Original name of Radhakrishna Mai was Sundari Bai Kshirsagar. In 1899 A.D. Sundari Bai Kshirasagar turned 17 years of age and she got married to one Sri.Daithankar and was hence called by the name “Sundari Bai Dahitankar”. Due to fate, the husband of Sundaribai Kshirsagar passed away on the eighth day of the marriage. This brought about a great misery in Sundaribai Kshirsagar. She was broken and shaken from the very roots of the being. As the time passed it did not heal the mental and emotional conditions she was going through. She was sent to her maternal uncle’s house so that the change in outer environment might bring about a healing change in her condition. Even that did not help. One early morning in the year 1902 she woke up and started running from her maternal uncle’s home, never to return. The feeling of Vairagya, dispassion towards worldly life had taken over her strongly. For five years she roamed all over India, under tough conditions.
At last after many pilgrimages and meeting many holy people she came to Shirdi and Sai Baba asked her to stay in Shala (School) situated between Dwarkamai and Chavadi.
Every morning in the land of Shirdi blessed by Sai Baba, when the sun was about to rise, the light was slowly dispersing the darkness of the night. A melodious and bold voice would pierce the silence of that dawn. The sweet and painful voice would call for God. The voice and the song would make the people of Shirdi feel the necessity of calling to God. The voice was that of Radhakrishna Mai.
Radhakrishna Mai had come and settled in holy land of Shirdi, the blessed land on which Sai Baba moved and talked in his physical form, much before other notable devotees like Kakasaheb Dixit, Annasaheb Dabolkar, Bapu Saheb Buti, Sagun Meru Naik, Ramchandra Atmaram Tarkhad, Dr. Chidambar Pillay, Saint Upasni Maharaj and Sri Sai Sharan Anand Maharaj.
One evening, in 1907 Sai Baba was sitting in Dwarkamai, with his hand leaning on the wooden rest. The sun was moving slowly towards the setting point. The cattle were moving towards their shade after grazing in the nearby fields. At that time, near distant was a building called Chavadi. The building was in a dilapidated condition. More than that all the sides were open. One could see the horizon from the Masjid Mai or Dwaraka Mai. Around the DwarkaMai there was no fencing of any kind. At that time Sai Baba’s eyes saw at a distance, a figure, clad in white clothes, moving towards Dwarkamai.
Sai Baba kept on gazing in that direction, as if waiting for someone. As the figure came closer and closer, one could see that it was a female, in white clothes. A cloth bag was hanging on the back of her shoulder. In one hand was an ektara, a musical instrument similar to a guitar, with just one string. And in other hand was kartaal yet another musical instrument. On her forehead was a tilak according to Madhva Sampradaya, a long line with black color and on both the hands were bangles made of Tulsi beads. Also the neck was decorated with Tulsi garland. The dark hair was hanging from her head, reaching below her knees. As she came nearer to Dwarkamai, all eyes fell on her. Though the clothes she wore were not very tidy, one could see the charm in her face, which would demand respect at once.
Reaching near Dwarkamai the lady unburdened her shoulder by putting the cloth bag on the land of Shirdi. She also put off the musical instruments from her hands. Without climbing up the stairs of DwarkaMai, the lady bowed down, touched her head on the sacred land of Shirdi and then joining both her hands, she did Namaskar to Sri Sai Baba, who was sitting in Masjid Mai. From her cloth bag she took out a beautiful idol of Radha Krishna. ( Krishna symbolizes God and Radha the lover of God, the name of Radha (lover of God) is taken before the name of God in Hindu tradition, signifying the importance of God lover, such lovers of God are rare, who craves for Only God’s Love). The beautiful metallic idol was of brass, of about 9 inches in size, she gathered two bricks from around, placed them together, covered them with a vastra (piece of neat cloth), placed the idol over it and sat with the Kartaal in her hand.
Along with the music she began to sing with a pain in her heart. The high pitch voice was singing and calling for God. Saying that the name of Ram is in my mind, how do I please Ram (God) O Sai, I am weak with the karmas, how do I sing the glory of God O Sai. She sung a Bhajan by Mira Bai, the notes she sang seemed to become one with Krishna (Mira Bai’s love for God was God in form of Krishna). All the notes seemed to be merging and melting in Krishna, such was the love and pain flowing through her heart for God, while she was singing. People of Shirdi, attracted by the music and pitiful and melodious songs, sung in a high pitch, began to gather near Dwarka Mai. As the bhajans were sung, the people were wrapped by the magic of it. They forgot time; they forgot their daily hassles of life. The hearts of the listeners were experiencing something which they could not understand nor could they explain. The earthen lamps lit with oil, began to get dim, yet nobody’s mind and heart was getting ready to mend them, such was the environment created. The bhajans continued till midnight. Sai Baba did not leave his Asan (seat), people forgot sleep. Even the beloved devotees of Sai Baba, Tatya Patil and Mahalsapati were rapt in the environment.
At last the throat of lady (Radhakrishna Mai) took rest; the hands stopped playing on the instruments. The lady went into Samadhi. Still the listeners were in the effect of music.
After some time, the lady came back from Samadhi. Sai Baba while giving blessings said, “Go! The school (situated between Masjid Mai and Chavadi) is vacant, and stay there.” After the arrival of Sundaribai Kshirsagar in Shirdi, because of her devotion towards Radha Krishna, people of Shirdi started calling her as Radhakrishna Mai. Shirdi Sai Baba used to call her Radhakrishni, sometimes Sai Baba would even call her as Avdasa. Gradually the original name Sundaribai Kshirsagar was erased from people’s mind and Radhakrishna Mai was how she was popularly known as and called by the people of Shirdi and the visitors of Shirdi. Radhakrishna Mai always used to wear thick clothes, the clothes used to be stark clean. The hair on the head used to be free and untied, sometimes were tied in knots. In her kutir (small thatched home) would be bed covered with a clean bed sheet and a mosquito net over it. On the small platform for devotion and prayers was a clean gadi (small mattress), on which was placed the nine inch beautiful idol of Radha Krishna, made of brass. On both sides of the idol were beautiful pictures of Sai Baba, on which the garland of flowers were adorned, and on both sides were placed pillows with hand stitched design.
One of the pictures was of Sai Baba sitting on the stone, the other photo was of Sai Baba sitting on the floor. There was one small additional picture in which Sai Baba was standing leaning on a wall, his hand pulling up a little of his kafni (dress). Visitors of Shirdi used to visit the Kutir of Radhakrishna Mai to have the darshan of these pictures. Also Sai Baba used to send most of the visitors to the Kutir, asking them, did you visit the Shala? (School), which meant the kutir of Radhakrishna Mai.
Two books were always seen in the Kutir, one was printed in Nirnay Sagar press in Mumbai which contained Marathi Abhangs, composed by Saint Tukaram. The other was a book by poet Jaydev called Geet Govind, also in Marathi.
Radhakrishna Mai used to prepare morning breakfast for Sai Baba, other than that she did not have to worry about cooking. In the afternoon she would eat whatever Sai Baba used to send her as prasad to eat. In the evening prominent devotees of Sai Baba like Bapusaheb Buti would bring their food and everybody used to partake the food brought by everyone. Thus Radhakrishna Mai spent most of her time in devotion, singing devotional songs with ektara (a single string musical instrument). The melody could be heard in the Dwarkamai.
More details can be had from Shri.M.B.Rege’s letter dated 3rd September 1968 on Radhakrishna Mai written to one Mr.Sridhar and got published in Sai Sudha Magazine, Golden Jubilee Issue – June 1990, All India Sai Samaj (Regd), Chennai.
Shri M.B.Rege came to Shirdi for the first time in December 1910 consequent on a vision in which he saw his Kula Devi Shanta Durga of Kareta (Goa) with Shri Maha Vishnu and his Master. In the dream, Shri Maha Vishnu said that the three were in fact one and that Shri Sai Baba would be his saviour.
Shri.Rege narrates further details in his own words as follows:
In my first visit, the master asked me to go to mother Radhakrishna whom He described as His mother and mine. My association with her and I owe my spiritual life to her – left no doubt in my mind that she was the Yoga Maya like the Yogini, who gave Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa his training in ‘Tantra’. Mother Ramakrishna, whom the master always referred to as Ramakrishni, was to me an ideal of the Madhura Bhakti of the Gopis. All her belongings in the world were a durrie (cotton mat) a blanket, a pair of dhotis, Eknath Maharaja’s Bhagwat, abhangas of Sri Tukaram and a lota. She had an idol of Lord Krishna – she called it ‘Chahabi’ and occasional singing of Bhajans in which she would get unconscious in a deep trance.
The devotee I met at Shirdi had views of their own regarding Bhakti and each one or a group thought that His or its own way was the right one; and very often there was intolerance of other views. Mother Radhakrishna’s view was that the master should, like the idols at Tirupati, Mathura or Dwaraka and Pandharpur, have good clothes, ornaments, Palki, Rath, etc. Other devotees of note like Sri Dasganu Maharaj, Sri Dabolkar thought that Baba was a Fakir and ostentation was against His creed. Indeed when once velvet chhava (overcoat) was being put on Baba, one of such devotees, when Baba in his own way refused to have it put on, said ‘Fix some nails to fix it’. The last scandal completely alienated such persons and since the sketches of Baba were mostly written by them, a reference to the mother in them, cannot be expected.
Sri Dasganu was a great devotee; and we find in his ‘Kirtanas’, references to the love of Gopis; but he probably thought that what was proper for Lord Sri Krishna was not so for a fakir. Being confined to the residence and company of the mother, I was a persona non-grata and was far from Dasganu Maharaj until after the Master’s Mahasamadhi. He then came to Indore and stayed with me. Then with tears in his eyes he said,’Baba saheb, you were very fortunate in living with a devotee of the highest order in Madhura Bhakti. I do kirtans of Mirabai, Janabai, Kanhopatra, and gopis, and tears flow from my eyes but I could not appreciate the Madhura Bhakti of Radhakrishna Ayee in real life’, and referring to mother’s sad end, he said there were instance in the Puranas of birth without sexual relations.
In 1911, I thought of practicing Yoga. I invoke my Master and wanted no other Guru. Relying on the story of Ekalavya who got Shastra and Astra Vidya from a mud image of Dronacharya, I began Asana and Pranayama, sitting before the picture of my Master. I could control my breath and stop five or six beats of my heart in about a year’s time. Once in 1912, talking of Yoga and control and functions of the body, the mother told me that she had succeeded by Rajayoga in stopping her monthly periods!
Mother Radhakrishna was of ordinary build, about 5 feet high, but had an iron will and the strength of a giant. She used to fetch water from a well about a furlong away in large pots, which she picked alone with her hands, when a strong man would need the help of another for the purpose. She once gave me a blow on my chest and said, “You are a ‘samsari’. Is this hollow”, she then asserted that she was much stronger than me. I replied that I was only a child. She then suggested a trial of strength, and insisted on it in spite of me. The road leading to Rahata used to be deserted in the afternoon and she said we should run with the other on the back. I told her to get on my back and I would run first. I ran about two furlongs and the mother said she was satisfied and I may stop.
She then made me get on her back and ran much more than two furlongs, and asked whether she was not stronger, and when I said it was doubtless so, she asked me to get off her back. I said I was happy on the back of my mother and would not leave it. She threatened to throw me off and I replied that the world would stare if a fond mother did so. Eventually I got a promise from her that she would carry me on Her back on the spiritual path. It appears to me that this was preordained by the Master, as, when we return to mother’s residence, I was called by Baba and asked what we were doing. When I told him about our race and mother’s promise, the Master said ‘She will take you on her back and so will I’. But then he directed me to give up the practice of Yoga. ‘Do Bhakti’, He said, ‘nothing is more necessary. Only let your Heart, Head, and hand be in tune’. (He pointed to the head, heart, and hand, said, ‘let these be one’)
Mother Radhakrishna hated publicity. A gentleman from Mumbai took some snapshots of her without her knowledge; but someone spoke of it as a gentleman was leaving Shirdi in a tonga. She ran after the tonga for about a mile, wrested the camera and smashed it. Tatya Koti Patil, an intimate devotee of Baba, told me of this in her presence.
In December 1914, the late Sri PRAvasthi went with me to Shirdi. He had taken ‘Guru Mantra’ from a woman saint in his young days and did not know whether she was living or dead. Sri H.S. Dixit was his friend and wanted him to go for darshan of Baba; but Sri Avasthi thought that it would be ‘Guru droha’ (faithlessness towards his Guru). When he came to know of my association with the Master, he spoke of his state of mind. He was then the District Judge, Indore, and I was Civil Judge under him. I told him that Baba was a Superb Guru – one with God – and he agreed to accompany me provided I took on the responsibility. We went and Baba asked me who was this ‘Passat’ (crazy man) with me. Sri Avasthi was excited.
Next day the mother tied four mogra flowers together and handing them to me said, ‘Take this to the Master and ask Him to unravel it.’ Baba smelt the flowers and returned them with a message for mother Radhakrishna that she should do it. In the meanwhile Sri Avasthi had a brain wave. He made a small ball (pindam) of rice out of the Naivedya offering unknown to us and decided that if Baba accepted the Pindam, he would conclude that his Guru was no more and taking Baba as Guru would not be Guru droha. I was with him when he went to the Masjid with Naivedyam and the Pinda in his hand under the plate. Baba said ‘Give it to me’. He took the pindam, smelt it and said ‘It has reached its place’. We returned to mother’s house and from the door, Sri Avasthi rushed to her and fell at her feet singing spontaneous verses for about half an hour unconscious of things around him. The mother was also in a trance. Later Sri Avasthi told me that in place of mother Radhakrishna he had seen his first Guru.
In 1914, I was doubtful about my ability to attend the Guru Poornima. The food was used to be cooked in mother’s house, but she said that if I was not there, it had better be cooked elsewhere. On the Guru Poornma day, she got an extra quota from Baba’s ‘Bhiksha’. She then announced that I was coming and the cooking started. I reached at about 9 a.m. They wanted a stone to pound the spices (masala). The step leading to the house was considered good and mother and I moved it with some difficulty. Just as it was in the door frame, a devotee Sri Purandare came up and wanted to help. The stone turned and it might have crushed my hand but the mother pulled it towards herself and the index finger of her right hand was crushed into two. You can imagine her agony; but as if nothing had happened, she soaked a rag in oil and wrapping the bleeding finger, went on to help in cooking. Only after all was over, she called me and said she was feeling the pain and would like to go to the jungle and cry. We went and for half an hour she did cry. Then we came back for our normal work. What control over the body and indifference to pleasure and pain in the service of the Master!
I know nothing about her condition which resulted in her death. In fact myself and my wife – now no more – were with her for some days, two months prior to her end and did not notice signs of her pregnancy. May be because we looked up to her and not to her condition. Perhaps because I did not meet villagers or outsiders – I heard no scandal too. The first intimation I heard was in a letter I got from Narvekar intimating that mother had passed away in childbed.
In my last letter I recollect having mentioned the incident of Baba coming from the Lendi when, after washing the floor of the Masjid, the mother was in a trance, and Baba stroked her on her back and asked her not to worry.
Two months after mother passed away, I went to Shirdi and not knowing where I should stay, went straight to the Masjid. Baba told me to go to Dixit Wada. Sri Madhavrao Deshpande and many others came and offered a sort of condolence. ‘This should not have happened in Shirdi’, they said. I replied that I did not desire to discuss the matter. She was my mother and I said, even if she be in the wrong, I would remain quiet comforted by Lord Sri Krishna’s view in the Bhagavad Gita –
Api chet Suduracharo Bhajate mam Anany Bhak
Sadhu reva sa mantavyah samyag Vyavassito hi Sah. (Chapter 9-30).
(This means, “Even the most wicked, if he concentrates on or worship Me the Lord, then he must be deemed a sadhu or a good person”.)
While this conversation was going on, a message came from the Masjid asking all sitting with me in the wada to come over. We went and Baba asked Sri Deshpande what they were talking about. Baba further asked what I had said, and when the information was given, the merciful Master said, ‘What do these fools know? She was your mother and mine. She wanted to be freed from her karma and you know I gave her my assurance. One night she came saying she would not wait and, lifting up my kafani, got in here (pointing to His Heart). You will see her here when you desire’. My Divine mother is now merged in the Master. Let people in their own way imagine what they will. I cannot forget what I owe to Her.
I have tried to give you my first-hand impressions of her. Of the devotees, Sri Mahalsapati, Sri H.S. Dixit had great reverence for her, and I feel I am in good company. I trust you will have a fair idea of the greatness of my mother.
(Source: Late Shri.M.B.Rege’s letter dated 3rd September 1968 about Radhakrishna Mai published by Sai Sudha Magazine, Golden Jubilee Issue – June 1990, All India Sai Samaj (Regd), Chennai-600004, India and www.shirdisaitrust.org)