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My Grandfather
My grandfather Shambhurao Bhave was very devout. Every morning he would spend hours in the ritual of worship, offering puja1 to Lord Shiva. We children would get up early and bring flowers and leaves from the courtyard for his offerings. Grandfather would get me to prepare sandalwood paste for the worship, and then to sit by his side while he recited the sacred mantras. Sometimes while the recitation was going on people such as the village Patel would come to see him. Grandfather would break off his chanting and talk with them, and take up the recital again after they had left. Sometimes he would forget what point he had reached, and he would turn to me: 'Now then Vinya, how far had I got?' If I remembered I would tell him, but if I had also forgotten the mantras had to be recited again from the beginning. Sometimes it might be a couple of hours before the recitation was finished.
One morning when I was seven or eight years old, Grandfather had seated himself as usual to begin his worship, when we noticed that a scorpion had settled upon the sacred image. Everyone began to shout, 'Scorpion ! Scorpion ! Kill it !' Grandfather checked them, and then said solemnly: 'The scorpion has taken refuge with the Lord. He is in sanctuary, let no one touch him.' The words sounded like a verse from the Upanishads ! Then Grandfather went on with his puja, offering the flowers, sandalwood and water, and completing the whole ritual, while the scorpion remained motionless throughout. Only when it was all over did he climb down and walk away. The incident made a deep impression on me: one who takes sanctuary with the Lord is to be treated with respect, no matter who he may be.
I remember another thing. A boy who was living with us had helped himself to some gur.2 Granny caught him and complained to Grandpa about him, calling him a thief. 'No,' said Grandpa, 'he is not a thief. What if he did take the gur without asking us? This is his home no less than ours, and the gur is also his gur. If he had asked us he would have got it. Now he has got it without asking, but that should not be called a theft.' Then Grandpa sent for the boy and said to him: 'Look here, laddie, when you want a bit of gur just ask, and you will certainly get it. But there is another thing; when you took that gur, did you wash your hands?' 'No, I didn't,' said the boy. 'Then in future,' said Grandpa, 'first wash your hands, then ask, then take what gur you want.' From that time the boy was able little by little to overcome his habit of petty thieving.
In later years we had to deal with a lad in our Ashram who used to smoke beedies3 on the sly. He had acquired the habit in a students' hostel where he had lived previously, though he did his work in the Ashram very well. One day one of the Ashram inmates caught him smoking and brought him to me. I could see that the poor lad was in a terrible fright. 'Come,' I said, 'don't be afraid. After all, many great men smoke; there is nothing wrong in that. What is wrong is to try to hide it. So I am going to give you a little room where you can smoke openly, and every week I'll give you a bundle of beedies.'
Some of the Ashram inmates didn't like this at all, and I had to explain myself to them. 'Smoking is a bad habit, no doubt of it,' I said. 'We don't smoke here and the boy knows it. But he has fallen into the habit, and he has also got into the habit of trying to hide it, which is worse. So it is our duty to give him the chance to break himself of those habits by his own efforts. That is ahimsa, non-violence. Ahimsa is very patient and long-suffering. We should not make an issue of every little thing.'
One day as Grandfather was seated for puja he began to shiver and feel cold; he was in fact feverish. He was not prepared to allow this discomfort to interfere with his worship during the next two hours or more, so when the shivering fit started he went straight to the well and jumped in. Granny was startled; the sudden movement took her by surprise. Grandfather, who was a good swimmer, swam around in the well for about five minutes; then he climbed out, dried himself and went on with his puja. I saw this with my own eyes, and later I too found, during my walking pilgrimages, that no harm comes of getting wet through. Water is a complete medicine in itself, which is why the Vedas have entitled it 'the universal medicine'.
For the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi we installed an image of Ganapati4 in our home. Grandfather used to make it himself with the help of us children. We would prepare sandalwood paste and he would use it to make the image. After it was installed there was puja and arati (the offering of lights), and for the next few days the house had a festive air. But then on the tenth day the image was taken away and immersed in water. When I was a child this used to make me very sad; we had worked so hard to make it, we had worshipped and honoured it for so many days, and then we not only got rid of it, we even celebrated its immersion as a festival, with songs and music ! It was only later that I came to understand the significance of this custom. Hindu teaching links together the worship of the image and the ultimate unimportance of the image. It is not to be smashed violently, but to be relinquished reverently. The practice of invocation-immersion is a symbol of great beauty. We must seek the detachment which will enable us to relinquish, when the time comes, our own best creations.
Grandfather observed regular vows and fasts, one of which was Chandrayana, in honour of the moon. On the first day of the moon only one mouthful of food is taken, on the second day two mouthfuls, and so on, the amount increasing as the moon waxes, until on full moon day fifteen mouthfuls are taken. Then as the moon wanes the number of mouthfuls decreases one by one until on the day of no moon a complete fast is observed. When Grandfather kept Chandrayana he would offer puja to the moon each day after moonrise, and after completing the rites he would eat whatever amount of food was prescribed for that day. But moonrise varies from day to day; it may happen in the evening, or at midnight, or in the small hours of the morning when I was fast asleep. Grandfather would ask Mother to waken me, and she would get me out of bed to sit with Grandfather at his puja. I would be half asleep, but all the same as soon as Grandfather's puja was finished my hand would be held out for prasad.5 And Grandfather would put into the outstretched hand a little portion of his own quota for that day.
It is my Grandfather I have to thank for whatever purity of spirit I may possess; that was his greatest bequest to me. He must certainly have shown me all the ordinary kindnesses, given me sweets and so on, but what I can never forget is the inward prasad I received, the impression made on my mind as he wakened me even at midnight for a darshan6 of the Lord. That was his greatest gift to me.