Category Archives: S. Significant Figures and Organizations in Hinduism

Yogananda Paramahansa and the Self-Realization Fellowship

Yogananda’s Life

Born January 5, 1893 in Gorakhpur, India, Yogananda grew up with the name Mukunda Lal Ghosh (Yogananda 1971:4). He would later take upon the name of Yogananda as a result of his pledge to his spiritual teacher, Sri Yukteswar, to become a swami (teacher) in the philosophies of kriya yoga. Raised by his father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, who was a mathematician who worked for the Bengal – Nagpur Railway, and mother, Yogananda grew up in a ksatriya family (Yogananda 1971:4). As the son of disciples of a renounced religious figure, Lahiri Mahasaya, Mukunda was introduced to the traditionally demanding practice of kriya yoga at a young age as a student of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51; Segady 189). According to his devotees and himself, Yogananda was able to recall many transcendent events that led him towards the pursuit of liberation or moksa at a young age. Below are summaries of these events found in his autobiography.

When he was a small child, Yogananda was overcome by Asiatic cholera. As reported in his autobiography, his mother being a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya told Mukunda to pray to the Cosmic beloved and Lahiri Mahasaya for bettered health. He recounts remembering the physical weakness he felt during this time in which he could not “lift a trembling arm”. Instead he was tasked with bowing mentally to pray for a cure. With repetitive mental prayer Mukunda was cured from a usually terminal sickness (Yogananda 1971:10).

As a baby fresh from his mother’s womb, Yogananda was able to recall the troubles of being an infant he was quoted in his autobiography as saying: “I was resentfully conscious of being unable to walk and to express myself freely. Prayerful surges arose within me as I realized my bodily impotence. My strong emotional life was mentally expressed in words of many languages. Amid the inward confusion of tongues, I gradually became accustomed to hearing the Bengali syllables of my people. The beguiling scope of an infant’s mind! adultly considered to be limited to toys and toes” (Yogananda 1971:1).

Yogananda was educated in the traditional Indian school system while studying the philosophies of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51). While studying under his guru (teacher), Sri Yukteswar, he pursued an A.B. degree at Serampore College, a branch of the University of Calcutta (Yogananda 1971:219). Yogananda was not as studious or dedicated in his pursuit of academic knowledge as he was in his pursuit for spiritual realization. According to his autobiography, throughout his education, Mukunda was a seen as the “Mad Monk” and was generally an outsider in the academic world (Yogananda 1971:223). He would apply religious ideas he learned from Sri Yukteswar to academic fields such as philosophy. In doing so Yogananda was not perceived as a “good” student by his professors and colleagues. According to Autobiography of a Yogi, during his final year of study he was set to fail his final examinations but for another transcendental event (Yogananda 1971:220). As exams approached, Mukunda was aware of his failing grades and he knew if they persisted he would not obtain his degree, to the disapproval of his father. Through the guidance of his guru, Mukunda approached his friend for help. Mukunda was able to pass all of his exams as every question he studied was on the exams he wrote (Yogananda 1971:221-226).

After obtaining his A.B. degree at Serampore College, Yogananda decided to set up his own organization with the purpose of educating students in a comprehensive format, both spiritually and intellectually (Yogananda 1971:254). Described in his autobiography, Yogananda was “averse” to the concept of traditional organizations as they distracted people from serving the “true organization” the Cosmic Beloved (Yogananda 1971:254). Originally set up in Ranchi, India in 1918, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya has grown increasingly with the objective of providing students with an education in agriculture, business, industry and academics along with spiritual practices (Yogananda 1971:254). Run alongside his western organisation known as the Self-Realization Fellowship, or SRF, Yogananda prescribes that the school’s environment resembles an orthodox ashrama. According to orthodox Hindu philosophy, during the student stage of life, also known as brahmacarya [also defined as a stage of celibacy], children are tasked with the pursuit of proper dharma or knowledge. Yogananda developed a traditional ashram set in nature to allow students to properly pursue this life goal. It was at this campus that where Yogananda began to develop his yogoda techniques of meditation with the purpose to “recharge life’s battery” (Yogananda 1971:255). The guru took the originally rigorous demands of kriya yoga, taught by his predecessor Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51), and transformed them into a practice designed to move one from “self to Self” (Farge 55). Yogananda used postures or asanas to create a science for the attainment of moksa (liberation). Currently, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya supports four ashrams in Ranchi, Noida, Dwarahat and Dakshineswar. Today many of these sites are held in sacred regard for his devotees as Paramahansa Yogananda experienced the Divine there.

Once the setup of the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya, or now known as the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, was complete, Yogananda decided to travel to the United States of America as the delegate for Brahmacarya Ashram of Ranchi at the Congress of Religious Liberals (Segady 188; Farge 51). In August of 1920, he set off for America on the “City of Sparta.” Yogananda, having been raised and taught speaking Bengali, had troubles with lecturing in English to an English speaking audience. Recounted in his biography, his devotees believe Yogananda went through a transcendental experience at the beginning of his lecture on the ship where God granted him the ability to speak fluent English (Yogananda 1971:357).  His presentation of the “Science of Religion” to the Congress of Religious Leaders in Boston was met with great success and led to Yogananda staying in Boston and Philadelphia for several more years (Farge 51; Segady 188). In 1924, the Yogananda embarked on a transcontinental tour to promote the Yogoda philosophies. His presentations were attended by thousands, and by the end of 1925, he had set up the international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 189).

On August 22, 1935, Yogananda returned to India to check on the progression and affairs of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India as well as confer with his guru, Sri Yukteswar. Upon his arrival he was met with great fanfare and applause (Yogananda 1971:377). When he did make it to Ranchi, he found his school in dire need of financial support as Sir Manindra Chandra Nundy, who had donated large amounts of money to the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, had passed away. Once Yogananda had publicized his need for financial support, money came flowing in from his disciples in the West saving the original school (Yogananda 1971:381). Yogananda toured around the country visiting many temples and notable people. Before his guru, Sri Yukteswar, passed away, he bestowed on Yogananda the sacred title of Paramahansa (Yogananda 1971:401). In Sanskrit, the word Paramahansa can be broken down into the roots parama, meaning “highest” and hansa meaning “swan” (Yogananda 1971:401). It is the white swan that is said to be the mount of the Creator, Brahma (Yogananda 1971:401). By 1936, Paramahansa Yogananda had returned to the West to continue his mission of spreading the word of kriya yoga. On March 7, 1952 the freed Yogananda Paramahansa passed away after a presentation to his disciples in California. In Hinduism, it is said that a realized or freed being can voluntarily “exit” their body once their mission has been completed. Yogananda’s disciples believe that he had attained that state of liberation. It was on March 7, 1952 when Yogananda Paramahansa entered his mahasamadhi or last conscious exit (Yogananda 1971:498). Twenty days after Yogananda “exited” his body, the mortuary reported no signs of biological decay. This report was published throughout the popular world, and Yogananda’s devotees believe this affirms his connection with the divine (Yogananda 1971:498).


The Self-Realization Fellowship

After the first center for the Self-Realization Fellowship was set up in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1922, Yogananda began a transcontinental tour to further disseminate his teachings of kriya yoga. By 1925, he had finished his tour and set up an international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 190). At its creation and until the present the Self-Realization Fellowship has followed a specific set of ideals and aims, which according to their website, include: “To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God. To unite science and religion through realization of the unity of their underlying principles.”

Following these ideals, the SRF experienced substantial growth throughout the 1920s. By the mid-1930s, the Self-Realization Fellowship had grown into a nationwide organization built around Yogananda’s aims and practices (Segady 190). As a result of the popularity, the organization decided to publish their own magazine, East-West, in the West promoting Eastern philosophy. This publication further increased SRF’s popularity as it applied Eastern religious practices and to Western society (Segady 190). In 1935, the SRF had become an active member of the Parliament of World Religions and an official non-profit religious organization, the first eastern religious organization to do so, in the state California (Segady 190). By 2008, the SRF had grown to recognize 500 SRF or Yogoda Satsanga temples, centres or groups in 50 countries. Its members spanned over 178 countries staking its claim as a permanent global spiritual organization (Segady 190).

The SRF and Yogoda Satsanga Society both follow kriya yoga philosophies set up by Yogananda and his preceding gurus. The Sanskrit term kriya can be roughly translated to mean “action”. As described by Yogananda, the yoga-meditation techniques used by the SRF are a developed science used to reach Self-Realization (Farge 63). In Yogananda’s form of kriya yoga the goal is to combine bhakti (devotion), jnana (knowledge) and karma (action) within the meditations to help devotees realize samadhi or realization [for further reading see Yogananda (1986)] (Segady 191). Yogananda believed that once a person had perfected this art, then it was at this time the said person achieved moksa.

Yogananda further explain his teachings and the attainment of realization using the force called kundalini (Farge 62). According to Yogananda, kundalini can be described as a snake at the base of the spine (Farge 62). When a person is “clouded” in his or her realization the snake would be “asleep”, feeding on the person’s senses and pleasures. The snake’s venom would then dictate the feelings of lust the person would feel (Farge 62). Through asanas or posture and the practice of yoga, a person can awaken the snake and allow it to travel up the spine to the brain, where they would experience true realization. This awakening is known as vasuki (Farge 62).

As is a common occurrence in the works of Yogananda, he uses both science and religion to explain his philosophies. The ascent of consciousness can be described in turn with the spinal centers (Farge 62). Based on a person’s enlightenment, the force or kundalini will reside in one of the centers. The centers can be categorized by the level of self-realization. In an ordinary person, the kundalini will remain in the lumbar, coccygeal or sacral center (Farge 62). Whereas in an enlightened being, the kundalini has travelled up towards the cerebral center and exited through the ajna or the “single eyed passage” (Farge 62). In-between the top and bottom, the believers of the divine reside in the heart center, the calm yogi’s kundalini sits in the cervical center, where a yogi who understands the Cosmic Vibration is centered in the medullary center or Christ center (Farge 63). As stated previously, it is when the kundalini has travelled the entirety of the spine that one will achieve realization [for further reading on kundalini and the ascent of consciuousness see Yogananda (1995)].

Through the explanation of kundalini and the practice of kriya yoga, Yogananda developed his philosophy on the attainment of moksa, but he also used seven of Patanjali’s traditional steps to realization (Farge 64). As Patanjali noted in his Yoga Sutras, Yogananda also prescribes the steps to realization as: yama, the actions which not to take; niyama, the actions in which to take; asana, body stillness; pranayama, control of breath and body; pratyahara, the disunion of the mind and the senses; dhyana, concentration on the cosmic consciousness and samadhi, attainment of realization  (Farge 64).

Yogananda invoked the language of science in his techniques (Segady 194) and tolerance of all religions (Segady 191) to promote the Self-Realization Fellowship’s ideals and aims. One of SRF’s more unconventional features was comparison of orthodox Hinduism philosophies to Christian philosophies. In promoting the SRF, Yogananda claimed it to be a “Church for All Religions” (Segady 190). He enforced this by not forcing people to dismiss their original belief when joining the SRF. He believed the goal of all religions was the same and that was to realize and become one with God or the Creator (Segady 191). In one of his original works, The Second Coming of Christ, Yogananda Paramahansa compares the Hindu idea of the Cosmic Vibration to the Christ or the “Son” and the Cosmic Consciousness to the “father” or God [for further readings on Yogananda and Christianity see Yogananda (1982)] (Farge 58). It was these comparisons with popular culture in the West and the acceptance of all religions that aided Yogananda in the expansion of the SRF’s ideals (Segady 191).



Farge, Emile J. (2009). “Going East with Merton: Forty years later-and Coming West with Paramahansa Yogananda Today.” Cross Currents 59:49-68. Accessed on February 6, 2016. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-3881.2009.00049.x.

Segady, Thomas W. (2009) “Globalization, Syncretism, and Identity: The Growth and Success of Self-Realization-Fellowship.” Implicit Religion 12:187-199. Accessed on February 5, 2016. doi: 10.1558/imre.v12i2.187.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1995) God Talks with Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1986) The Divine Romance. Dakshineswar: Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1982) Second Coming of Christ. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1971) Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kriya Yoga


Lahiri Mahasaya


Sri Yukteswar



Notable Websites Related to the Topic

Self-Realization Fellowship website:

Yogoda Satsanga Society of India website:


Article written by: Sean Gaiesky (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Dalits and the Dalit Movement

Just as in any functioning society, Hindus in India are organized into groups, and the daily interactions that go on within the groups are facilitated by the social class to which one belongs. While outsiders studying the system may see it as extreme and difficult to understand, Hindu lives have functioned within the social system they know and participate in. The caste system in India dates back as far as around 1400 BC, when the Vedic Aryans migrated into Punjab, India and enslaved the groups already inhabiting the land, including the Dravidians. Before migrating to India, the Aryans already had a system of clan divisions, and when they conquered the people they met in India they segregated them from themselves by race, calling themselves the “Arya Varna” (meaning “master class”), and the slaves the “Dasa Varna” (meaning “slave cast”) (Raj 2-3). This simple distinction was the basis for the system that would grow and develop, eventually forming the modern caste system used by Hindus in India today. The social system, based on ethnic, economic, and religious segregation, divides the people into four main classes, or varna. In Sanskrit, varna means “colour”, and it was speculated that this emphasized the segregation of the coloured races, dating back to the Aryans and the conquered peoples. However, this has since been challenged, and it has been suggested that colour was simply used as a means to distinguish people, not relating to ethnicity at all, but more in the way that one could distinguish the color “pink” from “purple” or “white” from “black” (Varna 2016).

The class system is set up with a basis of four main classes (or varnas): the Brahmins, the Ksatriyas, the Vaisyas, and the Sudras. Each class functions according to the expectations they know to be true for their class; expectations which have both evolved and emerged as the history of Hinduism developed. The origins of the four specific varnas are unclear, and different myths and stories have arisen depicting their creation. In one hymn, the Purusasukta, the varnas are said to have developed from the parts and limbs of Purusa. In this depiction, the Brahmin are said to have come from the mouth, the Ksatriya from the arms, the Vaisya from the legs, and the Sudra from the feet (Davis 52). This imagery clearly demonstrates the places each class holds in society. The four classes are also mentioned in the Rg Veda (one of the most influential Hindu texts), but in the form of three classes called Brahma, Ksatra, and Visa (Ghurye 44). The Brahmin class is the uppermost class, consisting of the elite priests. The Brahmin are responsible for the upholding of dharma, as they themselves are held to a high standard of moral behavior. The Brahmins are distinguished from the Ksatriyas by their ritual knowledge. A Brahmin is able to perform rituals, and can offer up prayers for others, especially in the matter of protection of his king (Ghurye 47). The Ksatriyas form the militant class of India. They are able to carry weapons and it is expected that they would protect the rest of the people in this way. There are some stories of Ksatriyas acting as priests, and the tensions between the Brahmins and the Ksatriyas led to conflict every now and then as they each challenged the authority of the other class. Still, the two classes are known to work closely with each other in order to ensure the function and protection of daily society (Ghurye 50). The Vaisyas constitute the third class, known to be farmers and labourers. This class, best known as “the tenders of cattle”, are in a position of uncertainty. The two upper classes can easily be grouped together, as they both display their authority over Indian society, but the Vaisyas can be grouped either up or down, depending on the behaviour or the situation being analyzed (Ghurye 63). In some situations they are seen as an upper class, while in others they are grouped along with the lowest class, the servants. This makes the lines between the classes hard to distinguish at times, and certainly provides an insight into the complexity and difficulty that comes along with trying to understand the caste system. The fourth class is the Sudras, the lowest of the four. The Sudras are a class destined for tedious, unskilled labour, and service of the upper three classes (Davis 52). Participation and placement in the classes are determined by Jati, meaning one’s birth group, from the Sanskrit word “jata”, meaning “born” or “brought into existence” (Jati 2016). In this way, it is understood that birth determines one’s place in the caste system.

Not included in the four varnas are a fifth class, a class so low in the caste system that they are referred to as “Untouchables”, and therefore excluded from the four-varna system. This class, the Dalits, occupy the lowest of the low in Hindu Indian society, and are highly discriminated against in all aspects of life. They are segregated and given the label of poor status in the economy, politics, employment, and so much more (Kaminsky and Long 156-157). As an outsider analyzing the system, it is important to acknowledge the role that the Dalits play in the interactions among the groups, but from a Hindu point of view, the Dalits are totally unacknowledged (Sadangi 18). The people that occupy this class are viewed by the rest of the classes as polluting, and are therefore given the “polluting” tasks in daily life. Ritual purity is an extremely important concept in Hinduism, and tasks are typically assigned levels of purity or pollution. It is of utmost importance that the upper classes maintain their ritual purity, especially the Brahmins, as they need to be ritually pure in order to perform their rituals. The tasks that are too polluting for the four varnas to participate in are given to the Dalits, as they are already polluted in their fundamental status. Besides occupation, Dalits are excluded from all aspects of daily life of Hindus of the other classes, including social and sexual contact, and eating. Contact between the Dalits and the four varnas is controlled and regulated, and eating among the groups is completely and wholly separated (Shrawagi 2006).

While there are multiple terms used today to describe the “untouchables”, including Harijan, the term “Dalit” itself, although in existence for hundreds of years, was not always used to classify the excluded class, and was popularised fairly recently by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (Mohanty and Malik 114). Ambedkar effectively attacked the Indian caste system in his adult life, basing his entire campaign on the sole foundation of social equality (Jagannathan 2015). Born a Dalit himself, Ambedkar has successfully created a new definition for the term “Dalits” as a group of people who are “economically abused, politically neglected, educationally backward, and oppressed in religious and cultural ground because of caste discrimination in society” (Mohanty and Malik 114). The Dalit movement in India really began when India gained independence, but the Dalits were still denied any independence or equality in the new society (Sutradhar 91). This desire for equality urged members to begin pushing back against the upper classes. The upper classes traditionally starved the Dalits in social interaction, education, and the economy, believing that if they could maintain their powerless position in society and prevent them from furthering their education of equality and human rights that they could prevent any notions of dissent against the system, and continue to render the Dalits defenseless against the discrimination imposed on them (Sutradhar 94). However, the Dalits, after enduring centuries of abuse and oppression, began to feel angry about their position in society. They were working the land and serving the upper classes with no enjoyment of the fruits of their own labour. Thus, the Dalit movement was born, and fostered in the minds of those fighting for equality among the classes.

Jyotiba Phule was the first to emphasize the importance of the education of Dalits when it came to the Dalit’s movement, recognizing that with education would come the ability to reason and develop rationale, as well as the ability to carve out a place for oneself in politics and the socio-economic world (Sutradhar 96). This sentiment was carried even further by Dr. Ambedkar, who (along with another great thinker, Gandhi) fought for Dalits’ equality. While Ambedkar deeply desired equality among the classes, he recognized the importance of the caste system in daily social structure, and acknowledged the fact that a whole organization of society cannot change overnight without total chaos and disarray ensuing soon after. In this way, he recognized the need for separate-caste marriages, and pushed for smaller movements toward equality. By doing so, he hoped that eventually the Hindu caste system could gradually transition from one embedded in inequality to one with equality at the forefront, redefining daily interactions and social structures.

The Dalit movement is one that has been going on for years, heightening especially in the 1970’s, but is largely ignored in the grand scheme of things (Sutradhar 97). The feelings of exclusion and oppression felt by the Dalits in India continue to motivate them to keep quiet. The feelings of embarrassment and dedication to the caste system that is so deeply entrenched in Hindu thought and beliefs, and the acceptance of the way things are prove to be huge obstacles in the continuation and growth of the movement, not only in India, but on the world stage. Still, thinkers such as Phule, Ambedkar, and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan fed the fire that drives the movement. Radhakrishnan had spoken out against the caste system directly, attacking its values. He emphasized the need to abolish the system (and the idea of untouchability) in order to achieve a modern nation with democracy and human rights for all (Minor 386). Today, in a world so focused on human rights, equality, and liberty of all people, the Dalits movement begs for people all over the world to recognize the needs of their friends in India. In order to see change there must be pressure put on the Indian government both nationally and internationally, and Dalits must come together with non-Dalits in order to achieve a global movement to push for human rights in India to transcend the caste system (Bishwakarma 2015). Until then, over one-sixth of the population of India will continue to live in oppression under the caste system, born into the fate of a Dalit life (Overview of Dalit Human Rights Situation nd).



Bishwakarma, Dil (2015) “ICDR President’s Opening Statement from First Global Conference.” International Commission for Dalit Rights. Accessed February 6, 2016.

Davis, Marvin (1983) Rank and Rivalry: The Politics of Inequality in Rural West Bengal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ghurye, Govind S. (1969) Caste and Race in India. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd.

Jagannathan, R. (2015) “Rescuing Ambedkar from Pure Dalitism: He Would’ve Been India’s Best Prime Minister.” Firstpost. Accessed February 28, 2016.

— “Jati.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Edited by Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed February 28, 2016.

Kaminsky, Arnold P., and Roger D. Long (2011) India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic. California: ABC-CLIO.

Minor, Robert N. (1997) “Radhakrishnan as Advocate of the Class/Caste System as a Universal Religio-Social System.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 1.2. Springer. 386-400.

Mohanty, Panchanan, and Ramesh C. Malik (2011) Ethnographic Discourse of the Other: Conceptual an Methodological Issues. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. Accessed February 6, 2016.

 Raj, Ebenezer S (1985) “The Origins of the Caste System.” Transformation 2.2. London: Sage Publications Ltd. 10-14.

Sadangi, Himansu Charan (2008) Emancipation of Dalits and Freedom Struggle. Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.

Shrawagi, Rohit (2006) Purity vs. Pollution. Accessed February 28, 2016.

Sutradhar, Ruman (2014) “Dalit Movement in India: In the Light of Four Dalit Literatures.” IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences. 91-97.


Related Topics for Further Interest



Dharma Sastras



Havik Brahmins


Laws of Manu






Rg Veda



Websites Related to the Topic

National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights


Article written by: Jennie Elder (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Muktananda

Swami Muktananda was a renowned religious leader in Hinduism; he is reputed to have achieved complete self-awareness, the highest level of awareness possible. He started out as a highly respected swami in India, and eventually gained followers/devotees across the world for his views on meditation, self-reflection, self-realization, and his teaching of Siddha Yoga.

Swami Muktananda was born in the early 20th century, there is some dispute as to his exact year of birth. May 16th, 1908 is a generally accepted date (Brooks et Al 26).  According to biographies written by his devotees, from whom a majority of this information is derived, Muktananda was born to a wealthy family near the town of Mangalore. Originally, his parents had longed for a son but had not been blessed with one. Then, one day they went to the temple of Manjunath Mahadev, where they visited a holy man. This holy man decided to give Muktananda’s parents a mantra to chant that would aid them in the birth of a son (Brooks et al 25).  When he was born his parents named him Krsna. Only after his initiation into the Sarasvati Order was he given the name Muktananda (Brooks et al 29); this will be discussed later in the paper. From a young age Muktananda felt that being a sage was his calling. When he was very young he had an encounter with a holy man named Nityananda that forever changed his life. Muktananda wanted to be more like Nityananda, so he  left home in his pursuit of God (Brooks et al 26). It is interesting that Nityananda was the Guru who influenced Muktananda at such a young age, seeing as Nityananda later became his Guru (Brooks et al 32-33).

After leaving home Muktananda’s first stop was the Ashram of Siddharudha Swami, he then studied under Muppinarya Swami after Siddharudha passed. During the years Muktananda spent under these Gurus he learned many things about himself and the way of the life of a disciple(Brooks et al 27-30). One of the most important things that happened to him in these years however, was his initiation into the Sarasvati Order as he officially became a monk. It is a part of this initiation for the participant to be given a name that reflects who they are.  After his initiation his name was changed from Krsna to Muktananda, meaning “bliss of spiritual liberation” (Brooks et. al 28-29).  After his initiation, Muktananda wandered India visiting saints and pilgrimage sites. The journey was not an easy one, he put himself through many trying situations. At points he would have to face extreme circumstances such as sleeping in uncovered places and drinking filtered mud water for sustenance(Brooks et. al 31).  But regardless of his trials Muktananda was still in search of God, in fact it was the only thing he was worried about. Later, Muktananda would say that he hardly noticed his hardships and what he was experiencing, because all he could focus on was his quest for God (Brooks et. al 31). During his travels he met many great teachers, but never the Guru he sought after, the Guru who would show him God. But, finally, he met Siddha Zippruanna, who sent him to Nityananda, for Nityananda was to be the Guru that showed him God (Brooks et. al 32).

Muktananda was lead to Nityananda and studied under him in his search for self-realization. Throughout his studies, other devotees claimed that Nityananda was very hard on him, and Muktananda reported that it made him respect Nityananda even more (Brooks et. al 34). Muktananda appeared to have adored his Guru, Nityananda, as they say all disciples should. His love was so great for his Guru that Muktananda claimed he constantly appeared in his meditations. Muktananda stated that even when he did not think of his Guru, he was still constantly in his mind (Muktananda 1978: 46). This shows how committed to his Guru Muktananda was, and how strong their bond was. In 1947, Muktananda was given Shaktipat initiation under Nityananda, which is the transmission of spiritual powers from Guru to disciple (Muktananda 1978: 284).  Sometime after this occurs, Nityananda claimed that Muktananda had achieved what he said was perfect brahma (Brooks et. al 41) because he had completely given up his human body. Even after Nityananda claimed he had reached perfect brahma, Muktananda still followed Nityananda, even though it was not necessary for him to do so. This shows how dharmic Muktananda was.  Because of his good actions, devotion, and perfect brahma; Nityananda passed the power of the siddha lineage to Muktananda when he took mahasamadhi (passed away). Muktananda stated it was a life changing event for him. He claimed that, “You experience perfection when you are already perfect, and you lose yourself in that perfection. It fills you completely. You experience your all-pervasiveness, and your individuality is destroyed” (Brooks et. al 47).

Muktananda then began his own mission. He appointed his own trustees to the Shri Gurudev ashram, later known as the Siddha Peeth. He devoted this ashram to Nityananda. What made this ashram so remarkable was the fact that it was open to all people, it belonged to everyone (Brooks et al 48-51), even westerners. This ashram was one of the few that believed everyone should be able to find God, no matter who they were, and regardless of religion. Muktananda believed that his duty was, “not to teach Hinduism, but the self; not to live in a cave wearing orange robes, but to see God in oneself as one is, and to see Him where one is, as a Christian, Jew, or Moslem, as a business man, a parent of a worker” (Muktananda 1987: vii). People from all over the world came to meet with Muktananda, and all reported that they had never experienced such radiance or love (Brooks et al 54-56). During this time  Muktananda developed and named his style of yoga as Siddha yoga. This was not a yoga that could be described by a type of movement, but rather a type of spiritual yoga that is taught by an accomplished yogi, and is passed down through these yogis as a lineage (Brooks et al xxv).

Muktananda talked about what it is like to truly meditate and what it is like to gain Shakti. From Muktananda’s point of view when you meditate consistently and love to meditate, eventually Shakti will awaken inside of you with the help of your Guru (Muktananda 1991:33). Muktananda states that Shakti created the outer universe, when it awakens within you it creates an inner universe of bliss and happiness (Muktananda 1991:33). When an individual’s meditation begins to deepen, they will eventually see what Muktananda calls a blue pearl. This blue pearl is where he claims God lives, where the form of the self is within us, and it contains the entire universe (Muktananda 1991: 35). This pearl allows us to feel love for ourselves and others. Eventually our individuality is no longer there. There is no longer any difference between things, and Muktananda believes that we come to this realization once we realize the whole universe dwells inside of us (Muktananda 1991: 36).  To him this a good thing, we are on our way to realizing that we and everything we see, are in fact God (Muktananda 1991: 37).

Despite the growing popularity of Siddha yoga and of Swami Muktananda, there were still a few critics of the Guru. Muktananda disliked materialism, as we can see from his works. He emphasized being free from attachments, which are the source of misery.  Muktananda wanted people to live free of desire and attachment, which you are not born into this world with (Muktananda 1980: 21).  He emphasized this over and over again, telling his disciples to wash away jealousy which causes filth, and to eat and live moderately (Muktananda 1980:29).  Through remaining free from attachment and enjoying things in moderation, only then he claims a person can begin to find happiness and self-realization. Muktananda’s continued stress on these things may be one reason that some westerners were not very fond of his teachings. Western culture puts emphasis on things such as material items and dedication to work, so you can afford even more material items. However, Muktananda believed that God and only God is what is truly important; he believed in continuous worship to God, and that we should immerse our minds in Him [God], because without God our mind would fail to function and think. Because of this, we should make God our one true focus (Muktananda 1980:33).  Some westerners may not like the thought of having to completely commit themselves and their minds to God, especially to such extremes as Muktananda does.

In 1970, when Muktananda was 62, he made his first trip to the west due to the many invitations from his devotees there (Brooks et al 74).  Many were uncertain how this trip would go, due to the fact that he could not speak English and only knew a couple dozen people in the west (Brooks et al 74).  However, even though he could not speak English, that did not stop him from connecting with people. The people he interacted with claimed that he connected with people through the heart (Brooks et al 75). Throughout this trip people learned a lot of new things about Muktananda. For instance people saw that Muktananda did not see himself as anything but an instrument for God and his own Guru, he never asked for help, and although he adapted to new environments easily he never changed his teachings (Brooks et al 74).  The first world tour of the Swami went extremely well and he went on his second tour in 1974. At this time Siddha yoga was becoming much more popular worldwide (Brooks et al 80). Muktananda stated his purpose of this tour was to start a revolution. The revolution he referred to was a meditation revolution. He sought for people to regain their prestige which he claimed had been tainted with evil. This thought of a meditation revolution became the foundation of the Siddha Yoga expansion (Brooks et al 82).  Throughout his second world tour there were over 150 new meditation centres and three ashrams founded around the world (Brooks et al 83).  In 1978 he took his third world tour, which lasted three years and is said to be the peak of his career. Around another twenty ashrams were formed and he had eight books published. It was also on this tour that dislike and the suspicion of cults arose (Brooks et al 109).

Some people believed that Muktananda was the leader of a cult, and that cult was Siddha yoga. Muktananda apparently called for conformity within his ashram, to some people this seemed like something a cult would do (White 315). People felt strongly compelled to be with and please Swami Muktananda. Not only that but many people longed to be exactly like Muktananda (White 316-317).  Unusually, many people have had similar experiences in Siddha yoga, both emotionally and physically. These people do things such as shriek, cry, writhe, and make strange movements. Not only this but they would hardly be able to remain conscious or carry our conversation without going into a trance,  being conscious was actually considered a hindrance to gaining self-realization (White 319).  To many people who were not familiar with the practices and aim of Siddha yoga, this seemed unnatural and made them feel very uncomfortable with the above mentioned happenings.  Muktananda addressed the talk of cults on his third tour when he landed in California. Challenging the people, he encouraged the government to visit every ashram and see what they could find, and he encouraged people to test their spiritual leaders and to watch for false Gurus who were appearing claiming to be like him (Brooks et al 110).

Swami Muktananda was a widely recognized leader, not only in India but all over the world. His followers emphasized his kindness, love, and warmth. While it appears that most people he came in contact with loved him, there were those few who doubted his teachings and were quite critical of him and his followers. Muktananda took mahasamadhi in 1982 (Brooks et al 124) leaving behind his legacy with his two successors, Swami Chidvilasananda and Swami Nityananda (Brooks et al 124).



Brooks, Douglas and S.P. Durgananda, et al. (2000) Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage. India: Muktabodha Indological Research Institute,

Muktananda (1991) Meditate. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Muktananda (1978) Play of Consciousness. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.

Muktananda (1980) Reflections of the Self. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.

White, Charles (1974) “Swāmi Muktānanda and the Enlightenment Through Śakti-pāt” History of Religions (1974) Vol. 13, No. 4,  p. 306-322.


Other Related Topics For Investigation



Influential Swamis

Spread of Hinduism


Sarasvati Order


Swami Nityananda

Swami Chidvilasananda



Article written by: Sonja Simmelink ( March 7, 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant was an English woman who would come to be an advocate for the Hindu religion and women’s educational rights in India. Born in 1847, Besant grew up in a home where her father valued science over religion and her mother was a devout Anglican. Her parents’ differing views on religion would come to impact Besant’s beliefs and work as she grew up. She came to associate England and India by gendered terms. England being male and paternal in its rationality and materialism, and India as female due to its spirituality and mysticism. Besant’s father died when she was only five years old, thus, she grew up mainly influenced by her mother’s Christian beliefs. She received a good education from a wealthy woman who agreed to privately tutor her because her mother could not afford public education. Besant married a clergyman, however, her marriage quickly became tumultuous as she began to denounce her Christian faith. Besant would refuse to take communion and unsurprisingly this angered her clergyman husband. This led to a fractious marriage and an eventual separation (Anderson 2002:28).

More and more Besant began to question the Christian faith. The illness of her young daughter Mabel was one such event which drew Besant towards an atheist mindset. She eventually joined the National Secular Society which was lead by Charles Bradlaugh. Besant and Bradlaugh formed a strong friendship and he helped foster her free-thinking ideas.  Besant also became acquainted with George Bernard Shaw at this time (Oppenheim 13). With her new secularist mindset, Besant did not deny the presence of God but rather attributed consequences to human action. Before, her Christian faith had led her to believe that the universe revolved around God as the one true deity. In contrast, secularism allowed humans to be accountable for evil and for the consequences, whether it be rewards or punishment (Oppenheim 14).

In the year 1874, Annie Besant went to London and there she became known as ‘Red Annie.’ She supported such issues as women’s suffrage, use of birth control, secularism and socialism. Besant made it very clear that she was against the imperialism of England. She became a rebel figure because she went against the Victorian ideals that existed at the time in England. A series of articles written by Besant in the 1870’s demonstrated her discontent over England’s control of India. At this time, Besant identified herself as an atheist socialist but in 1889 she turned to the religion of Theosophy (Anderson 1994: 565). This particular religion was new at the time Besant converted to it and was based on discovering the hidden meanings or mysteries behind divinity. It sought to explain the relationships or bonds between the universe, humans, and the divine. Her conversion to Theosophy was met with consternation from her fellow secularists and from Indian theosophists. She had been a woman who did not believe in God and wanted the separation of religion and the state, and now she was affiliating herself with a religion where “all major creeds are paths to God” (Anderson 2002:28). Oppenheim (1989) suggests that her conversion to Theosophy was not as surprising as many thought. She had been questioning the secularist and atheist thoughts for some time, and had found that they did not allow for brotherhoods to be formed, but rather pitted different groups against each other (15). Besant remained a follower of Theosophy for the rest of her life and based much of her work on its ideologies.

1907 was an important year for Besant as she became the president of the Theosophical Society.  By this time Besant had already become quite assimilated into Indian culture. The base for the Theosophical Society was in India and Besant tried to participate in Indian life as fully as possible. She moved to India permanently and wore a white sari, as widows do, because it demonstrated mourning over the wrongdoings Britain had committed in India (Anderson 2002:29). She explained her affinity for India by claiming that she felt she had been Indian in another lifetime [Ingalls (1965) mentions how Besant discovered that many of her incarnations took place in India]. Whilst in the Theosophical Society, Besant focussed much of her work on supporting the domesticity of Indian women. Besant believed that it was important that Indian customs be upheld and this included women carrying out their traditional roles in the home. She received some criticism for this viewpoint because she had been so against the Victorian idea of a private sphere for women in her native land of England. Indeed many ambiguities arose with Besant’s ideas. One such ambiguity or criticism Besant faced was her lack of political conviction. In the year 1885 the Indian National Congress, composed of British members, was attempting to include more Indians in the governance of India. Besant had long been known to be against the Imperial supremacy of Britain yet she did not seem to have any qualms with British involvement in India’s government. She was quoted once as saying that “an Indian does not resent being governed; for he thinks the duty of a ruler is to rule, but he does resent the insolence often shown by the very juvenile civilians” that Britain was sending to India (Anderson 2002:30). Rather, Besant chose to focus mainly on the spiritual nature of India as she believed that this was the most vital part of its essence. She was concerned that western ideologies were crippling to India’s traditional Hindu beliefs and practices.

Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)
Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)

In order to preserve India’s Hindu background, Besant turned her efforts towards education. She felt that it was important to educate the young males on the religion, and history of India in order that they may be proud citizens of India in the future. In this way, Besant was trying to ensure that the western ideals of the British did not permeate into India and eradicate its important history and spirituality. Besant tried to distance herself from social reforms, wanting to focus mainly on the preservation of India’s Hindu culture. However, in the early 1900s she did become involved in advocating against child marriages and the seclusion of women. It is important to note that her support of these issues in no way negated her belief that women should still be domestic. When she began a school for young girls, the goal was that their education would help them to be better wives, not to help them achieve independence (Anderson 2002: 31). Tradition held that the men dealt in public affairs outside of the home and that women were mothers and wives who concerned themselves with domestic affairs. It is clear that Besant did not believe Indian women to be suppressed because of this (Anderson 1994: 567). To her, they seemed quite content in their societal roles and thus no change needed to be made. In the Central Hindu School (Besant’s school for boys) and her school for girls, Besant ensured that Sanskrit was taught as vigorously as the English language. Just as in the schools run by the British, her schools also taught important morals. However, Besant had more success than the British run universities in India because she tailored her curriculums to Indian culture. Figures such as St. Paul would be replaced in a lesson with Sri Rama; King Alfred was replaced by Sivaji. Besant’s devotion to Hindu tradition and custom in the education of India’s youth won her over with her pupils and their parents (Ingalls 86).

The year 1913 was significant for Besant because it was then that she turned to political pursuits. Having been distant from involving herself in issues of a political nature, Besant was thrown into the realm of politics when she was taken to court by a man whose sons were under her guardianship.  Accusations about one of her colleagues were made and this cast a shadow on the Theosophical Society. As a result, Besant felt an increasing need, in her own words: “to enter more than I have hitherto done into the social life of Madras” (Stafford 62-63).  After her negative experience in court, she formed ‘The Brothers of India.’  This was a group committed to looking out for India’s best interests with a focus on Hinduism as the mode towards their means. The men in this group were from the Theosophical Society and they had seven guidelines, which they were to follow in order to serve India’s best interests. The first six guidelines reflected many of Besant’s early beliefs. For example, these men were to only have their daughters marry when they were seventeen years of age to promote the education of the masses and to not ostracize widows for remarrying. The seventh guideline was most significant which “committed all members to a combined programme of spiritual, educational, social and political reform, and the placing of the programme under the guidance and direction of the Indian National Congress” (Stafford 64). Before, there had been reforms for each of these areas individually, but Besant wanted to unite all of these areas and to place equal importance on all reforms together. The Indian National Congress was asked to take the programme under its direction but they felt that it was not their place to interfere in these reforms because they were focussed solely on political ventures. However, Annie Besant was not deterred. She sought to bring the different groups and movements into one strong voice.

Home Rule for India was brought forth by Besant. She believed that both India and Britain would be better off if India was permitted to be self-governing. Stafford (1983) suggests that Besant’s Irish background influenced her decision to have a Home Rule for India. Besant wrote many articles which stressed how India would be a much more valuable ally as a nation free from colonialism as opposed to being a colonial state. She discussed the many grievances that India had suffered under British rule. According to Besant, Britain continuously benefitted more from India than India did from itself. Britain prevented India’s capital from remaining within the nation. As well, in terms of education, missionaries wanted Indians to convert, and the British geared education towards their own means; the cultivation of more clerks and junior officials was often the British goal (Stafford 66-67).  With the approaching war (World War I), Besant asserted that it was important for India to recognize her own nationhood. In 1916 Besant was finally successful in achieving a Home Rule for India. A meeting between the Congress and the Moslem League occurred.  As Ingalls (1965) suggests, this was very significant because an agreement called the Lucknow Agreement determined that in the event of Indian self-government, “two-thirds majority of either religious community would hold a veto power” (87).  Unfortunately, the Congress did not honor this agreement. Being the strong-willed woman that she was, Besant continued to give speeches to gain support. She was then placed under house arrest by a governor of Madras [see Anderson (2002: 39) for more information on the Governor’s actions against Besant]. Much to the dismay of the Congress, Besant had many devout followers, and her house arrest only served to make her a martyr for her cause. Gandhi was amongst her supporters, as well as other male Indian nationalists. People were dismayed to hear of the treatment of Besant. She was called Mother Besant by many and had won over the hearts of the people with her passionate belief in Indian nationalism. Significantly, Besant’s internment brought forth many Indian women activists for women’s rights. Others who normally would not have supported an English woman as a nationalist leader also protested her internment. When she was released after three months, she became the President of the Indian National Congress in December of 1917 (Ingalls 87-88).

Now as president, Besant was able to induce change for women’s rights in India. As she had done in the past, Besant did not denounce the important role in the home of the women, but rather suggested that women had an ancient importance and that their emancipation was needed so that they could fulfill their ancient position. In this way, Besant appealed to the traditionalism of Indian women and men, while still implying that some changes needed to be made. In late 1917 Besant formed and presided over the first feminist organization in India. It was called the Women’s Indian Association (Anderson 2002:47). Many women looked up to Besant as someone who had defied the odds and demonstrated that women could have a voice and the power to affect change in a male-dominated world. After 1917, her influence began to decrease. Gandhi was at the forefront of India’s nationalism and many saw him as a more appropriate leader for the Indian cause because he was a swadeshi or home made nationalist. Besant disagreed with many of Gandhi’s ideas and she lost favor with many because of this. To many, it seemed that she had become pro-government despite her original Home Rule intentions for India, however, she had simply altered her views because the political climate of India had changed. Besant had once been deemed an incarnate goddess, but at this time she was being referred to as a demoness and some called her Putana [this is a demoness from the epic Ramayana. She is known to have put poison on her breasts and suckled the child Lord Krsna, thus killing him (Anderson 2002:50)]. Interestingly, Gandhi, though he had many qualms with Besant’s views, stood up for her against the harsh words she was receiving from those who once supported her.

The last years of Besant’s career were difficult times for her. She resigned from the Home Rule League she had founded and Gandhi took her place as president. Moreover, she also resigned from the Indian National Congress. Besant was embittered by the way in which she was disregarded, but she continued to persevere. She formed a new National Home Rule League and eventually rejoined the Indian National Congress, though not in a leading position. Besant died in the year 1933 at the age of eighty-six. Towards the end of her career she was marginalized, however, many still fondly remembered her as Mother Annie Besant. She was the English woman with the Indian soul who fought for a more free India (Anderson 2002:49-51).






Anderson, Nancy Fix (2002) “Mother Besant and Indian National Politics.” The Journal of        Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 30, No. 3: p.27-54. London: Frank Cass


Anderson, Nancy Fix (1994) “Bridging Cross-cultural Feminisms: Annie Besant and women’s   rights in England and India, 1874-1933.” Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4: p.       563-580. New Orleans: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.


Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1965) “The Heritage of a Fallible Saint: Annie Besant’s Gifts to India.”         Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 109, No. 2: p. 85-88.     Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.


Mortimer, Joanne Stafford (1983) “Annie Besant and India 1913-1917.” Journal of      

            Contemporary History, Vol. 18, No. 1: p. 61-78. London: Sage Publications, Ltd.


Oppenheim, Janet (1989) “The Odyssey of Annie Besant.” History Today, Vol. 39, No. 9: p.        12-18. Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company.



Related Topics for Further Investigation


Central Hindu School

Charles Bradlaugh

Commonweal (newspaper)

Home Rule League

Indian National Congress

Madame Blavatsky


nationalist movement (India)

National Reformer (newspaper)

New India (newspaper)

‘Red Annie’


‘The Brothers of India’

Theosophical Society


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Haley Kleckner (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Krishnamacharya and the Hatha Yoga Movement

Yoga has been practiced for centuries, with alternative meanings and health benefits as it has moved into modern day. The Vedas are the primary source of ancient Indian traditions and practices of worship that allow people to live life in a dharmic manner. These texts refer to the attainment of moksha (liberation) and yoga is one of the modes to attain this goal. Traditional Vedic yoga is connected with ideas that revolve around ritual sacrifices for the purpose of connecting the material world with the spiritual world (Feuerstein 5).  The successful yoga practices create focus for a long period of time as a way of transcending the limitations of the mind in order to reach spiritual reality (Feuerstein 5). The preclassical period of yoga was approximately 2,000 years until the second century C.E when it closely followed the sacrificial culture discussed in The Brahmanas and Aranyakas, which re genres of Sanskrit texts. It is the Upanishads, which teach the unity of all things, that ultimately expanded the practice of yoga (Feuerstein 6). Post classical yoga first demonstrates the shift of focus from contemplation with the result of developing a spiritual conscious, to practices that rejuvenate the body and influence a prolonged life. (Feuerstein 6).  Hatha yoga or “yoga of force” is a practice that utilizes posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama) as a way of transforming the body’s energy to influence spiritual transformation (Starbacker 105). The physical nature of hatha yoga is what influenced its appeal in the 19th century as calisthenics became popular in India and around the world.

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is widely considered the father of modern yoga as he developed movement-orientated postural systems that have been presented internationally by his disciples (Starbacker 103). Krishnamacharya documents the purpose of yogabhyasa (the practice of yoga or abstract devotion) and why it is an important practice that influences the welling being of the mind and body in his book Yoga Makaranda, which is one of many of his publications. He explains that it is the philosophy of yoga to draw the minds focus inwards to reach deep concentration to develop a form of mental strength. The benefit of this process is comparable to how sleep rejuvenates the mind, in which sleep is of a tamasic nature. The mental strength that is developed through yogabhyasa is called yoga nidra, and it by far exceeds the amount of strength and concentration that sleep or meditation may offer (Krishnamacharya 7). The benefits of yogabhyasa are separated into eight parts: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi (Krishnamacharya 8). There are benefits at every stage of practice; it is not that there is a final stage that reveals all the benefits at the same time. Yama develops compassion towards other living beings, while niyama is a state of peace and tranquility with the environment and internally. Asana practice causes correct blood circulation and internal functions; pranayama develops strength in the bones and bone marrow, heart, brain, muscles and tendons. Pratyahara is to bring ones own indriyas (five senses) under control in order to have a focused mind. Dharana is to stop the mind and hold it in one place, while dhyana is to focus the mind in one direction and to attain whatever form is though about. Samadhi is to have stopped all external movements of the mind and have reached a state of happiness about the physical and spiritual world (Krishnamacharya 8-16).

Krishnamacharya was most influential during his residency at Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore from 1930-1950, when he developed a very physical and acrobatic system of asanas that are most similar to yoga today (Heerman 20). It remains unclear if Krishnamacharya stayed true to his teaching from his guru Rama Mohan Bramachari with the transition of his yoga teachings in India, and the conflicting western views that have greatly influenced the way yoga is received from his students (Heerman 20). Once Krishnamacharya completed his teachings, he set out to teach this spiritual system of yoga throughout India. The traditional system of yoga practices was becoming outdated and was not received well by most people. Because of his unsuccessful pursuit to make a living as a yoga teacher, Krishnamacharya traveled around India giving lectures and demonstrating siddhis (supernormal abilities of the yogic body) (Heerman 21). In order to gain attention and interest in yoga, he demonstrated suspending his pulse, lifting heavy objects with his teeth and performed difficult asanas (Heerman 21). Krishnamacharya was then recruited by the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnarajendra Wodeyar to teach at the Jaganmohan Palace for young male royals (Heerman 21). The Maharaja was very committed to promoting cultural, political and technological innovations for Mysore, as well as encouraging physical education, which was known as the “Indian physical culture movement”, that was designed to created the strength necessary to reclaim India after so many years of colonial rule (Heerman 22). Krishnamacharya’s yoga teachings were greatly influenced to be aerobic and physical due to the Maharaja and the popularity of exercise. As a result, hatha yoga gained wide popularity compared to the traditional yoga practices, which ultimately led to the vast arrangement of yoga forms that are present in India and North America today.

Hatha yoga is mainly the methods of doing asanas (yoga postures). The circulation and strength of the body is only one of eight parts that contribute to the whole of yogabhyasa, while the mindfulness and focus of yoga has not maintained its aesthetic appeal. Krishnamacharya explains his distaste for the way practitioners of yogabhyasa ignore vinyasa krama and worries that the Vedas from which yoga practice has originated will be ruined (Krishnamacharya 26). The form, metre, syllables, and verses that form the entirety of the Vedas are comparable to the way in which yoga should be practiced. The combination of the eight elements of yogabhyasa is what provides the beneficial integrity of yoga practices. From the perspective of Krishnamacharya in Yoga Makaranda, yoga has a deep spiritual meaning and benefit that has deteriorated with the Westernization of hatha yoga. To Krishnamacharya, yoga is a form of Vedic ritual that develops more than toned muscles and flexibility. Although the Yoga Makaranda provides much information on the traditional Hindu practice of yoga with regards to the Vedas, Krishnamacharya is recognized as a figure who influenced the separation of religiosity of yoga from the growth of modern yoga. Other organizations, such as Christian yoga, argue that spiritual expression can still be reached without the Hindu dimensions of yogabhyasa. The interest in yoga in North America encouraged the streamlined approach of simplifying yogic concepts in a way that was acceptable to Western and Christian spiritual views (Heerman 13).

Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting a yogic posture, utilized in ascetic practice (Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India).
Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting a yogic posture, utilized in ascetic practice (Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India).

Christian opponents of yoga hold that Hindu traditions are in conflict with Christian doctrine (Jain 4). The contemporary Western view of modern yoga is as a mode physical fitness, separated from its historical origins. Similarly, Hindu opponents of this disconnect of yoga from its historical spiritual origins, believe that yoga has been corrupted by the profit driven popularization of contemporary yogis (Jain 4). Prior to Krishnamacharya, there where other yoga masters involved with the popularization of Hatha Yoga. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is widely known to have used a combination of existing yoga with modern ideas and practices (Jain 5). As postural yoga remains without a Hindu signature in modern western society, alternative spiritual connotations have been attached to it. For example, Christian Yoga emphasizes postures and breath control as a way of focusing on Christ (Jain 6). The differing opinions and techniques associated with yoga is what allows it to be appealing to many different groups, but also contribute to the opposition that both Christians and Hindus have towards modern postural yoga.

Krishnamacharya demonstrated exceptional strength and flexibility that encourages the appeal of yoga for its physical benefits, but his teachings in Yoga Makaranda, suggest that he taught with the intention of encouraging anyone to practice yoga. He has extensive teachings on the spiritual origins and the responsibility of the guru to teach a student in such a way that all aspects that contribute to yoga are recognized in order to receive the benefits of yoga. Yet, it can also be seen that Krishnamacharya did not maintain a traditional yoga system that is true to the teachings of his own guru as his career was greatly influenced by Maharaja of Mysore and popularity of physical exercise. The tendency that Krishnamacharya had for tailoring his instructions so that each of his students could maximize the physical benefits, also demonstrates the stray away from the traditional yoga system (Heerman 30).

Besides the conflicting viewpoint of modern yoga and Hindu traditions, Krishnamacharya designed a form of exercise that is unique and modifiable to anyone who wishes to participate. Hatha yoga can build strength, and cause an overall benefit to health as well as encouraging concentration and focus that can be interpreted as spiritual, self reflective, or religious depending on how the participant want to approach a yoga practice. Krishnamacharya may have influenced the separation of Hindu tradition from modern forms of yoga but made yoga accessible to everyone who wishes to participate.


Burley, Mikel (2014) ‘A Purification of Ones Own Humanity’ Nonattachment and Ethics in Yoga Traditions. The Journal of Religion. Vol. 94, No. 2, P. 204-228. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Feuerstein, Georg (2006) “A Short History of Yoga”. The Yoga Tradition. P. 1-10. Hohm Press.

Heerman, Grace (2014) “Yoga in the Modern World: The Search for the ‘Authentic’ Practice.” Sociology and Anthropology Theses. Paper 5, P. 1-45, Tacoma Washington: University of Puget Sound.

Jain, Antrea R. (2012) “The Malleability of Yoga: A Response to Christian and Hindu Opponents of the Popularization of Yoga”. Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies: Vol. 25, Article 4. P. 1-8, Indianapolis, Indiana: Butler University.

Krishnamacharya, Sir T. (1934) Yoga Makaranda: The Essence of Yoga (Part One). Kannada Edition, Madurai C.M.V. Press. P. 1-159.

Starbacker, Stuart R. (2014) “Reclaiming the Spirit through the Body: The Nascent Spirituality of Modern Postural Yoga”. Entangled Religions; Oregon: Oregon State University, Article 3, P. 95-114.

Singleton, Mark (2007) “Yoga, Eugenics, and Spiritual Darwinism in the Early Twentieth Century”. International Journal of Hindu Studies; Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 125-146. Springer.








Sattva guna











Swami Vivekananda

Vinyasa krama

Krishnarajendra Wodeyar






Article written by: Monica Johnson (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Chinmayananda and the Chinmaya Mission

This account of Swami Chinmayananda’s life is derived from a single source, who may be a devotee, and therefore reflects the overly sympathetic orientation of the source.

Swami Chinmayananda, also referred to as Balakrishna Menon, who was born in Kerala, India during 1916. He earned an Undergraduate Degree in English Literature at Lucknow University in India. At the time of his studies, India was in a political dispute with Britain in order to gain their independence. Menon was a socialist and performed political actions such as, writing leaflets and give speeches in order to rile up the nation (Patchen 8). He was one of many students who demonstrated his differing ideologies against the colonial British, in the events leading up to India gaining independence during the 1940’s (Patchen 7). Because of this political uprising, many Indians were locked up and killed. Balakrishnan Menon came to realize that a warrant was issued for his arrest. He spent the next two years moving around, until he thought it was safe enough to come out. However, government officials soon found him and he was imprisoned (Patchen 10).

Menon caught typhus in prison because of overcrowding, bad ventilation and poor nutrition within the penitentiary. In the old country typhus was commonly known as jail fever because of the confined spaces in prison (Patchen 11). This allowed for the disease to spread rapidly among inmates. Menon was then later released on the side of a road, just out of Delhi, because of contracting typhus. A passerby rescued Menon and he later recovered from his illness. After several weeks he made his way to Baroda, where he stayed with his cousin, Achuthan Menon (Patchen 12).

When Menon was staying with his cousin, he started type writing. He chose articles such as, Mochi “Street shoe cobbler” (Patchen 14) to write on and expressed his socialist views. This marked the beginning of his journalism career. These short responses were then being published in Indian nationalist newspapers (Patchen 14). He was more interested in India’s social reforms than the Hindu religion at this time. Menon left Baroda and headed back to the University of Lucknow, where he achieved his Master’s Degree in English Literature. He became an editor at the local newspaper, but soon found through his work that something was missing.

“Each one of us is in the right atmosphere and environment for our evolution. Don’t try to be more intelligent than universal intelligence. Stay where you are and start opening!” stated Swami Chinmayananda (Patchen 23). Menon started to look deeper into the daily lives of the rich and poor within India. He soon became empathetic towards the poor, but also explored how the rich gained from their lifestyle (Patchen 23). Menon realized that he had to choose his own path and let religion back into his life. He had made a resolution for himself and moved onto a spiritual path for three years. After practicing spiritually, coming to know ones true self, for three years, Menon studied philosophy in order to gain more knowledge of life (Patchen 25). Through his studies, he came across the concept of the Eternal Truth, also known as Sanatana Dharma, within the Vedas. He wanted to achieve the divine goals that were marked in the scriptures because it would lead him to become a true teacher (Patchen 25).

Menon was inspired by the many sages who have attained these divine goals and soon followed their words that “truth cannot be disguised to a sincere seeker” (Patchen 26). He continued to study these wise sages and gained guidance from their words. However, he still had many unanswered questions and doubts. In order to find his answers, he journeyed to the Himalayas in hope of finding these great sages (Patchen 29). He set off to Rishikesh, the place to find a man full of wisdom which is a Swami, in order to find Swami Shivananda on the north bank of the Ganga (Patchen 35). There he spent a few days learning from Swami Shivananda, while gaining spiritual knowledge. For several years, Menon would travel to the Himalayas and continue to learn about spiritual matters from Swami Shivananda. It was not until the late 1940’s that Balakrishnan Menon received initiation into the sannyasa asrama, also known as the life of renunciation, from Swami Shivananda (Patchen 55-56). By being initiated into the sannyasa asrama, Menon was close to achieving the goal of self-realization (Patchen 56). Balakrishnan Menon formally became known as Swami Chinmayananda, meaning “one who reveals in the bliss which is pure consciousness” (Patchen 57-58).

A few days after his initiation, Swami Chinmayananda made his way to the small village of Uttarkasi, in the eastern valley of Varanavatha mountain, where he sought to meet another great sage (Patchen 69). There he met Swami Tapovan, the master of Vedanta, to teach him the scriptures of the Vedas and took him as his guru, (teacher). Swami Tapovan believed that one should not rush their learning process because the ideas already in one’s mind need to be clear before an individual moves on to the next stage (Patchen 70). Therefore, Swami Chinmayananda did not start his new learning right away. Swami Chinmayananda did not spend all his time learning about the philosophy of Vedanta, but he also took time to do chores in order to release natural energy and maintain his strength. He then traveled on foot for a few days with Swami Tapovan and other students in order to get to Gangotri, a place of meditation and peacefulness (Patchen 71). Swami Chinmayananda would chant early every morning before the teachings of the scriptures began. He learned the first Vedanta text which was the beginning of the scriptures that identified all the concepts of the Upanishads in Sanskrit (Patchen 72). These concepts included the nature of the true Self and information on the nature of Brahman. The information given in the first text of Vedanta gave Swami Chinmayananda the core concepts of the scriptures, but also allowed him to further learn the Sanskrit language. Swami Tapovan would slowly read the scriptures out and explain each Sanskrit term for the students to fully understand the meaning of the texts.

Swami Chinmayananda spent a few years of continually traveling from Uttarkasi and back to Gangotri to learn about the scriptures and philosophy of Vedanta. By the time Chinmayananda turned thirty years old, he was able to travel back to his homeland of Kerala, India (Patchen 80). He was able to see his family after a decade and enjoyed sharing with them what it was like to become a Swami. While Chinmayananda was home, he visited many temples and talked to spiritual teachers’ within the area. He was also asked to give many lectures to the public about his life as a Swami. After his visit home, Chinmayananda returned back to Uttarkasi and continued his learning with the guru. He was now ready for the final step in his religious journey, “the dive into Self-realization” (Patchen 84). Several more years of teachings with guru, Swami Tapovan, led Swami Chinmayananda to his greatest achievement of understanding the nature of the mind.

When Swami Chinmayananda reached his goal, he went on a tour of India and decided to do a series of Upanishad Jnana Yagnas, teaching concepts of true knowledge and the nature of absolute reality. Swami Chinmayananda taught these concepts in various cities around India (Patchen 155). He wanted to bring spiritual enlightenment to the people within these cities and educate them on their cultural roots. Chinmayananda wanted to use his knowledge of the Vedic concepts and bring benefit to all of society. He then started teaching right from the scriptures and made his way to the first city, Poona, where he performed his first lecture (Patchen 156). After his first lecture to the public on Vedanta, Chinmayananda decided to live life with the people and encounter the issues they had. He packed all his belongings up and the left the comfort of the Himalayas in order to start the “Divine Mission” (Patchen 158). He believed that the people of India deserved to know more about their Hindu religion, while applying these concepts to every life struggle they would have. He then lectured on the first Yagna, but not many people came. As Chinmayananda continued to lecture on Vedanta, more people would attend (Patchen 163).

Chinmayananda’s passion was to liberate people with his knowledge of Vedanta, which essentially brought happiness, “Maximum happiness for the maximum number of people that is our goal!” stated Swami Chinmayananda (Patchen 203). Groups of educated Brahmins, who went to listen to Swami Chinmayananda lecture wanted to create a program that spread the meaning of his teachings further, and the understanding of Vedanta. They then created the “Chinmaya Mission”, meaning “the true knowledge”, to carry spiritual concepts and discussions to the people (Patchen 203). People would gather from various cities just to hear Swami Chinmayananda talk and soon the group expanded. The “Chinmaya Mission” was now an organization that had grown into something great, while giving the people the knowledge and spiritual guidance they needed. Swami Chinmayananda was all about helping the people and through the “Chinmaya Mission” he was able to create the Chinmaya Mission Hospital during the late 1900’s (Patchen 241). Many more great projects came out of “Chinmaya Mission”, but Swami Chinmayananda died of heart issues in late summer of 1993 (Swami Chinmayananda 1). Through his studies and knowledge of Vedanta, Swami Chinmayananda changed the lives of many people and the “Chinmaya Mission” still carries on in his name.


Patchen, Nancy (1989) The journey of a master: Swami Chinmayananda : the man, the path, the teaching. Berkeley, California: Asian Humanities Press.

Swami Chinmayananda (2000) Hinduism Today: Chinmayananda Up Close. Kauia, Hawaii: Himalayan Academy.

Noteworthy Websites on the Topic

Chinmayananda Saraswati


Chinmaya Mission





Jnana Yagna

Chinmaya Mission



sannyasa asrama


Bhagavad Gita

Divine Mission




Article written by: Annalee Bragg (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.


List of Scholars of Hinduism

Below is a list of scholars who study Hinduism. The list is far from exhaustive, it provides the names of scholars who either have a website or a profile on with additional resources. Simply click on the name of the scholar to be redirected to their respective pages.

Dr. Adheesh Sathaye

Dr. Patricia Dold

Dr. Adela Sandness

Dr. Srilata Raman

Dr. Shaman Hatley

Dr. Leslie Orr

Dr. Arvind Sharma

Dr. Davesh Soneji

Dr. Gordan Djurdjevic

Dr. James Mchugh

Dr. Hamsa Stainton 

Dr. Leela Prasad

Dr. Pankaj Jain
          Dr. Pankaj Jain’s page

Dr. Timothy Lubin

Dr. Sthaneshwar Timalsina

Dr. John Nemec


Brahmagupta was a significant Indian mathematician and astronomer who lived during the medieval era and made several indispensable contributions to various fields of mathematics and astronomy throughout his lifetime. Although many of the specific details of Brahmagupta’s birthplace are unknown, most scholars agree that he was born in 598 CE somewhere in northern India (Joseph 41-42; Waghmare et al. 1). One hypothesis is that he was born in Bhinmal (a city in the Rajasthan Sate of Northern India which was quite powerful during that time period) but no one knows for sure. One thing is certain however; the time Brahmagupta was born would play a larger role in defining his later works than the place he was born. [The 6th century BCE was characterised by a rise in philosophical movements that challenged Hindu Orthodoxy. These groups, which were labeled heterodox by orthodox Hindus, generally challenged the Vedas and the Varna (class) system. As time progressed the number of heterodox philosophies increased and by the 6th century CE they had 1200 years to spread and flourish throughout India. ] As an orthodox Hindu, Brahmagupta was influenced heavily by his religious beliefs and was opposed to those held by the various heterodox darsanas (viewpoints). In particular, he was intrigued by the Hindus’ Yuga system (which measures the ages of humanity) and opposed to the Jains’ cosmological views, allowing the former to greatly influence his own ideas and harshly condemning the latter (Waghmare et al. 1). The influence of orthodox Hinduism on his work did not end here.

Brahmagupta went even further in his critique of heterodox ideas when he attacked Aryabhata. Brahmagupta refuted Aryabhata’s heterodox idea that the earth is a spinning sphere (Waghmare et al. 1). The influence of religion on Brahmagupta and his works went even farther than this however. Brahmagupta’s main work Brahmasphutasiddhanta (The Correctly Established Doctrine of Brahma) which is a mathematical treatise of invaluable quality is a paradigmatic example of the extent of which religious views influenced Brahmagupta [This demonstrates Brahmagupta’s religious affiliations with Hindu orthodoxy because Brahma is believed to be the creator deity in the Hindu tradition] (Waghmare et al. 1-2). Although religious beliefs played a profound role in influencing Brahmagupta, they were by no means the only stimulus instigating his mathematical and astronomical works. As a young man, Brahmagupta was a disciple of Varahmihir, a great astronomer of the time, who had written extensively. It is said that Brahmagupta read all Varahmihir’s works, made commentaries on them, and later proved many unproved results (Waghmare et al. 1). This launched Brahmagupta’s career in mathematics and astronomy.

As mentioned earlier, Brahmagupta’s main work Brahmasphutasiddhanta was a very influential mathematical treatise influenced by orthodox Hinduism. Interestingly, this biased approach did not compromise the quality of the work entirely. In fact, R.V. Waghmare et al. describes his work as possessing mathematical ideas of “exceptional quality” and claims that it should be considered one of the greatest works of the early period “not only of India, but also of the World” (Waghmare et al. 2). The text’s incredible breadth and depth has made invaluable contributions to geometry, arithmetic, algebra, number theory, as well as astronomy. Since the text was later translated into Arabic around 771 CE it also played a profound role in the scientific awaking of the Arab Empire and had a considerable influence on Islamic mathematics and astronomy (Waghmare et al. 2). This work also had a profound impact within India. In chapters twelve and eighteen, Brahmagupta established two major fields of Indian mathematics: “mathematics of procedures” (algorithms) and “mathematics of seeds” (equations/algebra), which are still studied to this day (Waghmare et al. 2-3).

Interestingly, this is not the only text that Brahmagupta wrote. In fact, the Brahmasphutasiddhanta published in 628 CE was his second, albeit most important, work. His first work Cademekela was written in 624 CE. His third and fourth books Khandakhadyaka and Durkeamynarda were published in 665 CE and 672 CE respectively. Collectively, these texts are all extremely influential in many fields of mathematics. For instance, Brahmagupta’s work on arithmetic revolutionized the field. In fact, Brahmagupta is described as having a better understanding of number systems and place value than any of his contemporaries. In particular, Brahmagupta had a profound understanding of the number zero. While the number had been used to distinguish between numbers since ancient times (i.e. people used it to distinguish between numbers like 1, 10, and 100) it had never been considered an arithmetic entity in its own right. In other words, no one ever tried to do addition, multiplication, subtraction, or division with zero prior to Brahmagupta (Waghmare et al. 3-4). For this reason, Brahmagupta is credited with the discovery of the number zero (see Boyer 241-245). He did not stop here however. In fact, he went even further and extended arithmetic to the negative numbers and ended up formulating many of the rules that mathematicians still hold to be true today, with the exception that he allowed division by zero. Although phrased quite differently, Brahmagupta established these familiar rules of arithmetic: the product/quotient of similar signs is positive while the product/quotient of different signs is negative. He said that zero times anything is zero and that a number divided by zero is that number over zero, with the exception that zero divided by zero is zero (Waghmare et al. 3).

Next, the Brahmasphutasiddhanta moved onto algebra. Many algebraists believe that Brahmagupta’s most important contribution to the fields of algebra and number theory is his work done on Pell’s Equation (Waghmare et al. 6). Pell’s equation is the relation Nx2 – 1 = y2 where N is a constant and solutions take the form (x, y). Using what is today referred to as the Euclidean algorithm but known to contemporaries as the “pulveriser,” Brahmagupta broke Pell’s equation into several smaller equations (Waghmare et al. 6). His solution of the equation hinged on a generalization of the work of Diophantus, which is a long and complicated formula that is very important in the study number theory [Diophantine equations is a branch of number theory that concerns equations that only accept integer solutions] (Waghmare et al. 6-7). Unfortunately, this was not sufficient. With all the effort Brahmagupta put into studying Pell’s equation he could not generalize his results to an arbitrary constant N. Rather, he only proved a few specific cases and the general solution would not come until much later when Bhaskarall would prove it in 1150 CE. (Waghmare et al. 6-8).

In addition to these contributions, Brahmagupta also made contributions to the study of linear and quadratic equations. Giving an algorithm for what is equivalent to the quadratic formula which is used to solve equations of the form ax2 + bx + c = 0 and it is believed that Brahmagupta may have been the first to realize the quadratic has two solutions. However, he went much farther than this. He also gave solutions to multiple variable quadratics of the form ax2 + c = y2 (Waghmare et al. 7). Another interesting result is known as the Brahmagupta-Fibonacci Identity. This identity basically asserts that sum of two squares is closed under multiplication, that is when you multiply a sum of two squares with another sum of two squares you will always get a sum of two squares. This is an incredibly powerful result that has had a profound impact on number theory especially when coupled with other results (Boyer 241-243; Waghmare et al. 9).

Despite all Brahmagupta’s magnificent achievements in these areas of mathematics, they seem almost insignificant when compared to his work in geometry. Unfortunately, many of his achievements in this field are ignored as credit was often given to Europeans due to the dominant Eurocentric attitude of the time (Waghmare et al. 8-9). One example of this is what is widely known as Ptolemy’s Theorem. This theorem can be used to find the diagonals of cyclic quadrilaterals (four sided figures whose vertices lie on a circle). Interestingly, Brahmagupta discovered and proved this theorem independently unaware of Ptolemy’s work (Waghmare et al. 8). Another example is Brahmagupta’s work on right angle triangles. Many of the results he proved were later credited to the European mathematicians Fibonacci in the 13th century BC and Vieta in the 16th century BC (Waghmare et al. 8-9). This does not mean that he is completely unrecognized though. In fact, “Brahmagupta’s Formula” is the name given to the formula used in Euclidean geometry to find the area of any quadrilateral when the side lengths are given and some of the interior angles. There is also a major theorem which bears Brahmagupta’s name. Brahmagupta’s Theorem states that if a cyclic quadrilateral is also orthodiagonal (has perpendicular diagonals) then if a line is drawn perpendicular to point of intersection of the diagonals it will bisect the opposite side (Waghmare et al. 9-10). Finally, Brahmagupta’s contributions in geometry include a study of triangles. His work dealt primarily with the relationships between the base of a triangle, the triangle’s altitude, and the side lengths of the triangle. In this study he also estimated the value of pi to be approximately three. Even though his estimation was incorrect he was close (Waghmare et al. 9-10). His final work with triangles concerned Pythagorean triples. These are sets of three numbers that satisfy the Pythagorean Theorem.

While Brahmagupta is also known for being an astronomer, he did not write as extensively on astronomy as he did on mathematics. Whatever he discovered in astronomy was often a consequence of his mathematics (Boyer 243-245; Waghmare et al. 11-12). In other words, he used logical mathematical reasoning to prove astronomical ideas. For instance, Brahmagupta reasoned that the sun was farther away from earth than the moon. Scriptural teachings supported the idea that the sun was closer to the earth than the moon was so this was revolutionary. He reasoned, however, that the moon is closer because of the way the sun illuminates it in cycles of waning and waxing (Boyer 221-223; Joseph 24-27). Although it may seem minor, Brahmagupta’s work in astronomy played a major role in the scientific awakening of Baghdad and the Arabic empire. When Brahmagupta’s Brahmasphutasiddhanta was translated into Arabic it forever changed the empire and gifted them with wonderful new mathematical and astronomical ideas that led to a full scale scientific revolution (see Joseph 22-27; Boyer 221-223, 241-245).


 Reference and Further Recommended Reading

Boyer, Carl B (1968) A History of Mathematics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Joseph, George Gheverghese (2009) A Passage to Infinity: Medieval Indian Mathematics from Kerala and its Impact. New Delhi, India: SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd.

Waghmare, R.V., Avhale P.S., and Kolhe S.B. (2012) “The Great Mathematician Brahmagupta” Golden Research Thoughts. Volume 2, Issue 1. (July 2012)


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni
Bakhshali manuscript
History of Indian and Islamic Mathematics
Orthodox Hinduism
Paitamaha Siddhanta
Paulisa Siddhanta
Romaka Siddhanta
Scientific Awakening in Arab Empire
Siddhanta Shiromani
Sulba Sutras
Surya Siddhanta
Vasishtha Siddhanta
Yuga System


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by Dakota Duffy (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content

The Arya Samaj

Arya Samaj: The Hinduism Reform Movement

Hinduism is a religion rich and diverse in terms of the culture, the language spoken, and the practices and traditions followed. Through its history, many reform and unorthodox movements have emerged that have attempted to modify its cultural practices. One of these reform movements that attempted to reinstate the sacrosanctity of the Vedas was founded by Dayananda Sarasvati in the late 1800s and was known as Arya Samaj (Jorden xiii). The characteristics of this movement, which is still thriving in the world today, are that it opposed many social evils existing in Hinduism at the time, and provided roots for Indian nationalism. (Rai 3-6).

Dayananda Sarasvati was the eldest child of a Saivite Brahmin family of the Samavedi branch of the Audichya caste in the state of Mourvi (Jordens 4). During his early years, he was strictly encouraged to participate in Saivite rituals. Throughout his childhood he started noticing, what he perceived as flaws and misbeliefs that were a very important part of his orthodox family such as idol worship and sraddha rituals (Jordens 14). After leaving his family and devoting most of his life to the study of Vedantas (particularly Yoga and Sanskrit grammar Vedantas), he was convinced that the deepest secret of religion and moksa were present in the Hindu scriptures, specifically the Vedas (Jordens 32). Eventually, between 1863 and 1872, this sanyasi became a social and religious reformer by being partially influenced by anglicised Bengalis and Marathas (Jones 34). Focusing solely on the Brahmin class in the earlier years as a reformer, he travelled across upper India attempting to reform others’ ideals (Jordens 34).  Additionally, learning from other reform movements like the Brahmo Samaj, he changed his mode of proselytization from Sanksrit to Hindi, and continuously travelled experimenting and attempting to form an organization (Jordens 34-35). Finally, in 1875, Dayananda Sarasvati first published his book the Satyarth Prakash, which summarised his ideas and beliefs in detail. However, his ideas about idol worship, caste system, etc., met huge criticism during these early years of the reform (Jordens 34-35).

Eventually, in 1875, he setup his first successful organization, the Arya Samaj, when he met with his followers in Bombay and created the ten principles(niyams) of the Samaj, which were finalized later on in 1877 in Lahore (Jones 35). Even though this movement failed to set its roots in southern India, it started to develop a bigger following in the northern states of Gujarat, Rajashtan, and mainly Punjab (Jones 36-40). Despite the criticisms and opposition from the leaders of the Brahmo Samaj about the sanctity of the Vedas, he held his ground. Not only did he believe that the Vedas were inspired by a divine body, he considered them prehistoric and pre-human, and thus considered them the ultimate source and guide for Hinduism (Rai 4). Dayananda Sarasvati aimed to revive Vedic religion and eliminate the abuses and misnomers that he believed had emerged in Hindu belief with time (Dhanpati 17).

The ten principles that were decided upon by the Arya Samaj are an exposition of the organization’s doctrines. The Arya Samaj’s teaching about the Vedas and its representation of God is explained in the first three principles. The Ten Principles of Arya Samaj are as follows:

  1. God is the primary source of all true knowledge, and of all that is known by its means.
  2. God is All-truth, All-knowledge, All-Beautitude, Incorporeal, Almighty, Just, Merciful, Unbegotten, Infinite, Changeless, Without a beginning, Incomparable, the Support and Lord of all, All-pervading, Omniscient, Imperishable, Immortal, Exempt from fear, Eternal, Holy and the Maker of the Universe. To him alone is worship due.
  3. The Vedas are the books of all true knowledge. It is the paramount duty of all Aryas to read them and to instruct others in them, to hear them read, and to recite them to others
  4. All persons should remain ever ready to accept the Truth and to renounce untruth
  5. All actions ought to be performed in conformity to virtue, i.e. after due consideration of right and wrong.
  6. The primary aim of Arya Samaj is to do good to mankind i.e. to amerliorate the physical, spiritual and social condition of all men.
  7. All ought to be treated with love, justice, and due regard to their merits.
  8. Ignorance ought to be dispelled and knowledge diffused.
  9. No one ought to remain satisfied with his own welfare. The welfare of the individual should be regarded as included in the welfare of all.
  10. In matters which affect the well-being of all, the individual should subordinate his personal likings; in matters that affect him alone, he is to enjoy freedom of action. (Jones 321).

Laid out in simple terms, these principles are thought to be free of controversy, and are organized so that the Arya Samaj could be made as “catholic” as possible without losing its Hindu character (Rai 3).  To become the member of the Arya Samaj, the requirement is the belief and obedience of the ten principles or niyams, regardless of the opinions on other matters (Rai 9). Dayananda Sarasvati refrained purposefully from including any particular doctrines or philosophical questions within the principles so as to make it more approachable by an average man (Rai 12).

Other than the ten principles, there are beliefs and religious teachings that the institution has come to be known for. One such belief is that some persons might be more divine than others, and even though they are not priests in the sense that they are in Christianity, they should be treated with higher respect as they are the benefactors of the human race (Rai 30). Furthermore, despite the fact that enlightenment is possible by being in contact with these divine humans, moksa or salvation can only be attained at an individual level and not by demonstrating faith and devotion to another human soul (Rai 30). In other words, being in contact with these divine humans can help one to be in a higher state of spirituality, but this alone will not be able to grant moksa (Rai 30). Another strong ideal of the Arya Samaj is that “to err is human”, and thus every individual is bound to make mistakes regardless of his spiritual state (Rai 30). The Arya Samaj’s only approved forms of worship are contemplation, communion, and prayer (stuti, prasthna and upasana) performed with pure thoughts, words and deeds (Rai 30). There is a strong belief in the doctrine of karma by the Arya Samaj, and thus it is maintained that all actions have a consequence which cannot be recompensed by any actions (Rai 30). Despite the strong belief in karma, the Samaj negates any belief in fate, unless it is presented alongside karma (Rai 31). As well, any ancestor-worship is not believed in by the Samaj, but respect and remembrance is considered to be a more appropriate sentiment towards them (Rai 31). Finally, the Samaj also encourages its followers to have a strong belief in the Vedas and to interpret their own personal meanings from them (Rai 31).

Along with these religious teachings, the Samaj advises some particular religious observances and practices. There are five mahayajnas that should be observed by the members of the Arya Samaj every day. These include the brahma yajna which is a bipartite practice including sandhya and swadhyae (Rai 32). Sandhya means worshipping god twice a day, in the morning and the evening, by the three ways contemplation, communion and prayer (Rai 32). Swadhyae means daily reading of the some part of the scriptures at least once every day (Rai 32). The second is the deva yajna which is more commonly known as the homa or the sacrificial fire where ghi (clarified butter) is burned in order to purify the household physically and spiritually and has very strong Vedic importance (Rai 32). Pitri yajna is the third of the mahayajnas which requires a daily act that serves the parents (Rai 33). The fourth is the athithi yajna which obliges the members to feed an ascetic or another learned man who has not been invited to the household before (Rai 33). Lastly, the bali vaishva deva yajna requires every member to give food to any one of the following beings according to one’s resources: poor, disabled, orphans, or animals (Rai 33). The Arya Samaj maintains that in combination with these five daily mahayajnas, the sixteen Sanskars (sacred ceremonies) that serve as the sixteen mile-stones in each individual’s life, must be performed. These rituals are common in Hinduism, but others that were superstitious in the view of Arya Samaj and that had eventually become the Hindu norm, are excluded. The Sanskar Vidhi is the book that defines these rituals in more detail and was compiled by Dayananda Sarasvati himself (Rai 34-35).

Moreover, the Arya Samaj maintains a strong social ideology along with the religious observances and practices. The ideology is based upon the ultimate fatherhood of God, the brotherly nature of man, the equality between the two sexes, justice and fairness between men and between different nations, availability of equal opportunities for everyone depending on their nature, merit and karma, and finally love for all (Rai 36-37). Dayananda was strictly against the caste system of the Hindus and believed in their salvation, and since there was no caste by birth in India during the Vedic times, the Arya Samaj believes in providing equal opportunities to all men and women (Rai 38). Due to this belief, many alienated castes started feeling more comfortable with the customs and attitudes of their surrounding societies after becoming members of the Arya Samaj (Jones xii). The Arya Samaj attempted to uplift the lower castes by allowing everyone to wear the sacred thread of twice born, regardless of the caste, and eliminating classes, such as the untouchables (Rai 122).  As well, the Arya Samaj emphasized a lot on gender equality. The conditions of Indian women at the time Arya Samaj was emerging were believed to be disgraceful. The society became one of the top most agencies providing education to Indian women in Punjab, Agra, and Oude regions (Rai 44).  Like Vyasa, Dayananda disapproved of multiple marriages, but he believed that couples who would like to remarry for the sake of having offspring should be allowed (Rai 46-47). As well, the Arya Samaj stood strongly in opposition to child marriage (Rai 49).

In combination with its social concerns, the Arya Samaj vigorously promotes education. Since it is part of the ten principles to impart knowledge to others, providing educational institutions for men and women of all castes and backgrounds was part of its agenda (Jones 67). Dayananda Sarasvati believed that the filtration theory of education that was in practice at the time was not going to solve the problem of illiteracy, and thus he believed in free and compulsory education for all, regardless of caste or gender (Yadav 10-11). As well, Dayananda believed that the curriculum should be widespread so that it represented all branches of knowledge and provided knowledge about languages, arts, sciences, technology and social equality (Yadav 11). The Dayananda Anglo-Vedic College was opened at Lahore, Punjab and Gurukula near Hardwar followed by many more colleges and gurukulas that followed Arya Samajic principles and Dayananda’s ideals about education (Yadav 10-11).

Apart from the religious and educational agendas, the Arya Samaj engaged in charitable efforts at a very grand scale, also known as the shuddhi (Rai 111). Some of this work included setting up orphanages and widow homes, participating in famine reliefs during many famine-stricken years, and social services like medical relief during times of calamities (Yadav 11-12 & Rai 111-120). Furthermore, lectures and educational information was provided in order to eliminate slavery and the caste system (Rai 122-133).

Dayananda Sarasvati also believed that national consciousness needed to be aroused in the country, especially since India was under British control at the time (Yadav 11). Thus, the Arya Samaj did not believe in using Western ideologies to reform Indian society, but instead turned to principles found in the Vedas (Dhanpati 21). Sarasvati strongly believed that if Indians became strong, religiously pure and simple, their freedom would not be very far (Dhanpati 21). The Arya Samaj stressed on the fact that swarajya was most important (Yadav 15). Two major leaders to the Indian National Congress who advocated for social reform, the swadeshi movement and political freedom of India, Lala Lajpat Rai and Swami Shraddhananda, belonged to the Arya Samaj (Dhanpati 175-194). By providing equal rights and education to so many of the estranged classes, the Arya Samaj was responsible for creating a sense of unity and promoting nationalism among its members (Dhanpati 58-62).

The Arya Samaj is a movement that targeted to reform not just the religious aspect of the nation, but the educational, social, and political aspects with it. It is still socially vibrant and continues to promote its agenda in modern India and around the world.

Bibliography and Related Readings:

Pandey, Dhanpati (1972) The Arya Samaj & Indian Nationalism. New Delhi: S. Chand Publications.

Kenneth, Jones (1976) Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th Century Punjab. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rai, Lala Lajpat (1991) Arya Samaj: an Account of its Origin, Doctrines & Activities. (Edited by S.K. Bhatia).  New Delhi: Reliance Publication House.

Jordens, J.T.F (1978): Dayananda Sarasvati: his Life and Ideas. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sarasvati, Dayananda (1978) Autobiography of Dayananda Sarasvati (Edited by K.C. Yadav). New Delhi: Manohar.

Related Research Topics:

The Brahmo Samaj

Dayananda Sarasvati


The Indian Independence




Idol Worship in Hinduism

Widows and Widowers in Hinduism

The Caste System

Related Websites:

Article written by Shuchi Talwar (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Shirdi Sai Baba

Shirdi Sai Baba

Sri Sai baba, popularly known as Sri Shirdi Sai baba, was born on the 27th September 1838 in the forest near Patri village in Aurangabad District of the Maharastra state of India (Ruhela 1). It was claimed that Shirdi Sai Baba was a saint that was worshiped by both Hindus and Muslims. The first person that was in contact with baba addressed him impulsively as Sai. Sai is a term of Persia origin, usually attributed to Muslim ascetics, meaning “holy one” or “saint.” (Rigopoulos 3). Baba, on the other hand, is a Hindi term attributed to respected seniors and holy men, and literally means, “father” (Rigopoulos 3).

It was stated that Baba was born into to a high caste Brahmin family. His father’s name was Ganga Bhavadia and his mother was Devagiriamma (Ruhela 1). They had taken renunciation and detachment and therefore had left Baba under a banyan tree in the forest. Baba claimed not to remember his parents or where he came from (White 868). In the same village Baba was left in, there lived a man named Roshan Shah Miya, who was a Fakir (which is a Muslim or a Hindu mendicant that travels between village reciting scripture and performing various physical feats). Roshan Shah Miya had no children and one day when he saw Baba left under a tree, he adopted him and took him home. Roshan died when Baba was the age of four.  At the age of five, he was known to have a hindu guru named Venukusa who lived a few doors down from where baba used to live (White 868).  Venukusu looked after children who were orphans, poor boys, or children that have been abandoned. He took care of Baba for twelve years until it was time for him to take samadhi (Which is the highest state of concentration attained from meditation). It was claimed that Baba stayed in Shirdi for three years and then had disappeared for a year and came back permanently.

There were special features that differentiated Baba from others. First of all Baba was 5”8 (Satpathy, 21). He wore a Kafni, which is a robe, and tied a cloth around his head, which he twisted into a ponytail behind his ear (Satpathy, 21). Baba was a very thin and flexible man who was so energetic that he could walk non-stop (Satpathy, 21).  An additional characteristic of Sai Baba’s personality was the love he had for dance and music (Satpathy, 21). Many of baba’s devotees believed he was an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya, which is the three-headed deity known as Brahma, Visnu, and Mahesh.

He was living as a humble villager in the place called Shirdi for the last sixty years of his life and he dressed as a Muslim Fakir (Satpathy, 2001). He lived in a Mosque, which was called the Dwarka Mai Masjid. There he performed a kind of Hindu ritual with lights and incense (White 869). Baba kept a fire burning perpetually in a Dhuni (and his followers to this day keep it burning) in the manner of a Nathpanthi pir (White 869). It was claimed that Baba’s ritual practices included both Hindu and Muslim prayers and offerings.

Sai Baba lived on alms that were collected from five specific families (Rahel 25). He was to always share his food generously with followers as well as mammals such as birds, cats, dogs, etc. He fed the thousands who were hungry. He would also collect daksinas (which were cash gifts and he would allocate it amongst the poor’s and the devotees). After Sai Baba’s death, his body was cremated in a temple.

It was claimed that Sai Baba was against any affiliation that was dedicated to religion or the caste. Even though baba himself lived his life as a Spartan, he would instruct his followers to live a normal ordinary family life. It was stated that Sai Baba inspired his followers to pray, recite god’s name and read the holy books. Baba advised the Muslims to recite the Qur’an and the Hindus to recite the Bhagavad Gita or Ramayana. It was claimed that Baba adapted both Islamic and Hindu religious texts. Baba’s ways of teaching were not confined to words or verbal sermons. He could act, represent, teach and impart lessons to his devotees through entire living and non-living beings or matters (Rahel 129).  During his teaching he merged the two cultures (Hinduism and Islam) together to attain harmony between the two cultures. He talked about the three different spiritual paths in Hinduism, which are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga.

According to his legendary accounts Baba went on a 72 hours samadhi to get rid of his asthma attack 1886. One day when sitting along with his devotee Mahlsapathy in the Dwaraka Mai, Baba said that he was going to Allah and that consequently for three days his body was to be looked after because he might return to his body. Sai also said that if in case he did not return back to his body, it should be interred near the mosque, presently Baba’s body became a corpse (Rahel 77). As baba went into deep Samadhi he stopped breathing and his pulse rate stopped beating. All the villagers believed that Sai baba had left his prana (which means the vital life leaves the body). The villagers were prepared to bury his body, but as Bhagat had promised, he kept taking care of his body and stopped them. He had Sai Baba’s body on his lap and guarded it for three days. Sai baba came to life at three in the morning as they saw him breathing again, his body started to move and he opened his eyes and became conscious. After the villagers saw baba at the time of his Samadhi, they had started to support him from then on. (Rahel 77).

The Shirdi Sai Baba Temple is located in Shirdi, Maharashtra, India. This place attracts thousands of devotees of different religions, creeds and castes.  The Temple is an attractive memorial that was constructed in remembrance of Shri Sai Baba. Another memorable part of this town includes Gurustha, Dwarkamai (mosque), Chanvadi, Lendi, Chawadi, Vaug, Maruti Mandir, and Samadhi of Abdulbaba. These places have a high significance on the pilgrims and are also highly honored. There are temples in his honor that has been distributed far from the center of his cult. For example there are temples in (Bhopal, Jharkhand, Pondicherry, Madhya Pardes, Etc ) The History of Shirdi is intently connected to the life of Sai Baba who was a saint that died in 1918.

Sai Baba established himself as a saint through the performance of miracles; and it is chiefly because of his renowned Siddhis, preternatural powers, that his reputation has continued to grow long after his death (White, 868).  There are many volumes that people could read that provides information on the experiences of his followers who have believed that it was the direct intervention of Sai Baba contributing medicines, wealth or health in some pressing life state. It has stated that he used the ash from the Dhuni (purifying fire that symbolizes divine light) as a sacramental substance for the working of his miracles (White 869). This ash is called the Vibhuti and it can be rubbed into the forehead or throat, swallowed, cast into a wound, or used in various ways to effect changes. (White 869)

It is claimed that Satya Sai Baba is a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. Satya Sai Baba was born on November 23, 1926. Satya was born in the state of Andhra Pradesh in the village of Puttaparthi in 1926 (Babb 116). He was born into the Raju caste, his birth name Satyanarayana Raju (Bassuk 87). It was said that Satya Sai Baba was different from all the other children around him, and his behavior and actions were really strange. He was a vegetarian, unlike the rest of his family. He lived a completely different life compared to his parents in a way that was nothing close to the way his parents were living. In 1940, Sai Baba had an epileptic seizure and began acting in a bizarre manner (Urban 79). Exorcists were brought in to try to cure the boy, but failed (Urban 79). The community thought an evil spirit had possessed him. After this incident happened he told his family that he was an incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba.  It was claimed that Sathya Sai Baba’s name was recognized when the stories of his miracles were spread out. Some of the miracles that have been attributed to Sai Baba include the curing of illnesses, being able to leave his body and be in more than one place at once, raising the dead, knowing intimate details of those he helps without being told, being able to fly, and multiplication of loaves of bread and fish (Spurr 119 and Babb 174). There are many people that are influenced by Sathya Sai baba. He has thousands of supporters that have resided by his teachings and words of Sathya.  His Devotees believed that Sathya Sai Baba has been living his life to the fullest and it is revealed within his teachings and words. Considering the fact that Sathya Sai Baba has many followers, it is recognized that his emotions and thoughts have manipulated millions of people throughout the world.

Throughout the life of Shirdi Sai baba, it has stated that he has done many good deeds, which makes him a saint to remember.  Baba lived his spiritual mission due to his pure self in a human incarnation. His flawless purity, non-attachment, benevolence, and compassion evoked a higher level of respect in the villagers around him.  Baba would advise against and protest the people who primarily worshipped him.


Babb, Lawrence A. (1986) Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Religion.

Bassuk, Daniel E. (1987), “Six Modern Indian Avatars and the Ways they Understand Their Divinity” Dialogue & Alliance.

Ganguly, H.S. (2002) Saibaba of Shirdi: New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books

Rahel, Satya Pal (2000) Sri Shirdi Sai Baba:The Unique Prophet Of Integration. New Delhi:Diamond Pocket Books.

Satpathy,Chandra Bhanu (2001) Shirdi Sai Baba and other perfect masters: New Delhi: Sterling publishers.

Chaturvedi, B.K. (2006) Sai baba of Shirdi: New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books

Rigopoulos, Antonio (1993) The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi. Albany : State of New York Press.

Ruhela, S.P. (1994) What Researchers Say on Sri Shirdi Sai Baba: New Delhi: M D  Publication.

Spurr, Michael J. (2003)“Visiting-card revisited: an account of some recent first-hand observations of the “miracles” of Sathya Sai Baba, and an investigation into the role of the miraculous in his theology”. Journal of Religion and Psychical Research

Urban, Hugh B. (2003) “Avatar for Our Age: Sathya Sai Baba and the Cultural Contradictions of Late Capitalism”. Religion

White, Charles S.J. (1972) The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of India Saints.  The Journal of Asian Studies

Related Topics


Satya Sai Baba












Related Websites

Article written by Krupa Parekh (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.