Homage to Swami Krishnananda
by S. Bhagyalakshmi

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Born to parents highly orthodox and deeply religious, Swami Krishnananda inherits an illustrious lineage of Vedic and scholarship of exceptional calibre. On April 25, 1922, in the village of Keminje a child later named Subbaraya Putturaya was born. He now lives at the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, as His Holiness Swami Krishnananda Sarasvati. The village Keminje is in South Kanara in the erstwhile Mysore State on the western coast of South India. His ancestors on both sides belonged to the high Brahman caste and enjoyed the respect and patronage of kings.

Swami Krishnananda's maternal grandfather belonged to a line of priests who were the highest authorities in all Vedic rituals and the Shastras, particularly the Tantra Shastra, and also in the Vedantic philosophy. His paternal grandfather was a rare Bhakta of infinite faith, his devotion and dedication to God unsurpassed. In addition he was a truly magnanimous man by nature; he sold his own property to be able to help those in need. Thus, nobility, religion and piety run in the blood of Sri Swami Krishnananda who is a Jnanayogi single-mindedly devoted to the Brahman, the Supreme Being of the Advaita Vedanta School of Philosophy.

In those (ancient) days, pilgrimages were undertaken on foot. Little toddlers or even the 5-7 year olds were carried on the shoulders of the elders. And Subbaraya Putturaya also was taken on pilgrimages in this fashion by his the members of his family. At the age of three, the child visited Talakkaveri, the source of the river Kaveri, held sacred in South India even as the river Ganga is held sacred all over India. On two more such pilgrimages during the fifth and seventh years of childhood, Subbaraya Putturaya was taken to the very sacred temple at Tirupati on the northernmost border of South India. The philosophical bent was very strong even in the earlier years and inspired his trekking to holy places in search of deeper knowledge and richer experience; Badrinath, Kedarnath and Gangotri were the last in his pilgrimages undertaken as “Swami Krishnananda”.

True to the Brahminic tradition Subbaraya was initiated in the Vedas by his father and maternal grandfather. His grandfather had passed away when Subbaraya's father was hardly two or three years old. The grind that this required was strictly enforced on the young boy even from the age of seven or so. Thus did this Brahmin boy learn the Vedic lore at a very early age. But he played as many pranks in his school and with his playmates and borthers as any other boy did. Playing the story of Ramayana was one of his favourites. He asked a puckish question of the missionary visiting his school, “Why was Jesus born in Jerusalam, Sir” The priest taken by surprise replied, “Because, it is the centre of earth”. The boy accepted this statement sceptically.

His college education lasted only for two years; Subbaraya was only an undergraduate when he took up a petty Government job which in the early twenties of this century was a big honour. A Brahmin by caste was allowed only certain professions, such as would not in any way impair the codes of the caste, as laid down in the scriptures.

However, Subbaraya was not interested in a career; even though he was employed to do a Government job at the age of eighteen or so, he conducted discourses on the Bhagvatlgita in the evenings! His insatiable thirst for knowledge kept him absorbed in the libraryof an elderly lawyer in his hometown, during his student days. Today he is rated by all who hear him speak or read his books as one of the best scholars in English. He is also an authority on all schools of philosophy, particularly the Vedic Scriptures, Vedanta, Upanishads, Srutis and Smritis as also the Epics and Puranas besides books on History, Geography, Science and other branches of learning.

Illness ended this very short period of Subbaraya's life as a Government employee. A chronic patient of asthma from childhood, he was now laid up with typhoid. Earlier, even at the age of thirteen, he had suffered in succession from bronchitis, jaundice and other ailments that sap one's energy and reduce the vitality of the body. Frail as his body was, his mind matured fast almost in an inverse proportion! His thoughts were centred on his inner ‘being'. He kept telling his family that he would go away to Kashi—Varanasi as it is now called. This was the most sacred place for the Hindu tradition. Lord Viswanath, on the banks of Ganga in Northern India, presides over the hoary city of great learned Pundits.

At the end of his illness, Subbaraya quietly left home, went to Pandaripur and to Kashi. His parents and family came to know of this unbelievable event from a letter he wrote to them from Kashi. Here, this young man still in his teens won many a debate in Sanskrit held among the famed Sanskrit Pundits. But soon he felt that this was not satisfying to the inner urges in him: he must journey further north to the Himalayas—Haridwar and Rishikesh where the rising sun of Rishikesh, the sage who had already won the highest place of regard amongst the wise, Sri Swami Sivananda, lived on the banks of Ganga at Muni-ki-Reti, which means “The Sands of the Sages”. Subbaraya had read all Siva's books. There had been a feeling within him that he would reach Rishikesh, that he should meet this sage.

One day when he was only seven years old, as he was sitting in his mother's lap and being patted he made a prim statement: “I am going to be a Sanyasi.” “What!” said the stupefied mother, “Dare you to say that again?” And thrice, with uplifted finger did the mother chide him. In reply the boy only giggled. And Subbaraya at the age of twenty-two stood before the great Master Swami Sivananda to surrender himself to this Godman of the twentieth century. At the very first meeting the inner contact was established; and it grew into an intimate Guru-Sishya (preceptor-disciple), becoming a part of the ‘being' of the Guru himself—a Guru-Amsa, to shine as an eternal lamp of sagacity and Sanyasihood, in the Sivananda Ashram as Swami Krishnananda Sarasvati.

Subbaraya took Sannyasa on 14th January 1946, on the auspicious day of Makara Sankaranti, when the Sun turns to the north and for all the six months traverses northwards before turning back towards the south and when starts the ‘bright half of the year’. It was only two years since he had arrived at the Ashram from Varanasi. And even within this short period he earned encomiums from his Guru: “He is a Vedanta-Kesari (lion of Vedanta-philosophy)”, “He is a Sankaracharya”, crowning it all with the words, “I marvel at Swami Krishnananda!”

As Professor of Vedanta in the Brahmamuhurta classes of the Yoga Vedanta Forest University in the forties of Gurudev's times, when Gurudev himself took down notes of these lectures, Swami Krishnananda had expounded on the Mundaka Upanishad—one of the Upanishads particularly meant fo the “mundakas” or the shaven heads, the sannyasis.

As a young man of hardly 22 years he wrote the commentary for Gurudev's Moksha Gita. “It was my maiden attempt,” blushingly he told us. “What is a maiden attempt?” laughed Swami Krishnananda. Belying the dictionary meaning of the word: “there has been no previous experience or achievements”, to anyone who reads the Moksha Gita it is clear that the commentary reads as coming from the mature mind of a full blown jnani. And it is this that has earned Gurudev's encomium: “Many Sankaras are rolled into one Krishnananda.”

The Isavasya Upanishad has been re-edited for a Diamond Jubilee Number by Swamiji. The special feature of it must be noted. The long forgotten intimate atmosphere of the Gurukula tradition of the ancient times came alive in Swami Krishnananda's half-hour talks to novices, Brahmacharis and seekers waiting to be initiated into Sannyasa. In 1974-75, between 7 and 7.30 p.m. at Gokul Dham which at that time was Swamiji's residence, Kana, Katha, Mandukya, Munduka, Prasna and Isavasya Upanishads were expounded in simple Hindi. There was no difficulty whatever in understanding the eternal truths of the Upanishads nor in following the language of exposition. His spoken Hindi was so simple that even non-Hindi disciples not only could understand it and even translate this Upanishad into English. Yet even his self-study did not include a formal learning of the Hindi language.

In 1978 or 1979 by one of the Trustees of the Divine Life Society, the late Mr. Kapoor bemoaned: “We have discovered that Swami Krishnanandaji has been doing 98% of the work of the Ashram. It is a disgrace for us that we allow this of him who can so usefully devote his time for our spiritual uplift and guidance on the Blessed Path.” These words tell us that Swamiji was no mere Buddha sitting in deep meditation, nor Jesus spreading the gospel of love and mercey. He is a Karmayogi of the highest order in its fullest connotation.

Swami Chidanandaji records that even in the early years of his life as an Ashramite, as an initiate, Swami Krishnananda was recognised as an authority, and whenever any argument arose regarding any matter, Gurudev always said: “Swami Krishnanandaji is right. Do as Swami Krishnanandaji says.” This, I have heard again with my own ears from the highest sources. Work and wisdom are his second nature, whether at sixteen or at sixty. It seems to me that in looking for the greatness of Swami Krishnanandaji, the Philosopher and the Sage, we have missed the Jivanmukta in him.

No wonder, then that when asked for a message for the materials such as those contained in this book he gave this: “The aim of life is God-Realisation, and every other duty is only contributory to this Supreme duty.” “Ask him anything, he will soon veer round to its philosophical implication,” was the remark of Dr. David Miller, Ph.D. of Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

Neither revered Swami Krishnanandaji's face nor presence was registered in my recollection of my early visits to the Ashram in thirst for Darshan of Master Sivanandaji Maharaj, though he was there together with revered Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj explaining at the night Satsang the underlying principles and the key to the details of private ceremonial ritual: the investiture of the sacred thread. Nor did I come to live in the Ashram to be the disciple of that Swami Krishnananda who used to sit under the easy chair on which Gurudev reclined. Swamiji had been sent for. He came, sat literally in the shadow of his beloved Gurudev. In a while, when the Satsang passed on to other items of the schedule, where was that Swamiji, Krishnananda, that was sitting beside the Omniscient Master, Swami Sivananda's chair? “Must have gone back to his Kutir.” “Really!!” There were then the other night-Satsanga when word went round, “Swami Krishnananda is going to speak!” This word was passed on and received with joy and wonder. “It was very nice,” all remarked. Once I heard revered Swami Hridayananda Mataji, who in her own way like the global personality H.H. Sri Swami Chidananda is spreading Gurudev’s message in Paris and Netherlands in particular, still a novice at that time, say: “After hearing Swami Krishnanandaji, I want to sit and meditate.” And now as the Dean of the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy Swamiji gives lectures on Vedic and philosophical subjects. And his lectures are being edited and printed as books. “Don’t use me like a book of reference, he remonstrates. He is so easy of approach that we do so and his protests are of no avail. The answers come so promptly and to the point, be it from a philosophical treatise, the mundane view of the world, or history, or the latest theories in subatomic science which is identifying itself slowly and surely with the Upanishadic Truth, or the controversial schools of thought, theistic or agnostic, or a moot point overlooked by the questioner; no one resists the temptation to get this push-button service of a reference book-shelf from his most Revered Self!

Ill health assailed him more often than good health hailed him. But this has never been a hindranc to his utter self-abandonment as may be seen from the following incident. For two days (on 24th and 25th March 1981) Swamiji had been in the grip of a liver disorder, his blood pressure was erratic, all this being a sequel to the severe asthmatic attack he had suffered. On the third day, as usual he was in his chair blessing us with his holy presence and chatting too. The work part of his morning hours had been strictly kept away from him. But the devotees gradually forgot that he had been ill mainly because Swamiji was smiling and joking. Spiritual guidance was sought, he himself volunteered to impart it to some visitors in the last hour of their stay in the Ashram. For a full hour and a half he carried on. The growing strain on him was more visible. The Brahmachari in the service of his Guru made this request, “Swamiji please you must take rest now.” “Please,” he pleaded, turning to us with folded hands, “all of you come again tomorrow.” When all of us got up to leave, Swamiji with a divine smile pleaded: “Please do not be angry with me.” Who was apologising to whom? Such is his loving concern for others and his incredible capacity for self-abnegation.

The demonstration by monoacting of a point by way of illustrating his jokes ad anecdotes is a unique technique, inimitably all his own, even while explaining philosophy or meditation. His chair in a moment becomes the stage for his self-propelled cinescreen. And the arms of the same chair become the desk to sign the “papers”. A ‘Satavadhanist’ (performer of a hundred things simultaneously) that his Revered Self is, certainly no one feels left out of the centre of his interest. It is he who leads the laughter invokd by the story narrated or enacted, quite often continuing to giggle like a teenager, utterly uninhibited.

There are no spectacular dramatic events in the life of Swami Krishnanandaji but one is enthralled by sitting with him during the informal morning hours, not only for a “Darshan: of a Mahatma, but also for hearing him pun and joke and mono-act, bubbling with laughter and light-heartedness during all the activities, while simultaneously attending to diverse problems, mundane and metaphysical. “How do you manage it Swamiji?” asked a French priest. “Like the telephone operator, I switch off the one and attend to the other,” he replied. And that is Swami Krishnanandaji—many splendored aspects of whose personality are projected in the pages of this book.