Dr. Indira Kher is a retired Professor of English. A graduate of Nagpur University, she had the distinction of topping the list of successful candidates at the Intermediate Arts Examination in 1949 and of winning the Radhabai Paonaskar Silver Medal and Hari Pandit Prize.
After a break of twelve years and after marriage, she pur- sued her post-graduate studies in English Literature at the University of Bombay, securing the second place in the American Literature paper at the M.A. examination and winning a prize from the U.S.I.S., Bombay. A.U.G.C. Junior Research Fellow, she was awarded a Ph.D. in 1970 for her thesis, "Lewis Carroll, Man and Writer."
From 1972, she taught English at various Bombay colleges and had a brief stint as a lecturer at the State Institute for Ad- ministrative Careers, Bombay. She retired in 1990 as the Head of the English Department from one of the local colleges.
She was also the Editor of Sri Sai-Leela Magazine, Shirdi, Eng lish edn. for two and a half years from July 1985
Maharashtra has produced many saints, not only san- nyasins, but also house-holders like Eknath, Tukaram, etc. Among them, we have Avadhuta Yogi Pant Maharaj of Balekundri, whose life and teachings have been presented in, this book of the Bhavan by Smt. Indira Kher. He was not among the well known ones, but his book, containing also his 'padas' in English translation, will make him known to a wider circle of the lovers of spirituality.
In the Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna, we read one of the house-holder devotees asking a question to him, 'Can we, the heuse-holders, realize God?". Shri Hamakrishna answered, "Why not? Every one can realize God, because God is in the hearts of all; only proper means have to be taken, especially the spirit of detachment from the body and the sensory system". 'Even though eclosed within a home, but performing good deeds and spending time in conversation about God, living at home is not considered a bondage'. (Srimad Bhagavatam 4-30- 19)
Shri Pant Maharaj belonged to the Dattatreya Sampradaya, and Shri Dattatreya was the free spirit, the very embodiment of renunciation, wandering over the country without any attachment, and helping people spiritually. This Dattatreya tradition was most present in Maharashtra.
This tradition has a message for our people today when we have plenty of inward emptiness and endless outward search. Many people today all over the world are in the position of Faust of the German poet, Goethe. In his soliloquy in the woods, Faust / cries out thus:
It was only once or twice that I had heard the name of Pant Maharaj, otherwise I really knew nothing about him. Nor had I any idea about Balekundri, where he belonged! It was, therefore, with some hesitation, but with a full sense of responsibility, that I undertook to write his biography when a friend, Shri A.R. Thosar first suggested it.
To get an opportunity of writing the biography of a saint is indeed, a great privilege, but it carries with it the heavy responsibility of interpreting his life, personality and teachings adequately, keeping in mind his high spiritual stature. To what extent I have succeeded in giving such an interpretation it is for the readers to judge. As for myself, I can only say that it is a sincere attempt, made with a full consciousness of the inadequacy of my powers and in a spirit of reverence to this great saint. There are bound to be many shortcoming in the work, which are entirely mine. Whatever merit there may be in it, I attribute it entirely to that Benign Power who guided my hand!
The work was, originally, to be a translation of the very first, and the only full-length biography, written in Marathi, by Shri K.R. Divekar, which is an excellent and complete source for ref- erence and on which I have drawn extensively. There is besides, the first-hand, primary source for the material in Shri Pant's own writings, prose as well as verse, and also the memoirs of his devotees, all of which have been published by Datta Sansthan, Balekundri. In keeping with the attitude and outlook of the modern reader, the limited time at his disposal, as also the con- straints of the English language, the book has been structured differently from the Marathi biography, so that the book is, strictly speaking, an independent work, rather than a translation verse entitled "Shri Datta Prem Lahari", have been high-lighted, by devoting an entire chapter to each.
But the book would not have been possible without the kind co-operation and active interest of Shri Pant's relatives, his devotees and friends, who encouraged and helped the writer from time to time in this task. Shri A.R. Thosar not only initiated the process by planting the idea, but also supplied all the. avail- able published material, including Shri Pant's own writings. His long disrussions were of great value, especially as my knowledge of the subject of the book was very meagre. My grate- ful thanks, therefore, go to him for all his help. I must also ac- knowledge gratefully the encouragement that came from Shri G.S. Pant Balekundri, and Shri R.J. Bendre as they were kind enough to read the chapters, from time to time, as and when they were ready. Shri Bendre was most kind and gracious in procuring very promptly any information or material that I asked for. Likewise, I must thank Shri Pant's devotees, and scholars, like Shri Sadanand Narvekar, of Bombay, Dr. H.B. Kulkarni of Phaltan, Shri Madhusudan Joshi of Karad, Shri Tryambak Shivaram Marathe of Jalgaon who readily offered help in resolv- ing my doubts and queries, or in supplying additional material.
My visit to Balekundri, in September 1991, was a happy and fruitful one. Shri Bhausaheb Daddikar took the trouble of coming all the way from Belgaum and spent some of his valuable time giving some rare information about Shri Pant. For all this I am thankful to him. Dedicated devotees at Balekundri, like Shri and Smt. Anna Akolkar, Shri and Smt. Phansalkar and others took us round, gave us a lot of information and generally attended to our comfort. I am grateful to them too for their friendliness and help. And with all such help and good wishes with me, as I was about to begin writing, I realized, to my horror, that there were still areas of ignorance without covering which I could not proceed. It is here that my friend and former colleague, Prof. G.R. Joshi came to my rescue, bringing for me books on which I could not have easily laid my hand! A work of thanks is surely due to him.
I am beholden to Poojya Swami Ranganathanandji, Vice- President, Shri Ramakrishna Math and Mission for graciously contributing an enlightening foreword to this book. And a word of gratitude is surely due to Shri S. Ramakrishnanji, Executive Secretary, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for taking personal interest in the publication of this work.
Now the work is over! I am especially happy that I am able to complete it on the auspicious occasion of Gokul-Ashtami, which has a special significance: not only does it celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna, but also of Shri Pant himself, and, of his Sad guru Shri Balamukunda! And on this happy occasion I respectfully make this humble offering of this book at the feet of Pant Maharaj. May he bless my effort!
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