Mahavatar Babaji is the name given to an Indian saint by Lahiri Mahasaya and several of his disciples who met Mahavatar Babaji between 1861 and 1935. Some of these meetings were described by Paramahansa Yogananda in his book Autobiography of a Yogi (1946), including a first hand telling of Yogananda’s own meeting with Mahavatar Babaji. Another first hand account was given by Sri Yukteswar Giri in his book The Holy Science. All of these accounts, along with additional meetings with Mahavatar Babaji, are described in various biographies of those mentioned by Yogananda.
Mahavatar Babaji’s given name and so those who met him during that period all called him by the title first given to him by Lahiri Mahasaya. “Mahavatar” means “great avatar”, and “Babaji” simply means “revered father”. Some of the encounters included two or more witnesses—discussions between those who met Mahavatar Babaji indicate that they all met the same person.
There are very few accounts of Babaji’s childhood. In the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda in his Autobiography of a Yogi, Lahiri Mahasaya and Yukteshwar there were many references made about Mahavatar Babaji. There were many many great saints who had written or mentioned Babaji. Babaji is referred to an asmaha avatar, meaning no birth nor death can ever be attributed to him.Paramahansa Yogananda, Lahiri Mahasaya, Yukteswar Giri nor other direct disciples of Babaji ever mentioned nor attempted to explore Babaji’s birth history.
Reports of meetings, 1861-1966
The first reported encounter with Mahavatar Babaji was in 1861, when Lahiri Mahasaya was posted to Ranikhet in his work as an accountant for the British government. One day while walking in the hills ofDunagiri above Ranikhet, he heard a voice calling his name. Following the voice up the mountain, he met a “tall, divinely radiant sadhu.” He was amazed to find that the sadhu knew his name. This sadhu was Mahavatar Babaji.
Mahavatar Babaji told Lahiri Mahasaya that he was his guru from the past, then initiated him into Kriya Yoga and instructed Lahiri to initiate others. Lahiri wanted to remain with Mahavatar Babaji, who told him instead that he must return to the world to teach Kriya Yoga and that “Kriya Yoga sadhana would spread through the people of the world through his (Lahiri’s) presence in the world.”
Lahiri Mahasaya reported that Mahavatar Babaji did not give his name or background, so Lahiri gave him the title “Mahavatar Babaji.” Many sadhus in India are called Babaji, and sometimes even “Babaji Maharaj”, which has caused confusion between Mahavatar Babaji and other sadhus with similar names.
Lahiri Mahasaya had many meetings with Mahavatar Babaji, recounted in several books, including Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya (Lahiri’s biography), and Purana Purusha: Yogiraj Sri Shama Churn Lahiri, among others.
Disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya
Several disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya also said they met Babaji. Through discussion with each other, and the fact that some of these encounters included two or more witnesses, they confirmed that the person they saw was the same sadhu that Lahiri called Mahavatar Babaji.
In 1894, at the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad, Sri Yukteswar Giri, a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, met Mahavatar Babaji. He was surprised by the striking resemblance between Lahiri Mahasaya and Mahavatar Babaji. Others who met Babaji also commented on the resemblance. It was at this meeting that Mahavatar Babaji instructed Sri Yukteswar to write the book that was to become Kaivalya Darshanam, or The Holy Science. Sri Yukteswar had two more meetings with Mahavatar Babaji, including one in the presence of Lahiri Mahasaya.
Pranabananda Giri, another disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, also met Mahavatar Babaji in the presence of Lahiri Mahasaya, at Lahiri’s home. Pranabananda asked Mahavatar Babaji his age. Mahavatar Babaji responded that he was about 500 years old at that time.
Keshabananda, a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, tells of meeting Mahavatar Babaji in the mountains near Badrinath around 1935, after he became lost wandering in the mountains. At that meeting, Pranabananda reported that Babaji gave him a message for Yogananda, that “I won’t see him this time, as he is eagerly hoping; but I shall see him on some other occasion.”
Other disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya who reported meetings with Mahavatar Babaji include Kebalananda Giri and Ram Gopal Muzumdar, who recounted meeting Mahavatar Babaji and his sister, whom he called Mataji. In addition, a disciple of Trailanga Swami, Shankari Mata (also called Shankari Mai Jiew) met Mahavatar Babaji while visiting Lahiri Mahasaya.
Legendary powers and age have been attributed to Mahavatar Babaji by the disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya. These stories have led many to believe that Mahavatar Babaji is a legendary person, rather than a real sadhu that was seen by numerous witnesses from 1861 to 1935.
Paramahansa Yogananda, in his Autobiography, described Mahavatar Babaji’s role on earth:
The Mahavatar is in constant communion with Christ; together they send out vibrations of redemption, and have planned the spiritual technique of salvation for this age. The work of these two fully-illumined masters–one with the body, and one without it–is to inspire the nations to forsake suicidal wars, race hatreds, religious sectarianism, and the boomerang-evils of materialism. Babaji is well aware of the trend of modern times, especially of the influence and complexities of Western civilization, and realizes the necessity of spreading the self-liberations of yoga equally in the West and in the East.
In addition, Babaji is reputed to be ageless, according to some accounts, and about 500 years old around the late 1800s, according to Pranabananda. Yogananda reports that, according to the disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya, nobody knows Babaji’s age, family, place of birth, true name, or other details “dear to the annalist’s heart.”
According to Yogananda’s autobiography, he has a sister called Mataji (meaning “Holy Mother”) who also has lived throughout the centuries. Her level of spiritual attainment is comparable to her brother’s, and she lives in a state of spiritual ecstasy in an underground cave. Although only three pages in the book are dedicated to her, she is described by Ram Gopal as “young and surpassingly lovely” as well as a “glorious woman.”
Yogananda frequently prayed out loud to “Babaji-Krishna.”
Modern claims and popular references
In the Book Ultimate Journey (1994), by Robert Monroe Monroe visits a person through his astral projection (although no name is mentioned) who turns out to have lived one single life for 1800 years, witch would suggest that he was born around 203 CE.
The 2002 Tamil film Baba written by Rajinikanth was based on Babaji. Swami Maheshwarananda writes in his book The hidden power in humans, that the Guru of the legendary Babaji is Sri Alakh Puriji.