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The first reported encounter with Mahavatar Babaji was in 1861, when Lahiri Mahasaya was posted to Ranikhet in his work as an accountant for the British government. One day while walking in the hills above Ranikhet, he heard a voice calling his name. Following the voice up the mountain, he met a “tall, divinely radiant sadhu.” He was amazed to find that the sadhu knew his name. This sadhu was Mahavatar Babaji.
Mahavatar Babaji told Lahiri Mahasaya that he was his guru from the past, then initiated him into Kriya Yoga and instructed Lahiri to initiate others. Lahiri wanted to remain with Mahavatar Babaji, who told him instead that he must return to the world to teach Kriya Yoga and that “Kriya Yoga sadhana would spread through the people of the world through his (Lahiri’s) presence in the world.”
Lahiri Mahasaya reported that Mahavatar Babaji did not give his name or background, so Lahiri gave him the title “Mahavatar Babaji.” Many sadhus in India are called Babaji, and sometimes even “Babaji Maharaj”, which has caused confusion between Mahavatar Babaji and other sadhus with similar names.
Lahiri Mahasaya had many meetings with Mahavatar Babaji, recounted in several books, including Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya (Lahiri’s biography), and Purana Purusha: Yogiraj Sri Shama Churn Lahiri, among others.
Disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya
Several disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya also said they met Babaji. Through discussion with each other, and the fact that some of these encounters included two or more witnesses, they confirmed that the person they saw was the same sadhu that Lahiri called Mahavatar Babaji.
In 1894, at the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad, Sri Yukteswar Giri, a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, met Mahavatar Babaji. He was surprised by the striking resemblance between Lahiri Mahasaya and Mahavatar Babaji. Others who met Babaji also commented on the resemblance. It was at this meeting that Mahavatar Babaji instructed Sri Yukteswar to write the book that was to become Kaivalya Darshanam, or The Holy Science. Sri Yukteswar had two more meetings with Mahavatar Babaji, including one in the presence of Lahiri Mahasaya.
Swami Pranabananda Giri, another disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, also met Mahavatar Babaji in the presence of Lahiri Mahasaya, at Lahiri’s home. Pranabananda asked Mahavatar Babaji his age. Mahavatar Babaji responded that he was about 500 years old at that time.
Swami Keshabananda Giri, a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, tells of meeting Mahavatar Babaji in the mountains near Badrinath around 1935, after he became lost wandering in the mountains. At that meeting, Pranabananda reported that Babaji gave him a message for Yogananda, that “I won’t see him this time, as he is eagerly hoping; but I shall see him on some other occasion.”Other disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya who reported meetings with Mahavatar Babaji include Swami Kebalananda Giri and Ram Gopal Muzumdar, who recounted meeting Mahavatar Babaji and his sister, whom he called Mataji. In addition, a woman disciple of Trailanga Swami, Shankari Mata (also called Shankari Mai Jiew) met Mahavatar Babaji while visiting Lahiri Mahasaya.