Mahavatar Babaji is a highly revered mystic who taught many great spiritual leaders such as Paramahansa Yogananda. He is considered the first in the line of Gurus. His identity and age are unknown. He is believed to have lived for hundreds of years in the Himalayas. Babaji is the mysterious teacher of Kriya Yoga to all the great teachers of our time. He is ageless and deathless due to his knowledge of the mystical Kriya Yoga. He appears to his disciples at will and is unseen by the general public.
The origins of Mahavatar Babaji are unknown. What we do know of him is through the accounts of his disciples. The two most popular accounts of Babaji are by Sri Yogananda in his book “Autobiography Of A Yogi” and by Marshall Govindan in his book “Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition”.
Autobiography Of A Yogi: Yogananda
Yogananda states that Babaji’s birthplace and family are unknown. He calls him the deathless Guru. Yogananda tells us that Mahavatar Babaji looked like a 25-year-old youth with no marks of age on his person. He is fair-skinned and of medium build and height but with a glow radiating from his body. His hair is copper coloured and long and lustrous. Babaji also has eyes that are dark, tender and calm. As his body is not mortal he did not require food to sustain himself. However, out of social courtesy, he accepts fruits or rice cooked in milk and Ghee from disciples. Yogananda created the most well known of Mahavatar Babaji photos with the help of an artist.
Mahavatar Babaji would converse in Hindi but was able to use any other language. Though Babaji himself took the simple name of ‘Babaji’, he has been given many other names. Babaji means revered father. His other names are Mahamuni Babaji Maharaj which means supreme ecstatic saint and Maha Yogi or the greatest of yogis. He has also been called Trambak Baba and Shiva Baba.
Yogananda tells us about his experiences of Babaji. He describes him as a mystical figure with no known origin. Babaji was the Guru of Lahiri Mahasaya. Yogananda tells us that Babaji lived in the northern mountains of the Himalayas near Badrinarayan. The ancestors of the Badrinath temple head priests claimed to have met Mahavatar Babaji near Vasudhara Falls, past Mana village, after Badrinath. He was an Avatar or the descent of the divine into flesh upon this earth. There are no records of Mahavatar Babaji in history as he does not reveal himself to public view. Since Avatars have the ability to become invisible at will they are not seen unless they want to be seen.
Yoganada Describes An Avatar As Per The Upansihads
The Upanishads describe the different states of man. The Jivan Mukta person is freed while still living. The Siddha is a perfected being who has advanced from the Jivan Mukta state. The Para Mukta being is freed from death. This state of being is free from the Maya of the world as well as the cycle of reincarnation. Such a Para Mukta very rarely returns to the physical body. When such a being does take a physical body, the being is an Avatar.
When an Avatar appears on the earth it looks no different to a casual observer. But the Avatar is not subject to the standard rules of the universe. The Avatar is a light image with no darkness inside. So the Avatar casts no shadow nor does it create footprints. Yogananda describes such a person as a God-man who knows the truth of life and death.
Mahavatar Babaji: Kriya Yoga
Yogananda even describes Mahavatar Babaji as a Yogi. While Rama, Krishna, Patanjali and Buddha were the ancient Indian Avatars he says that Babaji is an Avatar of our times. He also describes Siddha Agastya as an Avatar of South India. Babaji is an Avatar who helps the prophets of our times to fulfil their missions. Babaji told Yogananda that he was the one who initiated Shankara into Yoga and also Kabir the saint. His main disciple in the nineteenth century was Lahiri Mahasaya who revived the lost art of Kriya.
Mahavatar Babaji’s Age
Yogananda states that great Avatars like Krishna and Christ come to the Earth for specific purposes and leave as soon as it is accomplished. Mahavatar Babaji is here to give spiritual salvation to this age and to eliminate wars, materialism, divisions based on religion and to spread this equally in both the East and the West. Yogananda also states that Babaji and Christ met. This would make Babaji over 2000 years old.
Babaji gave the knowledge of Kriya Yoga to Lahiri Mahasaya who was Yogananda’s Guru. When Yogananda was told to take this knowledge to the West he prayed and meditated deeply asking for a blessing. Mahavatar Babaji himself appeared to Yogananda and gave him his blessing and promise of protection. He assured Yogananda that he would spread the message of God realisation, the techniques of Kriya Yoga and help to harmonise all the nations through their perception of Divinity.
Babaji’s Background By Marshal Govindan
We have another account of Babaji’s childhood from the book “Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga tradition” by Marshall Govindan. Marshall Govindan has obtained descriptions of Babaji and his origins from Babaji’s disciples. Babaji appeared to people and revealed details and incidents of his life to them. As per the book, Babaji was born in a Namboodri Brahmin family. He was named Nagarajan by his parents.
The book states that Babaji gave the details of his birth as well as childhood to V.T. Neelakantan and S.A.A. Ramaiah who were the founders of Kriya Babaji Sangha. This is an organisation that teaches Babaji’s Kriya Yoga. Ramaiah was a young graduate student of Geology in the University Of Madras while V.T. Neelakantan was a student of Annie Beasant and also a famous journalist. Babaji appeared to them both individually and brought them together to start the mission to spread his teachings.
Babaji told them that he was born in the Parangipettai village in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, India. He was a disciple of Bogar. His father was the village temple priest.
Babaji narrated an incident in his childhood. When Babaji was four years old, his mother obtained a jackfruit for the family. This fruit was rather rare at the time. Babaji found the jackfruit and he ate it all. When his mother saw this she flew into a rage and stuffed a cloth into his mouth almost suffocating the child. Babaji survived and learned the lesson to love without attachment or illusion. He still loved his mother in an unconditional and unattached manner. Babaji also told his disciples that he left home at the age of 15. He was attracted to join a group of Sannyasins. Babaji wandered around and spent his time in deep meditation and learning the holy scriptures. He learned the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata and also the Bhagavad Gita.
Mahavatar Babaji’s Initiation And Self Realisation
Marshall Govindan narrates the tale of Babaji’s self-realisation. At the age of 11, he made his way on foot and by boat to Srilanka with a group of Sannyasins. There he met Siddhar Bogar and became his disciple. He spent a long time in intense Yoga Sadhana with Bogar. Finally, Bogar told him to seek initiation from Siddhar Maharishi Agastya. So, Babaji became the disciple of Siddhar Maharishi Agastya who initiated him into Kriya Kundalini Pranayama or Vasi Yogam. Babaji then went to the Himalayas. He practised all the teachings of both Siddhar Bogar as well as Siddhar Agastya. He quickly attained self-realisation.
Mahavatar Babaji appeared to many of his disciples. Lahiri Mahasaya met Babaji in 1861 when he was an accountant working for the British Government. He was walking in the hills in Ranikhet when he heard a voice calling out his name. He followed the voice and met Babaji who he described as a tall and divinely radiant Sadhu. Babaji initiated Lahiri Mahasaya into Kriya Yoga and told him to spread the knowledge. Lahiri Mahasaya met with Babaji many more times. The book Sampoorna Sripada Vallabha names Lahiri Mahasaya as the Guru of Sri Shirdi Saibaba who initiated him into Kriya Yoga.
Sri Yukteshwar Giri who was the disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya saw Babaji in 1894 at the Kumbh Mela. He found a close resemblance between Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya. Pranabananda Giri who was also a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya also met Babaji. He asked Babaji his age. Babaji replied that he was 500 years old.
The other disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya who met Babaji were Keshabananda, Kebalananda Giri and Ram Gopal Muzumdar. Shankari Mata (who was a disciple of Trailanga Swami) also met Babaji when he was visiting Lahiri Mahasaya.
Mahavatar Babaji’s Sister: Mataji
Some of Lahiri Mahasaya’s disciples met Babaji with his sister who he called Mataji. Yogananda describes her as being ageless and in the same level of spiritual attainment as her brother. She lives through the centuries in a state of spiritual ecstasy in a cave.