Shantabai Basrur (1900-1995) - Maa Thuje Salaam
Shantabai Basrur, more lovingly and affectionately called and remembered as “Shantakka” or “Shantapachhi” to all Bhanaps residing in Bangalore and outside, was born in a humble, pious and God-fearing “Badakere” family in 1900. She was born at the dawn of the 20th Century and lived through its turbulence and witnessed its miraculous achievements with a zeal, zest and a sense of participation in the events taking place around her. She was the only daughter in the family and had three brothers. She grew up in age, as any normal girl in the community grows, but unfortunately due to reasons not known, she could not pursue her education to the level she would have otherwise desired. She studied till the 3rd or 4th standard in a primary school. Her parents made up this lacuna in her personal life in a different way. She was taught to be kind, loyal, obedient and respectful to her elders. She learnt to be pious, virtuous and devoted to our Math and our Gurus. Her love and devotion to religion and spirituality bestowed her with compassion, humanity, kindness and a heart filled with empathy and sympathy towards humanity. She always bore a smile on her face and was never known to have lost her temper at any time under any circumstances. The true qualities of a MOTHER were imbibed in her by virtue of the Blessings of the Almighty and our Gurus. It is no wonder that HH Parijnashram Swami regarded her as His mother, which fact had been admitted even by Swamiji’s own mother. She remained a simple and a humble soul throughout her life, Blessed by our Gurus for the self-less service performed by her.
She married Bhavanishankar Basrur, a resident of Bangalore. He was employed in the Multigraph Section of the Government Secretariat, Govt. of Mysore, Bangalore, for several years till his retirement in 1951. He was an artist by nature and devoted his spare time to the field of dramatics, ‘make-up’ of stage artistes and painting. He took part in several dramas enacted in Bangalore in the local language (Kannada) as well as in Konkani, Marathi, Urdu and English, drawing sizeable appreciation from the knowledgeable audiences. He is believed to have acted even as a female artiste and none from the audience could spot him performing this role. He was most affectionately known to all as “Bhavanimam”. It is believed that he never used to miss seeing dramas enacted in Bangalore and was a great fan of this art. He encouraged youngsters to take up acting in dramas.
Shantapachhi and Bhavanimam, had three children – 2 daughters and 1 son. The daughters settled down in life after their marriages, in other cities. Their son, Prabhakar Basrur, was employed in Punjab National Bank. He served the Bank mostly in the suburban parts of Bombay and other cities/towns in Maharashtra. He was residing in a flat in Guruprasad Apartments in Vile Parle, Mumbai. After his retirement from Bank service, Prabhakarmam purchased a flat in Sterling Heights, Malleswaram, Bangalore, and settled down there with his mother – his father had passed away before his retirement. Both the daughters of Shantapachhi have expired – the youngest daughter passed away in 2007. The legacy of spiritualism and religion has been handed over to Prabhakarmam in abundance by his parents, especially from Shantapachhi, to whom he was very much attached till her last breath. He is a very simple, pious, and God-fearing human being, moulded by his parents. His wife, Kumud, is a shadow of Shantapachhi. Prabhakarmam and Kumud are blessed with two daughters. The elder daughter resides with them in Bangalore while the younger one resides in the United States.
Shantapachhi devoted her entire life in the service of our Gurus, HH Shrimat Anandashram Swami and HH Parijnanashram Swami. Swami Anandashram used to visit Bangalore more or less on a regular basis, especially during summer, from Shirali, frequently upto 1952. Since our Math did not possess a building of its own in Bangalore, Swamiji was being accommodated in the newly constructed Canara Union Hall or later in the residence of Devarao Ubhayakar. As such these visits were being considered as ‘Private’. The need to accommodate Swamiji during His visits to Bangalore was earnestly felt and a decision to purchase the building owned by Shri Ganpath Bolangady (who had readily agreed to offer it to our Math) was taken. In March 1953 this building situated at the junction of 8th Main Road and 15th Cross Road, Malleswaram, Bangalore, located in one of the oldest residential localities in Bangalore, was officially purchased by our Math and came into their possession. Ever since then, it has become the abode of our beloved Gurus whenever they visited Bangalore. In the year 1953, under instructions from Swami Anandashram, Bhavanishankarmam Basrur and his wife Shantapachhi were appointed as ‘Caretakers’ of this Math property. The sincere, conscientious and highly devoted couple served the Math from 1954 to 1968. After the Mahasamadhi of Param Poojya Anandashram Swami in September 1966, Shantapacchi continued to serve Param Poojya Parijnanashram Swami III till the very end. She was indeed twice blessed in this self-less service to our Gurus and it must have been due to the accumulated ‘punya’ from her previous births.
Shantapachhi’s duties commenced from very early in the mornings and continued till late in the night. She was entrusted with the task of preparing the entire day’s food to the retinue of Swamijis and most importantly the Bhiksha and Phalahar of Swamijis. After her morning bath, she began the preparation of the early morning tea to all the Purohits and the retinue in the Math and hot milk to Swamijis. Subsequently, she used to start preparing the breakfast for all. There was some respite to her after breakfast was served, till she had to begin preparations for Naivaidya, Bhiksha to Swamijis and lunch for the rest who were present in the Math. Daily after the noon Pooja, during Theerth Vitarana, after giving Teerth to all Vaidiks and the devotees present in the Math, Anandashram Swamiji used to ask Shukla Surya Bhatmam to call ‘Shanti’ (as she was referred to by Swamiji) from the kitchen to take the Theerth. Till she had taken Theerth, Swamiji never used to leave His Asan for partaking His Bhiksha. This practice continued even after Swamiji’s Samadhi in 1966 by HH Parijnanashram Swamiji.
Since Shantapachhi had no formal education, she was hesitating to take Mantra Diksha from Swamiji. As such she sent her request to Swami Anandashram and Swami Parijnanashram, during their stay in Bangalore, through Shukla Surya Bhatmam, praying that she may be given some Shlokas to be recited daily. How could our Swamijis deny her humble request? Both Swamijis wrote down three Shlokas each in their own handwriting and Blessed Shantapachhi so that she could chant the Shlokas whenever she had time to spare from her daily chores. Shantapachhi did exactly what our Gurus desired – she was constantly, consistently and silently reciting these Mantras while performing her normal duties.
Shantapachhi was a very humble and simple human being in her life, such that her worldly possessions consisted of a shoulder bag containing four sarees, four blouses, two towels and several hand kerchiefs. She always accompanied both Swamijjis on tours – since it was insisted by Swamijis that she must be a part of the retinue on such tours. She travelled far and wide with both Swamijis as part of the retinue and in the course of her seva to our Swamijis, she had many wonderful personal experiences of the concern, love and compassion held by both Swamijis for their devotees. One such incident that routinely used to happen at Bangalore Math, is being referred here. As mentioned earlier, Shantapachhis’ daily chores in the sevas of Swamijis began very early in the morning and lasted till late in the night. She used to wake up quite early in the morning and retire to her bed only around 11 or 11.30 p.m. After dinner was served to the Purohits and other retinue accompanying Swamijis, and after serving the night Phalahar to Swamijis, she used to partake her dinner which was very measly. Later she used to wash and clean all the utensils used for the above purpose. As was known to everyone, Swami Anandashram had immense interest in listening to Hindustani Classical music – particularly instrumental. He used to sit up late in the night, with a light switched on in His quarters on the first floor of the Math premises, listening to such Classical music on the radio (those days there was no TV/cassette player or music system for one’s listening pleasure). Till the light was switched off in the kitchen by Shantapachhi, our Poojya Swamiji never used to retire to His room for a night’s rest. Only after the kitchen light was switched off by her, Swami Anandashram used to switch off the light in His room. Such was His concern for Shantapachhi.
During Swami Anandashram’s visits to Bangalore, Shantapachhi had been observing that many devotees used to bring new Kavi (saffron coloured)Dhotis or Khadavas (wooden slippers) and offered them to Anandashram Swami and retrieve the used ones to be kept with them as ‘prasad’. She appreciated this move by the devotees and thought to herself one night that she too would do something similar some day. Next day morning, Anandashram Swamiji summoned Bhavanimam to His room upstairs in the Math and gave him a ‘Ek Mukhi’ Rudraksha – Gaurishankar - (considered to be the most valuable and rare Rudraksh in the world) with instructions to deliver it to Shantapachhi. One can imagine the joy and happiness that swept over her on receiving the Rudraksha from Swamiji, which left her spell-bound and speechless with tears of joy running down her eyes. Who could have imagined that her wish would be turned into a reality in such a short time? This was the love and concern our Sadguru had for His devotees. The Ek Mukhi was safely enshrined in the “Deva Kapaat” along with other idols and daily pooja was offered to it. In course of time, due to Bhavanimam’s death, the Ek Mukhi Rudraksha was passed on to his son, Prabhakarmam, who continued with the daily rituals to it. However, with the passage of time and the Rudraksha getting soaked in water while performing poojas, it lost its original shape and disintegrated. Presently, it is being preserved by him as a relic in remembrance of the incident leading to its entry into Basrur’s family.
After HH Swami Anandashram left His mortal coil and obtained Samadhi on the night of 16th September 1966 around 9.15 p.m. and merged into Lord Bhavanishankar with the sacred word “AUM” on His lips, the onus of carrying on the good work left behind by Swamiji, fell squarely on the shoulders of the young Swami Parijnanashram. In view of the ‘Nishkama Karma’ of Shantapachhi in the Bangalore Math, Swami Parijnanashram insisted that she accompany Him on all His tours all over India – places like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Benaras etc. Shantapachhi served Poojya Parijnanashram Swamiji, looking after all His requirements, till the very end. Shantapachhi who was the most gifted and talented person in the culinary art, looked after His diet, as lovingly as a mother looks after her son. To her, He was the living incarnation of God, and she addressed Him simply as “Dev”. Swamiji also treated her as His own mother with all the love that a child gives to its mother. In several places of stay – like Karla, for instance, they constructed a Hall, a room for Swamiji, a kitchen and a small balcony, there were not even basic amenities – yet Shantapachhi had accompanied Swamiji without any hesitation. The weather had no effect on her in the course of her service to our Guru. Places of high altitudes like Badrinath or Haridwar and places like Rishikesh or Benares or Shirali or Karla had no effect on her. Her sole intention in life was to offer her services to our Gurus. She was destined to receive the Blessings and compassion of Swamiji in return for her seva. As age caught up with her, she had problems with her back and her legs could not withstand the normal pressures. Once when Swami Parijnanashram was returning to Bombay from His northern visit by flight, her physical stature would not permit her to walk down from the plane to the arrival lounge of the Santa Cruz airport. Swamiji ensured that a wheel chair be summoned near the plane from where the passengers would alight, so that she could sit on the wheel chair and travel towards the exit. Those days, visitors were not being allowed inside the airport. As such, Prabhakarmam who had gone to the airport to receive Swamiji and his mother, could not proceed to the area where passengers alight. It was Swamiji who pushed the wheel chair from the aircraft to the arrival lounge exit with Shantapachhi seated in it. If this is not the love and concern that a Guru has for His devotee, then what is this gesture? Is it the love of a son towards his mother? Or is it the result of her ‘Nishkama Karma’ to our Gurus? Tears were rolling down her eyes when she was being brought in the wheel chair by our revered Guru.
Prabhakarmam purchased a new flat in Bangalore in 1984 which was under construction. When the flat was ready for occupation by the end of December 1985, he wished that the flat be inaugurated by Swamiji who was residing in Bangalore at the residence of Bhalchandra Naimpally. So when he approached Swamiji with the request, Swamiji suggested that He would come for the opening ceremony on the 1st January 1986. Swamiji had suggested this date so that it will always be remembered by the members of his family as a ‘Red’ letter day in their lives. Accordingly, Swamiji performed the flat’s official tape-cutting and other related ceremonies on 1st January 1986. Shantapachhi was also present on this occasion since she was residing with the Naimpallys and taking care of Swamiji’s diet and food requirements, along with Naimpally Manupachhi and Naimpally Sunita (wife of Bhalchandra Naimpally).
In the month of July 1991, Swamiji was in Bangalore and staying at the residence of Naimpallys. Swamiji had taken a decision to perform ‘Chaturmas’ that year in Karla. At that time, Shantapachhi was staying with her son for a few days. On 23rd July, Swamiji sent word to Prabhakarmam that He desired to visit his flat in the evening, to meet Shantapachhi and enquire about her health. Swamiji liked ‘Kallya Poha’ mixed with cucumber pieces and Churmuri ladoos. Prabhakarmam’s wife, Kumud, had prepared these items for Swamiji the previous day, as He was to have come to the flat on 22nd July. Since the visit was cancelled or deferred for some reason, the eatables were placed in the refrigerator. When it was confirmed that Swamiji was to visit the flat on 23rd afternoon, she hastily prepared the same items once again. Prabhakarmam had decorated a sofa for Swamiji to sit during His visit to the flat. Swamiji arrived in the flat on the 23rd evening and instead of sitting on the decorated sofa, He sat very close to the cot on which Shantapachhi was lying down. Swamiji told her a story of Yama and said that He is God etc, for about half an hour – indirectly hinting/indicating that He is taking Samadhi in a short time (which was not understandable/discernible to those present in the room). He asked Shantapachhi to pack up her things and be ready to undertake the trip to Karla the next day by flight. He also informed her that He would come to the flat to pick her up at noon along with Bhalchandra Naimpally and catch the noon flight to Poona around 2 p.m. Swamiji informed Prabhakarmam that he had already tasted the Kallya Poha and the ladoos the previous evening itself!.
Next day morning, Shantapachhi received a phone call stating that Swamiji was not feeling well and could not undertake the trip to Karla. On 24th July 1991, Swamiji decided to shift the venue from Karla to Bangalore as it was to be His last Gurupournima function and accordingly desired to celebrate it here in Bangalore. The change of venues was suitably advised to the Purohits in Shirali, as well as the volunteers at Karla, who were preparing for the event. This sudden change of venues led to a hectic activity all around. Thus, Guru Pournima was celebrated in Bangalore as per Swamiji’s desire. On 28th August 1991 Swamiji felt a little discomfort and uneasiness and was unable to even move out of His bed. Doctors were immediately called to provide medical treatment to Swamiji. Next day early morning, once again Swamiji felt a lot of discomfort in his chest and was feeling very uneasy. Around 7 in the morning on 29th August 1991, Swamiji laid down His mortal coil and attained His Mahasamadhi. It was a black day for all His devotees. The most affected person was Shantapachhi, who was crying out her heart stating that Swamiji had promised to come and pick her up to go to Karla by flight but never turned up. She was lamenting why she was still alive when Swamiji who was much younger to her and almost the age of her son should be taken away from her midst. No one could console or pacify her for several days. Her grief had no borders. Her personal loss appeared to be as though she had lost her DEV forever. She never recovered from this shock.
In the early hours on 17th March 1995, Shantapachhi left for her heavenly abode, after a peaceful night’s sleep. A true yogi in spirit and action during her lifetime, her life came to an abrupt end. Despite her ailing health, she managed to retain her poise and character – always kind, sympathetic and humble in nature, besides having a good sense of humour – which was her forte. During her entire life, Shantapachhi never clamoured for any material wealth or riches, since she never aspired or needed them. Her real wealth was her spiritual and religious strength, coupled with a dedicated spirit, which she had placed in the service of our Gurus. A true Karma Yogi, who devoutly observed revered Anandashram Swamiji’s advice to devotees to perform ‘Nishkaam Karma’ in life, as well as the tenets enshrined in the Bhagawad Gita. A humble and simple soul with no inhibitions in life, as was Shantapachhi, an era of true seva and karma yoga came to an end, in the annals of the Chitrapur Saraswat community, leaving behind a sea of well wishers, family and friends to bear the loss of a true human being. MAA TUJHE SALAAM !
OM SHANTIH, SHANTIH, SHANTIHIHI.
Nandakumar Hattiangadi, Bangalore.
( Inputs for the above article provided by Shri.Prabhakar S Basrur )