Purohit, Swami Shri (1882-ca. 1936)

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Purohit, Swami Shri (1882-ca. 1936)

Hindu monk, poet and spiritual teacher, who greatly influenced the poet W. B. Yeats and (through him) actress Margot Ruddock, a close friend of Yeats in his later years. Swami Purohit was born on October 12, 1882, at Badnera, near Amraoti in Berar, India (Central Provinces), of a religious and wealthy Brahmin family. His father had renounced a large fortune out of respect for the memory of his own father. As a boy, Purohit grew up in a devout religious atmosphere and had several encounters with wonder-working Mahatmas.

After attending a local Anglo-vernacular school, he studied at University of Bombay, enrolling in 1898. He went on to the Morris College at Nagpur, where he entered the Arts course. After passing his examination in 1901 he joined the B.A. class and studied philosophy. After failing this examination, he took a position as teacher at Amraoti, eventually receiving his B.A. from Calcutta University in 1903. He went on to Poona and studied at Deccan College, where he obtained his LL.B. degree.

However, he was more interested in obtaining spiritual experience from yogis and mahatmas than in practicing law. He made several religious pilgrimages. At the request of his parents, he married a sixteen-year-old girl Godu Bai, but after the birth of two daughters and a son, he obtained his wife's permission to renounce the life of householder. He studied under his guru Bhagwan Shri Hamsa and in about 1923 became a renunciate and traveling monk. He practiced severe austerities and made religious pilgrimages throughout India. At the request of his guru, he traveled to Europe in 1930.

In London, he became a close friend of W. B. Yeats, then in his sixties, and strongly influenced his outlook on Hindu philosophy and mysticism. Yeats wrote introductions to the Swami's autobiography An Indian Monk (1932) and his translation of his guru's book The Holy Mountain (Faber, London,1934).

In 1935, the Swami published a translation of Bhagavad-Gita under the title The Geeta; The Gospel of the Lord Shri Krishna (1935) which he dedicated "To my friend William Butler Yeats" on his seventieth birthday. In the same year, the Swami published a translation of the Mandukya Upanishad, for which Yeats provided an introduction. Yeats had planned to travel to India to assist the Swami in translating the ten principal Upanishads, but eventually the work was completed by the two friends at Majorca in 1936.

From 1934 onward, Yeats developed a romantic friendship with the young actress Margot Ruddock, then twenty-seven years old. He introduced her to the Swami, who thereafter became her spiritual adviser and influenced the poems which she wrote. The Swami also composed many religious poems, some of which Margot Ruddock translated into English.

The Swami featured frequently in the correspondence between Yeats and Margot Ruddock, published as Ah, Sweet Dancer; W. B. Yeats and Margot Ruddock edited by Roger McHugh (1970). Yeats corresponded with the Swami for some years before his own death. The Swami returned to India in 1936 after receiving news of the illness of his guru, who died the same year. The Swami died soon afterward.

Yeats's letters to the Swami were bought privately by Claude Driver, director of the Rosenbach Foundation, Philadelphia. Extracts from some letters were quoted in The Later Phase of the Development of W. B. Yeats by S. Mokashi-Punekar (1966).


Patanjali, Bhagwan Shree. Aphorisms of Yoga. London: Faber,1938.