Nanavalli was a special Sai Baba devotee, 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 behaviour. 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.
0thers felt him to be a mahatma, with an outstanding love for Sai baba. His appearance was wild and dishevelled- sometimes he went nude and at others he dressed in old sacking. If we investigate the life of nanvalli, 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 sddhu. Then again, like Baba, his religious roots were ambiguous.
However, both versions agree that as a small boy Nanavalli served in a Muslim dargah and came to attend 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!" Thereafte, he always addressed baba as " Mama" or Uncle.
Nanavalli was content to see Baba occassionally 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 occassionally wait outside Dwarkamai 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 sceptre and walking in front of baba. 0n one such occassion 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 go, 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 l9l6 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 spledour. 0ne day Nanavalli strolled into the mosque, which was crowded with visitors, and to the horror and mortification of those present, demanded of 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 harboured 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 Dwarkamai 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.
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