Maintenance of the Cemetery for Female Disciples
Trust Object #5:
“Maintenance of the existing cemetery for female disciples to the West of the Tomb proper and Provision for the burial of the physical body at the spot already dug out, of Adi K. Irani’s mother Gulmai Kaikhushru Irani after her death.”
This article discusses the Maintenance of the cemetery for female disciples to the West of the Tomb. This is the tenth article in the Trust Objects and Purposes series.
A cemetery for many of Baba’s close women disciples had previously been established on the Hill, beginning with Nonny Gayley’s death in 1939. Their graves were placed in rows a short distance to the west of the Samadhi. With the exception of Gulmai K. Irani and Mehera K. Dastur, whose bodies are buried there, the graves contain cremation ashes. The close ones whose remains or personal effects are interred there are Nonny Gayley, Sheriairji and Shirinmai, Daulatmai Jehanjir Irani (Mehera’s mother), Countess Nadine Tolstoy, Mildred Kyle, Princess Norina Matchabelli, Gulmai, Meheru Kekbad Dastur, Elizabeth Patterson, and Margaret Craske. The monument to Baba’s parents contains some of their personal effects; their bodies were interred in the tower of silence in Poona.
Below is a short narrative chronology of the deaths of some of the women disciples who were interred on Meherabad Hill according to Beloved Baba’s wishes:
On October 13th, 1939, Nonny had a heart attack, and the next evening, at age sixty-four, she closed her eyes forever with a sweet smile on her face. Before breathing her last, Nonny uttered, “What beauty! What beauty!” Nonny’s physical remains were cremated in Bangalore the next day, and thirty of the men and women mandali attended. Soon after the cremation, Baba sent her ashes to Meherabad with Adi Sr. Sarosh ordered a headstone from Poona and in December of 1939, adjoining Baba’s tomb on Meherabad Hill, a stone monument for Nonny was built. Baba instructed that the words “Nonny, Baba’s Lover” be carved on it. Baba further ordered that food be distributed to the poor on the anniversary of her death every year in commemoration of her deep devotion to him.
Although Shirinmai’s body had been disposed of at the Parsi Tower of Silence in Poona, (she died on February 25, 1943), Baba ordered a memorial for her and Sheriar erected on Meherabad Hill, and this work was carried out in June 1943. When the memorial was ready, with His own hands Baba placed a few of their personal effects in it: a silver snuffbox of Sheriarji’s and Shireenmai’s eyeglasses. Baba dictated the inscription on their tombstone as follows:
“In eternal memory of Meher Baba’s blessed parents, Sheriarji and Shireenmai, who are now merged in Baba’s infinity.”
On April 14th, 1946, Countess Nadine Tolstoy breathed her last in New York’s Roosevelt Hospital at the age of sixty-two. Baba received the news on April 16th, in a telegram from Norina, and immediately cabled back: “Tell Elizabeth Nadia lives in me, with me and for me more than ever before.” Instead of journeying to the West Himself, Baba called certain of his Western lovers back to India. He was anxious that Pendu finish the work of Nadine Tolstoy’s tomb before Norina and Elizabeth arrived. On June 13th, Baba sent a letter to Pendu telling him to have these words carved on His disciple’s headstone: “Nadine Tolstoy, her happiness was Baba.” Mehera frequently mentioned the fact that Norina’s stone included her title of “Princess,” but Nadine’s stone did not include her title of “Countess.” Mehera felt it was important to show that His early lovers came from every stratum of society. To please Mehera, a stone carver was brought from Poona to carve the word “Countess” in front of Nadine’s name, which made Mehera very happy.
On November 5, 1952, while Baba was in His cabin at Upper Meherabad, Sarosh informed Him that Mehera’s mother, Daulatmai Jehangir Irani, had expired that day at 4 A. M. of heart failure. Daulatmai had kept perfect silence since 1933, and it is said that she had a peaceful end. Baba said, “My dear Daulatmai will live in me forever, by God’s grace. I say ‘by God’s grace,’ because today I am in the state of a devotee.” The question of printing a circular about Daulatmai’s death for distribution among his close women disciples was discussed and agreed to by Baba. Later a tombstone for her was erected in the cemetery on Meherabad Hill. It reads: “Daulat – one of Baba’s dearest lovers. Observing silence for twenty years.”
In 1954, Mildred Kyle died of a stroke in Myrtle Beach on September 8th, and Baba sent this telegram: “Mildred has found eternal peace in me.” With Baba’s permission, Elizabeth Patterson sent her ashes to India, where Baba turned them over to Adi Sr. with instructions they be given to Padri to bury on Meherabad Hill beside the other graves. At 2:30 P.M., November 6th, Baba was driven up the hill in Adi’s Chevrolet. Don Stevens was called to witness Baba lowering her ashes into a grave near His tomb before the sahavas group arrived. Later a tombstone was erected which reads: “Mildred Kyle Has Come to Baba.”
On June 15th, 1957, Norina Matchabelli passed away at the age of seventy-seven, in Youpon Dunes, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, after prolonged heart trouble. Her love, service, and renunciation were boundless. She was wholly Baba’s and merged in Him. Baba sent this telegram to Elizabeth Patterson and Kitty Davy on June 17th: “Be happy my very dear Norina has come to live with me forever.” Her body was cremated and, as was Baba’s wish, the ashes were sent to India and interred on Meherabad Hill. Her tombstone reads: “Princess Norina who is and will ever remain Baba’s.”
In 1962, two pits were dug on the Hill for Korshed’s mother, Soona Kaikhushru Irani (“Soonamasi”), and Gulmai, but when Kekobad’s daughter Mehera, died in 1965, Padri buried her in the grave that had been set aside for Soonamasi. In August, Adi’s mother Gulmai’s health grew steadily worse, due to kidney disease. While at Meherabad on August 6th, Baba informed Padri to be prepared for Gulmai’s burial on the Hill, as she would no doubt be dying shortly. On the evening of August 8th, Gulmai’s condition became very serious, and Adi sent Sarosh to Meherazad to inform Baba. Baba instructed Sarosh that when Gulmai passed away, He should be informed and her body removed to Meherabad, where her coffin would be lowered into the grave in His presence.
At 9:00 A.M., on Saturday, August 11th, Gulmai’s body was taken to Meherabad Hill where the grave had been dug. Baba arrived at ten o’clock and performed the last rites by placing flowers on her forehead and body. Almost two hundred persons from Arangaon and Ahmednagar were present. As the coffin was lowered into the earth, Baba, looking extremely sad, tossed flowers over it while Kaikobad offered prayers. Thus Baba’s spiritual mother Gulmai came to rest in Meherabad, the place she herself had been so instrumental in laying at his feet. Baba remarked to Adi, “She is very fortunate that I was present at her burial.” This was the last time Meher Baba visited Meherabad. Gulmai’s dedication, service, and love for Meher Baba were truly monumental, for she and her husband, Kaikhushru (Khan Saheb), were the ones who gave him the land in Arangaon later called Meherabad. Prem Khilnani was present for the funeral, and as Baba was looking at the tower of the Meher Retreat Building, Prem said to him, “Someday Meherabad will be like Benares.” Baba nodded, “You are right, it will.” On Dec. 6, 1980, Elizabeth Patterson died in Myrtle Beach after a lifetime of service to Meher Baba. Her ashes were later brought to Meherabad and interred in the women’s cemetery.
Elizabeth was one of Baba’s earliest American devotees. She first met Baba when He came to the United States in 1931. Elizabeth later described her initial meeting with Baba: “When I looked at Baba, I recognized Him. I remember having heard that He was silent and I was silent too because I kept trying to remember where I’d seen Him before. He didn’t look like anyone I’d met in India where I had been before or any other place. It was absolute recognition. . . . I can only think now, what a difference a day makes in the course of one’s whole life. My experience was that of meeting someone I had always known, it was one of recognition from the recesses of forgotten time and at the same time, a portent of the future.”
Margaret Craske died on February 18, 1990, at the age of 97 at Grand Strand Hospital in Myrtle Beach. Her ashes were brought to the Women’s Cemetery in Meherabad and interred in a grave beside Elizabeth Patterson.
Margaret was among the group who welcomed Meher Baba on his first visit to England in 1931. This group included Delia de Leon, Will, and Mary Backett, Charles Purdom, Kitty Davy, and Margaret Craske. Meher Baba made a profound impact on all of them. Their meetings took place in London and in East Challacombe, Devon, where Meredith Starr had established a spiritual retreat. Margaret Craske described her first meeting with Baba. “…I went into the room and was completely won over by the love which seemed to permeate his whole personality.”
A ballet teacher with her own school in London, she had danced with the Ballet Russe and the Royal Ballet but gave the school away in 1941 to sail for India to spend seven years in Meher Baba’s ashram at Meherabad. Upon her return to England in 1946, she was appointed ballet mistress of American Ballet Theatre and sailed for America, where, Meher Baba told her, she would “lay cables” for him. Laughing, Baba opened His hands, and then He spelled out on His alphabet board, “You must go; I have made you my link in America.”
Over the following years, she also taught at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, the Julliard School and Manhattan School of Ballet. Some of her dance students became followers of Meher Baba. In 1987, Miss Craske retired from teaching and moved to the Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, SC, where she was a member of the Board of Directors.
Beloved Baba made provision for His dear women mandali and Soona Kaikhushru Irani in Article 6 of the Trust Deed, which lists the women disciples whose remains are to be interred to the right side and to the left side of Baba’s Tomb, within fifty feet of the Tomb premises.
Baba specified who was to be interred on the right side and left the side of His Tomb and in what order. When Beloved Baba’s dear Mehera passed away, her physical remains were buried. Mani decided that consequently, all the other bodies should be cremated because there was not enough space to accommodate the remains of the other women.
The Trust Deed makes no mention of the burial of the men mandali because in 1959 when the Deed was written, the only land that was in Meher Baba’s name was the land up the Hill. During the New Life, Meherabad Hill was owned jointly by Baba and Sarosh. It was later transferred back into Baba’s name only. Since the time of the New Life, Lower Meherabad was in the name of Meherjee Karkaria. In 1968 he gifted Lower Meherabad to the Trust. During the time the land was in Meherjee’s name, any male mandali who passed away was buried at Lower Meherabad. Though He did not specify each location, Baba Himself indicated who should be interred there and gave each man the option of burial or cremation.
Regarding the future development of the area that includes Baba’s Samadhi and the surrounding graves, the Trust Deed, under “Secondly (B),” states: “An area of not less than fifty feet on all the four sides of the Tomb to be similarly available for its expansion and for the burial of the physical bodies after death of some of the Settlor’s women disciples.” Additionally, “Secondly (C)” states: “The existing Tomb proper and the said specified area for its expansion and for the graves which may be or will be there shall always be left completely unaltered and unchanged for all times even when a bigger tomb is built as a super-structure over them, i.e., the Tomb proper and the specified area to be included under the superstructure as one collective whole.”
Bhau recalls that one day in Mandali Hall, Baba called for matchsticks and quickly made a design, and then just as quickly tossed the matchsticks aside. Bhau feels that at that time Baba was giving some idea of a design for the superstructure over the Tomb. No one can accurately predict when the superstructure will be built. That project is left to posterity.
The next article in this series will deal with the sixth object enumerated in the Trust Deed: “Medical facilities for residents, visitors and nearby villagers and schooling facilities for their children.”