Shivapuri Baba (Sri Govinananda Bharati) (1826-1963)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Shivapuri Baba (Sri Govinananda Bharati) (1826-1963)

Hindu mystic who made a great impression on his biographer J. G. Bennett, who met him in 1961 when the sage was already a reported 135 years old. Bennett stated: "He was a true saint who produced an immediate and uplifting effect on everyone who entered his presence." Shivapuri Baba had a profound influence on many individuals during his long life, including Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, and Christians.

When he was born, Britain was under the reign of George IV, and the future Queen Victoria was only a child of seven. Later in life, Shivapuri Baba visited England and made no fewer than 18 visits to Queen Victoria; he was possibly the first Indian holy man invited to meet the queen.

Shivapuri Baba was born in a Brahmin family in Kerala. His grandfather, a famous astrologer, announced that the boy would become a great sannyasin (renunciate or wandering monk) and became his guru until about 1840.

Shivapuri Baba decided to leave a worldly life in 1844, at age 18. After making a will leaving his rights of succession in his father's property to his sister, he joined his grandfather in the forest of the upper Deccan, near the banks of the river Narbada. The grandfather insisted that after his own death, the boy should meditate until he obtained God-realization, then make a pilgrimage on foot not only through India, but also around the world, and he set aside money for this purpose.

After the death of his grandfather, the young man received initiation as a sannyasin and took the name of Govindananda Bharati. He then retreated to the Narbada forest and spent 25 years in absolute seclusion. During this period he was even completely unaware of the Indian Mutiny of 1856. At the age of 50, he achieved the beatific vision and became aware of the divine as absolute, beyond name and form, which in Hinduism is considered the highest and most difficult stage of Godrealization. He then undertook his great pilgrimages.

He visited all the holy places of India, meeting Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Aurobindo. He went on to travel through Afghanistan and Persia, then made a pilgrimage to Mecca. After this experience of the Moslem shrine, he next traveled to Jerusalem, the holy city of Judaism and Christianity. He went on to Turkey, through the Balkans into Greece and then through Italy to Rome, so that he might better understand the Christian religion. After visiting most European countries, he was invited to England by Queen Victoria's Indian Secretariat and had 18 private visits with the queen.

In 1901, after the death of the queen, Shivapuri visited the United States and met President Theodore Roosevelt. He spent two or three years in America before going to Mexico, where he met Porfirio Diaz before going on through the Andes to Colombia and Peru. After a period in South America, he embarked on a ship for the Pacific Islands, moving through New Zealand and Australia and visiting Japan in 1913. He then followed an ancient pilgrim route into Nepal, then back to India, visiting Benares. He traveled more than 25,000 miles, eighty percent on foot.

He then returned to his own home in Kerala as a wandering sannyasin after 70 years. He found no trace of his sister, who had also become a renunciate. He concluded remaining family affairs, then retired to the forests of Nepal. Although he was known as a holy man, equally at ease with the religions of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam (a task made easier by Hindu ideas about the nature of religion), he insisted on remaining isolated, living in a small wooden hut and seeing only a few genuine seekers. Those who saw him received a sense of inner peace and realization from him, and one visitor suggested that even the wild beasts of the forest were on friendly terms with him.

J. G. Bennett, a disciple of G. I. Gurdjieff who later promoted the mission of Subud, met the Shivapuri Baba in Easter 1961 and found him, at the age of 135 years, alert, quick, and graceful, with a phenomenal memory and an inspiring spiritual presence. One of the most remarkable features of his teaching was his ability to communicate spiritual wisdom in only a few works in the idiom of his questioners. He explained his teaching in three words to S. Radhakrishnan, famous philosopher and former president of India, and afterward Radhakrishnan expounded for 15 minutes on the theme of these three words.

Shivapuri Baba died on January 28, 1963. His final message was: "Live Right Life, Worship God. That is all. Nothing more." He took a drink of water then said "Gaya" (I'm gone), laid down on his right side and passed away. His teaching of right living involved duty, morality, and worship. The sole purpose of human life was to find the Ultimate Truth, or God, and to this end a certain code of life was requireda spiritual, moral, and intellectual order.

Sources:

Bennett, John G., with Thakur Lal Manandhar. Long Pilgrimage: The Life and Teaching of Sri Govinananda Bharati known as the Shivapuri Baba. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1965.