Motibhai of this, saying in his own inimitable manner, "I want
to exchange a head for a head. The other one came back so in his
place give me this one."
It is two decades and a little more into the twentieth century.
Just 12 kilometres from the sprawling metropolis of Baroda city
lies the small village of Chansad in the Kanam region. The village
is neither poor nor wealthy, though nature has lovingly embraced
it. The village pond is large and deep. Its water clear, clean and
The village itself lies on high ground and has two or three temples.
One is dedicated to Hanuman and is found overlooking the pond. In
this temple a renunciate priest by the name of Haridas served the
enshrined deities. His gentle and fatherly nature attracted two
teenagers to the small temple every morning and evening. Both were
friends, and were named Shantilal! They would go everywhere together;
play together and study together. Often they would even eat at each
They were inseparable. Since birth both had been brought up in pious
atmospheres, and so had in common religious leanings and wishes.
Of the two friends, one's father was Motibhai Patel, a strong satsangi
of the Swaminarayan faith. This Shantilal's mother, Diwaliben, was
also involved deeply in Satsang. Her family had first been influenced
by Bhagatji Maharaj. Diwaliben was plump and sweet natured. She
religiously performed all the penances and celebrated the festivals.
She was careful to instill values and spirituality into her children.
Motibhai was amiable and affectionate. He had raised his family
well. They would daily visit the Swaminarayan temple and serve the
sadhus who frequented their village.
The other Shantilal grew up in similar circumstances. Whilst other
children played games and mischief in general, Shantilal and Shantilal
would sit with their school slates and books. Finishing homework
they would rush to the Hanuman temple and listen to the discourses
of Haridas. He talked of the Ramayan and the greatness of holy men.
He described the Himalayas and the holy men who lived there in caves
and ashrams. In particular he talked of Haridwar and Rishikesh.
Haridas encouraged their spiritual thirst. He even promised, "Once
you complete your studies we shall go to Haridwar and Rishikesh
and worship God."
This desire, however, remained unfulfilled. The future held something
remarkably different. Motibhai's Shantilal remained in Chansad while
his friend was taken to Baroda to pursue further studies.
* * *
On 7 Dec., 1921 (Samvat Magshar Sud 8, 1978) the fourth son was
born of Motibhai and Diwaliben.
Several days after Shantilal's birth the family was still rejoicing
when Shastriji Maharaj graced Chansad. It was a usual visit for
Satsang purposes. Motibhai carried the fragile little bundle swathed
in woollens to Guru Shastriji Maharaj for blessings. Shastriji Maharaj
was pleased. He said, "He is ours. Bestow him to us in the
future." Shastriji Maharaj was serious.
Motibhai immediately accepted Shastriji Maharaj's request.
One day when Shantilal was six to seven years old his family and
friends were invited to dinner in Rajnagar. It was ekadashi but
no farala had been cooked. Shantilal was forced to sit down with
everybody else. Not being able to refuse he began to cry. Chhotabhai
of Bhadaran village often gave sweets to him and his friends, getting
them together and arranging games. He affectionately asked Shantilal
why he was crying. "What do you want?"
"Let me do ekadashi." Shantilal managed to say.
Chhotabhai got together some farala and served the little boy who
wouldn't break his vow.In Bochasan, when Shantilal was with Ghanshyam
Swami and Balmukund Swami as a teenager, during the fifth standard
vacation, he was tested by Ghanshyam Swami. "Stay here, and
in these very clothes we will make you a sadhu."
Talking of becoming a sadhu was pleasant for Shantilal. It was his
goal. But he would not take any step before first consulting guru
Shastriji Maharaj. He felt there was no need for uncalled haste.
Shastriji Maharaj would shortly be visiting Bochasan for the Guru
Purnima Mahotsav. They could discuss the matter then. He would not
be led by another.
During Guru Purnima Akshar Swami took up the matter with Shastriji
Maharaj. He even took Shantilal to Shastriji Maharaj, and said,
"He is a good kid, and can become a sadhu."
Shantilal was also enthusiastic. His lean face glowed as Shastriji
Maharaj expressed pleasure. He agreed with the proposal, it had
been uppermost in his mind since Shantilal's birth. "...we
shall educate him..," he added.
Never one to delay. Shastriji Maharaj tested Shantilal's grasping
power and intellect there and then. He gave him a set of Sanskrit
noun forms to memorize. That same day Shantilal repeated fluently
the difficult Sanskrit. Shastriji Maharaj was delighted. He was
convinced Shantilal would live up to all his expectations. He praised,
"You have the ability to become a scholar, and you have the
ability to become a Shastri. Yes he really is clever!"
The village school in Chansad taught only up to fifth standard.
Sixth or higher had not been started for lack of pupils.
If he wanted to study Shantilal would have to travel to Padra. Two
friends, Shankarlal and Muljibhai, went to the Padra English school.
Shantilal explained his problems to the two and also pronounced
his decision of going to Padra. Both youngsters happily agreed to
help him. As he didn't have a cycle of his own, Shankarlal and Muljibhai
offered to piggy-back him to and from Padra everyday. Shantilal
thus eagerly enrolled at school and was placed in the fifth standard
- 1st English then.
Of an obliging and helpful nature, he was naturally embarrassed
that his friends carried him on their cycles everyday. They of course
thought nothing of it, but many a time saw their unassuming friend
either walk to Padra, or walk back home, a distance of six kilometres.
His committal to studies was complete. On arriving home he would
carefully wash his face, legs and arms, change into house clothes
and quietly sit absorbed in homework. He always sat in the same
corner. Diwaliben would have to call repeatedly for him to dine.
He would often forget whether he had been given a lunch box of puri
or dhebra, or whether he had lunched at all. This indifference to
food worried his mother. In truth, Shantilal was skinny to say the
least, his clothes hung loosely from protruding shoulders and small
waist. Diwaliben frequently cajoled and coaxed him into drinking
fresh milk as she milked the family cow or buffalo. Mealtimes were
a reluctant affair. Despite a full dish he ate sparingly.
Shantilal seemed able to disregard his body at want. Throughout
his childhood when assailed by the common ailments of youngsters
he remained unaffected. Once he suffered a heavy attack of a particular
rash, pus continually oozed from the sores. Dressing would stick
to the skin. True to his name, Shantilal silently suffered. He could
endure pain to a remarkable degree.
His simple nature held no room for dishonesty or guile. He touched
the border of credulous, but remained in every way sensible. The
ways of the world bored him and maybe even repelled. His was a calm
Shastriji Maharaj was not averse to Shantilal's desire, so he replied,
"Aksharjivan Swami has also studied two or three standards.
He is also to be educated further and so are you. In Vinakyakbhai's
school in Amdavad, Khengarjibhai is a teacher. He will come to Ambali
Pol to teach you." It may seem strange, but in one area Shantilal
joined the people of India. He was partial to cricket!
A distiller, Ramlal, had moved to Chansad. A great fan of cricket,
he had brought the game to the village. On his own initiative he
had bought a bat and ball and taught the local kids how to play.
The kids were soon hitched and played every evening. Shantilal often
joined them. One day the cricketers got together and decided, "The
bat and ball belong to the distiller. Let's buy our own bat, ball
and stumps." Cricket was an expensive sport. Funds would be
needed. The youngsters approached village elders. Soon they had
collected about 150 rupees.
The needed instruments would have to be bought in Baroda. Chansad
catered to no such pastimes. The cricketers collected in the school
on the edge of the village. Who would go to Baroda? Sitting on the
steps each suggested another's name.
Shantilal was soon suggested. His mild, obliging nature had won
the confidence of many. He agreed and said to Shankarlal, "If
you come, we'll both go.'' Very soon he would be leaving home, village
and friends forever. Maybe this was the last chance he would get
to be of help to his friends in a materialistic sense. As the discussion
continued, Ravji, a youth from Bhaili, came looking for Shantilal.
He saw the group spread over the school steps and hurried across
"I've come from Bhaili. Ghanshyam Swami has sent me,"
he said quickly. "He sent a letter from Shastriji Maharaj with
me. It's for you, Shantilal. I've left the letter at your home.
I've come to take you with me. Come home at once."
The group was bemused at the sudden intrusion into their affairs.
Shantilal was taken aback. He stood up and began walking home, his
pace even and steady, hands gently curved at the elbows and hanging
down, slightly swinging in step with his strides.
All thoughts of cricket dissolved into a keen desire to read the
sacred letter. The mention of Shastriji Maharaj sent his senses
tingling. It must be important, or else why would he write himself,
and Ghanshyam Swami sent a special messenger. Shantilal was oblivious
of the homes and small shops he passed. Eyes were downcast as in
usual habit, occasionally flicking upwards to avoid others. The
dirt road crawled up a gentle incline, splitting into two arteries
just below the crest. Motibhai's two story wood and stone house
was the first in the 'V' so formed.
Motibhai and Diwaliben were waiting. Shastriji Maharaj had instructed
that they send their last born to him. He was to become a sadhu.
Both were eager and willing. Shantilal had no doubts himself. Shastriji
Maharaj was guru, and to live by the guru's command was his goal
in life. It was plain and simple. The time to renounce had come.
Accepting was effortless.
Shantilal walked through the door into his home of 16 years. The
family was waiting. Motibhai and Diwaliben wanted spiritual goals
for their son; they felt he should be encouraged to devote his life
to Lord Swaminarayan and Guru Shastriji Maharaj. He would gain merely
a farmer's plate and family by embracing a householder's life. Instead,
why not strive for God consciousness and truly fulfill the purpose
of this God gifted life.
It was ekadashi, Tuesday, 7 November 1939 (Aso Vad 11, VS 1995)
Motibhai's family had become regular in its observance of the penance.
Every ekadashi day they ate only fruits and farala. Diwaliben warmed
some milk. The family drank together.
Motibhai held out Shastriji Maharaj's letter. It was self-explanatory.
The time had come. Shantilal was to take with him the few clothes
he had and from Bhaili go to Bochasan with Ghanshyam Swami.
Both parents blessed him, "Go with goodwill. Swami will be
pleased. We bless you much." The others offered words of advice.
Diwaliben added, "Bhai! You are becoming a sadhu, live as a
good sadhu. Do as Swami says. Please him. Never think of returning
home." To be successful as a sadhu Diwaliben knew that all
bridges had to be burnt. Her words were of strength and encouragement,
not warnings or threats.
She gave a small parcel of farala into his hands as he walked to
the door. She thought it would do if he felt hungry on the short
ride to Bhaili. Shantilal sat on the cycle behind Ravji, who pedalled.
The cycle wobbled at first but balance was gained and the two teenagers
rode down the incline to the dust track the villagers called a road.
A little way ahead Shantilal realised he had forgotten his daily
puja piece. He told Ravji to wait while he cycled back. As he walked
into his home a very surprised Diwaliben asked, "Why have you
"I forgot my puja."
He reached up to the shelf where it was tidily kept. Diwaliben quickly
made a packet of mamra and chana which she gave him. He hadn't asked.
She just thought he might need something. He walked away. Ravji
Shantilal was lucky. His farewell had witnessed no scenes of sobbing
and anguish. The home was empty of belligerent relatives. There
were no protests or confused pleas to stay at home. The family had
prepared for this moment ever since Shastriji Maharaj had blessed
him at birth. Shantilal himself, was his usual calm and composed
self. As with everyday, today, he was fully in command of his emotions.