Is there evidence that Baba Girdhari Saheb was a Guru in the Tulsi Sahib community? Yes there is, and from several different sources and vantage-points.
Image above: Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras, India being fanned by a young disciple by the name of Girdhari Sahib. It’s actually a photo of an icon at the Samadh (tomb) of Tulsi Sahib. A satsangi affiliated with the Tulsi Sahib group and source of the photo says: “This is the image of “Param Sant Dayal Shri 1008 Tulsi Sahib, Hathras Wale and Param Sant Dayal Shri 1008 Girdhari Sahib, Wale.”
From my direct correspondence with various followers affiliated with the Tulsi Sahib group based in Lucknow, I am told that Girdhari became a spiritual successor Guru of Tulsi Sahib, founding an ashram and spiritual mission based in Lucknow known as the Sant Girdhari Sahib Mandir. I’m sure Girdhari’s background was that of a sadhu like the Agra books emphasize, but clearly, he is described by the Tulsi Sahib Satsang as becoming Guru or Mahatma, not just remaining sadhu, initiating representative, or elder satsangi brother.
They tell me there are five major ashram centers directly associated with Tulsi Sahib, one in Hathras, one in Lucknow, and the rest in other nearby cities. Each Wali or Mandir (Ashram) has a line of Gurus up to the present time! I even have photos of some of these Masters, including a few recent ones.
And according to some documents Dayal Bagh sent me awhile back, the Hathras Guru (“Mahantji”) attended the Spircon 2010 inter-faith Sant Mat event held in Agra.
“Tulasi Sahib/Tulsi Sahib: A guru of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, who founded a sect known as Saheb Panth…. His chief disciples included Ramakrishna, a shepherd, Girdhari Lal, also known as Girdhari Das, and Surswami. Tulasi died in 1842 or 1843, and his disciples carried on his teachings.” (the entry for ‘Tulsi Sahib’ in the book, “Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide”, By Roshen Dalal)
Mark Juergensmeyer in, “Radhasoami Reality”: “Girdhari Das is described as being the ‘chief disciple’ of Tulsi Sahib, a term that would usually imply he was understood as his designated successor (Pratap Singh Seth, ‘Biography of Soami Ji Maharaj’, p. 108). After Tulsi Sahib’s death, Swami Shiv Dayal brought Girdhari Das into his house, ‘treated him with love, and accorded him respect due to a pious Mahatma’ (Pratap Singh Seth, ‘Biography of Soami Ji Maharaj’, Soami Bagh version, p. 37). Girdhari Das’s home was apparently in Lucknow…..”
Soami Ji Maharaj treated Girdhari Das as his Guru, as well as donated and “gave substantial material support” to his spiritual mission for “a number of years” according to, “The Biography of Soamiji Maharaj”, and according to Daniel Gold in, “The Lord As Guru: Hindi Sants in the North Indian Tradition”.
There are a few different documents from Agra Radhasoami sources that describe Girdhari Das as “chief disciple of Tulsi Sahab”. In the sangat or spiritual community founded by Sant Tulsi Sahib we know there were several Gurus to choose from after Tulsi Sahib’s passing. For the Radhasoami literature to preserve the understanding that Baba Girdhari Sahib in particular was the “chief disciple” of Tulsi Sahib, this likely reflects Soami Ji’s own view of him. Of course Soami Ji may also have revered other Gurus too, such as Surswami, who was the next Guru at the ashram in Hathras, but Baba Girdhari Sahib is the Guru that Soami Ji supported and spent time with, and only he is specifically named, and described as “chief disciple” in the writings published by the three major Radhasoami centers in Agra.
According to the “Biography of Babuji Maharaj” (Madhav Prasad Sinha), Soami Ji Maharaj used to treat “Baba Girdhari Das Ji”, who was one of the “chief disciples of Sahebji or Tulsi Saheb of Hathras”, as Guru.
In the Biography of Soamiji Maharaj, by Lala Pratap Singh Seth, we read:
“Girdhari Das Ji was one of the Sadhus who were followers of Tulsi Saheb. He was a great devotee and Abhyasi. Soamiji Maharaj treated him with love, and accorded him respect due to a pious Mahatma. For a number of years, Soami Ji lodged him in one of His houses and supplied him food, clothing, etc…”
Though I gather Professor Juergensmeyer assumes from this reference above that the house where Girdhari stayed was located in Agra, I’m not so sure. It might have been a house or mandir in Lucknow. “The Biography of Soamiji Maharaj” mentions the city of Lucknow as being the location where Girdhari spent most of his time, and when Girdhari was about to pass away, Soamiji travelled to Lucknow to be with him, and spent time with him in intense meditation.
Some interested in the history of Sant Mat find it to not be a coincidence that only after Baba Girdhari Sahib left the scene did Soami Ji Maharaj began his own spiritual mission based in Agra, and soon thereafter began holding a public satsang (in 1861).
(Another Guru was next in line at the ashram in Lucknow after Girdhari’s death. From correspondence with satsangis affiliated with the Lucknow Ashram I am informed that this is the list of their Gurus — the Lucknow lineage: “Shri Girdhari Saheb — Shri Dihal Saheb — Shri Seva Saheb — and at present Shri Haricharan Saheb” is the living teacher at the Sant Girdhari Mandir in Lucknow.)
This association of Shiv Dayal Singh/Sant Radhasoami Sahib with “Param Sant Dayal Shri 1008 Girdhari Sahib” is now independently corroborated by yet another source and branch of Sant Mat. The following is from, “The Biography of Baba Devi Sahab”, published by the Maharshi Mehi Ashram, located at Kuppaghat, Bhagalpur, in Bihar.
Baba Devi Sahib, the devotee who would eventually publish the Ghat Ramayan of Tulsi Sahib, was “blessed” as an infant by Tulsi, who predicted he would become a great saint, and grew up in the Hathras community presided over by Surswami. As an adult he eventually spent some time in Agra. He was close friends with a Radhaswami devotee by the name of Padma Das, who invited him to the Radhasoami Satsang in Agra, where Padma Das introduced him to Rai Saligram (Shaligram):
“Padma Das took Baba Devi to Rai Bahadur Shaligram’s Satsang. There, Padma Das narrated to Shaligram Sahab about his (Baba Devi’s) story — his intensified devotion from the childhood, demise of parents in very short age, his firm determination and increasing intuition to spend his life as Yogi in a lonely place. Hearing all of these, Rai Sahab asked Baba Devi, ‘Do you know the method of meditation which you want to practice in a secluded place?’ ‘Yes’ — Baba Devi replied humbly. Then Shaligram Sahab asked, ‘From where you have got it?’ Baba Devi told, ‘I am disciple of Sant Tulsi Sahab and he himself has blessed me.’ Then Shaligram Sahab became very glad to hear it and told that you were the member of my own family because, Sant Tulsi Sahib was my most reverend. Rai Sahab further explained about the association of his Guru (Master), Shiv Dayal Swami Ji and Sant Tulsi Sahab’s disciple Giridhari Das. He disclosed that his Guru Shiv Dayal ji used to tell that he (Shiv Dayal) had been greatly benefited with the association of Baba Giridhari Das, a disciple of Sant Tulsi Sahab.” /////////
Also see, “Baba Girdhari Das Walks On Water”: https://medium.com/sant-mat-meditation-and-spirituality/cdf4846e46fa