Sri Purushotham R. Avaste, Poona a retired judge of Gwalior, is another devotee of Sai Baba whose great merit helped Sri B.V.N. Swami know about Baba and B.V.N.Swami became an instrument to spread Baba’s faith throughout India.
Sri Avaste was born in February 1870 in a fairly orthodox family and had very good and holy associations and contacts for nearly two decades. In his sixth year, he came in contact with Dev Mamlatdar, as he was known, that is, Sri Yeshwant Rao Basker, Mamlatdar of Satara and when that officer was transferred to Nasik, Sri Avaste’s father was also in Nasik. Young Purushotham had the opportunity of taking his darsan and receiving one guava fruit as prasad at his hands. Thereafter the young Avaste had many opportunities of taking his darsan and learning about his wonderful piety-piety that is said to have wrought miracles like that of Ramadas of Bhadrachalam.
This Dev Mamlatdar, being very charitable, helped a poor man to perform his son’s marriage and gave the funds out of treasury of which he was in charge, hoping to replace it in due course when he got the funds. This leaked out and somebody carried the report, and the Collector of the District paid a surprise visit and looked up the treasury and later tried to check the accounts with the cash balance. Dev Mamlatdar who knew nothing of it, was quietly carrying on his usual work at home including puja, learnt after all his puja and other things were over that the Collector looked up the accounts and checked the cash balance with it, and found that the two tallied. Dev then thanked his Ishtamurti for making up the deficit.
When Dev Mamlatdar retired, he was leading a very pious life, influencing the minds of old and young. Avaste was very impressed with him, especially between 1887-90, that is, between the ages of 17 and 20, when Dev Mamlatdar was at Nasik leading the life of a religious recluse.
Avaste and his father often visited him and derived considerable religious influence. This was a very important grounding. Soon after, in his college course, Avaste went on with his studies of John Stuart Mill and Spencer, and the prevailing scepticism and theism of the West easily captured his mind, and he became materialistic, combative and egoistic.
He wished to distinguish himself as a debater and a speaker, and wanted to earn lots of money. The old influence appeared to have left him.
Luckily however in 1889, when he was just 19, he got, in a street bazaar, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita for half an anna, and he carefully preserved it in his pocket, and it had become a habit with him to read the Gita every day during his leisure hours. This stood him in very good stead in later life. This atheistic period lasted for eight years from 1890 to 1898 when he was in the full flush of youth.
As Providence would have it, even in that period his atheism received some shocks, which were noteworthy. He picked up a stray leaf from the Srimad Bhagavata and read it. That contained stanza wherein fear is described as arising out of a sense of duality resulting from one going astray from God and getting caught up by Maya, which veils one’s view of God, and prevents one from uniting with God.
Another such opportune interference with his atheism was when he went to listen to the devotional songs of a very charming South Indian lady singing in Tamil or Telugu before the figure of Sri Ram, making gestures and referring to Mira Bai, Mukta Bai, Jnana Bai and others. Sri Avaste was always very sensitive and impressionable and this lady’s songs brought home to his mind the beauty and advantage of Bhakti.
A third such interference was when he indulged in hot discussions with his cousins about the existence of God, in which they appointed their maternal uncle Sri Bala Bima Thakurdas as the judge. The discussion went on endlessly, each hoping to beat down the other and convincing him about the correctness of his position.
Anyhow Sri Avaste met the umpire, who had a great belief in Kirtan and puranas, and asked him whether he truly and honestly believed that the saints were as great as they were represented to be and whether he could convince him of it. Then that uncle Sri Avaste took him before the Sri Ram image inside the temple, and swore solemnly an oath before him that he fully believed every word stated in these holy books, and hoped that it would be P.R. Avaste’s lot to meet such a saint, he would get into the same certainly. Sri Avaste asked him to mention the name of some saints who were living. That uncle gave him the names of Dondi Bua of Palus, Hari Maharaj of Phaltan and Sri Kumbharaswami of Kolhapur. The uncle took a promise from Avaste to visit them and that he should test them and get convinced. Luckily, Sri Avaste could meet all the above three.
Sri Avaste had attended philosophical lectures of Dr. Besant and Dr. Richardson, and read books on philosophy and religion. Poona was suffering from an outbreak of plague at the end of 1896, and the anxiety for life and property on that account drove him to religion and God.
He began reading reverentially the lives of Maruthi saints namely Jnaneswar, Eknath, Namdev, Tukaram, and Ramdas, as a refuge from plague. He went to Targaon to his uncle’s house where sacred books on Krishna were all available and read them daily.
Enquiring about Dondi Bua of Palus from his uncle, he was told how to get to Palus. He went to Palus and got Dondi Bua’’ darsan. He was reading Bhagavad Gita on the way, and stopped suddenly at the IV Chapter, 34th Stanza, where saints are said to give jnana. He resolved to test this with that Dondi Bua and whether he would give jnana to him.
In the beginning, Bua treated him curtly, asked him to go and salute the temple, because when he looked at the Bua seated outside and guessed that he was evidently a Sudra, he did not find it easy to bow to him being a Brahmin.
When he said, “Go to the temple”, he felt it easy, and he went inside and discovered that it was the picture of the same Sudra Bua inside that was worshipped. Anyhow, he had flowers and offerings in hand and placed them there. He discovered that the Sudra outside was the God worshipped inside. There was no image there but only his picture.
After a couple of hours spent there struggling against his own doubts; he came out and apologized to the Dondi Bua, and asked him how he came by his powers. He replied, “It is very easy. Simply say, Ram, Ram, Rajaram Seetharam and everything is accomplished.”
Dondi Bua asked Avaste to cook for him and his company. Dondi Bua provided the salt, as he did not wish to eat anybody else’s salt and be obliged to him. He mixed his salt with the food and Avaste prepared. On the whole Avaste was not willing to treat Dondi Bua as his Guru, and Dondi Bua also said that he did not want to be anybody’s Guru. Anyhow, he gave him his blessing and Avaste came back.