It was the year 1960. In the Sivananda Ashram, after Arati in the night Satsang, a few visitors were gathered around Gurudev. Sivananda made kind enquiries of each one by turn, and one of them told him that he was about to retire from service. This set Gurudev in an introspective mood and he suddenly exclaimed, "Have I retired? Or am I retiring?" The words were spoken softly, but they had an ominous ring.
In May 1962, coming out of the Ashram office, Sivananda posed for the camera with a visitor. After the photograph was taken, the visitor thanked Gurudev, took leave and went away. All at once he turned to a close disciple who was standing nearby and said, "Na Ham, Na Tum, Daftar Gum—Neither I, nor you, the office has vanished." It was a favourite expression of Gurudev. He had voiced it many times before to many persons, to convey the ultimate Vedantic truth that the world ceases to exist for the man who attains the Turiya state; but strange to say, that day his abrupt utterance, intentionally directed perhaps, made such a mark on the disciple that the latter felt absolutely uncertain and unhappy.
In September 1962, during his birthday festivities, Sri Gurudev displayed extreme hesitancy in inviting the assembled devotees to the succeeding year’s birthday celebrations, though each year it was his usual habit to do so. The devotees thus got one more clue to what was in store for them.
The official monthly magazine of the Institution, The Divine Life, had from its inception regularly carried on its second cover page a short letter of spiritual instructions by Gurudev in his own hand-writing. He used to give this matter, every time, in December itself for the twelve months of the following year. Besides, these twelve letters were also separately printed serially in a booklet form every year as Spiritual Awakeners. When Sri Gurudev gave the matter for 1963 in December 1962, Sri Narasimhulu of the Press found that it was incomplete, as it was from January to September only, with July matter distinctly missing, too. When it was pointed out, Gurudev had simply said: "You print whatever I have given." This proves that he was a Trikala Jnani (one who has the knowledge of past, present and future) of the highest order. He could foresee his Mahasamadhi long before it occurred. Narasimhulu could only understand this event, this miracle, after the Master’s Mahasamadhi, as he was one day, by chance, glancing through the booklet, Spiritual Awakeners, for the year 1963.
The clearest indication came early in 1963, when, at a night Satsang, Gurudev openly invited all who wanted Sannyas to get initiated on the Sivaratri Day of 1963 itself. "Who knows what may happen next Sivaratri?" he remarked. A disciple protested that Gurudev should not speak in that strain, but Sivananda summarily silenced her, saying, "Ohji, keep quiet. You don’t know a thing."
About April 1963, Gurudev became unaccountably serious-minded in his attitude to men and matters. His deeds began to take on an unusual complexion—for instance, the economy drive which he instituted in the Ashram administration. It was difficult to understand how the large-hearted Sivananda could impose cuts even in the petty allowances of the Ashram workers. But he did it. And he slashed many other items of Ashram expenditure, large and small, with such meticulous care that the institution’s debts fell steeply in just a month.
But Gurudev did it all so jokingly. "Economy, sir, economy!" he used to say, whenever anyone went to him with an indent for something or the other. No one, however, could sense a deeper purpose behind his actions. The truth was that Gurudev was preparing to leave.
On several occasions during May and June that year, Gurudev called for the calendar, each time from a different person. Once he flung the sheets up to June at one stroke and started looking into July. When a disciple wondered what it was all about, Gurudev exclaimed, "Oh, you don’t know," and after fingering through the dates, returned the calendar to him. Few could guess at that time that Gurudev was fixing the auspicious date and time for his own Mahasamadhi!
Starting from May 1963, Gurudev began to give daily tape-recordings on returning from the office. He would read loudly, forcefully, inspiringly—unmindful of the strain—from his printed books and typed sheets, and a disciple would record them on the tape. The Master was very particular about this work. Once in ten days he would ask, "How much matter have I given? How long will it run?" He was so intensely eager to serve humanity even after he was gone from physical view.
This inordinate desire to serve people found its outlet in many ways. While Gurudev had all along been regularly contributing articles to journals as a vital part of his programme for dissemination of spiritual knowledge, during the months preceding his Mahasamadhi, he sent an unusually large number of articles to an equally large number of journals. Service unto the last! The maximum good to the maximum number!
Several times during the tape-recording days, Gurudev expressed sentiments such as these: "The sight is getting dim: take whatever you want on the tape now itself. The hearing is getting dull: tell whatever you want to tell now itself. The tongue is getting inarticulate: ask whatever you want to ask now itself."
As Gurudev was signing the letters one day, he said rather jokingly, "Sight is getting dim. Hereafter I can’t sign, sir," and he glanced at the disciple who held the signature pad, as if to ascertain whether the latter had understood the implication of what he said.
June 21, 1963 was to prove the last day that Gurudev attended the office in the Ashram’s Diamond Jubilee Hall. After work he came out as usual, and as he neared the neem tree outside the Cash Office, he stopped and deliberately looked around at the devotees following him. He exclaimed, with his characteristic sense of humour, "Oh, the celestial car is going to arrive from Brahmaloka. Who are all coming?"
Murari Lal, a Lucknow advocate, said at once, "Swamiji, I’ll follow." Dr. Devaki Kutty, another devotee, did not reply, but just smiled. Gurudev smiled back, "H’m, after some time." But as far as he himself was concerned, the celestial car was to come in just another twenty-three days.
Back in his room Gurudev developed a pain in the hip-joint, and as much as he wished, he could not attend the night Satsang. Diathermy was administered and some medicine given.
The next day again, he could not go to the Ashram office. He attended to his correspondence, despatch of free book-packets and other work from where he was. But at night the pain grew intenser.
The following morning, Gurudev came to the verandah of his cottage to see the mail and to tape-record the day’s quota of spiritual exhortation. He gave a little dictation also.
On a subsequent day, despite his illness, Gurudev began dictating as usual. After a few sentences he said, "Happiness comes when the individual merges in God." And there was a pause—a minute, two minutes, three minutes. But Gurudev said nothing. The waiting disciple asked if he would proceed with the dictation. "Porum," said Gurudev in cryptic Tamil. It meant "Enough".
Happiness comes when the individual merges in God. This was the last dictated sentence of Swami Sivananda, author of hundreds of inspiring books on man and his destiny. (Elixir Divine is his last book.) The peerless teacher had summed up his great teachings in that one sentence. And he was soon to practise what he preached. He was to merge in God—totally—within weeks of the above utterance.
On the midnight of June 23-24, Gurudev wished to go to the toilet, but found a leg paralysed. Despite the handicap, he came out to the verandah on the 24th, at his usual morning hour. He had high blood pressure and could talk only with difficulty. In that condition he still wished to give a recording, but was gently prevailed upon to desist from the attempt.
Earlier it had been arranged that the Annaprasana (Annaprasana comes in the sixth month when the child is given solid food for the first time. Mantras are recited and oblations are offered to the various deities.) ceremony of a devotee’s child would be performed that day in Gurudev’s presence. Rice kheer had been prepared for the occasion and the ceremonial first feeding of cereals to the child was gone through as scheduled. Sivananda blessed the baby.
When the ceremony was over, the manager of the Ashram press presented to Gurudev the first copy of a reprint of his Kundalini Yoga. He took the book in his hands and, full of appreciation for its neat get-up, fondled it as a mother would fondle her new-born. But as he tried to turn the pages, the onlooker could see Gurudev’s hand visibly shaking.
At the lunch table again, Gurudev could not pick up the towel with his left hand when he tried. Nor could he perform his usual salutations to Mother Ganga after taking his meal.
On 25th June, doctors from Dehra Dun and Lucknow examined him. Gurudev attempted to speak, but his articulation was not distinct. The Dehra Dun doctor spoke softly, "Swamiji, you should not worry about anything. You should not think anything."
Quick came the answer, "Oh, how can it be possible? I’ve to think of many things. I’ve to take care of so many people."
That was only one facet of Gurudev’s extraordinary personality, a facet which showed the shepherd’s concern for his flock. The other facet, the transcendental consciousness of the Divinity that was Sivananda, was totally different. Only a year earlier, Gurudev had remarked to a disciple, quite casually, "I cannot think," hinting thereby that he had attained a realm which thought did not touch and where the mind was no more.
At about noon, Colonel M.S. Rao, then personal physician to the Indian President, came racing from Delhi.
"How are you, Swamiji?" To this kind query of the doctor, Gurudev replied, "I am perfectly all right."
It was characteristic of Sri Gurudev. When anyone enquired about his health, he would invariably say, "Most wonderful!" How else could it be for one who was all the time in unbroken communion with the Lord? Gurudev conversed affably with the doctor and took his food. The same evening, however, he experienced difficulty in swallowing. He was not able to take even the medicinal tablets. They were powdered, mixed with honey and administered to him as a paste.
It was July 6, 1963, Guru Purnima day. No one was allowed inside Gurudev’s Kutir. Ashram inmates and visiting devotees solemnly celebrated the sacred occasion in the Ashram premises outside.
The same afternoon, as a disciple helped Sri Gurudev to turn in his bed, he asked him if he wanted anything.
"Nothing," said Gurudev, and after a while, recited the following lines:
तत्तु समन्वयात् Tattu samanvayaa
t—But That (Brahman is to be known only from the scriptures and not independently by any other means is established), because it is the main purpose (of all Vedantic texts).
(Brahma Sutras: I-i-4)
तस्य वाचकः प्रणवः Tasya vachakah pranavah
—The sacred syllable Om connotes Him (Brahman).
(Patanjali Yoga Sutras: I.14)
स तु दीर्घकालनैरन्तर्यसत्कारसेवितो द्रृढभूमिः Sa tu deerghakaala-nairantarya-satkaara-sevito dridha-bhoomih
—Practice becomes firmly grounded when practised with perfect devotion.
(Patanjali Yoga Sutras: I.27)
In these three verses, Sri Gurudev had instructed that Brahman was the goal, and that to attain the goal, one should repeat Om and engage in spiritual practice for a long period with faith and devotion. Could it be that the compassionate Master was giving the devotees his instructions on the most auspicious Guru Purnima through these scriptural utterances? Could anyone give better instructions, and in such succinct manner?
From that day onward, Gurudev’s condition began to improve. Again the disciples began to allow visitors inside his cottage. On July 8, he was wheeled to the verandah in a wheel-chair, and at his bidding, the doors of the verandah opening on to the river-front were thrown open, enabling him to drink his fill of the beauty of the holy river to his heart’s content. To him, Ganga Darshan was always a spiritual feast.
As Sri Gurudev sat gazing thus at the Ganga, a group of devotees gathered around him in sad silence. Some wished to see how far Gurudev was able to use his limbs. Paper, pen and spectacles were brought. Gurudev wrote in legible hand: "Serve, love, meditate, realise."
During his illness, Gurudev’s condition seemed so pathetic to the onlooker. One eye was closed, the mouth was twisted, he could not talk properly, and one leg was completely, paralysed. For days and nights he had to lie on the same bed. Evacuation had to be done from the bed itself; it proved a severe strain for his ailing body. Despite so much physical suffering, not once did he murmur or show dejection in any manner. On the other hand, at every opportunity he cut jokes, making his attendants laugh. His inner joy was manifest in all that he said and did.
Sri Gurudev’s body position had to be changed every two hours to prevent bed sores. Each time his body was turned he must have suffered excruciating pain, but not once did a remark escape his lips over what was done to his weak frame. Nor did his face show a painful expression.
In health and in sickness, Sivananda’s genteel manners and natural kindness suffered no change. All who went to him during his last illness felt his irresistible love the same as ever.
When the horologist Nityananda called, Gurudev immediately asked him, "Has mother come?" Whenever Nityananda came to Rishikesh, he used to bring his mother along; and Gurudev remembered it.
When his most beloved disciple Pannalal Seth from Amritsar came, Gurudev greeted him with great affection: "It is a long time since I saw you." As the disciple devoutly prostrated and stood up, Gurudev patted him on the back many times so much as to say, "Be bold. Be courageous." And tears trickled down his cheeks. On more than one occasion during his last days, Sivananda showed in this way his feelings of deep affection for some of his dear disciples.
One day Gurudev’s eyes rested on Vanamamalai, a devotee from Madurai (Tamil Nadu). Immediately a question rang forth from Gurudev, "What about your sister’s marriage?"
Sivananda was a Master of rare compassion. He was intimately familiar with the personal problems of innumerable devotees. He remembered those problems in separate compartments of his memory, treating them as his own and helping in every case. Thousands liked him as much for this intensely human nature as for his spiritual guidance.
One day, the ailing Gurudev was turned in his bed and made to lie on his back. A little while later, he called out, "Oh, Saravanabhava ointment is falling from above! Each one take a tube." At what exalted level of consciousness Sri Gurudev was at that time, the human mind cannot conceive.
On another night the radio in an adjacent room was playing soft music. A noted Nadaswaram player was on the air in the National Programme of the All-India Radio. Sri Gurudev was in bed with eyes closed, and his disciples thought him to be asleep. And mark their pleasant surprise when, at the end of the recital, he opened his eyes, beckoned to a person standing nearby and instructed, "Oh, write to the artiste that I enjoyed his recital. Convey my thanks to him."
Among those who called on Gurudev during his last illness was the then Indian health Minister, Dr. Sushila Nayyar. In spite of all his physical disability, the Master exchanged greetings with her, gave her books and breakfast, chanted the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra for her health and welfare and gave her his exquisite sermon of "serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realise". He finally invoked the Lord’s blessings on her.
On July 10, Sri Gurudev expressed a desire to see the Ganga from where he lay on his bed. An intervening wall obstructed the view. So the direction of the bed was suitably changed to enable him to view the holy Tirtha, which he so much loved, on whose sacred banks he had lived for thirty years and more, and on whose glory he had written a book itself—Mother Ganga.
On July 12, Dr. Devaki Kutty gave paper and pen to Gurudev. Sri Gurudev wrote: "Remember. Forget." The pad was raised to enable him to write more, but he gestured so as to say, "That is sufficient." And he told the lady, "Remember you are Devi and not Devaki Kutty." First a piece of written instruction, and then a verbal explanation of that instruction to ensure correct understanding. It was love heaped upon love!
That same day Gurudev was given a sponge bath by nurse Sundara Behn. Gurudev presented her with a silk saree as a token of his gratitude for her devoted service. It was almost a sacred principle with Sivananda that he never let go unrewarded the slightest service done to him. And the reward was, in every case, greater than the service.
On the midnight of July 12-13, Gurudev did not sleep, but went on writing \ (OM) on his right thigh with his finger. Now and then he rested awhile and then started again in the same manner. Two fans were working in the room, besides an air-cooler. The attending disciple became concerned that Gurudev might suffer exposure and covered his hand with a cloth whenever he stopped writing. But each time Gurudev threw the cloth aside to resume his writing of \. The hand was thus covered a dozen times, and a dozen times did he throw aside the covering. After 2 a.m., however, Gurudev slept a little.
On July 13, he did not take his full breakfast but was content with an iddli, a little mango juice and some milk. At 10 a.m. he was brought to the verandah as usual. Normally he sat there for half an hour, but that day he rested for just ten minutes, with a straight gaze intently fixed on the Ganga, and thereafter said abruptly, "Well, go inside." He was taken in. In the afternoon he had diarrhoea and free functioning of the kidneys.
At about 9 p.m., an electric massage was administered. The machine made a croaking noise. Gurudev commented, "You see, frog is crying!" People around were grieved over Gurudev’s health, but could not help letting out a smile at his remark.
Just then a close disciple of Gurudev came in. He was bare above the waist and his bulging stomach showed to prominence. Gurudev saw him and exclaimed jocularly, "Ohji, put the machine on his belly!"
His mood turned a little serious, however, when the doctors began to apply the electric massage to his face. Overtired as he was, he said, "Enough, enough!" Gurudev’s attitude at that moment revealed extreme dispassion. He wanted nothing. After all, what could all the doctors in the world do when the call had come to him?
After many motions and free urination, the stomach became quite empty. He lay on his bed totally relaxed like a child, tapping the pillow with the fingers of his right hand. Or he moved his right palm lightly over his stomach in gentle circles. He had nothing to accomplish now. His work was over.
On July 14, Colonel Puri came to examine Sri Gurudev. As he tapped with his rod to test the reflexes, Gurudev commented, "Doctors are very cruel." "Yes Swamiji, what can be done? That’s our duty," said the doctor, and added, "Swamiji, you’ll be all right shortly." "Yes I must," said Gurudev, "I have many things to do." "You’ll do, Swamiji, but with a handicap."
Gurudev heard the doctor’s words clearly and gave him a steady look. And then, with his unfailing hospitality, saw to it that the doctor was offered upma, coffee and books, concluding with a sweet farewell and an "Om Namo Narayanaya".
After the doctor had left and before he could take his own food, Gurudev developed shivering and fever. The breathing hardened. He took two or three spoonfuls of Horlicks, and at about 3 p.m. asked for water. As was the usual practice, the disciples wanted to give him barley water or jeera (cumin) water, but he wished to have Ganga water, pure and simple. The water was brought. Sri Gurudev, who had experienced difficulty in taking the smallest quantity of solid or liquid, gulped down half a glassful of Ganga water without apparent trouble. And with that, the Being that was Sivananda laid aside Its mortal vesture. It was now 11.15 p.m.
The time that Gurudev chose to merge with the Supreme proved to be a holy Muhurta of extreme auspiciousness. It presented an exalted planetary position on the last limit of Uttarayana (the Northern Path), and just before the commencement of the Dakshinayana (the Southern Path). An expert horologist, who was also a capable astrologer, had mentioned only upon the morning of that fateful Sunday, that round about midnight there was going to be such an unparalleled and auspicious planetary conjunction that any Yogi who was getting ready to depart would never wish to miss it. The prediction proved correct and Sivananda chose the moment.
The end was so unexpectedly sudden that for a while the disciples were dazed. They knew their Gurudev was gone, but the heart refused to believe it, the mind declined to recognise it.
In the meantime, within the cottage, Gurudev’s body was raised into a sitting posture, legs crossed into the Lotus Pose, and the hands, with fingers interlocked, made to rest upon the feet. The devotees sat in the verandah, softly chanting the Maha Mantra, trying vainly to hold back tears and sobs. One by one the Ashram inmates came down in the dark and bowed before Gurudev’s holy form in sorrowful silence.
The next morning, the news broke upon the world through the newspaper and the radio. Messages of sympathy, of condolence, of heart-breaking grief came pouring in from everywhere.
A first ceremonial bath was now given to Gurudev’s body and fresh cloth draped over it. Tilak was applied to the forehead and flower garlands were put on the neck. By this time, the queue of visitors had lengthened on to the road above. All day long and far into the night devotees kept coming from different places for the last Darshan.
On Tuesday, July 16, the Ganga bank area around the Ashram was a veritable mass of humanity. At 10.30 a.m. the body, borne by his personal attendants, was gently brought out of the room, to the blowing of conches and chiming of bells. As it emerged from the doorway, teachers and students of the Darshana Mahavidyalaya, a neighbouring Sanskrit institution, broke into Vedic chant. Slowly and with infinite care, the holy form of Sri Gurudev was taken up the steps on to the flag square in front of the Ashram’s guest room and eastward along the Ganga bank. At the Rajbansi Ghat, the bearers descended the steps towards the river and placed the body upon a cot kept ready on the Ghat platform. Then, to the chant of Vedic Mantras, it was bathed ceremoniously, first with various ingredients and then with the waters of the Ganga. After this Abhisheka, it was placed in a palanquin bedecked with flowers, and lifted upon the shoulders of Gurudev’s disciples; and the procession wended its way to the Ashram area on the Viswanath Temple hill. The solemn sound of Maha Mantra Kirtan and Veda-patha, punctuated by cries of victory such as "Swami Sivananda Maharaj ki Jai" and "Satgurudev ki Jai", filled the air.
Arriving in front of the chamber chosen for interment, the palanquin was lowered, front facing the assembled mass of people. A last public Arati was then performed to the sacred form of Gurudev to satisfy the vast assembly. Then the body was taken out and borne upon a plank into the corridor leading to the inner chamber. Here it was placed in state, even while the Samadhi pit was being got ready by the priest with performance of rituals.
Soon the pit was ready. To the recitation of holy Mantras, Gurudev’s body was taken in and tenderly lowered into its final resting place. Seated in meditative posture, the physical vesture of the Saint received a last worship within the bosom of the earth. Fragrant sandal paste mixed with rose water was smeared over the entire body. Sandalwood powder, camphor, salt and Vibhuti were poured into the pit until it started filling. By midday the interment was complete and the chamber closed up. A pot filled with Ganga water was placed upon the Samadhi spot. A lamp was lit. (A Siva Linga is installed above the Samadhi spot, and a Shrine is built around it later on.)
For weeks, the Ashram mail brought letters of moving tribute to the memory of the great sage.
Here below are some of the most touching tributes of love and respect:
"So the ringing voice is silent. The majestic form has vanished. We shall no more see the gigantic figure, clad in orange, shod in canvas shoes, stride with long, measured steps, bags in hand, ready to distribute fruits, wisdom and work to us, his beloved children. That childlike giggling, with the big tummy quaking with convulsions of joy—a laughter, so wholesome that tears of joy bedimmed the sparkling eyes, a laughter that radiated the bliss of God to all, can be heard no more."
"The end is perhaps shocking. But that is not the end. It is a beginning. The builder worked outside: he was on view. He created an inside, and he has entered it. Now he works inside, out of external view, but more truly and purposefully active, therefore. Gurudev had moulded us, given shape to shapeless masses, laid stone upon stone in us and built a shrine, entered it and is now busy at work in there."
"If today many of our college boys and girls read the Gita and the Upanishads, the honour is due to Sivananda. If today the words ‘Divine Life’ have gained currency abroad, the credit goes to this eminent spiritual Titan."
"Our most dynamic spiritual leader of recent times, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, it is reported, has passed away, leaving an unfillable gap in the field of religious and moral mass education in India. He had great learning, having mastered all our religious philosophies. He truly represented enlightened and orthodox Hinduism and the pure life for which it stood. He had, over and above all this, an unrivalled dynamic energy and abounding love and the gift of attracting devoted followers. By his passing away India has lost perhaps the most effective and broad-minded leader of Hinduism that has lived in recent times. Millions all over India will be in mourning."
"The world is orphaned in its philosophical and spiritual parentage by our revered and esteemed Guruji leaving us physically forever. It is the duty of every sincere and honest devotee of his to try and live up to his great ideals and teachings in the letter and spirit he presented them."
"The Light of the world, our Guruji, has passed on, but His Holiness will remain shed over the earth in its most intimate essence as long as the human race endures, for he was always sure of his premises, unbending in his ethical and spiritual values and adamant in his refusal to lower his standard of rectitude, whilst ever ready to forgive those who strayed from the path. Luckily for us, he literally translated himself into words and so, as sacred literature, remains with us as an ever-present example like so many of the Holy Ones before him. No more will his divine sparks fly from the anvil, but at a time when film stars, gangsters, commercial tycoons and the like were filling the headlines, when our main preoccupations were materialistic gadgets and self-destructive weapons, he brought down the Divine Life to this sorry earth and popularised the saint."
Fine sentiments, these, and nobly expressed. And how true!
Gurudev lives here still. He lives in his books, he lives in his disciples, he lives in the very atmosphere of his own Ashram in Rishikesh.
Gurudev lives in his writings. His writings are the outpourings of his soul. They reveal the pinnacle of his own perfection, the authority of his own experience. They bespeak, more than anything else, the author’s intense desire to serve his fellowmen by sharing his experiences with them and helping them to rise to the heights of blessedness which he himself had reached. Today, Sivananda literature girdles the globe. In all the major languages of the world, the intensely utilitarian writings of Gurudev shed new and effective light on man’s path of progress.
Gurudev lives in his disciples. Monastic and lay, their number is legion. They are to be found in every continent, in every country. Many of them are helping the growth of the Divine Life movement in a big way.
Gurudev lives in his Ashram. Here, even today, he is a Presence intensely felt. Especially so in the Samadhi Mandir. The Shrine is fast becoming a place of pilgrimage to spiritual aspirants. The place is holy beyond compare. The ethereal vibrations are powerful. Having entered the Shrine, the visitor often lingers on, unwilling to leave. Gurudev lives there still.