Sri Swami Chidanandaji’s Epochal Tour With The Master

by  Dr. Sarat Chandra Behera

This article is a chapter from Swami Chidananda’s biography “The Holy Stream”.

By providential arrangement, then, this monk of India (Sri Swami Chidananda) who was keen to be a world renouncer became the most dynamic itinerant preacher carrying Dharma from door to door. But it was not for the first time after 1963 that with the Master’s mantle on his shoulders he had to tour abroad conveying the holy message to all humanity. Since 1949 he has been incessantly active as an ambassador of Gurudev through this great country and outside. If a date has to be specified to mark the beginning of this role, one has to go back to 1949 when he was asked by Gurudev to proceed to Patna to deputise on his behalf at the inaugural function of the Bihar Provincial Branch of the Divine Life Society. His compassionate look, the bewitching smile he wore, his kind words, the magnetic aura around his face, and his fiery speech thrilled the audience of Bihar who discovered in him a saint of the first magnitude and spontaneously bowed down before this rising spiritual luminary. So instantaneous and powerful was his impact there that on his return to the Ashram Gurudev himself congratulated him. The Master had tested and discovered the genius of this most distinguished and most humble disciple for purposes of Loka Sangraha.

Gurudev for himself did not welcome any tours. He had kept himself confined to Ananda Kutir, for the most part for long fourteen years or more. His numerous devotees again and again beseeched him for an All-India Tour. But Gurudev kept postponing a decision. Finally, in 1950, he made up his mind to break his isolation and move out to meet the children of the Lord in the four corners of Bharatavarsha. Thus when he came out of Ananda Kutir on the 9th September, 1950, he chose Chidananda as the keystone for his epochal programme. Other stalwarts like Swamis Paramananda and Venkatesananda were the organisational architects of this tour and they served with distinction. But it was Chidananda, who functioned as a veritable replica of the Master throughout the spiritual Yatra. Since then several times he has toured throughout the length and breadth of Bharatavarsha carrying the message of Divine Life to every nook and corner of this Punya Bhumi. But the All-India Tour of 1950 in the company and service of the Holy Master was truly the most memorable of all. Along with Gurudev he appeared before countless devotees of the country not merely as the Deputy of the Master but, by his own rights, as a spiritual personality of a very high magnitude. He was called upon to supplement the speeches of the Master by expounding Vedantic truths in his simple, but soul-stirring discourses, and to inspire the masses for Yogic practices by giving personal demonstration. It was his first prolonged encounter with big audiences, but with his Guru by his side he felt not a moment’s uneasiness, irrespective of the quality and magnitude of the crowd. He sparkled before them as the precious Kohinoor of the Sivananda Mission and allured thousands of mortals to the portals of spiritual life. Full of unfathomable Guru Bhakti and intuitive wisdom, he left an indelible impression on the minds of the people wherever he went. In this epochal tour revered Swami Paramanandaji was the redoubtable planner and undisputed leader. Swami Venkatesananda was Gurudev’s right-hand person, his physical support and faithful reporter. In addition he was an unequalled expert steno-typist. Swami Narayanananda and Swami Poornabodhananda were totally reliable treasurers and cashiers assisting revered Swami Paramanandaji Maharaj. Swami Sasvatananda was practically a shadow or body-guard of the Master. Swami Govindananda and Swami Purushottamananda worked untiringly to ensure the utmost care for the physical comforts of Gurudev. Swami Omkarananda was in-charge of distributing spiritual literature. Swami Satyananda addressed Hindi-speaking audience and assisted Swami Dayananda in the sale of Sivananda literature. Padmanabhan (Swami Saradananda) immortalised the tour by his competent service as a photographer and a movie maker. A few others also assisted in more than one way. But Swami Chidananda ranked as a class by himself during this epochal tour. Such was his unique impact that the Master himself pointed at this holy man of God to the people again and again and exhorted them to take him as their highest ideal. Chidananda remains till today the greatest living example of all the ideals preached by Gurudev.

Gurudev had carried with him the sacred water of the holy Ganga from Gangotri to bathe Lord Siva in His blessed shrine at Ramesvaram in the far South. While addressing the seekers at Fyzabad Swami Chidananda made a reference to it and brought forth its inner spiritual import and commented that externally the Holy Master was carrying the Ganga Jal from the sources of the Ganga to offer it to Ramesvara; but by this symbolically he was taking the waters of Jnana Ganga from the very source, his own Atma Jnana, to flood the entire country. Thus, the Teertha Yatra of Gurudev, was, indeed, the highest spiritual service to the people of Bharatavarsha and Sri Lanka.

Gurudev and Swamiji both were identical in their vision, emphasising the urgent necessity of conveying to the students the ancient spiritual lore of this great nation, and throughout the tour both served the students with their illuminating discourses even at the cost of other programmes. At Fyzabad Swamiji delivered an introductory talk before the Master spoke. Here his illuminating address to the students in Hindi on building noble character, practice of Brahmacharya and cultivation of a proper pride in being the fortunate citizens of this Punya Bhumi elicited a tremendous response and the then Commissioner of Lucknow and Fyzabad Division Mr. S.L. Dhar I.C.S. who presided over the meeting was exuberant in his praise of the electrifying impact the young Sannyasin made on the people. At the famous Hindu University of Varanasi, Swamiji similarly inspired the student-community to imbibe the ancient Indian ideals. The thought-provoking nature of the discourse stirred even the senior Professors.

It was at Patna that India discovered Swamiji as the prospective heir of the Holy Master and as a towering sage of deep wisdom. Here the Master addressed the local Rotary Club on “Universal Brotherhood”. At the end of the lecture there was the usual question hour. It so happened that on that occasion Gurudev directed Swamiji to answer the questions of the Rotarians on his behalf. He indicated thereby his complete identity, as it were, with Swamiji. The occasion revealed to the seekers that Swami Chidananda was the pure prism reflecting the thoughts of Gurudev to illumine the path of thirsting aspirants. One after another half a dozen members of the club rose to present Swamiji with very knotty philosophical and ethical problems covering a variety of topics. Swamiji answered them in so thoroughgoing a manner that one would suspect that he had gone there prepared to answer those very questions (A detailed account of the questions of the seekers and the explanatory notes of Swamiji has been given by Swami Venkatesananda in “Sivananda’s Lectures–All-India Tour.”). The truth flashed on the audience that without access into the high spiritual realms it would not have been possible on the part of this young Sannyasin to pour out immediately, on the spur of the moment, so wise and logical spiritual explanations before a select group of highly educated persons which included eminent people like Sri Kamala Kanta Verma, ex-Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court and others. His answers had a special beauty of their own, displaying the authority of the scriptures, the insight of a gifted mind, and analytical presentation and intimate observations from day to day life. At the end of the session the seekers expressed their great appreciation of Swamiji’s alertness, understanding and persuasive power. The response can perhaps be summed up by quoting only the comment of Sri A.K. Sinha, Inspector General of Police. He advanced upto Chidanandaji at the end of the meeting and exclaimed, “Swamiji! I feel proud of you”. This young unknown Sannyasin in his thirties thus won the love and admiration of a host of mature and sophisticated persons not easily given to excitements of hero worship.

Often during the tour Swamiji initiated the programmes with his enchanting “Jai Ganesh Kirtan.” If there was a Hindi-speaking audience he would come forward to explain in Hindi the purport of Gurudev’s English speech, and steal the heart of the audience as at Ganga Mahal, Gaya and many other places. As has already been indicated, Gurudev himself was so much impressed by Swamiji’s uncommon humility, selfless service of all living creatures and unbroken divine consciousness that he was ever eloquent in referring to the spiritual qualities of his dedicated disciple wherever he went. While addressing the International Fellowship in the Government House at Madras he cited the example of Swami Chidanandaji as a matchless Karma Yogi whose Seva with Narayana Bhava was an ideal to be emulated by Sadhaks who were even far older than him. He referred to the incident of Chidananda’s treatment of a sick dog. Its infected body gave out a terrible stench and it was constantly on the move, driven away by people from one place to another. Swamiji found it near the footsteps of the Ashram and dressed it carefully for several weeks with his own hands. In the same strain the Master referred to the case of a Punjabi Sadhu suffering from terrible leprosy beside whom one would not even stand for a minute. But Chidanandaji dressed his leprous hands and feet with his own hands and miraculously healed him by his holy touch. After showering his praises on Swamiji for his exemplary Seva the Master then threw a question at the audience: “Is there anyone among you who has done such service even once in life?” In Gurudev’s estimate Swamiji was unsurpassed in the highest kind of selfless service, which was done with such complete devotion and faith that it was worship of Lord Narayana.

Wherever the Master addressed the students in schools, colleges and Universities, Swamiji was ever ready to come forward to demonstrate Yogic exercises. Sometimes he offered running commentaries on the Yogasana film shows. At the Annamalai University, Gurudev’s lecture programme was followed by a film show on Surya Namaskar, Asanas, Pranayama and other Yogic Kriyas. The movie show was made wonderfully lively and instructive by the superb commentary of Swamiji. With the authority of his own personal experience he explained to the young men the benefits accruing from Yogasanas. The commentary created such tremendous enthusiasm that literally hundreds of students came forward to learn the Yogic exercises.

When the party reached Chidambaram, the Holy Master felt unwell. He could not attend the public meeting and deputed Swamiji to address the gathering instead. Kavi Yogi Suddhananda Bharati, an old classmate of Gurudev, also joined Swamiji. Swamiji reached the venue of the meeting and poured forth his shower of spiritual instruction and soulful Kirtan. The audience was thrilled and had no sense of disappointment in missing the lecture of the Master.

On the 8th October the Yatra Mandali reached Trichy. In the local National College Swamiji addressed the teachers and students and brought home to them in a very simple and appealing manner the fundamental truth of how we are all offshoots of the same Divinity. He laid stress on the practical aspect of Self-realisation and held that an ounce of practice was better than tons of theory. He summed up Gurudev’s teaching in the famous song of Upadesamrit:–

Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realise.
Be good, do good, be kind, be compassionate.
Practise Ahimsa, Satyam, Brahmacharya.
This is the essence of Yoga and Vedanta.
Enquire ‘Who am I’, know thy Self and be free.
You are not this body, not this mind, Immortal Self you are.
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare.

In the course of the tour sometimes Swamiji had to play the role of the Master. On every occasion he performed it to the utmost satisfaction of the organisers and the devotees. For instance, Swami Sankarananda, President, Sivananda Sadhana Nilayam, Tiruengoimalai, had requested the Master to visit the Ashram and bless the inmates. But it was not possible for Gurudev to proceed to Tiruengoimalai. At the same time he did not want to disappoint the inmates of the Ashram. Therefore, he deputed Swamiji as his personal representative to this model Ashram. He was confident that his message would be effectively conveyed to Sivananda Sadhana Nilayam through his able agent. In accordance with the direction of the Master Swamiji proceeded to the place and on his arrival there spoke upon how Sadhana Nilayam was the outcome of Gurudev’s direct inspiration and forceful suggestion to Swami Advayananda and of the vital need and unique value of such spiritual centres and of the wonderful spiritual revolution that the Holy Master aimed to bring about through such institutions. With utmost humility he told the audience there that he was only the Nimitta of his beloved Gurudev. With this noble Bhav he laid the foundation stone of the proposed school building at the Nilayam with a silver trowel. Swami Sankarananda, President of the Nilayam, later conveyed his feeling that the holy presence and inspiring discourse of Swamiji produced the same spiritual vibrations which they expected to have with Gurudev’s presence.

When the Yatra Mandali reached Rameswaram, Gurudev carried the sacred Ganga Jal himself and offered it as Abhishek to Lord Siva while Swamiji chanted hymns and sang thrilling Bhajans in praise of the Lord.

Then the party crossed the sea and reached the island of Ceylon. The Master addressed a big public meeting at Colombo. The meeting was followed by a film show on Yogic exercises. Here again Swamiji came forward to give a running commentary on the benefits of the Asanas. He compared the Western physical exercises with Indian Yogasana system and proved the superior excellence of the Yogasanas. He described how astonishingly the Asanas influence the endocrine system of glands, the ductless glands. He further pointed out that the malfunctioning of the thyroid, pituitary and pineal glands is corrected by a course of select Yogasanas.

During the return journey at Trivandrum there was a morning Satsang. In the presence of Gurudev himself Swamiji conducted the course. The participants felt powerfully drawn and attuned to a higher meditative mood. At the end of the meditation Swamiji threw light on the secret of this inner Sadhana. In his illuminating discourse he asked the Sadhaks to adopt the following formula for success in meditation:–

See but look not.
Hear but listen not.
Touch but feel not.
Taste but relish not.

Through this practice, Swamiji added, the Sadhak does not get attached to worldly objects and gradually he is enabled to develop the Sakshi Bhav. Once the Sadhak acquires the awareness of the witness he is established in his very Self and dwells in his Nija Swarupa. In this way the aspirant gains success in his practice of meditation. Gurudev was very much pleased to hear the illuminating discourse and praised Swamiji for his neat and effective exposition.

Thus throughout the All-India Tour, unmindful of his delicate health, in total disregard of the extraordinary strain imposed on his body, Swamiji came forward promptly on every occasion to do the bidding of the Master, addressing the surging crowds, singing enchanting Kirtans, demonstrating Yogasanas, explaining their benefits and dispelling the doubts of the seekers. On every occasion he left behind a powerful impact on his listeners. His discourses on meditation, in particular, had an electrifying influence on the audiences filling them with wonderful spiritual vibrations.

Swamiji’s contribution to the success of the epochal All-India Tour was, indeed, of a high order. As a very humble instrument he linked himself to his Holy Master and exerted a preponderating influence on men’s minds. His critical faculty, intuitive wisdom and above all, his incomparable purity and humility, led even a vast number of young college students to shed their false vanity and take to the study of Gita, practice of Yogic exercises and dedication to serve humanity and seek Divinity.

In this epochal tour the Holy Master loomed like a spiritual titan and thundered forth his Vedantic injunctions to awaken the people from their inertness. His presence itself was overpowering. Before such a spiritual giant any body else would have paled into insignificance. But such was the inner spiritual wealth of the dedicated disciple that with his remarkable humility, exemplary Guru Bhakti, magnetic personality, and intuitive wisdom he carved out a special place in the hearts of one and all. That in the presence of Gurudev he could evoke so much admiration is by itself the greatest proof of the supreme spiritual dimension he had already achieved by that time.

Chidananda did this service to the people of Bharatavarsha, as he continues to do even today, as an act of Guru Seva. He behaved like an instrument of the Holy Master in the dissemination of spiritual knowledge. The people at many places showed as much love and reverence to him as they had towards Gurudev himself. But he was not the least tainted by the honour and praises showered on him. As in 1950, so also a generation after it he still continues to serve the people of Bharatavarsha only as the servant of the Holy Master. He did not claim to have at his command a new gospel of his own. He served the Master’s mission and that constituted his greatest satisfaction. What he really cherished for himself was only a protracted period of unbroken silence in the depths of some Himalayan cave. That cherished ideal is reflected in one of his letters written to an intimate friend of the Ashram during this epochal tour. He wrote, “I am somewhat tired of these motor cars, big bungalows, shops and theatres and luxuriously dressed people. I long to wear a torn, soiled Dhoti and walk along the jungle behind the Viswanath Mandir in the Ashram.” These few words speak volumes about Swamiji’s detachment and dispassion at the contingent hour of name and from. No doubt he toured and moved in the midst of great commotion. But deep within he continued to live in an impregnable world of serene seclusion. Even in days of the busiest programmes he did not miss his hour of meditation. In spite of all this hectic work, all on a sudden, in a flash he could be lost to the outer world. The following words, again, which Swamiji wrote during the tour to an intimate friend reveal his indrawn state and a blissful experience in deep silence. Thus he wrote, “Yesterday we spent two hours on the ship (while proceeding from Dhanushkoti to Ceylon)… The entrancing expanse of the ocean water captured my whole being and held me captive. The peace was absolute. Senses and mind were lulled and one was lifted out of self and thrown somewhere, where it was all stillness and in the silent joy born of that stillness everything was forgotten”.

With this awareness in the innermost core of his being Swamiji accompanied the Holy Master and served him and the blessed citizens of Bharatavarsha and Sri Lanka for their great spiritual awakening. The Holy Master Sivananda carried out the Lord’s command and his dedicated disciple Chidananda carried out his Master’s command; both knocked at the doors of lay citizens of India to remind them of the call of the Vedas, to remind them that as the blessed scions of seers and sages of this sacred land they had a glorious mission to undertake.

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