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July 1991

Ode to Tapasya (Austerity)

Om Namah Shivaya

The Royal Mendicant

The Four Vakyas

O Lord Mrityunjaya!


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Om Namah Shivaya

Lord Trayambakeshwar, the jyotirlinga near Nasik, is the ishta devata of Swamiji. On 8th September 1989, the birthday of Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati, while performing the chaaturmaas-vrat in a small cow-shed near the temple, Swamiji received a mandate from his ishta devata, in which his sadhana and the place where he must perform it were clearly revealed to him.

At first we were surprised when he spoke of Deoghar. After all there were so many spiritually awe-inspiring places which he had been offered during his year-long tirth yatra that were conducive to sadhana. Why not the beautiful cave on the banks of the Ganga at Gangotri, or the secluded stone gupha at Mount Abu, where it is said that Lord Dattatreya himself performed tapasya, or even the kutiya at Kedarnath?

Now, after a year in which we have seen the unfoldment of a Paramahamsa, it is easy to understand why this place was chosen for him. Deoghar is ideal in many ways for Swamiji. Climatically it is very suitable for sadhana. The torturous summer which is so familiar to Bihar is unknown here. Even on the hottest day the breeze is cool, while in the month of October, which is steaming hot elsewhere, there is a pleasant chill in the air.

Deoghar was once a vast forest. Its only inhabitants were tribal race known as Santhals, and the entire district was called Santhal Parganas. In 1983 it was declared as an independent district. The land is undulating and surrounded by hills. Gradually the Santhals began clearing the jungles for the cultivation of crops, and later Bengalies came in large numbers to settle here, acquiring land from the Santhals at throwaway prices. It is said that during the 2nd World War, Marwaries too came here from Calcutta and built vast mansions to keep their jewels and money safe in underground vaults. These houses still exist although in a dilapidated condition.

Historically Deoghar, which is also known as Baidyanath Dham, finds mention in the Shiva Purana which dates it back to the Treta Yuga, the era of Lord Ram and Ravana. More recent history dates its development to two hundred years ago when the British first came here. There are several towns named after the British commissioners who were deputed here, and their aristocratic bungalows still remain. The British liked this place. Here they could find respite from the terrible heat of Bihar, and moreover there was ample opportunity for them to indulge in the sport of hunting. It is said that tigers, leopards, elephants and boars roamed freely in the dense jungles of Deoghar.

Geographically Deoghar is located in south east Bihar. Although only 140 kms. from Munger there is a world of difference between the two places. Its people are milder and the riots and clashes for which Munger has become so famous are totally absent here. The population consists mainly of Pandas (priests), Santhals and Bengalies. The Pandas were brought here from Mithila by the royal family of Giddhaur (Bihar) to conduct the pooja for Lord Siva.

The central figure around which everything revolves here is of course Baba Baidyanath, the jyotirlinga of Shiva. Carved out of a single rock, its magnificence and power draw lakhs of people to Deoghar for worship. The temple is open to all, no matter to which caste, creed or religion they belong. Foreigners are not stopped from entering, as they are in some other tirthas.

A curious fact is that, unlike other jyotirlingas, here the black stone slab which forms the jyotirlinga is slightly depressed and the actual linga is absent. The current story is that due to the rubbing of the stone by devotees during worship, the linga has become concave, but the ancient story is that, when Ravana was unable to lift the linga off the ground he rammed his fist into it in anger and frustration, causing a depression in the stone.

There has been some controversy as to whether or not Baba Baidyanath at Deoghar is one of the twelve jyotirlingas mentioned in the Puranas. Some claim that the linga at Baidyanath in Parli, Gujrat is the actual one. Of course, there has been no research done on this matter. However, the Siva Purana in its description of the twelve jyotirlingas describes it as "Baidyanatham Chittabhoomau''. In other words, Baidyanath is the burial ground or smashan bhoomi of Lord Shiva.

It is no coincidence that Deoghar too is known as the smashan bhoomi of Lord Siva. Legend has it that here he danced his cosmic dance, after which he was named Nataraja. It is believed that even now ash comes out from the land surrounding the mandir, and even bones are found. Swamiji, himself, during his tirth yatra of the twelve jyotirlingas, performed worship here. Moreover, one visit to the temple is sufficient to convince anyone that this seat of Lord Shiva is a powerhouse of energy. Narad Muni in his description of Baidyanath Dham to Hanuman describes it as the only place where Lord Shiva grants boons to each and every person whether deserving or undeserving, sinner or saint.

This is also evident from the fact that lakhs and crores of devotees throng here throughout the year. These devotees include kings, emperors, officials, rich as well as destitute. Even religious saints and sadhus come here in large number. At one time it was the base of siddhas, nagas, tantrics and aghoras who practised sadhana here in large numbers. Nowadays their presence has reduced greatly, perhaps due to the fact that those sects have degenerated a great deal, for it is a strong belief that a fake sadhu, or one who practises sadhana for the wrong reasons, will be driven out for some reason or other by the power of Baba Baidyanath. Belief in his omnipresence is so strong amongst the people and - omnipresent He is! Even in daily life, casually walking the streets, you cannot ignore the rays of divinity emanating from the temple precincts.

There is a curious, if somewhat funny story about the origin of Baba Baidyanath. Ravana, the famed Rakshasa king of the Ramayana, who also happened to be a great scholar and accomplished yogi, receives the credit for creating the place. The story is that Ravana was returning to Lanka from Mount Kailash where he had acquired a boon from Shiva after performing austere tapasya for a long period. The boon he received was a jyotirlinga which he was taking back to install at Lanka so that Lord Shiva, his ishta devata, would be eternally present there. However, Lord Shiva placed one condition on Ravana before he gave the linga. He instructed him that this linga should never be put down on the ground en route to Lanka, or else it would not be possible to remove it again. To this Ravana agreed and set off on his journey.

Now all the devas including Lord Vishnu became apprehensive about Ravana acquiring such a great power in Lanka such as the jyotirlinga of Shiva. They therefore connived to prevent him in some way or other. Varuna entered his body, on account of which Ravana felt an extreme urge to urinate. So, he stopped and seeing a young brahmin standing nearby, he gave the boy the linga to hold, instructing him not to put it down until he returned. Ravana took a long time and the boy, who they say was Lord Vishnu himself, put the linga down whereupon it sank into the ground. On his return Ravana found to his dismay, that no matter how hard he tried, the stone would not move an inch. So it stayed there, and the place where it all happened was Deoghar. This is why the place is also known as Ravaneshwar Baidyanath. The spot where Ravan a came down to earth is identified with the present Harlajori Mandir; the place where the lingam was deposited is now Deoghar, and the lingam itself is known as Baidyanath.

The name 'Deoghar', which literally means 'home of the gods', is a modern name. In Sanskrit works we find in its place Hardapitha, Ravanavana, Ketaki-vana, Haritaki-vana and Vaidyanatha. The sanctity of Baidyanath is mentioned in several authentic works on pilgrimages dating from the 12th to the 14th century A.D. Authentic portions of the Puranas also refer to it, and as they are unquestionably anterior to the 10th century, Baidyanath must have attained considerable celebrity even in their time.

Coming to more modern times, there is an interesting account of the pilgrimage to Badyanath in the Khulasatu-e-tawarikh written between 1965 & 1699 A.D.

It runs : ''In the district of Monghyr on the skirts of the hill, there is a place named the Jharkkand of Baijnath {Baidyanath) sacred to Mahadeva. Here a miraculous manifestation puzzles those who behold only the outside of things. That is to say, in this temple there is a peepal tree, of which nobody knows the origin. If any one of the attendants of the temple is in need of money necessary for his expenses, he abstains from food and drink, sits under the tree and offers prayers to Mahadeva for the fulfillment of his desire. After two or three days the tree puts forth a leaf covered with lines in the Hindi character written by an invisible pen and containing an order on a certain inhabitant of any part of the world for the payment of a certain sum to the person who had prayed for it. Although his residence may be five hundred leagues from Baidyanath, the names of that man and his children, wife, father and grandfather, his quarter, country, home and other correct details about him are known from the writing on the leaf . The high priest, writing agreeably to it on a separate piece of paper gives it to that attendant of the temple. This is called the hundi {draft) of Baijnath. The supplicant having taken this draft goes to the place named on it, according to the directions contained in it. The man upon whom the cheque has been drawn pays the money without attempting evasion or guile. A Brahman once brought a hundi of Baijnath to the very writer of this book and he, knowing it to be a bringer of good fortune, paid the money and satisfied the Brahman. More wonderful than this is a cave at this holy place. The high priest enters into the cave once a year, on the day of Shiva-vrata and having brought some earth out of it, gives a little to each of the ministers of the temple. Through the power of the truly powerful this earth turns into gold in proportion to the degree of merit of each man ("India of Aurangzeb" 1901, Jadunath Sarkar).

Swamiji first visited Deoghar in 1956 during his parivrajak life and then again in 1989 during his pilgrimage of the siddha tirthas. Of course, he has been here several times for the programmes sponsored by Sri Anukool Chand Thakur's Satsang nagar and other different organisations such as the Lion's Club and the Rotary Club. He describes Baba Baidyanath as the civil court of Lord Siva where the devotee's prayer is heard and attended to without any delay. He says that it is perhaps the most powerful place for encountering divinity, if only you have eyes to see and the courage to withstand the experience.

Swamiji also says that this chitta bhoomi (cremation ground) is the seat of Lord Shiva as aghora. Aghoras are a sect of sadhus to whom nothing is abominable. The word 'ghora' literally means 'extreme' and 'aghora' means 'not extreme', implying that aghoris through their sadhana go beyond the extremities of Nature such as 'good' and 'bad', 'dirty' and 'clean', day and night. Aghoris regard Shiva as their guru. They practise sadhana at the burial ground and are not repulsed or disturbed by dead bodies, the eating of human flesh, the drinking of human blood or that of any animal.

The true aghora has transcended the body and all other forms of matter. The only reality which exists for him is pure consciousness. He exhibits pure vairagya and dispassion towards all material things, and this is reflected externally in his lifestyle. Of course, to the average onlooker an aghora would seem dreadfully bizarre, but he has no regard for the opinion of others. Baidyanath Dham, the chita bhoomi of Shiva, is considered to be a very important centre for aghora sadhana and many aghoris consider it a great accomplishment to be able to perfect their sadhana there.

Another unique but little known fact about Deoghar is that, apart from being a Shiva Sthan,it is also a very important Siddha Shakti Peeth. Some Puranas ascribe the advent of Baidyanath Dham at Deoghar to the Satya Yuga, or the first Age of the world when Sati, the consort of Shiva, immolated herself. 'It is said that when Lord Shiva was carrying the body of his consort Sati who had immolated herself at the yagna of her father in defiance of his disrespect to her husband, Lord Vishnu, seeing the uncontrollable grief and rage that overcame Shiva, sent forth his sudarshan chakra to dismember her dead body. It was cut into sixty-four pieces, and as Shiva roamed the length and breadth of the universe in wild abandon, different parts of Sati's body fell in different places which became the sixty-four peethas or important places for worship of Sakti. Her heart fell at Baidyanath Dham and this is known as the Hridaya Peeth. It is on this very spot that the jyotir-linga was later established. Thus both Shiva and Kali are eternally present here. Every day, first aarti and pooja are offered to Devi and then the doors of Baba Baidyanath Mandir are opened.

One of the customs which has continued throughout the ages despite strong opposition is the daily sacrifice of a young goat as an offering to the temple. There were many efforts made to stop this practice, especially during the period when Vaishnavism and Buddhism were a strong force, but the custom has survived. The matter was even brought before the court, but it was settled in favour of the defendants, as they were able to substantiate their arguments by quoting profusely from the shastras in favour of bali-pratha (living sacrifice). Today the government, being responsible for the upkeep of the temple, pays for the cost of a young goat to be sacrificed daily at the feet of Shiva and his consort Sakti.

Swamiji says that, apart from being the most important place for aghora sadhana, Baidyanath Dham or Deoghar comes second only to Kamakhya for tantric sadhana. Tantric sadhana does not only mean the sadhana of panch tattwa, as most people are inclined to think. In fact, this aspect of Tantra has been greatly misinterpreted. There is a very famous song to illustrate this. It is a story about a guru instructing his disciple. He says that the first bhiksha the disciple should get for him is grain (which can also be translated as mudra), but he (the disciple) should not go near a village or town, or even ask anyone to give it to him. However, it should be brought in abundance. The second bhiksha the guru asks the disciple to get is flesh, but he forbids him to go near any living being. Nor should he bring anyone alive or dead, but he should bring a full bowl. The song continues in this manner and at the end the guru tells the disciple that the meaning of his instructions is highly esoteric and that he who can understand this illuminating couplet is indeed the wisest disciple. Therefore, in order to understand and apply these sadhanas to oneself, one has to go deep into its esoteric implications without being stalled by its gross interpretations.

Just as there is dakshina marg and vama marg in Tantra, there is also a third path known as kaula marg, which can be said to be an amalgamation of dakshina and vama margas. Kaula marg was widely practised in Mithila (Bihar) and Orissa in times gone by, and a kaulachari is regarded as the 'real' tantric. In kaula marg, initiation is given within the kula or family. The mother initiates the son and daughter; the daughter initiates her husband and children. It is a highly esoteric practice which only a few now know and practise correctly. In Deoghar there are many kaula-margis. Perhaps when the Maithila brahmins were brought here for worship of the jyotirlinga they brought with them this knowledge or vidya. The kaula-margis may be householders but they have a different lifestyle and awareness being devoted to sadhana and self-realisation. Perhaps the most significant feature of Baba Baidyanath Dham which deserves special mention is the annual Kanwariya mela held in the month of Sravan (July). This is believed to be a highly auspicious time for bathing the jyotirlinga with Ganga water, offering flowers and bel leaves, and praying to Shiva. So ingrained is this belief that crores of devotees, rich and poor alike, walk barefoot from Sultanganj, 104 kilometres away, carrying Ganga-jal in their earthen pots. The water is collected from Sultanganj as it is the closest spot to Deoghar where the Ganga flows.

These people are known as Kanwariyas or the carriers of kanwar which are the earthen pots strung on both sides of a bamboo pole. They are not permitted to place the kanwar on the ground at any point on this journey from Sultanganj to Baba Baidyanath. This is perhaps symbolic of Ravana's mistake in putting Shiva's Jyotirlinga on the ground. Mass arrangements are made by the local authorities, resting places are erected and home-guards posted en route to provide any necessary assistance. Medical relief is also provided. In fact, the whole place comes alive in the month of Sravan as the saffron-clad devotees walk through the winding paths chanting 'Bol Bam!' all the way to their destination.

Deoghar too comes alive at this time. The whole place caters to these Kanwariyas who are regarded as the guests of Shiva. No Kanwariya has returned disappointed or disillusioned in his staunch faith of Baba Baidyanath. It is believed that the wish of each and every person is fulfilled. Therefore, one must always be cautious when approaching this jyotirlinga. for in your ignorance you may ask for what is not really intended for you.

There is also a special type of Kanwariya known as the 'Dak Bam'. He is the express train as opposed to the others who are like the passenger trains stopping at each junction. He walks non-stop and covers the entire distance in one stretch, resting only after he prostrates at the feet of Lord Shiva. The champion to date is a girl of 18 years who completed the 104 kilometres journey in 12 hours only to attain moksha at the feet of Lord Shiva.

There are several spiritual places to visit in and around Deoghar, but one which deserves special mention is Vasukinath, twenty-five kilometres to the east of Deogarh on the Dumka road. About Vasukinath Swamiji says that, if Baidyanath is the civil court of Lord Shiva, Vasukinath is the criminal court. He tells us of his disciple who had an incurable skin disease which had become so rampant that the man had to remain inside a mosquito net twenty-four hours a day to prevent flies and insects from sitting on his infected and sore skin. All medicines and doctors had failed. As a last resort he accompanied Swamiji to Vasukinath with a vow that he would perform dharana there until he received the blessings of Shiva. He stayed there for three nights sleeping on the floor outside the temple. On the third night in a dream he saw the name of the medicine that would cure him, along with the doctor who would prescribe it. He later recovered completely. The doctor also told him that he had received many patients sent by Lord Vasukinath.

So many miracles of this sort have occurred at Vasukinath that, to recount them would be well-nigh impossible. Here Lord Shiva is known as Nag Nath, the King of Serpents, which is considered to be one of the most powerful aspects personified in him. As King of the Serpents he represents one who has tamed the cosmic consciousness. Thereby he is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. These are the qualities attributed to God. Devotees are known to crawl the full distance from Sultanganj to Vasukinath in obeisance to Nag Nath. If you have seen this sight you will realise what a great tapasya it is to be able to do that, more so because these are not. sadhus or tapasvis but ordinary householders who do not have the basic training and discipline that is required to perform tapasya. They simply do it out of shraddha and devotion.

The temple itself is austere and imposing, made more dramatic and inspiring by its solitary surroundings. It is said in the Puranas that this territory was inhabited by rakshasas who were continuously harassing other tribes in that region. At one stage these rakshasas became so powerful that they even abducted the king of the chief tribe. The king who was a bhakta of Lord Shiva, remembered him with so much devotion that Lord Shiva appeared before him along with Parvati and granted him the Pasupat weapon which made him invincible, thus enabling him to kill all the rakshasas.

Legend has it that this lingam was accidently discovered at this spot by a man known as Vasuki who struck it while searching for herbs. As he hit the stone, blood emerged and terror-stricken Vasuki prayed to Lord Shiva to pardon him for his mistake. Shiva not only pardoned him but said that the place would thereafter be known, not as Nag Nath, but as Vasukinath in acknowledgement of his devotion. Vasukinath is a very important place of sadhana for tantrics. Many great tantric siddhas have lived there from time to time.

Other places of interest around Deoghar are:

Nandan Parvat - 2kms from Deoghar
Nawalakha Mandir - 11/2kms from Deoghar
Tapovan - 10kms from Deoghar
(It is believed that Rishi Valmiki performed austerities here)
Harlajori - 3kms from Deoghar
(On the road to Rikhia)
Trikutachal Parvat - 11kms from Deoghar
(Baba Baidyanath prefers the bel leaves offered from the trees at Trikutachal parvat.) Mansarover- Situated near Sivaganga
Navdurga Mandir- 2kms from Deoghar
(in Bompas town)
Satsang Nagar - (Established in 1943 by Sri Anukool Ghand Thakur who preached the universality of religions)
Pagala Baba Mandir - Pagala Baba, whose real name is Sri Ghandranath Chakravarti, has taken a vrat (vow) to do Hari Naam smaran for 108 years.
Ramakrishna Vidyapeeth - A renowned international institution providing ideal education on the lines of gurukul system.

On arriving at Deoghar, if you happen to ask a cycle-rickshaw to reach you to Rikhia, he will take you on a joyful 45 minute ride through little villages, vast fields, playing children, grazing cows, chewing goats and bathing villagers. By car the journey takes 15 minutes. The name 'Rikhia' is derived from the word 'Rishi' which means 'seer'. At one time this area was dense forest. No-one dared to roam or loiter about. This attracted many rishis to the place as they always preferred to remain in solitude to practise their sadhana. So Rikhia was a place where rishis used to live.

Sri Aurobindo lived here before he set off for his mission in Pondicherry. Sri Rabindranath Tagore had chosen this place for his university which was later founded at Bolpurand named Shantiniketan. Mahatma Gandhi had an ashram here which was visited by all great Indian leaders of the freedom movement. The Mukhia of Rikhia, Sri Taranath Mukherjee, now 98 years of age, has lived here since the age of 19, having abandoned the comforts of life in an aristocratic family, in pursuit of his ideals and principles. He vividly paints for us the history of Rikhia in the last 100 years. It is a strange coincidence, he tells us, that about 40-50 years ago a sannyasin by the name of Satyananda (whose guru was also Swami Sivananda of Ramkrishna Math) came to live here in seclusion. He was a very accomplished and dynamic sadhu but had renounced everything to practise his sadhana in this place.

Today Rikhia is a little hamlet containing many villages, including Pania Pagaar where the sadhana sthal of Swamiji is situated. Swamiji had once said that when choosing a place to live, a sadhu should have only one consideration in mind, and that is an abundance of water. A roof above the head is not as important as a plentiful supply of water. The name is therefore befitting. Pania Pagaar means 'plentiful water'.

At Pania Pagaar is the sadhana sthal of Swamiji which is known as the Sri Panch Dashnaami Paramahansa Akhara. The Sri Panch are Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, Devi and Ganesh. These five form the darbar of the Sri Panch and are the main protagonists of the Vedic tradition. To them is attributed the function of everything in the universe, its creation, sustenance and destruction. They are the poorna avatars (complete manifestations). The also have amsa avatars (partial manifestations) which are their own creations, but their functions are limited. The Sri Panch and their subsidiaries form the entire range of gods and goddesses of the Vedic pantheon. They denote varying levels of consciousness.

In the Vedic and Tantric tradition it is a common practice to represent these deities in symbolic form. Thus every god and goddess has its own particular symbol in the form of mantra, yantra or mandala. To invoke a certain deity, meditation on its symbol is sufficient. The Sri Panch of Paramahamsa Akhara are symbolised by a conch, which represents Vishnu, a kalash (earthen pot) for Brahma, and a trident or trishul for Mahesh. Devi and Ganesh are symbolised by their yantras. These form the Paramahamsa Akhara logo. The word 'Dashnaam' represents the order of sannyas which was founded by Adiguru Shankaracharya. It includes ten sects of sannyasins, one of them is Saraswati to which Swamiji belongs. The Saraswati's are devoted to vidya and learning.

The word 'Paramahamsa' represents the vidya imparted to Swamiji at the time of initiation into sannyas. Swamiji applied this knowledge to himself in a practical manner soon after it was imparted to him by his guru. Even then it seemed the most natural way of life to him, but his guru Swami Sivananda had instructed him that he should first complete the mission of propagating the science of yoga "...from door to door and from shore to shore", and when that was accomplished he could return to the Paramahamsa way of life.

The word ' Akhara' represents an abode of sadhus. It is not a Sanskrit word. There is no reference to this word in the chronicles of Adiguru Shankaracharya or even Lord Dattatreya who were both greatly responsible for initiating large numbers of sannyasins and forming them into different sects and orders. Swamiji says that it is perhaps a short form of 'alakh bara' which means 'isolated or invisible house', denoting that sadhus stayed mostly in isolated places. The word 'akhara' is also used for a place where wrestling and other physical exercises are taught and practised. The nagas, who are a militant group of sadhus, perhaps coined this word, for martial warfare is a part of their training, and the place where they lived and practised this art was therefore known as akhara. Each and every naga sadhu is accomplished in horse-riding, archery, wielding the spear or bhalla, and to uphold and protect the cause of Dharma they are even known to use their trishuls as a lethal weapon. It is believed that the trishul of a naga is a boon he has received from Shiva.

An Akhara is not an ashram. An ashram is a place of 'shram' or labour where a sannyasin perfects his body, mind, emotions and spirit. It is open to anyone who has spirtitual aspirations whether sannyasin or not. Devotees may come and live there from time to time to imbibe a higher understanding of life. Here Yoga and other spiritual sciences are taught.

An akhara on the other hand is a place where a sannyasin who has perfected himself, consolidates his learning and gives it the momentum to attain greater spiritual heights. In order to achieve this end he prefers to remain in seclusion so that whatever vrat or vow he has taken is not disturbed. It is for this reason that visitors are prohibited from staying at the akhara. During the period of sadhana a sadhu does not give updesh (guidance), darshan (physical presence), or even diksha (initiation), and therefore devotees become an obstacle on his path of sadhana. Swamiji has always said that the only difficulty he faces in his sadhana is the constant stream of visitors who wish to have his darshan. He has no problem with the body, mind, emotions or spirit; they are all firmly set on the path of self-realisation, but the frequent darshanarthis do pose a problem, as meeting them causes a break in his sadhana.

Swamiji says, "I have nothing more to say to anyone and no further guidance to give. For 26 or more years I have lived with the people answering their questions and helping them on the spiritual path. Now I withdraw my responsibility. Those who are receptive, they will surely benefit from what I have told them, but those who are not, they will now have to find their own way".

We cannot underestimate the truth of his words. For Swamiji has said it all. There is no topic which he has not elucidated for us, and these are all available in his books. Now his role is a more universal one. If we want to reach out to him, it should be through the medium of the spirit and not through the body and the mind, which is just a gross relationship. The true relationship between guru and disciple is one where the spirits commune. Yet everyone clamours for physical darshan of the guru, not realising that the real spiritual accomplishment is when the disciple can commune with the guru even if he is not physically present. This is what we have to strive for, as this is the only abiding relationship with guru.

For Swamiji, sadhana is a way of life which consumes his entire day. It is not restricted to just a few hours when he sits down for his practices. Each and every aspect of life is taken into account and altered or re-orientated to meet with the demands of his sadhana. For most of us, sadhana means a few hours when we shut ourselves off from life and its demands, to rejuvenate ourselves spiritually. It is something like sinning the whole week long and then going for confession to absolve oneself from one's sins, and get ready for the next week of sinning.

However, in truth that is not how it is. For sadhana one has to be resolute, strong, courageous and disciplined. Every act and every event is viewed from the perspective of one's sadhana and not as independent from it. Only then does sadhana transform itself into realisation. After all, Swamiji's life has been one of great accomplishment throughout. He has excelled in every field, as a disciple, as a guru, as an administrator, and as an adept of Yoga and Tantra. There is no sadhana that he has not done. He has lived like a beggar and also like a king. Lakshmi bestowed on him immense wealth, Saraswati bestowed on him vidya, Kali bestowed on him cosmic awareness, and Durga bestowed on him immense spiritual power. There was simply no need for him to abandon or renounce what he had created and live here in Deoghar so austerely.

However, Swamiji says that when he left his home for sannyas the burning desire was for self-realisation at the feet of his guru. It was not for amassing wealth, of which he already had plenty, that he left his home, nor for building an ashram or making disciples and attaining name and fame. He simply accomplished that as a duty and service to his guru. There are obligations in the life of every individual which he has to fulfill. If he does not perform they will catch up with him some day. These obligations which also apply to a a sannyasin are known as Pitri-Rin (obligations to ancestors), Dev-Rin (obligations to the divine beings), and Guru-Rin (obligations to guru). Bihar School of Yoga was Swamiji's fulfilment of his Guru-Rin.

A sannyasin essentially belongs to no-one. He has renounced everything to take sannyasa. This renunciation is total. From the day he takes sannyas his entire being - the body, mind, emotions and spirit are dedicated to guru and the Divine. They may use him as they will. Just as an alert dog lies idle the whole day but immediately comes alive when he hears his master's command, in the same way a sannyasin pursues activities but is always alert and ready for the command. It may or may not come, but if and when it does, then the sannyasin abandons everything that he has absorbed himself in, no matter how important it may be.

This precisely explains the developments in Swamiji's life over the past years. He created Bihar School of Yoga at the command of his guru and the guidance he received from his ishta devata. When the next command came he abandoned what he had created to fulfil it. Swamiji says "I am simply a servant; if another command comes, I will leave even this. It does not matter. And none should mourn the loss of their guru. I even abandoned the mantle of guru the day I left Munger. If you people want more guidance you may go to Munger or search for some mahatma or sadhu. Do not come to me; I am a sadhak".

Moreover, he says, that if the Akhara were to function like an ashram where a sadhu gives darshan and updesh to the devotees then he may as well have stayed in Munger. Life in an akhara has to be different. It is an esoteric life, and therefore to experience it fully one has to be internalised and constantly aware of atman. So it can be said that an ashram is a sort of training ground for a sannyasin where he prepares himself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, while an akhara is the testing ground where the metal is tried, checked and tested.

It is true that the akharas you may have visited are not of this kind. Most akharas function more in the manner of mutts or institutions. One reason for this could be that often when the mahatma of the akhara left his gaddi (seat) there was no other person of his calibre to maintain the disciplines. There are several akharas in remote and inaccessible places, but they are frequented by sadhus only for the period of their sadhana, and later they too migrate to more populated areas.

Swamiji has in his own way revived this very important tradition of an akhara. For it is only in seclusion that a yogi or mahatma attains spiritual heights. All our epics and shastras mention rishis, munis, sadhus and mahatmas who had hermitages in dense forests or way up in the hills. These hermitages were concealed or camouflaged by Nature, and kings and emperors would accidentally discover them while out on a hunt. Most often the emperor would enter the hermitage to pay obeisance to the mahatma. If the mahatma was in samadhi he did not give his physical darshan, no matter how important the visitor may have been. However, it was considered a great privilege to at least have darshan of the bhoomi or earth on which the mahatma was performing his sadhana. That was the feeling, the ground itself became sacred. It is the same feeling as when you enter a temple. You do not physically 'see' God but you are able to feel His presence.

Swamiji remains outdoors throughout the year during summer and winter months. It is only during the 4 months of chaaturmas (July to October) that he performs purascharana in his thatched kutiya. At other times he remains near his dhuni which is called the Mahakal Chita Dhuni, or else at the Vedi (altar) where he performs Panchagni Vidya. Swamiji laughingly says that here he is an emperor with a different apartment for every season.

The essential sadhana which Swamiji does is akshar purascharan although the basis or adhar may differ according to the season. For instance, in winter akshar purascharan is performed through the medium of pranayama and in summer the medium is panchagni sadhana, which is not known to us but which according to his passing remarks is based on higher pranayama.

Akshar purascharan is the sadhana prescribed in the shastras for this Yuga. It is based on the principle of nada, kala and bindu which according to Tantra are the basis and substratum of this universe. Akshar purascharan, especially if performed by a siddha, mahatma or tapasvi, purifies many levels of existence. During sadhana a Yogi does not exist in this time and space. He travels into infinity and can influence and restructure different realms unknown and unseen by the average person. This is why it is essential for a sadhu to have attained a sattwic nature before he enters into such sadhana, so that positive vibrations are felt. This purification can be felt at all levels, the physical, mental and spiritual. "We can feel elevated and inspired positively as well as spiritually. So although a tapasvi remains aloof from society, we cannot say that he does not contribute anything to it. It may be a subtle contribution but it is an eternal one which will survive the ravages of time.

Panchagni Vidya is the endurance of five fires. Swamiji performs it in an open-air Vedi. Four dhunis are kindled with wood in obeisance to Agni devata and the fifth dhuni is Surya devata. These external fires are symbolic of the five internal fires raging in man- kaama (passion), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), mad (ego) and moha (attachment). Swamiji says that he alone who can withstand these five internal fires is able to withstand the external fires, or vice versa.

This vidya is referred to in the Katha Upanishad where it is described by Yama the Lord of Death to the young Nachiketa. The rites and rituals of this vidya are gupt (secret) known only to a few, as it gives insight and awareness into higher spiritual realms, bestowing immortality on the yogi who practises it. It is intended only for those who have perfect vairagya such as Nachiketa. Befittingly, Swami Sivananda in his epithet on Swamiji dated 26th July 1954, has likened him to Nachiketa:

Few would have such Vairagya at such a young age. Swami Satyanandji is full of the nachiketa. element. Yet, any work that he takes up he will complete in a perfect manner. He does the work of four people and yet never complains. He is a versatile genius and a linguist too. Yet, he is humble and simple - an ideal sadhak and Nish Kama Sevak''

Parvati the wife of Shiva practised this vidya to attain union with Shiva. Thereby she is depicted as the eternal consort of Siva. Lord Dattatreya, an avadhoot Paramahansa who is venerated as an incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, also performed Panchagni. Sharada Devi the consort of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is also known to have done this sadhana.

It is said that when Parvati practised Panchagni, she remembered the Lord throughout, chanting his name. Hot gusts of wind blew, huge trees fell down with the wind, but she was lost in the remembrance of Shiva. The external disturbances did not imbalance her awareness. In the same way, internally too, a strong wave of anger or passion, greed or attachment can suddenly arise and totally imbalance a person who is not firmly rooted in sadhana.

The Divinity in Nature can be strongly felt at the Akhara. The sun, moon, stars and most importantly the seasons and the wind, play a very important role during Panchagni sadhana. Therefore, according to certain scriptures this sadhana is only intended for one who has the panch tattwas under their control. Rikhia is especially noted for its frequent changes of weather, sometimes within the hour. In one day you can have darshan of all four seasons, and the hurricanes here are enough to blow you off the ground. Therefore a Yogi who practises Panchagni has first to make friends with Agni(Fire), Vayu (Air), Jal (Water), Prithvi (Earth) and Akash (Ether).

Swamiji first arrived at Rikhia on 23rd September, 1989. It was a perfect day. Night and day were in equal balance i.e., 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night, a phenomenon which occurs only twice a year. His first anusthan commenced on 30th October, 1989 during Ashwin Navaratri. The day before his anusthan began Swamiji called the few sannyasins present at the Akhara to see the magnificent sight of a thick twelve-feet long geru-coloured nag serpent which didparikram (circumambulation) of the entire property and disappeared into a tree at the center of the Akhara. It is no coincidence that this event was revealed in a dream before it occurred. As this was a highly auspicious sign, a murti of Swami Sivananda and one of Adiguru Shankaracharya have been installed near this spot. During his tirth yatra it was in Vasukinath that Pujya Swamiji had the darshan of Nag Nath coiled around his neck saying, "Become a chakravarti!".

In Swamiji's own words:

"In Vasukinath
as I lay under a shady tree
I had a dream - vision
of a hooded serpent
coiled around my neck
and the clear instruction
'Become a Chakravarti! "

Soon after Swamiji arrived at Rikhia he lit a dhuni or fire and called it Mahakal Chita Dhuni. It is fuelled by wood. In the Akhara there are two types of dhunis. They are known as tapa dhuni and pooja dhuni. The tapa dhuni is lit with wood and burns all twenty-four hours of the day in rain and in sunshine-It is the tapasya dhuni which consumes and purifies everything. Swamiji even cooks his food at this dhuni.

The pooja dhuni on the other hand is lit with specially prepared goytha (cow-dung). This dhuni is lit only during purascharan. It is smokeless and emits a subtle fragrance which is very purifying. Goytha and wood are thus the food consumed by the Akhara and Swamiji often calls himself the"Goytha Paramahamsa".

Amongst sadhus, lighting a dhuni is a very ancient tradition. It marks a very significant stage in his life. The dhunis of great siddhas such as Gorakhnath, Lord Dattatreya and others are known to have miraculous powers and they are preserved even till today. It is believed that, due to its sanctity, the ash from a sadhu's dhuni is very potent. This is understandable, because once a sadhu lights a dhuni, through his seva and nurturing he gives it life. His entire day is spent in front of the dhuni and all his acts are performed with Agni as sakshi.

In the Vedic and Tantric traditions Agni is always an important part of any ritual, be it social, cultural, religious or spiritual. Even in marriages it is Agni who confers the title of man and wife on the couple. When Sita had to prove her honour after being rescued from Lanka, it was Agni that she had to pass through. Just as today all court proceedings are commenced only after the witness swears before the Bhagavad Gita that he will speak nothing but the truth, in earlier days people swore by Agni. It was sincerely believed that ' one cannot lie or do any misdeed before Agni.

A yogi lights a dhuni with this idea in mind, that the dhuni is sakshi to each and every thought, word and deed of his. If these are not sattwic they will not be able to withstand the test of Agni. In practice too this has become evident at the Akhara, because as soon as Swamiji lit the Mahakal Chita Dhuni, all other aspects of the Akhara began to fall into shape and take form.

The Akhara has its own unique set of instruments which are multi-purpose. They can be used for pooja and worship, for self-protection, for cutting, cooling and eating as well as for tending the dhuni. Some are just ornamental, others are used during sadhana or for conferring spiritual power on others. They may or may not ever be used, but as per tradition a sadhu must keep them in his possession and perform the ritual pooja of these items. They include the bhalla (spear), dhanush-baan (bow and arrow), trishul (trident), chimta (tongs), khappar (bowl), yoga-danda, vyaghra charam (leopard skin), mriga charam (deerskin), shank (conch), damaru (small drum), nagara (big drum) and Parsuram's axe.

One should not underestimate these possessions of a yogi. In the Vedas we find references to mantras used by Rishis to transfer power to a blade of kusha grass which transformed it into a lethal weapon. A yogi can do this with his trishul, chimta and other instruments. One knows of siddha nagas who can cause cancer to occur if they strike someone with their trishul or yoga danda. Any item in the sadhu's possession can even bestow spiritual power and material gain on others.

It is through satsang that these acquire the power of invincibility. The Srimad Bhagwat elucidates that the shankh has become a venerated symbol only due to the fact that it is forever in the satsang of Lord Vishnu. 'Satsang'' means 'association with the truth' and it is perhaps the most important factor for spiritual transformation. It is through satsang that our spiritual samskaras are nurtured and transformed. In the same way the possessions of a sadhu are transformed through the satsang they receive.

In the Akhara it is the damaru and shankh which are used most often. The damaru represents Shiva and the shankh is a symbol of Vishnu. Swamiji commences his sadhana with the rattle of the damaru and the roar of the conch. At the sound of the damaru tamas flees, and when the conch is blown sattwa awakens. The damaru is also used every morning at 4 a.m. during the pooja of the Rudraksha tree, and the conch for the pooja of Tulsi Mai.

The ishta devi of the Akhara is Tulsi Mai. She is the benevolent force presiding over all the lokas. Swamiji himself performs snaan (bath) and pooja of Tulsi Mai daily. The shastras enumerate certain trees which are the natural abode of devatas. Each devata has a tree which he is known to favour. These trees possess divine qualities. Just as modern biology tells us of fruit-bearing and medicinal trees, the scriptures speak of a group of such trees that can invoke the descent of devatas. These trees greatly enhance the purity of the atmosphere, thus increasing the spiritual vibrations of the surroundings. The Akhara has trees of only this quality and they are worshipped daily.

There is a touching story about Baal Krishna when he forbade his mother to perform yagna in obeisance to Lord Indra. He asked, 'Why do you pray to Indra? He is not worthy of it. He has a terrible temper and is vindictive too. If you annoy him he will cause famine and destruction by obstructing the seasons. You should pray to the trees who without being asked give you fruit to eat and wood to light your fire. You should pray to the earth or bhoomi which gives you the soil to grow grain and food to eat, or the cows which give you milk to drink. They are worthy of prayer'.

In Sanskrit, trees are known as 'vriksh' and are definitely worthy of veneration, for we greatly depend on them. The ritual of invoking the divine in a tree is known as 'devata avahan'. These trees then act as a protective force aiding the yogi in sadhana. After all, it is not only the physical realm which a yogi has to encounter on the path of sadhana. There are many deeper and higher realms on the psychic and causal levels. Negative forces exist even in these realms and they are more difficult to counteract because their powers are unlimited. When the yogi transcends this mind and soars high into infinity, he can easily become a victim to these forces. It is then that the divine forces rush to his aid and help him in his sadhana. The same principle applies during the worship of yantra and mandala where the devatas position themselves in the outer protective covering or bhupura to prevent any negative forces from jeopardising the sadhak's experience of the Divine.

Swamiji remains alone at the Akhara. His sole companions are two ferocious dogs. Dogs are regarded as the vaahan or carriers of Bhairav Devata. Just as Garuda, the bird, is the carrier of Vishnu, and Nandi the bull is the carrier of Shiva, dogs are the carriers of Bhairav Nath. At all important Shiva temples you will find Bhairav Nath in the outer precincts. You first have to pay obeisance to the security officer and then to Lord Shiva. These two security officers of Swamiji are known as Bhola Nath and Bhairavi Nath. They remain around Swamiji the whole day guarding him, his dhuni and mandap (raised platform). They object strongly if anyone dares to enter that area. At the sound of his damaru and shankh they know that he has commenced his sadhana, and after rushing to him for their customary biscuits they position themselves near the vedi. They will eat from no-one else but Swamiji and are on duty twenty-four hours of the day. They are beautiful and lovable too.

In alertness there is no other animal which can surpass the dog. He is duty-bound and loyal too, but the most important lesson one may learn from them is their innocence. They are totally devoid of raga and dwesha. They have one master. This is why Swamiji has often said that a disciple should be like a dog; loyal, obedient and serving only one master. Certainly they must have good karma to their credit to have been chosen for Swamiji's service.

Here at the Akhara one has seen another important transition in the lifestyle of Swamiji. He has given up the geru cloth and donned the 'kaupeeri' or loin cloth. This too is a very important hall-mark in the life of a sadhu, for it denotes that vairagya and dispassion are an inherent part of his being. In the shastras the person who dons a kaupeen and accepts a begging bowl is verily Shiva himself. It is also said that a disciple who has the good fortune to touch the kaupeen of his guru is thrice blessed, for it can give him instant liberation. Swamiji says that there will come a stage when he will give up even the loin cloth.

Since he arrived at the Akhara Swamiji has never stepped out. He says, "Here I will live like a Paramahamsa who has nothing to do with the world". A paramahamsa lives simply with the minimum possible material comforts. His bed is the bare grass and his clothing his own natural skin. He eats little, living on a frugal diet he prepares himself. He does not give updesh, gyan or diksha, nor does he pose to be a great mahatma, but rather he lives away from the glare of public life. This is justifiable in the sense that a Paramahamsa, or rather one who has attained paramahamsa consciousness, attains divine qualities. However, these siddhis are not meant to be flaunted and capitalised on by drawing large crowds. They are meant rather for the fulfillment of spiritual goals.

There are four stages of sannyas: bahudak, kutichak, hansa, and paramahamsa. Bahudak signifies the stage when a sannyasin lives as a disciple in service of the guru. After serving the guru, when he enters parivrajak life, he is known as kutichak. Hamsa is the stage when he interacts with the world, fulfilling the mission of his guru, yet remaining unspoiled by it, in much the same way as a swan who remains in water but does not ever become wet. Paramahamsa, the last stage, is the culmination of all that he has accomplished spiritually. Paramahamsa no doubt is an order into which sannyasins are initiated, but more importantly it is a state of consciousness. Every Paramahamsa you encounter may not have attained that consciousness but he has at least taken a step in the right direction by being initiated into the tradition. Of course, there have been many Paramahamsas who have attained this state but they are few and far between. Most others only rigidly observe the rules and codes of conduct of that tradition without ever attaining the paramahamsa consciousness.

One who has attained that state goes beyond the boundaries of tradition. He is a liberated being. Of course, he will never deny the importance of tradition because he is aware that a traditionless society can lead to anarchy and disruption. This is true in sannyasa also. Today self-styled sadhus are in abundance, but if we examine them closely we find that their goals are more material than spiritual. Many even think of sannyasa as a career. This happens when one makes a break from tradition. The sannyas tradition demands that one has to undergo twelve years training under the guru's guidance, after which he wanders freely on his own, applying to himself all that he has learnt as well as examining his strengths and weaknesses. When he is firmly grounded in his dedication to spiritual life, he settles down in one place and propagates the spiritual sciences that he has learnt and also perfected. This service to society is rendered with nishkama bhav (without personal desire). When this task is accomplished he retires into seclusion.

Many people have questioned the need for Swamiji to do all these sadhanas and live in austerity when he has already proven his spiritual calibre. In answer Swamiji says that apart from being the best way of life and one that he finds most fulfilling, he is also aware that if he does not set this example, others after him will take the liberty of proclaiming themselves Paramahamsas without ever having undergone the disciplines necessary for attaining that state. It is out of his infinite compassion and grace that he is paving the guidelines for sincere sannyasins to emulate in the future.

As per tradition, a Paramahamsa lives on bhiksba. He does not accept dakshina. There is a subtle difference between the two. Dakshina is an offering which the devotee wants to offer to a sadhu. It mayor may not be of use to him but he is obliged to accept it.

In bhiksha the sadhu demands from the devotee only what he requires, nothing more and nothing less. This is known as the practice of aparigraha or non-possession of material objects, and it is essential for a sadhu.

A Paramahamsa lives in a rapturous embrace with the Divine. His consciousness is very refined. He is able to control it at will, and direct it to different places at one time. He exhibits a balanced perception of the dualities of life such as pain and pleasure, good and bad etc. Through all this he remains a sakshi (witness). Such a person attains immortality. Such a soul attains immortality.

The great epic "Mahabharat" describes a Paramahamsa as an ascetic of the highest order who has subdued his senses through abstract meditation. Abstract meditation is a very difficult art to master. We are all familiar with the concept of meditation on a particular symbol. Although seemingly difficult, it is far easier than meditation on an abstraction such as a thought or an idea or the void. Meditation on anything that does not have form is abstract meditation, and if you are not an adept at handling the mind as well as the entire consciousness raging within you, then you will be lost to distraction.

Moreover, this form of dhyan is a very advanced stage of yoga as it is not possible to accomplish if the senses have not been subdued. Subduing the senses does not mean suppressing them. It is not possible to subdue the senses through suppression. This would only lead to deformity in the human personality and behaviour. The senses are ruled by the tattwa of fire. They are ignited even by the tiniest spark and they rage high within man. To try to suppress fire is like playing with dynamite. Therefore, when they say that a Paramahamsa has subdued his senses they do not mean that he has suppressed them. Rather he has withstood that fire and transcended its effect on the body, mind, emotions and spirit.

This is precisely why certain sadhanas such as smashan sadhana (sadhana practised at the cremation ground), lata sadhana (sadhana practised with a young girl), aghora sadhana (eating of flesh, blood, faeces) is prescribed for a yogi, so that he may gauge the extent to which he has been able to master himself. These practices are not black magic or debauchery. They may appear to be so but that is purely the outlook of an onlooker who does not have the awareness to understand.

Imagine then what sort of awareness a Paramahamsa would have. In the "Patanjali Yoga Sutras" it is mentioned that the mind rests on, or has for its support the panch-vrittis of which some are painful and others not. When these five vrittis of the mind are negated the mind is said to dissolve, but dissolution of mind is not the final goal, for with dissolution of mind one loses awareness. In order to go a step further one has to maintain inner awareness despite the dissolution of the mind. This is a great accomplishment, and a Paramahamsa is known to have attained this state.

Etymologically 'Paramahamsa' means 'Supreme Swan'. In the shastras the swan is allegorised as having the special ability to extract the true essence from all things. It is able to separate the milk from a mixture of milk and water. A Paramahamsa is also known to possess this quality. Moreover, the swan symbolises 'chetna' or 'refined awareness' which knows all. Thus it is said that a Paramahamsa lives in supreme awareness. This is a very exalted state, which for most of us is even difficult to conceive, let alone experience.

In all of us there is a mortal awareness that dies and an immortal awareness that is eternal. This eternal awareness exhibits itself in varying degrees of refinement in all animate and inanimate objects including human beings. In evolved souls it reveals itself as radiance and light thereby creating an aura of divinity around them. It is this immortal awareness that will determine your experiences after death. If you have not cared to awaken it during your lifetime then after death, destiny prevails, but if it is awakened then you yourself can determine your destiny in life and after death. That is why evolved souls such as yogis, mahatmas and siddhas can guide us even after they have left their mortal frames.

Any acts that such persons perform will have a divine quality and purpose. This is because the samskaras of such individuals are burnt and they live only to fulfil the Divine Will. They can therefore reflect and radiate divinity. They may act human, they may look human, but no matter what they do they will stand out as extraordinary beings. Rama was such a man. So too was Krishna. We know very well that they walked on this earth as we do. They lived the span of human life undergoing its joys and sorrows as we do, and yet they are revered as God even today. This is because they exhibited that so-called 'radiance of divinity' in their each and every act, which is responsible for the fact that even centuries later it is believed that their birth on this earth had a divine purpose.

It is these divine incarnations and illumined beings who pave the way for the future generations by setting an example for them. In difficult times we can draw inspiration from them. Swamiji too has set an example that all of us can at least aspire for, even if we cannot emulate him. From his early childhood he showed an extraordinary genius born out of his immense vairagya. His accomplishments did not ever cause him to swerve from his goal of attaining the beauties of sannyas and renunciation. He exhibited a natural tendency to be familiar with and at ease in, any situation. When he directed The Bihar School of Yoga it was with perfection and intuition, guiding thousands of souls all over the world in their strive for perfection in life and beyond. Today, as an ascetic, far from the glitter and glamour of gurudom, he shows the same elan and ease. It is not common to find a guru who renounces his gaddi and names his successor in his own lifetime. In living memory we cannot cite any example of this kind. Yet Swamiji has done it, for his goal is firmly set on the divine path.

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