Hundreds of devotees, donors and well-wishers gathered to honour the Master at his Birthday Satsang. What makes Sri Swami Sivananda such a great saint? What draws devotees to this great Being? Many of us have had no physical contact with Swami Sivananda – yet we revere, worship and honour him. Indeed, a jewel amongst saints and a giant amongst spiritual luminaries! It is difficult to describe the contributions of Sri Swami Sivananda to the world, for his contributions are diverse, extensive, intensive, multi-faceted and spread across the world – even to South Africa. Hundreds of tributes have been paid to Swami Sivananda. Encyclopaedia.com describes the Master as follows: "One of the most influential modern Hindu spiritual teachers, whose most important contribution was the wedding of the traditional concept of Sannyas, the renounced life, with social service directed towards people in need".
Pujya Swami Sahajananda, in an ex-tempore message on 1 June 2001, aptly summed up the Master's legacy, love and compassion, when he said, "A father leaves all his material wealth to his children. Similarly, the Guru leaves all his spiritual wealth, as well as his material wealth, to his devotees. So, we are enjoying all the spiritual and material wealth left by our Master. His heart was as soft as butter. His love and compassion are rare in spiritual history. There is no doubt that our Master was the Lord Himself". This is reason enough to cherish the Master and his legacy, and celebrate his birthday year after year.
In Pujya Swamiji's audio message aired at the Satsang, an ex-tempore message first delivered by beloved Pujya Swamiji on 9 September 1987, during the Divine Master's 100th Birth Centenary celebrations, Pujya Swamiji, addressing the Master in the first-person, said, "...you were born a 100 years ago. We really don't know who you were in your past birth. All that we know is that the absolute Brahman took a name and form like all the great saints. They are none other than the manifestation of the supreme being. The whole world is the manifestation of God. So, the whole world is really your form. We can give that form any name – we can call it Ramakrishna; we can call it Jesus; we can call it Buddha, but when that absolute took a form, this time He took the form of Sivananda".
Referring to the Master's heart of compassion, Pujya Swamiji alluded to Sri Gurudev's generous nature as a boy. He would give away his possessions and eatables generously. He was brave to the point that he would jump into a dry well. He loved exercise and gymnastics, and would even camouflage his bedding as though he was asleep, when he was out exercising in the early hours of the morning.
Pujya Swamiji referred to the Master's divine nature. He said, "Shuddananda Bharati said that even in those days you were born with the vision of God. You were not born like the ordinary people. You were born Sage and Siddha. He told me in Madras while we were sitting there, since he was your boyhood mate, that you ran out with your plate of food when you heard the cry of a beggar. If there's one name we can give to you it is 'compassion'. Love was born in your heart. Even from your childhood days you only saw with your eye of God".
Pujya Swamiji, referring to the Master's benevolence and open-mindedness, said that the Master, as a boy, garlanded and prostrated to his fencing instructor who was from a lower caste, and whom his orthodox parents did not approve of. Pujya Swamiji said, "So even from the very early days, God shone through you. You only saw God". Citing the Master's photographic memory, he recognised an evangelist, Thompson, whom he had met some 20 years ago.
On a closer level, Pujya Swamiji, referring to Johar Bahru, the place in Malaya (now Malaysia) where Gurudev worked as a doctor, said, "I remember about 10 years ago when we were making desks for the African schools, we imported some timber from Malaya, and I was happy to see that it came from Johar Bahru, the place where you were working. So that timber was sanctified by your atmosphere". Pujya Swamiji described Gurudev's compassionate nature in the following words. He said, "...and everywhere in Malaya you were known for your wonderful heart. You were called the 'heart of love'. The bank managers loved you. They would cash your cheques anytime. The train station masters would delay the train. The ship would delay all for your sake. With such love you served. When a lady needed your help, you stayed the whole night outside in the veranda in case she needed your help later on also. Whatever you did, you did to perfection. There was no half-heartedness like we do. Even later on you said that, 'I never did things in halves. Whatever I did, I did to perfection'. Perfection was your name".
The classical dance by Divaksha Jinabhai, who studied dance in India and is a graduate of the Nateshwar Dance Institute, added colour and beauty to the Satsang, through her grace and elegant choreography. Divaksha's dance exhibited finesse, elegance and a high degree of professionalism. She completed her Rangmanch Pravesh in Kathak earlier this year.
Referring to the reason for celebrating the Master's birthday, Swami Sivananda said, "The devotees take delight in celebrating the birthday and are uplifted and benefited. A spiritual wave is created year after year when the birthday is celebrated, and more and more people get a chance of knowing the existence of Divine Life Society and my teachings. The pious, receptive attitude prevalent on such an occasion draws forth the Grace of the Guru and God upon the devotees. The thoughts of peace, devotion, love etc., sent out by the innumerable devotees that assemble together to celebrate the birthday go a long way to promote peace, harmony and spiritual well-being in the country".
No doubt, we, the devotees of the Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, more especially in South Africa, will continue to honour, revere and celebrate the Master's birthday for many more years, so as to 'draw forth the Grace of the Guru and God'.