Biography of Pandit Bhavani Shankar

Portrait from Uttarapara T.S.

Portrait from The Lectures on Bhagavad Gita,
Uttarapara T.S. Edition, 1923.

Bhawanishankar Ganesh Mullapoorcar was born in August 1859 into a Brahmin family of South Canara region — Konkani speaking areas of modern Karnataka, Goa and Kassergode. As a young man of twenty, he met H.P. Blavatsky soon after she landed in Bombay in February 1879 and put himself under her guidance. [0] During H.P.B’s time at Adyar, he grew to be one of the predominant members of the Theosophical Society. Provoked by a sense of duty, he stridently defended H.P.B against attacks and attested to witnessing many phenomena in her presence. [1][2][3][4] He also issued the following undated statement [5] attesting to the empirical existence of the Masters:

STATEMENT OF A CANARESE BRAHMIN.

Many sceptics having rashly and ignorantly denied the existence of the so-called "Himalayan Brothers," I am provoked by a sense of duty to declare solemnly that such assertions are false. For, I have seen the Brothers not once, but numerous times in and near the head-quarters in bright moonlight. I have heard them talk to our respected Madame Blavatsky, and seen them delivering important messages in connection with the work of the Theosophical Society, whose progress they have condescended to watch. They are not disembodied spirits, as the Spiritualists would force us to believe, but living men. I was, on seeing them, neither hallucinated nor entranced; for there are other deserving fellows of our Society who had the honor to see them with me, and who could verify my statements. And this, once for all, is the answer that I, as a Theosophist and Hindu Brahmin, give to disbelievers, viz., that these Brothers are not mere fictions of our respectable Madame Blavatsky’s imagination, but real personages, whose existence to us is not a matter of mere belief, but of actual knowledge.

Bhavanishankar Ganesh Mullapoorcar, F. T. S.

Pandit Bhavani Shankar was a Chela (disciple) of Master K.H. and greatly venerated his Guru as we see in the following letter he wrote to Damodar Malvankar [11], a fellow-Chela of the same Master.

MORADABAD,
15.12.83

My dear Damodar,

I saw my Most Venerated Guru Deva in Punjabi Dress and kissed the Holy Feet with great reverence. I felt intuitively that He is MY MOST BELOVED GURU DEVA. I shall observe STRICTLY the ORDERS I have received.

To me there is nothing in the world SO DEAR AS MY MOST VENERATED GURU DEVA whose name has been freely used by the Profane, but it is a magic-spell to me. Believe me, Dear Damodar, I do not feel inclined to utter the SACRED NAME not only to the public but to the theosophists, so great is ITS influence. The magnetic chain which binds me to OUR MOST VENERATED CHOHAN compels me to work for the Holy Cause of Humanity with which OUR VENERATED MASTERS identify Themselves.

It is strange to hear that the fool you refer to found out my name, for there I had assumed the name, Pandit Uma Nath. I shall obey the directions stated in your letter. My heartfelt wishes for your HIGHER PROGRESS AND SPIRITUAL PROSPERITY.

I am,
Your most affly,
Bhavanishankar, F.T.S.

P.S.

I have done my work here and shall leave this for Lucknow on the 18th, stopping at Bareilly. I shall have to look after the Sanskrit College scheme and other theosophical work at Lucknow, as the mist active members, Pandit Ram Nath, Rai Narain Das, are going to Madras to join the Anniversary meeting.

Yours,
B.S.

Masters refers to Pandit Bhavani Shankar (PBS) in glowing terms in a few letters, some of which we quote below. [0] He was sometimes also referred to as Bhavani Rao (also spelt Rau in some places) — it being an honorific suffix frequently used for Brahmins in those days (nowadays it has become a surname).

Bhavani Shanker is with O., and he is stronger and fitter in many a way more than Damodar or even our mutual "female" friend.

Damodar and Bhavani Rao being congenitally sympathetic their auras help -- instead of repelling and impeding phenomenal experiments. [6]

Bhavani Shanker has seen me in my own physical body and he can point out the way to others. He has been working unselfishly for his fellowmen through the T. S. and he is having his reward though he may not always notice it. [13]

"Pandit Bhavani Shankar rallied round the flag of H.P.B. in Bombay in 1880, and gave himself to the Cause of pure Theosophy as taught by her and her Masters. For forty years he has gone up and down the vast territory of his beloved India, preaching the Theosophic gospel of the Bhagavad-Gita. His consecrated life of a bhakta or devotee has been a channel of uplift for many souls. He was one of those few who saw, at an early hour, the degeneration that had begun to corrupt and kill the Adyar T.S., and did what he could to save it from the decay caused by psychism and spiritual degradation." [9]

"After the departure of H. P. B. and Damodar from India in 1885 he took earnestly to the study of the Gita which became his text-book for Theosophical exposition. Up and down the vast peninsula Bhawani Shankar travelled from 1891-1909. Serious differences with the Adyar leaders resulted in his limiting his service to small groups of independent students who needed him and welcomed him." [0]

In 1907 Col. Olcott, the President Founder of the TS died. He was succeeded as President by Mrs. Annie Besant. During that time, on visits to Adyar, Pandit Bhavani Shankar became friends with B.P. Wadia. [10]

Starting from when HPB left India in 1885 and precipitously following her death in 1891, Adyar descended into spiritual and moral decline. B.P. Wadia (BPW), a predominant member of the T.S., made several attempts to reform the T.S. from within. [7]

Pandit Bhavani Shankar continued to address small gatherings of students all over India who were still loyal to the CAUSE of the Masters. The contents of two such lectures, one delivered in Calcutta in March 1914 and another in Madras in 1925 were recorded and published in a book titled The Doctrine of the Bhagavad Gita. In it, we get a glimpse of Pandit Bhavani Shankar’s delineation and emphatic disapproval of the spiritual degradation of the T.S: [12]

To hold forth astral peregrinations and astral lectures as objects of spiritual endeavour and as credentials of initiation, is a perversion of the teachings of Brahmavidya. [p. 15]

If the latter-day Theosophical teachers had even the faintest idea of the sanctity and solemnity of the subject we would have been spared so much blasphemous talk of preparations for an Avatara and such flippant prattle about sacred things. We see the wisdom of the ancients in drawing the veil of secrecy on these high subjects; for, when sacred things are bandied about light-heartedly, spiritual degradation is the result. [p. 27]

Hence we have the sad spectacle of modern theosophical literature reveling in trivial and weird stories purporting to be past lives of Mahatmas, which read like third rate novels. Not content with such desecration we find even Bhagavan Himself dragged down and duplicated to support new fangled theories. [pp. 53-54]

From the above authoritative statements it should be clear that these records cannot be laid under contribution by so called occultists for writing out stories for the delectation of their followers, which are taken to substantiate their claims to occult powers. Perhaps the record in the astral light may be within their ken, but the results of such psychic visions are not at all reliable, because the psychic who has not burnt out the residue of senses, mind and individuality in the fire of wisdom, cannot but project himself and fancy that he reads external records which are nothing but his secret thoughts and desires externalised. [pp. 55-56]

More reliable perhaps are the results arrived at by the unpretentious Professor Denton through psychometry published in his book called the Soul of Things than the weird tales of personal loves and hates which are now-a-days published in theosophical books as evidences of occultism and which are claimed as the results of the researches in Akashic records. This is another instance in which high names and doctrines have been dragged down to the level of modern ignorance. [p. 56]

In November of 1919, BPW came across the United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT) in Los Angeles and was thrilled to find in its Declaration the very reform he was trying to bring about in the T.S. BPW then spent the next two years trying to persuade the "leaders" of the T.S. to change course but in vain. He resigned from the T.S. on 18th July 1922 [8] and threw his entire weight behind ULT. BPW returned to India in 1929 and established the first branch of ULT in Bombay on November 17th 1929, thus bringing the light of pure and original Theosophy back to India.

"After the formation of the U.L.T. in Bombay he [Pandit Bhavani Shankar] very soon recognized that the real Theosophical Work was being carried on and under its auspices gave a series of talks in October 1931, September 1932 and September 1933." [0]

These and other talks delivered by Pandit Bhavani Shankar were published under the initials "B.M" in the Aryan Path magazine started by BPW in January 1930.

The above articles are prefaced by the following: "B.M. is an old-world man living by his old-world methods in our era. We are fortunate in having secured a few reports of his talks to his intimate friends. The Bhagavad-Gita is the book he has mastered through long years of study and meditation; but further, having lived according to its tenets more successfully than is generally possible, his thoughts breathe a peculiar fragrance. The papers have been translated from the vernacular; it should be understood that they are not literal translations, and the translator has adhered more to ideas and principles than to words. Although B.M. knows English, his inspiration becomes impeded in employing that medium of expression and so he prefers not to use it. We think our readers will find real inspiration in this series."

"He participated in White Lotus Day meetings of the Bombay U.L.T. — the last occasion was in 1934. Soon after he went North and never returned to this city. The U.L.T. has lost a good and valued friend in the passing of this great Devotee." [0]

Pandit Bhavani Shankar is said to have carried a harmonium and sung the Gita publicly all over India. From notes left behind by William Dallas TenBroeck [10], we learn the following:

Bhawani Shankar - one of H.P.B.'s direct pupils from the early days, 1879-84, was living temporarily at Versova (north of Bombay, near Juhu beach, where the Wadias had been given land in part payment for their services as ship-builders many years before, by the British East India Company). BPW was invited to come and to attend the Pandit's "morning puja" - a period which he spent in meditation and devotion with thought centered on HPB and the Masters.

This, BPW said, began at 4.00 a.m. and would continue for a period of 4 to 5 hours. Bhawani Shankar used at that time a special bell. It had a "peculiar, a curious ring to it" which "produced a deep psychological effect on those who heard it." [Mr. B. R. Shenoy, who in his youth had been a direct pupil of Bhawani Shankar also spoke of this. He lived in New Delhi in the 1960s, and was at that time one of the Governors of the Reserve Bank of India. Earlier, he had been in Washington, D.C., as one of the Directors of World Bank.]

From the same notes we also learn that:

At the time of his death, Bhawani Shankar asked B.P.Wadia to come and visit him. He apparently delayed that event until his arrival. They had a private talk, after which he expired. The date was the Full Moon of the month of Ashadha - the 4th of July 1936. Born in 1859, Bhawani Shankar was 77 years old, and, active to the last, was ever ready to help and instruct his fellows.

Portrait from ULT Bengaluru

Portrait from Maitri Bhavan, United Lodge of Theosophists, Bengaluru. A label at the back of the photo frame indicates that it was taken by a P. N. Mitter in the city of Benares (modern Varanasi).



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