Discovering Nisargadatta Maharaj

(Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan)

A simple man, Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981)was a householder and petty storekeeper in Mumbai (then known as Bombay) .Like Ramana Maharishi he attracted spiritual seekers across the globe. He got world recognition through the book “I am That”, a translations of his Marathi Tape recordings by Maurice Frydman. 

I first heard about him from a reader of my website.

What Arvind wrote triggered my search to understand who Nisargadatta Maharaj was.

Then I got a note from Radhakrishnan Pillai.

I brought a copy of the book “I am That” and tried to read it. To be honest, it took me repeated reading (of even a passage) thinking and reflecting to understand the essence of it.

But once the book started to reveal itself, there has been no looking back in my life. It talks about the absolute from the stand point of the absolute. Nisargadatta Maharaj, was an enlightened saint who abided in himself as himself.

 In describing Nisargadatta Maharaj, in the introduction of the book it is written.

“There are seers, teachers and revealers who, while living in the same world, live simultaneously in another world also – the world of cosmic consciousness, effulgent with infinite knowledge. After his illuminating experience Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj started living such a dual life. He conducted his shop, but ceased to be a profit- minded merchant. Eternal life, he perceived, was not to be sought for; he already had it. Having gone beyond the I-am-body idea, he had acquired a mental state so joyful, peaceful and glorious that everything appeared to be worthless compared to it. He had attained self- realization”

 I had the deep desire to go and find out the place where he spoke these words of enlightenment. Even though I lived in the city of Mumbai, it took me years to take the initiative. As they say in spiritual path, till the call comes you cannot go.

Then, one Tuesday, on May the 10th, 2005  I made a plan with a few of my‘enlightened’ friends to visit the humble abode of Sri Nisargadatta. I figured that we go all the way to bask in the spiritual environment of Shirdi Sai Baba, Meher Baba, Swami Ramkrishnan, then why be lazy about visiting such spots in ‘aamchi Mumbai’?

 We were told that Nisargadatta used to have a Pan-Beedi shop. (Beedi is a hand made local cigarettes containing tobacco for smoking). 

We had Nisargadatta Maharaj’s address:

Vanmali Bhavan,

10th Road, Khaitwadi,

Grant Road, Mumbai

And the landmark – A public toilet bank opposite his residence !!!

We finally found the place.

 It was the hot afternoon of Mumbai roughly about 12 noon. The roads were narrow. This is a market area of Mumbai, totally crowded, jam packed with traffic, old buildings and shops in each and every gulli (the small streets). It took us about 15 minutes walk in the heat to finally reach the whereabouts.

Maharaj had left his body in 1981. 

We were looking out for the building, Vanmali Bhavan. As we asked another passer-by he just pointed out “This one”. We looked at it. There was not a single name plate on the building. No one could recognize it under any means. However we looked what was opposite the footpath, and we found a ‘Public toilet’.

No signs of temple or any religious or spiritual look in that old building. Wondered if we were at the correct place. As we climbed up, a middle age lady was standing in the first floor. “Yes, this is the house.” she told us. This pious middle aged Maharashtrian lady, guided us inside the small house. It had just 2 rooms an entrance through the kitchen and then a small bedroom. In the bedroom in a small corner wall, was a framed color photo of Maharaj. Other than that, there was no sign that a great master ever lived in this place. 

A young girl in the house said:  “Quite a few people, especially foreigners from Europe come here like you. They then sit in front of the photo of Maharaj, meditate for some time and leave”

The immediate children of Maharaj, had now shifted out from this place formally handing over this place to them. 

The young girl said “When he was alive this place was different. The place where you are sitting used to have a plank where devotees used to come and sit. There were steps leading to the downstairs shop from the room. Today we have renovated the place”

 The young lady went into the kitchen as she had to attend to some work.  We sat there for about 15 minutes in meditation at the feet of the photo.

Thoughts crossed my mind… 

“Sometimes close family members also may not understand the depth of a spiritual master”

 “ A Living master right in the midst of a the crowded streets of Mumbai”

“A profession as unhealthy as making and selling beedies, a residence as unhealthy as opposite a public urinal, a place where hardly 10 people could sit. A following – across the globe”

Sitting there, I had learnt a bit more. A realized man is much beyond the perception of the persons who look at things only from the worldly level.

I was not expecting anything sensational with this visit as the master had left the mortal coil 24 years back. But the visit was more enlightening than expected. 

We were going out to lunch… we felt we had overstayed… As we got into the car  another line from the book “I am that” hit me…

“Maharaj is a unique teacher who helps the seekers to a clearer understanding of himself when he comes to him with the age old questions ‘Whence am I? Who am I?” and “whither am I?” The listeners were never turned away from the humble abode of Maharaj then, and are not turned away now”.

About the Book “I am That”

A series of translations of Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Marathi Tape recordings by Maurice Frydman in a question answer format. It s a revised and re-edited version of 101 talks that appeared in two volumes in earlier editions. Presently in its 4th edition it has been reprinted over 17 times. 

 It has also been translated into 8 foreign languages.

 It is considered as  “ A Modern Spiritual Classic” and many regard it as the book of spiritual teachings really worth studying.

Published by Chetana Publications Copy right 1973 by Nisargadatta Maharaj 

ISBN : 81-85300-53-4

 Some interesting answers of Maharaj from ‘I am that’

Questioner : As I look at you, you seem to be a poor man with very limited means, facing all the problems of poverty and old age, like everybody else.

Maharaj : Were I very rich, what difference would it make? I am what I am. What else can I be? I am neither rich nor poor, I am myself.

Questioner : Are you not afraid to die?

Maharaj : Everybody dies as he lives. I am not afraid of death, because I am not afraid of life. I live a happy life and shall die a happy death. Misery is to be born, not to die. All depends how you look at it.

 Questioner : Is there a way to realization?

Maharaj : Everything can become a way, provided you are interested.  Just puzzling over my words and trying to grasp their full meaning is Sadhana quite sufficient for breaking down the wall. On your side there is so much trouble. On mine there is no trouble at all. Come to my side. You are trouble-prone. I am immune. Anything may happen – what is needed is sincere interest. Earnestness does it.

 Questioner: Again a counsel of perfection! To integrate and strengthen the mind is not an easy task! How does one begin?

Maharaj: You can start only from where you are. You are here and now, you cannot get out of here and now.

Questioner:  But what can I do here and now?

Maharaj: You can be aware of your being-here and now.

Questioner: That is all?

Maharaj: That is all. There is nothing more to it.

Some of the excerpts (in the note above) are from a note by Radhakrishnan Pillai.

The following note is from Ms Shali Chandna.

She speaks about  Ms Scylla Vatcha

Both of the above mentioned taught me the  meaning of Yoga, in more ways than one, and I feel love for them and gratitude for what they taught me.


Note from Shali

Hi Shakun,
Very interesting! Just for your information Scylla Vatcha  & I had
visited Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj in his home at the same address as
below while he was still alive in the late 70’s. My memory of him – a
very simple unassuming humble ‘deceptively ordinary’ human being. He was weak and lying down but talked to us at length – just about ordinary
 I had read his enlightening book ‘I Am That’ and one day when Scylla
told me that she had found his address we both rushed there expecting to see a sage – but we had no idea what a real ‘sage’ looks like!
After meeting him we came home feeling very inspired cause we felt if
he can realize he is already realized – so can all of us. The goal is not beyond the reach of any genuine seeker.
Incidentally u are doing a great job with this newsletter! Do get in
touch whenever u are in Bangalore.

Lots of love,