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The years, 2024 and 2025, are milestone years in the history of Divine Life Society of South Africa. Three major events coincide in these two eventful years.
It is primarily for the above reasons that Divine Life Society of South Africa is holding its Centenary Celebrations in 2024 and 2025. The launch of the Centenary Celebrations on 07 January 2024 coincided with our Sivananda Day Satsang, and was marked by the symbolic lighting of lamps by our senior Rishikumars, the unveiling of the Centenary picture of Sri Gurudev for 2024, and a keynote address.
To contextualise the Centenary Celebrations, the greatness of the Divine Beings that are Sri Swami Sivananda and Pujya Swami Sahajananda, and their legacies, need to be magnified. Hence, we provide a gestalt of the life, teachings and legacies of these two spiritual giants.
Sri Swami Sivananda (1887 – 1963) was initiated into the holy order of Sannyas (monasticism) on 1 June 1924, after practising as a doctor in Malaya (now Malaysia). He renounced the world in order to spread the teachings of Hinduism and to serve mankind, irrespective of colour, creed or religion. He instructed his disciple in South Africa, Sri V. Srinivasan to open a branch of the Society in South Africa. Hence, Divine Life Society of South Africa was founded in 1949 by His Holiness Sri Swami Sivananda. Sri V Srinivasan was ordained as a Sannyasin (monk) on 10 April 1956 and was given the monastic name of Sri Swami Sahajananda. Sri Swami Sahajananda (1925 – 2007), Spiritual Head of Divine Life Society of South Africa, led the Society for 58 years until he attained Mahasamadhi on 10 December 2007.
Sri Swami Sivananda's rare fire of his Tapasya (spiritual practices), his burning desire for God and his deep compassion for suffering humanity are all hallmarks of a spiritual giant that blessed the soil of India and the world at large. His contributions to the world in the fields of religion, health care, education, culture, literary charity through his writings, service to humanity and promotion of human values, are indeed colossal in modern spiritual history. One fact that fills us with reverent awe and exalted admiration is the gift of authoring about 250 books on every conceivable topic, be it on health, diet, moral and ethical living, Hinduism, Yoga, spirituality, science or on how to lead a Divine Life. Many of these books are printed and distributed by Divine Life Society of South Africa.
Pujya Swami Sahajananda gave up his teaching career to embrace the holy order of Sannyas. It was on 10 April 1956 that the Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda initiated Pujya Swamiji into the Holy Order of Sannyas. After the Sannyas Ceremony in 1956, the Master said, "Swami Sahajananda is styled as the spiritual king of South Africa, Durban. He is also called the African Chota Guru. He does not want anything. He is a silent worker. He is a man of renunciation, Vairagya and meditation. He is a very good organiser".
Swami Sahajananda lived to serve ─ not just the poor and disadvantaged in South Africa, but all those who were an ocean away from their spiritual motherland and who were starved of spiritual guidance and teachings. He lived to propagate the divine path that we as humans were born to lead. Pujya Swamiji worked tirelessly for 8 - 16 hours daily, 7 days a week for over 50 years so that we could all awaken to our spiritual mission as he did, and like him, live a life of divine service and true success. He set an awe-inspiring example for us to emulate. He lived a life of total self-surrender to his Guru through remarkable Guru-Bhakti. All credit for achievements and undertakings were attributed to beloved Gurudev's Grace. Pujya Swamiji never took any credit for anything.
Pujya Swami Sahajananda led Divine Life Society of South Africa from humble beginnings since 1949. It is because of Pujya Swamiji that today, thousands in South Africa and abroad have embraced the teachings of Sri Swami Sivananda and are leading a spiritual and Divine Life. The great faith and devotion that Pujya Swamiji had in the Divine Master was second to none. He did not question the Master but carried out his instructions implicitly. It is this faith, devotion, loyalty and obedience that contributed to the phenomenal growth and development of the Society over the past 75 years.
Sri Swami Sahajananda's contributions to Hinduism in South Africa and humanitarian initiatives in the country are unique in South African spiritual history. Pujya Swamiji set the foundation and commenced magnanimous and sterling work in the promotion of our glorious Hindu Dharma, based on the teachings of Sri Swami Sivananda, by printing and distributing the Master's teachings with silent, yet dynamic eloquence, building of schools, crèches, a hospital, projects for poverty alleviation, assistance to Hindu Temples and poor feeding. His visionary leadership in establishing the unique Sivananda Ghat (a facility for the disposal of the mortal remains of persons of all religions), the Sunlit Schools' Programme to assist learners cope with drug addiction and social ills, construction of schools, poor feeding programmes for over 3000 school children daily, grocery hamper distribution to the needy, our clinics and numerous educational, social and humanitarian initiatives, speak volumes. The Society's covid-relief initiatives when thousands of grocery hampers were distributed, the erection of Covid-19 screening facilities at three hospitals in Durban, Monthly Yoga Camps, Sivananda Day Satsangs, our beautiful Ashrams, daily Ganga Arati and Satsangs are Pujya Swamiji's creation and inspiration. The granite foundation established by Pujya Swamiji is continuing with unabated enthusiasm and devotion by devotees of the Society, even after Pujya Swamiji's Mahasamadhi. Such was Pujya Swamiji's sincere, silent, selfless and dynamic leadership!
Since Pujya Swamiji's Mahasamadhi in December 2007, both the spiritual and social service activities of the Society are progressing at a steady pace. There is no doubt that our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, and Pujya Swami Sahajananda are inspiring, guiding and looking after the Mission in South Africa. The total number of poverty-alleviation projects to date is 676. The success of these projects, which sowed seeds of goodwill, inter-racial harmony and fulfilment of a dire need in the country, is the result of Pujya Swamiji's obedience and surrender to our Divine Master to promote the Master's creed - to serve the poor, sick, forlorn and destitute. The number of tune-ins to our online Satsangs, Yoga Camps and programmes during the lockdown was over half a million. The attendance at our monthly Sivananda Day Satsangs (average: 400) and monthly Yoga Camps (average: 200) are testimony to Sri Swami Sivananda's own words, which Mother Hridayananda related in 1985, "My favourite disciples are in South Africa. Even if my mission fails elsewhere, in South Africa it will not. God Himself is looking after the work there".
As part of the Centenary Celebrations, Divine Life Society of South Africa has embarked on several spiritual, social, educational and poverty alleviation initiatives. Some of the celebratory Centenary Celebrations' programmes are:
Divine Life Society of South Africa has received dozens of awards in recognition of its contributions to Hinduism, its humanitarian work and service activities inspired by Sri Swami Sivananda. Notably, Pujya Swami Sahajananda was conferred an honorary Doctorate Degree by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and also received the Martin Luther King Award for his illustrious contributions.
As we reflect on the Centenary Celebrations and the past 75 years of the Society's history, the accolades bestowed upon Sri Gurudev, Pujya Swamiji and the Society by some of our leaders become relevant. The Honourable Dr M. G. Buthelezi said, "Another great South African, Swami Sahajananda of the Divine Life Society, has greatly distinguished himself as one whose humanitarian compassion has led him to identify with the poorest of the poor around him. The Divine Life Society has succeeded in adding deed to sentiment, and it has erected monument after monument for African children in KwaZulu-Natal". The Former State President of South Africa, His Excellency President Nelson Mandela, said, "If people will complain less and decide to act, in order to help resolve the problem, we would be very far off now. The problem is the question of people who expect others to do things for them whereas what is important is what I can do for my country. Can I do as the Divine Life Society has done? I think if that is the approach, you will find that some of the complaints, which we genuinely have would be minimised". Indeed, fitting tributes to the teachings and legacies of Swami Sivananda and Pujya Swami Sahajananda!
During the Centenary Celebrations, we urge all to resolve to make a Divine offering, to intensify our Sadhana, conduct regular Satsangs at home, attend Satsangs at our Ashrams and temples, engage in meditation, Chanting the Divine Name regularly, promoting our glorious Hindu Dharma and the teachings and legacies of our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda and Pujya Swami Sahajananda. In so doing, we will be fulfilling one of Sri Swami Sivananda's cardinal tenets. "Life is short. Time is fleeting. Realize the Self. Purity of the heart is the gateway to God. Aspire. Renounce. Meditate. Be good; do good. Be kind; be compassionate. Enquire, know Thyself".