Sri Swami Chidananda : His life and work – Dr M Mahendra Singh
With the sacred aim of bringing peace and joy in everyone’s life by dissemination of spiritual knowledge and charitable activities, Worshipful Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, a glittering star in the modern spiritual firmament, established The Divine Life Society in 1936. The Divine Life Society is an all-embracing and all-inclusive institution which has its basis the adherence to the triple ideals of truth, non-violence and purity – the quintessence of the teachings of all religions and of all saints and prophets of the world. The Society, right from the time of its foundation, has been continuously engaged in the task of bringing about social harmony, cultural integration and spiritual renaissance by its multifarious activities. It has branches all over the world and the Headquarters of the Society are at Sivananda Ashram, Shivananda Nagar, Tehri-Garhwal, Uttarakhand.
Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, the founder-president of the Society, exerted enthusiastically and indefatigably to lead everyone along the path of Divine Life. After his Mahasamadhi in 1963, his worthy successor Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj served the Divine Life Society as President for 45 years and carried his sacred mission to further glory. Sri Swami Chidananda’s life has been an inspiring saga of self sacrificing service to his Guru Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, society, nation and world at large.
Sridhar Rao, as Swami Chidanandaji was known before taking Sannyasa, was born to a pious couple Sri Srinivasa Rao and Smt. Sarojini Devi, on 24th September, 1916 at Mangalore. Since childhood, all embracing love, compassion, charity and service of the poor and the sick found an embodiment in Sridhar Rao and doing Tapas for having a vision of the Lord became his ideal. His elementary education began at Rosario Secondary School, Mangalore and later on, he joined the Muthiah Chettiar School in Madras. In 1938, he emerged from the Loyola College, Madras with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. This period of studentship at a Christian College proved significant as he was greatly inspired by the glorious ideal of Lord Jesus, the Apostles and the other Christian saints. His innate depth of vision enabled him to see Jesus in Krishna and prepared him for his future role of a messenger of Universal Religion.
Quite early in life, although born in a wealthy family, he shunned the pleasures of the world to devote himself to seclusion and contemplation. In the matter of study, the works of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Swami Sivananda took precedence over all other books. The call of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Swami Sivananda to renounce resounded within his pure heart. On 19th May 1943, the sacred day of Buddha Purnima, he left his hearth and home and dedicated himself at the feet of holy master Sri Swami Sivanandaji and served him and his mission till the last breath of his life. On Guru Purnima day, the 10th of July, 1949, Sridhar Rao was initiated into the holy order of Sannyasa by Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj and came to be known as Swami Chidananda, a name which connotes “one who is in the highest consciousness and bliss”.
Sri Swamiji has been universally acclaimed as an embodiment of the quintessence of India’s spiritual and cultural heritage as the supreme ideals of glorious culture of our motherland viz. truth, non-violence, tolerance, compassion, all embracing love, renunciation and selfless service pulsated in every breath of his life. Through his personal example and extensive tours, Sri Swamiji strove hard to hold aloft the banner of glorious culture of India throughout the world.
In 1950, he accompanied Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj in his All India Tour and proclaimed the glory of sublime culture of India and Vedic Sanatana Dharma through his soul-stirring lectures. Later on, as his representative, he travelled extensively throughout India to knock at the doors of the lay citizens of his motherland to remind them of the call of the Vedas, to remind them that as the blessed scions of seers and sages of this sacred land they had a glorious mission to undertake. Wherever Swamiji went, he gave the clarion call to his fellow citizens—”Arise Bharatavarsha, and bless the world. Blessed heir to Bharatavarsha’s cultural heritage! Make thy life an effulgent radiance of India’s shining ideals of renunciation and service. Make thyself the living embodiment of our Dharma and personify in yourself the sublime principles of Paropakara (welfare of others) and of Supreme Atma Jnana (Self-knowledge). Let Bharatavarsha’s lofty culture find vital expression through you and your entire life, every moment, each day. Thus through you, let India be vibrantly alive, awake and arise. You Are India.”
As a representative of his Guru and as a spiritual ambassador, Sri Swamiji undertook Global Tours to propagate the sublime message of Yoga and Vedanta throughout the world. From November 1959 to December 1961, he was on tour to North America, South America and Europe. Sri Swamiji visited innumerable homes, institutions, universities and conducted classes on Hatha Yoga, delivered lectures on Yoga, Vedanta and ethical and spiritual idealism of India and also gave personal interviews to clarify doubts of the spiritual seekers. During this tour, at the invitation of the American Academy of Asian Studies, he spent four months at San Francisco delivering lectures on Vedanta and Indian Heritage to the students of the American Academy of Asian Studies.
In his next world tour from May 1968 to December 1970, he visited a number of countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America and also New Zealand and Australia to convey the sublime message of Vedic culture. Apart from his great global tours, he went abroad time and again till 1999 on the sacred mission of proclaiming the glory of Vedanta and awakening the humanity to its divine destiny of Self-realisation.
Wherever Sri Swamiji went, his illuminating talks and his divine personality radiating peace, bliss, love and compassion had an indelible impact on the listeners. Thousands of western seekers bowed at his feet in love and veneration and accepted him as their spiritual guide. His simple and austere life, unparalleled humility and universal love, evoked great love and reverence in their hearts for India and her glorious culture. Lives of many westerners were transformed to such an extent that they left their countries and came to India to dedicate their entire lives to attain God and serve His suffering children. The books ‘This Monk from India’ by a French lady Yvonne Lebeau and ‘Jayanti Jubilee Souvenir’ by an German lady Paula Corneley bears testimony to his abiding influence in the lives of many a westerners. Inspired by his saintliness, Yavar Abbas, a London based renowned writer, broadcaster and filmmaker, made a documentary film on him ‘Faces of India Swami Chidananda – A Yogi from Rishikesh’ in 1968 for BBC.
This true son of mother India had an insatiable zeal to serve the poor and sick since his childhood. It drew him to the Ashram dispensary immediately after joining Sivananda Ashram in 1943. The growing reputation of his divine healing hand attracted a rush of patients to the Sivananda Charitable Dispensary. To him, the patient was none other than Lord Narayana Himself. He served them with tender love and compassion. From the very beginning of his stay in Ashram, he was not only in the habit of looking after patients who came to the Ashram dispensary, but he also roamed the countryside in search of sick persons in need of help and tended them. There was no proper communication, no hospital in the surrounding hill area then. People used to die for want of treatment. He reached almost every home and distributed medicines lovingly to all those who needed them.
To the unfortunate lepers of Rishikesh and its surroundings, he had been a veritable saviour. Service to lepers was his ideal from his childhood. He would build huts for them in the vast lawns of his home and look after them. He was deeply moved to see large numbers of lepers dragging their miserable life in the neighbouring locality to Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh. His kindness and sympathy for these fellowmen who have been condemned, cursed and rejected even by their own relations, will remain an inspiring lesson in service and charity for all humanity. It was a profound conviction of universal fellowship, spiritual unity and cosmic love that led him to serve the sick and the lowly, not merely among men but among the birds, beasts and insects that move and crawl around unnoticed. (to be contd)