The origin of Gajanan Maharaj is untraceable.
Gajanan Maharaj is prince amongst saints who first appeared in Shegaon on 23rd February 1878 . A rich moneylender Bankatlal Agarwal is credited with discovering Maharaj at 12.22 pm while scratching food particles from abandoned patravalis to give credence to the saying that Food is Bhahma and should not be wasted. " Annam Brahmeti " is what Maharaj seemed to have expressed. Maharaj was scantily attired and made gesticulations befitting an insane person. But it is the greatness of Bankatlal who did not consider him as insane and logically argued as to why Maharaj must be scratching food particles when sumptuous food was available nearby in a family celebrating a fertility ritual.
There are different schools of thought as to the origin of Maharaj. However no one has been able to conclusively prove when and where Maharaj was born and how he came to Shegaon.
According to Shri Dada saheb Khaparde , a close associate of Lokmanya Tilak , Maharaj was a erudite Brahmin from Telanghana or modern Andhra Pradesh and was well versed in Vedic scriptures and knowledge . Some people have had heard Maharaj speak in Telugu dialect. Many are of the opinion that Maharaj seldom spoke and often made utterances which were cryptic which people could not immediately relate or understand.
Some researchers are of the opinion that Maharaj ran away from home when a small child of 11 or 12 years . He is supposed to have born to a couple identified as Bhavaniram and Shahubai. Gana Sable is supposed to be Maharajs name according this group.It is claimed that Maharaj was born in Thal , a hamlet close to Shegaon. A group of people headed by Shri Dada Pandey of Nagpur are setting up a Pratisthan called Sri Gajanan Maharaj Janmasthan Pratishthan in Thal. There is however no clinching evidence , but Pandey swears otherwise . Those with inquisitive bent of mind may contact Shri Dada Pandey at Sri Gajanan kripa , Near Nehru Putla, Itwari , Nagpur 440 002 on Tel No 0712-761578.
It is said that Maharaj was seen by his mother in a fair and when she pleaded with to return home , Maharaj then unknown is supposed to have said "Ab hum tumhare nahin aur tum hamare nahin" ( now I am not yours, nor you, mine )
In his book " Shegavicha Saavla Deva " the author Sumanbandhu has tried to examine the origin of Maharaj . According to one source in Khamgaon , Shri Pethare , Maharaj was from a family of Deshastha Brahmins of Latkar lineage and Gargya gotra. Another scholarly source from Nagpur Late Shri Aprabuddha claimed that Maharaj was from the family of Gokhales.
It is believed that Maharaj was in the ashram of Akkalkot Swami Samartha for a few days. The young boy when on the way to Akkalkot made Swami say " Ganapati aala re aala " while playing chess, with a reference to Bal Gajanan ( Maharaj). A photo of 11 year old maharaj can be seen in Amravati in Narayan Jamkars temple. After getting initial lessons, Maharaj was directed to go and seek training from Yashwant Deo Mamlatdar in Nasik. Maharaj is supposed to have abandoned all his clothes and ran towards Nasik. There in Nasik, Maharaj used to hold several parleys with Brajabhooshan , a great devotee of the Sun God. Deo is supposed to have also put Maharaj in contact with Raghunathdas who was staying near Kapildhara . Thus a rough cut diamond was being polished to attain glitter. Maharaj imbibed lessons in Yoga sadhana, meditation, and detachment. and later attained tremendous prowess in Yoga sadhana under Narsing baba of Akot, a disciple of Kotashya Valli who came from Punjab to Akot in 1850.
While Maharaj was performing sadhana , one Balshastri Gadge of Laad- Karanjya was impressed with the young boy and waited till he finished with his sadhana. Upon completion, Bal shastri is supposed to have invited Maharaj to Lad Karanjya in Vidhabha and Maharaj seems to have obliged. This period is reckoned as 1865when Maharaj stepped into Vidharbha as a young shining star on the horizon.
Maharaj and Bal shastri went to Murtizapur and Maharaj was taken in procession from the Rly Station to Karanja. From there Maharaj suddenly disappeared putting Balshastri in a quandry . However he was traced later and brought back to Shastris house. In Shastris house, Maharaj imbibed finer points of Vedshastra and music.
From here Maharaj went to Baggi via Chandur where he took darshan of Maniram Baba , a realised soul who hailed from Ayodhya.
From here Maharaj came to Akot and spent a couple of years with Narsing baba . Narsing baba was senior in age, wearing a cloth turban and a " cloth" to cover the vital organs , carrying a stick in his hand. Narsing Baba used to live in a small hut and would wander in the thick jungles fearlessly where wild animals would wander. Perhaps his power was so large that even wild animals must have been tamed by his prowess. Gajanan Maharaj performed the yogic feet of getting the water level in the well to rise upon which Narsing Baba is supposed to have cautioned him not to demonstrate his prowess as devotees would trouble him. Maharaj used these powers sparingly thereafter .
In the jungles of Akot , while Maharaj without any clothes on his body , was in deep meditation . A nomadic woman got attracted to Maharajs strong frame and sharp features and under the act of touching Maharajs feet , came physically close to Maharaj with a view to fufill her biological desires.
Maharaj had achieved great control over His five senses and was not to be tempted by such desires - " jitendriya " that He was - just a seminal discharge of a drop rendered the dry grass scorch and turn black. This woman then realised that if the biological union with her was to really happen , she could be turned to ashes herself. She then apologised for her conduct and went away. ( source - V K Phadke in the souvenir released to inaugurate GM temple in Kanhor, Badlapur )
After supervising Narsing Babas samadhi arrangements on 28-1-1888 , Maharaj is supposed to have calmed the bereaved devotees/disciples of Narsing Baba with some soothing and comforting advice and then, moved to Shegaon at the behest of HIS MASTER, Guru Swami Samartha.
Narsing Baba himself had asked his devotees to turn to Maharaj when in trouble.
From Akot , Maharaj moved to Shegaon in February 1888 . There is a controversy regarding the dates but Tulshiram Nagalkar whose father was in the company of Maharaj has recorded the dates in his diary carefully and later published the biography in 1957. However , from some strange reason T R Nagalkars biography has not been given official recognition and Dasganus "Gajanan Vijay" written in 1940 based on papers made available by Ratansa Bhavsar is the official biography recognised by the sansthan.
Devotees are requested to read Gajanan Vijay for other incidents in Maharajs life .
Maharaj had a number of contemporaries -atleast 15 to 16 saints - and it is difficult to trace the origin of all of these saints eg Narsing Maharaj, Sai Baba of Shirdi , Tajjuddin Baba, Gulab Maharaj of Madhan, Bhamte maharaj, Manirambaba ,Sonaale baba, Madhavnath Maharaj of Chitrakoot, Tembe Swami , Anant Maharaj, Brahmachari Maharaj and so on..
Some have suggested that the revolutionary freedom fighter Tatya Tope is Gajanan Maharaj . He put on this garb to escape the clutches of the British . But this seems to be a figment of some fertile imagination.
Maharaj was said to be tall, dark and handsome. His hands were particularly long and he had a very attractive pair of eyes and nose. He had tremendous strength in his frame and even a wrestler like Hari Patil had to bite dust when he failed to even move Maharaj by an inch in a wrestling contest.
He was a regular smoker of the Chilim and would take puffs deeply with
a hissing sound. Mind you he was no addict but took to the chilim in
response to a request from a devotee who came from Banaras.