Śrī Brahmarṣi Gurvānand Svāmī – ‘Gurudev’
Śrī Brahmarṣi Gurvānand Svāmī was born in Delhi on 12 January, 1941, to Ānandī Devī and Saccidānand Jī; he was the first of their two sons. But at the age of nine months the infant was stricken with kidney disease and became gravely ill. Medical treatments of the time were all to no avail, and his life was despaired of.
Clutching at straws, his parents in a last desperate attempt to save his life, took him to the famous Śiva temple at Baidyanāth Dhām, hoping for a miracle. They were not disappointed; for by great chance the famous Devrāhā Bābā was also present at the shrine that day.
Saccidānand and Ānandī Devī placed their child at the feet of the great saint, and prayed for his life. Devrāhā Bābā looked at the little baby, and his eyes lit up with joy. He asked if they would dedicate their child for the purposes of dharma; because then, he declared, the child would live. Devrāhā Bābā had at once intuited by the gift of his inner vision that the reason for the child’s birth was to serve the ends of dharma.
But how could the parents give up their beloved son? A mother’s love would not hear of it. They remained silent, choked with tears.
Not receiving an answer Devrāhā Bābā left them and disappeared in the immense crowd that thronged the temple. The boy’s father could clearly see the result of his wife’s decision. He consoled her thus, “Our son is bound to die; but if the mercy of God and of the Bābā prevails he may yet live: if not with us, then with Devrāhā Bābā: but live at least he will. And this should be a matter of joy for us.”
Having thus persuaded his wife, the couple went out looking for the Bābā in the sea of faces that filled the temple. With great difficulty they were able to find him. They gave their baby in his arms, and bade a tearful good bye to Baidyanāth. Miraculously the child survived, and quickly grew to health in the Bābā’s Āśram at Devariyā, in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, a densely populated state in northern India.
The years passed; but one difficulty remained: the little boy could not or would not speak. Until the age of twelve years, though he dwelt in the shelter of Bābā’s broad wing, not a word escaped his lips. Then something miraculous occurred. Late into the seventh night of the festival of the nine holy nights – the navrātras, as they are called – as the boy slept, he beheld a dream. Three goddesses, all dressed in white, lifted him in their arms, and began to ascend heavenwards. He woke up in a cold sweat; terrified, he cried out aloud, “Bābā! Bābā!” His tongue was thus broken free of its lock, and his mouth began to bleed. The other inmates of the Āśram who had gathered around him were frightened at the sight, and rushed to look for Devrāhā Bābā.
They could not find him anywhere. But when they returned to the boy they found the Bābā by his bedside, blessing him and transferring godly powers to him. He opened his eyes, and had darśana – vision – of the Divine in Bābā, who said, “You have begun to speak! This is Mother Sarasvatī’s great kindness!” The child replied, “This body, and this gift of speech – they are by your mercy!” They were the first words that sprang forth from his lips.
The two now began an animated conversation in Sanskrit. Bābā asked questions, to which the boy gave ready answers. He knew the four Vedas by heart, and effortlessly repeated the Sanskrit ślokas (verses). Bābā was happy beyond words; and the ascetics and laypersons who lived in the Āśram were struck with astonishment at these developments. It seemed as though heaven itself had descended upon the earth that night, that all the gods had come to shower their blessings upon the twelve-year-old and to stand by and listen to the flights of philosophical discussion that proceeded in endless flow between Master and pupil. It was as though Brahma itself – the all pervasive God – had settled down upon the child, that
esoteric wisdom issuing in a steady stream from his mouth was proceeding to the Himalayan intellect of the Guru and spreading into the regions of the Divine. All who were present began to shout with joy, renting the air with cries of, “Glory to the Guru!” and “Glory to the illustrious Disciple!”
It seemed as though Sarasvatī herself – the goddess of learning and wisdom – had found a dwelling place in the little boy’s throat; that Ganeśa, the conqueror of obstacles, had settled in his mouth, Kṛṣṇa in his heart, and Nārāyaṇa upon his forehead. Devrāhā Bābā proudly declared, “You are the guru of us all – the greatest Guru!” Since that time he began to be addressed as Guru Jī.
Brahmarṣi Gurvānanda – or Brahmrishi Gurvānand Svāmī as he is spoken of colloquially by his adoring followers – has since childhood been blessed with extraordinary intelligence and penetrating wisdom. At an early age he became master of the spiritual wealth of Hinduism – the four Vedas, the Upaniṣads and the Purāṇas, the Gītā, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, as well as of every aspect of astrological knowledge: adhyāt, visarga, paricāyaka, hastākṣarita, hastarekhā, vākya, samyanta, vāstujñāna, orā, yogadhyāna, kuṇḍalinīprada dhyāna, saptam kuṇḍalinī, jāgrata kuṇḍalinīprada dhyāna, saptam kuṇḍalinī jāgrata pāraṅgata, kapālī dhyāna, viṣṇuloka jyotiṣa, śivaloka jyotiṣa, śrīyata jyotiṣa, saṅkhīya jyotiṣa,
brahmaloka pāraṅgata, brahmānandita dhyāna, dṛṣṭā brahmapada dhyāna, etc; together with the knowledge of mantras and their powers; this last is a subject he has investigated in depth.
Shortly after these momentous events his earthly parents came to the Āśram for the first time to meet with him. They were overjoyed to find him healthy and so highly educated; and from that time onwards accepted him as their guru.
With Devrāhā Bābā’s blessings he made several sojourns both in India and abroad. The first of these was to the Terāi region (i.e. the lower reaches) of the Himalayas, where he spent several years in meditation as the disciple of Rājaśrī Prajñacakṣu Jī Mahārāj, and became master of several siddhis. [A siddhi is an accomplishment, skill or supernormal power acquired through sādhanā – intense and prolonged meditation – and enables its possessor to perform feats beyond the ken of ordinary folk.]
Subsequently he traversed the length and breadth of India, met with many realized souls, and visited the Āśrams of Satya Sāi Bābā in Puttapārthī and of Śrī Aurobindo in Puducherī (Pondicherry), where he stayed for brief periods. Afterwards he lived in Kanyā Kumārī, the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula.
His entire thought, and the main emphasis of his teaching, given in 172 countries of the world which he has visited since, is centred around the principles of ahiṃsā (non-violence) as espoused in Jainism and karma yoga -the performance of one’s natural duty in every circumstance, to the best of one’s ability: fearlessly and without selfish motive. His teachings have had a profound influence on the lives of thousands of his devotees around the world.
But these happy developments were overtaken by a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. On 14 February 1991 Svāmī Gurvānand’s earthly parents, their second son (the Svāmī’s younger brother), his wife and their son (the Svāmī’s nephew) were all killed in a dreadful car accident. The sole survivor from the family was the Svāmī’s niece Sunītā Devī, a school-going girl of twelve years who by great chance had stayed behind at home that fateful day.
When Svāmī Gurvānand received this terrible news, he proceeded – for the first time in his life, and in accordance with the instruction of Devrāhā Bābā – to his parents’ native village.But by this time the crematory rites had been completed; so on February 26, after removing the hair on his head and face – for such is the custom – he performed the śrāddha ceremony for the departed souls.[The śrāddha is performed to honour, and to bring peace, to the spirits of dead relatives.]
After the terrible events of the recent past Svāmī Gurvīnand Jī sought to make proper arrangements for little Sunītā’s nurture and care.
But he found that there were no capable relatives to take care of her – neither on her father’s side nor her mother’s. Accordingly he brought her back with him to the Āśram, hoping that she would be amenable to completing her education there; for in the circumstances he had no choice but to take upon his shoulders the responsibility for her upbringing.
But the little girl had no inclination for the life of the hermitage. Svāmī Gurvānand therefore made up his mind to return to the haunts of men,
to obtain a job, and to look after his niece until she grew to adulthood, and was married; because the idea that he should seek financial support from any of his countless well-wishers and devotees was anathema to him.
An opening for an engineering job was available at the Madras Rubber Factory (MRF) in Chennai. Admitting Sunītā Devī to a boarding school in Delhi, he moved to Chennai and assumed the position.But the General Manager at MRF soon found out the truth about his remarkable employee; and his eyes filled with tears when he saw him in the ranks of his workers on the factory floor. He asked of the circumstances which had brought the Svāmī to this pass, and offered monetary help, which was of course refused. But from that day on Svāmī Gurvānand was given light work at the factory, and many conveniences; and soon afterwards was transferred to a place where there was not very much to do.
Svāmī Gurvānand could not bear the burden of these obligations; he resigned from the factory. He was well-known in India; wherever he might go he was recognized and hailed as Brahmarṣi Gurudev. He realized that in these circumstances he would not be able to live an unencumbered life; but he could not think of living otherwise, in a state of indebtedness to anybody. He decided to find work somewhere where none might know him.
He therefore moved to Mumbai, and began to look for work in the most unlikely places. In short order he found placement as an engineer aboard an Australian freighter. He joined duty on a Sunday, a day on which he fasted. He had had nothing to eat that entire day. But neither could he eat anything the next day, or the next, or the day after that,because meat was a staple of the food which was served daily on the ship, and Guru Jī is a strict vegetarian.
Six days passed. Not a morsel of food had crossed his lips. The ship was on the high seas; there was nothing upon it that he could eat. The duty officer was exasperated,and he reported him to the ship’s Captain. The Captain summoned Svāmī Jī, and asked the reason for his adamantine refusal of the food. Svāmī Jī replied that he was a vegetarian, that he would rather die than partake of animal flesh.
The Captain became livid, and said, “If you are so particular about your dietary rules, why did you seek work on a sea-going vessel? You will have to follow our rules,
and eat the food which all of us eat.”
“No! Never!” came Svāmī Gurvānand’s fearless reply. “I will not eat meat. Please make arrangements of vegetarian meals for me, or accept my resignation.”
“But where would you go if you resign?” said the bemused captain, for the ship was thousands of miles into the ocean by then. “Will you jump into the water?” he asked sarcastically.
Matters had reached an impasse. The Svāmī would not budge from his position. He returned to his cabin, and made a resolve before God: “I will not eat”, he vowed, “until you make arrangements for pure vegetarian food for me.”
The Captain threatened to take action against the Svāmī. He said, “I will not let this state of affairs to continue. For if you die, the responsiblility of your death will fall upon my shoulders.”
Svāmī Jī replied, “Then I will prefer to jump into the ocean!”
There the matter stood, for the moment. Though suffering greatly, he did not use the powers of which he is master for his own personal ends.
Something had to give. Now providence interposed, and an amazing development happened the following day. Svāmī Gurvānand sat in his cabin,immersed in the meditation of the kapālī yoga sādhanā. In this meditation the body lifts into the air; Svāmī Jī,seated in the lotus position, was levitating, his head against the ceiling of his cabin. Just then the Captain’s wife happened to walk in the adjoining corridor, and seeing the Svāmī suspended in mid-air cried out, “Ghost! There’s a ghost!” Hearing the commotion, everybody in the vicinity came running over. They were awestruck at the sight.The Captain, too, strode across, and seeing Svāmī Jī seated deep in meditation, oblivious of the excitement around him, fell to wondering. For he was a follower of the Buddhist religion, and had some familiarity with the traditions of meditation. Saying, “Buddha, Buddha, save me! Protect me!” , he fell at the Svāmī’s feet. And the others too made similar obeisance. When Svāmī Jī came down from his meditation the Captain pleaded, “Tell us who you are. Reveal yourself to us.” Gurudev merely smiled, no doubt thinking about the strange turn events had taken. He said, “I’m a very ordinary human being, just like you!”
But the Captain was not satisfied with Gurudev’s answer. Again he fell at the Svāmī’s feet, saying, “Tell us who or what you really are!”
Then Svāmī Ji told him about his life, and the reason for his having sought a job on the ship. And from that day forth the Captain accepted the Guru as his Master, and dedicated himself fully to him; while his wife undertook to prepare Svāmī Jī’s food for him daily with her own hands: steamed rice, served with yoghurt made from skimmed milk powder, which was plentifully available on the ship. He ate this food everyday for the four years he spent on board, restricting himself to one meal a day – a practice he still follows.
He fulfilled his duties irreproachably upon the ship, sometimes working as many as 18 hours a day; and regularly, morning and evening, he gave discourses on religious subjects. These had a profound influence on all hands on board. They all converted to vegetarianism, gave up drinking, and adopted the Hindu way of life.
But in June 1995, when he was in Sydney, he resigned from the ship’s work, preferring to live in Australia; where he dedicated himself to the spread of vegetarianism,non-violence and the Hindu ideals; thousands were influenced by his teachings. Then he returned to India, the country dearest to his heart.
By this time his niece had been admitted to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi; this is perhaps the most prestigious of India’s meedical schools,to which admission is fiercely competitive; but it would be still be four years before her education would be completed; only then could her marriage be contemplated; only then might Svāmī Jī cleave his bonds with the world, and return to the spiritual life.
Once more he set out on his travels across the land, in course of which he again reached Chennai. Prominent folk of the city now sought him out: social workers, religious leaders, captains of industry. Together they went to visit the holy city of Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. (Tirupati has been a centre of Vaiṣṇavism since the fifth century AD, and is home to the famous Venkaṭeśvara temple, southern India’s most important pilgrimage destination. Vaiṣṇavite rites were established in Tirupati’s Govindarājasvāmī temple by Rāmanujācārya in the 11th Century AD.) One of the members of that group was Śrī R. R. Challāṇī, who owned a factory nearby; where they stayed there for the night, after the darśana. On the following day, when breakfast was over, Guru Jī toured the site. Then Śrī Challāṇī suggested, “Gurudev, there are still some years before your niece completes her education. Will you not settle here until then, in this holy place, and perform your sādhanās?” Svāmī Jī agreed with the idea. Accordingly some land was purchased in the area with the contributions made by his Chennai devotees, upon which a rough thatch-roofed cottage was built for him. And there he stayed, involving himself in social upliftment. His Chennai devotees ably assisted him.
Sunītā Devī completed her studies in 2001, and was married to Mr. Saurabh Pānde, an officer of the Indian Administrative Sevice. Svāmī Jī’s worldly duties
were now over; he begged leave of his niece to return to the spiritual life, and since then has dedicated himself to the betterment of mankind, and the protection of animals.
Over the years his many devotees had appealed to him that an Āśram should be established in Tirupati, where all men and women without regard to their
religious affiliation might find rest and solace from their worldly cares, and where aged, hurt or sick animals, doomed for the slaughterhouse, might find a haven of peace.
Svāmī Jī accepted the proposal. Accordingly his devotees gathered the money to purchase a large tract of land; to which the Government, too, added its
contribution. A grand Āśram with dormitories guest houses, cow sheds, temples and a meditation centre is now being built; many of the buildings have already
been completed, while work on the rest is underway.