A Gurubai Remembers
The 8th September, 1947 was a sacred occasion for the devotees of Gurudev Sri
Swami Sivananda Maharaj: it was the year of his Diamond Jubilee when he had
completed sixty years.
There was scarcity of accomodation in those days in the Ashram (Ananda Kutir,
not Ashram -- it was called then); we had to share, 2 to 3 persons, the same
room or the Bhajan Hall in which classes and Satsang were conducted in the morning,
evening and even during the day, apart from the 24 hour Maha Mantra Kirtan.
A professor from Delhi, Vishnuji, and myself were fortunate to have been assigned
a small room near the Police Station. It was then that I met the young Sadhak
from Kerala, the small Nair who was twenty and I was twenty-one.
Getting up early, he would sit in front of his Lord Krishna and read (perhaps
Bhagavatam) do Pooja and meditate; while I would engage myself in Vedantic Vichar,
and the Professor would busy himself in scholarly pursuits. There was total
silence in the room, as each was lost in his own world. In the morning classes,
Hatha Yoga was a regular item. All were present, not excluding even Gurudev.
While most of us were mediocre, Vishnuji and Saradanandaji distinguished, possessing
supple, flexible limbs which appeared more like pieces of rubber than human
limbs. They turned out to be Hatha Yogis in a different sense as well: both
had strong will-power, totally dedicated to whatever they undertook to achieve,
self-confident almost to the point of obstinacy. Their service to Master's Institution
was sincere and unreserved. Both vied with each other to approximate Gurudev's
virtue of generosity and charity.
As A Professor
Vishnuji was made the Hatha Yoga Professor. He was the natural choice by virtue
of his innate liking for Hatha Yoga.
An intersting episode of this period is as follows: An appeal from the devotees
of Jagaadhri (in Punjab) was made to Guruji to send a few Swamis for a function
in their place. Chidanandaji for discoursing, Vishnuji for performing Asanas and
Saradanandaji for Photographing were chosen by the Master. Assignment completed,
they returned and reported to Guruji all that took place, which immensely pleased
But strangely it annoyed Vishnuji. He suddenly left the Ashram and went to a secluded
place, Phool Chetti four kilometres away, beyond Lakshman Jhoola. Feeling concerned,
I went to meet and discuss the matter with him.
"I am interested only in Krishna Bhakti, my Pooja and my Kithidi (a kind of
rice-pudding) and practice of Hatha Yoga for myself. I don't want to go out and
teach people. Swamiji sent me to Jagadhri, and it greatly disturbed my Sadhana.
So I came here to do Sadhana undisturbed." "It is unwisdom,"
"to come away like this. You should come back. You have every opportunity
to progress spiritually in the Ashram, but not in this lonely country-side."
"I will come after a few days,"
he agreed at last. I left the following
day, and, happily, he returned within 2-3 days.
I suppose this was the first and the last incident in Vishnuji's life, wherein
he exhibited distemper and was annoyed with his Master. It seems that visualising
clearly the future course of his disciple, Gurudev was attempting to train him
for his role as a world-famous Teacher of Yoga. Disciple's knowledge of himself
is limited, but the Master's knowledge is thorough and un-erring.
Personal Service To Master
For a time, the young Sanyasin took to Gurudev's personal attendance, which afforded
him rare chances of observing the Master's reactions to varied situations, his
many-sided view-points, his innate Saintly nature, patience and tolerance. Associates
of Saints and Sages imbibe naturally the virtues they see. What Sri Vishnuji imbibed
in those formative years manifested later on in his life. The over-all effect
of his personal service resulted in Vishnuji's unquestionable and transparent
Guru Bhakti, which became his source of inspiration, his guiding passion. It was
this Guru Bhakti which wrought miracles.
"Chaitanyanandaji, I have come," he announced on his arrival. "I saw the name
on the gate -- 'Sivananda Ashram.' I like you immensely because you have given
our Guru's name.
In 1956, I was going to Andhra Pradesh to attend the First all-Andhra Divine Life
Society Conference. Of his own accord, Vishnuji came up to Hardwar to give me
a "Fare-Well!", albeit it was a cold winter night. Such acts of kindness and affection,
small though they may be, endeared him to all who came in contact with him.
Service in the kitchen of our Ashram appeared to be Vishnuji's anppropriate undertaking
in as much as it enabled him to further cultivate his generosity. His pleasure
and joy while serving was patent, motherly. Soon he was shifted to building construction.
In this phase of service, his earlier army service-experience stood him in good
stead. He was ever on his toes, rushing up and down, ordering the masons and the
un-skilled workers, creating the impression that he enjoyed his strenuous job
no less than his Pooja's and meditations. Gurudev's Samadhi room was built under
his supervision, among other constructions.
Mother And Son
Vishnu Swami's mother came to Ashram after the demise of her partner-in-life.
Gurudev, with his ability to look into the minds and souls of people, soon saw
she was ripe to adopt Sannyasa. Permitting her to stay in the Ashram, he intiated
her into yhe Sannyasa Order with the new name of Siva-Sharanananda. We all called
her Vishnu Mother. She knew but one language, Malayalam, her mother tongue. She
seemed to believe that when she spoke, everyone should understand. She would talk
freely and fluently to one and all, including Guru Maharaj. Her detachment, simplicity
and straight-forwardness were conspicuous.
Swami Vishnu inherited some qualities of his mother, being unostentatious was
a common trait in both. Mother did not appear to be regretting that her only son
renounced the world, which was a rare phenomenon even in India. Few mothers approve
of their sons embracing the 'beggarly profession,' as it is nick-named.
Vishnuji's Second Visit
Vishnuji and myself parted in 1956. Thereafter he was mostly in foreign countries
and I was in Uttar Kashi. Although he visited India periodically, I had no occasion
to meet him. It was only in 1977 that a reunion presented itself. Swamiji had
come to Uttar Kashi with his disciples. Unable to proceed to Gangotri, the cars
returned from Maneri. I met Vishnuji near Maneri on the road. It was difficult
either to recognise or to believe that the rather bulky, slightly limping person
before me was the same old friend and Gurubhai; but his voice was the same familiar
voice. After exchanging a few words, he asked: "Can you show me the place where
I lived previously?" "Yes, I will, let us drive back to Uttar Kashi, en route
I shall show." On reaching the spot, the cars stopped and we all stepped out.
Going to the Kutir on a little elevation, I said that is the Kutir you lived.
"You see, this is that stream, and those are the boulders on the Ganga bank, where
you were bathing and meditating." We climbed up to the Kutir. "This is the Kutir
you lived in and this is the kitchen wherein you prepared your kichidi, and this
is the Veranda where Brahmaji (his Hatha Yoga guide) and you practiced Yoga."
Swamiji was all aglow with joy as he recollected everything. We sat down and started
"Let us go to the Ganges bank," and we found ourselves offering worship. Then
Swamiji announced: "I will initiate him into the holy order of Sannyasa," and
began immediately the appropriate Mantras; signaled the Sanyasin-to-be to bathe,
and within 15 minutes the devotee in white dress became an ochre-robed Sanyasin.
It was really a sight not-to-be-forgotten!
"Where is your Ashram? Let us go," was the next item of the programme. No sooner
had we arrived than a request issued: "Please give some instructions and blessings
to these devotees." I spoke for a short time and concluded. Then Swamiji himself
spoke, changing the topic suddenly and folding his hands, he prayed: 'I have a
request to make. I want you to come with me to Gurudev's Ashram. Swamiji should
not refuse. I will not keep you for long there, just 2-3 days only. I shall leave
for the West and you will be back here," was the persuasion, which it was impossible
to set aside. On reflecting that I had not visited Guruji's Ashram for 14 years,
I felt I should go.
We travelled at night, not knowing District Magistrate's permit was needed. The
Police check posts stopped us at two places. Each time the painting on the car
'Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre' saved us. "Ah, these belong to Sivananda Ashram,
we must permit them," blurted the officers! And so at about 2:30am, we reached
the Ashram in Rishikesh.
With Old Gurubhais
Vishnuji was always on the look out for creating opportunities for Satsanga. Swami
Venkateshanandaji from Australia, Vishnuji from Canada and myself from Uttar Kashi
were there, apart from Krishnanandaji, Madhavanandaji, Dayanandaji and Satchidanandaji
(Personal Secretary of Gurudev's) of the Headquarters, and so here was a good
chance. "We will all go out on a short excursion and have Satsang on the Ganga
bank," he announced. Soon we got the invitation and were ready. Krishnanandaji
complained, "Ah, this Swami Vishnu is a disturbing person." All the same he followed
suit. The driver was no other than this domineering, imperial Vishnuji, over-flowing
with joy. We were led to Shivapuri, alighting where, we proceeded to the holy
Venkatesanandajin led the Kirtan which included some of Gurudev's inspiring compositions.
A photo was taken. We all felt happy and secretly thanked the 'disturbing Swami.'
Probably it was 1983*, when Swamiji arrived alone in Uttar Kashi without previous
information and even without luggage. "I want to go to gangotri and live in solitute.
Please take me there. I don't want to meet anyone," was the revelation. While
climbing Bhairavi Ghat, a distance of two kilometers, it was evident Vishnuji
had lost much of his vitality: he had over-worked; his world-wide spiritual ministry
consumed his energy. He definitely needed a rest.
Swamiji needed some tender care to regain composure. The loving services, first
by Swami Aparakshanandaji, and later by Pundit Indramani, proved a blessing. After
some months when Vishnuji returned, it was a great, pleasant surprise to find
altogether a different Swami, the old Vishnu Swamiji of 1950s, very quiet, happy,
worry-free. He profusely thanked me for the help. "How did you read my thoughts?
You were responding to them and guiding. You are indeed fortunate to sit here
peacefully, while I roam all over the world. Our fates are different: Guruji is
making you sit here and rushing me all over the globe."
As a memorial of Guru Maharaj's 100th year, a Centenary Hall was built in our
Ashram. Soon after its completion, Vishnuji paid a visit. Someone informed him
that I would be completing my 60th year on 8th November, 1986 and there would
be a celebration. "So the Hall is ready for your Birthday function," he uttered
deliberately. "No, it is for Gurudev's Centenary Celebration," I corrected him.
"That is so, but your Birthday comes first," he rejoined and pausing a few seconds,
continued, "all the expenses for the feast etcetera would be borne by me."
To my surprise, he arrived on 7th November with Madhavanandaji, the Vice-President
of Divine Life Society to participate in the function. "I flew non-stop from Canada
to be here, and on the way we picked up Swami Madhavanandaji despite his protest."
On the 8th, he led the Pooja and Kirtan, full of joy and enthusiasm, which inspired
the otherwise taciturn Madhavanandaji to deliver a speech.
Why all this happened? It flashed to me that it was Gurudev's reward: I was celebrating
regularly the 8th Sept. here since 1953, and so he must reciprocate now. Otherwise
such an arrangement was unthinkable. Vishnuji presented a watch, a sweater, a
portable type-writer and so on to me which I am using even now. His munificence
is unforgettable. A cow was his last gift to me.
The Last Phase
After the paralytic stroke, Swamiji visited Indhia several times, and each time
he came to Uttar Kashi and Gangotri. He was wheelchaired to our Ashram. He offered
Arati to Gurudev and requested me to bless him, to do which was embarrassing to
me. He would plead and insist like a helpless child, or rather happy child. Years
ago he intimated me that he would like to spend his last days in Gangotri and
offer his mortal remains to Mother Ganga. When Bhagavat recitation was in progress
in Gangotri, and a year later in Uttar Kashi, he declared: "I have come to pass
away." "Only when time comes, it can take place," I said.
When I found his urge irresistible, I decided to hand over the small Ashram at
Siror bridge which was in my name, although it belonged to Guru Bhai Swami Akhandanandaji.
I am happy that Vishnuji's Organisation took it over. The bodies of both these
Swamis were offered to Mother Ganga near this Ashram.
Vishnu Bhagawan left behind a number of spiritual and Yoga Centres in both
the hemispheres and a devoted band of disciples. His outstanding service in
the name of the Master will be continued and carried forward by his direct disciples
and others who will join in the years to come. Co-operation and mutual love
among his followers, a spirit of accommodation and adjustment will not only
strengthen Vishnuji's Mission, but also contribute to their own spiritual illumination.
This is my homage, a tribute, to Swami Vishnu-devanandaji and his noble qualities,
"the qualities which over-powered and captivated us." *Editor's Note: Swami
Kartikeyananda, personal assistant to Swami Vishnu-devananda, believes it to
have been 1980.
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Last updated: June 30, '99.