Category

Meher Baba

Lord Meher Critique

By | Azar Kaivan, Bhau Kalchuri, Charles Purdom, Lawrence Reiter, Meher Baba, Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj, Wikipedia
Lord Meher (Meher Prabhu), Reiter edition
Analysis of a lengthy text can be a complex matter. This is certainly true of the multi-volume Lord Meher, a devotional and biographical work on Meher Baba (1894-1969). The title is a translation from the Hindi phrase Meher Prabhu. Partisan claims have described this book in terms of a definitive work by Bhau Kalchuri (1927-2013), one of Meher Baba’s mandali (ashram staff). There are complications for such an attribution.
Kalchuri was only one of the entities involved in the development of Lord Meher, originally in Hindi. A translation into English commenced in 1973. The resulting editorial process was intensive. Early supporters of the Reiter edition (1986-2001) maintained that this was the last word on Meher Baba, fastidiously conveyed by Kalchuri. The American devotee Lawrence Reiter (d.2007) was one of the editors; he undertook publication of seven thousand pages (including many photographs). This is sometimes known as the American edition.
The Meher Baba literature is now substantial. The present writer produced the first critical bibliography on Meher Baba (Shepherd 1988:248-297). The literature was even then prolific, indeed unusually so. Thirty years later, the dimensions are far more extensive. Critics complain at the rather lavish devotional titles in evidence. Some idioms are controversial. Assessment of this literature now requires considerable time and commitment. Lord Meher is the major stumbling block to easy overview, but some other complexities should not be understated.
The present writer has moved at a tangent to the “orthodox” perspective on Lord Meher. Many years ago, I composed an unpublished Life of Meher Baba in four volumes, commencing in 1967. I do not claim any status for this work, which merely facilitated my studies in the subject under consideration. I was able to tap some oral transmission, and also had access to much literature, some of this unpublished. Writing that lengthy biography did serve to underline, in my mind, the scope of interpretations possible, applying to factual details that were probed.
Meher Baba at Meherabad, 1941
Meher Baba is unusual for the sheer amount of materials available concerning him. His career of some fifty years (depending upon how one dates the inception) is described in numerous books, booklets, diaries, and journals. The presentation is attended by a wide variety of literary styles and modes of reporting. Certain of his deceased followers now have full length books about them (e.g., Fenster 2013).
Lord Meher (LM) is by far the longest work on the subject, and attended by some linguistic complexities. Kalchuri wrote in Hindi, and is reported to have completed his biography in seven months, working non-stop. His contribution was only a small part of the total text. Mistakes in English translation (and possibly the obscure Kalchuri text) were fairly numerous. The translator was Feram Workingboxwala (1901-1980), a Parsi devotee of Meher Baba. Feram had a limited knowledge of Hindi, and Bhau never read his translation, having some difficulty with English. Some of the extending materials in LM were translated by Feram from Gujarati and Marathi diaries and memoranda.
From 1974 onwards, substantial materials were added to the existing text, mainly by David Fenster, including diaries and personal accounts from many Indian and Western devotees. An online edition commenced some years after the Reiter volumes were published, and is often cited as authority. The online editor is David Fenster, Kalchuri’s son-in-law, an American devotee strongly involved in the overall editing dating back to the 1970s. Many revisions and additions have occurred in the online version.
The Reiter edition very briefly mentioned the translation and editing process on the copyrights page. Kalchuri’s foreword informed that the secretary Adi K. Irani “placed his office records at my disposal and allowed Feram Workingboxwala to assist me in compiling the material for this book, and translating pertinent documents from Gujarati and Marathi into English.” Kalchuri also acknowledges the oral contributions from Meher Baba’s surviving mandali at Meherazad and Meherabad ashrams. Numerous other devotees are also named in this respect. The identity of sources stops there.
The Reiter edition featured endnotes that do not establish the nature of sources and translations. The online edition has no notes, but features pop-up comments in a similar category. The endnotes in Reiter do include some interesting information, but make no attempt to analyse sources, which are not mentioned. The “Kalchuri” text was regarded by Reiter (and others) as needing no explanation in this respect.
The analytical assessor of LM will see the text in terms of undefined sources and translations. The lack of annotations and bibliographies has disconcerted some readers. What source did this statement come from? What was the original language? Who edited the source or translation? What is the degree of accuracy involved? These are some of the questions relevant to any full discussion.
Adi K. Irani, 1962
The office records of Adi K. Irani (secretary to Meher Baba) were almost legendary by the 1960s. These files included diaries and large quantities of correspondence. The languages represented were English, Marathi, and Gujarati. This archive was not on open view, being stored at Khushru Quarters in Ahmednagar. Most devotees of that period were content with general circular information via Adi and Mani S. Irani. I was an exception, wishing to know more about the elusive records.
I was in correspondence with Adi K. Irani during 1965-66. I found him helpful on some points. However, he was reluctant to discuss matters of history that were not already available in published literature. For many years he had been supplying “life circulars” on current events, and he did not feel inclined to make his archive better known.
I had learned that a vintage diary in English, by Ramju Abdulla, was in existence, being relevant to the early 1920s. I wanted to know more about this document, but met with disappointment. This diary was not published for another thirteen years (Deitrick 1979). That diary was one of those read dismissively by the Yoga enthusiast Paul Brunton almost fifty years before.
Charles Purdom
Still a major work on Meher Baba, during the 1970s, was The God-Man (1964). This is skeletal in detail by comparison with the total data now available. The author was Charles Purdom (d.1965), one of the earliest Western followers. I met Purdom (more than once) during the last months of his life. He was a fluent talker and could still lecture. I remember well that he prepared a liberal and non-sectarian paper on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (d.1886), read out at a London meeting by Molly Eve in his absence due to illness. Purdom’s speech was free of the devotional jargon that subsequently increased in the movement, i.e., Beloved and lovers, Avatar of the Age.
It is very difficult to describe Charles Purdom as a devotee. He did not express devotion at all, but instead a muted form of respect. He was averse to exaggerated and repetitive stylisms. His book The God-Man is impersonal in tone, contrasting with many other partisan writings. Purdom had retained the discreet vocabulary and literary style of a 1930s British independent follower of Meher Baba (Purdom 1951). See the index references in Shepherd 2005:315.
The present writer early discerned an error in the LM translation of a statement about Azar Kaivan (d.1618). This was reported in an annotation to another book (Shepherd 1995:854 note 152). Several years ago, this error (together with the revision) was duly mentioned on a Wikipedia page by Simon Kidd, an academic real name editor on the web encyclopaedia. Kidd was not a stranger to Kaivan, having studied the Dabistan in Cambridge, under the guidance of a well known scholar. However, his intervention was opposed by a party claiming that Lord Meher was infallible text. As a consequence of more than one opposition from dogmatic interests, the revision was excised. However, the opponents lost all reference to their own “infallible” text in the process of Wikipedia editing at the same article. The altercation is very briefly represented on the current talk page of the Azar Kaivan article. 
The defective Reiter edition has the words: “After that, the last one, Dastur Azer Kaiwan, was false and obtained the sacred seat and started collecting money” (page 1020). This was belatedly reworded in the online Fenster edition as: “But after Dastur Azar Kaivan [who became a Perfect Master], a false, deceitful dastur obtained the sacred gaadi and started collecting money” (page 903, accessed 28/11/17). No reference was made anywhere in the Meher Baba literature to the earlier revision which appeared on Wikipedia. The dogmatic mistake had never happened. It is well known that the rendition of a name as Kaivan follows my publications and online articles, in contrast to the Kayvan found on Wikipedia and elsewhere. The evasive online LM editing process might still have to revise the reference to Dastur Azar Kaivan in view of relevant arguments concerning priestly identities. The date of any revision should be duly recorded, and with full references.
Lord Meher, Indian edition 2005
Due analysis of a text, religious or otherwise, must transcend dogmatism. See Meher Prabhu/Lord Meher. There is evidence of a critical attitude to LM amongst a minority of Meher Baba devotees. A major exemplar of this attitude is Christopher Ott, an American. He is evidently very familiar with the genesis and development of LM. His contributions include History of Lord Meher. Ott emphasises elsewhere that the history of the editing process is “long and complex.” He makes a striking disclosure: “I have sworn privacy to one witness and am waiting for that person to die before sharing that person’s emails, confirming what more there is to say.”
The same informed commentator reveals the existence of “at least eleven versions of Lord Meher, none of them exactly the same.” One of these versions is the original handwritten Hindi manuscript of Bhau Kalchuri, “never made public.” An elaborated English version was achieved by Workingboxwala, “with additions and corrections inserted and compiled by David Fenster.” This version, dating to the early 1980s, is accessible. A subsequent version was the Reiter edition of 20 volumes (or more realistically, 13 vols in terms of binding). In 2005, an Indian edition of Reiter exhibited “some major changes.” Meanwhile, LM went online in 2002. The current online edition is “redacted monthly,” a process which has involved “drastic and constant changes, with both good corrections and grave new inaccuracies.” All quotes here are from Ott, “Original Lord Meher” (30/06/2017), featuring at meherbabathoughts.blogspot.com (formerly open access online but now available only to invited readers).
Ott makes additional comments of a radical nature. “There is currently no way to systematically ‘fact-check’ the events in any of these [LM] biographies.” The same commentator suggests that future scholars will resort to a new version of LM based directly on the sources, including extant diaries and correspondence.
In contrast, for many years, Western devotees were believing that Kalchuri was the sole author (and even translator) of LM. Ott entitles one of his blog communications rather dramatically: “The terrible truth about who translated Lord Meher.” Such revelations may encourage a more widespread disposition to analyse LM text.
Over thirty years ago, I wrote the independent work Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (I am now commencing a more intensive biography of an updated nature). Some American devotees maintained that the subject was Indian. Meher Baba was certainly born in India, but his parents were Irani Zoroastrians originating from Yazd. The controversial title was ventured in relation to Irani Zoroastrians who migrated to India, and who retained ethnic and linguistic features distinct from the Parsi population. For instance, Meher Baba and his father (Sheriar Mundegar Irani) spoke Dari.  Another consideration is that Meher Baba was not typical of contemporary Indian gurus like Rajneesh. The tendency to associate him with Hinduism is offset by such details as the Zoroastrian kusti girdle he wore in his early years until 1925 (Fenster 2013, 1:181). Another version, closely associated with Ott, maintains that he wore the kusti all his life [this is contradicted by a mandali report informing that Meher Baba discarded the kusti girdle in 1931].
Irani Zoroastrians are descendants of the original population of Iran in pre-Islamic times. To describe them as Iranians is not an error, nor a crime. The title of my book was not intended to be politically evocative, but to grant the subject a due ethnic perspective. The Wikipedia article on Meher Baba is maintained by pseudonymous Western devotees. These partisan editors deleted Iranian Liberal, an annotated book featuring the first critical bibliography. Such cordoning gestures have elsewhere been considered insular and arbitrary. I decline to be intimidated by such tactics (including hostile remarks on talk pages). Wikipedia is not a primary source for university academics and researchers.
The informed American devotee Ward Parks refers to the 2005 Hyderabad edition of LM as “a somewhat emended and corrected text.” Both the American and Indian published editions include selections from the 1920s Tiffin Lectures (silent discourses), not well known until recently. Parks informs:

Lord Meher was written primarily as a biographical account of Meher Baba’s life; and while it is rich in quotation from Meher Baba’s words, it was never meant as a critical edition of any of his messages and should not be taken as such…. Bhau does not ordinarily quote from his sources verbatim or with minimal rewrite…. Often he reduces extensive discourses into abridged versions that convey the essence or gist. On other occasions he selects main points from different junctures in a talk and works them together into an integral message that accurately expresses much of Meher Baba’s original thought but cannot be said to follow his verbiage except in patches. (Parks 2017:520)

Shirdi Sai Baba

The first Reiter volume included chapters on the five “masters” of Meher Baba, including the famous Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918). Those chapters are informative to a degree, but are not by any means exhaustive portrayals. Now well known is the eccentric “Kalchuri” statement that Sai Baba smoked “a chilum pipe of opium” (Reiter edn 1986:64). This misleading assertion caused confusions, and was later excised from the online edition as an error (David Fenster has stated in an email that the error was caused by faulty editing). Shirdi Sai was far more reliably reported in early Marathi sources (Dabholkar and Dixit) as a smoker of tobacco (Warren 1999:106; Shepherd 2015:114; Shepherd 2017: viii, 65).  Narasimhaswami affords a confirmation of tobacco. The chilum was loosely associated with opium, but  also used to smoke other substances, including tobacco.

Fenster has recently mentioned adding a note to LM, suggesting the possibility that a small amount of opium or hashish was at times added to the chilum of Shirdi Sai, for the purpose of alleviating asthma. This suggestion was prompted by a very recent web trawl in November 2017, communicated to Fenster by email. The critic influenced the unwary Fenster on this point. The trawl was presented in terms of “research.” Fenster ignored my email protest at his projected new note, citing as his authority a presumed statement of Meher Baba which makes no reference whatever to the imagined contingency. This statement had been favoured by the critic, who did not bother to read any books on Shirdi Sai; this web trawler also explicitly stated to me (by email) that he had no interest in Shirdi Sai, whom he regarded as an illiterate village faqir of minor consequence.

The web trawl, which strongly influenced Fenster, located a recent surmisal that Shirdi Sai smoked a sparing amount of bhang for medicinal purposes. The critic was influenced by a 2015 blog of Shri Datta Swami (a contemporary guru), evidencing a preoccupation with allergy medication, namely Citrazin, Uni-carbozon, and Avil. Bhang was here viewed as the equivalent of pharmaceutical tablets. The alleged act of smoking bhang was supposedly an antidote to “illness based on allergy, which is serious cough.” The scenario here is very conjectural, and does not count as “research.” The convergence of diverse contemporary assumptions about what Shirdi Sai smoked is here obscuring what early sources stated a century ago.

Fenster provided two versions of his new suggestion in separate emails. In the first, he said that “sometimes a small amount of opium or hashish would be added to the chilum to alleviate Sai Baba’s asthmatic condition.” When I objected to this innovation, he modified the phraseology, but would not abandon his contention as to possibility. He showed no familiarity with Shirdi Sai literature. He gave the impression that he would shortly be placing online his new note [Fenster subsequently withdrew his contention when informed of more relevant data].
The web trawler has since stated in an email to myself (04/12/17): “Shirdi Sai Baba occasionally used a tiny amount of opium or cannabis to alleviate a life-long asthmatic condition.” This was a reference to smoking, and effectively relying on the mistaken suggestion of Fenster, which had been influenced by the same insistent trawler. The reciprocal confusion evidenced in these emails was substantial, creating imagined fact from mere surmisal.
The purported statement of Meher Baba quoted by Fenster (email 27/11/17) reads: “Seekers then used not only wine but also hemp, heroin, hashish and opium; so much so that even sadgurus would indulge in them. Sai Baba used to smoke a chillum and Upasni Maharaj smoked beedies.” This is the version found in the online edition of LM. No source is supplied for the 1929 statement. Furthermore, the same LM “Kalchuri” statement of Meher Baba has variants, e.g., “You have heard stories that Sai Baba used to smoke a chilum pipe and Upasni Maharaj smoked bidis” (Reiter edn:1227). Fenster makes no mention of the stories in his online edition.
Extending details are relevant. The same passage, of which the quotation is part, refers to “the ancient past” (Reiter edn:1227). This was when seekers and sadgurus used the substances specified. The ancient chronology is confirmed by the accompanying reflection of Meher Baba that “eventually during those times, ordinary people indulged in these intoxicants for the wrong reasons” (ibid). A lengthy period of time is indicated. In contrast, Fenster emails have opted to place the “ancient past” in the early twentieth century at Shirdi. This is not the most discerning evaluation of an early Meher Baba statement, even supposing that the statement is correct in rendition (all details of origin and transmission being absent in LM). Not all statements of Meher Baba were uniformly rendered, or presented accurately, especially when translation was involved from one language to another. The error relating to Azar Kaivan  is a case in point, and one which misled readers for nearly thirty years.
Upasani Maharaj at Sakori, 1930s
In the confusing LM passage at issue, the impression is given to unwary readers that Upasani Maharaj (d.1941) smoked a drug substance over a lengthy period. In reality, Upasani smoked bidis (country tobacco cigarettes) for a few weeks only. He did this solely because of a medical insistence that he resort to tobacco for the purpose of assisting bowel motions, at a point of crisis prior to a necessary surgical operation. Upasani himself disliked cigarettes, and had to be persuaded to smoke (Shepherd, Upasani Maharaj, chapter 49). He was an orthodox brahman opposed to drugs and alcohol.
Upasani Maharaj  is a subject closely converging with Meher Baba, but for the most part neglected in the Meher Baba literature. Due analysis of Upasani biography (and teaching) is long overdue. Upasani is also strongly linked with Shirdi Sai Baba, in situations requiring more detail than is customarily supplied.
Generations may elapse before all discrepancies in the lengthy composite work Lord Meher are resolved. Meanwhile, a dogmatic celebration of infallible text is not appropriate.
Bibliography:
Deitrick, Ira G., ed., Ramjoo’s Diaries 1922-1929 (Walnut Creek, CA: Sufism Reoriented, 1979).
Fenster, David, Mehera-Meher: A Divine Romance (3 vols, 2003; second edn 2013).
Kalchuri, Bhau, Feram Workingboxwala, David Fenster et al, Lord Meher (Reiter edn, 20 vols, 1986-2001).
Kalchuri et al, Lord Meher (revised edn, 8 vols, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh: Meher Mownavani, 2005). 
Kalchuri et al, Lord Meher online, ed. David Fenster. 
Parks, Ward, and Meherwan B. Jessawala, eds., Meher Baba’s Tiffin Lectures as given in 1926-1927 (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 2017). 
Purdom, Charles B., Life Over Again (London: Dent, 1951). 
——–The God Man: The life, journeys and work of Meher Baba with an interpretation of his silence and spiritual teaching (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Meher Baba: An Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988). 
——-Minds and Sociocultures: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995). 
——-Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005). 
——-Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
——-Sai Baba: Faqir of Shirdi (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2017). 
——-Upasani Maharaj of Sakori: A Biography (unpublished). 
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd 
ENTRY no. 74
Copyright © 2017 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Sheriar Mundegar Irani

By | Azar Kaivan, Hazrat Babajan, Iranis and Parsis, Meher Baba, Yazd
Sheriar Mundegar Irani, circa 1893
Sheriar Mundegar Irani (1853-1932) was the Zoroastrian father of Meher Baba (1894-1969). His life affords an interesting variant of the substantial Irani emigration from Central Iran to India. This exodus, occurring over generations, was the consequence of oppression afflicting a religious minority.
Irani Zoroastrians were the original Persians, the real Iranians, an ethnic breed quite distinct from the Arabs and Turkic peoples who infiltrated Iran during the Islamic era. Over the centuries, their zone of habitation contracted to the regions of Yazd and Kerman, primarily the former. At Yazd, they lived mainly in villages on the Yazd plain (Boyce 1977). These rural Zoroastrian ghettos existed in the shadow of Shia Islam. Zoroastrians were officially tolerated, but nevertheless subject to harassments and an insidious religious discrimination (Amighi 1990).
Zoroastrian Tower of Silence, Yazd
Sheriar Mundegar was born at the Yazdi village of Khorramshah. He was the son of Mundegar the salar, meaning the custodian of a local Zoroastrian dakhma or “tower of silence.” At these towers, corpses were disposed of in the traditional manner, being left for vultures to devour. The salar guarded the corpses, and performed basic rites for the dead. Mundegar was very unusual in being the follower of an obscure Muslim saint at Khorramshah (Kalchuri 1986:120). Because of this allegiance, local Muslims were more tolerant of his family than would otherwise have been the case.
Irani Zoroastrians lived in constant fear of abuse. They were known contemptuously as guebres or “fire worshippers.” Restrictions applied to the size of their houses, and their mode of travel. They could not openly trade; their lifestyle was frequently that of agricultural workers. The presiding legists were mullas, a religious party indifferent to infidel complaints. “If a Zoroastrian was murdered, no one was punished” (Anzar 1976:4).
Mistreatment from the local Muslim population and clergy was more severe at Yazd than in the Kerman milieu (Sanasarian 2000:49). Many travellers to Iran commented on the Zoroastrian plight. E. G. Browne referred to the “savage brutality of lutis,” a category described as hooligans (Browne 1893:371; Shepherd 1988a:13-14). While Browne was in Yazd, a Zoroastrian was bastinadoed for accidentally touching with his garment some fruit for sale in the bazaar, rendering this commodity unclean for true believers (Browne 1893:371-2).
The Irani Zoroastrians dreaded attacks on their women. A Zoroastrian girl was raped while carrying farm produce to the city. The Muslim attackers callously claimed that she was drunk, and therefore responsible for the crime. The victim could not endure the stigma imposed upon her, and committed suicide by burning herself (Jahanian 1996). Other girls are reported to have been forcibly converted to Islam.
Young Sheriar himself foiled a molestation when a group of Muslims on horseback were chasing a young and attractive Zoroastrian woman. He concealed this fugitive at the site of the dakhma he tended with his father (Anzar 1974:2). The pursuers had broken into a Zoroastrian house. Other reports confirm that Muslims would kidnap Zoroastrian girls and convert them to Islam via marriage. Converts would be paraded in the Yazd bazaar as a sign of Islamic triumph (Amighi 2014). Another version is that abductors would have the girls “married to Muslims in other areas or sell them as concubines” (Kalchuri 1986:121 endnote). A frequent destination of the victims was Arabia. “In this way the Muslim fanatics reduced the Zoroastrian population” (ibid). In his description of 1850s abuses, the Parsi traveller Maneckji Hataria wrote: “Vagrants have kidnapped their [Irani] women and daughters” (Jahanian 1996). Some abductors seem comparable to slave traders. However, Qajar Iran is much better known for other aspects of the widespread slave trade (Mirzai 2017).
The feared lutis were involved in murders. Circa 1870, two Zoroastrians were attacked outside Yazd by two Muslims. One victim was killed, the other very badly wounded, as the aggressors tried to cut off his head (Malcolm 1908:50). Violence was too often preferred. Oppressive collectors of the jizya tax would tie a man to a dog (a despised Zoroastrian pet) and beat both of the victims until the money was given, amounting to a labourer’s wage for ten days (ibid:47). Not to be outdone in such excesses, the pious Shia mujtahids (elite clerics) made Zoroastrians stand on one leg inside their (Muslim) houses “until they consented to pay a considerable sum of money” (ibid:48).
The French ambassador to Qajar Iran wrote pessimistically: “A miracle may save them [Irani Zoroastrians] from extinction” (Jahanian 1996). In the mid-nineteenth century, the village of Turkabad, near Yazd, suffered a forcible mass conversion of Zoroastrians (Boyce 1977:7; Boyce 1992:158). This event is sometimes described in terms of a massacre. There were apparently less than 7,000 Zoroastrians surviving at Yazd during the 1850s. The Parsi mission of Maneckji Hataria attempted to improve the situation, although not without opposition from conservative Irani priests (Ringer 2011:152ff). 
The young salar Sheriar Irani departed from Yazd in 1865-66. He was not merely fleeing from harassment. He became a mendicant committed to Yazdan (the Zoroastrian God). He is often referred to as a dervish, a word generally denoting a Muslim mendicant. However, he remained a Zoroastrian. His father’s intimacy with a Muslim saint may have imparted to Sheriar a degree of affinity with mystical Islam. Sheriar grew accustomed to the wilderness, which he regarded as a haven from interference. This was a very tough life, sandstorms being only one of the problems. A strong walker, he learned how to survive, adapting as best he could to the surrounding Muslim society.
After eight years of wandering, he emigrated to India with his brother Khododad. They arrived in Bombay circa 1874, taking employment. Their environment was now that of Parsis, the Zoroastrian community of Western India commencing many centuries earlier (Palsetia 2001). After the British took possession of Bombay in 1662, Parsis converged there in large numbers, flourishing as traders or sethias (Hinnells and Williams 2008a:1). See also Bombay communities.  A major influence in this city, during the early nineteenth century, was Sir Jamshetji Jejeebhoy (1783-1859), the Parsi merchant and philanthropist, and the first Indian to be knighted (Palsetia 2015).
Unlike Khododad, Sheriar did not pursue wealth. Instead, he again departed as a mendicant, effectively vanishing during the years 1874-1883. After a severe thirty day fast and vigil (chilla), he returned to the urban sector (in 1883 or 1884), his body emaciated. He had experienced a powerful dream, which conveyed that he could not himself attain God, but instead his son would do so. This intimation caused mental turmoil; his mind was divided between the prospect of a family and his dedication to the renunciate life.
Although seriously weakened from fasting, he now walked over four hundred miles south from Gujarat. He arrived in Poona (Pune), finding the home of his sister Piroja, who had likewise emigrated from Yazd. She had given up hope of ever seeing Sheriar again. Piroja could not understand his ascetic way of life. She wanted him to marry and settle down. Sheriar reacted, repeatedly telling her that he intended to resume mendicancy. Piroja was upset and wept.
Eventually Sheriar adopted a different tactic. Gazing out of the window, he pointed to the five (or six) year old daughter of an Irani neighbour, saying that if he had to marry, then he would marry this little girl. Sheriar did not believe that his suggestion would be taken seriously. He was astounded when his persistent sister arranged the match (Kalchuri 1986:130-137; Shepherd 1988a:52-57). The marriage was scheduled years in the future.
Sheriar felt obliged to honour his word. The Zoroastrian ethical code stressed truthfulness. A promise was considered irrevocable. This feature of integrity converged with the Zoroastrian religious tenet of “good words” (hukhta), associated with the ancient prophet Zarathushtra (Boyce 1992:90).
He commenced to earn a livelihood, at first working in Poona as a gardener at a Parsi mansion, where plants flourished in his care. Eventually he married Shirin Irani, as he had promised, in 1892. He was then 39, while she was 14 years old. Sheriar became a businessman, in the interests of supporting his growing family of several children. His simple terraced house was near the Poona cantonment, in a locality then known as Butler Moholla. In 1919, he acquired a larger house in the same lane, opposite the earlier home (Irani 1965:23). The ambience was middle class. Yet neither of these properties were comparable to the fine mansions of wealthy Parsi celebrities. Sheriar maintained a business because he had to, not because he wanted to. He was eventually the proprietor of a string of toddy shops, employing many assistants. At that period, many Parsis in Gujarat made their living from the production of toddy, a mild alcoholic drink.
Meanwhile, during the 1880s, he taught himself to read and write. Not only did he learn Persian, but also Arabic. He spoke with his family in Dari, meaning the Irani language used at Yazd (more specifically, Zoroastrian Dari in the Yazdi dialect was divided into many variants relating to neighbourhood). His daughter says that Sheriar had an imperfect knowledge of Gujarati, which he spoke with an Irani accent (Irani 1993:52). Gujarati was the vernacular language of Parsis, associated with the neighbouring state of Gujarat (Shirin could speak fluent Gujarati, being reared in this language). In contrast, Arabic was a very unusual linguistic interest amongst Zoroastrians. Sheriar became acquainted with both Sufi and Zoroastrian texts. He taught Shirin Persian, reading to her the Shah-Nama and Divan of Hafiz. He also wrote mystical poetry in Persian.
His daughter Mani later related that he was consulted by a scholar engaged in the translation of a text from Arabic to Persian. She actually saw him “help a well known [Parsi] professor to correct some manuscript in Arabic” (Irani 1993:60). Mani also relayed that her father would talk in Hebrew with a woman who lived in the same lane at Poona. Exactly how Sheriar came to learn Hebrew is not known. “I would hear Father converse in Hebrew with a charming old Jewish lady who wore dozens of bangles” (ibid). A Jewish community had existed at Yazd, but any early connection of Sheriar with that colony seems unlikely.
Mani wondered how her father could speak these languages so well (in contrast to his more pedestrian Gujarati). She questioned him on this matter. Sheriar was reticent; he merely remarked that the acquisition “came to me suddenly, in a moment” (ibid). Years later, Mani asked her brother Meher Baba how such knowledge could be possible. The mystical reply was: “Knowledge is all inside, hidden behind a curtain” (ibid). We know that Sheriar was self-taught at Poona; his approach to learning was apparently not typical of autodidacts or academics.
Arabic had been a strong component of the eclectic tradition known as Kaivani or Sipasi. During the Safavid era, the Zoroastrian mystic Azar Kaivan (d.1618) emigrated to India from his native Iranian territory of Fars. Kaivan’s Zoroastrian circle of disciples included learned speakers of both Arabic and Persian. They were familiar with the ishraqi tradition of philosophy transmitted by Suhrawardi Maqtul (d.1191). Kaivani texts were studied by nineteenth century Parsis. Sheriar was another reader familiar with complexities (Shepherd 1988a:58ff). His son Merwan (alias Meher Baba) is known to have awarded a high rating to Azar Kaivan, describing this figure as a spiritual master
The Dabistan informs that two Jewish rabbis became followers of the Kaivan circle in the early seventeenth century. Hebrew was not necessary for the study of Kaivani texts. However, the inter-religious disposition of that circle must have impressed Sheriar. Relevant works like the Dabistan and Desatir  were well known in literary circles of his time. Like the Kaivanis, Sheriar believed in reincarnation. Many Parsis became Theosophists, but Sheriar moved in another direction. He may be described as a neo-Kaivani.
Sheriar learned to some degree the local Marathi, but did not assimilate English. However, he had nothing against the British. Zoroastrians benefited from the tolerant colonial regime. For generations until circa 1860, the mercantile activity of Iranis at Yazd had been much restricted, literally occurring underground, operating in cellars of their houses as a consequence of Islamic prohibition (Malcolm 1905:46-47). Now, in India, they were free to prosper alongside the Parsis.
Enterprising Parsis built and ran the Bombay dockyard, were the leading ship owners of India, were pioneers in education and social reform, were leaders in banking, law, and the Indian industrial revolution (Hinnells and Williams 2008a:2). At Poona, some Parsis established factories. The earliest Parsi settlers here were traders, but many became professional people, e.g., lawyers, doctors, academics. Parsi philanthropists made generous donations to educational institutions such as the Deccan College.
Some of the most imposing houses in Poona were owned by Parsis, whose social functions attracted many British officials. Circa 1900, there were 1,900 Parsis in Poona, many of them affluent. In contrast, numerous Iranis arrived as refugees; most of these newcomers were not wealthy (Hinnells 2008b). Iranis were far more at the working class level. Accordingly, Parsis tended to regard themselves as superior. There is a general lack of information about the Iranis in Poona, Sheriar being an exception.
Sheriar at Poona in the 1920s
The education of Parsis generally followed a Westernised model. Sheriar did not participate in this trend, but remained a mystic. Some wealthy Parsi families gained many servants. Sheriar’s family had only one servant, a Hindu lady named Chandri, whom they employed in the 1920s. Sheriar was not a gourmet. He maintained a habit of selecting the most imperfect food for himself, for instance, a blemished apple. His daughter Mani says that he would quickly put such items on his plate, not saying a word. “As a child, she [Mani] noticed such selfless acts” (Fenster 2013:230).
The ex-mendicant Irani was not typical of the business sector. His wife Shirin was often exasperated by his lack of interest in mundane acquisitions and savings. Mani related that her mother did not trust Sheriar with money, the reason being that he would so frequently give away cash to beggars and ascetics. The benign Sheriar had exactly the same tendency with blankets. Shirin complained that she could have opened a blanket shop if they had kept all the blankets her husband had so generously gifted (audio source). In this action, Sheriar was similar to Hazrat Babajan (d.1931), the Muslim faqir whose latitude to the poor became famous. Sheriar was an acquaintance of Babajan, who lived nearby in the same area of Poona (Shepherd 2014:49-50). 
Sheriar Irani was constantly muttering “Yazdan, Yazdan,” a Zoroastrian sacred name. This was not an ostentatious exercise, but scarcely audible, and often completely silent. His daughter informs: “I would look up to catch a glimpse of the tip of his tongue moving up and down as he silently repeated God’s name” (Irani 1993:57).
Silence was a frequent characteristic. Mani relays that a local businessman was deeply impressed with Sheriar, and would visit his home. The two would sit in silence for hours at a time. Shirin would become annoyed, asking the visitor when he was going to leave; she would tell him to come to the point. The visitor is reported to have replied; “I do not come here to talk to Sheriar, I just like to sit in his presence. I feel so peaceful sitting here with him” (audio source).
In another report, Mani writes: “Many a family friend or acquaintance has come into our home to sit for hours beside him [Sheriar] in total silence” (Irani 1993:57). The reason supplied is that the visitors gained peace of mind.
When Mehera J. Irani (along with other visitors) encountered Sheriar in December 1924 (or January 1925), she found that he “would sit away from the others, quietly repeating Yezdan, the Zoroastrian name of God” (Fenster 2013:158). He was still partial to horticulture; Mehera noticed the violets growing in his garden at Butler Moholla.
During the early 1920s, the elderly Sheriar lost his business to a dishonest employee. He was indifferent to the loss of income (Shepherd 1988a:73-75). He maintained his composure, giving the impression that the outer world was of no consequence by comparison with the inner world.

Some orthodox Parsis of Poona were critics of his son Meher Baba, whom they considered a heretic. This hostile group bribed a policeman who had alcoholic tendencies. The agitators made the policeman drunk, exhorting him to visit Sheriar and administer a beating. The inebriated officer of the law complied with the request, and threateningly entered Sheriar’s house. The old man simply gazed at the intruder, who shouted abuse. Sheriar did not react. The interloper failed in his mission; no violence occurred. However, neighbours were outraged by this unseemly event, and made the policeman apologise afterwards to his intended victim (audio source). These neighbours were not Zoroastrians. Their identity is uncertain. Butler Moholla was inhabited by “Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists” (Irani 1993:19).
Another visitor to the home of Sheriar had a deeper comprehension than most others. Sadhu Christian Leik (d. 1929) was an unusual ascetic from Esthonia who became a disciple of Meher Baba in 1928. Mani reported that Leik would sit in silence with Sheriar for hours. Both of these men were contemplatives who did not feel a need for words. 

Bibliographic Note:

The early published account in Purdom 1937:14-16 has some errors, including the mistaken date of 1879 for the marriage of Sheriar and Shirin. Purdom also says that Sheriar “returned to Bombay and went to his sister Piroja’s house – there he stayed.” The traveller did return to Bombay, but quickly moved on to his sister’s home in Poona, a place name omitted by Purdom. This misleading version is reflected in the current Wikipedia article on Sheriar, which states that Piroja lived in Bombay, and that Sheriar and his wife moved to Poona in 1893. This error is attributed to Maud Kennedy, but her article correctly identifies Poona as the location, following Jal S. Irani (without supplying any source). Only weeks after Shirin Irani was born at Bombay, her parents moved to Poona in the late 1870s, where her father Dorab Irani opened a tea shop. The date Purdom selected for the marriage was actually the time when Dorab and his family moved to Poona. The contraction about Bombay is repeated in Purdom 1964:16, but the date of marriage is duly revised to 1892. The date of birth here is still unsatisfactory. The article by Sheriar’s son Jal Irani was a basic source for Maud Kennedy, a British devotee of Meher Baba. Both of these articles lack details afforded in subsequent published materials and oral transmission. Jal says that Sheriar left home “when he was barely thirteen years of age” (Irani 1965:16). There are slight differences in the reports. Cf. Kalchuri 1986:122, stating “he was only twelve years old.” Other writers give the age as thirteen. Jal gives no date for the voyage from Iran to Bombay, and says that his father eventually owned “several toddy and tea shops” (Irani 1965:22). Jal informs that Sheriar gained “a scholarly knowledge of the Persian and Arabic languages” (ibid:21), but does not mention the acquisition of Hebrew. The 1976 article by Naosherwan Anzar supplied very relevant material resulting from fieldwork on the Yazd plain. Bhau Kalchuri, and the editorial process of Lord Meher, supplied two chapters on Sheriar and Shirin. Major informants about Sheriar Irani were his children Mani S. Irani and Adi S. Irani. Mani’s version is represented in Lord Meher. She is described as having “authenticated” the relevant chapters. Adi is not represented. He never wrote anything, but did make references in conversation. Adi was acknowledged in Shepherd 1988a:82. “I am indebted to Sheriar’s son Adi S. Irani for certain background data.” My book supplied the longest version of Sheriar’s biography, together with details about the Kaivan circle and their literature. A second edition is planned. Adi was in awe of his father, whom he considered an excelling example of the “be in the world but not of it” ideal. Adi emphasised the unusual extent of Sheriar’s philanthropy, and believed that only Merwan (Meher Baba) was fully conversant with the range of their father’s studies. My earliest version of Sheriar was in the unpublished manuscript Life of Meher Baba, the chapter on Sheriar dating to 1967. See also the index references to Sheriar Irani in Shepherd 1988b:302; Shepherd 2005:310. The details contributed by Mani S. Irani (1918-1996) were partly in oral and audio transmission, the audio materials emerging online. Her written version is Irani 1993:52-61. On Mehera J. Irani (1907-1989), see Fenster 2013. Concerning the phenomenon of Parsi success, “they [Parsis] are now India’s smallest community, yet they are among those who have exercised the greatest influence on the Subcontinent, having been foremost in so many areas all out of proportion to their demographic size” (Hinnells and Williams 2008a:1).
Bibliography:
Amighi, Janet Kestenberg, The Zoroastrians of Iran: Conversion, Assimilation, or Persistence (New York: AMS Press, 1990).
———“Kerman xiii. Zoroastrians of 19th Century Yazd and Kerman,” Encyclopaedia Iranica online (2014).
Anzar, Naosherwan, The Beloved: The Life and Work of Meher Baba (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Press, 1974).
———“In Search of God’s Ancestry,” The Glow Quarterly (August 1976) 11(3):3-10.
Boyce, Mary, A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977). 
——–Zoroastrianism: Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 1992). 
Browne, Edward G., A Year Amongst the Persians (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1893). Eduljee, K. E., Zoroastrian Heritage (2005-17).
Fenster, David, Mehera-Meher Vol. 1 (second edn, Ahmednagar: Meher Nazar, 2013).
Hinnells, John R., The Zoroastrian Diaspora: Religion and Migration (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Hinnells, John R., and Alan Williams, eds., Parsis in India and the Diaspora (London and New York: Routledge, 2008a).
Hinnells, “Parsi Communities i. Early History,” Encyclopaedia Iranica online (2008b). 
Irani, Jal S., “Biographical Notes on Avatar Meher Baba’s Parents,” Divya Vani (Jan. 1965) 2(1):15-23.
Irani, Mani S., God-Brother: Stories from my Childhood with Meher Baba (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 1993).
Kalchuri, Bhau, Feram Workingboxwala, David Fenster et al, Lord Meher Vol. 1 (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Manifestation, 1986).
Kennedy, Maud, “Sheriarji: The Wandering Dervish,” Glow International (August 1985):11-13. Malcolm, Napier, Five Years in a Persian Town (London: John Murray, 1908).
Mirzai, Behnaz A., A History of Slavery and Emancipation in Iran 1800-1929 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017).
Palsetia, Jesse S., The Parsis of India: Preservation of Identity in Bombay City (Leiden: Brill, 2001). 
——–Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy of Bombay: Partnership and Public Culture in Empire (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015).
Purdom, Charles, The Perfect Master: The Life of Shri Meher Baba (London: Williams and Norgate, 1937).
———The God-Man (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964).
Ringer, Monica M., Pious Citizens: Reforming Zoroastrianism in India and Iran (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2011).
Sanasarian, Eliz, Religious Minorities in Iran (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., From Oppression to Freedom: A Study of the Kaivani Gnostics (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988a).
———Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988b).
———Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005).
———Hazrat Babajan: A Pathan Sufi of Poona (New Delhi: Sterling, 2014).
 
Kevin R. D. Shepherd

ENTRY no. 73 

Copyright © 2017 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Meher Baba Supplement

By | Hazrat Babajan, Lord Meher, Meher Baba, Paul Brunton, Sheriar Mundegar Irani, Sufism Reoriented
Meher Baba, 1950
The subject of Meher Baba (1894-1969) has dimensions that are frequently missing in standard portrayals. The factor of Zoroastrian background is relevant. However, Meher Baba did not teach Zoroastrian doctrines. This matter has caused confusion, leading some people to mistakenly believe that he taught Hinduism.
His ancestors came from the Yazd plain in Central Iran, a region notable for one of the two surviving Zoroastrian populations in that country. The Zoroastrian minority in Iran were afflicted by stigmas imposed by Shia Islam. Many Irani Zoroastrians chose to emigrate. The father of Meher Baba, namely Sheriar Mundegar Irani (1853-1932), was initially trained as a salar, or custodian of a local tower of silence (a burial place). Sheriar emigrated to India, eventually settling at Poona (Pune), where he gained literacy in Arabic and Persian (and reputedly Hebrew). His son Merwan Irani (Meher Baba) was born at Poona.
When he was nineteen, Merwan became a follower of Hazrat Babajan (d.1931). This Pathan matriarch lived under a tree at Poona (Shepherd 2014). The faqir Babajan exerted a strong influence upon the young Irani, who became inwardly absorbed and oblivious to his surroundings. Orthodox Zoroastrians were averse to Babajan, because she was a Muslim. These critics regarded Merwan’s unconventional and neutral tangent as aberrant.
The introversion of Merwan Irani underwent an adjustment at the hands of Upasani Maharaj (d.1941), a Hindu disciple of Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918). Merwan eventually normalised, and gained his own following, who called him Meher Baba. He was regarded by orthodox Zoroastrians as a heretic. However, many Irani and Parsi Zoroastrians became his followers, along with Hindus and Muslims.
Meher Baba created an ashram at a desolate site becoming known as Meherabad, situated a few miles south of Ahmednagar, a city in the Maharashtra territory. In 1925 he commenced silence, one of his major distinguishing characteristics. There was no vow involved; he merely continued his silence year by year. For communication purposes, he resorted to the use of an alphabet board, featuring letters of the English language.
His ashram contingent became known as mandali, many of them Zoroastrians. They wore ordinary clothes, and did not resemble the staff of Hindu ashrams. Meher Baba was opposed to caste distinctions, and supported the untouchables (harijans). He generally restricted facilities for darshan, meaning public audience, which he evidently regarded as an interruption. There should be no confusions with some well known Hindu gurus, who tended to favour daily darshan and a considerable number of attendees.
Opposition to Meher Baba, from orthodox Zoroastrians, was strong during the 1920s. They did not actually know what he taught. His discourses to devotees were privately recorded, and not publicly available. He is on record as referring to Zarathushtra (Zoroaster), but not in the conventional religious sense. Some analysts have described his teaching as eclectic. However, adequate analysis has scarcely begun.
In the late 1920s, Meher Baba conducted a school for boys known as Meher Ashram. The inmates included Hindus, Muslims, and Zoroastrians. In 1929, he undertook a visit to Iran. Some acclaim occurred at Yazd, where he was welcomed by both Shia Muslims and local Zoroastrians. Despite the enthusiasm in evidence, Meher Baba declined to meet the Shah of Iran, and ended his tour with a renewed incognito policy (Shepherd 2005:116-120).
In 1931, he commenced a series of visits to Europe and America, ending in 1937. In 1932, some of his British devotees desired publicity for his arrival in London. He consented to their request, briefly appearing on a Pathe newsreel with Charles Purdom. His first visit to England (the previous year) had been conducted without publicity. He resumed his standard incognito approach after the “world tour” in 1932. Meher Baba evidently did not desire public profile. Numerous private photographs attest the incognito tendency of this Irani mystic. He frequently wore a Western suit; contemporary European headgear concealed his long hair.
The major critic of Meher Baba was a British occultist with a disposition for Yoga. Paul Brunton (d.1981) gained commercial status with a popular book entitled A Search in Secret India (1934). Some contents of this narrative do not withstand critical examination, and are very misleading. Brunton gives a distorted and partial version of some events in 1930-31. He subsequently encountered Charles Purdom (d.1965), a major British supporter of the Irani. Purdom relates how Brunton complained to him that Meher Baba could not perform a requested miracle, and therefore Baba was a fraud (Purdom 1964:128,440). Brunton’s publisher eventually advertised his identity in terms of Dr. Paul Brunton. This credential also proved misleading, in view of strong associations with a correspondence course. The critique of Brunton by Dr. Jeffrey Masson is revealing (Masson 1993).
A new project in 1936 was the Rahuri ashram for the mad. This activity underlines the philanthropic dimension of Meher Baba’s outlook. He personally ministered to the mad, and other inmates, of this unusual ashram (Donkin 1948:95-104). One of his daily tasks was “to scour the ashram latrine” (ibid:96), an accomplishment seldom found amongst gurus. In subsequent years, he created seven temporary centres which have been called “mast ashrams” (ibid:105-149). These phenomena have no known relation to any aspect of the Hindu ashram tradition.
During the Second World War, and also later years, Meher Baba was active in a distinctive undertaking known as “mast work.” The masts were Indian saints and related examples of a “God-intoxicated” category. Meher Baba sought out many of these entities (both Muslims and Hindus) in arduous journeys undertaken throughout India. He was assisted by Baidul Irani and other Zoroastrian mandali. The commitment is notable for a complete absence of publicity. There is no known counterpart of this activity in the careers of Hindu gurus. The mast work was reliably documented by a British medical doctor (Donkin 1948), who became one of the mandali.
The subsequent New Life phase has often caused perplexity. Commencing in 1949, Meher Baba described this phase in terms of a “new life of complete renunciation and absolute hopelessness.” The New Life opened with his injunction that “no one should try to see Baba or his companions for any reason whatsoever, as Baba will not see anyone of them, nor allow his companions to do so” (open communication via Adi K. Irani dated October 1949). This was another incognito exercise.
A further development has been the subject of misunderstandings. In 1952, Meher Baba applied his signature to a Charter for the American organisation known as Sufism Reoriented. The leader of that contingent was Murshida Ivy O. Duce, who became his devotee. Meher Baba did not compose the Charter, but checked the contents and made suggestions. At this period, he made clear that his approach was neutral to all religions, and that contact with him could be made independently of all “isms.”
Murshida Duce claimed that Meher Baba promised, for Sufism Reoriented, a perpetual series of illumined murshids for centuries to come (Duce 1975:123). This extravagance was strongly contradicted by her dissident colleague Don Stevens, who soberly emphasised that Meher Baba never made any such promise.
During the early 1950s, the Irani mystic gained many new Hindu devotees in Hamirpur and Andhra. He undertook darshan tours in both of those regions; he had formerly declined repeated requests, made since 1947, to visit Andhra.  During a darshan tour in 1954, for the first time he publicly affirmed his role as “avatar of the age.” This avatar identity is the most controversial aspect of his career. Meher Baba had made private references to such a role in former years. “He was well aware that avatars are as common as mud in India, and was known to remark that they exist in every other village. To the best of my knowledge, a Zoroastrian avatar on Indian soil is unique” (Shepherd 1988:50).
Meher Baba suffered two motor accidents, in 1952 and 1956. He himself did not drive a car. The second accident left him with an injured hip that affected his walking ability. His last years were spent in retirement at Meherazad, his second ashram near Ahmednagar. There was a more convivial extension each summer at the venue known as Guruprasad, in Poona. Visiting devotees generally went to Poona, attending sahavas programmes which Baba at times permitted.
Extant films reveal situations at Meherazad and Poona. The most significant film has a soundtrack, and dates to 1967. This is the Gasteren footage Beyond Words. Meher Baba is here shown bathing lepers at Meherazad, and also reiterating his well known warning against the use of drugs. In his various messages, LSD and cannabis were both targeted as harmful distractions.
Hindu gurus were not noted for imparting any such message. Some observers say that the Hindu perspective on drug issues was compromised by a widespread usage of cannabis amongst the sadhu population in India. Whatever the case here, Meher Baba did not hestitate to criticise the psychedelic holy men, whose tendencies he described in terms of a recurring (or perennial) problem.
Meher Baba died in January 1969 at Meherazad, while suffering severe muscular spasms. His condition was a source of puzzlement to medical doctors in attendance. The medics said that he should have been in a coma, but he showed no sign of mental disturbance. His body was buried on Meherabad Hill, where a tomb had been constructed many years before.
After his death, the surviving mandali presided at the ashrams of Meherabad and Meherazad. The chief spokesmen were Adi K. Irani (d.1980) and Eruch B. Jessawala (d.2001). In 1980, a disagreement arose between Eruch and Sufism Reoriented. Eruch agitated against the new Murshid of that organisation, namely James Mackie (d.2001), whom Ivy Duce had appointed as her successor. For several years during the 1980s, and in reaction to mandali critique, the supporters of Mackie stopped visiting the ashrams and the tomb of Meher Baba.
The mandali are now extinct. Some devotees refer to the current phase in terms of “post mandali” events. Eruch and his colleagues certainly did exercise a strong influence upon devotees at large. Mandali views were frequently represented as authoritative.
The sources on Meher Baba are many and varied. Considerable diligence is now required in tracking all the documentation. The present author contributed the first critical bibliography some thirty years ago (Shepherd 1988:248-297). By far the longest work available is Lord Meher (Meher Prabhu), a multi-volume biography. That celebration is commonly attributed to Bhau Kalchuri, of the mandali. However, Kalchuri was only one of the authors/compilers at work in this project. A number of errors can be found in the Reiter edition, partly arising from the translation efforts involved.

Bibliography:

Brunton, Paul, A Search in Secret India (London: Rider, 1934).
Deitrick, Ira G., ed., Ramjoo’s Diaries 1922-1929 (Walnut Creek, CA: Sufism Reoriented, 1979).
Donkin, William, The Wayfarers: An Account of the Work of Meher Baba with the God-intoxicated, and also with Advanced Souls, Sadhus, and the Poor (Ahmednagar: Adi K. Irani, 1948).
Duce, Ivy Oneita, How a Master Works (Walnut Creek, CA: Sufism Reoriented, 1975).
Jessawala, Eruch, That’s How It Was: Stories of Life with Meher Baba (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 1995).
Kalchuri, Bhau, Feram Workingboxwala, David Fenster et al, Lord Meher (20 vols, Reiter edn 1986-2001).
Masson, Jeffrey, My Father’s Guru (London: HarperCollins, 1993).
Natu, Bal, Glimpses of the God-Man, Meher Baba (6 vols, various publishers, 1977-94).
Parks, Ward, ed., Meher Baba’s Early Messages to the West: The 1932-1935 Western Tours (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 2009).
Purdom, Charles B., The Perfect Master: The Life of Shri Meher Baba (London: Williams and Norgate, 1937).
———-The God-Man: The life, journeys, and work of Meher Baba with an interpretation of his silence and spiritual teaching (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988).
———-Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005).
———-Hazrat Babajan: A Pathan Sufi of Poona (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2014).
Stevens, Don E., ed., Listen Humanity (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1957).

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

ENTRY no. 72

Copyright © 2017 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

The Sai Baba Movement

By | Basava Premanand, Meher Baba, Sathya Sai Baba Controversy, Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj
Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj, Meher Baba, Sathya Sai Baba
A phrase that has become fairly well known is not in general duly analysed. This phrase, namely the “Sai Baba movement,” has caused much confusion and misconception. Ignorance of the matter is so pronounced that a Wikipedia editor attributed the origin of this phrase to myself. In reality, I merely wrote a book whose title included the phrase under discussion, over thirty years after the phrase first appeared.
The category “Sai Baba movement” was innovated in the early 1970s by Charles White, an American academic who wrote an article on this subject that can be strongly faulted. White associated two Indian celebrities who had the same name; the resulting confusion became accepted by some academics as a legitimate argument for viewing various events in terms of a “Sai Baba movement.”
Twenty years later, the misconception had developed to the stage where a leading American university press published a book with a rather explicit statement on the paperback cover. The State University of New York Press declared that “a vast and diversified religious movement originating from Sai Baba of Shirdi, is often referred to as ‘the Sai Baba movement.’ ” This statement supported the contents of a book by Dr. Antonio Rigopoulos about Sai Baba of Shirdi (d.1918).
Rigopoulos was clearly in support of the “Sai Baba movement” formulation devised by White. Both White and Rigopoulos were partisans of Sathya Sai Baba (d.2011), and evidently wished to support that guru’s lavish claim to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai.
Sathya Sai Baba, of Puttaparthi, created an elaborate avataric hagiology that included Shirdi Sai Baba. Sathya Sai categorically claimed to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai, and was believed to be an avatar by his followers. However, the claim was elsewhere strongly resisted by followers of Shirdi Sai. The claim was regarded by them as an opportunist fiction.

One of the more well known instances of disagreement occurred when, in 2006, devotees of Shirdi Sai filed an objection in the court at Rahata (near Shirdi), requesting a permanent injunction on claims made by devotees of Sathya Sai that the latter is a reincarnation. Also at issue here was Sathya Sai lore about the birth of Shirdi Sai, including the purported identity of his mother (Mumbai Mirror, 11/01/2006). 
The present writer provided biographical and other materials in the book Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (2005). This volume is annotated and indexed. I covered the three major figures in Maharashtra who were incorporated by Rigopoulos into the “Sai Baba movement” scenario. I am referring to Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani (Upasni) Maharaj (d.1941), and Meher Baba (d.1969).
On the basis of the actual data available, these three entities do not emerge as part of a conglomerate movement. Rather, each of these mystics created a distinct movement or following in their own name. However, this trio were strongly interconnected, in that they met each other. Moreover, Upasani was the disciple of Shirdi Sai, and Meher Baba was the disciple of Upasani. In contrast, Sathya Sai did not meet any of these three saints, and lived in a different region of India.
Sathya Sai Baba of Andhra is viewed by some partisans as the culmination of events in Maharashtra. Critics affirm that this theme encounters a difficulty in sustaining credence. The partisan idea is supported by belief in the reincarnation claim of Sathya Sai, not by any facts of continuum. What we are actually confronted with is the spectacle of four separate movements, the one based in Andhra having no effective or close resemblance to the movements originating in Maharashtra.
When the biographical details are investigated, there may be strong reason to doubt the legitimacy of a reincarnation claim. The ascetic lifestyle of Shirdi Sai features pronounced differences to that of his namesake. Sathya Sai adopted the name of the Shirdi saint in the early 1940s, gaining much popularity as a consequence.
My book included three appendices reporting the disillusionment of Western ex-devotees of Sathya Sai Baba. I also made reference to the leading Indian critic of Sathya Sai, namely Basava Premanand (d.2009), of Indian Rationalist fame (who composed a lengthy book on the notorious bedroom murders at Puttaparthi ashram in 1993).
A scholar who wrote an account of Shirdi Sai, in a Sufi context, was a follower of Sathya Sai until 2000. Afterwards, Dr. Marianne Warren (d.2004) became an ex-devotee in relation to the Andhra guru, being greatly disillusioned by increasing reports of dubious behaviour at Puttaparthi ashram. 
In 2006, Investigating the Sai Baba Movement was favourably cited in a Wikipedia article about an academic ex-devotee of Sathya Sai. This was Robert Priddy, whose report I had included in my book. The online citation was strongly resisted by a Wikipedia editor, who transpired to be an American apologist for the Sathya Sai movement. SSS108 (alias Gerald Joe Moreno) pressed for deletion of the Priddy article, and also produced a Wikipedia User page dismissing the validity of all my books. It became obvious that Moreno had not read these books, but was instead reacting from a sectarian stance, involving a strong antipathy towards ex-devotees and anyone who favourably mentioned them. The Moreno internet campaign of defamation lasted until 2010. 
Research into the “movement,” or rather movements (in the plural), is not so easily to be eliminated by ideological conveniences preferred by “crowdsourcing” (to borrow a description of Wikipedia process favoured by academic affiliates of the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy).
In another camp, some Western devotees of Meher Baba, acting as editors on Wikipedia, refused to acknowledge the relevance of Investigating the Sai Baba Movement. They had evidently not read the book; they only knew of the title. One of them mistakenly insinuated that I had coined the phrase “Sai Baba movement.” Until such denominational antipathies and errors of judgment are improved, Wikipedia and other internet media are likely to remain afflicted by misinformation. The suppression of relevant reports, on whatsoever pretext, is no effective substitute for due evaluation. 
Some partisans of Sathya Sai Baba refer to the “Sathya Sai movement.” This is quite a different idiom, and equivalent to “Meher Baba movement” or “Shirdi Sai movement.” Identification of these trends in terms of separate movements is surely preferable to the umbrella phrase “Sai Baba movement,” which has logical difficulties of exegesis. See further Sai Baba Movement at Issue.
Misconceptions are evident, even in some academic books, about the actions of Shirdi Sai. For instance:  
Many were suspicious of his claims… but he [Sathya Sai] reportedly substantiated his claims with miraculous acts. For example, Sathya Sai Baba, as he had come to be known, regularly materialised healing vibhuti, sacred ash which devotees imbibe and/or apply to their foreheads. These materialisations established Sathya Sai Baba’s connection to Shirdi Sai Baba, who had also materialised vibhuti for his followers. (Srinivas 2010:9, and citing Srinivas 2008) 
Such statements attest a pronounced confusion about the supposed similarity between Shirdi Sai and Sathya Sai. In reality, the Shirdi saint did not materialise sacred ash, and nor did he claim to do so. Instead, Shirdi Sai merely took ash from his dhuni fire, located inside the mosque where he lived (Shepherd 2015:398-399 note 730). In contrast, Sathya Sai claimed to miraculously materialise ash from thin air. Indian critics like Basava Premanand have described the action of Sathya Sai in terms of sleight of hand, a perspective which differs radically from the devotee version. 
One interpretation has emphasised the term avatar in terms of an advantage for the Sathya Sai movement. This is not agreed upon by all parties. An academic review states:

Whereas Shirdi Sai Baba mixed elements of a Sufi faqir, Hindu guru, and devotional sant, Sathya Sai Baba consistently adopts the term avatar, a divine being who descends from above at a time when truth and righteousness are threatened. [Smriti] Srinivas proceeds to argue that his identification as an avatar increases Sathya Sai Baba’s scope of travel and creates a greater capacity to reach devotees, in contrast with an identification as a faqir, guru, or sant. (Loar 2009:1)

Some discrepancies are discernible. The conception of Shirdi Sai as a devotional sant is misleading.  The Shirdi saint has been depicted as both a Sufi faqir and a Hindu guru, but a substantial number of portrayals limit the attention to detail that is possible in this instance. 

The claim of Sathya Sai to avataric status does not establish any priority in communication over Shirdi Sai in relation to devotee followings. The guru of Puttaparthi contributed a lavish puranic mythology of Shirdi Sai, this development assisting a general tendency to marginalise Sufi dimensions of the latter. The overall consequence of this preference was to obscure contextual data relating to the Shirdi saint, who furthered an eclectic approach to Sufism and Hinduism.

Bibliography:

Loar, Jonathan, review of Smriti Srinivas, In the Presence of Sai Baba, in Practical Matters: A Journal of Religious Practices and Practical Theology (2009, Issue 2, 1-3).
Premanand, Basava, Murders in Sai Baba’s Bedroom (Podanur, Tamil Nadu: B. Premanand, n.d., but 2001). 
Rigopoulos, Antonio, The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
Srinivas, Smriti, In the Presence of Sai Baba: Body, City, and Memory in a Global Religious Movement  (Leiden: Brill, 2008). 
Srinivas, Tulasi, Winged Faith: Rethinking Globalization and Religious Pluralism Through the Sathya Sai Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999; new edn, 2004). 
White, Charles S. J., “The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of Indian Saints,” Journal of Asian Studies (1972) 31:863-878. 
Kevin R. D. Shepherd 
ENTRY no. 68
Copyright © 2016 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Shirdi Sai Baba

By | B. V. Narasimhaswami, Hinduisation, Meher Baba, Shri Sai Satcharita, Upasani Maharaj, Urdu Notebook of Abdul Baba
Shirdi Sai Baba
The faqir known as Sai Baba (d.1918) lived in an obscure mosque at Shirdi, a village in Maharashtra. His precise date of birth is not known. His early life is difficult to reconstruct, although his last years were reported in far more detail. 
The sources contain much data about numerous devotees, involving a majority of Hindus, some Muslims, and a number of Zoroastrians. One of the Hindus was Govind R. Dabholkar, who composed the Marathi work Shri Sai Satcharita, a verse epic commemorating Shirdi Sai Baba (to be distinguished from Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi). Dabholkar’s commentary is both devotional and philosophical. Hagiographical elements here attend a coverage of episodes reflecting a factual content. One drawback is the lack of chronology.
The earliest years of Shirdi Sai are associated with the Aurangabad region, part of the territory ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad. A popular version of his birth emphasises the village of Pathri. A less well known legend concerning Jerusalem also developed. His arrival in Shirdi has been awarded different dates by major commentators, varying from the 1850s to the period 1868-1872. Dabholkar is associated with the earlier dating. 
Shirdi Sai emerged as a rigorous ascetic committed to a daily begging round. He was initially aloof from the villagers, and became widely regarded as a Muslim faqir. This identity was attested by his attire, and also his habit of speaking in Deccani Urdu. He is reported to have frequently uttered Islamic phrases such as Allah Malik (God is the Owner/Ruler). His Sufi background has been the subject of different interpretations. In contrast, he is often presented as a Hindu, or as a person with no distinct religious background. Complexities of reporting are often ignored. The theme of Hinduisation was emphasised by Dr. Marianne Warren, who complained at the obscurity befalling Sufi components in popular accounts. 
An early Muslim devotee, Abdul Baba, composed in Urdu a Notebook preserving statements and reflections of Shirdi Sai. A due English translation of this document did not appear until 1999 (Warren 1999), over eighty years after the death of Sai Baba. The Notebook reveals a pronounced familiarity with Islamic and Sufi traditions. There is also a significant eclectic disposition represented, one that sought to reconcile the Hindu and Muslim religious temperaments.
An important event, plausibly dated to 1894, involved the confrontation of Sai Baba with a party of local Muslim militants who sought support from the Qazi of Sangamner. Tambuli and others were annoyed by the appearance at the mosque of Hindu worship, as cultivated by the devotee Mhalsapati, who made Sai Baba the object of his improvised puja. The sources relate that the Shirdi faqir supported Mhalsapati against the vengeful opponents.
A prominent source is B. V. Narasimhaswami. This ascetic did not himself meet Sai Baba, but appeared at Shirdi in the 1930s. He contributed much valuable data, and also his own interpretations. Certain discrepancies have caused confusion (especially his criticism of Upasani Maharaj). The major work of Narasimhaswami is entitled Life of Sai Baba. Much depends upon the accuracy of his observations, and also the discernment of opinion and hagiography as distinct from fact (cf. Shepherd 2015:328-337). This is a different kind of coverage to that of Dabholkar, and was written in English. Narasimhaswami also produced related works, including Charters and Sayings, an edited contribution which both merits and requires close analysis (e.g., Shepherd 2015:300-303).
During his last years, Sai Baba became noted for allusive speech. This characteristic has tended to give him a repute for enigma and symbolism. In contrast, a number of his statements were markedly forthright, and of an ethical complexion. Some witnesses remarked upon the relative absence of metaphysical themes in his delivery, especially those associated with Vedanta.
From about 1910, a large influx of urban devotees arrived at Shirdi. These were predominantly Hindus from Bombay (Mumbai) and other areas. A few became resident devotees, while many others became regular visitors. The general situation changed as a consequence.
The faqir now introduced his distinctive habit of requesting dakshina, meaning donations, from the affluent. He would not ask all the visitors for a gift, and could stipulate varying amounts. Whatever cash he received was daily redistributed amongst ascetics, poor people, and diverse retainers and villagers. By nightfall he had no money left in his possession. This situation meant that he had no money or assets when he died. To the last, he retained his simple lifestyle of a begging faqir
Some outsiders and critics could not understand his ways. By caste standards, Shirdi Sai was eccentric, not adhering to conventional taboos, instead welcoming untouchables and even lepers. One of his well known devotees at Shirdi, namely Bhagoji Shinde, was a leper. 
His tactics included reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims. His reported statements are free of religious bias. His universalism extended to Zoroastrians, Christians, and Sikhs.
A feature of his last years at Shirdi was the procession known as chavadi utsav. Sai Baba consented to this development at the imploring request of devotees, but he refused to sit in the palanquin they gifted him with. The utsav is sometimes compared with Vaishnava celebrations at Pandharpur; Shirdi Sai himself had nothing to do with that major pilgrimage site in Maharashtra. He did not advocate any particular form of worship, and remained neutral in this respect. 
Shirdi Sai gained attention from eminent individuals like Balasaheb Bhate. Originally a materialist sceptic, Bhate became a devotee of the distinctive faqir. Like a number of other followers, Bhate was a revenue official, a role which he renounced in 1909 after meeting Sai Baba.
More well known celebrities were Ganesh Khaparde (1854-1938) and Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920). These politicians both visited Shirdi, although Khaparde had a more intimate link with the faqir. The Shirdi Diary of Khaparde records his numerous encounters with Sai Baba during a sojourn in 1911-12. The saint exhibited various moods reported by the diarist.
Another entity who visited Shirdi was Merwan S. Irani, a Zoroastrian later to become known as Meher Baba (1894-1969). His initial encounter with Sai Baba, in 1915, is evocative (Shepherd 2015:270-271). In later years, Meher Baba expressed a high estimation of the Shirdi faqir.
A very unusual disciple of Sai Baba was Upasani Maharaj (1870-1941), an Ayurvedic physician who arrived at Shirdi in 1911. Upasani became a distinctive ascetic, later establishing his own ashram at nearby Sakori.
The wealthy devotee Gopalrao Buti constructed at Shirdi a spacious private home known as Butiwada. This imposing building became the tomb of Sai Baba, now known as samadhi mandir. Through the efforts of Narasimhaswami and others, a nationwide following of Sai devotees resulted. Shirdi is a famous pilgrimage site, with large numbers of annual visitors reported.
Bibliography: 
Anand, Swami Sai Sharan, Shri Sai Baba, trans. V. B. Kher (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd, 1997).
Dabholkar, Govind R., Shri Sai Satcharita: The Life and Teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba, trans. Indira Kher (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999).
Kamath, M. V., and Kher, V. B., Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Unique Saint (Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1991). 
Khaparde, Ganesh S., Shirdi Diary of the Hon’ble Mr. G. S. Khaparde (n.d.; repr. Shirdi: Shri Sai Baba Sansthan, 1994).
Narasimhaswami, B. V., ed., Sri Sai Baba’s Charters and Sayings (Madras: All India Sai Samaj, 1942).
 
Narasimhaswami, B. V., Life of Sai Baba (4 vols, Mylapore, Chennai: All India Sai Samaj, 1955-6; first edn composite volume, 2002). 
Rigopoulos, Antonio, The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Gurus Rediscovered: Biographies of Sai Baba of Shirdi and Upasni Maharaj of Sakori (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1986).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
Vijayakumar, G. R., Shri Narasimha Swami: Apostle of Shirdi Sai Baba (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2009).
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999; new edn, 2004).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
ENTRY no. 67 
Copyright © 2016 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Meher Baba Update

By | Charles Purdom, Lord Meher, Meher Baba, Paul Brunton, Pete Townshend, Wikipedia
Meher Baba 1957
Errors of assessment are a common occurrence in the contemporary field of “new religious movements.” Such matters necessitate due information rather than hearsay and assumption. The historical angle is necessary with the subject of Meher Baba (1894-1969), as with other figureheads of well known religious movements. The alternative is lore.
A Meher Baba devotee inserted on Wikipedia a misleading version of events dating back to the 1960s. The errors were traced to the American branch of the Meher Baba movement, and more especially, to the Myrtle Beach Centre. The pronounced distortion has been refuted. The erroneous storyline is an example of what can happen when supporters of a movement have no adequate knowledge of events they purport to describe.
The Wikipedia lore interpreted a Hindu disciple of Meher Baba as being a rival “spiritual teacher” to the Irani mystic. No contextual information was supplied, only a variant of anecdotal calumny sustained for decades. The Hindu disciple and scientist was never a rival of Meher Baba, instead being a regular donor to the latter’s Meherazad ashram, located in Maharashtra.
The Hindu disciple lived for ten years in England at the instruction of Meher Baba. Possessing a degree in physics, this man worked as a salaried professional, and was able to send to India regular donations, amounting in total to thousands of pounds sterling. His level of commitment was very high, far more so than most other adherents of Meher Baba.
The experiences and viewpoint of this Hindu disciple are not without an interest of their own. However, obscuring biases of the Myrtle Beach Centre worked against any accurate knowledge of the subject. Instead of registering complaints and explanations provided in a lengthy document, the prestige Centre ignored the document and opted to impose an unofficial ban on a book about Meher Baba that was published in 1988. As a consequence of this censorship, the stories about a rival spiritual teacher continued. Nor was there any rectification of other serious errors involved in the misrepresentation.
The literature on cults is now prodigious. Two of the basic problems typical of “cults” are misrepresentation and suppression of relevant details. The American branch of the Meher Baba movement achieved both of these undesirable drawbacks. An extension of this muddle infiltrated Wikipedia, a web venue notorious for troll activity and other complications. The rather basic sectarian issue is obvious to a number of observers.
Pseudonymous Wikipedia supporters of Meher Baba were keen to elevate a lengthy work entitled Lord Meher, presenting this as reliable fact eclipsing any other version, and more especially, my own book Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal. In the troll presentation, an outsider book could only amount to deficient opinion as compared with the surpassing authenticity of a canonical work. Indeed, Meher Baba trolls were known to appear at different Wikipedia articles with the intention of removing non-canonical content. This action occurred even in an instance relating to transcription of antique Zoroastrian history (the Kaivan school), of which they knew nothing whatever. These people even disdained reference to a valid source in the canonical Meher Baba literature, preferring instead an inaccurate passage in Lord Meher.
My book included an unprecedented critique of the two major detractors of Meher Baba, primarily Paul Brunton. The latter’s book, A Search in Secret India, is still influential after eighty years of circulation. However, my critique (based on factual sources) was early ignored by the Myrtle Beach Centre, and many years later, was merely opinion according to troll assessment. The hostile party on Wikipedia was unintentionally validating the travesty of Brunton’s deviation. Trolls do not read books, but merely debunk them in convenient online graffiti of two or three lines, in this instance supporting ideology of the Meher Baba Centres about canonical works.
The storytelling of Paul Brunton was here effectively justified by the ideological reflex. I had proved that Brunton’s hostile report of Meher Baba was unreliable, a factor which serious readers recognised (including some Brunton partisans). However, my substantial critique of Brunton, in troll assessment,  amounted to the mere opinion of an outsider to the canon extolled by the Meher Baba movement. This episode cannot be disregarded, because the troll action was closely linked, via editorship, with the Meher Baba article on Wikipedia. 
The multi-volume Lord Meher has seldom been duly analysed. An extensive editorial process was involved. A relatively minor consideration is that Bhau Kalchuri was not the sole author of this work, despite the contrary impression conveyed for over thirty years by devotee media. The Reiter edition of twenty volumes, on all the title pages, presented Kalchuri as the sole author. Feram Workingboxwala was very unpopular, while the American editor and compiler David Fenster was in low profile for many years.
Lord Meher does not contain due information about the misrepresented Hindu disciple and donor who lived in England until 1964. This work is not comprehensive, despite the length. A number of passages in Lord Meher identify the followers of Meher Baba as “lovers.”
During the mid-1960s, I attended meetings of the London group of Meher Baba supporters. At that time, the subscribers did not refer to themselves as “lovers” of Meher Baba. This identity tag did not become prevalent until 1967, being favoured by the new generation of devotees associated with Pete Townshend and the American influx. The rather more conservative and vintage British devotees called themselves the “friends of Meher Baba.” Although Meher Baba himself used the mystical word “lover,” he did not stipulate that his followers should describe themselves in this manner.
Charles Purdom
A representative of the older trend was author Charles Purdom  (d.1965), a figure in reaction to some devotee tendencies. Purdom achieved a degree of objectivity that is comparatively rare in religious movements. It would not be fair to place him in the same category as the trolls and storytellers of the Meher Baba movement.
Purdom’s preface to his book The God-Man (1964) does not mention the word avatar. The author here says that he has done his best “to maintain the necessary degree of detachment of mind.” Compared with other partisan recommendations, the appraisal of Meher Baba by Charles Purdom is restrained:
I do not think one can find any parallel in modern times with the life of this simple, subtle, innocent, unpredictable, alarming and engrossing man. (Preface, unpaginated)
Over the years, I have found that devotionalism is a distorting factor in relation to the record of Meher Baba. For instance, the attendant dogmatic approach obliterated details of the abovementioned Hindu donor and certain other entities, including myself. I decline to be eliminated by the dogmatists, and will resist misinformation. Democracy is a farce at places like the Myrtle Beach Centre, where a process of suppression has been operative for many years.
My interest in Meher Baba applies to ascertaining historical dimensions of his biography, as distinct from the lore and confusion that is too frequently found. I have no interest in promoting exclusivist avatar themes, which evidently encourage some devotees to adopt a status profile as followers of Avatar Meher Baba. I have no interest in promoting “lover” clichés, these also being objectionable in acts of misrepresentation and suppression. The vaunted love can easily become hate campaign.
Pete Townshend
The phase of ascendancy achieved by Pete Townshend, during the 1970s, is perhaps instructive. That rock star became the focus of adulation for numerous new “Baba lovers” in different countries. He has since admitted the limitation of his self-appointed role as a leader and organiser within the Meher Baba movement. Townshend has been honest in a number of ways, a refreshing contrast with troll activities that presume an unassailable spokesmanship for Meher Baba.  Townshend’s own reflection, found at his website,  is relevant here:
What was clear to me in early 1980 was that I could no longer stand as any kind of public representative for Meher Baba with such recent alcohol and drug-abuse problems. Meher Baba Oceanic, the pilgrim centre I had run, had in any case slowed down to a crawl while I descended into self-obsession. Several of my employees there had gone through problems of their own, and some time in 1982 I impolitely sacked everyone. 
These references indicate serious problems. Townshend nearly killed himself on alcohol and drugs. Yet he had been exalted by many devotees even before he created, in 1976, the ill-fated centre known as Meher Baba Oceanic. Townshend was initially influenced by Purdom’s book The God-Man (1964), and describes the author as “an eminent British journalist of the Thirties” (Who I Am, p. 110). That is a contraction of identity, because Purdom was also a garden city pioneer and author, and still leading the London group of “friends” in 1965, only two years before the new wave appeared. Townshend and other “lovers” reversed the sober approach of Purdom into cliché, guitar music, and devotee poetry.
The new wave of “lovers” were frequently afflicted by proximity to the drug infraculture, so pervasive in Western countries since the 1960s. In America, many of them were content with such slogans as “Don’t worry be happy.” This theme comprised an acute reductionism, not reflecting Meher Baba’s rather distinctive metaphysical teaching. The happy lovers were averse to complexity.
An eccentric rune of the Townshend era was “Baba’s love game.” The rock star and his colleagues were viewed by their own camp as avant-garde representatives of the unique Avatar. Townshend acknowledged the American inspiration of Murshida Ivy Duce, leader of Sufism Reoriented. He was perhaps influenced more by Adi K. Irani (d.1980), the former secretary of Meher Baba, who had gained a limelight role as exegete of the Avataric cause. The love game ended with Townshend’s addiction to large quantities of brandy, accompanied by an afflicting ingestion of cocaine and heroin. His version of “Baba’s Umbrella” was not waterproof.
A major influence, upon the new wave of Baba lovers, were newsletters dating to the 1960s. These were composed by Mani, the sister of Meher Baba who lived at Meherazad ashram. Mani S. Irani (d.1996) favoured an influential vocabulary of “lovers” and the “Beloved.” The newsletters were regarded as canonical texts at Meher Baba Centres. However, a literary critic said that these writings were gushing and sentimental, not profound. Even some of the happy lovers were worrying that insufficient information about Meher Baba was being conveyed by Mani. They were puzzled to find frequent descriptions of secondary matters. Apologists excused Mani by saying that she was not allowed to describe more about Baba, who was in seclusion. Mani did relay messages from, and some details about, the figurehead, but there are distinct gaps in coverage.
Insofar as some basic events were concerned, the Mani “family letters” amounted to a detour. For instance, a more recent and lengthy account of 1960s events provided descriptions very different to those of Mani, including details of how Meher Baba strongly rebuked argumentative mandali, including Mani herself (Kalchuri Fenster 2009). The disparity is too revealing to ignore. Essential traits and methods of Meher Baba (silent since 1925) remained obscure, overlaid by preferences of the far more vocal lovers.
Bibliography:
Brunton, Paul, A Search in Secret India (London: Rider, 1934).
Irani, Mani S., 82 Family Letters (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Press, 1976).
B. Kalchuri, F. Workingboxwala, D. Fenster et al, Lord Meher (Reiter edn, 20 vols, 1986-2001).
Kalchuri Fenster, Sheela, Growing up with God (Ahmednagar: Meher Nazar, 2009).
Parks, Ward, ed., Meher Baba’s Early Messages to the West (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 2009).
Purdom, Charles B., Life Over Again (London: Dent, 1951).
——–The God-Man (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964).
Shepherd, K. R. D., Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988).
———Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005).
Townshend, Pete, Who I Am (London: HarperCollins, 2012).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
ENTRY no. 66
Copyright © 2015 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Hazrat Babajan

By | Majzub, Meher Baba, Pathan Faqir, Paul Brunton, Poona Cantonment
Hazrat Babajan
Hazrat Babajan (d.1931) was born in the Afghan territories at an unknown date. A Pathan, and a Sunni Muslim, she spoke Pashtu, Persian, and Urdu. Her early life transited from the purdah of an aristocratic milieu to the renunciate career of a faqir. Babajan lived in the Punjab for many years, and was reputedly buried alive by fundamentalists who objected to her ecstatic utterances, and also to her public focus as a saint who received worship from local Hindu people.
Obscure journeys brought her south to Bombay, from where she undertook a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca in 1903. When Babajan arrived back in India, she moved to Poona, a centre of the British Raj, where a military cantonment existed. She settled in Poona (Pune) by 1905.
Babajan at first lived as a street mendicant in Poona, afterwards staying near a mosque in the suburb of Rasta Peth. Here formed a nucleus of Muslim devotees. The vicinity of the mosque became crowded with her visitors, and eventually she moved on. By circa 1910, she settled permanently at a neem tree in Char Bawdi (Bavadi), on the outskirts of the cantonment.
She demonstrated a rigorous faqir lifestyle, refusing to keep money or other gifts, and declining to acquire possessions or live in comfort. She lived under the tree, sitting on the bare ground, exposed to all weathers. She would only consent to a simple awning made of gunny (sack) cloth. Unlike many other faqirs, Babajan was not an exhibitionist. She did not perform ascetic stunts and dressed in simple attire. Although she is associated with a Sufi outlook, Babajan was not a member of any Sufi order, and did not teach any doctrine.

Persons in this independent category (from official Sufism) were often called majzub. This Persian word generally signified God-absorption. Many different temperaments were represented; in this respect, the label of majzub is very much a blanket term.

The environment at Char Bawdi was initially semi-rural, the adjacent slum area featuring ramshackle buildings. Babajan’s presence strongly contributed to a major upgrading of the locale, which became increasingly urbanised. Motor traffic intensified after the First World War of 1914-18. This was a welcome development to the cantonment authorities. Babajan was the major focus of attention in the area, gaining hundreds of devotees by 1920. The British did not understand why a homeless faqir gained so much esteem.
Amongst the early Muslim visitors were Pathan soldiers (sepoys) from the cantonment barracks. They became her devotees, and acted as bodyguards, providing protection against the intrusion of drunkards and thieves, who at first congregated after nightfall in Char Bawdi. The interlopers soon dispersed. The soldiers became greatly outnumbered by civilian devotees.
The inter-religious nature of Babajan’s following is notable. The majority were Muslims, but Zoroastrians and Hindus were also in evidence. Conservative Zoroastrians were disapproving of any departure from religious orthodoxy, and similarly, some Muslims were also insular. These hostile attitudes lost strength with the passing of time. The most famous of the Zoroastrian contacts was Meher Baba (1894-1969), who first met Babajan in 1913, later forging an independent career in the Ahmednagar zone.
In the early 1920s, Babajan’s exposure to the weather was a matter of concern to devotees. They decided that a proper shelter must be constructed for her at the neem tree. The British at first resisted this incentive. The cantonment authorities wanted to move the faqir elsewhere, as her assemblies were tending to obstruct the traffic on an increasingly busy road. However, eventually the Cantonment Board reconsidered the matter; they conceded a new shelter at Raj expense. A drawback was that Babajan herself proved reluctant to accept the modification of her faqir lifestyle, and had to be persuaded to do so by devotees.
Despite her age, Babajan remained healthy. Her basic fitness was demonstrated in brisk walks that occurred frequently until her last years; sometimes she walked for miles across Poona. She disliked medicaments and drugs, which she avoided. Her diet was simple, including tea she was frequently offered. When devotees plied her with too much tea, she would give this away, as she did with everything else. Redistribution was a basic habit of hers, as distinct from hoarding.
From about 1926, she was chauffeured in a motor car around the city (but often used a tonga or horse cab). In April 1928 she travelled outside Poona for the first time since she had arrived there. On that occasion, Babajan made an unexpected journey by car to Meherabad, the distant ashram of Meher Baba situated near Ahmednagar. No publicity was involved. Babajan afterwards repeated her visit (Shepherd, A Pathan Sufi of Poona, 2014, pp. 89-90).
Such details are lacking in the well known book by British writer Paul Brunton entitled A Search in Secret India (1934). This provides a brief depiction of Babajan that is to some extent misleading (Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, p. 148; Shepherd, A Pathan Sufi of Poona, pp. 91-3, 94). Brunton did state that “some deep psychological attainment really resides in the depths of her being” (Secret India, p. 64). However, Brunton proved a disconcerting ability to misrepresent in his description of Meher Baba’s physiognomy. His account of that “messiah” entity is unreliable. Brunton later became known as a plagiarist of the Advaita Vedanta exponent Ramana Maharshi

The ashram of Ramana Maharshi eventually turned against Brunton, despite the latter’s celebration of the former in Secret India. In a later book, The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga (1941), Brunton criticised Ramana as a self-absorbed mystic, and also defensively asserted that he had already known about meditation and yoga before encountering Ramana. He subsequently resorted to the spurious academic credential of Dr. Paul Brunton, which is no proof of authority (the credential was derived from a correspondence course). 

Hazrat Babajan had no doctrine anyone could steal. Her form of indirect tuition was concealed in asides to visitors and expressed in different languages. She sidestepped both Vedanta and institutional Sufism, neither of those traditions being favourable to women. 

The commercial Secret India of Brunton was not the best guide to that country. The traveller briefly met Babajan in 1930, but needed an interpreter. Brunton’s commentary posed the theme of “a genuine faqueer [sic] with wondrous powers” (Secret India, p. 64).  He desired to find evidence of powers, which are considered a distraction by other parties.
Babajan did not claim powers. The only claim discernible is represented by her obscure ecstatic utterances implying an identity with the divine (A Pathan Sufi of Poona, pp. 41-2). Such utterances, associated with her early years at Poona, were not in general well understood. Instead, some devotees chose to emphasise “miracles” that were attributed to her. The indications are that devotees and other visitors varied greatly in their assessment of events. 
At the time of Babajan’s death, the press reported some popular beliefs: “It is claimed that she was 125 years of age, and the possessor of magical powers in addition to her powers of sight into the future” (“Poona’s Homage to Famous Muslim Woman Saint,” The Evening News of India, September 23rd, 1931). The historian can reckon more easily with the fact that her funeral was attended by thousands of Muslims and Hindus, and on a scale not formerly known in Poona. An extant newspaper photograph confirms the large number of people attending the procession of her coffin.
The shrine of Hazrat Babajan was constructed by Muslims at the neem tree in Char Bawdi, and has since been rebuilt, with Chishti Sufi associations attendant upon the annual celebrations. 
Bibliography: Paul Brunton, A Search in Secret India (London, 1934); Abdul Ghani, “Hazrat Babajan of Poona” (Meher Baba Journal, 1939); Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher Vol. 1 (Myrtle Beach SC, 1986); C. B. Purdom, The Perfect Master (London, 1937); Shepherd, A Sufi Matriarch: Hazrat Babajan (Cambridge, 1986); Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge, 1988); Shepherd, Hazrat Babajan: A Pathan Sufi of Poona (New Delhi, 2014). See further my article bibliography.
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
ENTRY no. 59 
Copyright © 2014 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Pete Townshend

By | Meher Baba, Meher Baba Oceanic, The Who, Who I Am
The recent autobiography of Pete Townshend (born 1945) is entitled Who I Am, and has aroused diverse assessments, including my own contribution. Townshend was guitarist and songwriter for The Who, and became known for an affiliation to the Eastern mystic Meher Baba (1894-1969). A very obvious discrepancy is that religious sympathies did not mix too well with the career of a rock star, in this instance featuring a long term alcohol problem and a susceptibility to hard drugs during the years 1980-81.
The British rock group known as The Who emerged in the mid-1960s, eventually becoming superstars in America. They were icons of the Woodstock Festival at Bethel in 1969, an entrepreneurial event celebrated in a well known film. Ironically, Pete Townshend did not approve of the hippy venue, which he described as a mudbath laced with LSD. The previous year, he had declared himself to be a follower of Meher Baba, who was strongly opposed to LSD and other drugs. Townshend ceased his intake of marijuana (cannabis), and did not revert to LSD.
The stage performance of Townshend was noted for athletic leaps and the smashing of guitars. The “destruction art” was derived from his attendance at Ealing Art College and the questionable ideas of lecturer Gustav Metzger, who did however, disagree with Pete Townshend over the issue of a new commercial promotion. Townshend writes: “I was supposed to boycott the new commercial pop form itself” (Who I Am, p. 115). He also admits that “at a psychic level the Angry Yobbo, or hooligan, had seared himself into my soul” (p. 194). 
In 1970, by his own account, Townshend began to experience “regular manic-depressive episodes” (p. 210). His very questionable remedy for this setback was to drink alcohol. To such an extent, indeed, that he cultivated a habit of drinking brandy while performing on stage. His situation was surely not assisted by the activities of his fellow performers Keith Moon  and John Entwistle, both of whom were alcoholics who developed a partiality for cocaine. The ill-fated career of Moon ended in 1978, when that drummer overdosed with medication for his chronic alcoholism. 
Townshend was evidently upset by this development. “The incredibly charged emotions around Keith’s death made me lose all logic” (p. 309). He was suffering from impaired hearing, and had previously resolved not to tour again with The Who. Yet now he favoured a replacement drummer, and was keen to undertake concerts again in 1979. His alcoholism became evident. In 1980 his resistance failed when he was offered cocaine. A drastic two years of addiction followed, eventually including a resort to heroin. 
The effect on Townshend was catastrophic. At one point he came close to death in a Chelsea hospital. His reckless disorientation included the well known incident where he jumped a fence into the bear pits at Berne, Switzerland. “I could have been eaten alive” (p. 330). There were other dangers also. Medical doctors knew that he had to break the bad habit of night club attendance, the root of his troubles. He was told to take up physical exercise instead, or invite certain  death; he wobbled badly, and eventually had to seek help in California. A month of neuroelectric therapy switched off the addiction. However, anxiety attacks and psychological unravelling required five years of psychotherapy during the early 1980s. 
The rock star continued his musical career and also became an editor at the London publishing house of Faber. These events are well known; rather more obscure is the phase of Meher Baba Oceanic. This centre was established by Pete Townshend at Twickenham in 1976, and featured  facilities for  filming and recording. Something went wrong, and the project changed name to Oceanic, becoming a purely private enterprise relating to Townshend’s musical career. Different explanations were given by onlookers at the time. Some Meher Baba devotees implied that Townshend had lost interest in the figurehead as a result of his drug and alcohol excesses. This is contradicted by his own subsequent statements, which strongly indicate a continuing allegiance to Meher Baba. 
The available data suggests that Townshend was basically confused in his project of Meher Baba Oceanic. This conclusion is inescapable when reading a report written by his close friend Richard Barnes: 

He [Townshend] was constantly initiating new ideas and concepts, but in a few days or weeks his mind would have raced ahead to something new…. At first there were facilities for filming and editing, then it was video, then it was recording. Pete was like a rich kid with too many toys…. I was staggered at the stupidity of some of the people Pete had given key jobs. By mistake, the tape would be wiped off after a day’s recording session, or a video would be ruined because somebody forgot some vital function…. The incongruous combination of recording studio and Baba workshop under one roof was a typical, badly thought-out move by Pete. The whole place [Meher Baba Oceanic] seemed to be a reflection of his own confused state of mind at that time. (Quoted in Geoffrey Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes: A Life of Pete Townshend, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996, pp. 144-5) 

The most controversial event in the life of Pete Townshend occurred in 2003, when allegations surfaced on the media about his purported interest in child pornography on the internet. He denied these allegations, but some critics were persistent, including certain partisans of a rival guru to Meher Baba, who were eager to imply that Townshend’s conjectural role as a paedophile amounted to proof of Meher Baba being a deficient guide. Sectarian thinking often exhibits peculiarities. 
The autobiography Who I Am supplies details that negate the allegations (pp. 482ff.). The  home of the rock star was surrounded by reporters and camera crews intent upon a celebrity scoop. Townshend was taken to a police station, but released on bail. Forensic examination of his computers could not find any evidence to incriminate him. These and other matters are mentioned in Who I Am. The allegations may accordingly be set aside. 
Unless otherwise specified, all page references above are to Pete Townshend, Who I Am (London: HarperCollins, 2012). 


Kevin R. D. Shepherd 

ENTRY no. 51 

Copyright © 2013 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

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