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Chidananda, Swami (1916-)

Chidananda, Swami (1916-)

Prominent Hindu mystic, leading disciple of the late Swami Sivananda, (1887-1963) and Sivananda's successor as head of the Divine Life Society of Rishikesh, India. Born Sridhar Rao on June 24, 1916, Chidananda was the son of Srinivasa Rao, a prosperous landowner in southern India. From an early age, Sridhar's life was influenced by Anantayya, a friend of his grandfather's, who told him inspiring stories from the Hindu religious epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and implanted the ideal of spiritual realization. He attended an elementary school at Mangalore, and in 1932 went on to the Muthiah Chetty High School at Madras, where he became a distinguished scholar. In 1936 he entered Loyola College (B.A., 1938), where he became familiar with and sympathetic to Christianity.

Rao's family had a strong tradition of charity and service to the sick and needy, and Sridhar gave special attention to the lepers in his district. He built huts for them on the vast lawns of his home and attended personally to their needs. He became engrossed by the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, visiting their monastery at Madras and taking part in services. In his own neighborhood he organized spiritual instruction for young people.

In 1936 a strong desire for spiritual development led him to leave home and study in the ashram of a sage near the sacred mountain shrine of Tirupathi. His parents persuaded him to return home, but he had already set himself the goal of renunciation. In 1943 he obtained permission from Swami Sivananda to join his ashram at Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas. In 1947 he founded a yoga museum at the ashram, presenting the philosophy of Vedanta and yoga development in simple pictorial form. He was put in charge of the charitable dispensary and also delivered lectures at the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy that was established in 1948; at that time he was appointed general secretary of the Divine Life Society. He became vice-chancellor and professor of rajah-yoga instruction.

During the following year, he was initiated into the order of sannyasa as a renunciate by Swami Sivananda on July 10. He organized branches of the society in different parts of India and in November 1959 traveled to the United States to propagate the teachings of Yoga Vedanta. He also lectured in South American countries and made a brief tour in Europe, returning to Rishikesh in March 1962. In April 1962 he made a pilgrimage to southern India, visiting holy places and delivering spiritual lectures. Ten days after his return, in July 1963, Swami Sivananda died. In August 1963 Swami Chidananda was elected his successor as president of the Divine Life Society and chancellor of the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy.

Swami Chidananda has made a deep impression upon thousands of devotees by his ascetic and saintly life. His wide background knowledge of Christian religious teachings has intensified his ecumenical outlook. In addition to his many official tasks at the Rishikesh ashram, he has served the lepers of the district and was elected by the government authorities to the Leper Welfare Association. In recent years he has made occasional tours in the United States and Europe, but spends most of his time in Rishikesh.

Sources:

Divine Life Society. An Apostle of India's Spiritual Culture: Souvenir Released on the Auspices of the Sixtieth Birthday Anniversary of H.H. Sri Swami Chidaananda. Shivanandanagar, India: Divine Life Society, 1976.

Chidananda, Swami. Destiny of Man. Shivanandanagar, India: Divine Life Society, 1989.

. Path to Blessedness. Shivanandanagar, India: Divine Life Society, 1975.

. The Philosophy, Psychology, and Practice of Yoga. Shivanandanagar, India: Divine Life Society, 1984.

. Truth that Liberates. Shivanandanagar, India: Divine Life Society, 1993.

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