An Unostentatious Sanyasin: Swami Govindananda
by S.L. Shali
THE Valley of Kashmir has not merely been a source of great attraction for the tourists from all corners of the world but its beauty-spots and natural landscapes have, through ages, drawn holy persons, including mahatmas and sanyasins, from various parts of India and other countries. Realising its value as a rishibhumi (the land of spiritual seers), such holy persons find their periodic stay here conducive to their spiritual advancement. Since my boyhood, I have had the good fortune of having known a number of Mahatmas from outside the valley, some of whom hailed from the south of India, who impressed me with their knowledge of the sastras and their spiritual attainments. Of them, the one Sanyasin, Swami Govindananda, on whom this article is focussed, impressed me most and influenced me deeply. I am stating hereinafter all that I can recall now about him - relevant to his life and teachings.
In the mid-thirtees (of the present century) a saint, namely Kanayia Lal, took shelter in a hut owned by the late Pandit Balakak Dhar, a well-known Kashmiri Pandit of his time, who was a highly placed Government functionary and a righteous person. The hut stood on the right bank of the river Jhelum, from which one could have a full view of the river and of the Safakadal bridge in Srinagar (that was at a little distance from the hut).
After the hut was vacated by Kanayia Lal, a Sanyasin from the south, Swami Govindananda, came to live in it along with a fellow sanyasin, Swami Rughnath, who served the former in view of his spiritual stature and superior intellectual calibre.
The sacred word
Swami Govindananda neither revealed his age nor his birth place to anybody. He took only one meal a day. He highly valued the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads (especially the Mandukh Upanishad). When in ecstasy tears often rolled down his eyes. He was invariably heard chanting the sacred word 'OM'; the word came spontaneously from the inmost recesses of his heart. While uttering 'OM' - sacred name/symbol of the Divine - he would often inhale deeply. He advised the seekers to meditate on 'OM' - Nirguna, Brahman, nameless and formless object, which would ultimately lead them to the realisation of the Absolute. To his close and sincere devotees, he recommended meditation consisting in chanting 'OM' with long breath and open eyes, gazing on the Trikuti - the space between the eyebrows. This spot is the Agnachakra, which is the seat of the Mind. Through the repetition of this practice, involving steadfast concentration on this point, the aspirant can see with his open eyes the supreme light and experience eternal bliss. The Swami maintained that it helps the sadhaka to recognize his true self and experience a state of ecstasy, which makes him totally in-drawn so that he does not feel like coming out.
Swami Govindananda had occult powers which he only rarely used. Once, one of his devotees, who was depressed as he had been told by an astrologer that he would fail in his B.A. examination (session 1942) of the erstwhile Panjab University, approached Swamiji and entreated him to tell him if the astrologer's prediction would come true. Pausing for a moment, the Swami assured him that he would come out successful. However, as to the division he would be placed in, he didn't reveal anything. The prophecy of the Swami came true when the result of the candidates was received at the Martand office, Shitalnath, Srinagar.
Another vivid evidence of Swamiji's clairvoyance that I, as also two other devotees, got was when one day he expressed his desire to see an elevated seer, known as Chandanwari-ka-Baba, who was a perfect Siddha. The Baba came to be known by us through a Forest Range Officer who, as his duty required it, had gone to Chandanwari to see that all the visitors and locals had left the spot (next halting stage from Pahalgam to the holy cave of Amarnath Swami) in the beginning of the month of November during the period when the late Balakak Dhar was the Deputy Commissioner of Anantnag. The Baba did not leave the place despite the great persuasion of the Range Officer. He told the officer not to bother about him as there was no one to mourn his death. He, however, requested him to provide him with enough stock of wood for his dhooni. The Range Officer gave him, besides wood, some sugar and tea-leaves (used by the Kashmiris) tied in a piece of cloth; he did this out of his reverence and compassion for the saint. After the severe winter was over, the same Forest Ranger visited Chandanwari again. To his surprise, he saw smoke coming from the place where the Baba had proposed to light his dhooni. He cut a passage through the ice and reached the source of the smoke. It was the dhooni of the Baba, whom he found in deep meditation. Sensing the arrival of a human being, the Baba at once recognized the Ranger. The officer was surprised to find the pouch of sugar and tea-leaves that he had given the saint six months ago intact and untouched. It is evident that the Baba had attained the Prakamyan power which enabled him to create hunger where there was none or eliminate it when there were pangs of hunger. The Range Officer reported the matter to the authorities at Pahalgam and also to those at the headquarters of the Ananatnag district. Prompted by curiosity, several persons, especially the Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag, rushed to Chandanwari to have the Baba's darshan. This is how he came to be known as Chandanwari-ka-Baba.
Holy meet at Chundanwari
Illuminated souls or siddhas have an inner rapport with one another. Once in the month of Ashada, Swami Govindananda went to Shri Amarnathji. As was revealed to us later on, he was very keen to see the Chandanwari Baba on his way back from the cave. As they met, during the course of their conversation, the Baba put a small pitcher on the dhooni to prepare tea and thereafter some invisible being arrived, who performed the job of the host. Swami Govindanandaji was struck with surprise and when he left the hermit's place, he could see some footprints on the snow which were not there before. According to Swamiji, the host Baba had control on divine shaktis that came to his aid when needed.
On hearing of the spiritual powers of the Chandanwari Baba, the devotees at Safakadal Ashram also expressed to Swamiji their eagerness to have a darshan of this great siddha. A smile appeared on his face, and he asked them to have patience and wait. After a year or so, a devotee offered him three mangoes at the Safakadal Ashram. One of these he gave to the devotees present, another to his attendant sadhu and the third he advised the latter (the attendant) to keep intact, saying that he had an inclination to have the Baba's darshan that day. This was just a casual conversation in the morning, and all the devotees left one by one. The yogi with his yogic power knows what is happening in the universe and where. Here too such a miracle happened. The Baba 'descended' at the hut of the Swami the same evening. A large number of devotees who had heard of the Baba came to have his darshan, bringing with them fruits, sweets, milk and other eatables, of which they left a pile at the Ashram. A sincere and selfless devotee had brought milk in his glass, which was what the Baba took mixing it with curds late in the evening. Early next morning at about 5 o'clock, many devotees, including me, came to the Ashram to have the Baba's darshan and blessings once again. But, to our dismay, he had left in the wee hours when no transport was available. Swami Govindanandaji informed us that the Baba was gifted with Laghima power which could make him light enough to move through air. He had left all the gifts on the ground, and on enquiry from Swamiji it was learnt that the Baba did not like a crowded place. He liked solitude and avoided distractions. One wonders how many of the present-day Swamis, with all the modern paraphernalia around them, can concentrate wholly on the Lord!
Anticipating future trouble in the valley, Swami Govindananda left his Srinagar Ashram for good in mid-fiftees. He went to Brindaban, where he set up his bown Ashram, Govindamatha. He would periodically come to the valley to bless his devotees.
In the early seventies, I was at Delhi. Archaeological excavations were in full swing at Mathura then. My friend and close professional associate in the field, Shri Puran Singh Jamwal (the present owner of the Sant Market, Purani Mandi, Jammu) also participated in the excavations. I too decided to join the team deputed to see the excavations at Mathura and thus got an opportunity to also see the Swami's Ashram, Govindamatha, at Brindaban. Beyond the name of the Ashram, I did not know its exact whereabouts and without a guide, it would have been a tiresome task for me to locate it, especially because Brindaban is dotted with Ashrams and Maths all over. After seeing the excavations, I stayed for the night in the excavation camp at Mathura and the next morning, I requested the officer incharge of the excavations, Shri M.C. Joshi (later on promoted as Director General, Archaeological Survey of India and at present Secretary, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi) to provide me a jeep for the travel, which he readily did. Besides Mr. bPuran Singh, four to five more colleagues came along with me to visit the holy places of Brindaban.
After seeing some of the prominent temples and sacred places in Brindaban, the driver asked me to show him the way to the Swami's Ashram: precisely the spot where the vehicle provided had actually to be driven to. I had fears in my mind whether I could lead the party to that place. However, the driver, on my initiative, could take us to Davanal Kund. Now all the members called upon me to indicate the path to the driver. As we got down from the jeep, there was a surprise for me and my companions when we saw Govindanandaji himself coming to guide us to the Ashram. I paid my obeisance to the Swami, who escorted us to our destination, the Govindamath, through dusty, zigzag tootpaths. Reaching there, we were served with tea and snacks. It appeared as if Swamiji was already in the know of our visit. We stayed at the Govindamath for an hour or so and felt delighted when we listened to the Swami's spiritual discourse, in which he displayed both his knowledge of the scriptures and also his insights based on his own sadhana. From among my colleagues. Shri Puran Singh became a changed man thereafter. He became an ardent disciple of Swamiji. In later years, he often visited Govindamath accompanied by tompost officers, where they invariably found the Swami deeply absorbed in meditation.
Once out of mere curiosity, a devotee at Safakadal Ashram peeped into Swamiji's room and saw his seat (asana) having risen above the floor level. Again, at the residence of a devotee, Shri T.N. Raina, the Swami, as usual, got up at 4 a.m. for meditation. After a brief spell, the devotee witnessed divine light emanating from the Swami's Brikuti (space between the eyebrows). As a matter of fact, any person, belonging to whatever religion or caste, came under the spell of the spiritual vibrations that Govindanandaji always exuded. The hut in Srinagar where the Swami lived, which was owned by the late Sh. Balakak Dhar, was later sold to a prominent Kashmiri Muslim. This new owner (who is no more now), beven after the departure of the Swami to Brindaban, showed great respect to the hut (that had been his hermitage).
In the spring of 1987, Swami Govindananda paid a surprise visit to the valley and went to see all his devotees, leaving out none, without giving anybody the feeling that it was his last visit to the Valley.
How the Swami gave up his gross body was all the more an interesting event. Prior to the day of his attaining Mahasamadhi he had observed a fast for three days. Early in the morning of 25 September, 1987, he rose up unusually before the usual hour. He had his 'arthi' in the temple of Lord Krishna built just in front of the room in which he performed his daily meditation.
He asked his attendant sadhus to prepare tea. They were very pleased as they thought that the Swami would break his fast. He himself went into his room, had his meditation in his usual way and entered into the state of samadhi (which proved to be his Mahasamadhi). Thus in his usual yogic posture he mingled with the infinite and attained the abode from which no soul comes back to this transitory world. All his life he practised what he preached, when he reached the end of Sadhana, he translated into practice the teaching given by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: "He who, with a mind steady and endued with devotion and strength born of devotional practice, fixes his entire life-force between the eyebrows at the time of death, and contemplates on him who is all-knowing, primeval, subtler than even an atom, sustainer and director of all, glorious like the sun, and beyond all darkness of inertia and ignorance - he verily attains to that Supreme Being" Srimad-Bhagvad Gita, Chapter VIII, slokas 9-10 by Tapasyananda).
Swamiji lived an unpretentious and unostentatious life. The end was calm and serene. There was no commotion in him as is usually associated with the common people when they pass away. It was a peaceful and tranquil state in which he gave up his mortal coil. It can be inferred that great seers like Swami Govindananda generally have a peaceful end, quite in consonance with their life of penance and renunciation. However, Swamiji left behind him (as great Mahatmas do) his spiritual samskars - a current of divine energy - for his followers to draw inspiration and strength from.
In conclusion I may add that many of us were deeply influenced by his spiritual attainments and simple way of life. My friend, Prof. A.N. Dhar, has also been a consistant admirer of Swamiji. How he knew him and he observes about him is being reproduced hereunder on his request.
"Swami Govindananda lived for many years in Kashmir and commanded great respect in the Valley. He was a rare saint, a yogi par excellent, who was visibly discernible as such to the thoughtful among his devotees. He was a fountainhead of inspiration to many truth-seekrs, who included Kashmiri Pandits in bulk. My own father was one of his close devotees, and I too was as such naturally drawn to him as a boy in my early teens-impressed and influenced by his spiritual discourses significantly. I vividly recall that he was a tejaswi saint, serene and sedate, and had a piercing intellect besides being deeply read in our scriptures. Never for a moment did I find him interested in anything other than parmarth and he prized the Bhagvad gita as the most useful of our scriptures. He always exuded joy and peace, and the inquisitive listeners including the young found his discourses very educative and absorbing. In the year 1987, before he attained his mahasamadhi at Brindaban, he paid his last visit to the Valley. When we came to know of his arrival in Srinagar, my parents (who were alive then) expressed their desire to have his darshana. That prompted me to see him at Durganag, Srinagar where he was temporarily lodged at the residence of a devotee (Shri Brij Nath Kotru). The Swami readily agreed to accompany me to the Kashmir University campus where I stayed then. He was pleased to see my parents and the other members of our household besides some of my colleagues who had come to have his darshana too. He liked the natural surroundings and had a good word for the congenial atmosphere of the place. He blessed us all and was escorted back to Durganag by Shri Kotru's elder sister. It was a memorable day for our family."
At the moment Swamiji's admirers are scattered all over the country and even abroad, and it is hoped that with the improvement in the trouble-torn valley, they would have occasions to meet band discuss themselves their individual experiences and thus in course of time more and more light will be shed on the spiritual attainments of this remarkable saint.