Shri Balappa Maharaj
Ballappa hailed from Bijapur Distric of Karnataka. He was a Brahmin landlord, money lender and jeweller, and was the richest person in his locality. At the age of 30 he turned to spiritual life and left for Ganagapur in search of a Sadguru. On his way he met one Chidambar Dixit at Murgad. Dixit was a realized soul that deemed to be an incarnation of Shiva.
It is said that Swami Samarth was present at one of the Yajna conduced by Dixit. Dixit, later served Swamiji during Prasad Bhojan. After staying with Dixit for 3 days, Balappa went to Ganagapur and started Tapasya at the Padukas of Sri Narasimha Saraswati. He maintained himself by begging aims from door to door.
After spending a fortnight there, he was directed in a dream to go to Akkalkot, but did not go there. Two months later, he again got the command that it was time for him to proceed to Akkalkot on foot and as he set out, there were many auspicious omens.
When Balappa arrived at Akkalkot and had his first glimpse of Sri Swami Samarth, he recalled the vision he had in Ganagapur; the form of Swamiji in Digambar posture. It was an ecstatic experience. He ran and prostrated at the feet of Sri Swamiji Samarth, clasping His feet tightly. Swamiji also seemed happy, seeing Balappa. Balappa had now found his Sadguru and surrendered body, mind, and soul in loving dedication to Him.
Swamiji then stayed in the palace for 8 days. As Balappa could not go in, he started doing Tapasya Balappa could not go in, he started doing Tapasya outside. One day he had the opportunity of having the Darshan of Maharaj and offered some dates to the Swami, who distributed them to all present, excepting Balappa! Balappa felt disappointed, until he learnt that Swamiji never gave Prasad to one whom he wanted to retain, close to HIm. He was very happy at knowing this and started serving the Swami earnestly. He never spared himself and no work was too lowly or beneath his dignity. He knew he had the rare and most unique privilege of being near and serving the Supreme Lord himself.
Once while plucking flowers for worship, Balappa got hurt by a thorn and his finger was swollen. It became very painful and he prayed to Swamiji for relief. The Swami asked him to apply cow urine to the finer and Balappa felt immediate relief. One day Balappa had severe fever and the suspicion was that he had been poisoned. With the Swami's grace he recovered and was completely well.
All valuable articles offered to Sri Swami Samarth, were passed on to Balappa for safe custody. He also acted as the store keeper and it was his responsibility to supply whatever was asked for by the Swami, immediately. There could be no delay or default in his work, as he would be upbraided severely by the Swami.
Sunderabai, who was the main attendant, became jealous of Balappa and disliked him, but Balappa cared for none but the Swami and his duty. In spite of his devotion to Maharaj, Balappa used to perform daily puja to his family deity. Sri Swami would taunt him "Balappa is knitting rought blankets", to indicated that when one has found a sadguru, no other sadhana is required except dedicated service to Him. Sadguru is the physical manifestation of all deities - His grace is the sunshine for us to bask in; what necessity is there for blankets, when sunshine and warmth are there?
Swamiji once asked Balappa to fetch water from the house of a shudra (untouchable). Balappa had already finished his bath and was hesitant to do this, but Sri Swami Samarth insisted and he had to obey. All are equal in the eyes of God - Swamiji wanted Balappa to realize this.
Balappa found it difficult to concentrate during meditation. He told Swamiji about this. Maharaj patted him on his back - Lo! Just this pat was enough to put him in a transcendental state. For quiet some time he remained in this blissful state. Later Swami Samarth blessed him with a rosary of tulsi beads and asked him to use it during japa. Thereafter, Balappa's dhyana (meditation) practice progressed very fast. Balappa never left Akkalkot in spite of Swamiji's visits and stay at nearby villages. He stuck to his duties of Akkalkot with the same love, sincerity, care and dedication, as if the Swami was there.
Balappa always got first preference in worshipping Swami Samarth. The Swami presented a gold ring to Balappa, with His name inscribed on it. Maharaj said "You have to keep the spiritual torch burning. I am blessing you." Balappa fell at the Swami's feet, shedding tears of gratitude. He asked Balappa to start a separate Muth under the audumbar tree and gave him a saffron colored flag. He also gifted His padukas and Kaupin (cod-piece) to Balappa. This Muth is known as Balappa Muth.
Before setting up the Muth, Balappa travelled all over India and spread the message of Sri Swami Smarth Akkalkot Maharaj and held aloft the banner of Datta Sampradaya. He revived religious and spiritual faith among the the people, at all the places he visited. After his travels, he returned to Akkalkot and set up the Balappa Muth. The padukas, danda (stick) kamandalu (water-pot) rosary, given by Swami Samarth to him, are enshrined there.
On Swami Samarth's Mahaniryan, Balappa Maharaj broke down and felt as if life has ebbed out of him too. He decided to fast unto death and sat down at Swamiji's samadhi in sorrow and despair.
On the third day of his fast, Swami Samarth gave him His darshan and talked to him and comforted him. The grief that had filled his heart cleared. He realized now that Swamijij was Nirakar - beyond all form. Balappa Maharaj now fixed his mind on the padukas of Swami Samarth - they were the representation of Swamiji for him.
He used to offer elaborate worship to them daily. Even when he was ill, Balappa Maharaj never missed the worship and offering of abhishek to the Padukas. As Balappa Maharaj was advancing in age and his health was declining, he sent for Gangadhar, who was at Bilaspur and chose him as his successor. After making all the arrangements, Balappa Maharaj attained Samadhi in 1910.
During his lifetime, Balappa Maharaj travelled all over what are now the states of Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bengal, Karnataka and Maharashtra. For 32 years after the departure of Sri Swami Samarth, he carried out his Master's mission with the selfless dedication.
Disciple and Successors
After Balappa Maharaj, Gangadhar Maharaj kept up the high traditions of the Muth.