The Guru and the Disciple

10 min readJul 5, 2015

The story of Neem Karoli Baba and Dada Mukherjee

The year was 1935.

A young college student was spending a lazy summer afternoon hanging around the temple complex of Dakshineshwar when, at a secluded corner, he was accosted by a rather burly looking Brahmin.

“I’ll give you a mantra,” said the Brahmin.

“No, no, no. I don’t believe in this stuff,” protested the young man.

“No, I’ll give it. Say it everyday with your Gayatri Mantra,” said the Brahmin.

The young man heard the mantra out, mainly to get rid of the Brahmin, and started to walk away. When he turned around two steps later, he found that the Brahmin had mysteriously disappeared.

20 years later, the same burly Brahmin walks into the modest two-bedroom house of the young man and declares “Henceforth, I shall be living with you.”

The burly Brahmin was Neem Karoli Baba, aka Maharaj ji. And the young man was Sudhir Mukherjee, now a professor of Economics at the Allahabad University.

Over the next 18 years, Dada — as Sudhir Mukherjee came to be known — surrendered himself to Maharaj ji. So much so that he became one with Him. He became such an instrument that there was no space between him and his Master. From being a separate being serving Maharaj ji, he became the service itself.

And, in return, he got a ringside view of divinity and His phenomenal play.

This is the eternal love story of a Guru and his disciple — limitless love from one side and unconditional devotion from the other.

Enter: Maharaj ji

In 1955, Dada had a pretty normal life for a middle class Bengali of the time. He had a stable job as a professor in a prestigious university. He had a wife. And they lived with his mother, sister, and aunt in a house owned by a relative in Allahabad.

Dada himself edited an economics journal, was a political activist, and had regular addas with friends discussing varied intellectual matters that Bengalis generally seem to love.

One evening, as Dada sat on the porch chatting with some friends, the female members of the house — his mother, aunt, and wife — stepped out to visit a ‘saint’ who was visiting nearby. Surprisingly, they returned in 20 minutes. It turned out that when the saint looked at them, he asked them to go back.

“Jao!” he said. “Kamala, your husband’s Bengali friends have come. Go serve them tea,” he said to Dada’s wife.


If the expression existed back in 1955, that’s what Dada would have screamed.

How did he know her name? How did he know that her husband’s friends were in the house?

Early next morning, Dada accompanied the ladies to the house the ‘saint’ was living in. They found the ‘saint’ laying on a charpoy covered in a sheet.

As soon as the ‘saint’ saw Dada, he held his hand tightly, leaned on his shoulder and walked straight back to Dada’s house. On entering the small 2 bedroom house, he said, “Henceforth, I shall be living with you”.

It would be another 9 years before Dada realised that the man who entered his home and life uninvited to completely turn it upside down was the same man who had forced the mantra on him that summer afternoon in Dakshineshwar.

Winter Camp

Over the next few years, Neem Karoli Baba would pop in to Dada’s house every now and then, without any notice, stay from anywhere between a few days to a few weeks at a stretch, and then suddenly leave for another place. His extended stays in Dada’s house during the winter months came to be known as Winter Camp amongst his devotees.

And while he was there, it would be pretty frenetic. Word would spread amongst the Allahabad devotees, and there’d be a steady stream of devotees throughout the days. And while the devotees were there, tea snacks and food would always be going around. Because that’s what Neem Karoli Baba believed in.

“Servitude is the way to enlightenment. Feed people.”

The funny thing is, Dada seemed to like this massive intrusion in his life and privacy.

To begin with, Dada was courteous towards Maharaj ji, but also skeptical. He welcomed Maharaj ji into his house because he found his company comforting and enjoyed the joyous environment in the house during the time he spent there. But he never accorded Maharaj ji the God-like status many of the devotees seemed to. He thought Maharaj ji was a nice pleasant man who helped people, but he didn’t think Maharaj ji was Hanuman himself, as some of the devotees seemed to believe.

However, Maharaj ji’s entry into Dada’s life led to a perceptible change in his lifestyle. Earlier, he enjoyed doing stuff like going to the movies. But now, when Maharaj ji was there, he was totally immersed in the action there. And when he wasn’t, he was waiting for Maharaj ji to return. His friends said things like ‘he’s come under the influence of some Baba’. But Dada himself says that he felt like the transition was as natural as old leaves falling off a tree.

Whatever Dada did, it involved a remarkable degree of surrender. For, by the time I met him, the transformation seemed complete. There was no sign of the Professor; there was only Dada. Maharaj ji had said to him, “You are mine,” and so he is. ~ Ram Dass

The hand of God

(Not the Maradona one)

A couple of years into this, Dada started to notice an invisible hand guiding his life. Maharaj ji had been telling Dada to have his own bigger house so all this could be done in a more comfortable way. But Dada knew he had no money to even buy land, let alone build a house.

“Sab theek ho jaayega,” Maharaj ji told him before leaving after one of his visits.

Almost magically, Dada got allotted a plot of land. Someone agreed to design it for free, another volunteered to build it at a big discount. And soon he had his own bigger house where the winter camps could continue.

Serving Maharaj ji

This is how Ram Dass describes watching Dada serve Maharaj ji.

“I recall one day watching Dada serve Maharaj ji.

Maharaj ji was in a very forceful mood — shouting orders in all directions for the maintenance of the temple and the serving of the devotees. From my vantage point on the sidelines I saw that he was giving many of these orders to Dada, and some of them seemed contradictory. After all, Dada was only one person, and yet Maharajji seemed to be asking him to do two things at once. Yet Dada never got the least bit upset, nor did he attempt to explain the contradictions to Maharajji. He would just say, “Yes, Baba,” and do whatever it was that Maharajji demanded most recently.

I watched closely. At one point Maharajji yelled, “Dada, go get Binod.” Dada was halfway across the temple courtyard on this errand when Maharajji yelled, “Dada, come here.” In mid-step, Dada’s body turned immediately, responding to the new order which countermanded the earlier one.

A rare picture of Maharaja ji, Dada, and Ram Dass in the same frame

Here I saw two things. First, there was no momentary lag when Dada had to process the inconsistency of the orders and decide which to follow. More amazing yet, and something I saw at other times as well, Dada seemed to respond even as Maharajji uttered the first sound of the new order, as if he heard Maharajji’s intention before the words were out.

The intimacy between these men reminded me of the one-pointedness of mother-child love, when a mother can recognize her baby’s cry from a great distance. I once heard a saying about the tuning of true devotees to their Guru: “They hear his faintest whisper above earth’s loudest song; they see his slightest signal across the heads of the throng.”

Best seat in the house

But, why did Dada do it? What did he get in return?

Well, for one, he got a ringside view of the play of divinity, the lila. He saw the miracle stuff — Maharaj ji appearing in 2 places at the same time, him healing the sick, bringing the dead to life, him giving darshan to some and being completely invisible to others, and so on and so forth.

But that’s not what made it special to be Maharaj ji’s chosen disciple.

The Art of Giving

Dada was often entrusted with the duty of distributing prasad. One day Dada’s mother asked him to save some of the prasad for himself.

“Maharaj ji gives me prasad to distribute. Not to have it,” he replied.

When his mother asked Maharaj ji why he didn’t let Dada ever taste the prasad, Maharaj ji replied “What use does he have of the prasad?”

Much later Dada realised that Maharaj ji had taken away the desire for prasad from his heart so he could do his duty with purity, not taint it with greed.

Maharaj ji had pretty set ideas on the art of giving. He always said that giving isn’t easy. In fact, the only way to truly give is if you’ve never considered it your own in the first place.

“Dada, give more. Give more. If you don’t make it empty, how will you fill it up?”

In his role as the distributor of prasad, Dada had been made into the perfect instrument for ‘giving’.

Hanuman Darshan

Despite everything that Dada had witnessed over 13 years of being with Maharaj ji he was still not convinced that he was God or Hanuman, like many other people completely believed.

All that was to change on June 15, 1968, the day of the Bhandara at the Kainchi ashram.

Dada remembers sitting in front of the temple in the crowd right next to Maharaj ji. Suddenly he found Maharaj ji pressing his hand hard. So hard that Dada felt his bones would crush under the pressure.

Dada turned to look at Maharaj ji. To his shock he saw that it wasn’t him. Sitting next to him was a massive body with a monkey face and beautiful golden mane flowing down his back. It was Hanuman himself.

The next thing Dada knows is that it’s the dead of the night and he’s sitting alone next to a lake outside Kainchi. He remembers being shaken up by some of the ashram residents who had gone there looking for him. They brought him back to the ashram where he went to sleep immediately.

The next day he heard people’s account of the evemt. They saw him sitting with Maharaj ji in front of the temple when, suddenly, both of them disappeared. They, then, saw the two walking up the mountain. Maharaj ji returned an hour later. But not Dada. When it was dark and Dada had still not returned, search parties were sent out. One of them found him sitting by the lake.

“I know I wasn’t dreaming. I know what I saw. I know I saw Hanuman.” ~ Dada

A special relationship

The chemistry between the two was unlike the stereotypical Guru-Disciple relationship one may assume.

Dada wasn’t standing with folded hands in front of him the entire day. And Maharaj ji wasn’t spewing mantras and shlokas in return.

Their’s was a love story full of banter, jokes, and pokes. Maharaj ji loved pulling Dada’s leg in strange ways like calling him an ‘MA’.

“Dada toh MA hain,” he would often tell devotees to show how Dada thinks he’s better than others. Dada would respond by saying, “Aap bhi MA hain, Master of Abuses.”

They would often behave like lovers or mother and child, like the time Dada insisted that Maharaj ji put on a pullover and Maharaj ji refusing to for hours. One devotee likened it to watching Bal Gopala’s lila.

Maharaj ji would often use Dada’s name to send a message to someone else. Like saying, “Dada goes on wasting food,” when he would actually be hinting at someone else.

Dada never minded this non-stop ridiculing and leg-pulling. In fact, he always felt that it was a sign of the immense love Maharaj ji had for him.

One day, in 1973, Dada returned from the university to find a telegram waiting for him.

“Maharaj ji has taken Samadhi.”

It took him another 24 hours to get to Vrindavan where Maharaj ji had left his body. By that time, though, his body had already been lit in the pyre.

Dada believes that Maharaj ji planned it this way. If he had reached earlier, he would have been expected to do the last rites. And Maharaj ji knew that it would be unbearable for him. Dada believes that, even in his death, Maharaj ji protected him from this pain.

Maharaj ji’s room in Dada’s house — 4 Church Lane, Allahabad — remained the same forever. Every now and then, Maharaj ji would leave a sign for him. Like his picture on the bed changing direction overnight or ‘Ram Ram Ram Ram’ found written all over the empty page of a notebook.

Like Dada needed any signs. He always knew Maharaj ji was closer to him than his own breath.

Also read, the incredible story of grammy nominee and world’s best known kirtanwallah Krishna Das. Click here

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