Neem Karoli Baba, or Neeb Karori Baba, is known to his followers as Maharaj Ji. He is a highly revered saint and devotee of the Lord Hanuman. In the West, he was the guru to several Americans who traveled to India in the 1960s and 1970s. Baba Ram Dass, Bhagavan Das, Krishna Das, and Jai Uttal are some of the best-known of these students.
Love everyone, serve everyone, remember God, and tell the truth. – Neem Karoli Baba
Birth and Early Life
There is no reliable data on the date of birth of Neem Karoli Baba. He was born as Lakshmi Narayan Sharma in Akbarpur village, Faizabad District (now Ambedkar Nagar Uttar Pradesh, India), to a Brahmin family of Durga Prasad Sharma.
As a small child, about seven or eight years old, he would miss school because he would go to the jungle to do Tapasya (Meditation). Only fragmentary information has survived about his childhood.
After his marriage at age 11, he left his home to become a wandering Sadhu, Baba Lakshman Das.
Several Names of Maharajji
During the years of his wanderings, Maharajji had practically nothing. He was dressed in the only dhoti that he had, and he ate and drank from a piece of a broken jug thrown out by someone, which he wore on his head like a cap. At that time, he was known as Handi Valla Baba (Baba with a Pot).
At one of the stages of his spiritual development, he lived near Aligarh and Manipuri. Here he performed spiritual practices while sitting in the water. That is why the locals called him Tikonia Valla Baba. (Tikonia means a triangular reservoir).
When he performed austerities in Bawania, Gujarat, he was known as Tallaya Baba. In Vrindavan, the locals called him Chamatkari (Miraculous) Baba. Many venerated him as a saint.
How he became Neeb Karori Baba
This was at the time when Maharaj Ji started wandering through Northern India. At that time, he was called Baba Lakshman Das. For several days, no one served him any food, and hunger forced him to take a train from Farrukhadab station and go to the nearest big city.
When the conductor discovered that Maharaj Ji was sitting in the first-class carriage without a ticket, he pulled the emergency brake, and the train came to a grinding halt. After some altercation, Maharaj-Ji was unceremoniously dropped off the train. The train stopped at the village of Neeb Karori, where Maharaj-ji lived.
He sat down in the shade under a tree, the conductor blew his whistle, and the driver opened the throttle. However, the train did not budge. Every effort was made to force the train to go further; even another steam locomotive was called in to push the train, but to no avail.
A local one-armed judge who knew Maharaj-Ji advised the railway officials to persuade the young sadhu to return to the train. At first, officials refused to respond to such superstitions, but after numerous unsuccessful attempts to get the train moving, they decided to give it a try.
A large group of passengers and railroad workers approached the Maharaj-Ji. They brought with them food and sweets, which they offered him as an offering. Then they asked him to get on the train. He agreed, but subject to two conditions:
- Officials must promise to build a railway station for the residents of neeb Karori village (at that time, they had to walk many miles to the nearest station), and
- Henceforth the railway workers should treat all sadhus better.
The officials promised to do everything they could, and the Maharaj-Ji finally got on the train. Then they asked him to start the engine. The Maharaj-ji indignantly asked, Is it really me who should make the train start? The driver started the engine, and the train drove for several yards, after which the driver stopped the train and said, until this sadhu orders me, I will not go. Maharaj-ji said, Let the train go, and the train moved on.
The officials kept their word, and soon a railway station was built near the village of Neeb Karori, and the sadhus began to be treated with great respect. And to the western world, he was known as the Saint who stopped the train.
Life of a wanderer
Maharaj-ji was a wanderer; he was always on a constant move. In the ashram also, he did not sit still; one could approach him freely, then he was hiding in some room, firmly locking the door with a bolt.
His movement was not limited to the border of any territory; he was like a Hanuman, the son of Vayu. He wandered from village to village, being in the mountains, now in the valleys, now at one end of India, now at the other, now in ashrams in the jungle.
He could, without any warning, leave in an unknown direction in the middle of the night. Or he could take a train, supposedly heading to some city, and then get off at a completely different station, sometimes without even waiting for the train to stop, so the devotees who followed him could not catch up with him.
Baba, Lord Rama and Hanuman
Baba Neem Karoli devoted his entire life to the practice of bhakti-yoga and called service to others (Seva) the highest form of causeless devotion to God. He was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Rama and Lord Hanuman.
Only in the 1930s did the Maharaj-Ji frequently appear in the villages at the foot of the Himalayas and the northern plains. He often played with the children in his early years and then disappeared into the forest. Subsequently, he began to allow Indian homeowners to bring him home and feed him. These people quickly recognized his uniqueness and began to follow him, seeking healing and spiritual guidance.
The Maharaj-ji was often seen visiting temples built in honor of Hanuman. Later, his devotees built many of these temples on his initiative. It seemed that he was constantly on pilgrimage, urging others to visit the sacred temples of India.
His special love for Hanuman and Rama was reflected in the constant repetition of these names of God and in those stories that he loved to tell and loved so much when they were read to him.
Although his devotees constantly brought food to Maharaj-ji, which he distributed to others, sometimes more recipients than givers. And it was in these moments that a keen eye caught the manifestation of what is known as the Siddhi (power) of Annapurna.
Annapurna is the Grain Goddess feeding the entire universe, an aspect of the Divine Mother. One who possesses the Annapurna siddhi can distribute food constantly, and its supply is never depleted.
One man brought some oranges to Maharaj-ji and placed them in an empty basket next to him. Maharaj-ji began distributing oranges to the devotees in the room and others in the temple. The man brought eight oranges, and the Maharaj-ji distributed forty-eight.
During the Kumbh Mela in 1966, Maharaj-ji sat on the banks of the Ganges with two or more sadhus. He told them to bring a lot of water from the Ganges, then he held it in his hands for a bit and told them to distribute the drink. It was real milk.
In front of everyone except his closest devotees, the Maharaj-ji disguised these abilities and often composed a story to make it seem like he had nothing to do with extra food.
Teachings of Neem Karoli Maharaj-ji
Despite his addictions to Rama and Hanuman, Maharaji respected all aspects of God and found true spirituality in all forms of worship. While doing his own sadhana, he observed severe austerities. However, he later said that such practices were unnecessary. He also respected those who performed.
He instructed his devotees about serving people, feeding them, living following the dharma, and, most importantly, thinking about God and loving Him.
- “Sub Ek” – All is One
- All religions are similar. They all lead to God.
- God is in everyone … the same blood flows in each of us; arms, legs, heart – everything is the same with us. Don’t look at the differences; you must see that we are all the same.
- Worship Shiva with love; Rama and Shiva are one. Rama worshiped Shiva; Shiva worshiped Rama. They are one.
- You must see the unity of all beings. You cannot understand God if you see differences. Look for love within yourself.
- The best service you can do is direct your thoughts to God. Think about God every minute.
- Everything is the will of God, but Maya prevents you from realizing that everything is the will of God. He gave us eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and wisdom so we can use them to reach God.
- The best form of worship is to worship God in all forms.
- You must accept all people and see the Lord in them.
- Meditation is helpful. One can achieve purity of mind through concentration and renunciation. Meditate with all your attention, and you will know God.
- See God in everyone. It is deception to teach by individual differences and karma.
- You can plan for a hundred years. But you don’t know what will happen the next moment.
- All action is prayer. All trees are desire-fulfilling. All water is the Ganga. All land is Varanasi. Love everything.
- The best service you can do is to keep your thoughts on God. Keep God in mind every minute.”
Neem Karoli Baba took Mahasamadhi on September 11, 1973, at 1.15 am in a hospital in Vrindavan, India, after falling into a diabetic coma.
He was returning by night train to Kainchi near Nainital from Agra, where he had visited a specialist in cardiology due to chest pain. He and his fellow travelers had landed at the Mathura railway station, where he began to convulse and asked to be taken to Shri Dham Vrindavan. They took him to the hospital emergency room.
The doctor gave him injections at the hospital and placed an oxygen mask over his face. Maharaj-ji awoke and removed the oxygen mask from his face and his arm’s blood pressure measurement band.
Maharaj-ji asked for Ganga water. There was no Ganga Water then, so they brought him regular water. He then recited several times Jaya Jagadish Hare (Hail to the Lord of the Universe) in a lower key. His face became very calm, and all signs of pain disappeared. He took Mahasamadhi.