Shivapuri Baba (Sri Govinananda Bharati)
(1826–1963)
Hindu mystic who made a great impression on his biographer
J. G. Bennett, who met him in 1961 when the sage was already
a reported 135 years old. Bennett stated ‘‘He was a true
saint who produced an immediate and uplifting effect on everyone
who entered his presence.’’ Shivapuri Baba had a profound
influence on many individuals during his long life, including
Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, and Christians.
When he was born, Britain was under the reign of George
IV, and the future Queen Victoria was only a child of seven.
Later in life, Shivapuri Baba visited England and made no
fewer than 18 visits to Queen Victoria; he was possibly the first
Indian holy man invited to meet the queen.
Shivapuri Baba was born in a Brahmin family in Kerala. His
grandfather, a famous astrologer, announced that the boy
would become a great sannyasin (renunciate or wandering
monk) and became his guru until about 1840.
Shivapuri Baba decided to leave a worldly life in 1844, at age
18. After making a will leaving his rights of succession in his father’s
property to his sister, he joined his grandfather in the
forest of the upper Deccan, near the banks of the river Narbada.
The grandfather insisted that after his own death, the boy
should meditate until he obtained God-realization, then make
a pilgrimage on foot not only through India, but also around
the world, and he set aside money for this purpose.
After the death of his grandfather, the young man received
initiation as a sannyasin and took the name of Govindananda
Bharati. He then retreated to the Narbada forest and spent 25
years in absolute seclusion. During this period he was even
completely unaware of the Indian Mutiny of 1856. At the age
of 50, he achieved the beatific vision and became aware of the
divine as absolute, beyond name and form, which in Hinduism
is considered the highest and most difficult stage of Godrealization.
He then undertook his great pilgrimages.
He visited all the holy places of India, meeting Sri Ramakrishna
and Sri Aurobindo. He went on to travel through Afghanistan
and Persia, then made a pilgrimage to Mecca. After
this experience of the Moslem shrine, he next traveled to Jerusalem,
the holy city of Judaism and Christianity. He went on to
Turkey, through the Balkans into Greece and then through
Italy to Rome, so that he might better understand the Christian
religion. After visiting most European countries, he was invited
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to England by Queen Victoria’s Indian Secretariat and had 18
private visits with the queen.
In 1901, after the death of the queen, Shivapuri visited the
United States and met President Theodore Roosevelt. He
spent two or three years in America before going to Mexico,
where he met Porfirio Diaz before going on through the Andes
to Colombia and Peru. After a period in South America, he embarked
on a ship for the Pacific Islands, moving through New
Zealand and Australia and visiting Japan in 1913. He then followed
an ancient pilgrim route into Nepal, then back to India,
visiting Benares. He traveled more than 25,000 miles, eighty
percent on foot.
He then returned to his own home in Kerala as a wandering
sannyasin after 70 years. He found no trace of his sister, who
had also become a renunciate. He concluded remaining family
affairs, then retired to the forests of Nepal. Although he was
known as a holy man, equally at ease with the religions of Buddhism,
Christianity, and Islam (a task made easier by Hindu
ideas about the nature of religion), he insisted on remaining
isolated, living in a small wooden hut and seeing only a few
genuine seekers. Those who saw him received a sense of inner
peace and realization from him, and one visitor suggested that
even the wild beasts of the forest were on friendly terms with
him.
J. G. Bennett, a disciple of G. I. Gurdjieff who later promoted
the mission of Subud, met the Shivapuri Baba in Easter
1961 and found him, at the age of 135 years, alert, quick, and
graceful, with a phenomenal memory and an inspiring spiritual
presence. One of the most remarkable features of his teaching
was his ability to communicate spiritual wisdom in only a few
works in the idiom of his questioners. He explained his teaching
in three words to S. Radhakrishnan, famous philosopher
and former president of India, and afterward Radhakrishnan
expounded for 15 minutes on the theme of these three words.
Shivapuri Baba died on January 28, 1963. His final message
was ‘‘Live Right Life, Worship God. That is all. Nothing
more.’’ He took a drink of water then said ‘‘Gaya’’ (I’m gone),
laid down on his right side and passed away. His teaching of
right living involved duty, morality, and worship. The sole purpose
of human life was to find the Ultimate Truth, or God, and
to this end a certain code of life was required—a spiritual,
moral, and intellectual order.
Sources
Bennett, John G., with Thakur Lal Manandhar. Long Pilgrimage
The Life and Teaching of Sri Govinananda Bharati known
as the Shivapuri Baba. London Hodder & Stoughton, 1965.