Chidananda, Swami (1916– )
Prominent Hindu mystic, leading disciple of the late Swami
Sivananda, (1887–1963) and Sivananda’s successor as head of
the Divine Life Society of Rishikesh, India. Born Sridhar Rao
on June 24, 1916, Chidananda was the son of Srinivasa Rao, a
prosperous landowner in southern India. From an early age,
Sridhar’s life was influenced by Anantayya, a friend of his
grandfather’s, who told him inspiring stories from the Hindu
religious epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and implanted the
ideal of spiritual realization. He attended an elementary school
at Mangalore, and in 1932 went on to the Muthiah Chetty High
School at Madras, where he became a distinguished scholar. In
1936 he entered Loyola College (B.A., 1938), where he became
familiar with and sympathetic to Christianity.
Rao’s family had a strong tradition of charity and service to
the sick and needy, and Sridhar gave special attention to the
lepers in his district. He built huts for them on the vast lawns
of his home and attended personally to their needs. He became
engrossed by the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami
Vivekananda, visiting their monastery at Madras and taking
part in services. In his own neighborhood he organized spiritual
instruction for young people.
In 1936 a strong desire for spiritual development led him
to leave home and study in the ashram of a sage near the sacred
mountain shrine of Tirupathi. His parents persuaded him to
return home, but he had already set himself the goal of renunciation.
In 1943 he obtained permission from Swami Sivananda
to join his ashram at Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas.
In 1947 he founded a yoga museum at the ashram, presenting
the philosophy of Vedanta and yoga development in simple
pictorial form. He was put in charge of the charitable dispensary
and also delivered lectures at the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy
that was established in 1948; at that time he was appointed
general secretary of the Divine Life Society. He became vicechancellor
and professor of rajah-yoga instruction.
During the following year, he was initiated into the order of
sannyasa as a renunciate by Swami Sivananda on July 10. He organized
branches of the society in different parts of India and
in November 1959 traveled to the United States to propagate
the teachings of Yoga Vedanta. He also lectured in South
American countries and made a brief tour in Europe, returning
to Rishikesh in March 1962. In April 1962 he made a pilgrimage
to southern India, visiting holy places and delivering spiritual
lectures. Ten days after his return, in July 1963, Swami
Sivananda died. In August 1963 Swami Chidananda was elected
his successor as president of the Divine Life Society and
chancellor of the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy.
Swami Chidananda has made a deep impression upon thousands
of devotees by his ascetic and saintly life. His wide background
knowledge of Christian religious teachings has intensified
his ecumenical outlook. In addition to his many official
tasks at the Rishikesh ashram, he has served the lepers of the
district and was elected by the government authorities to the
Leper Welfare Association. In recent years he has made occasional
tours in the United States and Europe, but spends most
of his time in Rishikesh.
Sources
Divine Life Society. An Apostle of India’s Spiritual Culture Souvenir
Released on the Auspices of the Sixtieth Birthday Anniversary of
H.H. Sri Swami Chidaananda. Shivanandanagar, India Divine
Life Society, 1976.
Chidananda, Swami. Destiny of Man. Shivanandanagar,
India Divine Life Society, 1989.
———. Path to Blessedness. Shivanandanagar, India Divine
Life Society, 1975.
———. The Philosophy, Psychology, and Practice of Yoga. Shivanandanagar,
India Divine Life Society, 1984.
———. Truth that Liberates. Shivanandanagar, India Divine
Life Society, 1993.