Swami Sivananda


Swami Sivananda

Swami Sivananda


"Be good, do good, be kind, be compassionate, bear insult, bear injury. This is the highest sadhana".


Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society, was one of the noblest representatives of gurutva or our unique tradition of spiritual teachers. The term "guru" denotes something much more than its exact English counterpart, "Teacher". A teacher is one who teaches; a guru is one who trans-forms. It is no ordinary imparting of knowledge that is involved in the guru-shishya relationship. A basic change takes place that transforms the student into a disciple. The institution of guru is both old and honoured; it has been an ancient practice with us irrespective of our creed to honour our sages, saints and our gurus. We, in fact, equate guru with God:


Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu

Gurur Devo Maheswara:

Guru Sahshat Param Brahrna

Tasmai Sri Guruve Namah.

(Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu, Guru indeed is

Maheswara; verily Guru is the living Lord Supreme; to the Guru I bow in reverence.)


Swami Sivananda was also a medical doctor but with a difference. The modern system of medicine churns out doctors who manage to heal wounds on the physical level, but somehow they are not too successful with the scars that mar the psyche. But Swami Sivananda, though he started his professional career as a doctor of medicine, gradually realized the depth of the anguish of humankind and involved himself with the soothing and healing of the soul. In this way, Swami Sivananda proved to be the true modern guru.


Swami Sivananda was the son of P.S. Vengu Iyer and Parvati Ammal. Vengu Iyer was a revenue officer, a great devotee of Shiva and a descendant of the sixteenth century saint and scholar, Appayya Dikshitar. His mother Parvati was a great God-fearing lady. The couple christened the last and third son of theirs as Kuppuswamy. The child was born on September 8, 1887 on the banks of the sacred Tamaraparni at Pattamadai in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, south India. As a child, Kuppuswamy was intelligent and mischievous. He was endowed with keen intellect, musical voice and was generous in heart. His inclinations were towards service to the poor. In his boyhood, he showed manifestations of tyaga (renunciation) and love for fellow-beings. He would pity the poor, feed the hungry and insist upon his father to throw a pie (smallest coin) into the hands of a pauper passing by. He often got cakes and sweetmeats from his mother but distributed them liberally to his younger companions, dogs, cats, crows, and sparrows, himself not eating a bit. He used to bring flowers and bael leaves for his father's Shiva puja. One day, he is said to have left the house with his plate of food when he heard a beggar's call outside. He had the gift of divine vision even at a tender age. If his father sent him to purchase fruit for his daily worship, the boy would often not hesitate to distribute the fruit to the poor and the needy, returning home to inform his father that he had already worshipped God in the poor.


Kuppuswamy studied in Rajah's High School located in Ettayapuram. He always topped the class and won prizes every year. He was excellent both in his study and sports. Good health to him was as important as learning. He used to practice gymnastics and fencing. He would get up as early as 3 am to do his exercises. He had a melodious voice and wonderful memory. When His Excellency Lord Ampthil, Governor of Madras, visited the Kuru Malai Hills in 1901 for hunting, Kuppuswamy welcomed him with a song while standing on the Kumarapuram railway platform.


After completing his matriculation, he studied at the S.P.G. College, Tiruchirapalli. In his college, he used to participate in debates and dramas. He played the part of Helena when Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream was staged in 1905. Mter completing his First Arts examination, he joined the Medical School in Tanjore. He was quite an industrious boy and never went home during holidays, concentrating only on his study. He spent most of his time in the hospital. He had an access to the Operation Theater. He distinguished himself in all subjects and possessed more knowledge than doctors with coveted degrees. In the first year itself, he could answer the papers which the final year students could not.


Kuppuswamy completed the medical course and earned the degree of MBCM. He started practice at Tiruchi. While practising, he started a medical journal called The Ambrosia. His mother paid him Rs.100 to start the journal. Later, when his mother wanted Rs.150 for celebrating some festival, Dr Kuppuswamy had the money ready for her. He even used to distribute the journal freely. He was quite hesitant to ask people for contributions.


Dr Kuppuswamy had an adventurous spirit. In 1913, after the death of his father he left India for Malaysia. Since he belonged to an orthodox Brahmin family he was afraid to take non-vegetarian food in the ship and, therefore, carried with him a good quantity of sweets, which his mother had prepared. When he arrived in Singa pore he was almost half- dead. In Malaysia, he worked in the Estate Hospital and was quite sincere in his job. He was kind, sympathetic, humorous, witty and sweet speaking. Hopeless cases came to him but success was sure. People felt that Dr Kuppuswamy had a special gift from God for miraculous cure of patients. In case there was any serious case, he kept vigil throughout the night. In his private practice, he used to attend to the poor and often did not charge even visiting or consulting fees. Instead, he would give them money for special diet or to cover their own expenses after discharge from the hospital. Once a poor man, drenched to the skin, came to him at night. His wife was in birth pangs. Dr Kuppuswamy went there at once and after attending her, stayed outside the hut in spite of heavy rain. It was only after safe delivery of the child that he returned home the next morning.


In spite of his busy schedule, Dr Kuppuswamy served sannyasins and beggars. He attended marriage functions, parties and other social gatherings. Once a sadhu gave him a book, Jiva Brahma Aikyam by Swami Satchidananda. Study of this book ignited the dormant spiritual feelings in him and he started studying the books of Swami Rama Tirtha, Swami Vivekananda, Sankara, the Bible and literature of the Theosophical Society. He was quite regular in his daily worship, prayer and yoga asanas. He pursued the study of sacred scriptures, like Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana with great devotion. Sometimes he sang bhajans and kirtans. He practised Anant Laya Yoga and swara sadhana. High-class dress and collection of fancy articles of gold, silver and sandalwood always attracted him. At times, he would purchase various kinds of gold rings and necklaces to wear them all at the same time. He used to wear a ring on each of his fingers. When he entered shops, he never wasted his time in selection, haggling and bargaining.


He purchased all that appealed to him. His heart was as pure as the Himalayan snow. His immense philanthropy and spirit of service and renunciation endeared him to everybody who came in touch with him. People lovingly called him the "Heart of Love".


After sometime, he wanted to renounce the world. He had enjoyed a lucrative service for a long time. Finally, in 1923, he renounced the world like Prince Siddartha and left Malaysia for India. In India, he began his pilgrimage. At Benaras, he had the darshan (vision) of Lord Visvanath. He visited mahatmas (great souls) and temples. At Dhalaj, a village on the bank of Chandrabaga River, he met a postmaster and lived with him. He acted as the postmaster's cook and when the latter arrived home in the evening, Dr Kuppuswamy was ready to massage his legs in spite of his remonstrance. The postmaster proposed that he should go to Rishikesh for solitary meditation. Dr Kuppuswamy reached

Rishikesh on May 8, 1924. On June 1, he met Swami Visvananda Saraswati. Dr Kuppuswamy saw a guru in the monk and the monk took him as his chela (disciple). After a brief exchange of words, Swami Visvananda initiated Dr Kuppuswamy into sannyas (renunciation). Swami Vishnudevananda Maharaj, the Mahant of Sri Kailas Ashram, performed the Viraja Home ceremonies. The guru named Dr Kuppuswami as Swami Sivananda Saraswati.


Swami Sivananda Saraswati now lived to serve humanity. A small-dilapidated kutir (hut), not resorted to by others and infested with scorpions, just protected him from rain and sun. Living in that kutir, he did intense tapas (austerities), observed silence and fast for days together. He would keep a stock of bread in his room and for a week depended on it. He took it with Ganges water. He would stand up to hips in ice-cold Ganges water in winter mornings and commence his japa (meditation), coming out only when the sun appeared. He would spend more than 12 hours in daily meditation. With these intense tapas, Swami Sivananda did not neglect service of the sick. He visited huts of sadhus (renunciates) with medicines, served them and massaged their legs. He begged food on their behalf and fed them with his own hands when they fell sick. He brought water from the Ganges and washed their kutirs. Whenever he felt essential, he kept vigil through the night by the side of the bed of the ailing sadhus and carried the sick on his back to the hospital. With some money from his insurance policy he started a charitable dispensary at Lakshmanjhula in 1927, serving the pilgrims finding Narayana in them. He said:


It is my sacred creed to serve sick persons, to nurse them with care, sympathy and love, to cheer the depressed, to infuse power and joy in all, to feel oneness

with each and everyone, and to treat all with equal vision. It is my highest creed that there are neither peasants nor kings, neither beggars nor emperors, neither males nor females, neither teachers nor students. I love to live, move and have my being in this realm indescribable.


Swami Sivananda practised different yogas and studied the scriptures. After years of intense sadhana, he enjoyed the bliss of Nirvihalpa samadhi. From bits of paper and used envelopes he prepared small notebooks. He entered some self- instructions in them. As a wandering monk, he visited important places of pilgrimage in south India, including Rameshwaram, and conducted sankirtan (devotional congregation) and delivered lectures. He visited Aurobindo Ashram and met Maharishi Suddhananda Bharati. At Ramana Ashram, he had darshan of Sri Ramana Maharishi on the Maharishi's birthday. He sang bhajans and danced in ecstasy with the bhaktas (devotees) of Ramana Maharishi. He also went to Kailas-Manasarovar and Badrinath.


In 1936, Swami Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the bank of the holy Ganges in an abandoned cowshed, consisting of four rooms. He cleaned the kutir and occupied it. It gradually expanded with the increasing number of disciples. The Society grew imperceptibly and is now a worldwide organization having a large number of branches both within and outside the country. The Society was registered in 1936 with the main object of dissemination of spiritual knowledge and selfless service to humanity. Free distribution of spiritual literature attracted a steady flow of disciples. A monthly journal, The Divine Life, was commenced in September 1938 to coincide with the celebration of Swami Sivananda's birthday.


The world was in the grip of the Second World War. To help the distressed minds of the people, on December 31, 1943, Swami Sivananda started the Akhanda Mahamantra Kirtan (non-stop chanting ofthe mahamantra): Hare Rama, Hare Rama; Rama Rama Hare Hare; Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare. Lord Sri Visvanath Mandir was established at the same place where daily worship was introduced. He believed in synthesis in everything, in yoga as well as in the alleviation of human sufferings. He felt the need to serve people with Ayurvedic preparations out of the rare Himalayan herbs. He, therefore, instituted the Sivananda Ayurvedic Pharmacy in 1945, which now has developed substantially to cope up with the increasing demand from the people. There is now a regular hospital with X-ray and other facilities. Sivananda Eye Hospital was opened in December 1957. The hospital has ten beds for in-patients and has an ambitious programme for expansion.


He organized the All World Religions Federation in December 1945 and established the All World Sadhus Federation on February 19, 1947. The year 1947 witnessed a great expansion in the activities of the Divine Life Society. It, was the year of the Diamond Jubilee of the Great Soul, when a number of buildings sprang up. In 1948, Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy was established to give a systematic spiritual training to resident sadhaks (devotees) and for the benefit of visiting seekers. He went to Sri Lanka in 1950 to deliver his divine message throughout the country. There he virtually awakened the moral and spiritual consciousness in the hearts of people. Since then there has been an incessant flow of seeking souls to the Ashram and a greater inflow of letters from aspirants from all over the country. The Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy Press was established in September1951 to disseminate knowledge to the ever-growing number of seekers. Swami Sivanarida convened the World Parliament of Religions in 1953 at the Sivananda Ashram.


Through the Divine Life Society, Swami Sivananda preached that the Atman and the Brahman are the same and that one can realize it even when following the routine, ordinary life of a householder. He did not preach to his disciples to remove themselves from society and environment but insisted on their observing certain principles while living a normal life. He thought that in modern society, people had neither the time nor the patience to perform rigorous and austere tapas or religious practices and that in order to give the present generation the benefit of real tapasya, it was necessary to reveal to them the concept of the unity of God and Man. To him it was immaterial whether one went to the church or the mosque or the mandir for offering his prayers since all the prayers are heard only by one Supreme Divine.

He said:


To behold the Atman in every being or form, to feel Brahman everywhere, at all times, and in all conditions of life, to see, hear, taste and feel everything as the Atman is my creed,


Swami Sivananda had an incisive mind. He was a prolific writer. He wrote over 200 books on yoga and philosophy. He wrote profusely on Vedas, Upanishads, Brahrnasutras, Bhagavad Gita and so on. He was master of both physical and spiritual yoga. He wrote on all aspects on yoga in daily life to Kundalini Yoga and Yogic and Vedantic Sadhanas. It is said that even at the time when he was meditating for ten years and observed strict austerities, he still used to write on the inside of envelopes or on any other scrap of paper which he came across.


The Publication League of the Divine Life Society brought out almost all the writings of Swami Sivananda and research work is being carried on. With this in view, Sivananda Literature Research Institute was established in 1958 which decided to get the works of the Master translated and published systematically in all the regional languages in India. Swami Sivananda's yoga, which he called "Yoga of Synthesis" is intended to bring a harmonious development of the "hand", "head" and ''heart'' through the practice of Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Swami Sivananda entered mahasamadhi on July 14, 1963 in his kutir on the bank of Ganges in Shivanandanagar.


Swami Sivananda devoted his entire life to raise the material men to the heights of a spiritual being. He tried to disabuse the minds of the people of the orthodox practices and obscurantist beliefs. He said:


Mortifying the body is not Divine Life,

Physical nudity and matted locks have nothing to do with Divine Life,

Divine life is not rejection of life and its activities, but a transformation of it into the Divine Life.


Swami Sivananda's teachings were simple, and he believed in doing good to others. He saw God as omnipotent and believed that sacred texts of all religions were the same in essence. He believed that God resides in oneself and that one could find Him by leading a simple, selfless life, always ready to make sacrifices for others without expecting anything in return. He used to say, "One can find God in one's own heart by being honest and leading a simple living." In this way, he reinforced the basic doctrine of Bhagavad Gita that "the path of duty is the path of righteousness".


Swami Sivananda was simple and childlike in his attitude, yet he had the bearing of an ancient sage. He prostrated before saints and scavengers and even bowed to stones, bricks and donkeys. He addressed even little children with courtesy and respected the rights of animals showing them extreme love and compassion. Divine wisdom flowed from his lips in a continuous stream. His powerful, inspiring thoughts influenced people all over the world. Such was his unparalleled literary charity that most of his books were given away free. He is remembered as the greatest yoga master of the twentieth century and the inspiration behind the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. He was the author of more than 200 books on yoga and philosophy. They are written in readable style. His teachings are summed up in six words: "Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, and Realize". He sent his disciple, Swami Vishnu Devananda, to the West where he established the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre. He also established the True World Order with its headquarters at the Sivananda Yoga-Vedanta Ashram at Val Morin in Canada's Quebec district. It was here that the first Yoga World Brotherhood Convention was held in 1969. His message-be good, do good, be kind, be compassionate, bear humiliation, bear injury, this is the highest sadhana-will continue to act as a beacon light to the humanity. Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of the world-renowned Self-Realization Fellowship, and author of the famous spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, paid a glowing tribute to the Master: "The life of the great Rishi, Swami Sivananda, serves as a perfect example of selfless activity. He blesses India and the world by his presence."



Do you have any questions?

Watch Now