If you sing kirtan daily, you can see God face to face.
-Swami Sivananda Saraswati
Swami Sivananda's whole life was the expression of divine love in action. His enormous heart, like the heart of the Boddhisattwa, sought the liberation of all. He welcomed everyone to come to him, and when they came, he gave them satsang and sang to them about how to lead the 'Divine Life'. He believed that spiritual evolution should be holistic or integral in nature, and so he taught a four-fold combination: seva or selfless service to all; bhakti or one-pointed devotion to God; yoga and meditation; and Adwaita Vedanta, or deep philosophical inquiry into the nature of the 'self.
These four he wove into song and kirtan; music was just one of his many ways of imparting his wisdom and transmitting his love. Swami Sivananda propagated purely non-sectarian universal ideas of the most tolerant and all-embracing character. He could as readily sing the names of Christ, Mother Mary, Allah and Buddha as he sang the names of Sita and Rama, Radhe and Krishna. His fundamental teaching, which he also made into a song, was: 'Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realise.
Swami Sivananda's style of kirtan is dynamic, power-packed and invigorating - totally energising! The mantras surge forth from his heart in a relentless flood, sweeping all before them with their positive waves, charging and purifying the atmosphere. His resounding Om's, Rama's, Narayana's and Haro-Hara's pound into the brain, purifying the consciousness, driving out all negativity, stimulating the mind and infusing the listener with energetic joy. His kirtans have a bounce, enthusiasm, humour and jollity that is unique to him alone. They are light, free and delightful. His frank, forthright and childlike nature comes bursting through, and to hear the song is to love the singer, his happiness is so infectious! Those kirtans set to dadara tat, a swinging rhythm, are especially irresistible - the body just has to sway and dance to the beat, the analytical mind being totally overcome by the waves of devotion.
Swami Sivananda set all his basic teachings to music, with catchy tunes easily grasped in essence by both child and adult alike. Whether they teach sense control and moderation, yoga and meditation, or the highest Adwaita Vedanta philosophy, his eternal lessons are flavoured with humour and presented with a childlike simplicity which bypasses the intellect, making them easily digestible by the subconscious mind.
Many of Swami Sivananda's tapes are currently available from the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, where he lived beside his beloved 'Mother' Ganga, with the backdrop of the Himalayas, which he considered as his 'Father'. They include inspiring Satsangs, talks on Brahma vidya, yoga and spiritual life, as well as kirtans and songs. They are so very much alive that today's listener can fully experience the magnanimity of his character, the power of his presence and appreciate his high-minded generosity of spirit. Along with his deep wisdom, there is the perfect openness and spontaneity of a child.
Using his creative genius, Swami Sivananda mixed Hindi, English and Sanskrit with perfect ease in his tireless effort to reach and teach the greatest spectrum of people from every caste, creed and country. All his spiritual and moral admonitions are sweetened with the soft showers of the names of Krishna, Shiva and Rama to make them palatable.
Thus we find in the 'Song of a Little':
Be moderate Govinda, in eating, drinking Govinda, in everything Govinda. Govinda, bhaja Govinda.
And in the 'Song of Sadhana Instructions':
Ahimsa paramo dharma (non-violence is the highest dharma), love one and all. Never hurt others' feelings, be kind to all. Control anger by kshama (forgiveness). Develop vishivaprem (universal love). Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Radhe-Govinda.
Instructing young women in the 'Song of God is Truth', he sings to them:
Give up fashion, jaya, jaya Rama. Wear simple dress, Sita-Rama. Real beauty, jaya jaya Rama, is found in atma, Sita-Rama. Faith, devotion, jaya, jaya Rama, are the earrings, Sita-Rama. Selfless service, jaya jaya Rama, is silk sari, Sita-Rama.
If you listen to these songs with your heart and not your head, you will be uplifted, and infused with the joyful spirit of Swami Sivananda.
Imagine this enormous figure, Swami Sivananda, sitting in his tiny kutir surrounded by devotees, full of smiles, his laughing eyes radiating love all around. Each and every guest and devotee is made comfortable and inquired after. He talks constantly, addressing everyone on his or her own level, and giving instructions to the various swamis in between to fetch this or that.
Not a moment is wasted. Sanskrit chanting can be heard in the background, the sound of the veena or mridanga, the scampering of monkeys outside, the honk of a passing rickshaw. There is the distribution of coffee and dosa, chocolate for the children, much laughter and joking, the giving of books and anything else that he could possibly give (for Swami Sivananda would have given away the entire ashram).
In this warm-hearted, relaxed and convivial atmosphere, when everyone is receptive and at ease, Swami Sivananda, who has been preparing for the right moment to plant the seed of yoga and divine life in those present, announces, "Now, just hear this." Upon which he bursts into the 'Song to Eradicate Egoism':
Self-sacrifice, self-surrender, self-denial, these are the instruments to slay egoism. 'I'-lessness, 'mine'-lessness, fearlessness, selflessness, desirelessness, these are the instruments to slay egoism, and the lesson is happily repeated by the devotees as they join in the refrain of the kirtan.
In this way his message penetrates deeply into the hearts of the listeners and is remembered. Thus the transmission of energy, idea and ideal takes place in the living presence of a great saint who had such a deep understanding of the psychology, suffering and needs of humanity.
Swami Sivananda's kirtans have a natural beauty and appealing innocence that melt the heart. For example, the 'Song of Soham Shivoham':
I am fragrance in jasmine, beauty in all flowers. I am coolness in the ice or hue in the rainbow. I am silence in the forest, thunder in all clouds. I am velocity in electrons. I am motion in silence. I am effulgence in the Sun. Om, Om, Om, Om, Om, Om.
Or the 'Song of Immortality':
The grass is green, the rose is red and the sky is blue, but the atman is colourless, formless and guna-less too. O, Children of Light, will you drink not the nectar of immortality? Rama Rama Rama Rama, jaya Sita-Rama, jaya jaya Sita-Rama.
Giving light-hearted instructions to small children to utilise every part of their body for worshipping God and doing all work as an offering unto him, he quickly composes a pleasing rhyme they will like and understand:
Two little eyes to look to God. Two little ears to hear his word. Two little feet to walk in his ways. Two little lips to sing his praise. Two little hands to do his will, and one little heart to love him still.
He also taught children the story of the Ramayana by singing it to them in simple verse. It was his gentle humour and direct simplicity that enabled him to touch the hearts of others. Who will not smile at the words of the 'Song of Brahmamayam':
Doodh-dahi is Brahman. Thandai-lemonade is Brahman. Garam-garam chai is Brahman. Sarvam Brahmamayam re, re sarvam Brahmamayam. (Brahma pervades everything, friend).
Swami Sivananda also gave his instructions on yoga and meditation through song. After singing salutations to Krishna and Shiva, followed by a short kirtan, he would then change the subject to:
Get up at four am, Brahmamuhurta. Get up at four am, japo Rama Rama. Get up at four am, practise yogabhyasa. Get up at four am, practise pranayama. Observe mouna daily for two hours. Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Radhe-Govinda.
Teaching yoga to children, he would first have an asana demonstrated and then sing them the benefits. He would set everyone laughing with the song: You have come to Rishikesh to practise asana. Do not think of chapati, chutney and paratha. Be up and doing japa, kirtan, meditation.
Of course, he did not leave out kundalini and the chakras, but included them also in his songs:
Do asana, kumbhaka, mudra. Shake the kundalini, then take it to sahasrara through chakras in sushumna.
In the same way he explained the process of meditation:
Turn the gaze (inward), draw (in) the indriyas (senses), still the mind, sharpen the intellect. Chant Om with feeling, meditate on atma. Chant Rama with feeling, meditate on Sita-Rama. Chant Shyam with feeling, meditate on Radhe Shyam.
He had the gift of taking any subject and turning it into a song of instruction.
As well as being a great yogi, Swami Sivananda also laid much emphasis on the teaching of Adwaita Vedanta, which he propagated world-wide. In the 'Song of a Vedantin' he sings:
Enter samadhi through silent meditation. Get established in Brahmic consciousness. Param shanti nitya tripti (supreme peace and eternal satisfaction), Sat-Chit-Ananda - moksha!
He brought the seemingly inaccessible philosophy of Vedanta into the homes of ordinary people in a way they could understand, inspiring them to 'live' this great philosophy, rather than just read about it:
All is aalam, all is jugglery. All is Maya's trick. All is Maya's plan. This world is unreal. Jiva is unreal. All is a long dream. Brahma Satyam, Jagat mithya, Jivo Brahmaiva, na para (Brahman is truth, the world is false, the individual soul and Brahman are one).
In this way he was able to give colour and flavour to an otherwise dry subject and bring the teachings of the rishis and yogis out into the open once more.
Swami Sivananda was a real yogi, a real Brahmajnani, a real bhakta and a real sannyasin, who performed severe tapasya (austerities) for twelve years, observing silence and fasting, performing japa while standing up to his hips in the icy-cold Ganga and spending more than twelve hours daily in meditation. After these twelve years of unbroken sadhana, along with the seva of serving the sick, he attained the bliss of nirvikalpa samadhi before he started his mission of spreading the 'Divine Life' world-wide.
So let us end with his 'Song of a Sannyasin' in which he describes, with the same characteristic touch of humour, his own realised state:
Chidananda roopa Shivoham, Shivoham. I am a sannyasin bold. King of kings, emperor or emperors. Maya's fetters I have broken right through and through. She cannot bind me. I know her ways, forms, and all her tricks. Honour, dishonour, censure or praise cannot touch me now. The praiser and the praised, the censurer and the censured are now one. Glory to Shankara, Dattatreya, Sri Sanaka! Glory to Sanandana, Sanat Kumar a and Sanat Sujata!
And glory to Swami Sivananda!