Gadge Baba [1876-1956] was one of the greatest social reformers, who dedicated his life for public service and set up 31 schools, orphanages, educational institutes and shelter homes for destitute.
While the reformist leader who was bestowed the title of Saint in his lifetime, is a household name in Maharashtra, ironically, his life and works don't find much space in the text books outside the State.
Gadge Baba*, who was born in second part of the nineteenth century, built schools, hospitals, hostels, orphanages, homes for women and elderly, dharam-shalas and animal shelters across Maharashtra, all by collecting donations, but never constructed a room for himself.
The mendicant went village to village, with the food pan on his head and broom in his hand. Upon reaching the place, he would start cleaning the roads and drains. This inspired the people to become self-reliant. The money handed over to him by villagers, was used for setting up institutions.
He also performed the 'kirtan' and recited Sant Kabir's couplets [dohas] during his discourses.Either he stayed in verandahs or under the shade of tree. An old and crumpled sheet, an earthen pot [which he wore on his head and used it as bowl to eat] and a piece of wood--that was all he had in the name of possessions.
He attacked untouchability through his teachings. An associate of Dr BR Ambedkar, he played an important role in social awakening in Maharashtra, especially, among backwards, Dalits and the poor.
A rationalist, he dedicated himself to the larger public good, urging the poor and persecuted to educate their children. For Gadge Maharaj, religion was all about serving the humanity and uplift of the oppressed, especially, the handicapped, the destitute.
Rural masses thronged to hear him. The public preacher also spread awareness regarding sanitation and for keeping environment clean. He emphasised on feeding the hungry and serving the society. A saint in Bhakti tradition, he was respected by all sections of the society.
For almost 50 years, he kept moving in the vast region, spreading awareness in the society and condemning the social ills. He established 12 dharam-shalas at different places, some as big as the one in Nasik which can accommodate 500 persons. So that the poor don't have to worry about their stay while visiting other places and pilgrimage spots.
Though he had no formal education, he had the missionary zeal and conviction to bring about change in the society.
Throughout his life, he remained active, spreading awareness to tackle the existing social evils, the prejudices, the regressive beliefs and the superstitious traditions.
He was against the casteist discrimination and also opposed touching feet of the saints. Further, he was a strong crusader against illiteracy.
When Bal Gangadhar Tilak opposed the representation of entry of lower castes into legislatures, Gadge Baba, had opposed it and challenged Tilak from the same dais. He left behind a rich legacy that will inspire generations. He is fondly and respectfully termed as Rashtra-sant.
Almost a contemporary of Gandhi, he passed away in 1956. His contribution towards the Indian society and educating the masses, is truly astonishing. The Amravati University was named as Sant Gadge Baba Amravati University in his memory.
[pronunciation: Gaad-ge/گاڈگے / राष्ट्रसंत गाडगे बाबा]
[In the first photograph, you can see the food pan on his head]
1. Folk hero Sant Shri Gadge Maharaj
2. The reformer saint who was crusader against superstitions