Nana Walli's Samadhi

Nanavalli was a unique and intriguing 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. Others felt him to be a mahatma, with an outstanding love for Sai Baba. His appearance was wild and dishevelled - sometimes he went naked and sometimes he dressed in old sacking. If we investigate the life of Nanavalli, we uncover a tale of touching and inspiring devotion, and a model of vairagya (dispassion).

Accounts of Nanavalli's background vary. One says that he was a Brahmin by birth and another that he was born into a Muslim family. Some-times he wore the clothes of a Muslim fakir, and at others those of a Hindu sadhu. Thus 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!" Thereafter, he always addressed Baba as "Mama" or Uncle.

Nanavalli was content to see Baba only 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 would sometimes wait outside Baba's mosque 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. On one such occasion Nanavalli attacked Sathe on the back of the neck 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 splendour. One 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 seat, 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, "Shabash!" ("Good, well done!"), prostrated before 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. Thirteen days later Nanavalli too passed away.

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