnananedranath Mukhopadyay Property Trust, 2001.
- Satyananda Giri, Swami Sri Yukteshvar Giri Maharaj, from A collection of biographies of 4 Kriya Yoga gurus, iUniverse Inc. 2006. ISBN 978-0-595-38675-8.
- Satyananda Giri, Swami, Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasay, from A collection of biographies of 4 Kriya Yoga gurus, iUniverse Inc. 2006. ISBN 978-0-595-38675-8.
- Govindan, Marshall (1 January 2001). Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga tradition. Babaji's Kriya Yoga Publications. ISBN 978-1-895383-00-3.
- Neelakantan, V. T.; Ramaiah, S. A. A.; Babaji (2006). The voice of Babaji: a trilogy on Kriya Yoga. Babaji's Kriya Yoga Order of Acharyas. ISBN 978-1-895383-23-2.
- Yogananda, Paramahansa (2004). The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You p. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship. ISBN 0-87612-555-0.
- "Babaji's Kriya Yoga".
- Chatterjee, Ashoke Kumar, Purana Purusha: Yogiraj Sri Shama Churn Lahiri. Yogiraj Publications, 2004. ISBN 81-87563-01-X.
- Giri, Satyananda (2004). Yogacharya Shastri Mahasaya: a short biographical sketch of Hamsaswami Kebalanandaji Maharaj. Yoganiketan.
- Yogananda, Paramahansa: various articles (Praecepta Lessons, Volume 1, 1934) and recordings (One Life Versus Reincarnation [CD]. ISBN 0-87612-439-2).
- Walsch, Neale Donald, Conversations with God: an uncommon dialog (Book #3), page 95.
- Swami Maheshwarananda, The hidden power in humans, Ibera Verlag, page 245. ISBN 3-85052-197-4
- Sri M (Mumtaz Ali), Apprenticed to a Himalayan master: a yogi's autobiography, Magenta Press, 2010, ISBN 8-19100-960-9
- Phipps, Carter (Spring–Summer 2002). "In search of Babaji: WIE tracks down the elusive Yogi-Christ of the Himalayas". What is enlightenment?. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- Farasiotis, Dionysios. (2011). "The Guru, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios". St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. ISBN 978-1-887904-16-2
- "Mahamuni Babaji & His Legacy" by Shri Swami Satyeswarananda Vidyaratna Maharaj – direct disciple of Babaji
- Autobiography of a yogi on Wikisource: