Of all the Sampradayas (ways of forms of devotion ) Shree Datta Sampradaya is the oldest. The Awadhut Sampradaya is much the same as Shree Datta Sampradaya. It has deeply influenced all other sampradayas. Many great personages (Saints) emerged from Shree Datta Sampradaya. They have maintained the life and spirit of the Sampradaya and have bestowed Upon it unbroken continuity. Towards the end of the 19th Century, and the beginning of the 20th, many such saintly personages were born both in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Among them " Shree Pant Maharaj Balekundri ", who passed away in 1905 occupies an important place. Shree Pant Maharaj Balekundri, who is regarded as an incarnation of Shree Dattatraya, kept the flag of Datta Sampradaya flying high.
Shree Pant Maharaj was known in society by the name Dattopant. His parents were Ramachandra Pant and Godakka alias Sitabai. Shree Pant Maharaj was born on Gokulashtami day i. e. on 3-9-1855 on Rohini Nakshtra, at Daddi, in Belgaum District in his maternal uncle's house. This village is situated on the bank of the river Ghataprabha, and is surrounded by beautiful natural scenery. A considerable part of his life is associated with this place. Shree Dattopant's father hailed from the Kulkarni family of Balekundri, a suburban area of Belgaum City in Karnataka about 14 Kilometres to its east.
Dattopant has his primary education at Daddi and secondary education at Belgaum. As his family was poor in those days, he had to complete his education with great hardship. When he ,was hardly 20 years, he met his Sadguru and was initiated. His Sadguru was Shree Balaji Anant Kulkarni, alias Balappa, of Parishawad, a village in Khanapur Tehsil, Belgaum District. He was a Paramhansa, realised soul, following Awadhut Sampradaya.
Balappa found in Shree Pant the only worthy desciple to propagate his Sampradaya. He trained Shree Pant in Yogabhyas and imparted knowledge to him to suit his intention. When he found that Shree Pant was totally inclined towards renunciation, Balappa impressed on Shree Pant the futility, of the worldly life, and fixed him firmly in his Awadhut Sampradaya. Shree Pant has hailed Balappa in his literatute as "Balmukund" or "Balawadhut".
Shree Pant after passing his final school examination from the Mission High School, Belgaum, started working as a teacher in his Alma Mater. When shree Pant was thus standing on his own legs firmly, Balappa entrusting his mission to Shree Pant proceeded on a pilgrimage with the intention of taking Samadhi. Shree Pant had to shoulder the double responsibility of the family and of Datta (Awadhut) Sampradaya. He discharged the same, in spite of proverty and suffering without losing his mental poise.
Shree Pant was married in 1882 A. D. to Yamuna, daughter of Shree Shripadpant, his maternal uncle. With the advent of this virtuous lady into his family, Shree Pant found that all his worldly troubles began to vanish. Since 1883 A. D. Shree Pant's mind shifted from Yoga to devotion. He began to take a deep interest in Bhajan (Prayers). He got inspiration to write spontaneous poetry. The collection of his verses called "Shree Datta Premlahari " is wellknown. His verse is laden with different feelings (Rasas) and is replete with philosophy.
From 1883 to 1885, Shree Pant moved from place to place, as desired by his desciples. While doing so, many people were attracted towards him by his preaching of Awadhut Sampradaya, and they were initiated and blessed by him.
His usual routine was Bhajan-Puja (prayer and worship ), philosophical discussion and sermons given in a pleasant sportive way. Underlying all this was the remembrance of Shree Balmukund, and the yearning to meet him again. By the end of 1885, he instinictively realised that Balappa had passed away and the consciousness of his responsibility became keener. He installed the Padukas of Shree Balmukund. He started celebrating festivals like Gurudwadashi, Dattajayanti and Gurupratipada. Upto 1889, he thus spread his Gospel (Awadhut Sampradaya). At the end of that year he raised a temple to Shree Dattatraya.
In 1891, he wrote his treatise called "Geetasaar: essence of shree Bhagwat Geeta". In 1894, he started rendering "Amritanubhava". of Shree Dnyaneshwar into pure Marathi, but it does not appear to have been completed. His essays and books are many. They were inspired by different occasions, and are very lucid. He did not write any one of them just for the sake of writing. All of them are the outcome of his own realisation and experiences. It is impossible in this short introduction even to refer to all of them. All his literature has .been published and is available for sale.
Shree Pant's worldly life is a wonderful blend of JPravrutti and Nivrutti (worldliness and renunciation). His hospitable home used to be full of guests and devotees. Shree Pant's relatives and devotees sent their children to Shree Pant expressly for their education and moulding of character. Shree Pant's Nome thus become a veritable " Gurukul ". Shree Pant kept a strict eye on the social and domestic behaviour of the children under his care and other devotees who visited him off and on. He had laid down a code of conduct. He strictly insisted on the observance of that code, (viz his commandments). If any one did not comply with the rules or misbehaved under the guiding theology, either at home or abroad was rebuked and brought to book by Shree Pant. A spotless character and gentle nature were Shree Pant's inborn qualities. He insisted that social conventions and moral rules be strictly observed. It was once said by him that justice, morality, truth and virtue are the bedrocks of worldly happiness. These ties are well-intentioned and so they are the source of happiness. If there is no such moral binding, society will go to wreck and ruin, and there will be a total chaos. To avoid such a disorder in society, social conventions are essential and wholesome. One should never disregard them. Social conventions are a 'Must', (vide Shree Oatta Premlahari, Pushpa No. 7, page 213).
Shree Pant served as a teacher in the Mission High School, Belgaum, for about 22 years. What is more, he devoted himself to imparting spiritual education to all those who met him. He had five brothers. He educated them and helped them to win names for themselves, and found his own happiness in their prosperity. Those who were educated in his home become eminently successful in worldly life. They attributed all their successes to the education they received at Shree Pant's home. Shree Pant's relations with his family were extremely affectionate. He had set an ideal before his devotees for making worldly life successful and happy by love and tenderness at home. Shree Pant hated all hypocrisy. He bitterly disliked the avoidance of one's own, responsibilities of worldly duties under the pretex of ' Paramarth'. He used to remind them : " Do your worldly duty devotedly and leave to me the responsibility of your " Paramarth ". Thus, Shree Pant showed to the world that the "Paramarth" and worldly life go hand in hand and are not opposed to each other.
His health began to sink since 1903. He resigned his post as a teacher and found sufficient time to devote himself exclusively to Awadhut Sewa, worship, Bhajan and preaching. Extreme devotion to the Guru was the only cardinal principle of his life. He busied himself with devotion to his Guru. Shree Pant's devotion was all love and love alone, and culminated in self-realisation through devotion. He sang the praises of devotion born of knowledge.
Shree Pant passed away on tha third day of the dark fortnight of Ashwin Shaka 1827, i.e. on 16th October 1905, while chanting loudly the words "Om Nama Shiwaya" in the midst of his relatives and kinsmen.
There is Shree Pant's Samadhi at Balekundri. The place has now developed into a centre of pilgrimage. This village is now renamed as "Pant Balekundri", and his annual Punyatithi (the day of his Samadhi) is celebrated for three days when pilgrims from far and near assemble by the thousand. This place is in the midst of a mango grove and is very charming.
He has said in Verse No. 2745 (of Shree Datta Premlahari, Pushpa No. 1), that the "Awdhut Marg" is very ancient and it is sanctioned by "Shrutis" and in Verse No. 1629, it is the "Awadhut Sarnpradaya" difficult to understand though ordained from time immemorial, and further in Verse No. 986, "this Sarnpradaya of Sadguru is of very long tradition". From all these sayings it becomes clear that Awadhut Sarnpradaya is of a very ancient origin, sanctioned by the Shrutis and established by hoary vedic traditions, It has been handed down from Guru to his shishya (disciple) and still is very difficult to follow.
Shree Pant has given his Guru Parampara through which he came to realise the sacred knowledge of the Sampradaya in his treatise named " Atmajyoti ". According to it, the chain of of Gurus in the Sampradaya is as follows :-
1) Shree Dattawadhut ( Datta Maharaj)
2) Rama wad hut
4) Datta (Pant Maharaj) (Himself)
Shree Pant's philosophy is adwait and is a happy blend of worldly life and renunciation. He practised initially Yoga for a long time. He was irresistibly attracted towards devotion or Bhakti But subsequently he added Parabhakti (extreme devotion) as one of the Sadhanas ( practices ) of Awadhut Sampradaya to attain it. A Guru like Shree Pant, who taught his disciples to enjoy lief fully and still be detached to it can rarely be seen.
He never preached the discouraging philosophy that life is a dream, the world is perishable and our life is unreal and founded on sin. On the other hand, he preached that every one should realise his own circumstances, his own duties and responsibilities, and by behaving very dutifully, should achieve worldly prosperity as also the sublimation of the soul. Once he wrote to one of his disciples who was careworn, that a man should go on endeavouring so long as he thinks that he has a duty to perform. Anyway things which are preordained are bound to happen. If things were to occur as one desired them no one would have cared for the 'Paramarth'; worldly life is (bound to appear) a mixture of good and bad. But we must never lose our balance of mind. We must realise God in our worldly life; even while we are courageously performing our earthly duties in a natural way.
As he has said in Pushpa No. 7, Parag 63 (Chapter No. 53) "THE ONLY LOVING BLESSING OF SADGURU IS THE EQUANIMITY OF MIND WHICH REMAINS UNAFFECTED BY JOY OR SORROW IN THE MIDST OF GOOD AND BAD HAPPENINGS".
As observed by him in Pushpa No. 7, Parag No. 1, a disciple should strictly keep up following three things, 1) Sadguru Bhakti (devotion to Sadguru), 2) Bandhu Priti (Universal Brotherhood), 3) Atma Shanti (eternal peace).
The first and foremost principle is devotion to Sadguru. That is to behave in a way preached and liked by the Sadguru and to train one's mind and body as preached by the Sadguru and to love Sadguru in a unique way. Devotion is nothing but loving the Guru in extreme "Bandhu Priti", i.e. universal brotherhood, loving ardently all those with whom we come in contact, in fact, all men in the world. To be loved by all, to be free from enmity towards any, to be friendly towards all. The third is peace of mind or eternal peace. To remain unaffected by good or bad happenings. The soul is fearless, one should maintain his mind firm and alert and one must always have the feeling that one is only an instrument in the hands of god. The universal brotherhood merges into devotion to the Guru, because of seeing Sadguru everywhere. And the same brotherhood, being selfless, becomes a source of perennial joy and assumes the form of Atmashanti. In other words, Sadguru Bhakti (devotion to Guru) itself is Bandhu Priti (brotherhood), j.e. natural and selfless love. Brotherhood leads to Atma Shanti (full contentment of mind and soul). Sadguru Bhakti, which is completely free from any desire or expectation whatsoever, leads to an increase in Bandhuprema (brotherhood), which in its turn, heightens Atma Shanti. Thus, Shree Pant has described the cardinal principles of his Awadhut Sampradaya in every simple words.
Shree Pant never believed in miracles. He used to say that miracles do not happen, they are only apparent, and one only feels that they happen. The nucleus of a miracle lies in one's firm devotion. Because of one's firm faith and devotion to Sadguru, one develops some sort of power (force), and this power accounts for some of our unexpected happenings. But we generally believe that it is a miracle. Really, it is not a miracle, but the result of one's firm devotion to or faith in his Guru. As has been said by him in Pushpa No. 7, Parag No. 53. "It is the experience of many that the Vibhuti given by me and kept under lock and key disappears all of a sudden. The reason of this is, my soul is bound up with that Vibhuti.
"Because of his firm devotion to me, I have given the Vibhuti as a token of my love. One has firm faith in it. The moment the faith in me weakens or vanishes, my love in it vanishes and so the Vibhuti, howsoever safely it is kept".
In short, the gist of Shree Pant's teachings is to have firm and sincere faith in Guru, to regard the commandment of the Guru as the last word, to follow implicitly the Guru's rules of conduct and behaviour, and to remember the Guru and his advice (Mantra) constantly. This devotional way begets a soul force which makes our mind calm and serene, and such a frame of mind is a royal read to 'Nishreyas' and 'Abhyudaya'.
Shree Pant's literature Is varied. It illustrates the ideal of human life, the way to the realisation of his ideal, a happy combination of worldliness and renunciation and lucid discussions of the type. His verse is, as it were, a true stream of devotion. The rhythm and flow of his verse defy description.
As said by him in his verse, Shree Pant merged his life into enternity as a stream glides to the ocean, feeding all the trees and herbs on its way.