Shivapuri Baba and Thomas the Apostle


Dhyan Tarpan introduces two more historical stories in Part 2 of 4 in the series, Osho in Kerala.

Shivapuri Baba and Thomas

Shivapuri Baba

There was a sentence that hit me strongly on the first reading of Books I Have Loved, Series 3, Session 16: ”Shivapuri Baba was certainly one of the rarest flowerings, particularly in India where so many idiots are pretending to be mahatmas.” Osho was talking about John G. Bennett’s book, Long Pilgrimage. Still, I didn’t pay much attention to that name, as baba was not an impressive word for us South Indians; any idiot mahatma was effortlessly called baba on the northern side.

Then, after a few years, somehow this book Long Pilgrimage came into my hands as a gift from Mr. Giridhar Lal Manandhar. He is the son of Mr. Thakur Lal Manandhar, who helped J.G. Bennett write the book. Thakur Lal was living in close contact with Shivapuri Baba for many years, like a disciple.

From Long Pilgrimage I came to know that this ‘rarest flowering’ happened in Kerala. Not only that, on some deeper googling, I came to know that it happened just in our neighbourhood; merely a forty minutes’ drive from our home! Yet it would make no difference were it a one-hour journey or a two days’ journey. But I was wondering because never mind forty minutes, even as close as a four minutes’ walk we have missed a Buddha, and surely that happened also many times in the past!

Shivapuri Baba's birth place and memorial
Shivapuri Baba’s birth place and memorial

Shivapuri Baba was born 1826 in Akkikavu, a village in Kerala, into a devout and wealthy Brahmin family. Join me in a short pilgrimage into Shivapuri Baba’s life: It is said he was born with a smile and when he was brought to his grandfather, Achyutam, a great astrologer, he announced that the signs of his birth and the smile on his lips show that a great sannyasin had come into the world, and his family line would come to an end, as it had fulfilled its purpose on earth. He received the formal name of Jayanthan Namboodiri.

At the age of eighteen, he made a deed to hand over all his paternal properties to his twin sister and left home to join his grandfather who had become a hermit living in the forests of Amarkantak, the origin of the holy Narmada River in central India. While his grandfather was immersed in his practices as a sannyasin, Jayanthan was preparing himself to become a sannyasin. One day his grandfather handed over to him a large amount of precious stones and diamonds as well as a large amount of money, and asked him to keep these riches until his own jivanmukta – self-realization – and left his body.

Jayanthan buried his grandfather and completed the obligatory duties he felt to perform, and then left to Sankara Mutt (monastery) in the South. He received his initiation and became Govindananda Bharati. He commented on this, “It was not necessary for me, but I did it as an act of piety.”

ForestGovindananda Bharati entered the deep forest near the banks of the Narmada River and lived there for more than twenty years, without seeing a single human being, sustained by self-grown vegetables, without counting the seasons coming and going… absolute solitary living.

Shivapuri Baba never spoke about his life during that time and the years of deep meditation. If there is a phenomenon like enlightenment, we have to assume that he left the forest after achieving it. He then embarked on a long walk; literally, he was walking for almost forty years across the world and only on very few occasions travelled by ship or train. He headed first to the northern part of India, from there to Afghanistan, to Persia, to Mecca, then to Jerusalem, walking 800 miles through a semi-desert. Further on to Istanbul, and from there through the Balkans into Greece. When he arrived in Rome coming from Athens, he visited the Vatican and continued through Italy and almost all European countries.

He crossed the Channel to England and from there took a ship to North America where he spent two or three years. In 1904, he made his way on foot towards Mexico. He continued towards the Andes through Columbia and Peru. He explored a route by the side of Lake Titicaca. Till that time, it is said, that highest great lake was unknown to the world!

And from South America he travelled to the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Japan; through Xinjiang in China he came back to the Himalayas and reached Benares. (According to him, following the ancient pilgrims’ way, he discovered the ascending route to Mount Everest and much later that same route was taken by John Hunt and his party in 1952. It was John Hunt who led Edmond Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing in 1953 to reach the summit.)

The details of his world tour, which were briefly revealed by Shivapuri Baba himself, are simply incredible, and cannot be brought to a small write-up like this. But still, some remarkable personalities he met during his journey are mentioned by Bennet: He met Bal Gangadhar Tilak,  the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement. In Calcutta, he met Ramakrishna and in Baroda, Aurobindo. He met the Aga Khan in Afghanistan and in Turkey, Abdul Hamid II, 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He spoke to Kaiser Wilhelm II (German Emperor) and Queen Emma of The Netherlands. He met George Bernard Shaw who sneered at him, “You Indian saints are the most useless of men; you have no respect for time.” Unruffled, Shivapuri Baba replied, “It is you who are slaves of time. I live in Eternity.” He also had a talk with Albert Einstein.

Shivapuri Baba and Queen VictoriaDuring the four years from 1896 to 1901, while he was in England, he had eighteen personal meetings with Queen Victoria. Bennet states the reason that Shivapuri Baba stayed in one place for such a long period was because of Queen Victoria’s insistence that he should not leave England during her lifetime. Apparently, all details of their meetings were removed from the Queen’s diary by Princess Beatrice, her fifth daughter and youngest child.

It was after seventy-five years, that he came back to his birth place in Kerala, in 1915. His around-the-world ‘pilgrimage’ had covered tens of thousands of miles and taken forty years. He was almost ninety years old. In the meantime, his twin sister had sold most of the family properties and distributed money to the poor, and had died.

He again went to the Narmada forest, still in possession of some of the money his grandfather had given to him, buried it among the trees and proceeded to walk to Nepal. In those days, Indian pilgrims were not permitted to stay in Nepal for more than a week after Shivaratri. On his way back, an Englishman recognized him as he was walking on the road. He leaned out from his carriage and asked him, “Are you not Govinda?” It was Mr. Wilkinson who, while still a schoolboy, had met Govindananda twenty years earlier on the Isle of Man where he had stayed with the Wilkinson family. Wilkinson had much influence on the authorities and made all arrangements for Govindananda to stay in a place near Kathmandu. That forest area was known as Shivapuri and thus he became Shivapuri Baba.

Shivapuri National ParkDuring his stay in Shivapuri, many householders, scholars, religious and famous people from nearby countries started visiting him. One of the main figures among them was Professor Ratnasuriya, a learned Buddhist from Ceylon. Ratnasuriya had met P.D. Ouspensky and had talked with him about Shivapuri Baba and his teaching. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, India’s second president and a famous philosopher, once made a visit to Nepal in order to attend some function in the Royal Guest House. But, no sooner had he alighted from the plane, he asked to be taken to Shivapuri Baba’s retreat; this became big news in Nepal and India.

After a few years, Shivapuri Baba contracted gum cancer. He then moved to a small hut in a nearby place called Kirateshwar, taking some treatment. After a few years, seeing he hadn’t recovered fully, he healed himself through certain yogic procedures.

Baba left his forest retreat once in 1955, at the age of 129, and flew to Benares. That was the only occasion he flew in an aeroplane.

Long Pilgrimage book cover

Around Easter 1961, J.G. Bennett, a disciple of G.I. Gurdjieff met Shivapuri Baba at the age of 135 years, alert, quick, and graceful, with a phenomenal memory and an inspiring spiritual presence. One of the most remarkable features of his teaching was his ability to communicate spiritual wisdom in only a few words in the idiom of his questioners.

The book Long Pilgrimage is a lengthy interview Shivapuri Baba gave to Bennet in which he explains his message. To convey it in a single phrase it would be – the right life. I would understand the same through Osho’s words, perhaps a more beautiful one – the spontaneous life.

Shivapuri Baba left his body on 28 January 1963 in Dhruvasthali, Kathmandu; he had lived on this earth for 137 years!

Together with friends I recently visited his birthplace, Akkikavu. A small granite memorial with a plaque is there that had been placed a few years ago, at the spot where his house had been. That’s all.

Let me complete my scribbles with a funny incident from Shivapuri Baba’s life, shared by Osho.²

“Just a few days ago I was reading the memoirs of a very rare man. He was a saint who died a few years ago. He lived for a really long time – almost one hundred and forty years. His name was Shivapuri Baba, Shivapuri Baba of Nepal. In his memoirs he tells a story.

When he went to Jaipur a very rich man gave him a box full of notes, hundred-rupee notes. While in the train he looked into the box; it was full of notes and he wanted to know how many notes he had. So he started counting. In the compartment there were only two persons, Shivapuri Baba, a very old ancient man – at the time he must have been about one hundred and twenty years old – and an English lady, a young woman. She became interested. This old beggar was in the first class and was carrying a whole box of one-hundred-rupee notes?

An idea came in her mind. She jumped up and said, ‘You give me half the money otherwise I will pull the chain and I will tell them that you tried to rape me.’ Shivapuri Baba laughed and put his hands to his ears as if he were deaf. And he gave her some paper and said, ‘Write it down. I cannot hear.’ So she wrote it down. He took it and put it in his pocket and said, ‘Now pull the chain.’

This is presence of mind! It is not functioning out of the past because this has never happened before and it may not happen again. But, in a flash, like lightning, a man who is really present will act out of his presence.” ¹

Thomas the Apostle

“Be passersby.”

Already as a child, I was hooked by this statement, (42) from the Gospel of Thomas. The gospel was only translated into our mother tongue, Malayalam in the 1980s. It was the first book I purchased other than the text books and study materials for school, where I attended eighth class. It was a school run by a Christian organization, as part of their ‘religious works’ and once in a while Christian books exhibitions would be organized. I remember, the only reason to buy this small book was that it was the cheapest, less than a rupee in those days.

St ThomasI hadn’t fallen in love with that book, but still, not knowing why, I always kept it with me as essential reading. Years later, especially after I shifted to Mumbai, I found the book The Mustard Seed by Osho in which he speaks about the same Gospel! And immediately I felt an inexplicable intimacy with my small book and started reading those maxims. Before The Mustard Seed reached me, the Gospel of Thomas had begun to reveal by itself, the sharpness, the urgency, the insightful glimpses of beauty, the simplicity, the silent peaks of a source beyond. And after listening to Osho speak on the gospel, this small book became an unending ‘book of gratitude’ for me. Even though I had imbibed the statement, “Be passersby,” I had not absorbed it at all. But when I heard Osho explain what tathagat means… that was it. Ah, this!

Thomas was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. It is believed that he travelled outside the Roman Empire for many years to preach the gospel and travelled as far as the Malabar Coast of India, which is modern-day Kerala State, arriving in 52 CE.  From there he is said to have preached the gospel throughout the Malabar Coast, where there were Jewish colonies. In accordance with apostolic custom, Thomas ordained teachers, leaders or elders. Higher caste brahmins were those who had converted first. Thomas was very much impressed by their lifestyle, and adapted some of their hair styles, clothing, and practices such as yoga and martial arts.

Osho explains: “Thomas adapted himself completely to the Hindu way of life. He changed his clothes; he was even wearing the Hindu thread that symbolized the Hindu. He was using the red mark on his forehead that symbolizes a certain sect of Hindu. He shaved his head, and he was using wooden sandals which only Hindu monks use. He tried to learn from Hindu masters whatever he could manage. And he tried in the south of India to teach Christ translated into Hindu terms, and he succeeded.” ²

Palayoor_Church-1It has been stated that the well-known term ‘Seven and half Churches’ (Ezharappallikal in Malayalam) relates to the affirmation of Thomas’ gospel activities. Actually eight churches were built; ‘half church’ originated because of a wrong translation from the Tamil language. They were established on the Periyar River and its tributaries and along the coast – in Kodungalloor, Niranam, Kollam, Chayal, Kottakkavu, Kokkamangalam, Kanyakumariand and Palayoor, the latter considered the oldest church, in place since 52 CE. The façade of this ornate building is rather small – just 10 metres wide, but more than 60 metres long.  The bell tower next to it has an opulent interior.  An interesting factor is that all the churches in this group belong to the different congregations of Christianity.

The historical facts and beliefs about Thomas were not clear to me until I heard Osho talk about the conspiracy behind Jesus’ death and his life after crucifixion, in Pahalgam, Kashmir. But many historians don’t agree with this. A few sections of Christianity don’t agree even to the fact that Thomas had landed in Kerala. Even those who agree, aren’t ready or not happy to hear that Thomas had come from Kashmir. All of them are in fear that they finally will have to agree that Jesus did not die on the cross. To avoid inquiries about Pahalgam where Jesus’s tomb was found (as stated by many, also Osho), the priest circle is hiding the fact that Thomas had come from Kashmir and simply say that Thomas came through northwest India and then travelled south to Kerala, or allege he must have come from China!

Gospel of St. ThomasThere is no information available during which time Thomas wrote his Gospel. It was discovered in northern Egypt in 1945, as part of the Nag Hammadi texts. Christianity in Kerala is dominated by Thomas yet church authorities from Vatican to locals priests are still reluctant to accept the Gospel written by him. It is not considered as religious as other gospels in the Bible. Thomas reports Jesus as being a rebellious figure and that naturally contradicts with the ongoing activities and intention of the established clergy.

After twenty years’ travelling and teaching in Kerala, Thomas was martyred by being stabbed with a deadly spear at St. Thomas Mount in Chennai on July 3, 72 CE; his body was interred in Mylapore, near Madras (now Chennai).

Quotes by Osho from
¹ Tao: The Pathless Path, Vol 2, Ch 3
² The Transmission of Lamp, Ch 32, Q 1

Related articles
  • Link to this series: Osho and Kerala
  • Osho speaks on Shivapuri Baba’s in Books I Have Loved: 16. In Memory of Alan Watts
  • Jesus in KashmirMuch evidence has been shown in books and documentaries about Jesus not having died on the cross but having traveled to India where his remains are kept, writes Bhagawati
  • Osho speaks on St Thomas“It was a great insight of Jesus to send Thomas to South India where it was possible to preach and spread Jesus’ word.”
  • Osho speaks on ‘Notes on Jesus’ by Thomas in Books I Have Loved: 13. Never Be An Imitator

Dhyan Tarpan is a writer, translator and musician from Kerala.

Comments are closed.