Swami Sivananda’s life was a radiant example of service to humanity, both during his years as a doctor and later as a world-renowned sage and jivanmukta. To serve all, to love all, to mix with all and to see God in all beings were the ideals that he taught and lived by. Born on September 8, 1887, to an illustrious family in Tamil Nadu, South India, he displayed spiritual tendencies even as a young boy. Although fun-loving and mischievous, he was also loving and generous. He had a natural flair for a life devoted to the study and practice of vedanta, along with an inborn eagerness to serve, and an innate feeling of unity with all. Though born into an orthodox family, his piety was balanced by an unusual broad mindedness and lack of prejudice. Even as a young man, his driving force was the service of humanity. For this reason, he became a medical doctor. He served the poor in Malaysia for many years. He also edited a health journal and wrote extensively on many health issues, but felt that this was not enough. It was divine dispensation and God’s blessing that this doctor of body and mind gave up his medical career and took to a life of renunciation. He returned to India and spent a year wandering before settling in Rishikesh, Himalayas in 1924. There he practised intense austerities. The young man found his guru, Swami Vishwananda, and was initiated into sannyas, with the name Swami Sivananda Saraswati. For the next seven years, Swami Sivananda spent most of his time in meditation. Yet even during this period he served the sick in a small medical clinic which he established. Slowly disciples started to gather around him. From the early 1930s onwards, Swami Sivananda embarked on frequent and extensive tours of India and Sri Lanka, stirring the hearts and souls of thousands with his spiritual magnetism, strong vibrant voice and greatpower of oratory. Wherever he went, he conducted sankirtan (chanting), delivered lectures and taught people how to keep strong and healthy by practicing yoga asanas, pranayama and kriyas. Above all, he exhorted his audiences to strive constantly for spiritual development. In Rishikesh, meanwhile, an increasing number of disciples had begun to congregate and an ashram grew up around him. With his unrestrained generosity, spirit of service, deep devotion, and his constant good humour, Swami Sivananda set a supreme example to his students. In 1932, he started the Sivananda Ashram; in 1936 the Divine Life Society was born. The Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy was organised in 1948. Dissemination of spiritual knowledge and the training of people in Yoga and Vedanta was his aim. Swami Sivananda’s teaching crystallised the basic tenets of all religions, combining all yoga paths into one – the Yoga of Synthesis. This he summed up with, “Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realise”. His own life was a shining example of the ideal of selfless service, or karma yoga. To Swami Sivananda, all work was sacred, no task was too menial. He searched tirelessly for opportunities to serve and to help others, never postponing what needed to be done. Swami Sivananda was the author of over two hundred books, which spread his message of love and service. He had disciples around the world, belonging to all nationalities, religions and creeds. Swami Sivananda entered mahasamadhi (left his physical body) on July 14, 1963.
A close disciple of Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnudevananda was born in Kerala, South India on December 31,1927. After a short career in the army, he ‘accidentally’ came to know of the teachings of Swami Sivananda through a copy of Sadhana Tattwa (Spiritual Instructions) which began “An ounce of practise is worth tons of theory. Practise yoga, religion and philosophy in daily life and attain Self-realisation”. This impressed him so much that he went to Rishikesh to meet his Master. Swamiji entered the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh in 1947 at the age of twenty. He took sannyas (became a monk) and was appointed the first professor of hatha yoga at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy. There he trained thousands of students, both indian and western. At the same time he continued his own practice, mastering difficult, advanced hatha yoga techniques. When asked how he perfected these ancient practices, which to a great extent had been lost to the modern world, Swamiji would say, “My Master touched me and opened my eye of intuition. All this knowledge returned to me from past lives”. For ten years, he lived and worked under the direct guidance of his Master. In 1957, Swami Sivananda sent Swamiji to the West with the words “people are waiting”, to spread the ancient teachings of yoga. Swami Vishnu-devananda travelled throughout North America, teaching yoga and observing the western life style. He established the first Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Montreal. The first Yoga camp, in 1961, was at the summer home of some students. It was amazing for Swamiji to see westerners, with all material comforts, willing to give them up to sleep on the floor and take cold showers. In February 1962, Swamiji came to the present site of the Yoga Camp in Val Morin, Quebec. Although it was a dense forest, he intuitively knew that this was the spot. That summer, the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp was opened. Working tirelessly, Swami Vishnu-devananda tried to instill a strong, practical understanding of yoga and vedanta into the people who came to him. His students have gone to countless cities and countries to awaken others to these ancient truths. Swamiji taught a synthesis of yoga designed to work on all aspects of the personality. His motto ”Health is Wealth. Peace of Mind is Happiness. Yoga Shows the Way” continues to inspire all who come to learn about the yogic lifestyle at the ashrams and centres around the world. Author of the long time bestselling The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, Swami Vishnu-devananda was recognised as a world authority on hatha and raja yoga. His other books are: Meditation and Mantras, A Commentary on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Karma and Disease. Swami Vishnu-devananda attained mahasamadhi on November 9, 1993. His body was placed into the Ganga (Ganges River) at the Sivananda Kutir near Uttar Kashi; this is known as jala-samadhi.