Sivananda Saraswati (or Swami Sivananda; 8 September 1887 – 14 July 1963) was a Hindu spiritual teacher and a proponent of Yoga and Vedanta. Sivananda was born Kuppuswami in Pattamadai, in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. He studied medicine and served in British Malaya as a physician for several years before taking up monasticism. He lived most of his life near Muni Ki Reti, Rishikesh.
He was the founder of the Divine Life Society (DLS) in 1936, Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy (1948) and author of over 200 books on yoga, Vedanta, and a variety of subjects. He established Sivananda Ashram, the headquarters of the DLS, on the bank of the Ganges at Sivanandanagar, 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from Rishikesh.
Sivananda Yoga, the yoga form propagated by his disciple Vishnudevananda, is now spread in many parts of the world through Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. These centres are not affiliated with Sivananda’s ashrams, which are run by the Divine Life Society.
Swami Sivananda was born Kuppuswamy on Thursday, September 8, 1887, during the first hours of the morning, with Bharani star rising in Pattamadai village on the banks of Tamraparni river in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu. His father, Sri P.S. Vengu Iyer, worked as a revenue officer, and was a great Shiva Bhakta (Bhakti) himself. His mother, Srimati Parvati Ammal, was a very religious woman. Kuppuswamy was the third and last child of his parents.
As a child, he was very active and promising in academics and gymnastics. He attended medical school in Tanjore, where he excelled. He ran a medical journal called Ambrosia during this period. Upon graduation, he practiced medicine and worked as a doctor in British Malaya for ten years, with a reputation for providing free treatment to poor patients. Over time, a sense that medicine was healing on a superficial level grew in Dr. Kuppuswamy, urging him to look elsewhere to fill the void, and in 1923 he left Malaya and returned to India to pursue his spiritual quest.
Upon his return to India in 1924, he went to Rishikesh where he met his guru, Vishvananda Saraswati, who initiated him into the Sannyasa order, and gave him his monastic name; the full ceremony was conducted by Vishnudevananda, the mahant (abbot) of Sri Kailas Ashram.Sivananda settled in Rishikesh, and immersed himself in intense spiritual practices. Sivānanda performed austerities for many years but continued to nurse the sick. In 1927, with some money from an insurance policy, he ran a charitable dispensary at Lakshman Jhula.
After a few years, Sivananda went on an extensive pilgrimage and travelled the length and breadth of India to meditate at holy shrines and came in contact with spiritual teachers throughout India. During this Parivrajaka (wandering monk) life, Sivānanda visited important places of pilgrimage in the south, including Rameswaram. He conducted Sankirtan and delivered lectures during his travels. He visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and met Maharishi Shuddhananda Bharati to whom he gave the title of Maharishi. At the Ramana Ashram, he had the darshan of Ramana Maharshi on Maharshi’s birthday. He sang bhajans and danced in ecstasy with Maharshi’s bhaktas. He also went on pilgrimages to various places in northern India including Kedarnath and Badrinath. He visited Kailash–Manasarovar in 1931.
Founding the Divine Life Society
Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society in 1936 on the banks of the Ganges River, distributing spiritual literature for free. Early disciples included Satyananda Saraswati, founder of Satyananda Yoga.
Krishnananda and Sivananda (right), circa 1945
In 1945, he created the Sivananda Ayurvedic Pharmacy, and organised the All-world Religions Federation. He established the All-world Sadhus Federation in 1947 and the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy in 1948. He called his yoga the Yoga of Synthesis, combining the Four Yogas of Hinduism (Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Rāja Yoga), for action, devotion, knowledge, and meditation respectively.
Swami Sivananda died on 14 July 1963 in his Kutir on the bank of the Ganges in Sivanandanagar.
Sivananda on a 1986 Postal Stamp of The Government of India
Disciples of Swami Sivananda :
Sivananda’s two chief acting organizational disciples were Chidananda Saraswati and Krishnananda Saraswati. Chidananda Saraswati was appointed president of the DLS by Sivananda in 1963 and served in this capacity until his death in 2008. Krishnananda Saraswati was appointed General Secretary by Sivananda in 1958 and served in this capacity until his death in 2001.
Disciples who went on to grow new organisations include:
- Chinmayananda Saraswati, founder of the Chinmaya Mission
- Sahajananda Saraswati, Spiritual Head of Divine Life Society of South Africa
- Satchidananda Saraswati, founder of the Integral Yoga Institutes, around the world
- Satyananda Saraswati, founder of Bihar School of Yoga
- Shantananda Saraswati, founder of Temple of Fine Arts (Malaysia & Singapore)
- Sivananda Radha Saraswati, founder of Yasodhara Ashram, British Columbia, Canada
- Venkatesananda Saraswati, inspirer of Ananda Kutir Ashrama in South Africa and Sivananda Ashram in Fremantle, Australia
- Vishnudevananda Saraswati, founder of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, HQ Canada
A prolific author, Sivananda wrote 296 books on a variety of subjects like metaphysics, Yoga, Vedanta, religion, western philosophy, psychology, eschatology, fine arts, ethics, education, health, sayings, poems, epistles, autobiography, biography, stories, dramas, messages, lectures, dialogues, essays and anthology. His books emphasised the practical application of Yoga philosophy over theoretical knowledge.