Sri Swami Arpananda
(Principal Chamanlal Sharma)
This article is a chapter from the book Chidanandam: The Joy of Knowing Him.
This was written on the occasion of the Shashtyabda Purti (60th Birthday) Celebrations of Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj
Now-a-days we have so many departments in Sivananda Ashram, but never was there any planning behind these. The Ashram came into being of its own accord when many thirsty souls were drawn here by the magnetic personality of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, who in his earlier days had written that he would not like to start an Ashram. The need to make the best of these talented souls in the service of humanity gave birth to various departments. The ailing and abandoned leprosy patients in the area near the Ashram also began to claim Gurudev’s attention. At this juncture in 1943, there arrived on the scene, from the southern district of Mangalore, a young man of twenty-seven, Sridhar Rao by name. This Sridhar Rao (now Swami Chidananda) had cherished an aspiration, since long, for a large field of service for the leprosy patients. The history of the rapid development of the leper colonies in Lakshman Jhula, Brahma Puri and Dhalwala thereafter, is the story of brilliant work of our hero, which has won high praises from the district and provincial authorities, the world at large and the patients themselves, who see God in him. The time when this was written, more than 30 years back, leprosy as a disease and patients suffering from it were severely socially ostracised. That is why the path breaking initiative of worshipful Swamiji drew attention from the world over. Even now, if any cause is dearest to the heart of Swami Chidananda, it is service of the lepers, whom he loves most. His constant personal contact with those patients and occasional satsanga in their colonies have gone a long way in removing the age-old wrong notions about that leprosy in general.
The service of the sick has been a burning passion with him. The concern of his is not limited to humanity alone. If he finds a dog run over by a truck on the road, he would rest only after sending it to the nearest veterinary hospital. Often he has been seen rendering first aid to birds and monkeys. Urged by this love for animals, he sends circulars from his Kutir prohibiting the beating of cows, monkeys and dogs which consider the Ashram as their home. His sharp eye often traces insects or flower offerings, which seek the need of being transferred to the plants and trees nearby. In short, Swamiji practises Vedanta in daily life. This weakness for the sick, in which lies his real strength, continues to the present day when he is loaded with numerous duties as the head of the institution. He must accommodate visits to the ailing ones in his tight programmes schedules. Nevertheless, he never fails to run to where he is needed badly.
In the intellectual field too, Swami Chidananda excels. His pregnant discourses on Yoga speak for themselves and his numerous works on allied topics shall always guide us. His occasional messages and monthly letters in ‘The Divine Life’ journal throw much light on the path of Yoga.
All platforms are his. Whether Jains or Buddhists, Sikhs or Muslims, Nirankaris or Radhaswamis, Brahmakumaris or Aryasamajists, Christians or Rotarians–all love to have him on their stages. Be it the revered Pope in Italy or the four venerable Shankaracharyas or the Peer of Roorkie–all simply praise him and laud his presentation of the spiritual cause.
Urgent calls from the West occasionally carry him there. He draws upon Christianity for added inspiration while having deep roots in his own dharma. His education in Mission schools enables him to see Krishna in Christ. He is never tired of quoting from Christian saints even while addressing Eastern audiences. In his person, the East and the West meet. The Westerners go to the length of hailing him their Messiah and profusely thank India for her gift to the West at such a critical period when they need mental peace the most.
A greater enigmatic character cannot be conceived, for many are the puzzling points of contrast in his character. An eminent saint at the head of a world-wide society, Swami Chidananda is still self-effacing humility incarnate, like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Still he relishes to be taken as the first servant wherever he goes. With the least intake of food, his output of work is maximum.
In India or abroad, he has no rest whatsoever, relaxation remaining ever foreign to him. He works hard seeing people incessantly, receiving visitors from all over the world, giving personal guidance to seekers, attending to heavy correspondence, besides looking into administrative problems. His experience in fasting has given him power over his body, which he never considers his.
In view of his austere and holy personal life as well as the self-sacrificing services that he has rendered through the past so many years for the good and well-being–physical, mental, moral, social and spiritual-for thousands of people, we can best honour him by dedicating ourselves to the ideals of ‘Divine Life’ for which he lives.