Saturday, June 09, 2007


I'm working on an article about the 35th annivesary of the Sivananda Yoga Vendanta Center in Chicago. It's also the 50th anniversary of Swami Vishnu-Devananda's arrival in the US. Apparently his guru, Swami Sivananda (pictured with him, above), also believed that yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory. During research I came across this:

A close disciple of Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnudevananda, a Nair, was born in Kerala, South India on December 31, 1927. After a short career in the army, he coincidentally found interest in the teachings of Swami Sivananda through a copy of Sadhana Tattwa (Spiritual Instructions). Its introduction read, “An ounce of practice is worth tons of theory. Practice yoga, religion and philosophy in daily life and attain Self-realization”.

Impressed, he travelled to Rishikesh to meet the author and the meeting, taking place on the stairs of the ashram leading to the Ganga (Ganges River), would change his life. Swami Sivananda was walking up the stairs and according to the custom, people were prostrating. The young army officer did not want to bow his head to anyone and hid in a doorway out of sight. A moment later, Swami Sivananda appeared unexpectedly, and prostrated to the arrogant young man. This lesson in humility was the first given to Swami Vishnudevananda by his guru.

His disciples also told me some incredible things. From my article:

Swami Vishnu-Devananda was sent by Swmi Sivananda to bring yoga to the west, telling him “people are waiting,” and he arrived in San Francisco in 1957. He founded the International Sivananda Yoga Vendanta Centers, and Chicago is one of its oldest ongoing North American outposts.

Swami Vishnu, author of the best selling The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, was a charismatic teacher who traveled the world in an “peace plane” painted with angels and flowers by psychedelic pop artist Peter Max, using a colorful Max-designed “Planet Earth” passport.

“He said there was no such things as borders, and that it’s one world and it’s one people and it’s one God,” says Raghu Ram, a former director of the Chicago Center. Among other things, Swami Vishnu did a “headstands for peace” sit-in with Peter Sellers in 1971 in Belfast, flew into Israel when it was at war with Egypt, and flew across the Berlin Wall in an ultralight in 1983.

“He bombed Egypt with flowers,” says Raghu Rama. “In the late 80’s he tried to mitigate peace between Sikhs and Muslims at the golden Temple in India. He was at the forefront of trying to bring people together.”

No wonder people couldn't get enough of him.

One of Swami Vishnu's most senior disciples, Swami Mahadevananda, will give a workshop here on the weekend of August 24. It's not yet posted on the website, but I'm sure it will be soon.

1 comment:

  1. Indian slum girl 'makes good'
    By Rajesh Sundaram, in Visakhapatnam, India

    Fatima and Shaikh Salary in a slum area
    in the Indian town of Visakhapatnam
    Most of the high-paying jobs in India's $50bn information technology industry go to India's privileged elite.

    But, with the help of her husband, one woman has managed to earn her university degree as well as a job at on of India's top IT companies. Rajesh Sundaram travelled to Visakhapatnam to meet her.

    Fatima lives with her husband in a slum area in the Indian town of Visakhapatnam.

    Her husband is illiterate, earning his money as a street food hawker. He makes about two dollars a day.

    Six years ago, when Fatima was only 15, her parents took her out of school and arranged her marriage, a story common to many other young girls in her neighbourhood.

    Exclusive footage

    Watch Rajesh Sundaram's full report here
    Fatima had been a brilliant student and she thought her marriage to Shaikh Salary, her husband, would mean an end to her dreams of becoming an engineer.

    "When I said I wanted to be an engineer, my parents and others just dismissed my dreams," Fatima told Al Jazeera. "They said a girl from the slums could never get become an engineer or work for the big technology companies."

    But, she says, Salary was different.

    Fatima said: "When I told him about my dreams, he was very encouraging. He saved money from his meagre earnings to help me go to school and then to engineering college."

    Poverty and tradition

    Poverty and tradition still sees many girls in
    the slums drop out from school early
    The couple received little help for Fatima's studies initially. They went hungry to pay for her books and university fees and Fatima's mother was even asked by neighbours to dissuade her from studying.

    Rasia, Fatima's mother, told Al Jazeera: "The neighbours would say it is against our religion, they would ask me, 'Why you are allowing your daughter to go to school after she is married, what will you gain by that? Are you going to send your daughter out to work?'"

    Very few girls in Fatima's poor, mostly Muslim, neighbourhood are encouraged to study. Poverty and tradition still sees many girl children in the slums drop out from school early. Most are married off and expected to raise children and do housework.

    "They did not educate their daughters and so were opposed to my daughter going to school," Fatima's mother said.

    Eventually, a charity gave Salary and Fatima a soft loan to part finance her engineering degree and despite the odds, Fatima worked hard and earned her engineering degree with distinction.


    Salary was please for his wife, and told Al Jazeera that it was their love for each other that had helped them achieve their goal.

    "I am a poor illiterate man. I did not want her to be like me," Salary said. "Now that she has worked hard and achieved so much, people will look at us with respect."

    For the time being Fatima helps her husband at his kiosk in the evening, but soon she will begin a job at one of India's top information technology companies where she will earn $600 a month.

    She will have to move away from the slums to another city for her new job.

    Salary will move with her.