Sri Swami Venkatesananda
This article is a chapter from the book Sivananda–Biography of a Modern Sage.
“All who want sannyas should take initiation on the next Sivaratri day.” This pronouncement was made by Swamiji at an evening satsang early in 1963. In view of his repeated references in recent years to his mahasamadhi, many saw this unbounded invitation as a sign of his imminent passing–particularly when he added “Who knows what may happen next Sivaratri?”
Swamiji, who had always kept spending and giving, and teaching his disciples and residents of the ashram to trust in God and to give and give and give, suddenly began to manifest a different attitude. He started an economy drive–a thing unheard of for him–slashing ashram expenditure and talking of taking more care.
On several occasions during May and June he asked different people to bring him a calendar. Once, as he was looking at July, a disciple asked why, and he received the reply “You don’t know.”
Early in May Swamiji began a rigorous session of tape-recordings. Each morning he would read from his books and printed sheets, forcefully and inspiringly–his voice ringing with authority and sincerity–while a disciple recorded. He did this for hours, unmindful of the strain. Every few days he would ask “How much matter have I given?” or, “How long will it run?” Once during these sessions he said “The sight is getting dim; take whatever you want now. The hearing is getting dull; tell whatever you want to tell, now itself. The tongue is getting inarticulate; ask whatever you want to ask.”
At this time he also wrote many articles for journals. He had always regularly contributed articles to journals, but he seemed to be sending out all that he could in this period.
On the 21st June he developed pain in his hip, and on this rare occasion did not attend the satsang. The next day he could not go to the ashram office, but attended to business from his kutir. At night the pain grew more intense, and the following morning he came out on to his verandah to see the mail, and insisted on continuing to tape-record the day’s quota of spiritual reading. He gave a little dictation, but retired early. The pain worsened.
On a subsequent day, despite illness, Sivananda began dictating as usual. After a few sentences he said quietly, “Happiness comes when the individual merges in God.” There was a long pause. Then asked if he would continue, he said strongly in Tamil “Porum!” (Enough!).
‘Happiness comes when the individual merges in God,’ was the last recorded message of Swami Sivananda.
A doctor from Dehru Dun, on examining Swamiji, said: “Swamiji you should not worry about anything. You should not think about anything.” Quietly and lovingly came the reply: “How can that be possible? I must think of many things, I must look after many people.” It was always Swamiji’s way, whenever anyone enquired about his health, to reply “Most wonderful”–and during this period whenever he was asked, a smile would play around his lips as he replied, “I am perfectly alright”.
During this period Swamiji was not seeing any visitors and no one was allowed into his kutir, but from July 6th his condition started to improve so that on July 8th he was wheeled onto his verandah and once again visitors were allowed to go to him. He had the doors of his verandah kept open so that he could gaze upon his beloved Ganges.
Despite physical suffering he was never dejected, his spirit was ever joyful and he would joke with his attendants. All who went near him during his last illness felt his irresistible love flowing out and encompassing them.
On the evening of July 14th he developed a fever. For some time he had difficulty in swallowing even a few mouthfuls of water. His disciples wanted to give him barley water, as was the usual practice, but he insisted on Ganges water. It was brought to him and he had no difficulty in swallowing half a glassful: and with that he departed from the body. It was 11:15 p.m.
Close to midnight there was an unparalleled and auspicious planetary conjunction that any yogi ready to depart would not wish to miss. It was at this time that Swamiji chose to depart.
Swamiji’s body was placed in the lotus posture. Dazed and tearful disciples and devotees softly chanted the maha mantra on the verandah of his kutir, while one by one the ashram inmates went in, to bow before the beloved form in silence.
The next morning, through the newspapers and radio, the world learnt of the mahasamadhi of this great saint. Messages of sympathy and condolence from all over the world kept the post office working at full pressure. The residents of Rishikesh streamed into the ashram. All the following day and far into the night devotees came from everywhere for the last darshan.
On Tuesday, July 16, there was barely room to stand on the Ganges bank adjacent to the ashram. Everywhere crowds gathered to catch a final glimpse of the beloved form of Swami Sivananda.
At 10.30 a.m., borne by his personal attendants, the bier moved out of the kutir as conches were blown and bells chimed. To the sound of vedic chanting, slowly and with great care the holy form of Swami Sivananda was borne towards the Ganges, where it was ceremoniously bathed. It was then placed on a palanquin filled with flowers and borne in procession to the ashram area on the Viswanath Mandir hill. Arati was performed.
To the recitation of holy mantras, Swamiji’s body was taken in and tenderly placed in the samadhi shrine–its final resting place.
Tributes came from all over the world. Swami Venkatesananda perhaps spoke for all close disciples when he wrote from Mauritius:
So the ringing voice is silent. The majestic form has vanished. We shall no more see the gigantic figure clad in orange, shod in canvas shoes, stride with measured long steps, bags in hand, ready to distribute fruits, wisdom and work to us, his beloved children. That child-like giggling, with the big tummy quaking with convulsions of joy–a laughter so wholesome that tears of joy bedimmed the sparkling eyes; a laughter that radiated the bliss of God to all–can be heard no more.
The end is perhaps shocking. But that is not the end. It is a beginning. The Builder worked outside: he was on view. He created an inside, and he has entered it. Now he works inside, out of external view, but more truly and purposefully active, therefore. Gurudev has moulded us, given shape to shapeless masses, laid stone upon stone in us and built a shrine, entered it and is now busy at work in there.