Meher Baba’s Work in Karnataka
This is the story of Meher Baba’s Universal Spiritual Centre (MBUSC Byramangala). It spans more than eight decades and continues to unfold Meher Baba’s vision:
To welcome seekers of all faiths and from all parts of the world to visit, study, meditate, and serve together in celebration of the One in All.
In what can be seen as a major turning point in Meher Baba’s work, in 1939 he temporarily shifted his “seat of residence” from Meherabad in Maharashtra to Bangalore in Karnataka. The momentum behind this move was presaged a few months earlier, when Baba announced publicly for the first time that he was the Avatar of the Age.
The Idea of a “Universal Centre”
Though Meher Baba referred to the “inner” requirements of his work as the reasons for his move to Bangalore—and later, his move back to Meherabad—he also spoke of the convergence of certain external factors:
The hot, dry climate at Meherabad. As a result of his six trips to the West and two trips around the world in the 1930s, seven Western women had arrived in India in 1937, committed to staying with him permanently. The climate at Meherabad was hard on the Westerners; it was even debilitating to the Eastern mandali during certain seasons, requiring Meher Baba to regularly shift his headquarters to cooler locations from March through July to provide a respite from the heat.
Lack of water at Meherabad. Without a sure and plentiful water supply, it was impossible to consider expanding the ashram further.
The need to consolidate his activities. Prior to his move to Bangalore, Meher Baba’s activities were characterized primarily by concentrated work with discrete groups: He worked with men, with women, with children, and with animals. He worked with the sick, the destitute, and the mad. He traveled and worked in the East, in India and Persia. He also traveled and worked in the West, in Europe and America. He experimented with ways to meld Eastern and Western companions together in shared lives of discipleship. Finally, he began his great work with masts and the illuminati, the saints and spiritually advanced saliks of the path.
Initially, Meher Baba developed each of these streams of work separately and largely independently in different locations. These streams now needed to come together.
In the spring of 1938, Meher Baba was in the Maharashtrian town of Panchgani with the Eastern and Western women and a few of the men. On the afternoon of 31 March, two of the Western women, Norina Matchabelli and Elizabeth Patterson, spoke with Baba about the need for a “Universal Centre”. They presented the view that such a centre, open to Westerners as well as Easterners, could help disseminate his messages and discourses throughout the world.
In response, Meher Baba said:
“It is a good idea indeed, but by attaching to it great significance or giving it too much importance, it develops into a regular organization or system, and I do not wish to limit myself or bind myself with any such thing. I create things on firm foundation and then pull them down. The more I make changes, the more changeless I am!
“Neither do I want an organization, nor any society. That is exactly what I am afraid could happen. If such centres are allowed to prosper, they form themselves into organizations or societies. For that reason, I build structures and then demolish them. The more changes I make, the more unchangeable I become! Organizations are like the foam which brings unwanted things up to the surface of the sea, letting the real substance lie beneath, submerged in the depths.”
The next day, Norina and Elizabeth again brought up the topic and added that they did not need a centre for themselves, but they felt that others from the West who would be coming to him would surely need a centre. Baba then continued:
“Yes, I know. You are not thinking of yourselves. You are supremely happy as you are. . . You do not like the show and regular routine of ceremonies and so forth, as in other ashrams, and only wish to be near and with me.
“It is also true many Europeans and American women want to come to stay with me and share in my work, and for them a centre is necessary for the purpose of their work and as a means to my work. There is no centre for the women who are going to come here to stay. Although we have Meherabad, there is no arrangement for anyone wishing to come and stay there. Besides, for other reasons also, Meherabad is unsuitable and inconvenient. It is dry due to lack of rain. It is desolate and the heat makes living there difficult throughout the year. No one, especially the Westerners, will be able to stay and work there during the summer. Too much heat saps the energy, so much so that even my old mandali are now tired, dull, and not as enthusiastic as before – rather, I find them void of any feelings at all! Moreover, scarcity of water is a constant problem and serious handicap there. Even if I wish, I cannot spend on development at Meherabad, as there is no guarantee of finding water.
“And without water we cannot do anything.
“So the selection of a better place seems essential. A change of place will be good for the physical and mental well-being of all. It is hard to leave Meherabad after all these years of having stayed there, but once we are accustomed to a new place, we will find it easy and better. But where should we go? Considering all viewpoints, Mysore seems the best. The climate is good, the water is plentiful, and the state sympathetic. For me, distance does not count. I can come back this way after six months to see my lovers here so that they will not feel cut off, and then return.
“But how to arrange all this? The problem of [meeting] expenses and finance, though difficult, is not impossible for a trial period of six months. Launching big schemes and putting them into execution, after arranging the finance and other things first, is the way of the world. Seeing to first things first would be the ordinary process. But to launch such big projects, undertaking them without funds in hand, or expectation of any – thus taking great risks – is the way of the Avatar! I prefer doing it that way. I like it and do it. So we should endeavor to tackle this problem [of shifting headquarters] also in this way. If the plan materializes and is a success, good. Even if it is not, what harm is there? Let’s wait and see.”
Baba and Norina Matchabelli, 1939
When Baba told Norina and Elizabeth, “Considering all viewpoints, Mysore seems the best”, he was speaking of Bangalore, the capital of Mysore State, which he had visited two years earlier.
In pre-Independence India, Bangalore and Byramangala were part of the South Indian princely state of Mysore. The princely states were under a local ruler in alliance with the British Raj, or Crown. The early 20th century saw the Kingdom of Mysore making strides in becoming a “modern state” in commerce, public works, education, and neighborhood planning. Carrying on these changes was Sir Mirza Ismail, the Divan (Prime Minister) from 1928 to 1941, when Baba was most active in the area.
With its fragrant flowers, spacious parks, and cool breezes, Bangalore was a favorite assignment for members of the British colonial service during their tenure in India. Winston Churchill was stationed in Bangalore as a young officer in the 1890s and wrote that the city seemed to have "all the comforts of home". Those comforts included elegant estates, European cuisine, horse racing, and golf.
As early as 1930, Meher Baba’s travels had extended to South India. His first stop in what is now Karnataka was on his birthday, 25 February 1930, when he arrived in Belgaum and went on to Dharwad. Two days later he stayed overnight in Bangalore, followed a few days later with an overnight stay in Mysore city. He visited Bangalore again in 1934 and in 1936 spent four months in Mysore city.
During this 1936 stay, he developed an acquaintance with Sir Mirza Ismail and with Subramanyam Iyer (retired vice-chancellor of Mysore University), both of whom had expressed an interest in having Meher Baba establish a spiritual centre in Mysore State. Though nothing further was pursued in 1936, later that connection proved fruitful.
Now in 1938, Baba sent a letter to Sir Mirza Ismail and Subramanyam Iyer, asking them to find a suitable spot where he could establish a centre or ashram. Their reply assured Baba of their cooperation, and a few weeks later Baba sent two of his close men disciples, Chanji and Pendu, to Bangalore. Chanji met Sir Mirza on 17 April 1938 to discuss establishing a centre in Mysore State.
Learning that sites had been found, Baba said he wished to talk personally with Mirza Ismail and if possible, inspect the sites. On 23 April 1938, Baba left Panchgani with Norina, Chanji, and Pendu by car to Pune and from there they went by train to Bangalore. On 25 April, Baba sent Chanji and Norina for further negotiations with Sir Mirza but did not himself go to meet the Diwan. Three days later, Baba, Norina, and Pendu returned to Panchgani.
Chanji reached Panchgani the day after Baba, as he first had an assignment in Madras. Baba immediately sent him back to Bangalore for the third time, with a message to Sir Mirza saying that he had postponed his planned move until March of the next year. As Baba had once said, “I never make plans. I never break plans. It is all one endless plan to make you realize that there is no plan.”
Even though Baba had told Norina and Elizabeth that Mysore State seemed best, various locations for a second permanent ashram were discussed with the mandali and the Westerners. As views and opinions were exchanged, gradually a set of requirements for the centre emerged:
It would need to be on fertile land with a good water supply, convenient to a city, or at least to good transportation.
It would need a climate mild enough for Westerners to live comfortably.
It should be in an area with what might be called "spiritual associations"; that is, a place where spiritual figures of the past had lived and worked.
A number of locations were discussed, including Bangalore, but it took more than a year of exploration before Meher Baba announced his decision to move his entire ashram there.
The Blue Bus
In December 1938, Meher Baba set out with his Western and Eastern women disciples on a series of tours that took them all over India. These trips came to be known as the “Blue Bus Tours” because of the specially designed vehicle that was built for these tours. Baba explained that there were four primary purposes for the bus tours:
1) To contact masts.
2) To find a suitable place to establish a new ashram or centre.
3) To give his women disciples a chance to see the country and experience a different lifestyle from the one they had been leading.
4) To visit the shrines and tombs of saints and Perfect Masters.
These tours continued throughout the spring and summer of 1939. The group experimented with short stays, first at Hyderabad in the south, then at Ajmer in the north, and then a longer stay at Mandla and Jabalpur, towns in central India. Baba viewed possible options for a new centre, and while each offered something promising, none proved entirely suitable.
A Design Emerges
In the fall of 1938, Meher Baba had also invited Walter Mertens, a noted Swiss landscape designer, to come to India with his wife, Hedi, and their friend, the Swiss folk artist, Helen Dahm. Helen spent the fall decorating the interior of Meher Baba’s tomb in Meherabad and then, with Hedi, joined the Blue Bus Tours. Walter was invited to travel with the men mandali to the same locations as Baba and the women.
A few days before Baba left with the women on the Blue Bus Tours, Walter wrote in his diary about creating a sketch for a “college of life”:
“December 4, 1938
I show Baba a sketch which I had made for Him showing the layout of a college of life. He likes it, Baba takes it with Him. We'll see if we can find a suitable place, and so on, for it.”
Walter met Baba in Hyderabad, the first stop of the Blue Bus Tours. Walter wrote in his diary:
“December 6, 1938
…Baba sets the people here in motion. He comes with the idea to create here (or somewhere else) a ‘spiritual world centre’.
In the afternoon [after Baba had viewed a potential site], Baba gives me a sketch, which is drawn according to the format of my centre-plans and contains the designations of the various divisions (Baba and his main people, advanced souls, saints, male and female followers, Mad-Ashram, meditation-ashram, spiritual academy, ashram for touched souls, etc.). I am supposed to have made a beautiful plan made out of it by tomorrow morning!
We look through the whole city for drawing paper, a primitive compass, and a ruler. At seven in the evening, I have the things and can begin after dinner. By about ten-thirty the black-white plan is done and on the following morning it is colored in, and given over to Baba at nine o'clock. Baba is satisfied with it and happy.”
Elizabeth Patterson, who, along with Norina, had brought up the idea of a universal centre a year earlier, wrote:
“[In Hyderabad], for the first time, concrete plans are drawn up of importance for the Master's future International Spiritual Centre. Daily conferences are held with various interested officials of the State who are personally interested in spirituality in its broad aspect, and blue-prints for the Centre are designed by one of the disciples [Walter Mertens], who has recently come from Switzerland where he is a noted landscape architect. The possibilities of establishing [a centre] in Hyderabad are discussed, and to this end, trips were taken to various sites that might be adaptable for the Master's unique future plans—the full spiritual significance of which time will unfold, though even the outer frame-work is now so interestingly unusual.”
Meeting Baba on his next stop in Jabulpore, Walter was asked to draw another variation of the diagram for the “Spiritual Ashram”, which he did before returning to Europe.
The Blue Bus Tours continued throughout the spring of 1939 with short stays in northern and central India, returning to Meherabad in June.
The Move to Bangalore
In early August of 1939, Meher Baba settled on the location for his new centre: Mysore State.
Sir Mirza was contacted once more and agreed to offer Meher Baba the use of two estates in Bangalore, both owned by the Diwan’s brother:
The first was a handsome English colonial estate, where Baba and the twenty-four women companions would stay. The property included a generous home, a large garden, and separate servants’ quarters, stables, and outbuildings. Since it bordered the English colonial golf course, this estate was called "The Links"(a British term for a golf course).
Later, The Links also became the home for the masts who came to be with Baba and also for the pet zoo.
The second, a bungalow at No. 4, Palace Road, was hired for the men mandali. This house was situated about half a kilometer away from The Links.
Meher Baba reached Bangalore on 12 August 1939, and, accompanied by Sir Mirza, visited Byramangala the very next day, 13 August, for the first time.
Baba found the site ideal: fertile soil; located close to a new artificial lake which, when completed, would irrigate about 4,000 acres of the surrounding land. With its peaceful surroundings and distant hills, Byramangala was only 35 km from Bangalore and four km from Bidadi Railway station. It seemed ideal for his requirements and he accepted Sir Mirza’s offer to buy the land from Mysore State.
The next day, 14 August – with a workable site for the new centre secured at Byramangala – Meher Baba rented the bungalows and announced that Bangalore would be his permanent home and the centre for all his future spiritual work. He then quickly uprooted his Meherabad community and shifted everyone and everything to southern India for what he described as “a permanent relocation”.
No. 4, Palace Road
The Plan Unfolds
Meher Baba appointed a seven-member trust to work out the development of the Centre. The members included Norina Matchabelli and Elizabeth Patterson—the two Western women who had urged Meher Baba to establish an International Spiritual Centre—and five of his closest and most skilled men disciples: Byramshaw Dorab Jessawala, whom everyone called Pappa Jessawala; Ramju Abdullah; his secretary Chanji; Adi K. Irani; and Naoroji Dadachanji, who was to manage the whole project. Two months later Baba added Dr. Donkin to the Centre Committee, as he was to be in charge of the hospital when it was built.
Baba’s plan was to construct buildings in a “symbolic” way with reference to the length, breadth, and height of each structure. Naoroji would come from Bombay to manage the work, following Walter Mertens’ plan, which showed nine structures, with a total of 350 rooms.
On 7 September, Baba sent Donkin, Chanji and Norina to the Diwan’s office, where Norina gave him a cheque for Rs 25,000 as a first installment in payment for the land. An area of 406 acres of land was bought from Mysore State and the transaction appeared in the Gazette notification. Another 168 acres of land was bought from the local villagers. Thus, 574 acres of land were purchased in all.
Over the previous year, the project had had many names: “International Spiritual Centre”, “Universal Ashram”, and “Universal Spiritual Centre”. In his diary entry of 17 October, Dr. Donkin indicated that Baba had settled on the name:
“The new Centre is to be called the ‘Meher Baba Universal Spiritual Centre’”.
The Role of Opposition
Meher Baba's original plan was to build the centre quickly and quietly, then hold a grand opening celebration when it was finished. However, now he told his companions there was no longer enough energy available to accomplish the work of opening his new centre. He said he would need to generate controversy and create opposition in order to generate more energy to focus on the project. A "publicity committee" was formed as part of his plan.
Three public functions were held to inform people about Baba and His Universal Spiritual Centre.
The first was held on 2 November in Mysore. Princess Norina Matchabelli, Dr. Ghani, Jal Kerawala, and Dr. Deshmukh spoke at this event.
The second event was held at the Town Hall in Bangalore on 6 November.
The third was held a few days later, at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, was chaired by the Nobel Prize winner in physics Sri C. V. Raman (1888-1970), whose work on scattered light has had important implications for computing, materials science, and medicine.
Several hundred people attended these talks, where they heard Meher Baba's name for the first time.
Drawing attention to Meher Baba and to the planned Centre, these three public meetings, though backed by well-respected figures, served Baba’s intention to not only spread his name and gather support, but to provoke much needed oppositional energy.
While Meher Baba had originally planned to dedicate the center property with a small private ceremony, now that he needed to release more energy, he decided to hold a large public celebration and invite thousands of people. Pamphlets and posters were printed to advertise this ceremony, and Meher Baba designed them in ways that would inflame orthodox and conservative residents of the area. Local people, including an 18-year old boy named Venkoba Rao, were hired to distribute these pamphlets.
Almost immediately sparks started flying: Venkatapathaiya, an attorney in Bangalore, began to denounce Meher Baba as "a swindler, a cheat and a charlatan . . . a despicable wretch not fit for any decent-minded man or woman to associate with. . . a fraud on humanity . . . a dangerous devil!” And much worse.
On Saturday, 9 December, while discussing the opposition, Jal Kerawalla asked Baba why he did not come out and crush this slanderous antagonism. Baba gave this reply:
“But they have not yet reached the point of crucifying me! This is nothing compared to what I want. Be prepared for that. This is only the beginning — mere child's play! I warned you some time ago to be prepared for opposition on a much more serious and larger scale than this.”
Dr. Ghani asked, "Why don't you turn your key?"
“This is my key; otherwise what could these ignorant people do? It is not their fault. They harp on the same old issues, with the same old stories repeated over and over again. – all too childish for words!
“Up till now I did not mind, and did not allow public replies, but now it is necessary for the world to know, since we are establishing an important centre here. That work should not suffer. So, reply to them, but in a dignified manner – coolly, calmly, but convincingly.
“Things were too slow, rather dead and dull for the work. [You had no enthusiasm.] So, to stir it all up, this opposition has come. Let us welcome and utilize it for my work. Don't make it personal and get mad at individuals. State facts and smash their silly talks and arguments.
“I work internally in my own way. You work externally, keeping yourselves in touch with people, facing situations courageously but calmly, befitting the spirit of our work of love, and winning over your opponents with arguments and facts lovingly, rather than becoming excited, using harsh words and creating hatred. This is your test. Be true to it. Prove yourselves worthy of the title of disciples and I will help you.
“This will bring pep into the work, and arouse your enthusiasm and interest. The game will be lively! The whole world is fighting for one thing or the other, and you, too, join in the game – to fight, not for selfish motives or gains, but for the Truth. Be afraid of nothing, not even the results.”
Continuing on the same topic, Baba commented:
“Truth can never be blurred or clouded by the hue and cry, however great. It shines in its own light. Clouds come and go, casting shadows and a temporary gloom. The sun is never disturbed, much less perturbed or affected by the clouds. So is Truth never clouded by fallacious or false propaganda. Trying to throw dust at the sun blinds the person himself, not the sun.
“But there are few who understand these simple truths. The majority are misguided and ruled by some self-styled leaders, who seek the limelight by fair means or foul…. So, to be in the public eye, they invent lies, concoct stories, distort facts, and, in the name of public service, they present these lies before the public. The public is misled either by their big names or by the tricks of the originators, who form the ability to misrepresent facts with sensational talks that influence the weakness of the mass mind.
“It is the same all over the world – a game of winning and losing – the inevitable struggle for existence in all departments and aspects of life – religion, politics, morality, ethics, industry [business], et cetera, at different times and places, in different ways, according to the conditions.”
Meanwhile Venkatapathaiya began corresponding with others opposed to Baba. He held his own public meeting on 10 December 1939 "to examine the credentials of Shri Meher Baba and to protest against the establishment of the Meher Baba Universal Spiritual Centre at Byramangala."
As it turned out, the opposition increased the demand for tickets for the foundation ceremony held the following Sunday.
Donkin wrote in his 10th December diary entry:
Paradoxically, much of an Avatar’s work is accomplished through opposition. Meher Baba said,
“Spiritual work is strengthened by opposition, and so it will be with Mine. It is like shooting an arrow from a bow. The more you pull the bow-string towards you, the swifter the arrow speeds to its goal.”
Baba dictating to Dr. Ghani on his alphabet board
Meher Baba’s Universal Work
The consolidation of his many streams of work into a single ashram in Bangalore, together with the founding of the Meher Baba Universal Spiritual Centre, signaled what Baba began calling his “Universal Work”.
From early in his advent, Meher Baba had told his companions that his work was to embrace both the East and the West. This blending had long been on Meher Baba’s agenda. He began to lay the foundations for it as early as 1927 in the Prem Ashram school for boys. The educational curriculum Meher Baba designed for the school blended Western academic subjects with spiritual topics drawn from his own discussions and from Eastern spiritual literature, such as the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and the Persian Sufi poetry of Hafiz and Rumi.
Equally significant, while past Avatars and spiritual figures of earlier epochs had focused their work in one geographic region and primarily with a single cultural grouping, Meher Baba's work was broad and all-inclusive. Meher Baba was the first Avatar we know about whose travels encircled the globe, and the first to select close disciples from many different countries and national groups.
The nearly fifty companions who accompanied Meher Baba to Bangalore were from India, Europe, and America. They were of many different ages, different educational, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds, and many different psychological temperaments. Meher Baba had invested enormous energy and many years of effort in training each of these individuals. It took him nearly seventeen years to prepare this group of close companions from the East and the West. Now they were ready to help, as the Master began to work on his most important projects.
At Bangalore, Meher Baba brought together into a single ashram five different groups:
Twenty-three women companions, including seven Western women, who lived with him at the estate called The Links;
About twenty men companions, including one Western man, who lived at another house a short distance away;
Nearly twenty members of the Meherabad "mad ashram"—men with chronic and severe mental illness – who were given accommodations in refurbished stables at The Links;
A small number of genuine masts, or God-intoxicated individuals. At Meherabad, the masts had lived among the mad. Now, at Bangalore, Meher Baba established a separate living centre for the masts and began to gather other spiritually advanced souls from the surrounding countryside to live at The Links;
And what was called "the zoo," a large collection of pets that included seven dogs, two pigs, a deer, five monkeys, a rabbit, two birds, a gazelle, a goat, a peacock, and a little lamb named Mary.
Elizabeth Patterson feeding the gazelle
World War II and Baba’s Work with Masts
Beginning in Bangalore and the start of World War II, Meher Baba's efforts with masts and other spiritually advanced souls became the primary focus of his work. Previously, his ashrams had included the mad along with some masts. Here, he opened the first of his ashrams devoted exclusively to masts. And here he began his work with Chatti Baba and other distinguished figures whose strenuous and heroic collaborations served as Baba’s way of managing the Second World War.
In discussion with the Western women the previous year (September 1938), Baba had explained that his work with the mad and with masts was connected with world conditions. He remarked that all Europe was preparing for war, but they did not know what the Avatar and Perfect Masters had decided."
“It means war.…Germany, Italy, France, Russia; many others will join. Everywhere people are worried. All imagine how it will be when bombs fall on top of them. How my agents are now working – very busy! China and Japan are both fighting. All speculating….
“The time is near – the world is in chaos. That is why I declared publicly in the magazine article, “‘I am the Avatar.’"
During this phase, Meher Baba reminded his companions that the Avatar Rama was a warrior king. So was Krishna. And Krishna's spiritual treatise, the Bhagavad Gita, illustrates divine processes which are explicated and reinforced through war. Meher Baba also noted that Mohammed's spiritual work involved years of battle and warfare. Meher Baba often explained that World War II was related to the spiritual work of this Avataric age. He predicted the war years before it began in Europe.
Some specific events at MBUSC had clear correlations to events in World War II:
August 1939: Just as Meher Baba was moving his ashram to Bangalore, Hitler and Stalin announced the signing of a mutual "non-aggression" pact. This freed Hitler to make his first major assault.
1 September 1939: Hitler invaded Poland on the same day Baba drove an iron spike (a stake approximately one meter long) into the ground to mark where the central point of his new Universal Spiritual Centre was to be.
3 September 1939: England and France declare war on Germany and World War II begins.
4 September 1939: Baba said, “[The war is] all my game; you all are sitting here smiling etc.; but you don't see my universal work."
21 September 1939: Donkin’s diary entry reports, “To-day Baba starts his ‘plan’, which he says is going to be very drastic. Elizabeth tells me he told someone that from to-day he takes personal charge of the war.”
17 October 1939: As soon as the land had been purchased, Meher Baba moved forward with construction and set the inauguration date to be 25 October. However, on 17 October Donkin’s diary reports that the opening of the centre had been postponed until 17 December.
At that time, Hitler's troops were marching through Poland and Meher Baba's war work with masts was beginning. But Meher Baba's plans for construction were delayed many months because the farmers who had sold land to Meher Baba had an unexpectedly bountiful yield and asked if they could harvest their crops before the land was cleared. Meher Baba agreed to delay the construction until their crops had been harvested. At the same time as Meher Baba’s construction work stopped, the war in Europe suddenly stopped. Everything was delayed. The French waited behind their Maginot Line for an attack that did not come until the following spring.
14 November 1939: Donkin’s diary notes: “We in this house are to make 4000 bandages, the other house to make 1000 – I don't know why.”
25 November 1939: During this time, Baba had been dictating his will and, for the first time, signed his Last Will and Testament on this day.
2 December 1939: Donkin’s diary notes: “Baba went to the South of India about a week ago…[and has] come back now with two more masts, one of whom (Chatti Baba) Baba says is on the 6th plane. Baba is awfully pleased to-day about the Finland invasion; he said he [had gone] to the South either to start the war or to make peace. Baba said of them: “Masts are my best medium for my work in the world, and that is why I exert myself so much to contact them.”
1 April 1940: Baba departs Bangalore and arrives at Meherabad on 3 May.
On 4 July 1940, while enroute by train to Ranchi, Baba commented: “When we left Bangalore, France got in a fix; and now that we have left Meherabad, Britain will be cornered." (His reference was to the German attack on France that began on 10 May and concluded with the fall of France on 14 June.)
It was through masts that Baba brought the far-ranging spiritual results he wanted from the external developments of the war. As one example, when the mast Chatti Baba expressed a great deal of distress coincident with the fall of the French army to Germany, Baba explained that the mast had a spiritual connection with France. Each mast was unique and spiritually significant. In addition to Chatti Baba, prominent among the masts at Bangalore were Chaddarwala Mast, Phulwala Mast, Channa Swami, and Shariat Khan.
Inauguration of the Centre: 17 December 1939
Spurred by the talks given by Princess Matchabelli, Dr. Ghani and others and by the publicity generated by the opposition, over 4000 persons attended the inauguration ceremony on 17 December 1939. Besides the general public, Baba lovers from Bombay, Poona, Nasik and Ahmednagar attended, which was noteworthy at the time due to available modes of transportantion. Sir Mirza Ismail was the Chief Guest.
Dr. Donkin’s diary records the day in detail:
The first trip I made at 7:00 am, with some of the Mandali, and Baba's granite foundation seat…. This stone seat is made of grey polished granite, about 2' 6" high and 2' 6" square. Round the 4 sides of the actual seat slab are inscribed the words "Foundation Seat of the Meher Baba Universal Spiritual Centre 17/12/39 ", engraved and painted gold.
When I first got to the site, things were nothing like ready, but on getting there again at about 10:30 good progress had been made. In the middle was the brickwork for a raised dais on which Baba was to sit, and the outlines of the central building marked in chalked stones: a Bamboo leaf-covered canopy covered this over. Round this, at 45 feet distance were some 8 or 10 tents, for chairs of visitors.
All was very gay with leaves, flags, and flowers. The site is lovely too with hills to the west, with granite outcrops, and a green valley with trees between.
At 2:00 pm I went over to the Links by Baba’s order, to be ready to take the ladies to the site: Baba in a good mood, asking if all was progressing O.K. Baba for the function was dressed in white dhoti affair, and a very old very patched coat that must once have been sort of brick red: but it suits him and looks good.
Baba arrived at 4:35, driven by Elizabeth Patterson in her American Buick. A band greeted Baba, and before he came two singers praised him and Mysore State with songs.
Upon his arrival Pappa Jessawala, the head of the reception committee, garlanded Baba and led him to the foundation seat, upon which he sat. In the Master's honor, Syed Rasul Arif recited a poem in Urdu and Sampath Aiyangar delivered a speech. Ghani then explained the significance of the seven-metal spade which Baba would use to break the ground.
Baba rose and scooped a little earth with the special spade as twenty-one cartridges were fired and acclamations in his praise rent the air. Baba struck the earth seven times and sat back on his special seat. Sampath Aiyangar then read out a message Baba had prepared for the occasion.
Donkin’s diary continues:
Baba finally blessed some laddoos (sweet balls) which Vishnu brought to him, and were then distributed to the crowd of villagers. All the invitees then went to the refreshments, and Baba drove off.
Baba Das invited the opposition men to tea in the tent.
Fireworks ended the show as the sun set.
I took the ladies back … then Mandali, and again Mandali last trip at 10:30 pm. Between last 2 trips Baba called me over…. Baba was pleased with the success of the show.
17 December 1939, Breaking ground for Meher Baba’s Universal Spiritual Centre
Meher Baba’s Message at the MBUSC Inauguration
The world is at War today.
It has engulfed all departments of life – political, economic, social and religious.
The instinct of self-preservation enhanced by fear and uncertainty of the future is aggressively active in the guise of various pseudonyms and catch-words.
Exclusiveness is parading as nationalism; self-interest is known as economics; fanaticism is synonymous with religion; libertinism is looked upon as social and moral freedom and exploitation is termed, politics.
This instinct of self-preservation is legitimate and natural with the lower order in life, in the scale of evolution. But when it expresses itself through man, it makes of him nothing more than a talking animal and as such, he is yet a long way off from deserving the title, "the best of creation".
Is it anybody's fault if one finds himself on the right side of things or the wrong side of things? No! Every human being has come to serve and achieve a definite purpose and by playing his part to perfection he automatically works out his own salvation.
There is this difference however. In the divine scheme of things individuals or peoples when, instead of progressing higher and onward, are about to lapse into bestiality, it is suffering that rehabilitates them.
Spiritual Masters achieve for humanity this same resurrection much more easily and less painfully by not only preaching but translating into fulfillment the too familiar words, self-denial and brotherhood of man, whose very beginning and whose ultimate end is LOVE.
The time for such a universal awakening is looming large in the near future, to meet which the scheme of a Universal Spiritual Centre is founded today.
Mysore will surely realize at no distant date its singular good fortune in possessing amongst many progressive features, the Spiritual Capital of the world as well.
I bless every one of you, participants and non-participants, in the greatest scheme of spiritual regeneration the world has ever known and the foundation of which you have witnessed today.
This scheme of a Universal Spiritual Centre symbolizes the character of my Divine Mission on earth.
I bless you
Meanwhile, as this ceremony was taking place, the attorney Venkatapathaiya who was trying to raise mass opposition against Baba hired a Morris automobile and filled it with leaflets denouncing Meher Baba, which he intended to distribute at Byramangala. But as the vehicle was on its way to the function, at 6:15 P.M. it hit a bullock cart carrying firewood and overturned in a ditch, strewing the anti-Meher Baba literature all over the road. Padri happened to drive past at the time and took a photograph of the scene. God's hand, perhaps, was behind the unfortunate “accident.”
Dr. Donkin provides more detail in his diary:
On return from the last trip we stopped to look at a car about 100 feet from the road, at the bottom of a small ravine, nose in the bed of a stream. Subsequent enquiries showed the following facts:-
3 men left in a Morris 8 red colour for Byramangala to distribute pamphlets there against Baba. In all they had 5 accidents during that day. The first 2 they hit bullock carts, with not much damage. The first accident frightened the driver, and he thought that perhaps it was because they were opposing Baba that this had happened. His pals said what rot, and they went on.
3rd accident they hit a lorry, the driver of which was hurt a bit.
4th accident they knocked down a man on the road, and didn't stop for fear of police.
5th and last, on returning they hit two [bullock] carts at one place, and were bounced down an embankment, and then 50 or more feet into the ravine; car a thorough wreck.
None of the car occupants, almost miraculously, were badly hurt, and two were taken to Victoria hospital for treatment. One was admitted for observation, but no serious injury: amazing escape after seeing the state of the car!
All this was got from the car driver who is in hospital to-day, and whom I discovered this morning in the Victoria Hospital. This evening Baba Das went and had a chat with him and got the whole story from him.
As Dr Ghani says, quoting a Persian couplet:
“Do what you like with God the Absolute, but beware what you do with saints.”
The red Morris 8 after the final collision
Construction, Conflict, and Departure
Construction of the Centre commenced the very next day, 18 December. Naoroji Dadachanji started staying at Byramangala to supervise the contract that had been given to the Mysore Engineering Company. The foundation was dug and the construction of twelve rooms in circular form proceeded well until February, when it was found that the contractors were trying to use inferior materials. A quarrel ensued between the mandali and the contractors.
When Baba was informed of the quarrel, he said, “Make it, break it but don’t shake it. But I am sure that is the only thing you will do”.
On 16th February after long discussions it was decided to terminate the contract. The contract was dropped and accounts settled. Now the mandali were to complete the work.
As the mandali began hiring laborers from neighboring villages and paying them higher wages than they were offered elsewhere, laborers began avoiding other jobs, including jobs at the nearby public water reservoir. Mysore Engineering Company and the contractor for the water reservoir obtained a stay order from the court, complaining that the water reservoir was a public works project and should be given the highest priority compared to work at MBUSC, which they said was against public welfare.
Due to the stay order, the Byramangala construction work stopped with nine of the twelve inner circle of rooms finished and three others built only up to the ceiling level.
As World War II intensified, the Indian Army (being under British rule) requisitioned the whole MBUSC property of 574 acres, forcing the entire project to come to a halt. In response, Meher Baba asked all, to pack up and they departed at 7:00 am on 1st April 1940, reaching Meherabad on 3rd May, after a month of touring. The Links was vacated and handed back over to Mirza Ismail’s brother and the pet Zoo was moved to No. 4, Palace Road and later sent back to Meherabad.
The proposed construction was to have a four-decade break.
Venkoba Rao was just eighteen when he was first employed to distribute handbills publicizing the opening of the Byramangala Centre. He did not meet Baba until after the ceremony in December and was one of five Bangalore boys Baba invited to join him when Baba returned to Meherabad in May 1940.
After a month, Baba met with the boys and asked, "What do you want? What do you want to do in life?" Each replied, and at his turn Venkoba Rao said, “I want to go into business." Baba said, “Wait for some time before you become a businessman.” Baba kept Venkoba Rao and another young man, Krishna, with him at Meherabad and after making arrangements according to their wishes sent the other three boys back home.
For the next seven years Venkoba Rao stayed with Baba as a member of the men mandali in Meherabad, Ranchi, Belgaum, Dharwar, Quetta, Dehra Dun, Panchgani, Lonavala, Mahabaleshwar, Bhilar, Lahore, Aurangabad, Raipur, Pimpalgaon, Hyderabad, Kashmir, Srinagar, and Wai. His primary duties during these war years were to care for and travel with selected masts, including the sixth plane mast Chatti Baba, and to search for other masts during Meher Baba’s “mast tours”. During this time he also served as one of Baba’s night watchmen. In addition, along with Gustadji, Baidul, Slamson, and Krishna, Venkoba Rao was entrusted to stay with the women mandali and the masts at Pimpalgoan (near where later Meherazad would be built) during 1944 when Baba needed to be away.
Prior to the Kashmir tour in August, Venkoba Rao was given leave to take a short visit to his home near Byramangala. Upon arriving home, he found that his family was keen on his getting married. Venkoba immediately wrote to Baba about the girl who had been selected and Baba asked him to marry and come back. Venkoba married after Baba's approval and returned to Meherabad alone.
During December 1944 Baba granted leave again to Venkoba to bring his wife to Meherabad, where she stayed with the women mandali for about a week. Baba then called Venkoba and said, "Here all are bachelors and spinsters, but you are now a married man. You better go home with your wife. Stay for six months with your wife and stay with me for six months. I will give you money for your expenses every month. Look after the Byramangala property well. Maintain the sanctity of the Central Point” .
Soon thereafter Venkoba Rao, as Caretaker of the Central Point, began living with his wife, Lakshmi Bai, in a small room on the Byramangala property.
Lakshmi Bai and Venkoba Rao
Sale of the Property and Return Visit
On 16 October 1949 Meher Baba began another dramatic phase of his work, which he called the “New Life”. Baba began this phase with a “training period” for the 20 men and women companions who would be accompanying him. Belgaum, which is part of present-day Karnataka, was chosen as the location for this three-week stay from 20 October 1949 to 12 November 1949.
In preparation for this work, Baba had disposed of all his personal property and belongings, except for the tomb at Meherabad. As part of that disposal activity, Pappa Jessawala had been given Power of Attorney for the Byramangala property and went to Bangalore the last week of August 1949 to apprise Venkoba Rao of Baba’s wish to sell the property. Venkoba Rao asked to buy the land, but did not have sufficient funds to purchase all 574 acres.
With Meher Baba’s consent Venkoba Rao bought 55 acres, including the one and a half acres where Baba had hammered the spike, used the seven-metal spade to dig the first shovel-full of the foundation, and had started the construction of the twelve buildings.
The sacred site of the Meher Baba Universal Spiritual Centre now legally belonged to Venkoba Rao and he did his best to care for it. Even so he regarded the property as belonging to Baba and Baba arranged for a small monthly stipend to be sent to Venkoba Rao for his maintenance.
The fall of 1954 marked another turning point in Meher Baba’s work. On 7 October, Baba gave up his alphabet board, which he had been using to communicate since 1927.
Eight days later, on 16 October, Baba began a six-day mast tour to several locations in Karnataka, including Belgaum and Mysore. In Mysore, it was the festival time of Dussehra, celebrating Avatar Rama’s victory over Ravana. Because loudspeakers were set up everywhere for the festivities, Baba could not rest. He asked the mandali for an alternate place to stay and they remembered that Byramangala was close by: “It is an ideal place. It is secluded, and Venkoba Rao stays there.” When Pendu travelled in advance to make the arrangements, Venkoba Rao was joyous.
Upon arriving on 19 October, Baba immediately went to his room (now called Meher Baba House). During the day, Baba would leave the property in a car driven by his disciple Eruch Jessawala. In the evening, he would return. One day at Baba’s wish, Venkoba showed him the reservoir. On the third day despite heavy rain, Baba walked the property, going around the twelve buildings. Stating that he had accomplished his work for the visit, Baba departed the Centre.
During this stay, Baba asked Venkoba Rao why he had not attended the previous month’s programs in Ahmednagar. When Venkoba replied that he had not received the circular about them, Baba said, "Since you did not come to see me, I had to come to see you!"
Venkoba Rao expressed his wish to rejoin the mandali, and Baba said he would call him when the time was right.
Two years later Baba called Venkoba Rao to Satara and told him he would have to stay for one year. He readily agreed and served as one of three night watchmen. However, he was sent back to his home in Bangalore after only a month,
After three more years, in 1959, Venkoba Rao found that due to severe financial difficulties, it had become practically impossible for him and his family to continue staying at Byramangala on income of only Rs. 20 per month from Baba as assistance. With Baba’s permission Venkoba Rao moved his family to Bangalore, leaving his brother to look after the sacred site. Baba stopped sending him financial assistance and Venkoba Rao opened a shop.
Five years later in January 1964, Venkoba Rao went to Byramangala and found that his brother had begun drinking and gambling on the premises. He wrote a letter to Baba that he was unable to understand what to do about the sacred land of Byramangala. Baba met with him in Ahmednagar and told him to sell the land. Venkoba Rao sought a buyer who might agree not to demolish the nine completed and three half-constructed rooms surrounding the Central Point. Finally, a village headman named Muniyappa Gowda came forward to buy the land with the promise to look after the Central Point and the twelve rooms.
On 30 August 1964, Venkoba Rao, his wife, and their young daughter were permitted to have Baba's darshan. At Meherazad, Venkoba Rao laid the proceeds from the sale of the property (Rs.2,500) at Baba's feet. Baba kept Rs.1,000 for his work and returned the rest to Venkoba Rao as prasad.
The site of the Spiritual Centre at Byramangala was entering a short period of spiritual hibernation. It took just twenty-nine years after it had been sold for the property to be bought back by Baba’s followers under dramatic circumstances.
Venkoba Rao, 2009
The Seed Blossoms: The Renewal of the MBUSC
In December 1982, K. K. Ramakrishnan, secretary of the Avatar Meher Baba Pune Centre, was visiting Bangalore for health reasons. As was his manner when traveling, he sought out local Baba Lovers and met Venkoba Rao, who invited him to Byramangala.
K. K. Ramakrishnan
On 14 December they went to Byramangala. Venkoba Rao took him to the room where Baba had stayed in 1954. Immediately upon entering, in place of the room, Ramakrishnan saw “Baba’s form like one sees on a TV screen.” Seated on a chair with a radiant smile, Meher Baba was wearing a red-brick coat and a dhoti. Mr. Ramakrishnan spontaneously blurted out, “Baba, this must come back to life!” The form then kept following Ramakrishna, emblazed in front of his eyes wherever he went, including on the train, and continuing when he was back home in Pune.
Events proceeded quickly. Highly impressed with both the indelible image of Baba that remained in his field of vision and with the property that had evoked it, Ramakrishnan contacted Muniappa Gowda, who had bought the property from Venkoba Rao in 1964. On 27 June 1983, they signed an agreement for the central portion of the land, measuring one acre and fifteen guntas (a gunta = .025 acres, so total = 1.375 acres).
It was only after the re-purchase of the property that the image of Baba began to fade from Ramakrishnan’s view. Having known Baba for many decades and never seeing him attired in a brick-red jacket, Ramakrishnan was puzzled by the color of the coat Baba was wearing in the image that had remained constantly before his eyes for six months. It was only later that he read that Baba had actually worn a jacket of that color on 17 December 1939 for the dedication of the Meher Baba Universal Spiritual Centre.
A trust with representatives from several different parts of India was formed and registered on 11 August 1983. Venkoba Rao began staying at Byramangala again from 24 August 1983 and would remain there until his passing in April 2014.
On the early morning of 30 November 1983, while he was walking around the Central Point repeating Baba’s name, a plan unfolded in Mr. Ramakrishna’s mind:
Complete the three remaining unfinished houses to the same measurements as the other nine.
Construct the Central Structure higher than the 12 houses with a dome of seven-colored unbreakable glass, which when light would be visible from nine kilometres (five miles).
Paint the Divine Theme on the interior surface of the Central Structure.
Name the House where Baba stayed in 1954 as Meher Baba House, with the Houses toward the right for each of Baba’s Five Perfect Masters and the Seven Avatars of this Cycle of Time.
Furnish each house with literature and works connected with the individual Master and Avatar.
The three unfinished Houses were completed in 1989, and the Central Structure was finished in 1993–94.
After a nineteen-year hiatus, the return of the property to Baba Lovers marked the dawn of an era of renewal. The Central Point, where Baba had hammered the spike, and the twelve houses encircling the Central Point were repaired, revived, and renovated. The architectural design, created under Meher Baba’s guidance by Walter Mertens of Switzerland, could continue to be realised.
Today one could say:
This rejuvenation of the Universal Centre at Byramangala
is one of the key events of the post-1969 period
since Baba dropped his body.
An East-West Collaboration Into the Future
Intended by Meher Baba from the first to be a global, international Centre, Indian Baba lovers have collaborated with Western Baba Lovers to establish the universality that Baba envisioned for his Universal Centre.
K.K. Ramakrishnan again played a central role in the international unfolding that has become a hallmark of MBUSC. In the Spring of 1987, when one hundred members of Meher Baba’s American Sufism Reoriented had come to Meherabad to take darshan at Meher Baba’s Samadhi, K.K. Ramakrishnan invited them to visit and perform at Avatar Meher Baba Pune Centre. Ramakrishnan had had a long-time relationship with Murshida Ivy O. Duce, who had been appointed by Baba to lead his Sufi Order. Now in 1987 Ramakrishnan invited her successor Murshid James MacKie to present a program of music, dance and video at the Pune Centre before returning to America.
Following the presentation, Ramakrishnan rose to give a speech. He spoke of the major celebration he was planning in Bangalore in May, barely two months later. Suddenly, he departed from his prepared text and spontaneously invited Murshid MacKie to participate in that celebration. In Murshid Mackie’s words:
“Mr. Ramakrishnan pleaded with us to take part in the rededication of Meher Baba's Universal Spiritual Centre in Byramangala. His invitation surprised him and it certainly surprised us. It seemed like such an unlikely impulse for him to suddenly invite us to an unknown city in southern India to participate in an event we knew nothing about. It seemed even more unlikely for us to bring a Sufi group from America all the way back to India in just a few weeks. And yet, the earnestness and intensity of Mr. Ramakrishnan's invitation seemed to suggest immediately that the invitation came not just from Mr. Ramakrishnan, but from Meher Baba.”
Five weeks later, Murshid MacKie returned to India with twenty-two of his students. In Mr. Ramakrishnan’s words, Murshid MacKie “heard the call”.
For three days beginning on May 17, these American Baba Lovers joined an audience of about six hundred people, nearly half of whom were representatives from more than forty Meher Baba centers throughout India. Bright programs of music, dance and devotion were presented in addition to a variety of talks.
Television crews from local stations were impressed that a large group of Sufis had come from America to celebrate Meher Baba and asked to broadcast Sufism’s musical programs over local television stations each evening for about a week. The city of Bangalore was suddenly alive with the presence of a spiritual figure whose name few residents had ever heard: Meher Baba. Songs to Meher Baba rang in the streets and over radio and television sets throughout the city.
May, 1987, East and West come together for the rededication of Meher Baba’s Universal Spiritual Centre
Many months later, Ramakrishnan related that he had been praying to Baba about this event. His prayer was that somehow people representing Meher Baba's devotees from the West would come, to make the event truly “universal”. While people came to Bangalore for the rededication from all over India, Meher Baba’s American Sufis were the only Westerners to attend. To Ramakrishnan, their coming was a response to his prayer. He was mindful that Meher Baba had said the Universal Spiritual Centre must include Westerners.
Following the rededication of the property, the trustees raised the funds needed to build the Central Structure, hiring architect Robert Reser, a Baba Lover from Arizona, USA to supervise the construction.
Seven years later, on 17 December 1994, another event celebrated the inauguration of the Central Structure and each of the 12 houses. Murshid MacKie, accompanied by over seventy companions was again invited as the Guest of Honor and asked to cut the ribbons at the entrance to the Central Structure and to the houses dedicated to the five Perfect Masters and to the seven avatars of the current cycle of time.
1994, Murshid MacKie cuts the ribbons for the Inauguration
As part of the 1987 inaugural celebration, K.K. Ramakrishnan had given a stirring talk, reminding the audience that Upasni Maharaj had said peace would come when God's children of the West danced in the streets without shame with God's children from the East. At the time, Ramakrishnan was referring to the parade in front of the Bangalore City Hall. But now in 1994 Easterners and Westerners dancing together occurred spontaneously as the three-day event concluded.
1994, East and West dance together
Western seekers and Eastern seekers, as well as Baba Lovers from all parts of the world continue to visit Byramangala individually and in small groups to meditate, participate in service projects and for periodic large celebrations. Another recent milestone celebration was held in December 2019 for the inauguration of the Divine Theme Mural encircling the inside of the Central Structure.
Again it was an inspired thought from K.K. Ramakrishnan that would sow the seed for the creation and installation of the Divine Theme Mural that now decorates the interior of the Central Structure. Toward the end of the 1994 celebration, Ramakrishnan approached Murshid MacKie, asking if Sufism Reoriented would design a mural depicting the Divine Theme to decorate the upper wall panels in the Central Structure. He was especially interested that those who might never have the opportunity to study the book God Speaks should have access to a graphical representation of the processes of Creation, Evolution, Reincarnation, Involution, and God-Realization as Baba elucidated them.
Murshid MacKie agreed to ask artists among his students to start work on that ambitious project, which his successor, Murshida Carol Weyland Connor, carried forward after his passing. When it was completed in 2019, twenty-five years after Murshid MacKie had made his promise to Ramakrishnan, Murshida Conner traveled to Byramangala with a hundred of her students for the unveiling ceremony. At the same ceremony, Shridhar Kelkar, chairman of the Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust, unveiled the newly fabricated altar over the Centre Point, the location where Baba hammered the Spike and created a sacred space eighty years prior.