Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Natarajan Gopala Iyer
15 August 1930
|23 September 2015 (aged 85)
|Arsha Vidya Gurukulam
AIM For Seva
Swami Dayananda Educational Trust
Swami Dayananda Saraswati (15 August 1930 – 23 September 2015) was a renunciate monk of the Hindu Saraswati order of sannyasa. Pujya Swamiji as he was fondly known was a renowned traditional teacher of Advaita Vedanta, and founder of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulams in Pennsylvania, USA; Rishikesh, Uttarakhand and Coimbatore Tamil Nadu, India. He was also the spiritual Guru of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was awarded posthumously the Padma Bhushan, (the third-highest civilian award in the Republic of India), for his exemplary service to the nation in the field of spiritualism in 2016.
His Holiness, Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati was born as Natarajan in Manjakkudi in Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu on 15 August 1930 to Shri Gopala Iyer and Smt Valambal. He was the eldest of four sons. His early schooling was at the District Board School in Kodavasal. His father died when he was only eight years old, which meant Natarajan had to shoulder a big responsibility in the family alongside his education. After the completion of his education, Natarajan merely seventeen years old came to Chennai for earning a livelihood, where he learnt English and began his career as a journalist for the weekly magazine Dharmika Hindu run by T. K. Jagannathacharya (TKJ). However, there was only a subsistence income, so the young Natarajan, at the behest of a friend Rangachari, enrolled in the airforce as a fighter pilot in Bangalore with the GTS Ground Training Station as a combatant. However, he was underweight and could not qualify but was allowed to continue. He later said that he would have loved to be a pilot. Family duties, being his father's shraddham (a ceremony performed in honour of a dead ancestor), caused him to leave the airforce and primarily he did not like the rigidity. "There was no freedom, I felt they were trying to control my mind. I have never allowed anybody to ever control me at any time, no one. That is why I think I am a Swami."
Natarajan resumed his career as a journalist briefly with 'Dharmika Hindu' magazine before joining a news agency, 'The Lens' run by Shri Rajagopal.
He also worked for the erstwhile Volkart Brothers (now Voltas Limited) for sometime. While in his absence his younger brother M.G.Srinivasan took charge of the agricultural fields of the family household and made sure that the family had the income to survive and live peacefully off the income.
Natarajan became interested in Vedanta (Vedanta is a positional name for the section containing the Upanishads in the latter portion of the Vedas.) After listening to the public talks of Swami Chinmayananda in the year 1952, Natarajan became actively involved with the newly formed Chinmaya Mission in various roles and was appointed Secretary of the Mission within the first year of its inception. He attended Sanskrit classes of P.S. Subramania Iyer, a retired Professor of English. It was Iyer who introduced the meter of chanting the Bhagavad Gita verses that was initially followed by Chinmaya Mission centres, and is followed even today by all the Arsha Vidya centres amongst other centres as well.
Swami Chinmayananda entrusted Natarajan with the responsibility to set up Chinmaya Mission's Madurai branch which he did in. In 1955 Natarajan accompanied Swami Chinmayananda to Uttarakashi and helped him in the preparation of a Gita manuscript for publication. In Uttarakashi, he met Swami Chinmayananda's Guru, Tapovan Maharaj, who advised him, 'You have a duty to yourself which is also important. Stay here. Do japa, meditate and study.' Natarajan could not take up that offer at that point in time. However, he promised Swami Tapovan Maharaj that he would return after one year to study with him and he did. Natarajan returned to Madras and took up the editorship of 'Tyagi,' a fortnightly magazine of Chinmaya Mission. Upon the advice of Swami Chinmayananda, Natarajan shifted to Bengaluru (erstwhile Bangalore) in 1956 and continued to edit Tyagi which was also moved to Bengaluru. During his stay there, Natarajan joined the Sanskrit College in Chamrajpet and had the privilege of studying one on one with Prof. Veeraraghavachariar.
In 1961, with the permission of Swami Chinmayananda, Natarajan went to study under Swami Pranavananda at Gudivada (near Vijayawada) to clarify many of his doubts on Vedanta and self-enquiry. The stay with Swami Pranavananda helped Natarajan learn clearly – that Vedanta is a pramāna (a means of knowledge) to know the truth of the Self. In Natarajan's own words,
I saw the Swami giving direct knowledge to the people he was teaching. This resolved all my conflicts. My problems with Vedanta had been my mistaken notion that it was a system.
This critical shift in his vision about Vedanta impelled Natarajan to once again study the sastra with Sankara's commentaries. In 1962 he was given Sanyasa by Swami Chinmayananda and was given the name Swami Dayananda Saraswati. In 1963 he went to Mumbai, (then known as, Bombay) to the newly inaugurated Sandeepany Sadhanalaya of the Chinmaya Mission, where he undertook the responsibility of editing the magazine of the mission Tapovan Prasad. In addition, Swami Dayananda taught chanting of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads to the students of Sandeepany.
In November 1963 Swami Dayananda undertook a study-pilgrimage to Rishikesh and stayed in a grass hut in Purani Jhadi now known as Dayananda Nagar. He spent three years there, studying Brahma Sutras under Swami Tarananda Giri at the Kailash Ashram. This place where Pujya Swamiji stayed has grown into a sprawling complex called Swami Dayananda Ashram with his samadhi located there and the famous Sri Gangadareswar Temple established by him.
Around 1967, due to the declining health of Swami Chinmayananda, the Mission approached Swami Dayananda to give public talks and lectures. Accordingly, between 1967 and 1970, Swami Dayananda travelled to different towns and cities in India spreading the teachings of Gita and the Upanishads.
In 1971, Swami Dayananda agreed to conduct a long-term study program at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Powai, Mumbai and formulated a curriculum that would systematically unfold the vision of Vedanta. Between 1972 and 1979, Swami Dayananda conducted two three-year residential Vedanta courses in Mumbai. In his words,
At Sandeepany the teaching is traditional and rigorous. What would take a Sadhu in the Himalayas nine years to learn, the students at Sandeepany learned in two-and-half years.
At the request of students in the United States, in 1979 Swami Dayananda established a three-year study program at Sandeepany West in Piercy, California. In 1982, he returned to India and continued to spread the message of the Upanishads through public talks and lectures.
Responding to the request of students, devotees and disciples, Swami Dayananda established the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam at Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1986 wherein a three-year residential course was completed in 1990.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati died by the banks of the Ganga, surrounded by his devotees and students in the late evening of 23 September 2015. He had been ailing for some weeks and been in and out of hospitals for some time. He was 85 years of age.
Swamiji's last rites were performed in the traditional manner as befitting a sadhu, renunciate. He was buried in a grave, known as "bhu" samadhi, to the loud chanting of Vedic hymns and mantras. Many dignitaries, Hindu leaders and his students were there to pay their final respects. Visitors regularly visit the samadhi to pay homage to this great sage and teacher.
Swami Dayananda assisted by his senior disciples has taught ten three-year programs (eight in India and two in the United States) and many of his students from these programs are now teaching all over India and abroad. More than two hundred of his Sannyasi disciples are teaching Vedanta and Panini system of grammar around the world. They form the Arsha Vidya Sampradaya.
As a teacher of Vedanta, Swami Dayananda has established four traditional teaching centres and many more across the globe through his students with a primary focus on teaching Vedanta, Sanskrit and related disciplines. These traditional teaching centres carry the banner 'Arsha Vidya' or 'Arsha Vijnana', i.e. Knowledge of the Rishis. The word 'Arsha' has also been used by many of Swami Dayananda's students in naming their facilities to mark their lineage.
The four Arsha Vidya teaching centres that Swami Dayananda has established are:
These residential centres conduct long-term courses, 1–2-week retreats, weekend study programs and family retreats throughout the year and the subjects taught include the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras and several other related texts of Vedanta. The study also includes the Sanskrit commentary of Adi Sankara on these texts, known as Bhashya. Along with these studies, Sanskrit language is also taught with Panini system of grammar. The Gurukuls also conduct sessions of daily meditation and satsangs. Additionally, Yoga, Indian Classical Music, Ayurveda, Jyotisha and allied disciplines are also taught.
More recently, there is one more centre that has been initiated by Swami Dayananda during his lifetime in his birth place, Manjakkudi, Thiruvarur Dist, Tamil Nadu, under the aegis of Swami Dayananda Educational Trust (SDET). It manages a liberal arts college, two higher secondary schools and a traditional Veda Pathasala. With the inauguration of the Swami Dayananda Memorial, it has come to full scale operation where regular residential study programmes are conducted by the disciples of Swami Dayananda.
Jnanapravaha, a Vedanta study centre, was conceived and designed to hand over the enduring legacy of Swami Dayananda Saraswati's teachings at his birthplace in Manjakuddi. The aesthetically pleasing and tranquil space equips the seeker with inner space to engage the mind completely in the pursuit of Advaita Vedanta. It is in this unique location, students of Vedanta discover all the study material and resources necessary to further their knowledge.
The teaching centres founded by Swami Dayananda offer everyone, regardless of gender or faith an opportunity to study the profound knowledge of Vedanta. The teaching centres conduct outreach programs for the public at large. At present there are more than sixty centres in India and across the globe in all continents that carry on the tradition of Vedantic teaching under the banner of Arsha Vidya.
The media has referred to Narendra Modi, prime minister of India as the most well-known student of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. The sannyasi disciples of Swami Dayananda are many in number. Swami Suddhananda Saraswati who administered the Swami Dayananda Ashram at Rishikesh for decades; due to ill health handed over the administration of the Ashram to Swami Sakshatkrtananda Saraswati. Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati heads the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam at Saylorsburg. Swami Sadatmananda heads the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam at Annaikatti, Coimbatore. Swamini Brahmaprakasananda heads the Arsha Vijnana Gurukulam at Nagpur.
Some of his other senior disciples are Swami Paramarthananda, Swami Tattvavidananda, Swami Suddhabodhananda, Swami Brahmatmananda, Swami Paramatmananda, Swami Nijananda, Swami Tadrupananda, Swamini Brahmalinananda, Swami Paripoornananda and Swami Shankarananda. All Arsha Vidya teachers who are teaching Vedanta around the world have formed the Arsha Vidya Sampradaya.
Other students include Anantanand Rambachan, a professor of religion at St. Olaf College, Minnesota (USA), and Vasudevacharya, previously Dr. Michael Comans, former faculty member in the Department of Indian Studies at the University of Sydney. Radha (Carol Whitfield, Ph.D.) an early student of Swami Dayananda who was instrumental in establishing Sandeepany West and Arsha Vidya Gurukulam at Saylorsburg USA, has established Arsha Kulam in California a centre dedicated to the traditional teaching of Advaita Vedanta.
Main article: AIM For Seva
In addition to teaching, Swami Dayananda has initiated and supported various philanthropic efforts. He founded the All India Movement for Seva (AIM for Seva) in the year 2000, with the vision of transforming society through a network of Seva, service and caring, to bridge the urban-rural divide, thereby, empowering every person to contribute to the progress of the nation. Empowerment is through value-based education and reaching out to the children of rural India through a network of Chatralayams (Free Student Hostels) and schools. Swamiji felt strongly not to alienate the child during their schooling and a parent is required initially to attend the school till the child is comfortable in the environment away from home.
A major project seeing an exponential growth in 2023 was initiated in 2002 by Swami Dayanandaji. Born out of his vision, Swami Dayananda Krupa Home provides lifetime care and support to adults (men) with developmental delays. Located in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu, this unique, one-of-its-kind centre also provides therapy and support for children with developmental delays.
Awarded consultative status with ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) by the United Nations in 2005, this organization is devoted to serving people in the remote, rural areas of India, especially in the areas of education and health care.
The Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust (AVRandPT) is the single source for Swami Dayananda's teaching and writings. It has been a registered non-profit organisation since 21 February 2005, and is head-quartered in Mylapore, Chennai. AVRandPT publishes Swamiji's teachings, covering everything over his many decades of classes, public lectures and short and long term courses. These are available in printed book form, audio, video and ebook formats and on convenient card pen drives. The trust has also created a mobile app, "Teachings of Swami Dayananda", which is available for Android and iOS.
In 2000 as an initiative of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, an apex body of Hindu religious heads of the various sampradayas itself was created and convened by Swami Dayananda Saraswati's co-ordinating efforts. A congregation of the heads of various traditions meet, discuss contemporary issues concerning Hinduism in the present day and provide leadership and service to the society and country.
Dharma Rakshana Samiti was started on 16 April 1999 by Pujya Sri Dayananda Saraswati. It is an organisation to preserve Hinduism, its vision and way of life as the spiritual culture of Bharat, India. This body was founded to protect and preserve the native spiritual culture of India inherited from the rishis and to raise the awareness among Hindus of their Vedic heritage.
This organisation was established by Swami Dayananda with a vision to work at a grass-roots level, as Swamiji recognised that Hinduism, more that ever in present times, needs to be protected and preserved by its adherents.
Swami Dayananda has promoted several inter-religious dialogues. He has participated in Hindu-Jewish conferences facilitated by the World Council of Religious Leaders under that organisation's Religion One on One initiative. He has also participated in two Hindu-Buddhist summits. The first one, organised by the Global Peace Initiative of Women, was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2009 and the second one was organised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2010.
Sri Swami Dayananda has participated and contributed to a number of other major international forums including:
Swami Dayananda has promoted the preservation of ancient cultures and religious and spiritual practices of India that have survived several millennia yet struggle in modern times due to lack of support. He has started several Veda Pathashalas (Centers of Learning of Vedas) for the preservation of Vedas and Agamas to prevent their rapid extinction due to a lack of infrastructure for learning.
Swami Dayananda had appointed 35 oduvars in ancient Siva temples and paid them monthly allowance to sing the Panniru Tirumurai, songs explaining Saiva Siddhanta philosophy.
Swami Dayananda was instrumental in building five chariots for Sri Mahalingaswamy Temple at Tiruvidaimarudur near Kumbakonam in 2010 at a cost of more than five crore rupees and provided funds for the annual chariot festival.
Pujyasri Swami Dayananda Saraswati filed a Writ Petition (W.P. 476/2012) before the Supreme Court of India challenging the Constitutional validity of various provisions of the Hindu Religious Endowments and Institutions Acts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry. This matter is now pending before the Supreme Court.
He was instrumental in getting Dr. Subramanian Swamy defend and protect Ram Sethu when the Union Government wanted to create a channel breaking it. He was also instrumental in getting Dr. Subramanian Swamy implead in the Chidambaram Temple Case in the year 2009. Though the Podu Dikshitars and Dr. Subramanian Swamy lost their case in the Chidambaram Temple matter before the Madras High Court in 2009, their appeals were allowed by the Supreme Court which by its judgment, dated 06-Jan-2014 threw the Government out of the Chidambaram Sri Natarajar Temple, by setting aside the judgments passed by the Madras High Court in the year 2009. The Supreme Court's Judgment in the Chidambaram Temple Case came as a big boost for retrieving Hindu temples from Government control.
A non-exhaustive list of his books follows:
The Bhagavad Gita Home Study (BGHS) Course designed by Swami Dayananda presents the teaching of Bhagavad Gita and this programme is conducted in many countries including the US, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom. This material is available in many languages.