Category Archives: Significant Figures in Hinduism

Dadu Dayal

Dadu Dayal is known as the saint of compassion. Dayal, meaning compassionate or merciful, is in part from where Dadu’s title as the saint of compassion stems (Gold 184). His compassionate actions and religious teachings earned him the title after death (Gold 184). The other reason for his title is from his divine birth and mysterious origins leading to the creation of his religious panth (Shomer and MeLeod 183). There are mysterious circumstances surrounding his birth and his unordinary beginning to life is very similar to other northern Indian saints such as Kabir and Nanak (Gold 221). Dadu Dayal was born in 1544 CE in Ahmedabad and lived in Narayana in the state of Rajasthan till his death in 1603 CE (Heehs 371). Dadu’s major religious teachings surrounded self-realization and japa along with the goal of unification of the divergent faiths (Sen 100). Dadu along with Kabir, Namdev, Nanak and Radias are considered the back bone of the Northern Indian Saint tradition (Zelliot 254). Dadu is the founder of the Dadu-Panth and is renowned for both his ability to compose hymns and his religious teachings. The main area in which his panth is presently established is Narayana in Rajasthan and is run by a disciple in the lineage of Dadu (Shomer and MeLeod 184). The Dadu-Panth has changed in contemporary times by adapting to the changing societal patterns and norms allowing it to maintain influence in its major centre (Shomer and MeLeod 184).

Rajasthan, a state in northern India, is where Dadu was born, lived and established his religious panth (Sen 100). Born in Ahmedabad in 1544 CE Dadu has several stories surrounding his mysterious birth (Shomer and MeLeod 182). The Dadu-Panth mostly recognizes the story in which Dadu was found in and taken from Sabarmati River near Ahmedabad (Gold 93). He was then raised by a brahmin family and received initiation from an old sadhu and that in his early adult life he worked as a cotton carder before beginning his religious journey (Heehs 371).The second most accepted within the panth is the story that he was born to a dhuni-woman which means a women of the river and was abandoned and was raised in a merchant family and pursued a career as a cotton carder until later becoming interested in religious life (Shomer and MeLeod 183). A cotton carder cleans and processes the raw cotton into lose strands to then later be further processed (Shomer and MeLeod 183). Most scholars, however, think that Dadu came from a Muslim family. This fact was concealed or changed to him being raised by a brahmin family or that he was adopted after being found in the river by a brahmin family (Sen 100). Although these origins are similar in nature, key differences are the source of much debate between scholars and followers (Shomer and MeLeod 189). One story describes Dadu’s divine birth to a woman and another his divine appearance upon the bank of a river. Many scholars theorize that the reason there are two conflicting accounts of his origins stems from the fourteenth verse of the Grantha Sadha Mahima (Shomer and MeLeod 185). The fourteenth verse can be translated in one of two ways, the first being “Dadu was born in the womb of a dhuni-woman” the second being “Dadu was found in a river” (Shomer and MeLeod 185). All tell the tale that his religious interest stemmed from a feeling of exclusion from the strict caste system and Vedic teachings (Shomer and MeLeod 6). In all accounts he was a cotton carder by trade and his renunciation and rise to religious power was not widely accepted by the Hindu caste system (Olson 182). His low caste birth but higher class upbringing made him an ideal teacher in the sant parampara tradition (Shomer and MeLeod 6). Like Kabir, one of his greatest influences was that he was born into a low class but with great religious knowledge which allowed him to form  his own opinions and beliefs outside of the strict Hindu tradition (Sen 101). Dadu died in 1603 at the age of fifty nine in Narayana city in Rajasthan. It is rarely speculated how Dadu died but some texts say he ascended to heaven from his shrine in Narayana when his work was done (Oman 133). In the same fashion as Kabir many sources speculate that his body miraculously disappeared after his death (Olson 182). Although his origins are mysterious he is only referred to under one incarnation unlike Kabir who in his panth is theorized to have appeared before (Gold 95).

Dadu’s religious teachings stemmed from his inability to find roots in the Vedas (Gold 49). Even though he was a man of great knowledge and devotion he struggled with some of the ideas and concepts within the Vedic teachings (Gold 49). In Dadu’s religious panth he rejected the concept that the Vedas held ultimate knowledge (Gold 49). In turn he believed in the power of self-realization and inner experience for achieving moksa (Heehs 371). Dadu believed that to fulfill this realization followers must surrender their lives entirely to god and subsequently reject their egotism (Kumar and Ram 99). He also rejected the class system and its social and religious conventions (Kumar and Ram 98). Dadu identifies himself as a house holder and believed that this stage was ideal for achieving self and spiritual realization (Kumar and Ram 100). Dadu encouraged his disciples to write in Hindi and to translate Sanskrit texts into Hindi to further the accessibility of these texts to everyone (Kumar and Ram 100). This he hoped would further his ideal of uniting the divided faiths.

The Dadu-Panth which was founded by Dadu himself, is a part of the Northern Indian sant parampara tradition (Gold 14). Its epicenter is located at its main temple in Narayana in Rajasthan (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 179). The Dadu-Panth is closely linked to Kabir’s Satguru Kabir panth and the Sikh tradition (Ralham 60).  In the Dadu-Panth Kabir is held in a revered position and his influence is noted in the Dadu-Panth text (Ralham 60).  In panth traditions the founder is often revered as the real guru, where as in the Dadu-Panth it is Dadu’s book of teachings and hymns, the Dadubani, and the Ram Mantra which receives the most attention (Gold 105). The repeated recitation of the Ram Mantra in considered a form of japa in the Dadu-Panth (Sen 100). Dadu did not initially seek to begin a panth but to expand his own concept of religious life (Gold 93). Dadu prohibited the eating of meat and all violence, but did not prohibit his disciples from marrying or still holding businesses in the world (Shomer and MeLeod 188). His disciples were allowed to pursue their religious life along with their social life within society to create a balance (Shomer and MeLeod 188). Dadu’s poetic aphorisms and devotional hymns were collected by his disciples and arranged in to a 5,000 verse bani (classical Indian music genre) titled the Dadubani (Gold 94). The book is revered as a sacramental object and a hand written copy is the most divine object within the panth (Gold 95).

The main center of the Dadu-Panth is still located in Narayana in Rajasthan where majority of followers in this panth live (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 179). Though the influence has dwindled through time the panth still is quite powerful within the area. The panth still holds some socioreligous roles in Narayana and surrounding area (Shomer and MeLeod 184). The panth has allowed makanvale (house-dwelling monks) to have wives and children unofficially (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 204). This breaks away from the tradition of monastic celibacy, previously seen as favorable within the panth, although it was never strictly upheld (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 204). The temple in Narayana is where Dadu was laid to rest in 1603 CE (Gold 94). Over time this site has been up kept by the lineage of Dadu’s disciples (Gold 95). In the present day an annual festival is held in Narayana on the anniversary of Dadu’s birth which is said to fall on the eighth day of the bright half of Phalgun (Shomer and MeLeod 186). The eighth day of Phalgun, which is the twelfth month in the Hindu calendar, falls in the end of February or beginning of March in the Gregorian calendar (Shomer and MeLeod 187). Though Dadu is not considered to have an important role in the Sikh tradition he is still respected as a great poet in his own right (Duggal 212). There is a story about Guru Gobind Singh in the Sikh tradition commenting on Dadu’s poetry and the Guru bowed his bow in front of a great shrine to Dadu out of respect (Duggal 213).



Duggal, K. S. (1980) the Sikh Gurus: Their Lives and Teachings. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.

Gold, Daniel (1987) The Lord as Guru: Hindi Sants in the North Indian Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hawley, J. S. and M. Juergensmeyer (trans) (2004) Songs of the Saints of India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heehs, Peter (Eds) (2006) Indian Religions: the Spiritual Traditions of South Asia- An Anthology. New Delhi: Pauls Press.

Kumar, R. and S. Ram (2008) Hindu Saints and Mysticism. New Delhi: Crescent Publishing Corporation.

Olson, Carl (2015) Indian Asceticism: power, Violence and Play. New York: Oxford University Press.

Oman, John Campbell (1984) the Mystics, Ascetics and Saints of India: a study of Sadhuism, with an accounts of the Yogis, Sanyasis, Bairagis, and other Strange Hindu Sectarians. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Ralham, O. P. (2004) Great Saints of India Vol. 2: Kabir the Apostle of Hindu-Muslim Unity. New Delhi: Anmol Publication Pvt. Ltd.

Sen, K. M. (1961) Hinduism. London: Cox and Wyman Ltd.

Shomer, K. and W. H. MeLeod (Eds) (1987) The Sants: Studies in a devotional Tradition of India. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Zelliot, E. and R. Mokashi-Punekar (Eds) (2005) Untouchable Saints: an Indian Phenomenon. New Delhi: Lordson Publishers Pvt. Ltd.


Related topics for further reading


Ram mantra



Grantha Sadha Mahima

Sant parampara


Satguru Kabir Panth




Sikh Tradition


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Brienne Leclaire (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Yogananda Paramahansa and the Self-Realization Fellowship

Yogananda’s Life

Born January 5, 1893 in Gorakhpur, India, Yogananda grew up with the name Mukunda Lal Ghosh (Yogananda 1971:4). He would later take upon the name of Yogananda as a result of his pledge to his spiritual teacher, Sri Yukteswar, to become a swami (teacher) in the philosophies of kriya yoga. Raised by his father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, who was a mathematician who worked for the Bengal – Nagpur Railway, and mother, Yogananda grew up in a ksatriya family (Yogananda 1971:4). As the son of disciples of a renounced religious figure, Lahiri Mahasaya, Mukunda was introduced to the traditionally demanding practice of kriya yoga at a young age as a student of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51; Segady 189). According to his devotees and himself, Yogananda was able to recall many transcendent events that led him towards the pursuit of liberation or moksa at a young age. Below are summaries of these events found in his autobiography.

When he was a small child, Yogananda was overcome by Asiatic cholera. As reported in his autobiography, his mother being a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya told Mukunda to pray to the Cosmic beloved and Lahiri Mahasaya for bettered health. He recounts remembering the physical weakness he felt during this time in which he could not “lift a trembling arm”. Instead he was tasked with bowing mentally to pray for a cure. With repetitive mental prayer Mukunda was cured from a usually terminal sickness (Yogananda 1971:10).

As a baby fresh from his mother’s womb, Yogananda was able to recall the troubles of being an infant he was quoted in his autobiography as saying: “I was resentfully conscious of being unable to walk and to express myself freely. Prayerful surges arose within me as I realized my bodily impotence. My strong emotional life was mentally expressed in words of many languages. Amid the inward confusion of tongues, I gradually became accustomed to hearing the Bengali syllables of my people. The beguiling scope of an infant’s mind! adultly considered to be limited to toys and toes” (Yogananda 1971:1).

Yogananda was educated in the traditional Indian school system while studying the philosophies of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51). While studying under his guru (teacher), Sri Yukteswar, he pursued an A.B. degree at Serampore College, a branch of the University of Calcutta (Yogananda 1971:219). Yogananda was not as studious or dedicated in his pursuit of academic knowledge as he was in his pursuit for spiritual realization. According to his autobiography, throughout his education, Mukunda was a seen as the “Mad Monk” and was generally an outsider in the academic world (Yogananda 1971:223). He would apply religious ideas he learned from Sri Yukteswar to academic fields such as philosophy. In doing so Yogananda was not perceived as a “good” student by his professors and colleagues. According to Autobiography of a Yogi, during his final year of study he was set to fail his final examinations but for another transcendental event (Yogananda 1971:220). As exams approached, Mukunda was aware of his failing grades and he knew if they persisted he would not obtain his degree, to the disapproval of his father. Through the guidance of his guru, Mukunda approached his friend for help. Mukunda was able to pass all of his exams as every question he studied was on the exams he wrote (Yogananda 1971:221-226).

After obtaining his A.B. degree at Serampore College, Yogananda decided to set up his own organization with the purpose of educating students in a comprehensive format, both spiritually and intellectually (Yogananda 1971:254). Described in his autobiography, Yogananda was “averse” to the concept of traditional organizations as they distracted people from serving the “true organization” the Cosmic Beloved (Yogananda 1971:254). Originally set up in Ranchi, India in 1918, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya has grown increasingly with the objective of providing students with an education in agriculture, business, industry and academics along with spiritual practices (Yogananda 1971:254). Run alongside his western organisation known as the Self-Realization Fellowship, or SRF, Yogananda prescribes that the school’s environment resembles an orthodox ashrama. According to orthodox Hindu philosophy, during the student stage of life, also known as brahmacarya [also defined as a stage of celibacy], children are tasked with the pursuit of proper dharma or knowledge. Yogananda developed a traditional ashram set in nature to allow students to properly pursue this life goal. It was at this campus that where Yogananda began to develop his yogoda techniques of meditation with the purpose to “recharge life’s battery” (Yogananda 1971:255). The guru took the originally rigorous demands of kriya yoga, taught by his predecessor Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51), and transformed them into a practice designed to move one from “self to Self” (Farge 55). Yogananda used postures or asanas to create a science for the attainment of moksa (liberation). Currently, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya supports four ashrams in Ranchi, Noida, Dwarahat and Dakshineswar. Today many of these sites are held in sacred regard for his devotees as Paramahansa Yogananda experienced the Divine there.

Once the setup of the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya, or now known as the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, was complete, Yogananda decided to travel to the United States of America as the delegate for Brahmacarya Ashram of Ranchi at the Congress of Religious Liberals (Segady 188; Farge 51). In August of 1920, he set off for America on the “City of Sparta.” Yogananda, having been raised and taught speaking Bengali, had troubles with lecturing in English to an English speaking audience. Recounted in his biography, his devotees believe Yogananda went through a transcendental experience at the beginning of his lecture on the ship where God granted him the ability to speak fluent English (Yogananda 1971:357).  His presentation of the “Science of Religion” to the Congress of Religious Leaders in Boston was met with great success and led to Yogananda staying in Boston and Philadelphia for several more years (Farge 51; Segady 188). In 1924, the Yogananda embarked on a transcontinental tour to promote the Yogoda philosophies. His presentations were attended by thousands, and by the end of 1925, he had set up the international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 189).

On August 22, 1935, Yogananda returned to India to check on the progression and affairs of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India as well as confer with his guru, Sri Yukteswar. Upon his arrival he was met with great fanfare and applause (Yogananda 1971:377). When he did make it to Ranchi, he found his school in dire need of financial support as Sir Manindra Chandra Nundy, who had donated large amounts of money to the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, had passed away. Once Yogananda had publicized his need for financial support, money came flowing in from his disciples in the West saving the original school (Yogananda 1971:381). Yogananda toured around the country visiting many temples and notable people. Before his guru, Sri Yukteswar, passed away, he bestowed on Yogananda the sacred title of Paramahansa (Yogananda 1971:401). In Sanskrit, the word Paramahansa can be broken down into the roots parama, meaning “highest” and hansa meaning “swan” (Yogananda 1971:401). It is the white swan that is said to be the mount of the Creator, Brahma (Yogananda 1971:401). By 1936, Paramahansa Yogananda had returned to the West to continue his mission of spreading the word of kriya yoga. On March 7, 1952 the freed Yogananda Paramahansa passed away after a presentation to his disciples in California. In Hinduism, it is said that a realized or freed being can voluntarily “exit” their body once their mission has been completed. Yogananda’s disciples believe that he had attained that state of liberation. It was on March 7, 1952 when Yogananda Paramahansa entered his mahasamadhi or last conscious exit (Yogananda 1971:498). Twenty days after Yogananda “exited” his body, the mortuary reported no signs of biological decay. This report was published throughout the popular world, and Yogananda’s devotees believe this affirms his connection with the divine (Yogananda 1971:498).


The Self-Realization Fellowship

After the first center for the Self-Realization Fellowship was set up in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1922, Yogananda began a transcontinental tour to further disseminate his teachings of kriya yoga. By 1925, he had finished his tour and set up an international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 190). At its creation and until the present the Self-Realization Fellowship has followed a specific set of ideals and aims, which according to their website, include: “To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God. To unite science and religion through realization of the unity of their underlying principles.”

Following these ideals, the SRF experienced substantial growth throughout the 1920s. By the mid-1930s, the Self-Realization Fellowship had grown into a nationwide organization built around Yogananda’s aims and practices (Segady 190). As a result of the popularity, the organization decided to publish their own magazine, East-West, in the West promoting Eastern philosophy. This publication further increased SRF’s popularity as it applied Eastern religious practices and to Western society (Segady 190). In 1935, the SRF had become an active member of the Parliament of World Religions and an official non-profit religious organization, the first eastern religious organization to do so, in the state California (Segady 190). By 2008, the SRF had grown to recognize 500 SRF or Yogoda Satsanga temples, centres or groups in 50 countries. Its members spanned over 178 countries staking its claim as a permanent global spiritual organization (Segady 190).

The SRF and Yogoda Satsanga Society both follow kriya yoga philosophies set up by Yogananda and his preceding gurus. The Sanskrit term kriya can be roughly translated to mean “action”. As described by Yogananda, the yoga-meditation techniques used by the SRF are a developed science used to reach Self-Realization (Farge 63). In Yogananda’s form of kriya yoga the goal is to combine bhakti (devotion), jnana (knowledge) and karma (action) within the meditations to help devotees realize samadhi or realization [for further reading see Yogananda (1986)] (Segady 191). Yogananda believed that once a person had perfected this art, then it was at this time the said person achieved moksa.

Yogananda further explain his teachings and the attainment of realization using the force called kundalini (Farge 62). According to Yogananda, kundalini can be described as a snake at the base of the spine (Farge 62). When a person is “clouded” in his or her realization the snake would be “asleep”, feeding on the person’s senses and pleasures. The snake’s venom would then dictate the feelings of lust the person would feel (Farge 62). Through asanas or posture and the practice of yoga, a person can awaken the snake and allow it to travel up the spine to the brain, where they would experience true realization. This awakening is known as vasuki (Farge 62).

As is a common occurrence in the works of Yogananda, he uses both science and religion to explain his philosophies. The ascent of consciousness can be described in turn with the spinal centers (Farge 62). Based on a person’s enlightenment, the force or kundalini will reside in one of the centers. The centers can be categorized by the level of self-realization. In an ordinary person, the kundalini will remain in the lumbar, coccygeal or sacral center (Farge 62). Whereas in an enlightened being, the kundalini has travelled up towards the cerebral center and exited through the ajna or the “single eyed passage” (Farge 62). In-between the top and bottom, the believers of the divine reside in the heart center, the calm yogi’s kundalini sits in the cervical center, where a yogi who understands the Cosmic Vibration is centered in the medullary center or Christ center (Farge 63). As stated previously, it is when the kundalini has travelled the entirety of the spine that one will achieve realization [for further reading on kundalini and the ascent of consciuousness see Yogananda (1995)].

Through the explanation of kundalini and the practice of kriya yoga, Yogananda developed his philosophy on the attainment of moksa, but he also used seven of Patanjali’s traditional steps to realization (Farge 64). As Patanjali noted in his Yoga Sutras, Yogananda also prescribes the steps to realization as: yama, the actions which not to take; niyama, the actions in which to take; asana, body stillness; pranayama, control of breath and body; pratyahara, the disunion of the mind and the senses; dhyana, concentration on the cosmic consciousness and samadhi, attainment of realization  (Farge 64).

Yogananda invoked the language of science in his techniques (Segady 194) and tolerance of all religions (Segady 191) to promote the Self-Realization Fellowship’s ideals and aims. One of SRF’s more unconventional features was comparison of orthodox Hinduism philosophies to Christian philosophies. In promoting the SRF, Yogananda claimed it to be a “Church for All Religions” (Segady 190). He enforced this by not forcing people to dismiss their original belief when joining the SRF. He believed the goal of all religions was the same and that was to realize and become one with God or the Creator (Segady 191). In one of his original works, The Second Coming of Christ, Yogananda Paramahansa compares the Hindu idea of the Cosmic Vibration to the Christ or the “Son” and the Cosmic Consciousness to the “father” or God [for further readings on Yogananda and Christianity see Yogananda (1982)] (Farge 58). It was these comparisons with popular culture in the West and the acceptance of all religions that aided Yogananda in the expansion of the SRF’s ideals (Segady 191).



Farge, Emile J. (2009). “Going East with Merton: Forty years later-and Coming West with Paramahansa Yogananda Today.” Cross Currents 59:49-68. Accessed on February 6, 2016. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-3881.2009.00049.x.

Segady, Thomas W. (2009) “Globalization, Syncretism, and Identity: The Growth and Success of Self-Realization-Fellowship.” Implicit Religion 12:187-199. Accessed on February 5, 2016. doi: 10.1558/imre.v12i2.187.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1995) God Talks with Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1986) The Divine Romance. Dakshineswar: Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1982) Second Coming of Christ. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1971) Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kriya Yoga


Lahiri Mahasaya


Sri Yukteswar



Notable Websites Related to the Topic

Self-Realization Fellowship website:

Yogoda Satsanga Society of India website:


Article written by: Sean Gaiesky (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Muktananda

Swami Muktananda was a renowned religious leader in Hinduism; he is reputed to have achieved complete self-awareness, the highest level of awareness possible. He started out as a highly respected swami in India, and eventually gained followers/devotees across the world for his views on meditation, self-reflection, self-realization, and his teaching of Siddha Yoga.

Swami Muktananda was born in the early 20th century, there is some dispute as to his exact year of birth. May 16th, 1908 is a generally accepted date (Brooks et Al 26).  According to biographies written by his devotees, from whom a majority of this information is derived, Muktananda was born to a wealthy family near the town of Mangalore. Originally, his parents had longed for a son but had not been blessed with one. Then, one day they went to the temple of Manjunath Mahadev, where they visited a holy man. This holy man decided to give Muktananda’s parents a mantra to chant that would aid them in the birth of a son (Brooks et al 25).  When he was born his parents named him Krsna. Only after his initiation into the Sarasvati Order was he given the name Muktananda (Brooks et al 29); this will be discussed later in the paper. From a young age Muktananda felt that being a sage was his calling. When he was very young he had an encounter with a holy man named Nityananda that forever changed his life. Muktananda wanted to be more like Nityananda, so he  left home in his pursuit of God (Brooks et al 26). It is interesting that Nityananda was the Guru who influenced Muktananda at such a young age, seeing as Nityananda later became his Guru (Brooks et al 32-33).

After leaving home Muktananda’s first stop was the Ashram of Siddharudha Swami, he then studied under Muppinarya Swami after Siddharudha passed. During the years Muktananda spent under these Gurus he learned many things about himself and the way of the life of a disciple(Brooks et al 27-30). One of the most important things that happened to him in these years however, was his initiation into the Sarasvati Order as he officially became a monk. It is a part of this initiation for the participant to be given a name that reflects who they are.  After his initiation his name was changed from Krsna to Muktananda, meaning “bliss of spiritual liberation” (Brooks et. al 28-29).  After his initiation, Muktananda wandered India visiting saints and pilgrimage sites. The journey was not an easy one, he put himself through many trying situations. At points he would have to face extreme circumstances such as sleeping in uncovered places and drinking filtered mud water for sustenance(Brooks et. al 31).  But regardless of his trials Muktananda was still in search of God, in fact it was the only thing he was worried about. Later, Muktananda would say that he hardly noticed his hardships and what he was experiencing, because all he could focus on was his quest for God (Brooks et. al 31). During his travels he met many great teachers, but never the Guru he sought after, the Guru who would show him God. But, finally, he met Siddha Zippruanna, who sent him to Nityananda, for Nityananda was to be the Guru that showed him God (Brooks et. al 32).

Muktananda was lead to Nityananda and studied under him in his search for self-realization. Throughout his studies, other devotees claimed that Nityananda was very hard on him, and Muktananda reported that it made him respect Nityananda even more (Brooks et. al 34). Muktananda appeared to have adored his Guru, Nityananda, as they say all disciples should. His love was so great for his Guru that Muktananda claimed he constantly appeared in his meditations. Muktananda stated that even when he did not think of his Guru, he was still constantly in his mind (Muktananda 1978: 46). This shows how committed to his Guru Muktananda was, and how strong their bond was. In 1947, Muktananda was given Shaktipat initiation under Nityananda, which is the transmission of spiritual powers from Guru to disciple (Muktananda 1978: 284).  Sometime after this occurs, Nityananda claimed that Muktananda had achieved what he said was perfect brahma (Brooks et. al 41) because he had completely given up his human body. Even after Nityananda claimed he had reached perfect brahma, Muktananda still followed Nityananda, even though it was not necessary for him to do so. This shows how dharmic Muktananda was.  Because of his good actions, devotion, and perfect brahma; Nityananda passed the power of the siddha lineage to Muktananda when he took mahasamadhi (passed away). Muktananda stated it was a life changing event for him. He claimed that, “You experience perfection when you are already perfect, and you lose yourself in that perfection. It fills you completely. You experience your all-pervasiveness, and your individuality is destroyed” (Brooks et. al 47).

Muktananda then began his own mission. He appointed his own trustees to the Shri Gurudev ashram, later known as the Siddha Peeth. He devoted this ashram to Nityananda. What made this ashram so remarkable was the fact that it was open to all people, it belonged to everyone (Brooks et al 48-51), even westerners. This ashram was one of the few that believed everyone should be able to find God, no matter who they were, and regardless of religion. Muktananda believed that his duty was, “not to teach Hinduism, but the self; not to live in a cave wearing orange robes, but to see God in oneself as one is, and to see Him where one is, as a Christian, Jew, or Moslem, as a business man, a parent of a worker” (Muktananda 1987: vii). People from all over the world came to meet with Muktananda, and all reported that they had never experienced such radiance or love (Brooks et al 54-56). During this time  Muktananda developed and named his style of yoga as Siddha yoga. This was not a yoga that could be described by a type of movement, but rather a type of spiritual yoga that is taught by an accomplished yogi, and is passed down through these yogis as a lineage (Brooks et al xxv).

Muktananda talked about what it is like to truly meditate and what it is like to gain Shakti. From Muktananda’s point of view when you meditate consistently and love to meditate, eventually Shakti will awaken inside of you with the help of your Guru (Muktananda 1991:33). Muktananda states that Shakti created the outer universe, when it awakens within you it creates an inner universe of bliss and happiness (Muktananda 1991:33). When an individual’s meditation begins to deepen, they will eventually see what Muktananda calls a blue pearl. This blue pearl is where he claims God lives, where the form of the self is within us, and it contains the entire universe (Muktananda 1991: 35). This pearl allows us to feel love for ourselves and others. Eventually our individuality is no longer there. There is no longer any difference between things, and Muktananda believes that we come to this realization once we realize the whole universe dwells inside of us (Muktananda 1991: 36).  To him this a good thing, we are on our way to realizing that we and everything we see, are in fact God (Muktananda 1991: 37).

Despite the growing popularity of Siddha yoga and of Swami Muktananda, there were still a few critics of the Guru. Muktananda disliked materialism, as we can see from his works. He emphasized being free from attachments, which are the source of misery.  Muktananda wanted people to live free of desire and attachment, which you are not born into this world with (Muktananda 1980: 21).  He emphasized this over and over again, telling his disciples to wash away jealousy which causes filth, and to eat and live moderately (Muktananda 1980:29).  Through remaining free from attachment and enjoying things in moderation, only then he claims a person can begin to find happiness and self-realization. Muktananda’s continued stress on these things may be one reason that some westerners were not very fond of his teachings. Western culture puts emphasis on things such as material items and dedication to work, so you can afford even more material items. However, Muktananda believed that God and only God is what is truly important; he believed in continuous worship to God, and that we should immerse our minds in Him [God], because without God our mind would fail to function and think. Because of this, we should make God our one true focus (Muktananda 1980:33).  Some westerners may not like the thought of having to completely commit themselves and their minds to God, especially to such extremes as Muktananda does.

In 1970, when Muktananda was 62, he made his first trip to the west due to the many invitations from his devotees there (Brooks et al 74).  Many were uncertain how this trip would go, due to the fact that he could not speak English and only knew a couple dozen people in the west (Brooks et al 74).  However, even though he could not speak English, that did not stop him from connecting with people. The people he interacted with claimed that he connected with people through the heart (Brooks et al 75). Throughout this trip people learned a lot of new things about Muktananda. For instance people saw that Muktananda did not see himself as anything but an instrument for God and his own Guru, he never asked for help, and although he adapted to new environments easily he never changed his teachings (Brooks et al 74).  The first world tour of the Swami went extremely well and he went on his second tour in 1974. At this time Siddha yoga was becoming much more popular worldwide (Brooks et al 80). Muktananda stated his purpose of this tour was to start a revolution. The revolution he referred to was a meditation revolution. He sought for people to regain their prestige which he claimed had been tainted with evil. This thought of a meditation revolution became the foundation of the Siddha Yoga expansion (Brooks et al 82).  Throughout his second world tour there were over 150 new meditation centres and three ashrams founded around the world (Brooks et al 83).  In 1978 he took his third world tour, which lasted three years and is said to be the peak of his career. Around another twenty ashrams were formed and he had eight books published. It was also on this tour that dislike and the suspicion of cults arose (Brooks et al 109).

Some people believed that Muktananda was the leader of a cult, and that cult was Siddha yoga. Muktananda apparently called for conformity within his ashram, to some people this seemed like something a cult would do (White 315). People felt strongly compelled to be with and please Swami Muktananda. Not only that but many people longed to be exactly like Muktananda (White 316-317).  Unusually, many people have had similar experiences in Siddha yoga, both emotionally and physically. These people do things such as shriek, cry, writhe, and make strange movements. Not only this but they would hardly be able to remain conscious or carry our conversation without going into a trance,  being conscious was actually considered a hindrance to gaining self-realization (White 319).  To many people who were not familiar with the practices and aim of Siddha yoga, this seemed unnatural and made them feel very uncomfortable with the above mentioned happenings.  Muktananda addressed the talk of cults on his third tour when he landed in California. Challenging the people, he encouraged the government to visit every ashram and see what they could find, and he encouraged people to test their spiritual leaders and to watch for false Gurus who were appearing claiming to be like him (Brooks et al 110).

Swami Muktananda was a widely recognized leader, not only in India but all over the world. His followers emphasized his kindness, love, and warmth. While it appears that most people he came in contact with loved him, there were those few who doubted his teachings and were quite critical of him and his followers. Muktananda took mahasamadhi in 1982 (Brooks et al 124) leaving behind his legacy with his two successors, Swami Chidvilasananda and Swami Nityananda (Brooks et al 124).



Brooks, Douglas and S.P. Durgananda, et al. (2000) Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage. India: Muktabodha Indological Research Institute,

Muktananda (1991) Meditate. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Muktananda (1978) Play of Consciousness. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.

Muktananda (1980) Reflections of the Self. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.

White, Charles (1974) “Swāmi Muktānanda and the Enlightenment Through Śakti-pāt” History of Religions (1974) Vol. 13, No. 4,  p. 306-322.


Other Related Topics For Investigation



Influential Swamis

Spread of Hinduism


Sarasvati Order


Swami Nityananda

Swami Chidvilasananda



Article written by: Sonja Simmelink ( March 7, 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant was an English woman who would come to be an advocate for the Hindu religion and women’s educational rights in India. Born in 1847, Besant grew up in a home where her father valued science over religion and her mother was a devout Anglican. Her parents’ differing views on religion would come to impact Besant’s beliefs and work as she grew up. She came to associate England and India by gendered terms. England being male and paternal in its rationality and materialism, and India as female due to its spirituality and mysticism. Besant’s father died when she was only five years old, thus, she grew up mainly influenced by her mother’s Christian beliefs. She received a good education from a wealthy woman who agreed to privately tutor her because her mother could not afford public education. Besant married a clergyman, however, her marriage quickly became tumultuous as she began to denounce her Christian faith. Besant would refuse to take communion and unsurprisingly this angered her clergyman husband. This led to a fractious marriage and an eventual separation (Anderson 2002:28).

More and more Besant began to question the Christian faith. The illness of her young daughter Mabel was one such event which drew Besant towards an atheist mindset. She eventually joined the National Secular Society which was lead by Charles Bradlaugh. Besant and Bradlaugh formed a strong friendship and he helped foster her free-thinking ideas.  Besant also became acquainted with George Bernard Shaw at this time (Oppenheim 13). With her new secularist mindset, Besant did not deny the presence of God but rather attributed consequences to human action. Before, her Christian faith had led her to believe that the universe revolved around God as the one true deity. In contrast, secularism allowed humans to be accountable for evil and for the consequences, whether it be rewards or punishment (Oppenheim 14).

In the year 1874, Annie Besant went to London and there she became known as ‘Red Annie.’ She supported such issues as women’s suffrage, use of birth control, secularism and socialism. Besant made it very clear that she was against the imperialism of England. She became a rebel figure because she went against the Victorian ideals that existed at the time in England. A series of articles written by Besant in the 1870’s demonstrated her discontent over England’s control of India. At this time, Besant identified herself as an atheist socialist but in 1889 she turned to the religion of Theosophy (Anderson 1994: 565). This particular religion was new at the time Besant converted to it and was based on discovering the hidden meanings or mysteries behind divinity. It sought to explain the relationships or bonds between the universe, humans, and the divine. Her conversion to Theosophy was met with consternation from her fellow secularists and from Indian theosophists. She had been a woman who did not believe in God and wanted the separation of religion and the state, and now she was affiliating herself with a religion where “all major creeds are paths to God” (Anderson 2002:28). Oppenheim (1989) suggests that her conversion to Theosophy was not as surprising as many thought. She had been questioning the secularist and atheist thoughts for some time, and had found that they did not allow for brotherhoods to be formed, but rather pitted different groups against each other (15). Besant remained a follower of Theosophy for the rest of her life and based much of her work on its ideologies.

1907 was an important year for Besant as she became the president of the Theosophical Society.  By this time Besant had already become quite assimilated into Indian culture. The base for the Theosophical Society was in India and Besant tried to participate in Indian life as fully as possible. She moved to India permanently and wore a white sari, as widows do, because it demonstrated mourning over the wrongdoings Britain had committed in India (Anderson 2002:29). She explained her affinity for India by claiming that she felt she had been Indian in another lifetime [Ingalls (1965) mentions how Besant discovered that many of her incarnations took place in India]. Whilst in the Theosophical Society, Besant focussed much of her work on supporting the domesticity of Indian women. Besant believed that it was important that Indian customs be upheld and this included women carrying out their traditional roles in the home. She received some criticism for this viewpoint because she had been so against the Victorian idea of a private sphere for women in her native land of England. Indeed many ambiguities arose with Besant’s ideas. One such ambiguity or criticism Besant faced was her lack of political conviction. In the year 1885 the Indian National Congress, composed of British members, was attempting to include more Indians in the governance of India. Besant had long been known to be against the Imperial supremacy of Britain yet she did not seem to have any qualms with British involvement in India’s government. She was quoted once as saying that “an Indian does not resent being governed; for he thinks the duty of a ruler is to rule, but he does resent the insolence often shown by the very juvenile civilians” that Britain was sending to India (Anderson 2002:30). Rather, Besant chose to focus mainly on the spiritual nature of India as she believed that this was the most vital part of its essence. She was concerned that western ideologies were crippling to India’s traditional Hindu beliefs and practices.

Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)
Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)

In order to preserve India’s Hindu background, Besant turned her efforts towards education. She felt that it was important to educate the young males on the religion, and history of India in order that they may be proud citizens of India in the future. In this way, Besant was trying to ensure that the western ideals of the British did not permeate into India and eradicate its important history and spirituality. Besant tried to distance herself from social reforms, wanting to focus mainly on the preservation of India’s Hindu culture. However, in the early 1900s she did become involved in advocating against child marriages and the seclusion of women. It is important to note that her support of these issues in no way negated her belief that women should still be domestic. When she began a school for young girls, the goal was that their education would help them to be better wives, not to help them achieve independence (Anderson 2002: 31). Tradition held that the men dealt in public affairs outside of the home and that women were mothers and wives who concerned themselves with domestic affairs. It is clear that Besant did not believe Indian women to be suppressed because of this (Anderson 1994: 567). To her, they seemed quite content in their societal roles and thus no change needed to be made. In the Central Hindu School (Besant’s school for boys) and her school for girls, Besant ensured that Sanskrit was taught as vigorously as the English language. Just as in the schools run by the British, her schools also taught important morals. However, Besant had more success than the British run universities in India because she tailored her curriculums to Indian culture. Figures such as St. Paul would be replaced in a lesson with Sri Rama; King Alfred was replaced by Sivaji. Besant’s devotion to Hindu tradition and custom in the education of India’s youth won her over with her pupils and their parents (Ingalls 86).

The year 1913 was significant for Besant because it was then that she turned to political pursuits. Having been distant from involving herself in issues of a political nature, Besant was thrown into the realm of politics when she was taken to court by a man whose sons were under her guardianship.  Accusations about one of her colleagues were made and this cast a shadow on the Theosophical Society. As a result, Besant felt an increasing need, in her own words: “to enter more than I have hitherto done into the social life of Madras” (Stafford 62-63).  After her negative experience in court, she formed ‘The Brothers of India.’  This was a group committed to looking out for India’s best interests with a focus on Hinduism as the mode towards their means. The men in this group were from the Theosophical Society and they had seven guidelines, which they were to follow in order to serve India’s best interests. The first six guidelines reflected many of Besant’s early beliefs. For example, these men were to only have their daughters marry when they were seventeen years of age to promote the education of the masses and to not ostracize widows for remarrying. The seventh guideline was most significant which “committed all members to a combined programme of spiritual, educational, social and political reform, and the placing of the programme under the guidance and direction of the Indian National Congress” (Stafford 64). Before, there had been reforms for each of these areas individually, but Besant wanted to unite all of these areas and to place equal importance on all reforms together. The Indian National Congress was asked to take the programme under its direction but they felt that it was not their place to interfere in these reforms because they were focussed solely on political ventures. However, Annie Besant was not deterred. She sought to bring the different groups and movements into one strong voice.

Home Rule for India was brought forth by Besant. She believed that both India and Britain would be better off if India was permitted to be self-governing. Stafford (1983) suggests that Besant’s Irish background influenced her decision to have a Home Rule for India. Besant wrote many articles which stressed how India would be a much more valuable ally as a nation free from colonialism as opposed to being a colonial state. She discussed the many grievances that India had suffered under British rule. According to Besant, Britain continuously benefitted more from India than India did from itself. Britain prevented India’s capital from remaining within the nation. As well, in terms of education, missionaries wanted Indians to convert, and the British geared education towards their own means; the cultivation of more clerks and junior officials was often the British goal (Stafford 66-67).  With the approaching war (World War I), Besant asserted that it was important for India to recognize her own nationhood. In 1916 Besant was finally successful in achieving a Home Rule for India. A meeting between the Congress and the Moslem League occurred.  As Ingalls (1965) suggests, this was very significant because an agreement called the Lucknow Agreement determined that in the event of Indian self-government, “two-thirds majority of either religious community would hold a veto power” (87).  Unfortunately, the Congress did not honor this agreement. Being the strong-willed woman that she was, Besant continued to give speeches to gain support. She was then placed under house arrest by a governor of Madras [see Anderson (2002: 39) for more information on the Governor’s actions against Besant]. Much to the dismay of the Congress, Besant had many devout followers, and her house arrest only served to make her a martyr for her cause. Gandhi was amongst her supporters, as well as other male Indian nationalists. People were dismayed to hear of the treatment of Besant. She was called Mother Besant by many and had won over the hearts of the people with her passionate belief in Indian nationalism. Significantly, Besant’s internment brought forth many Indian women activists for women’s rights. Others who normally would not have supported an English woman as a nationalist leader also protested her internment. When she was released after three months, she became the President of the Indian National Congress in December of 1917 (Ingalls 87-88).

Now as president, Besant was able to induce change for women’s rights in India. As she had done in the past, Besant did not denounce the important role in the home of the women, but rather suggested that women had an ancient importance and that their emancipation was needed so that they could fulfill their ancient position. In this way, Besant appealed to the traditionalism of Indian women and men, while still implying that some changes needed to be made. In late 1917 Besant formed and presided over the first feminist organization in India. It was called the Women’s Indian Association (Anderson 2002:47). Many women looked up to Besant as someone who had defied the odds and demonstrated that women could have a voice and the power to affect change in a male-dominated world. After 1917, her influence began to decrease. Gandhi was at the forefront of India’s nationalism and many saw him as a more appropriate leader for the Indian cause because he was a swadeshi or home made nationalist. Besant disagreed with many of Gandhi’s ideas and she lost favor with many because of this. To many, it seemed that she had become pro-government despite her original Home Rule intentions for India, however, she had simply altered her views because the political climate of India had changed. Besant had once been deemed an incarnate goddess, but at this time she was being referred to as a demoness and some called her Putana [this is a demoness from the epic Ramayana. She is known to have put poison on her breasts and suckled the child Lord Krsna, thus killing him (Anderson 2002:50)]. Interestingly, Gandhi, though he had many qualms with Besant’s views, stood up for her against the harsh words she was receiving from those who once supported her.

The last years of Besant’s career were difficult times for her. She resigned from the Home Rule League she had founded and Gandhi took her place as president. Moreover, she also resigned from the Indian National Congress. Besant was embittered by the way in which she was disregarded, but she continued to persevere. She formed a new National Home Rule League and eventually rejoined the Indian National Congress, though not in a leading position. Besant died in the year 1933 at the age of eighty-six. Towards the end of her career she was marginalized, however, many still fondly remembered her as Mother Annie Besant. She was the English woman with the Indian soul who fought for a more free India (Anderson 2002:49-51).






Anderson, Nancy Fix (2002) “Mother Besant and Indian National Politics.” The Journal of        Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 30, No. 3: p.27-54. London: Frank Cass


Anderson, Nancy Fix (1994) “Bridging Cross-cultural Feminisms: Annie Besant and women’s   rights in England and India, 1874-1933.” Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4: p.       563-580. New Orleans: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.


Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1965) “The Heritage of a Fallible Saint: Annie Besant’s Gifts to India.”         Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 109, No. 2: p. 85-88.     Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.


Mortimer, Joanne Stafford (1983) “Annie Besant and India 1913-1917.” Journal of      

            Contemporary History, Vol. 18, No. 1: p. 61-78. London: Sage Publications, Ltd.


Oppenheim, Janet (1989) “The Odyssey of Annie Besant.” History Today, Vol. 39, No. 9: p.        12-18. Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company.



Related Topics for Further Investigation


Central Hindu School

Charles Bradlaugh

Commonweal (newspaper)

Home Rule League

Indian National Congress

Madame Blavatsky


nationalist movement (India)

National Reformer (newspaper)

New India (newspaper)

‘Red Annie’


‘The Brothers of India’

Theosophical Society


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Haley Kleckner (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Krishnamacharya and the Hatha Yoga Movement

Yoga has been practiced for centuries, with alternative meanings and health benefits as it has moved into modern day. The Vedas are the primary source of ancient Indian traditions and practices of worship that allow people to live life in a dharmic manner. These texts refer to the attainment of moksha (liberation) and yoga is one of the modes to attain this goal. Traditional Vedic yoga is connected with ideas that revolve around ritual sacrifices for the purpose of connecting the material world with the spiritual world (Feuerstein 5).  The successful yoga practices create focus for a long period of time as a way of transcending the limitations of the mind in order to reach spiritual reality (Feuerstein 5). The preclassical period of yoga was approximately 2,000 years until the second century C.E when it closely followed the sacrificial culture discussed in The Brahmanas and Aranyakas, which re genres of Sanskrit texts. It is the Upanishads, which teach the unity of all things, that ultimately expanded the practice of yoga (Feuerstein 6). Post classical yoga first demonstrates the shift of focus from contemplation with the result of developing a spiritual conscious, to practices that rejuvenate the body and influence a prolonged life. (Feuerstein 6).  Hatha yoga or “yoga of force” is a practice that utilizes posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama) as a way of transforming the body’s energy to influence spiritual transformation (Starbacker 105). The physical nature of hatha yoga is what influenced its appeal in the 19th century as calisthenics became popular in India and around the world.

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is widely considered the father of modern yoga as he developed movement-orientated postural systems that have been presented internationally by his disciples (Starbacker 103). Krishnamacharya documents the purpose of yogabhyasa (the practice of yoga or abstract devotion) and why it is an important practice that influences the welling being of the mind and body in his book Yoga Makaranda, which is one of many of his publications. He explains that it is the philosophy of yoga to draw the minds focus inwards to reach deep concentration to develop a form of mental strength. The benefit of this process is comparable to how sleep rejuvenates the mind, in which sleep is of a tamasic nature. The mental strength that is developed through yogabhyasa is called yoga nidra, and it by far exceeds the amount of strength and concentration that sleep or meditation may offer (Krishnamacharya 7). The benefits of yogabhyasa are separated into eight parts: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi (Krishnamacharya 8). There are benefits at every stage of practice; it is not that there is a final stage that reveals all the benefits at the same time. Yama develops compassion towards other living beings, while niyama is a state of peace and tranquility with the environment and internally. Asana practice causes correct blood circulation and internal functions; pranayama develops strength in the bones and bone marrow, heart, brain, muscles and tendons. Pratyahara is to bring ones own indriyas (five senses) under control in order to have a focused mind. Dharana is to stop the mind and hold it in one place, while dhyana is to focus the mind in one direction and to attain whatever form is though about. Samadhi is to have stopped all external movements of the mind and have reached a state of happiness about the physical and spiritual world (Krishnamacharya 8-16).

Krishnamacharya was most influential during his residency at Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore from 1930-1950, when he developed a very physical and acrobatic system of asanas that are most similar to yoga today (Heerman 20). It remains unclear if Krishnamacharya stayed true to his teaching from his guru Rama Mohan Bramachari with the transition of his yoga teachings in India, and the conflicting western views that have greatly influenced the way yoga is received from his students (Heerman 20). Once Krishnamacharya completed his teachings, he set out to teach this spiritual system of yoga throughout India. The traditional system of yoga practices was becoming outdated and was not received well by most people. Because of his unsuccessful pursuit to make a living as a yoga teacher, Krishnamacharya traveled around India giving lectures and demonstrating siddhis (supernormal abilities of the yogic body) (Heerman 21). In order to gain attention and interest in yoga, he demonstrated suspending his pulse, lifting heavy objects with his teeth and performed difficult asanas (Heerman 21). Krishnamacharya was then recruited by the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnarajendra Wodeyar to teach at the Jaganmohan Palace for young male royals (Heerman 21). The Maharaja was very committed to promoting cultural, political and technological innovations for Mysore, as well as encouraging physical education, which was known as the “Indian physical culture movement”, that was designed to created the strength necessary to reclaim India after so many years of colonial rule (Heerman 22). Krishnamacharya’s yoga teachings were greatly influenced to be aerobic and physical due to the Maharaja and the popularity of exercise. As a result, hatha yoga gained wide popularity compared to the traditional yoga practices, which ultimately led to the vast arrangement of yoga forms that are present in India and North America today.

Hatha yoga is mainly the methods of doing asanas (yoga postures). The circulation and strength of the body is only one of eight parts that contribute to the whole of yogabhyasa, while the mindfulness and focus of yoga has not maintained its aesthetic appeal. Krishnamacharya explains his distaste for the way practitioners of yogabhyasa ignore vinyasa krama and worries that the Vedas from which yoga practice has originated will be ruined (Krishnamacharya 26). The form, metre, syllables, and verses that form the entirety of the Vedas are comparable to the way in which yoga should be practiced. The combination of the eight elements of yogabhyasa is what provides the beneficial integrity of yoga practices. From the perspective of Krishnamacharya in Yoga Makaranda, yoga has a deep spiritual meaning and benefit that has deteriorated with the Westernization of hatha yoga. To Krishnamacharya, yoga is a form of Vedic ritual that develops more than toned muscles and flexibility. Although the Yoga Makaranda provides much information on the traditional Hindu practice of yoga with regards to the Vedas, Krishnamacharya is recognized as a figure who influenced the separation of religiosity of yoga from the growth of modern yoga. Other organizations, such as Christian yoga, argue that spiritual expression can still be reached without the Hindu dimensions of yogabhyasa. The interest in yoga in North America encouraged the streamlined approach of simplifying yogic concepts in a way that was acceptable to Western and Christian spiritual views (Heerman 13).

Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting a yogic posture, utilized in ascetic practice (Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India).
Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting a yogic posture, utilized in ascetic practice (Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India).

Christian opponents of yoga hold that Hindu traditions are in conflict with Christian doctrine (Jain 4). The contemporary Western view of modern yoga is as a mode physical fitness, separated from its historical origins. Similarly, Hindu opponents of this disconnect of yoga from its historical spiritual origins, believe that yoga has been corrupted by the profit driven popularization of contemporary yogis (Jain 4). Prior to Krishnamacharya, there where other yoga masters involved with the popularization of Hatha Yoga. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is widely known to have used a combination of existing yoga with modern ideas and practices (Jain 5). As postural yoga remains without a Hindu signature in modern western society, alternative spiritual connotations have been attached to it. For example, Christian Yoga emphasizes postures and breath control as a way of focusing on Christ (Jain 6). The differing opinions and techniques associated with yoga is what allows it to be appealing to many different groups, but also contribute to the opposition that both Christians and Hindus have towards modern postural yoga.

Krishnamacharya demonstrated exceptional strength and flexibility that encourages the appeal of yoga for its physical benefits, but his teachings in Yoga Makaranda, suggest that he taught with the intention of encouraging anyone to practice yoga. He has extensive teachings on the spiritual origins and the responsibility of the guru to teach a student in such a way that all aspects that contribute to yoga are recognized in order to receive the benefits of yoga. Yet, it can also be seen that Krishnamacharya did not maintain a traditional yoga system that is true to the teachings of his own guru as his career was greatly influenced by Maharaja of Mysore and popularity of physical exercise. The tendency that Krishnamacharya had for tailoring his instructions so that each of his students could maximize the physical benefits, also demonstrates the stray away from the traditional yoga system (Heerman 30).

Besides the conflicting viewpoint of modern yoga and Hindu traditions, Krishnamacharya designed a form of exercise that is unique and modifiable to anyone who wishes to participate. Hatha yoga can build strength, and cause an overall benefit to health as well as encouraging concentration and focus that can be interpreted as spiritual, self reflective, or religious depending on how the participant want to approach a yoga practice. Krishnamacharya may have influenced the separation of Hindu tradition from modern forms of yoga but made yoga accessible to everyone who wishes to participate.


Burley, Mikel (2014) ‘A Purification of Ones Own Humanity’ Nonattachment and Ethics in Yoga Traditions. The Journal of Religion. Vol. 94, No. 2, P. 204-228. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Feuerstein, Georg (2006) “A Short History of Yoga”. The Yoga Tradition. P. 1-10. Hohm Press.

Heerman, Grace (2014) “Yoga in the Modern World: The Search for the ‘Authentic’ Practice.” Sociology and Anthropology Theses. Paper 5, P. 1-45, Tacoma Washington: University of Puget Sound.

Jain, Antrea R. (2012) “The Malleability of Yoga: A Response to Christian and Hindu Opponents of the Popularization of Yoga”. Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies: Vol. 25, Article 4. P. 1-8, Indianapolis, Indiana: Butler University.

Krishnamacharya, Sir T. (1934) Yoga Makaranda: The Essence of Yoga (Part One). Kannada Edition, Madurai C.M.V. Press. P. 1-159.

Starbacker, Stuart R. (2014) “Reclaiming the Spirit through the Body: The Nascent Spirituality of Modern Postural Yoga”. Entangled Religions; Oregon: Oregon State University, Article 3, P. 95-114.

Singleton, Mark (2007) “Yoga, Eugenics, and Spiritual Darwinism in the Early Twentieth Century”. International Journal of Hindu Studies; Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 125-146. Springer.








Sattva guna











Swami Vivekananda

Vinyasa krama

Krishnarajendra Wodeyar






Article written by: Monica Johnson (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.


Brahmagupta was a significant Indian mathematician and astronomer who lived during the medieval era and made several indispensable contributions to various fields of mathematics and astronomy throughout his lifetime. Although many of the specific details of Brahmagupta’s birthplace are unknown, most scholars agree that he was born in 598 CE somewhere in northern India (Joseph 41-42; Waghmare et al. 1). One hypothesis is that he was born in Bhinmal (a city in the Rajasthan Sate of Northern India which was quite powerful during that time period) but no one knows for sure. One thing is certain however; the time Brahmagupta was born would play a larger role in defining his later works than the place he was born. [The 6th century BCE was characterised by a rise in philosophical movements that challenged Hindu Orthodoxy. These groups, which were labeled heterodox by orthodox Hindus, generally challenged the Vedas and the Varna (class) system. As time progressed the number of heterodox philosophies increased and by the 6th century CE they had 1200 years to spread and flourish throughout India. ] As an orthodox Hindu, Brahmagupta was influenced heavily by his religious beliefs and was opposed to those held by the various heterodox darsanas (viewpoints). In particular, he was intrigued by the Hindus’ Yuga system (which measures the ages of humanity) and opposed to the Jains’ cosmological views, allowing the former to greatly influence his own ideas and harshly condemning the latter (Waghmare et al. 1). The influence of orthodox Hinduism on his work did not end here.

Brahmagupta went even further in his critique of heterodox ideas when he attacked Aryabhata. Brahmagupta refuted Aryabhata’s heterodox idea that the earth is a spinning sphere (Waghmare et al. 1). The influence of religion on Brahmagupta and his works went even farther than this however. Brahmagupta’s main work Brahmasphutasiddhanta (The Correctly Established Doctrine of Brahma) which is a mathematical treatise of invaluable quality is a paradigmatic example of the extent of which religious views influenced Brahmagupta [This demonstrates Brahmagupta’s religious affiliations with Hindu orthodoxy because Brahma is believed to be the creator deity in the Hindu tradition] (Waghmare et al. 1-2). Although religious beliefs played a profound role in influencing Brahmagupta, they were by no means the only stimulus instigating his mathematical and astronomical works. As a young man, Brahmagupta was a disciple of Varahmihir, a great astronomer of the time, who had written extensively. It is said that Brahmagupta read all Varahmihir’s works, made commentaries on them, and later proved many unproved results (Waghmare et al. 1). This launched Brahmagupta’s career in mathematics and astronomy.

As mentioned earlier, Brahmagupta’s main work Brahmasphutasiddhanta was a very influential mathematical treatise influenced by orthodox Hinduism. Interestingly, this biased approach did not compromise the quality of the work entirely. In fact, R.V. Waghmare et al. describes his work as possessing mathematical ideas of “exceptional quality” and claims that it should be considered one of the greatest works of the early period “not only of India, but also of the World” (Waghmare et al. 2). The text’s incredible breadth and depth has made invaluable contributions to geometry, arithmetic, algebra, number theory, as well as astronomy. Since the text was later translated into Arabic around 771 CE it also played a profound role in the scientific awaking of the Arab Empire and had a considerable influence on Islamic mathematics and astronomy (Waghmare et al. 2). This work also had a profound impact within India. In chapters twelve and eighteen, Brahmagupta established two major fields of Indian mathematics: “mathematics of procedures” (algorithms) and “mathematics of seeds” (equations/algebra), which are still studied to this day (Waghmare et al. 2-3).

Interestingly, this is not the only text that Brahmagupta wrote. In fact, the Brahmasphutasiddhanta published in 628 CE was his second, albeit most important, work. His first work Cademekela was written in 624 CE. His third and fourth books Khandakhadyaka and Durkeamynarda were published in 665 CE and 672 CE respectively. Collectively, these texts are all extremely influential in many fields of mathematics. For instance, Brahmagupta’s work on arithmetic revolutionized the field. In fact, Brahmagupta is described as having a better understanding of number systems and place value than any of his contemporaries. In particular, Brahmagupta had a profound understanding of the number zero. While the number had been used to distinguish between numbers since ancient times (i.e. people used it to distinguish between numbers like 1, 10, and 100) it had never been considered an arithmetic entity in its own right. In other words, no one ever tried to do addition, multiplication, subtraction, or division with zero prior to Brahmagupta (Waghmare et al. 3-4). For this reason, Brahmagupta is credited with the discovery of the number zero (see Boyer 241-245). He did not stop here however. In fact, he went even further and extended arithmetic to the negative numbers and ended up formulating many of the rules that mathematicians still hold to be true today, with the exception that he allowed division by zero. Although phrased quite differently, Brahmagupta established these familiar rules of arithmetic: the product/quotient of similar signs is positive while the product/quotient of different signs is negative. He said that zero times anything is zero and that a number divided by zero is that number over zero, with the exception that zero divided by zero is zero (Waghmare et al. 3).

Next, the Brahmasphutasiddhanta moved onto algebra. Many algebraists believe that Brahmagupta’s most important contribution to the fields of algebra and number theory is his work done on Pell’s Equation (Waghmare et al. 6). Pell’s equation is the relation Nx2 – 1 = y2 where N is a constant and solutions take the form (x, y). Using what is today referred to as the Euclidean algorithm but known to contemporaries as the “pulveriser,” Brahmagupta broke Pell’s equation into several smaller equations (Waghmare et al. 6). His solution of the equation hinged on a generalization of the work of Diophantus, which is a long and complicated formula that is very important in the study number theory [Diophantine equations is a branch of number theory that concerns equations that only accept integer solutions] (Waghmare et al. 6-7). Unfortunately, this was not sufficient. With all the effort Brahmagupta put into studying Pell’s equation he could not generalize his results to an arbitrary constant N. Rather, he only proved a few specific cases and the general solution would not come until much later when Bhaskarall would prove it in 1150 CE. (Waghmare et al. 6-8).

In addition to these contributions, Brahmagupta also made contributions to the study of linear and quadratic equations. Giving an algorithm for what is equivalent to the quadratic formula which is used to solve equations of the form ax2 + bx + c = 0 and it is believed that Brahmagupta may have been the first to realize the quadratic has two solutions. However, he went much farther than this. He also gave solutions to multiple variable quadratics of the form ax2 + c = y2 (Waghmare et al. 7). Another interesting result is known as the Brahmagupta-Fibonacci Identity. This identity basically asserts that sum of two squares is closed under multiplication, that is when you multiply a sum of two squares with another sum of two squares you will always get a sum of two squares. This is an incredibly powerful result that has had a profound impact on number theory especially when coupled with other results (Boyer 241-243; Waghmare et al. 9).

Despite all Brahmagupta’s magnificent achievements in these areas of mathematics, they seem almost insignificant when compared to his work in geometry. Unfortunately, many of his achievements in this field are ignored as credit was often given to Europeans due to the dominant Eurocentric attitude of the time (Waghmare et al. 8-9). One example of this is what is widely known as Ptolemy’s Theorem. This theorem can be used to find the diagonals of cyclic quadrilaterals (four sided figures whose vertices lie on a circle). Interestingly, Brahmagupta discovered and proved this theorem independently unaware of Ptolemy’s work (Waghmare et al. 8). Another example is Brahmagupta’s work on right angle triangles. Many of the results he proved were later credited to the European mathematicians Fibonacci in the 13th century BC and Vieta in the 16th century BC (Waghmare et al. 8-9). This does not mean that he is completely unrecognized though. In fact, “Brahmagupta’s Formula” is the name given to the formula used in Euclidean geometry to find the area of any quadrilateral when the side lengths are given and some of the interior angles. There is also a major theorem which bears Brahmagupta’s name. Brahmagupta’s Theorem states that if a cyclic quadrilateral is also orthodiagonal (has perpendicular diagonals) then if a line is drawn perpendicular to point of intersection of the diagonals it will bisect the opposite side (Waghmare et al. 9-10). Finally, Brahmagupta’s contributions in geometry include a study of triangles. His work dealt primarily with the relationships between the base of a triangle, the triangle’s altitude, and the side lengths of the triangle. In this study he also estimated the value of pi to be approximately three. Even though his estimation was incorrect he was close (Waghmare et al. 9-10). His final work with triangles concerned Pythagorean triples. These are sets of three numbers that satisfy the Pythagorean Theorem.

While Brahmagupta is also known for being an astronomer, he did not write as extensively on astronomy as he did on mathematics. Whatever he discovered in astronomy was often a consequence of his mathematics (Boyer 243-245; Waghmare et al. 11-12). In other words, he used logical mathematical reasoning to prove astronomical ideas. For instance, Brahmagupta reasoned that the sun was farther away from earth than the moon. Scriptural teachings supported the idea that the sun was closer to the earth than the moon was so this was revolutionary. He reasoned, however, that the moon is closer because of the way the sun illuminates it in cycles of waning and waxing (Boyer 221-223; Joseph 24-27). Although it may seem minor, Brahmagupta’s work in astronomy played a major role in the scientific awakening of Baghdad and the Arabic empire. When Brahmagupta’s Brahmasphutasiddhanta was translated into Arabic it forever changed the empire and gifted them with wonderful new mathematical and astronomical ideas that led to a full scale scientific revolution (see Joseph 22-27; Boyer 221-223, 241-245).


 Reference and Further Recommended Reading

Boyer, Carl B (1968) A History of Mathematics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Joseph, George Gheverghese (2009) A Passage to Infinity: Medieval Indian Mathematics from Kerala and its Impact. New Delhi, India: SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd.

Waghmare, R.V., Avhale P.S., and Kolhe S.B. (2012) “The Great Mathematician Brahmagupta” Golden Research Thoughts. Volume 2, Issue 1. (July 2012)


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni
Bakhshali manuscript
History of Indian and Islamic Mathematics
Orthodox Hinduism
Paitamaha Siddhanta
Paulisa Siddhanta
Romaka Siddhanta
Scientific Awakening in Arab Empire
Siddhanta Shiromani
Sulba Sutras
Surya Siddhanta
Vasishtha Siddhanta
Yuga System


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Article written by Dakota Duffy (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content

Shirdi Sai Baba

Shirdi Sai Baba

Sri Sai baba, popularly known as Sri Shirdi Sai baba, was born on the 27th September 1838 in the forest near Patri village in Aurangabad District of the Maharastra state of India (Ruhela 1). It was claimed that Shirdi Sai Baba was a saint that was worshiped by both Hindus and Muslims. The first person that was in contact with baba addressed him impulsively as Sai. Sai is a term of Persia origin, usually attributed to Muslim ascetics, meaning “holy one” or “saint.” (Rigopoulos 3). Baba, on the other hand, is a Hindi term attributed to respected seniors and holy men, and literally means, “father” (Rigopoulos 3).

It was stated that Baba was born into to a high caste Brahmin family. His father’s name was Ganga Bhavadia and his mother was Devagiriamma (Ruhela 1). They had taken renunciation and detachment and therefore had left Baba under a banyan tree in the forest. Baba claimed not to remember his parents or where he came from (White 868). In the same village Baba was left in, there lived a man named Roshan Shah Miya, who was a Fakir (which is a Muslim or a Hindu mendicant that travels between village reciting scripture and performing various physical feats). Roshan Shah Miya had no children and one day when he saw Baba left under a tree, he adopted him and took him home. Roshan died when Baba was the age of four.  At the age of five, he was known to have a hindu guru named Venukusa who lived a few doors down from where baba used to live (White 868).  Venukusu looked after children who were orphans, poor boys, or children that have been abandoned. He took care of Baba for twelve years until it was time for him to take samadhi (Which is the highest state of concentration attained from meditation). It was claimed that Baba stayed in Shirdi for three years and then had disappeared for a year and came back permanently.

There were special features that differentiated Baba from others. First of all Baba was 5”8 (Satpathy, 21). He wore a Kafni, which is a robe, and tied a cloth around his head, which he twisted into a ponytail behind his ear (Satpathy, 21). Baba was a very thin and flexible man who was so energetic that he could walk non-stop (Satpathy, 21).  An additional characteristic of Sai Baba’s personality was the love he had for dance and music (Satpathy, 21). Many of baba’s devotees believed he was an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya, which is the three-headed deity known as Brahma, Visnu, and Mahesh.

He was living as a humble villager in the place called Shirdi for the last sixty years of his life and he dressed as a Muslim Fakir (Satpathy, 2001). He lived in a Mosque, which was called the Dwarka Mai Masjid. There he performed a kind of Hindu ritual with lights and incense (White 869). Baba kept a fire burning perpetually in a Dhuni (and his followers to this day keep it burning) in the manner of a Nathpanthi pir (White 869). It was claimed that Baba’s ritual practices included both Hindu and Muslim prayers and offerings.

Sai Baba lived on alms that were collected from five specific families (Rahel 25). He was to always share his food generously with followers as well as mammals such as birds, cats, dogs, etc. He fed the thousands who were hungry. He would also collect daksinas (which were cash gifts and he would allocate it amongst the poor’s and the devotees). After Sai Baba’s death, his body was cremated in a temple.

It was claimed that Sai Baba was against any affiliation that was dedicated to religion or the caste. Even though baba himself lived his life as a Spartan, he would instruct his followers to live a normal ordinary family life. It was stated that Sai Baba inspired his followers to pray, recite god’s name and read the holy books. Baba advised the Muslims to recite the Qur’an and the Hindus to recite the Bhagavad Gita or Ramayana. It was claimed that Baba adapted both Islamic and Hindu religious texts. Baba’s ways of teaching were not confined to words or verbal sermons. He could act, represent, teach and impart lessons to his devotees through entire living and non-living beings or matters (Rahel 129).  During his teaching he merged the two cultures (Hinduism and Islam) together to attain harmony between the two cultures. He talked about the three different spiritual paths in Hinduism, which are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga.

According to his legendary accounts Baba went on a 72 hours samadhi to get rid of his asthma attack 1886. One day when sitting along with his devotee Mahlsapathy in the Dwaraka Mai, Baba said that he was going to Allah and that consequently for three days his body was to be looked after because he might return to his body. Sai also said that if in case he did not return back to his body, it should be interred near the mosque, presently Baba’s body became a corpse (Rahel 77). As baba went into deep Samadhi he stopped breathing and his pulse rate stopped beating. All the villagers believed that Sai baba had left his prana (which means the vital life leaves the body). The villagers were prepared to bury his body, but as Bhagat had promised, he kept taking care of his body and stopped them. He had Sai Baba’s body on his lap and guarded it for three days. Sai baba came to life at three in the morning as they saw him breathing again, his body started to move and he opened his eyes and became conscious. After the villagers saw baba at the time of his Samadhi, they had started to support him from then on. (Rahel 77).

The Shirdi Sai Baba Temple is located in Shirdi, Maharashtra, India. This place attracts thousands of devotees of different religions, creeds and castes.  The Temple is an attractive memorial that was constructed in remembrance of Shri Sai Baba. Another memorable part of this town includes Gurustha, Dwarkamai (mosque), Chanvadi, Lendi, Chawadi, Vaug, Maruti Mandir, and Samadhi of Abdulbaba. These places have a high significance on the pilgrims and are also highly honored. There are temples in his honor that has been distributed far from the center of his cult. For example there are temples in (Bhopal, Jharkhand, Pondicherry, Madhya Pardes, Etc ) The History of Shirdi is intently connected to the life of Sai Baba who was a saint that died in 1918.

Sai Baba established himself as a saint through the performance of miracles; and it is chiefly because of his renowned Siddhis, preternatural powers, that his reputation has continued to grow long after his death (White, 868).  There are many volumes that people could read that provides information on the experiences of his followers who have believed that it was the direct intervention of Sai Baba contributing medicines, wealth or health in some pressing life state. It has stated that he used the ash from the Dhuni (purifying fire that symbolizes divine light) as a sacramental substance for the working of his miracles (White 869). This ash is called the Vibhuti and it can be rubbed into the forehead or throat, swallowed, cast into a wound, or used in various ways to effect changes. (White 869)

It is claimed that Satya Sai Baba is a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. Satya Sai Baba was born on November 23, 1926. Satya was born in the state of Andhra Pradesh in the village of Puttaparthi in 1926 (Babb 116). He was born into the Raju caste, his birth name Satyanarayana Raju (Bassuk 87). It was said that Satya Sai Baba was different from all the other children around him, and his behavior and actions were really strange. He was a vegetarian, unlike the rest of his family. He lived a completely different life compared to his parents in a way that was nothing close to the way his parents were living. In 1940, Sai Baba had an epileptic seizure and began acting in a bizarre manner (Urban 79). Exorcists were brought in to try to cure the boy, but failed (Urban 79). The community thought an evil spirit had possessed him. After this incident happened he told his family that he was an incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba.  It was claimed that Sathya Sai Baba’s name was recognized when the stories of his miracles were spread out. Some of the miracles that have been attributed to Sai Baba include the curing of illnesses, being able to leave his body and be in more than one place at once, raising the dead, knowing intimate details of those he helps without being told, being able to fly, and multiplication of loaves of bread and fish (Spurr 119 and Babb 174). There are many people that are influenced by Sathya Sai baba. He has thousands of supporters that have resided by his teachings and words of Sathya.  His Devotees believed that Sathya Sai Baba has been living his life to the fullest and it is revealed within his teachings and words. Considering the fact that Sathya Sai Baba has many followers, it is recognized that his emotions and thoughts have manipulated millions of people throughout the world.

Throughout the life of Shirdi Sai baba, it has stated that he has done many good deeds, which makes him a saint to remember.  Baba lived his spiritual mission due to his pure self in a human incarnation. His flawless purity, non-attachment, benevolence, and compassion evoked a higher level of respect in the villagers around him.  Baba would advise against and protest the people who primarily worshipped him.


Babb, Lawrence A. (1986) Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Religion.

Bassuk, Daniel E. (1987), “Six Modern Indian Avatars and the Ways they Understand Their Divinity” Dialogue & Alliance.

Ganguly, H.S. (2002) Saibaba of Shirdi: New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books

Rahel, Satya Pal (2000) Sri Shirdi Sai Baba:The Unique Prophet Of Integration. New Delhi:Diamond Pocket Books.

Satpathy,Chandra Bhanu (2001) Shirdi Sai Baba and other perfect masters: New Delhi: Sterling publishers.

Chaturvedi, B.K. (2006) Sai baba of Shirdi: New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books

Rigopoulos, Antonio (1993) The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi. Albany : State of New York Press.

Ruhela, S.P. (1994) What Researchers Say on Sri Shirdi Sai Baba: New Delhi: M D  Publication.

Spurr, Michael J. (2003)“Visiting-card revisited: an account of some recent first-hand observations of the “miracles” of Sathya Sai Baba, and an investigation into the role of the miraculous in his theology”. Journal of Religion and Psychical Research

Urban, Hugh B. (2003) “Avatar for Our Age: Sathya Sai Baba and the Cultural Contradictions of Late Capitalism”. Religion

White, Charles S.J. (1972) The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of India Saints.  The Journal of Asian Studies

Related Topics


Satya Sai Baba












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Article written by Krupa Parekh (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada

Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada (Founder of the Hare Krsnas)

Srila Prabhupada was born Abhay Charan De to parents Gour Mohan De, a cloth merchant, and mother Rajani on September 1st, 1896 (Gowami 1983: 5-6) His childhood home was located at 115 Harrison Road, situated in the northern Indian section of Calcutta, India. His father belonged to the aristocratic suvarna-vanik merchant caste, was pure Vaisnava, and raised his son to be just as Krsna conscious as he was. Young Abhay accompanied his father, mother or servant daily to the temple near their home to worship, showed his strong faith which was evident even in his childhood. This devotion was helped of course by Gour Mohan’s wishes for his son to achieve Vaisnava goals and become a  servant to Radha and Krsna. Employing a professional mrdana (a kind of drum) player to teach Abhay the rhythms for accompanying kirtana (a form of musical worship), Gour Mohan was determined to give his son all the teachings to enable him to reach the prescribed Vaisnava goals, even if this went against his wife’s wishes. Rajani was skeptical about the importance of her son learning to play the mrdana, and while she too was a devote follower of Krshna consciousness, she wanted Abhay to grow up and become a British lawyer. This however did not stop her from modeling her perfection of Vedic housewife duties, showcased through her attempts to keep her pet child, Abhay, safe from danger, disease and death. At age six it became clear which path Abhay favored, as he asked his father to bring home deities of his own to worship. Bringing home Radha-Krsna deities, Gour Mohan and Rajani watched their son from this day forward offering food first to these effigies, and putting them to rest at night in perfect imitation of his fathers own puja (Goswami 1983: 9-13).

While Abhay Charan De’s  religious beliefs and talents continued to grow, so did his intellect in school. However, even Abhay was subject to the tradition of arranged marriage and was wed to Radharani Datta. Living apart, Srila Prabhupada was to finish his college degree before taking on full responsibility of supporting his family. But, in his fourth year of college, Abhay began to feel reluctant about finishing his degree. This was due to the influences of Subhas Chandra Bose, who was a spirited nationalist and eventual leader of the Indian National Army. Bose charged the student population to align with the Indian independence movement and forsake their studies. This proclamation was also echoed by another notable figure, Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi, who was a spiritual entity instead of a just a political one like Bose, had a profound impact on Abhay, who began listening to Gandhi and abiding to  his messages. When Gandhi said that the foreign run schools, like the one Abhay attended, did nothing more than instill a slave mentality, Abhay was left with a decision to make. Even though he finished his studies in 1920, after his fourth year, Abhay refused his diploma thus showing his devotion to Gandhi’s call to boycott the British rule of India (Goswami 1983: 14-15).

Inspired by Ghandi, Abhay continued to follow his lead and strengthen his own spirituality while working as a department manager at Bose Laboratory in his hometown of Calcutta, India. It was his religious quest however that led him to meet his spiritual master in 1922, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (Rochford 10). Initially unimpressed by the work of Thakura, it was only through a friend’s encouragement that he visited him. Upon their first meeting, it was Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura who asked why, as an educated young man, Abhay did not travel the world spreading the message of Lord Caitanya. From this bold question Abhay went on to make many more insightful inquiries which left him so impressed at the end of their first meeting that he accepted Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura as his spiritual master in his heart. Until Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s death in December 1936, Abhay was a devote follower and friend, visiting him whenever time would allow as his family had moved to Allahabad in 1932 for business purposes. Abhay truly embraced Thakura’s ideal of spreading Krsna consciousness around the world and began to preach from his home. He wrote an essay and poem which were published in The Harmonist, gaining him the title of kavi, “learned poet” (Goswami 1983: 18). However, being a humble man, his most glorious moment was when this poem reached his master and gave him joy. The last conversation between himself and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was one that had the most profound impact on his life and how he chose to get his message out.  Thakura told him, “If you ever get money, print books” (Goswami 1983: 91) which is just what Abhay did (Goswami 1983: 15-20).

While still in India Abhay had to suffer through WWII. He not only had to attempt to get enough food to ensure his families survival, but also had to fight with the government for paper on which to print his journal, Back to Godhead. While his determination to spread the only real scarcity of Krsna consciousness intensified, his business and family affairs began to abate as his major focus shifted to preaching. A major breakthrough at this time in his life was being invited to lecture at the Gita Mandir, an invitation that he gladly accepted. It was in this place, of Jhansi, that Abhay formed his first center. Leaving behind his business affairs in Allahabad to his son, Abhay was now focused on creating a spiritual movement in Jhansi. He was 56 years old (Gotswami 1983: 20-24).

It was after this age that Abhay truly hit a turning point. Getting a note in Jhansi that his home had been burglarized, he returned to Calcutta as familial responsibilities outweighed his preaching desires. With bills to pay and unmarried children to look after, Abhay came back to his family but continued to talk of God and preach just as he had done before. This angered his family who could not understand his devotion. It was this misunderstanding that eventually led Abhay to break from his family and business all together, when he returned home one night and found that his wife has sold his copy of Srimad-Bhagavatam for money to buy tea biscuits. Angered and upset, this final straw led Abhay to finally leave and pursue his goal of preaching Krshna consciousness and printing books (Gotswami 1983: 24-25).

The 1950s saw Abhay facing hard time. Scraping together enough money to print Back to Godhead, he went without proper clothing for the winter to fulfill his mission. From showing such devotion, Abhay was pushed past his tipping point after he had a dream in which Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura appeared and urged him to become a sannyasa (Goswami 1983: 34). After careful deliberation, Abhay knew what he must do and became Abhay Caranaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami after his formal sannyasa ceremony. After this ceremony, his desire to spread Krsna consciousness intensified, leading Abhay to finally begin printing books. Struggling once more to raise funds and sell his volumes, Abhay was forced to become resourceful, sending copies of his works to noted officials and utilizing their positive reviews to advertise. Transforming himself from humble beginnings to notoriety, Abhay was gaining fame in India, but desired to spread his message West. With this desire in his heart, it was on August 13th, 1965 at the age of 69 that Abhay boarded the cargo ship Jaladuta to begin his journey to America (Goswami 1983: 25-38).

Reaching New York City on September 19th, 1965 he walked with little more than the clothing on his back to the bus terminal to find transit to Butler to stay with friends, the Agarwal’s. Taking up residence in the YMCA, Abhay began writing to people of religious interest in New York City to grow his network (Goswami 1983: 42). It was through such letter writing that Abhay was able to become financed by Dr. Mishra, whose yoga studios became the first site of meetings for followers of Abhay’s message (Goswami 1991: 1-14).

Abhay’s next move was out of the yoga studio and downstairs into his own place. However, far from being a temple, this move was rife with poverty. With his name on the door, anyone could find him, and despite his meager surroundings in Room 307, the meetings were becoming a new source of life for Abhay and for his followers. However, this move too proved temporary. Abhay was subject to a great number of moves following this until he finally came to find a suitable apartment to call his own. This place would allow him to grab his footing for the International Society for Krsna Consciousness (Knott 29-30)

From this point forward, Bhaktivedanta Swami spread his message. Getting a feature in the local New York press, The Village Voice was of particular importance, as it allowed Abhay to grow the number of members in his lecture groups (Knott 32). From this growing population of followers, Abhay drafted the Seven Purposes of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, and the ISKCON really gained a hold. Circulating leaflets and invitations, the chanting of the Hare Krshna was touted as the drug of choice as it allowed one to stay high forever, because of their expanded consciousness. Thus the popular name for the ISKCON was born, and the Hare Krsna continued to thrive (Goswami 1983: 28-75).

On January 16th, 1967 Abhay left behind his devoted followers in New York and flew to spread his message in San Francisco. Awaiting his arrival this day was a group of about fifty flower bearing chanters, most of which knew the Swami only by reputation. Settling into an apartment at 518 Fredrick Street, this dwelling was now known as the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple, attracting numerous followers from the first days of Abhays arrival. From this place, Abhay preached and held lectures for his many followers. He wrote in his office, getting his messages out and attending to the needs and problems of his devotees (Goswami 1983: 75-130).

However, Abhay longed to return to India and he fulfilled this desire in the summer of 1967. He stayed until the winter months, when he once again returned to the United States and travelled around, spreading his messages and publications across the globe, even coming into contact with John Lennon and Yoko Ono when the Hare Krshna recorded chantings for their record (Knott 34-37). From such public relations, Prabhupada’s message was widely received and the ISKCON grew, setting up head quarters all over the world. This was up until Abhay’s death on November 14th, 1977 at 81 years old (Rochford 10-11).


Goswami, Satsvarupa Dasa (1983) Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Goswami, Satsvarupa Dasa (1983) Prabhupada: He Built a House in Which the Whole World Can Live.  Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Goswami, Tamal Krishna (1999) Servant of the Servant: A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada,  Founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Dialogue & Alliance, 13(1), 5-17.

Knott, Kim (1986) My Sweet Lord: The Hare Krishna Movement. San Bernando: Borgo Press.

Rochford, E. Burke (1985) Hare Krishna in America. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

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Article written by Jaycene Mock (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.


Abhinavagupta was said to be one of the greatest philosopher of his kind in his life time (Dupuche 3). Abhinavagupta was born into a Brahmin family in Srinagar, in the Indian state of Kashmir. His family was renowned for their profound dedication towards God, religion and for their partiality to intellectual pursuits. In other words they were, as a family, devoted to learning and gaining knowledge.  He lived from about 950 AD to 1020 AD and accomplished a great deal in his fields of study over those 70 years (Muller-Ortega 45).

Abhinavagupta believed his parents, Narasimhagupta his father and Vimala his mother, when they claimed that we was conceived through their union as Siva and Sakiti, which in turn produced a yogini-child meaning the “depository of knowledge” in whom this yogini-child had the form of Siva (Dupuche 4).

Abhinavagupta’s name is quite interesting when explained by its Hindu meaning and it is thought that Abhinavagupta was given his name by one of his masters. His name can be summarised as:

“That person is ‘Abhinavagupta’ who remains vigilant in the course of everyday activities; who is present everywhere (abhi), in the objective domain as much as in the subjective domain, and dwells there without limitation. He sings the praise (nu) without ceasing to concentrate on the energies of knowledge and activity. He is protected (gupta) by this praise even though he lives under the presser of temporal affairs.” (Dupuche 4)

In other words, Abhinavagupta was born with knowledge and had the means to share it as a philosopher, teacher, poet, musician, exegete, logician, dramatist and a theologian [to learn more about Abhinavagupta’s name, see Dupuche (2003)]. He also believed strongly in the power of language and speech, as a great asset, to spread his immense knowledge (Isayeva 164-165).

When looking into Abhinavagupta’s ancestry an important fact comes to light. An ancestor of his named Atrigupta, who was born in Madhyadesa (now most likely Kannauj) India, traveled to Kashmir on the request of a great king named Lalitaditya around the year 740 AD. The importance of this is that Atrigupya’s move from Madhyadesa to Kashmir brought Abhinavagupta’s family blood line to Kashmir (Dupuche 4).

As a young child Abhinavagupta was pained greatly by the death of his mother, and her death had a great effect on the rest of his life. His first teacher was his father Narasimhagupta. His father began by teaching him Sanskrit grammar so that he could then go on to read, write and teach himself.  Abhinavagupta would often travel through Kashmir to visit teachers. Not only did he study under Hindu teachers but also with Buddhist and Jain teachers (Muller-Ortega 45).  His love for learning brought him to study any and everything that he could learn under his different teachers, this included: literature, drama and aesthetic theory, traditional texts of dualistic and monistic Saivism, darsana, Krama, Trika, and the doctrines and practices of Kaula (Muller-Ortega 45).

Abhinavagupta himself was a great teacher and his students held him on high regards. They saw him as an incarnation of Siva. They would describe him in ways that made him seem more God like than human (Muller-Ortega 45).  He also took great joy in discussing philosophical arguments with his fellow knowledge seekers (Gerow 188).

Eventually, his studies took him out of Kashmir to Jalandhara where he found Sambhunatha who was a tantric master in the Kaula traditions (Muller-Ortega 45). The Kuala tradition is a reformed version of Kula which refers to families or groupings of the yoginis and of the mothers; however the mothers are also considered a group of goddesses.  Holistically, Kuala refers to the corporeal body, body of power, the cosmic body and the totality of things. The Kuala tradition incorporates the idea of overcoming dualism of impure and pure/divine and human or good/evil and the understanding that ordinary life is the expression of Siva in union with his Sakti (Dupuche 16).  Abhinavagupta’s knowledge and texts contributed greatly to the traditions of this practice (Muller-Ortega 48).

There are many books with writings by Abhinavagupta that have been translated to English but there are still many of his works that are very complicated and make it difficult to translate; in order to properly translate the rest of his works it would take persons with knowledge in not only all of the six systems of Indian philosophy but also knowledge in Buddhism, Tantra and more (Marjanovic 13).

Abhinavaguta wrought two important texts on the topic of aesthetics, these being the Dhvanyaloka-locana and the Abhinava-bharati ((Muller-Ortega 47).

Among the most popular of Abhinavagupta’s works is the Gitarthasamgraha; this additionally goes by the name Bhagavadagitartha-samgraha. The English translation of this Gita text outlines the non-dualistic philosophy of Kashmir Saivism as described by Abhinavagupta; it also explains the nature of the highest reality in Kashmir Saivism.

It details the process of creation, and explains the theory of causation (karyakaranabhava), insights into Jnana-karma-sammuccayavada and descriptions on what is occurring in the last moments as a soul is leaving the body and in addition it has some descriptions of the practice of yoga (Marjanovic 14-22).

Abhinavagupta wrote Tantraloka (Light on the Tantras) which falls in with tradition of tantric Saivism.  It differs from the orthodox Vedic tradition which Abhinavagupta demotes to the lowest position in Siva’s hierarchy of revelations to mankind.  He suggests that Vaisnavas do not come to know the supreme category due to pollution of impure knowledge (Dupuche ii). The Tantraloka is the most voluminous of all the literature written by Abhinavagupta; it comprises of twelve volumes, and includes a commentary by Jayaratha called Viveka (Muller-Ortega 47).

Abhinavagupta lived about 70 years and in his lifetime he never married.  This is said to be due to his great dedication to his religious practices (Muller-Ortega 45). In order to posses the findings and knowledge of Saivism, Abhinavagupta had to reach the highest state of consciousness. This is characterized by jnanasakti (power of knowledge). Once this is reached the knowledge will flow through the individual so they can then share it, teach it, write it etc. (Singh 14). This dedication to finding the knowledge within would have taken an extensive amount of time. Over his life Abhinavagupta wrote many works, thus far twenty-one are available for reading but there are as many as twenty-three other writings that have been lost. His major period of writing occurred mainly between 990 AD and 1014 AD. It seems that he split his works into separate time periods based on the three topics of texts. The first was the Alankarika period, with all of the texts dealing with aesthetics. The second was the Tantrika period with all of the texts on Tantra, and lastly, was the Philosophical period with all of the texts dealing with philosophy. With this being said it has still been very difficult to date most of his writings, due to them not containing historical information that can be used to date the piece (Muller-Ortega 45). Abhinavagupta was a highly influential thinker in his time and his literature is still significant to this day.


Dupuche, John R. (2003) Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Gerow, Edwin (1994) Abhinavagupta’s Aesthetics as a Speculative Paradigm: Journal of the American Oriental Society, 114: 186 – 208

Isayeva, Natalia (1995) From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Marjanovic, Boris (2003) Gitartha-samgraha: Abhinavagupta’s  Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Varanasi: Indica Books

Muller-Ortega, Paul E (1989) The Triadic Heart of Siva. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications

Singh, Jaideva (1988) Abhinavagupta: A Tradition of Wisdom. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Singh, Jaideva (1988) Abhinavagupta: Para-trisika-Vivarana The Secret of Tantric Mysticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The eBook An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Related Topics for Further Investigation









Kashmir Shaivism



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Article written by: Sarah Nielsen (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati



A doctor, a pharmacist, a healer of body and soul. Swami Sivananda Saraswati had always been destined for greatness, ever since a young age where he excelled and others marveled at his intelligence. Though he has moved on to another life, his legacy of kindness and spiritual guidance still remains fresh in the minds and hearts of many across the globe.

Though there are many very similar biographies of different qualities published as David Miller notes, the material from them stems from two main sources, the auto-biography of Swami Sivananda as well as Swami Venkatsenanda’s biography of Sivananda. (Miller 2003:343) The material in this article which pertains to Swami Venkatesenanda’s biography of Swami Sivananda is solely the commentary of David Miller’s.

Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati was born in the village of Pattamadai in Southern India, to a pair of devotees of the god Siva. They named their son Kuppuswamy. His father P.S. Vengu Iyer was a revenue officer and his mother Srimati Parvati Ammal was a stay at home mother/wife who birthed three boys, Kuppuswamy being the youngest. According to biographers, he was a mischievous young boy who showed some signs of a renouncer at a young age. Kuppuswamy loved helping those less fortunate and dedicated much of his own rewards or delights to others rather than simply enjoying them himself. He later went on to the Rajah’s High School in Ettayapuram, where he excelled, receiving many commendations for his good grades and hard work. Once he completed his Matriculation examination he moved on to the S.P.G. College in Tiruchirapalli. At the college in Tiruchirapalli he dabbled in debate and theatre even taking part in a staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It is here that his medical career began, commencing with his education at a medical school in Tanjore. There Kuppuswamy enjoyed a thorough education, being at the top of his class in all subjects. He spent much of his vacation time at the hospital observing and studying as much as possible.

After completing his medical education he began a medical journal named The Ambrosia while practicing medicine in Tiruchi. This medical journal lasted approximately three or four years until Kuppuswamy tired of his simple work as a journal writer. Craving a broader window for his journal and also his life, he managed to set himself down in Malaysia at an Estate Hospital in or near Seremban. The hospital to which he would be the new manager and head physician was in a state of disarray Kuppuswamy arrived. His employer Mr. A. G. Robins was a very headstrong man and refused to let Kuppuswamy resign when he was bestruck with misfortune or when he felt that he could not manage any longer: Robins was fully aware of Kuppuswamy’s importance at the hospital as well as in the community. Kuppuswamy had established himself as a caring individual as well as a capable doctor, and his aid extended beyond simple medical help. At times Kuppuswamy would give entire paychecks or pawn his own property to help those in need around him. However, it seems that as Kuppuswamy became more comfortable in his career, he began to realize that spirituality and his hunger for cosmic understanding were burgeoning. This caused Kuppuswamy great unease at his job in Malaysia and eventually he returned to India, where he began a new life as a renouncer. David Miller suggests that in his last years as a doctor in Malaysia that Kuppuswamy had begun to read the Upanisads and the Bhagavad Gita prompting him to question much of the world; which in his experience as a doctor, he believed that life for many ended in pain, suffering and sorrow (Miller:355). It is likely that in witnessing some of the most fragile states endured by people in the hospital which he managed led him to seek deeper meanings to the world which science and medicine failed to answer.

Leaving all his worldly possessions in Malaysia 1923, Kuppuswamy renounced the life of ease and became a sramana. Wandering around India Kuppuswamy visited various sites of religious worship. At the end of his search for a guru he rested in Rishikesh. Here he received his initiation into an ascetic life by Paramahamsa Visvananda Saraswati on. Swami Vishnudevanandaji Maharaj performed the Viraj Homa ceremonies and later named Kuppuswamy, Swami Sivananda Saraswati. For a while he opened and operated a free dispensary, helping travelers on their pilgrimages or attending wholeheartedly to those who were ill or injured. Although his service to the sick and the poor continued during his Sadhana, Sivananda knew that his own truths lay in the attainment of self-realization.

During the years 1925-1930 Swami Sivananda ventured out on a pilgrimage to Kedarnath and Badrinath, in the mountains north of Rishikesh. Sivananda writes very little about this experience in his auto-biography and even his dedicated sevak (servant) Swami Venkatesananda wrote very little about what transpired in those years. Venkatesananda’s only accounts were that Sivananda ate only bread and drank Ganges water, observed intense meditation daily with little time for rest and relaxation. Sivananda’s realization, the goal of his Sadhana, occurred sometime between 1929 – 1930, the exact date Sivananda kept to himself. It is common for many Hindu ascetics to do just that, as well as keeping their realization and its details private. After his Sadhana Sivananda became social once again. He attended many religious conferences, performed rituals and still attended to people’s medical needs. Unlike before his pilgrimage, Sivananda now had deeper understanding of what his purpose was and he did not question himself at the foot of the masses. Instead he basked in the love they gave him and attempted to repay them with whatever service he could.

Many people followed Swami Sivananda’s life and work. Sivananda published many works, ranging anywhere from commentary on the Vendantas to a ten part publication on the Science of Yoga. His commentary on the Vedantas is truly one of the most important works Swami Sivananda has published. These works have gone on to inspire people all over the world to more profoundly analyze the sources of their knowledge. His nearly 300 publications, which vary in subject, are only the begging of the influence to which Sivananda exerts on modern Hindus today. Much of his following started when he began the Divine Life Society in a small cow shed on the bank of the Ganges in Rishikesh 1936. The society grew exponentially, and is currently operating in dozens of countries across the world. Through the practice of yoga as well as monastic asceticism he captured the attention of much of India as well as the western world.



References and Further Resources

Miller, David (2003)“The spiritual descent of the Divine: The Life Story of Swami Sivananda” :In Hindu Spirituality:Postclassical and Modern edited by R.Sundararajan and B. Mukerji. (2003) Delhi: Crossroad Publishing Company.

No author. His holiness Sri Swami Sivananda Sarawatswi Maharaj. (Updated Oct. 2004) The Divine Life Society.

Sivananda, Sri Swami.Science of Yoga; Volume Eight. (undated) Tehri-Gharwal: The Divine Life Trust Society.

Sivananda, Swami. Autobiography of Swami Sivananda(World Wide Web edition 2000). : The Divine Life Society.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

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Viraj Homa

Article written by: Daniel Meller (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.