A very notable episode occurred at Benares in 1919, soon after Upasni Maharaj had settled at Sakori. The occasion was a maha-yajna, a sacrificial fire ritual attended by thousands of brahmins. There were over a hundred officiating priests at this revered rite. Upasni Maharaj was contributing a feast, and insisted upon displaying a large painting of Sai Baba, who had taken mahasamadhi the previous year.
SAI BABA PRESIDES OVER CONFERENCE OF MASTERS
In November 1919, Upasni Maharaj telegraphed Sadashiv to bring Merwan Seth (Meher Baba then known) to Sakori to join him on a trip to Benares, where a sraddha was to be held in honor of Sai Baba.
Sadashiv had returned with his family from Benares just five days before. He knew it would be difficult to obtain permission from his uncle to leave his business responsibilities again.
Sadashiv was at a loss as to what to do, when Merwan Seth suggested a plan. Sadashiv's apartment was on the second floor of his toddy shop. Late one night, when the family was asleep, Sadashiv tossed his bedding roll out the window to Merwan Seth, and snuck out of the house. Together they went to the railway station and caught the train to Sakori. (Before leaving, Sadashiv woke his uncle saying he was going out and would be back soon. Later, he wrote his uncle informing him where he had gone and why.)
At Sakori, Sadashiv asked Upasni why he was going to Benares. Upasni replied, "There will be a large gathering of Sai Baba's devotees there, and Sai himself is going to preside!"
This answer surprised Sadashiv, who said, "How can Sai Baba preside over this occasion when he died more than a year ago?" Upasni, however, did not elaborate.
Upasni left ahead of Merwan Seth and Sadashiv on a different train, although in Benares he stayed at the Mahadev (Shiva) temple with them. Preparations had started for the performance of maha yagna — a large sacrificial fire. Several thousand devotees of Sai Baba from all over India were gathered and there were seven hundred of Upasni's own followers surrounding him.
One hundred and eleven Hindu priests congregated to perform the great yagna. The meals were specially prepared by Brahmins, but Merwan and Sadashiv were instructed by Upasni to oversee the food arrangements. Both would shop daily in the market and purchase all that was required for the enormous meals. In the center of the large pandal (tent) where the fire ceremony was to take place, a large painting of Sai Baba was hung and garlanded. When Sadashiv saw this spectacle, with Sai Baba's picture in the central place, he realized why Maharaj had told him that Sai Baba would preside.
The great ceremonial fire burned continually for eleven days, and, on the twelfth day, a feast for Brahmins was held. By that time as many as 12,000 Brahmins had gathered. The food for all was ready before noon, but when the Brahmins sat down under the large pandal for their meal and saw the painting of Sai Baba, some raised an uproar, exclaiming, "We cannot join in the feast of a Muslim! Sai Baba was a Muslim!"
Upasni Maharaj, who himself was of Brahmin descent, prevailed upon them, saying, "Forget your religious prejudices and opinions and partake of the food ... Sai Baba was above religious distinction. He was for you Brahmins as well as for the Muslims." But the Brahmins would not listen and even the Brahmin priests who performed the maha yagna joined their protests. Then Maharaj told the priests, "I promise to give every one of you dakshina of fifteen rupees instead of five. Now eat and enjoy the feast."
Still they refused, continuing to object vehemently to the picture of a Mohammedan Master, and shouted, "Take that painting down. Why is this yagna dedicated to him? Why is Sai Baba being honored in our temple? If that painting is removed, we will share in the feast; otherwise, we will not eat."
The pandemonium lasted for two hours. Upasni could not persuade the Brahmins to share in the feast and he refused to have the painting of Sai Baba taken down. In the end, Upasni instructed his devotees to go to the banks of the Ganges River and to strike empty cooking oil tins to call for the poor to gather there. Merwan Seth and Sadashiv, joined by Upasni's several hundred devotees, served the food to the tremendous crowd that came. Amazingly, although nearly 15,000 poor people were fed, a considerable amount of food was left over.
Upasni Maharaj then directed,** "Throw the remaining food into the river!"** This shocked the Hindu priests who saw bucket after bucket of food being flung into the river. They approached Upasni and begged his pardon, saying, "Great One, we are now ready to partake of the feast. Do not waste the food — forgive us."
Upasni angrily retorted, "You call yourselves the pundits of Kashi! What can I say about you priests? There is nothing in Kashi for you, and there is no food left either! I forgive you, but you will not partake of the feast. He, Sai Baba, whom you call a Muslim, is the real pundit!" Upasni then angrily sent the priests away and bid his followers farewell and returned to Sakori.