(Spoken on January 13, 1996)
This is Tapobhumi, holiest of all holy places. The name Rishikesh occurs in the epics and the Puranas as Devabhumi or Brahmabhumi, a land where gods took their abode and saints and sages lived. Such great spiritual stalwarts as Rama and Krishna, Vasishtha and Vyasa trod the sands of this holiest of holies, Rishikesh, where long ago there were no roads and no facilities whatsoever, and there was not this population that we now see around us. We hear that pilgrims walking to holy Badrinath used to carry fire on their heads from Haridwar onwards. Perhaps in those days, due to certain geographical conditions, cold was more intense than it is now. There was no facility of any kind. And such a far-off place at the foothills of the Himalayas was chosen by the great Masters for their penance, for their tapasya, for their abode.
It was this place that was chosen by Worshipful Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. He belongs to the lineage of one of these great Masters. He came to this holy place many years back, sometime around the year 1922, and took his abode on the other side of Ganga, living a life of rigorous tapas, austerity. Alone, unbefriended, unknown, uncared for, he lived the life of intense self-restraint and meditation for twelve years. On the sacred sands of the Ganga he used to sit and meditate, bathe in the Ganga, and move out to the present Lakshmanjhula and a little beyond, which was the area of his tapas and activity.
It was later that Sri Gurudev saw people coming to him. When his name spread everywhere as a Mahavairagyi, Mahatapasvi, Mahajnani, Mahayogi, people gathered around him. I will not try to recount the names of all those Swamijis and sadhakas who were associated with him. Swamiji moved from this area and travelled through the whole of this state, which is now known as Uttar Pradesh—previously known as United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab—and carried on a vigorous Sankirtan movement. Many veterans followed him in this Sankirtan movement. One of his close associates was Ronald Nixon, who was later on Krishna Prem of Uttar Brindavan, a Vaishnava-bhakta himself; and many others joined. His movement spread like wildfire, especially in the areas of Punjab. He was known as Sankirtan Samrat.
When this wonderful rejuvenating, reviving, resuscitating spiritual movement took momentum, those associated with him—devotees, admirers, bhaktas—suggested to Sri Gurudev that he should strengthen this movement by the establishment of a strong organisation, which is a necessity because unorganised activity, though it may go on for some time, may not continue for a long time. Let this wonderful work be done through a centralised structure of an organisation. Gurudev agreed, and a legally recognised trust was formed at a place called Ambala, which was in Punjab in those days and is now in Haryana, on the 13th of January, 1936. This is now the Diamond Jubilee occasion of this holy and sacred Samsthapana of this esteemed organisation, The Divine Life Society. It is a trust.
This institution was started by a stalwart tapasvin, and it is continuing through the tapasya of its followers—by the devotion and unselfishness that his followers have been taking as their guide in their divine activities. 'Unselfishness' and 'tapas' are the watchwords.
The Society has survived for sixty years. This is a hallmark, to complete an entire cycle of the period of the rotation of the time process. It is a wonderful achievement for anyone, any person, any organisation.
Swamiji followed the doctrine of what he called DIN: Do it now. When an idea arises in the mind, whatever that idea is, it must be implemented then and there. It may be any place—it may be on a street, on a road, in a jungle—it does not matter. Start! The idea has come, now start. It happened that he was in Ambala at that time, and the idea was allowed to take root, and it was registered as a trust there, with many ardent, venerable followers—some Swamis, some householders, some Brahmacharis, many admirers, and so on. How it happened, how he did it, and what was the strength of the will that was the back of the foundation of this great Institution—the divine will of this stalwart Master—is for anyone to imagine and contemplate.
Here we are at this moment, the 13th of January. It was Makar Sankranti. This occasion of Makar Sankranti sometimes falls on the 13th, sometimes on the 14th, and this year it is the 14th. But that day it was the 13th, so it was registered officially as The Divine Life Society Trust on holy Makar Sankranti, the 13th of January, 1936.
Our hearts well up with deep devotion to the feet of this spiritual hero who strode this Earth like a colossus, shook the world, changed the hearts of people, and did what many cannot do—left his name as an immortal trail of the glorious life that he lived. May his blessings be upon us all!