A Hindi prayer of praise to Meher Baba in forty couplets
by Keshav N. Nigam
Introduction by Kendra Crossen
Among Meher Baba’s many ardent lovers in Hamirpur district in northern India, Keshav Nigam (1909-1987) is one of those known as a “giant in Baba’s cause.” By profession a lawyer, before coming to Baba he had been a follower of Gandhi in the struggle against British rule of India and was imprisoned for political activism. He first heard the name of Meher Baba in 1942 but did not come to accept Baba as the Highest of the High till 1948-49. Among other tireless Baba work, Keshav made translations into Hindi of Baba’s messages, circulars, and discourses. Translating God Speaks at Baba’s order, he completed the work by dictating it to a helper, despite suffering severely from Parkinson’s disease, with shaking hands, impaired memory, and speech difficult to understand. He also translated Jean Adriel’s Avatar into Hindi. (It’s quite amazing how this book by a Western woman brought many Indians to the Avatar present in their own country — thanks perhaps to Keshav’s translation.)
Also at Baba’s order Keshav wrote his own autobiography in English, and Baba said the original was to be published no earlier than 2003. Thus, although written in 1970, My Life Story with Avatar Meher Baba by Keshava Narayan Nigam was published in 2003 by his daughter, Dr. Meher Jyoti Kulshreshtha, Lucknow, in the original English-language version as requested by Baba. (It had been published in Hindi translation in 1988.)
Why Baba does what he does is often a mystery, but could we not suppose that by asking this humble person, unknown to the world, to write his autobiography in English for future publication, Baba showed that he wanted people all over the world (English being widely used as a common language in world commerce and communication) to know about Keshav as an example of a true lover of God? Keshav’s own original Hindi composition, a devotional poem/song titled Meher Chalisa, is already well known to Baba-lovers, and since it pleased the God-Man, surely it will be known to the world in the future.
Why would Keshav Nigam be worthy to go down in history? Keshav Nigam’s birthplace, the village of Mahewa in Hamirpur district, U.P., was where, in 1952, Keshav directed the building of a clay hut for Meher Baba and his mandali to stay in, situated on a raised mound amid densely forested surroundings outside the village. Keshav named the place Meherastana — the Abode of Meher. Baba stayed there for the first time in November 1952. It was at this place, Meherastana, that on February 10, 1954, Baba publicly announced that he is the Avatar of the Age, by spelling out on his alphabet board for Eruch to read out: “Avatar Meher Baba ki Jai” (Victory unto Avatar Meher Baba) — words that will resound from the lips of his lovers for hundreds of years. In an extremely happy mood, Baba “told those gathered that it was the first time in this Incarnation He had openly and clearly declared Himself to be the Avatar. And from that day on, Meher Baba continued to assert His Avatarhood in public and in private” (Bal Natu, Glimpses of the God-Man, Meher Baba, 5: 9).
In a preface to Keshav’s autobiography, Erico Nadel wrote: “It was no accident that Meher Baba first publicly declared himself the Avatar before a small gathering of friends in a remote village by a fire in the middle of a long quiet night just after hearing Keshav’s poem, ‘Meher Chalisa,’ rather than, for example, as a media event on the cover of Time magazine.”
Lord Meher by Bhau Kalchuri reports that Meher Chalisa was recited just after Baba spelled out “Avatar Meher Baba ki Jai” for the first time. But in either case, we can still note that the Meher Chalisa was recited in close proximity to that momentous event, prior to which Baba told Keshav: “You have no idea what gift you are about to receive at this moment.”
Can there be any doubt that Meher Chalisa belongs among the great prayers and hymns to Meher Baba? Keshav Nigam recited the Meher Chalisa before Beloved Baba himself not only in life but also during the seven days when Baba’s body lay in his Tomb prior to interment. According to Dr. H. P. Bharucha’s account, Meher Baba’s Last Sahavas, Keshav stood in the Tomb and recited the forty verses despite his advanced illness.
Here we bring you Meher Chalisa in English translation and in a recording of a Hindi performance of the song by Meera Kale of Jabalpur (also on YouTube). The word chalisa means “forty,” and such forty-verse songs are a traditional type of Hindu prayer often dedicated to a deity (as in Hanuman Chalisa, Ganesh Chalisa, Kali Chalisa, etc.). The verses below are followed by a glossary of names and terms from the poem, arranged by verse number. The notes are important for understanding the verse if one does not know Hindu lore.
Mrs. Meera Kale, a superb vocalist trained in Indian classical music, is the daughter of Meher Baba’s old disciple R. P. Pankhraj. Her husband, Niket Kale, is the son of Murli Kale (one of the Prem Ashram boys, who later became Meher Baba’s New Life Companion), and the grandson of Kalemama (a member of Baba’s mandali from 1926). Niket writes on his site TrustMeher.org, where this recording is available for free download: “The Meher Chalisa is widely sung amongst Indian Meher Baba Centers and homes, along with Baba’s Aarti. This composition was always sung before Meher Baba and Baba liked it very much. It is presumed that Meher Chalisa … [is] sung in the same tune as have been sung before Baba.”
OTHER VERSIONS: There are two other song versions downloadable at this Hindi Songs page, but note that the third mp3 on this page is not about Meher Baba. Jean Gousseff notes in a comment below that Mrs. Kale’s version is not necessarily the same as renditions sung in other Baba centers in India.
Hari! Paramatma! Allah! Ahurmazd! God! Yazdan! Hu!
Hail to Thee Meher, Avatar of the Age!
Hail to Thine unique Glory!
Salutations to Thy Lovers and God-intoxicated ones
Whose Love draws Thee to Earth.
Feign would I apply to my head and to my heart
the dust of their feet.
Emboldened in the assurance of their Love for Thee
I continue striving to attain Thee, Meher!
Hail to Thee, BABA! All-knowing, Infinite One,
Prop of the Universe,
Thou Perfect, Ancient one, Sustainer of all
Hail to Thee, Personification of patience and
purity; bestower of peace!
Thou art the sole hope of Thy Lovers, and art
eternally at play with Thine endless Divine Game.
Guide of the age, guardian of true religion,
Thou art the treasure-house of all renunciation and self-denial.
Just a glimpse of thy true Self would release us
from the grip of illusory bondage.
Formless Thou art, enformed —
I hail Thee who art both Man and God!
Without, within, above and below,
Thou alone art — there is none but Thee.
Thou art the BABA of Thy Lovers,
the “Merwan” of Babajan,
the treasurer of Upasni,
the sun of the Lotus family of all saints and sages.
Emperor of realized beings, hail!
Hail, Thou Divine Ancient Light!
Unchanging art Thou, the symbol of peace
and Existence Eternal.
The creature that loves Thee becomes as Thee;
as the layers of deceptive impression fall off,
he is revealed in Thy true image of Godhood.
To lead humanity out of its sea of confusion
Thou hast come.
To wipe out distinction of creed, colour and religion
Thou hast come.
To reveal to the world Thy Power,
To spread the glory of Love, to uphold the life
of truth, Thou wert born to Shirinmai.
How can I sing Thy glory
when Shesh and Sharda could not fathom it!
Thou art eternal and limitless in Thy immensity;
and in the end all becomes absorbed in Thee.
Though limitless, Thou hast come to us as God-Man.
Though infinite, Thou hast bound Thyself
with finiteness in order to uphold and prove
the limitations of the finite.
Thou alone wast Mira’s “Giridhar,”
Thou the “Shyam” of Surdas, 7
None but Thee the “Sanwaliya” of Narsi,
Thou the “Rama” of Tulsidas.
To Keshav, Thou art “Beloved Baba”
enthroned in his heart.
With Thy sweet glance of grace upon him
Thine image reigns supreme in the temple of his mind.
Thou alone art the touch-stone,
transmuting the life of this sinner.
Behold, I have been blessed! This day I have
caught hold of Thy Lotus feet
and the triple sorrows10 have burnt to ashes.
I do not want the renown of the world,
I long not for the occult and supernatural.
This world’s treasures and possessions
I would spurn for the dust of Thy feet.
I long ever for Thy beloved Face
To see it is my joy.
On it I meditate, in praise of it I sing, and
I offer my obeisance to it
in the offering of my self.
If my ears may hear, let it be but the sound of Thy Name.
If my tongue may speak, let it be but to sing Thy praise.
Let my mind relinquish the snares of the world
and be engrossed only in Thee.
So dwell in my eyes, Lord,
that I may see none save Thee.
Sweet is the continuous uttering of Thy Name: “MEHER”!
There is naught else but Thee.
Each time I am born,
may I find, O God-Man, Thy Form,
then, with my devotion and service unto Thee
at last fulfilled, be re-absorbed into Thy Formlessness.
I am a slave at Thy feet.
Night and day I long for naught else
save Thy grace to so descend upon me, Lord,
that I may serve Thee.
O Redeemer of sinners!
Whenever Thou shalt descend on earth,
forget not this sinful one, for I too am Thy follower.
In each Avataric Advent
may I be blessed with human form,
so that I may see Thee, love Thee, serve Thee.
Having seen Thy Light, O Lord Supreme,
I will then be content to watch Thy Shadow-game.
I long for the devotion of Tulsidas
and for the divine madness of Mira,
so that whirling in the intoxication of ecstasy
I may dance before Thee and shed tears of love.
Let me curl up at Thy feet
and lose all remembrance of the world and self.
Be Thou the worshipped and the worshipper in me —
I cherish no other desire.
Endowed with the tongue of Surdas
may I continually sing Thy glory!
And, should Thou reject me for my failings,
let me lock Thee all the more securely in my heart.
Grant me that detachment which was Kabir’s, Lord,
that I may keep the Unseen ever vigilant
in His care o’er me.
May my mortal sheet cover me ever so lightly
that when relinquished it shall be untainted as new.
When my body is dropped, let it be for Thee,
that I may rank with Jatayu and repose
peacefully in the folds of Thy embrace.
Then might I seek entrance to Thy abode.
I will feed Thee the wild berries of Shabri
and procure for Thee the vegetables Thou didst eat at Vidur’s.
I would die a thousand deaths in joy
wert Thou to relish them with that self-same love!
By the grace of Thy touch and name,
Ahilya and Ganikaand Sadna were redeemed.
So was blessed Ajamil.
Valmiki who repeated “Mara-Mara”
in place of “Rama-Rama” too gained emancipation.
May that same destiny be reserved for me, O Baba!
this boon I ask of Thee.
Becoming as Nishad I would drink the water
that bathed Thy feet:
and achieve the aim of many lifetimes.
Would that I were a sentinel at Thy gate,
keeping watch day and night.
As the son of Anjani so would I serve Thee
and gain Thy darshan each day.
Sages, Rishis, Rakshasas, humans, all come to Thy door;
and the Muni-Narada sings, to the strains of his lute,
Thy Name that sanctifies.
Thou art Brahma; thou art Vishnu.
In Thee I recognize the beginningless Shiva
and Indra and Brahaspati.
Thou alone art Lord of the three worlds.
Hail to Thee, O Creator and Upholder of the Universe!
Thou art the Friend and hope of the down-trodden
of the three worlds. Thou art the Ocean of mercy.
Thou art for Thy lovers and Thy lovers are for Thee.
Hail to Thee, Personification of Love!
Hail to Thee, Source of Peace!
Hail to Thee, Embodiment of Divinity!
Redeemer of the fallen, Slave to the love of Thy lovers,
Thou art all Power.
Saviour of sinners I hail Thee!
Symbol of purity, Thou dwelleth in each form.
Thou art Light eternal, dispelling the darkness of suffering.
Though limitless, Thou art perfect in
the limitations assumed by Thee.
With folded hands I beseech Thee, so shower Thy grace
on me that Thou art never absent from the temple
of my mind and heart. To Thee I have surrendered.
Such a flame of Thy love didst Thou give to Prahlad,
as all Saints have proclaimed. Prahlad was flung from
the mountain top, and thrust into raging fire,
but Love and Truth triumphed, unshaken, unimpaired.
Bless me with that rock-like faith of Dhruva
to which stands witness the Dhruva-tara (Pole Star).
Let the world lose its grip over me, and eternal union
with Thee take place, O Beloved!
Babajan: One of the five Perfect Masters of this Avataric age. She gave to Meher Baba the realization of his Godhood, and used to refer to Him by His name Merwan.
Upasni Maharaj: Another of the perfect Masters. He helped Meher Baba to regain gross consciousness.
Shirinmai: The mother of Meher Baba.
Shesh: The great Serpent of the thousand tongues, on whom the god Vishnu reclines.
Sharda: Goddess of wisdom.
Mira, Surdas, Narsi: Unique in their devotion to Lord Krishna.
[Giridhar, Shyam, Sanwaliya: Epithets of Lord Krishna. —KC]
Tulsidas: Lover of Lord Rama.
The triple sorrows: Pertaining to the body, the world, and fate.
Jatayu: The bird that got killed while trying to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana.
Shabri: A girl of low caste who loved Rama, and for years daily gathered berries for Him in the hope that He would come by her hut someday in the course of His exile. He did, and accepted with love the berries she had tasted to ensure their sweetness.
Vidur: A poor devotee whose love-imbued dish of saltless vegetable Lord Krishna relished more than the feast at the palace.
Ahilya: Through a curse she had been turned to stone. She was reinstated to human form at the first touch of Lord Rama’s feet, during his wanderings in exile.
Ganika: A prostitute who had a pet parrot whom she taught to say the name of the Avatar, “Rama.” In the process of teaching the parrot she continually and inadvertently repeated the Name, which caused her Emancipation.
Sadna: A butcher who, despite the daily slaughtering of animals as demanded by his trade, received Salvation through his steadfast honesty with the scale, inspired by his devotion to God.
Ajamil: Although a non-believer and bird-hunter and considered a great sinner, he
nevertheless gained liberation because he called out with his last breath his son’s name
“Narayan,” which is also the Name of God.
Valmiki: A dacoit by profession until he met the Guru who changed his life. The Guru told him to sit in one spot in the forest indefinitely and repeat God’s Name: Rama, Rama. For long years Valmiki was unable to do so; instead he found himself repeating in reverse: Mara, Mara. [Mara is goddess of death in Hinduism. —KC] Finally he gained Enlightenment, and wrote the Ramayana, which is known as Valmiki Ramayana.
Nishad: A boatman who used to ferry back and forth across the Ganges. During exile
Lord Rama came to this river and engaged Nishad to ferry him across. Nishad, recognizing the divinity of Rama, cried: “Only if first Thou dost allow me to wash Thy feet lest I lose my means of livelihood, for dust of Thy feet might turn the wood of my vessel into a human being, as it did the stone that became Ahilya!” The boon was granted him. He washed Lord Rama’s feet with water, then took that Sacred Water with his whole family, and happily ferried Lord Rama across the Ganges.
Son of Anjani: Hanuman, the “monkey-god” whose devotion to Rama is considered
Narad: Matchless among deva Rishis [divine sages –KC] as declared by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita [10.26]; he had access to the three worlds.
Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Sustainer) and Shiva (Dissolver): Personifications of the
three aspects of the Almighty — creation, preservation, dissolution.
19. Indra: Vedic deity, the King of Heaven.
20. Brahaspati: Vedic deity, also regarded as a Teacher of the gods.
21. The three worlds: gross, subtle, mental. Referring sometimes also to heaven, earth and hell.
Prahlad: A youngster whose father hated him for his devotion to God, and whose every effort to destroy the boy was frustrated by divine intervention in response to the child’s unwavering faith.
Dhruva: A prince who as a child left home and his father’s kingdom determined to
pursue severe penance in the forests in order to find God.
Dhruva-tara: The North or Pole Star, regarded as the “Seat” offered to Dhruva. Appearing in the same place throughout the night, it symbolizes the unchanging state which Dhruva gained through the grace of the god Vishnu.