Nanavali – Narayan Shankar Vaidya

Nanavalli was a unique and intriguing devotee of Sai Baba, who called himself the ‘General of Sai Baba’s army.’ His background and history are shrouded in as much mystery as Sai Baba’s and he was notorious for his erratic and eccentric behavior.

Some people were afraid of this man-not only would he carry snakes in his pockets, and scorpions in his mouth, but he would violently abuse and attack certain people for no apparent reason. Others felt him to be a Mahatma, with an outstanding love for Sai Baba. His appearance was wild and disheveled- sometimes he went nude and at others he dressed in old sacking.

If we investigate the life of Nanavalli, we uncover a tale of touching and inspiring devotion, and an outstanding model of vairagya (dispassion). As with Sai Baba, little is known about Nanavalli’s background. One account says that he was a Brahmin by birth and another that he was born into Muslim family. Sometimes he wore the clothes of a Muslim fakir, and at other those of a Hindu sadhu. Then again like Baba, his religious roots were ambiguous. However, both versions agree that as a small boy Nanavalli served in a Muslim darga and came to attend to Baba upon divine inspiration. Nobody knows when he came to Shirdi, but some say he was already there when Baba arrived with the wedding party. Upon seeing Baba, Nanavalli greeted him affectionately, “Oh, Uncle, you have come!” Thereafter, he always addressed Baba as “Mama” or “Uncle.”

Nanavalli’s love for Baba

Nanavalli was content to see Baba occasionally and from a distance, but his emotion for Baba was such that he felt all glory and greatness should be Baba’s and that none should accrue to himself. He used to say, “My duty is only to protect my uncle”. Nanavalli could not bear immorality or hypocrisy. He seemed to know devotees’ inner thoughts and target them accordingly. He was known to occasionally wait outside Dwarakamai and beat up certain individuals. Though people would rush to Baba and complain, Baba would never reprimand Nanavalli, but simply warn them to be careful of him. H.V.Sathe was a prominent devotee with a prestigious job in the colonial government. For some reason, he was particularly harassed by Nanavalli. During the Chavadi processions, Sathe had the privilege of carrying a sort of regal scepter and walking in front of Baba. 0n one such occasion Nanavalli attacked Sathe on the back with a piece of broken glass. Another time, when Sathe was about to go to the mosque to worship Baba, his father–in-law rushed in and begged him not to, as Nanavalli was waiting there with an axe threatening to kill him. Sathe was so afraid that he fled Shirdi without seeing Baba or getting his permission to leave. That was in 1916 and he never came back to Shirdi again while Baba was alive.

As Sai Baba’s fame grew, he was worshipped with increasing pomp and splendor. 0ne day Nanavalli strolled into the mosque, which was crowded with visitors, and to the horror of those present, demanded from Baba, “Please get up. I want to sit there” Baba immediately rose from his gaddi saying, “Please sit”. Nanavalli took his place. The devotees were appalled at his audacity and wanted to drag him away, but when they saw Baba’s expression- calm and happy they desisted. After a few moments Nanavalli exclaimed “Shabhash” (“good, well done”) prostrated to Baba and danced ecstatically before leaving. Some say that Nanavalli wished to test the object of his adoration to see if any egoism had crept in, but others believe that he harbored no such doubts and simply wanted to demonstrate Baba’s purity and detachment. Baba did not comment on the incident and none dared to ask him about it. Nanavalli’s attachment to Baba was so great that he used to say, “If Baba goes, I’ll not be around for long”. Sure enough, when Baba passed away, Nanavalli rushed to Dwarakamai crying. “Uncle, without you how can I live “? I am coming with you” with that he went to the Hanuman Mandir. There he wept grievously and took no food. 0n the thirteenth day Nanavalli passed away.

Life lessons to be learned from Nanavalli

Have an intense and unshakeable love for your Guru; nothing else matters

Nanavali is perhaps one of the most Misunderstood devotees of Sai Baba. Dr Vinny Chitluri pays tribute to Narayan Shankar Vaidya who Baba affectionately called Nanavali. He had some peculiar characteristics; many of Baba’s devotees and the villagers found him eccentric, while some thought him to be an Avadhoota.

His love and faith for Sai Baba was so intense that 13 days after Baba’s Mahasamadhi, Nanavali took Jeevant Samadhi. He said “My Mama (Baba) has gone, what is the use of living?” and on the 13th day he just lay down and said, “It’s no use living in this world anymore,” and took Samadhi. Nanavali is one of Baba’s greatest devotees.

By Dr. Vinny Chitluri is an author who has researched and documented Baba’s life history.

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