The Hazrat Babajan School

On May 4, 1923, Meher Baba suddenly left Ahmednagar with six men mandali and walked south six miles along the Dhond Road. He stopped outside the tiny village of Arangaon near some dilapidated buildings built by the British during World War I. A few weeks later Baba named this quiet, hot, and dusty locale “Meherabad.”

In March 1925, a flurry of construction began at Lower Meherabad, beginning with the Hazrat Babajan school for boys. Baba ordered the school to be built quickly—in just a few days—between the main (Dhond) road and the railroad tracks, near the Post Office. The school was constructed with walls of simple bamboo matting (tatta), which were later replaced with tin sheeting when the school was expanded. Eventually, 200 boys from nearby Arangaon attended the school, which served as both a day school and a boarding school up to the seventh standard (grade).

Artist’s rendition of the Hazrat Babajan school.The Post Office building where the
women stayed can be seen in the background between the school and the tracks.
(Courtesy of Avatar Meher Baba Trust)

Baba insisted that the school serve students from all castes and religions, a radical idea at the time. Due to the prevailing prejudice, the Harijan (“untouchable”) and Brahmin children had to be in separate classrooms. They also ate separately. Even within their own castes, the children kept rigid hierarchies. When the Harijan children lined up for lunch, for example, the tailor’s son would always stand before the butcher’s son.

Baba Himself bathed each of the Harijan students twice a week and helped wash their clothes. If a man came for Baba’s darshan while Baba was bathing the boys, Baba would tell him to first help bathe the children. Yet some could not bring themselves to touch the Harijan children, even for Baba’s darshan. To one man Baba said, “Taking me as God, you have come for my darshan, but you are unable to serve those whom I serve. So why this hypocrisy of asking for darshan? Whomsoever your God may be, go to Him for His darshan! I am telling you, the only God here is these children whom I worship.” [1]

Baba assigned several mandali to work in the school and held them to stringent standards. Each morning Baba would inspect the children to ensure they were properly washed and dressed. Inevitably He would find some fault in how the men had carried out their duties, sometimes harshly scolding them in front of the students. Baba later explained that, “giving a push to a number of men of the circle who deserved and were prepared for it was the highest purpose of the school.” [2]

Baba with three of the mandali who worked in the school (names in bold).
Standing from left to right: Chanji (worked as a teacher), Kondiram, and Arjun
(in white with dark cap, assigned to be school director). Seated below these three are
Kaka Shahane, Vishnu (assigned to teach the Harijan children), Naval, and Baba.
The others are mostly villagers from Arangaon. 1925-1926. (Courtesy of MN Publications)

On October 21, 1926, eighteen months after the school opened, Baba unexpectedly ordered that the school and most of the other recently constructed buildings be demolished within ten days.[3] The mandali had built the Hazrat Babajan school in just a few days, and now they dismantled it just as quickly. The youngest students were sent home, and the classes for the older ones were shifted to the Mess Quarters (later known as the Dharamshala). The number of students gradually diminished until just 25 remained to be taught by Baba Himself.

When one of the mandali, Rustom Irani, expressed concern about what would happen to the boys, Baba reassured him, saying that He had used the Hazrat Babajan school to give a spiritual push to many: the children, His mandali, and the universe as a whole. That work was now complete, and just as the clay mold used to make a brass bell is discarded after the bell is forged, the Hazrat Babajan school was no longer needed.[4]

Baba in front of the Hazrat Babajan School, late 1925.
(Photo courtesy of MN Publications)

Marker at the site where the Hazrat Babajan school stood.
Meherabad Hill is seen on the horizon at the left.
(Photo by Paul Liboiron)

A closer view of the marker.
Photo by Paul Liboiron)

—Clea McNeely for Avatar Meher Baba Trust, 8 June 2017

[1] Lord Meher, online edition, p. 572

[2] Ibid, p. 733

[3] The other structures taken down were the leper “asylum,” begun in May 1925; a dharamshala (to house pilgrims) called Upasni Serai, built in September 1925; and a darshan hall called Sai Darbar, built in November 1925. Baba also closed the Meher Charitable Dispensary and Hospital that had opened in the Mess Quarters building on March 21, 1925.

[4] Lord Meher, online edition, p. 733