A conversation between Jack Barratt and Mathangi Balaji

JB: How did you connect with Datta originally? Was this connection from childhood or how was it?

MB: When I completed college, I came to Chennai from my native village around 2005. Through my relative, I came to know about Sai Baba, and I visited a Sai Baba temple here in Chennai a few times. I still didn’t know much about him, but then my relative told me that I should read the Shri Sai Satcharitra, and I began to read that book whenever I had problems in my life. At that time, I read the book, but I still didn’t know anything about Lord Dattatreya or the Datta Tradition. 

This connection with the Datta Tradition started in 2020 during the lockdown time. It began with the same person who instructed me to go to Sai Baba. Also, at that time I had just visited Shirdi twice in 2007 and 2010/2011. Even ten years after that I had no real connection with Sai Baba. Only if a problem popped up in my life, I would read Sai Satcharitra, do parayana and keep the book in the puja room.

Then in 2020 this relative told me that I should read the Shri Guru Charitra. So I ordered that book and read it twice after I joined the Sai Anugraha parayana group. After that, she told me then to read Shripada Shrivallabha Charitramrutam. She said that I would not even understand a single word from that book, but that it would still be an interesting read—a bit like one Tamil movie we have here, Vitlacharya, which is full of magic and stuff like that. She said it would be like that movie and that I just should read it.

When I started reading it in Tamil, I didn’t even understand a single word. However, during the second parayana, I began to hear a voice inside telling me that this book should not be like this. This is what I was hearing throughout as I was reading the book the second time around. It then came to me that this book should be represented in a simpler way, so I started a blog where I began to retranslate and simplify it. I also started a YouTube channel and spoke it out. When I came to the seventh chapter, I began to have a serious doubt about the text. The next day, I woke up early in the morning with a thought in my mind that I should check the same chapter in the English edition of the book. I couldn’t sleep after that, so then I went and found a PDF of the English version and checked it. Through reading up until the fourth chapter in that book, I found out that the Tamil version had a lot of material missing from it. Actually almost 120 pages, specifically from the Kanikkapuram portions, were missing.

After that, many questions popped up about why I should even do anything with the book. I then got connected through Instagram with the Gopal Baba Ashram in Pithapuram. They said that they had an English book with all of the missing portions included in it. So I began to start translating the whole book into Tamil from scratch using that book. Within six months, I had completed it and submitted it to them. They then gave me permission and copyright to publish the Tamil version here, and I donated a hundred copies to them also. I then distributed those copies and sold them here in Tamil Nadu.

Actually, everything about Lord Dattatreya and the Dasa Mahavidya was taught to me during the writing of that book.

When I completed that book, I began getting the same kind of intuition that I should make a Swami Samarth book. Two other people came to me and said that they would like to read about Swami Samarth in Tamil as well. The only other book that is available in Tamil about Swami Samarth is very short and also contains a lot of the author’s own story and information at the back of the book. People didn’t like this, so I thought I should make the book properly in a selfless way. I also wanted to include more lilas in this book. So this is how the Akkalkot Shri Swami Samarth Lilamrita started.

Nobody taught me about the Datta Tradition and that lineage. Step by step, all the information just came to me.

JB: It’s interesting to me that your journey with the Datta Tradition also started with Shirdi Sai Baba. I simply saw a picture of him, liked it, and then would keep it in the place where I would meditate. Later, I even began to feel this picture speaking to me. Then of course, the Avadhuta Gita project began when I was watching a video of Mohanji talking about how Sai Baba was an avatar of Dattatreya. At that time, I had this same kind of inner voice telling me to sit down and start working on Avadhuta Gita.

MB: I feel that this is true for both of us. I think we were connected to this tradition in our previous lives, and now in this life, we are being brought up to speed at the proper time after the completion of other karmic things. Then we are pulled to this tradition to do the seva. This is what He [Datta] is doing, right?

JB: Absolutely, it’s strange how these things work. I wasn’t searching for this tradition, and neither were you. Somehow the tradition found us both in the same way.

MB: So did you have any experiences with Swami Samarth before working on this book?

JB: Well, originally, like I said, my connection was only with Shirdi Sai Baba. I used to feel him speaking to me through that picture and telling me different things about my future. I would also feel his presence at different times. After this, besides being connected with Datta mainly through consciousness, I was not really strongly connected to any of the other main avatars.

The connection with Shri Swami was really initiated through working on this book. Obviously, I had the chance to actually visit Akkalkot as well and see where he had lived and walked. The thing is now for me, that after reading, re-reading, editing and proofing this book so many times, I feel that Swami and his lilas have become a part of me. I feel that when I am talking and writing or whatever in the future, that these lilas will naturally come up as examples. So I feel that by working on this book, Swami Samarth has become a part of me.

Well, I’ve spoken to you about this as well, that I think there is probably some purpose to this book of Swami’s being made available in English to a wider audience. My feeling is that more people will now come to know about Swami in the Western world through this book. It seems that Shirdi Sai Baba has really brought the Datta Tradition to the Western world. I mean, look at how many Baba temples there are now in America, the UK and Europe? And these temples probably also acknowledge Datta. Also, the temples that Mohanji is creating now with Shirdi Baba at the front and centre. After working on this book, I began to see an image in my mind’s eye of a temple with Datta Prabhu as the main deity with Shirdi Baba and Swami Samarth as smaller idols on his left and right.

What is your feeling about this?

MB: Yes, this is also why Swami has made the King clean up Akkalkot—to make it a place suitable for visitors.

JB: Can you say more about this? And about how you originally got connected with the King of Akkalkot, Maloji Raje III?

MB: Yeah, it was July 2022, and I had just finished with the Shripada book and had started to work on the Swami Samarth book straightaway. At the time, I had only one small source for Swami Samarth that I was working on translating from English to Tamil. And with this book, even though I was free to use it as the copyright had expired, it didn’t really have many lilas. I spoke about this to a man named Omkar who was from the Gopal Baba ashram. He told me that whatever I translate should primarily come from Swami Samarth Bhakar, which contains the real essence of Swami. However, that Bhakar is only available in Marathi or Hindi, which I don’t speak.

Anyway, just as when I was writing the Shripada book, I also woke up during the early hours one morning with an intuition to check YouTube for readings of Swami Samarth Bhakar. So I thought I could take my husband Balaji’s help, who speaks Hindi, and start translating some small lilas and proceed from there. However, luckily that video included the phone number of one man named Sanjay Shankar, who happened to speak very good English. When I connected with him, he told me that he was travelling from Mumbai to Pune the next day and that he should be able to pick up an English edition of Shri Swami Samarth Bhakar, which ended up being the main source for the Akkalkot Shri Swami Samarth Lilamrita.

Later, Sanjay insisted that we come to see him in Akkalkot. Four of us travelled with a group that included me and my husband, and later we called Manjiri, who had already founded a Swami Samarth temple in Kanchipuram. When we got there, he [Sanjay] showed us all of the main places in Akkalkot. At that time, I had fifty chapters done, and I took those with me to Akkalkot. When we arrived at the palace in the evening to see the museum, we also met Raje’s personal assistant, Siddharth. He said that Raje was there and that he would be happy to meet us, especially seeing as we were coming from outside of Maharashtra. Even though we were rushing off, Balaji insisted that we should meet the King. So we waited for some time and then went to meet him. After meeting him, the King took Balaji’s number and agreed to be in contact with him. Balaji told him that I was writing the book, and he asked if he could give a note of blessing for the book. Even though he could not read Tamil, he happily agreed and also offered to host us probably the next time we come to Akkalkot.

The next time, after the book was completed, we arrived in Akkalkot in March 2023. The King hosted us that time and began to explain what his state of mind had been the first time he met us. At that time, he had had some doubts about whether to proceed with the venture of cleaning up Akkalkot and making it into a suitable destination for many people to visit and stay. He had been doubting whether many people from all over the world would really come there and stay.

JB: So before this, he had already had the intuition that many people would come to Akkalkot?

MB: Yes, he had the intuition before to renovate the palace, make five-star accommodations, clean up the streets, and speak with the government about repairing the roads. All of these things were creating a lot of headaches for him at that time. So he was wondering whether it would all be worth it.

Then, when we went, especially because we had the lady with us who had already created a Swami Samarth temple in Tamil Nadu, and also myself who was writing the book—this gave him confidence that he was doing the right thing and going along the right path. Now whenever we visit there, we get a royal welcome. And this is all down to the connection that Swami has made. This was his lila.

Also, it’s amazing because when we went to Akkalkot again later in the year with the finished book in Tamil, the King told us that he used to think about us at least once a day—because we were sent by Swami. He really felt like we were messengers of Swami in that way. He said that whoever he meets for the first time, he would tell them about us because we gave him the confidence to keep preparing this place for the devotees of Swami to come. This shows that Swami made the connection so strong. And this connection also paved the way for the King to meet Mohanji earlier this year, and after that, he is now even more closely connected to Swami.

JB: Amazing. Well, this book even has contact details in the back for those who want to arrange to go to Akkalkot. So perhaps many people who read this book will also go there to visit. It’s incredible how Swami has pulled the strings to bring everything together.

MB: Between us it is the same. I translated your Avadhuta Gita, and now you have Akkalkot Shri Swami Samarth Lilamrita in English. It’s like an equation, no?

JB: Yeah, he makes it all work out and add up somehow!

MB: So, do you think your trip to Akkalkot helped when putting the book together in English?

JB: Yeah, this was another lila. The trip to Akkalkot was part of a retreat, and I didn’t know whether I’d have the time or money to go. But you actually went to see Mohanji in Bangalore, and I remember you asking him to make sure that I could come to India so that we could release the Avadhuta Gita Tamil Version at his birthday celebrations.

And somehow it worked. I didn’t even think I would have time to work on the book after that. It was such an amazing feeling after coming back knowing that I had been to all of these places: Akkalkot, Ganagapur, Audumbar, Narasobawadi, Pandharpur. To come back and start working on the book knowing that I had visited all of these places—and it’s not even so much Akkalkot. Pandharpur and Ganagapur are both mentioned so many times in the book as well. Either people were coming to Swami whilst travelling from or to either of those places. So it was incredible to be writing about these places only a month after I had been walking in them.

MB: So which lilas were particularly touching for you?

JB: Good question… [thinking]

MB: Many? [laughing]

JB: Yeah, one that particularly jumped out at me, and I was even speaking about this a few times in Satsang, was Swami’s connection with this lady, Sundarabai. I found this interesting because it showed some quite strange things about how avadhutas function. Obviously, she had the blessings of being very close to Swami as his attendant, but yet she was still being naughty. She was taking money and doing all sorts of crazy things—she was abusing the role, basically. Yet, Swami still couldn’t get rid of her. At one point, he even compared her to a scarecrow whose job was to perhaps scare other even worse people away. But then as it was getting towards the end, he was hinting to her that her time of grace was running out.

This was amazing to me in that it showed that despite how powerful avadhutas and avatars are, sometimes they just witness, watch and allow things to happen without interfering. Then, only at the right moment, they will say or do something, or maybe they won’t.

MB: Actually, Sundarabai’s descendants, and many of those other characters’ descendants, are in Mumbai now, connected with Chembur Math, and they all meet up once a year and share more about Swami’s lilas. Still they are connected, and still they are doing seva.

JB: That’s another thing about the book, is that you see how connected he was with the King of Akkalkot at that time. He used to even wander freely into the palace as he liked. So it’s amazing that that connection with royal family in Akkalkot has continued, and now the present Raje has also been drawn into Swami’s service. It sounds like it came to him just as it came to us.

MB: Yes, he said that he was waiting for this book to come out actually because he prefers to read in English. So far, he knows less about Swami’s life and has only been doing seva through his work in Akkalkot.

JB: It was like this with my connection with Shirdi Baba. I was somehow connected even before I knew anything about it.

Which lilas of Swami’s had the most impact on you?

MB: I think the anger and the words that he sometimes uses, and all the ways that he speaks about their inner dirty things…

JB: [laughing] Yes, I agree—all of this stuff is amazing!

MB: And he just tears off all their masks and reveals who they really are. This quality I admire. This purity I admire in Swami. If we tear off these masks and stand with purity, then he admires us like anything. He showed many times that for those who were pure and innocent, he would always carry them totally and completely. I also tried to approach Swami with this sense of purity and transparency when I was working on the book.

When I finally brought the final copy in Tamil to Akkalkot, I felt like my job was done. Then I started to have the intuition that the book would need to be made in English as well, and from that version translated into other languages. I told Swami that if this was his wish, then it would be done. It was not for me to worry about. It is not my work. I am just an instrument. And then you came forward and took the project on, and now the book will be available to a completely new Western audience. I didn’t expect this to happen, but it happened.

Then the rest of your team got pulled into the work as well, and it was very difficult to work on the translation as we did the original raw translation back into English just with some software. It must have taken such patience to reform and then perfect the sentences in English as if they had been written in English. It’s a miracle to me, a lila. This is a prize for purity, for pure seva. Even though we didn’t meet in person, we started to work. I don’t even know whether I will meet the rest of the editing team in my lifetime, but they did a lot of the basement preparatory work before you started putting it all together. It is the power of purity! That’s what I should say.

JB: Absolutely, it is the power of purity. One hundred percent.

MB: Intentions are like that. If our intentions are pure, then Swami will be ready to carry us on his shoulders. And our lives are now also very smooth and have taken a different kind of direction. It has been carried out by Swami. Side by side, life is carrying on in its own way. Everything falls into place. Whatever personal side, whatever we try to work, that is also happening in a smooth way. If we think we have big problems, and if we go near those problems, then the problem itself will vanish. This is because we are doing something, and purpose becomes the main priority. Though for livelihood we have to do something, this all becomes sidelined.

JB: One thing that is interesting when you talk about purity is that there are a few places in this book where characters who seem quite mad come to Swami. One was an odd lady, and the other was a guy who was really crazy and even stabbed someone. But even though these people were a bit crazy, they wore no masks, and Swami loved them still. On the other hand, you would have very proud priests and pandits coming to him, or people looking to test him, and he would give them such a thrashing! Anybody who was like a hypocrite, who was wearing a mask, or who came to test or challenge him, he would just destroy them. Or even a few days later, something would happen, and they would be exposed or fall from grace. But the pure ones would always be showered with love by him.

MB: I agree.

JB: I think we are good. Would you like to say anything else?

MB: I am just really excited now about how people are going to welcome this book, and I’m also even more excited to see what Swami is going to do next!

JB: Me too!

MB: Now I’m seeing what Swami has as his next plans. I’m quite excited for that.

JB: I feel that my whole life has become a lila sometimes. Instead of planning, I’ve just given up. Because even if I want to do something, it often gets taken out, and I am given something else to do.

MB: This is the style of this tradition, I think. Even Raje said when we met him: ‘If I plan something, it doesn’t work out. So I just simply sit and things work out around, and I work along with that.’ He said that he can be planning things day and night, but if Swami has different plans, then everything gets toppled and goes upside down. He says now that he has stopped thinking about things. Eventually, Swami makes some drama, and then he ends up going with what he wants.

JB: Amazing.

MB: That is the style of this tradition.

JB: One hundred percent. Unpredictable. Lilas everywhere. Random connections being made.

MB: Random connections [laughing], I love that.

JB: Kandippa!

MB: Exactly! Somehow unknown people get connected and become so close, and then suddenly we finish the work, and then people go away again and vanish.

JB: I think the tradition looks at who they have available and then just puts them together to get the work done!

MB: We are puppets, no? We are like puppets dancing, and when your part is over, you sit down, and then the next role comes. I see it from outside like that. This is how the audience would see it. Even if I am doing the work, I think I am also like the audience now.

JB: Me too. Just watching… It was lovely to speak to you again.

MB: Thank you!


  1. Thank you dear Jack for the excellent interview. My humble pranams to Sri Jack and to Smt. Mathangi Balaji for this enlightening conversation. Feeling immensely blessed and my heart longs for visiting Akkalkot. I place my prayers at His feet. With sastanga pranams, I remain

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