famous guru Narayan Maharaj in 1910

A guru is a spiritual counselor or guide. The word guru means “weighty one,” implying one bears the weigh of great wisdom and knowledge. The term was first applied to teachers and parents. Over time it was given people with great spiritual insight. Today, “guru” is used to describe everything from yoga teachers to spiritual advisors to high-level politicians. Some gurus are regarded as frauds or people into spirituality for fame and money.

Swami, maharishi and yogi are terms that are used like titles of famous gurus. The word swami is defined as master or teacher of Hindu philosophy. It means the swami strives for the mastery over his or her smaller self and habit patterns. “Maharishi” is a title traditionally bestowed on Brahmins and is Hindi for “great seer.” It is a title given sometimes to a great sage or saint (rishi). In Hindi, “maha” means great, and “rishi” means seer. A yogi is one who is bound by a code of moral conduct and restraint (including celibacy) with a view to the realization of moksha (liberation). Throughout the East, the words are often used to describe sadhus (holymen), Buddhist monks or any lay person who is devoted to meditation. There have been reports yogis who can lower their body temperature and fly and nearly frozen yogis with low heartbeats. A fakir usually refers to a Muslim religious ascetic who lives solely on alms. It is also widely used to describe fraudulent holy men.

The word yogi was used in early Hindu scriptures to describe ascetic holy men. David Gordon White, a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote: “The earliest references in all of Indian literature to individuals explicitly called yogis are Mahābhārata tales of Hindu and Buddhist hermits who take over other people’s bodies in just this way; and it is noteworthy that when yogis enter into other people’s bodies, they are said to do so through rays emanating from their eyes. The epic also asserts that a yogi so empowered can take over several thousand bodies simultaneously, and “walk the earth with all of them.” Buddhist sources describe the same phenomenon with the important difference that the enlightened being creates multiple bodies rather than taking over those belonging to other creatures. This is a notion already elaborated in an early Buddhist work, the Sāmannaphalasutta, a teaching contained in the Dīgha Nikāya (the “Longer Sayings” of the Buddha), according to which a monk who has completed the four Buddhist meditations gains, among other things, the power to self-multiply. [Source:David Gordon White, “Yoga, Brief History of an Idea”]

Websites and Resources: Gurus
Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Why so many Indians flock to gurus - BBC News ; The Guru in Hindu Tradition, J Mlecko (1982), Numen (journal) ; Spiritual Gurus and Saints of Hinduism, India and the World ; Great Saints of India ; Gurus Gone Bad in India ; Guru choice and spiritual seeking in contemporary India, M Warrier (2003), International Journal of Hindu Studies ; Hindu Concepts of Teacher, Sanskrit Guru and Ācārya, Minoru Hara (1980), Sanskrit and Indian Studies ; Sanal Edamaruku's home page


Upasni Maharaj in 1930s seated with his kanyas (nuns), the virgin women who served for many years as his wives (His bamboo cage is visible in the background on the right)

Guru is often translated to mean master or teacher. It is derived from the Sanskrit words “gu” (darkness) and “ru” (remover) and is more properly defined as a “remover of darkness, illusion and ignorance.” Gurus teach others and serve as counselors on spiritual matters. They generally deal with anyone from any caste, even Dalits (Untouchables). Gurus may be consulted when illness strikes a family and they sometimes recommend their followers do things like put limes and other fruit in temple ponds.

A guru's student is called a chela. The two meet and decide the will be with each other almost like a man and women getting married. A special ceremonial is held to sanctify the union with prayers, offerings, flowers and blessings. The student takes an oath to up hold the traditions of his art. Musicians and dancers learn their crafts in this manner as well as priests and holy men.

Prof. Gavin Flood of Oxford University wrote: “The terms guru and acharya refer to a teacher or master of a tradition. The basic meaning is of a teacher who teaches through example and conveys knowledge and wisdom to his disciples. The disciple in turn might become a teacher and so the lineage continues through the generations. One story that captures the spirit of the teacher is that a mother asks the teacher to stop her son eating sugar for he eats too much of it. The master tells her to come back in a week. She returns and he tells the child to do as his mother says and the child obeys. Asked by the mother why he delayed for a week, he replied 'a week ago I had not stopped eating sugar!' [Source: Prof. Gavin Flood, BBC |::|]

“Gurus are generally very highly revered and can become the focus of devotion (bhakti) in some traditions. A fundamentally important teaching is that spiritual understanding is conveyed from teacher to disciple through a lineage and when one guru passes away he or she is usually replaced by a successor. One guru could have more than one successor which leads to a multiplication of traditions.” |::|

India, the Land of Thousands of Gurus

India is a country of more than a billion people and tens of thousands of gurus. Soutik Biswas of the BBC wrote: “There are gurus for rich and poor. Many of them command huge followings at home and overseas counting politicians, film and cricket stars, bureaucrats and ordinary people among their devotees. The world's best known cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, is a follower of Sai Baba, whose mystique and influence lasted long after his death in 2011. Gurus also peddle influence as politicians run to them for advice. Proximity to a guru legitimises a politician and adds to his power, says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. India's most powerful prime minister, the late Indira Gandhi, would often turn to her yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari for advice. [Source: Soutik Biswas, BBC, November 19, 2014 +++]

Swami Nigamananda, a proponent of Shaktism
“Many of the gurus are also successful entrepreneurs and run massive business empires, selling traditional medicines, health products, yoga classes and spiritual therapies. They run schools, colleges and hospitals. Some of the gurus, according to Dr Vishvanathan, can make India's best-known companies "sound like management amateurs". A guru from Punjab, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who heads a popular religious sect, even performs at rock concerts and acts in films. Some gurus are adept at yoga, others are better known for their discourses, while somebody like India's most famous woman guru, Mata Amritanandamayi, has made a name for herself by hugging people as a blessing and therapy. +++

“The gurus also believe in what big companies call "corporate social responsibility", or investing in communities and caring for the environment. So they supply drinking water to parched villages, run rehab programmes for prisoners and drug addicts, organise blood donation camps and open schools for poor children. Some of them build cricket stadiums and promote vegetarianism. No wonder then that devotees are manic about their gurus. Ashutosh Maharaj, a guru from Punjab, was declared clinically dead in January this year, but his supporters have kept his body in a deep freezer confident that they will return to life to lead his flock. Although many are accused of sexual offences, shady property deals and even murder, they remain immensely popular with their faithful devotees.” +++

Simon Denyer wrote in Washington Post, “The guru phenomenon has continued to grow, buoyed by 24-hour religious programming on TV and an increasingly stressed-out Indian middle class seeking easy, prepackaged bliss. In the last two decades, spiritual life in the country has undergone a transformation as Indians embrace hectic urban lifestyles and move away from their cultural roots of village-based worship. The result is that many have sought solace by flocking to the ashrams of gurus who offer self-evident spiritual truisms, chanting routines, yoga lessons and herbal cures — or by watching them on TV.” [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post July 12, 2011]

Why So Many Indians Follow to Gurus

Many Indian follow gurus. On why this so, Soutik Biswas of the BBC wrote; “For one, in a fast-urbanising country bristling with ambition, frustration and confusion, gurus are like placebos for the uncertain masses. People flock to them, thinking that they can help give them the next big break in their lives. They look to them for miracle cures for their severely ill family members. In Gujarat's Sabarkantha district, there is a guru who has thousands of sick followers and promises to cure them with magic. Many of them die, but the faith persists. [Source: Soutik Biswas, BBC, November 19, 2014 +++]

Maharashi Mahesh Yogi, the "Beatle's Guru" and founder of Transcendental Meditation

“Also, most Indians believe in magic, miracle and faith healing. Sociologist Dipankar Gupta says Hinduism depends on magic more than other religions as "Hinduism does not have a single book and communion". "If you are in a communion, you pray together, you have other kinds of solace," he says. So many Indians depend on gurus to produce miracles and improve their lives. "Gurus are essentially seen as magicians who promise miracles. You go to a guru hoping he will deliver things to you. Religion, as we know it, is just a gloss and doesn't draw Indians to gurus in the first place," says Prof[0 Gupta. As long as belief in magic and miracle survives and times remain uncertain, India's gurus are assured a place in the sun.” +++

Himanshu Pratap Sing posted on Quora,com: “Nearly every one India follows a guru or a baba. It is up to you how you define guru or baba. A guru is someone who shows you right path in this chaotic materialistic world. Your teacher at school or college is your guru. You pay him guru dakshina (fees). This is Indian culture and its up to you what you become... A baba is someone who has attained the enlightenment. It is not bad to follow a baba as he can take you close to god, what matters is you should know who to follow and who to not. [Source: Himanshu Pratap Sing, Quora,com, August 25, 2016]

Jeremy Page wrote in The Times of London, “Rationalising India has never been easy. Given the country’s vast population, its pervasive poverty and its dizzying array of ethnic groups, languages and religions, many deem it impossible. One reason is that Indian politicians nurture and shelter gurus to give them spiritual credibility, use their followers as vote banks, or to mask sexual or criminal activity. That explains why India’s Parliament has never tightened the 1954 Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, under which the maximum punishment is two months in prison and a 2,000 rupee (£29) fine. Another reason is that educated, middle-class Indians are feeling increasingly alienated from mainstream religion but still in need of spiritual sustenance. “When traditional religion collapses people still need spirituality,” he says. “So they usually go one of two directions: towards extremism and fundamentalism or to these kinds of people.” Since richer, urban Indians have little time for long pilgrimages orpujas (prayer ceremonies), they are often attracted by holy men who offer instant gratification — for a fee. The development of the Indian media over the past decade has also allowed some holy men to reach ever larger audiences via television and the internet. “Small ones have gone out of business while the big ones have become like corporations,” says fraudulent guru expert Sanal Edamaruku. [Source: Jeremy Page, The Times of London, March 19, 2010]


Ramakrishna is arguably the most famous Indian guru. Vinay Lal, professor of history at UCLA, wrote: “Ramakrishna as born on 18 February 1836 in Kamarpukur, some seventy miles from Calcutta. Though his name is often equated with other famous Indians saints, religious, teachers, and bhaktas (devotees), he is a rather distinct figure in the annals of Indian history. His teachings and sayings are preserved in the memoirs of his numerous disciples and admirers, but principally in a compilation entitled The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, which was put together by his disciple 'M' or Mahendranath Gupta. [Source: Vinay Lal, professor of history, UCLA ==]


“In his childhood, Ramakrishna was known as Gadadhar, and his biographers have noted that even as a child he displayed the capacity to be immersed in God. One of the women in his neighborhood began to address Ramakrishna as the Goddess when he was less than ten years old. He moved to the Jhamapukur district of Calcutta in his early teens, and served as an assistant to his brother Ramkumar, who ran a tol or Sanskrit school. When Ramkumar was summoned a few years later to Dakshineswar, just four miles from Calcutta, to serve as a priest at the new Kali temple, he was accompanied by Gadadhar, who was henceforth to be known as Ramakrishna. It is here that Ramakrishna gradually began to assume some of the duties of his brother, and soon the worship of Kali devolved upon him, as his brother performed the worship of Krishna and Radha. When Ramkumar died in 1856, Ramakrishna took over his brother's duties. But at the same time his spiritual visions were acquiring such intensity that Ramakrishna could not even perform the temple worship. He became absorbed in the vision of Kali and was moved by forces that he was unable to apprehend; and he prayed anxiously to Kali, "I don't understand what's happening to me. Please, teach me yourself how to know you. Mother, if you won't teach me, who will?" Over time, he increasingly began to assume the personality of a child of the Divine Mother. His devotion to the Divine Mother was so complete that he gradually disassociated himself from temple worship, and he would remain immersed in samadhi, a state which transcends all consciousness -- though paradoxically it can be described as a state of constant awareness, a form of supra-consciousness.==

“Ramakrishna's devotion became legendary and he was soon to acquire a large number of disciples, one of whom, Narendra Nath Datta, better known as Swami Vivekananda, would go on to establish the Ramakrishna Order. One might say that Ramakrishna defied ontological dualism in an altogether unprecedented fashion. There are many accounts which testify to his androgyny, and from his childhood he could take on the characteristics of the female sex. He was allowed in the company of women because not only did he assume a woman's voice, but because, it is said, women did not feel they were in the presence of a man. When he assumed the madhura bhava, or the postion of the lover as she approaches God, Ramakrishna would dress in feminine attire and imitate feminine behavior. Witnesses furnished accounts of Ramakrishna menstruating: he would sit in samadhi, and blood would come out from the pores of his skin. His biographer says, As soon as he was dressed as a woman, Ramakrishna's mind became more and more deeply merged in the mood of woman- hood. Those who saw him were amazed at the physical trans-formation which seemed to take place; walk, speech, gestures, even the smallest actions were perfectly in character. Sometimes, Ramakrishna would go to the house in the Janbazar district which had belonged to Rani Rasmani and live there with the women of the family, as a woman. They found it almost impossible to remember that he was not really one of themselves.==

Vivekananda in 1886

“Though Ramakrishna was married to Sarada Devi, he did not consummate his marriage with her: she herself is now worshipped as the Holy Mother. Ramakrishna counseled that one should look upon all women as one's mother, and he saw the spark of divinity within women as much as men. Indeed, his greatest teacher was a man of the Puri sect by the name of Tota Puri, whom Ramakrishna called Nangta, The Naked One: Tota Puri went about largely naked. It is from him that he perfected his techniques of meditation and concentration and his understanding of non-dualism; and it is under his guidance that he for the first time experienced nirvikalpa samadhi, or total absorption in the Divine, where there is only One. Ramakrishna went into his final samadhi early in the morning on Monday, August 16, 1886.==

“Though Ramakrishna was to acquire a large middle-class following, and the Ramakrishna Mission still attracts many member of the Bengali educated elite, the middle- class has always nurtured anxieties about him. Indian nationalists saw him as a weak and androgynous figure, scarcely a credible model for an aspiring nation-state, and they have been inclined to see his devotionalism as the kind of force that left India vulnerable in the past to the depredations and greed of more materialistic, ambitious, and worldly people. There is always an implicit contrast between his purported effeminacy and the unambiguous masculinity of Vivekananda. Though members of the Ramakrishna Mission would never openly concede it, Vivekananda has in some respects been elevated to a higher position than the master himself. In recent years, the Ramakrishna Mission fought an ultimately unsuccessful battle, which went up to the Supreme Court, to have it declared itself as a non-Hindu faith: no doubt the common, folk understanding of Hinduism as a religion without the characteristics of the monotheistic faiths, which makes it into a 'soft' and effete religion, does not sit easily with the mandarins to whom the legacy of Ramakrishna has been entrusted. But Ramakrishna will continue to represent, as he always has, the possibility of sheer spiritual joy and ecstatic abandonment at the feet of the Divine.” ==


Professor Vinay Lal of UCLA, wrote: “As Narendra Nath Datta, Swami Vivekananda was the chief disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. It was Swami Vivekananda who was to carry Ramakrishna's teachings to the West, and who established the Ramakrishna Order, which today extends over all of India, rendering invaluable service through its numerous charitable and cultural institutions. Narendra, or Naren as he was known, was born on 12 January 1863 in Calcutta into a Kshatriya family. Like many other members of the modernizing Bengali middle-class, he was an easy convert to the then dominant philosophies of utilitarianism and social evolutionism associated with John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer, respectively, and was, in the fashion of the day, a keen agnostic. Likewise, he subscribed to the reformist ideals of the Brahmo Samaj. He was a student at the University of Calcutta and 18 years old when he met Ramakrishna for the first time in 1881. He visited Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar a few weeks later, and Ramakrishna is reported to have said, "How is it possible that such a great spiritual aspirant can live in Calcutta, the home of the worldly- minded?" Naren says that Ramakrishna took him aside: his eyes were streaming with tears of joy, and with great affection he spoke to Naren as though they had always known each other, "You've come so late! Was that right? Couldn't you have guessed how I've been waiting for you? My eyes are nearly burned off, listening to the talk of these worldly people." [Source: Vinay Lal, professor of history, UCLA ==]

Vivekananda in 1893

“Naren's doubt about Ramakrishna would not disappear, and perhaps he feared that he would be drawn into the orbit of his lofty spiritual presence. Not until a month had elapsed did he return to Dakshineswar. Ramakrishna was in a "strange mood", Naren was to relate, and he was apprehensive that Ramakrishna would once again enact something crazy. Indeed, no sooner had that thought passed through his mind than Ramakrishna placed his foot on Naren's body, and Naren at once had a "wonderful experience." Naren was to add: My eyes were wide open, and I saw that everything in the room, including the walls themselves, was whirling rapidly around and receding, and at the same time, it seemed to me that my consciousness of self, together with the entire universe, was about to vanish into a vast, all-devouring void. This destruction of my consciousness of self seemed to me to be the same thing as death. I felt that death was right before me, very close. Unable to control myself, I cried out loudly, 'Ah, what are you doing to me? Don't you know I have my parents at home?' When the Master heard this, he gave a loud laugh. Then, touching my chest with his hand, he said, 'All right -- let it stop now. It needn't be done all at once. It will happen in its own good time.' To my amaze- ment, this extraordinary vision of mine vanished as suddenly as it had come. I returned to my normal state and saw things inside and outside the room standing stationary, as before.==

“Narendra (now Vivekananda) emerged as Ramakrishna's favorite disciple, the chosen one, and at the master's death he was to lead the Order. He established the Ramakrishna Mission in 1892 to propagate the master's teachings, and a year later he decided to take these teachings to the West. Vivekananda appeared in Chicago as the sole representative of Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. The handsome "turbaned monk from India" immediately attracted attention, and he gained a distinguished following during his stay. While turning down an offer from Harvard to teach Indian religions and philosophy, Vivekananda lectured widely on the east coast and in the mid- West, and also took trips to England and France. He had a triumphal return to Calcutta in 1897, and he was to supervise the activities of the Ramakrishna Mission. He presided over the construction of the Mission's new headquarters at Belur Math. Vivekananda died on 4 July 1902.==

“Vivekananda is these days routinely described as a 'hero of modern India'. He is reported to have said, in response to a query about why India was under colonial rule, that India needed to pay more attention to the three B's: beef, biceps, and the Bhagavad Gita. Though Ramakrishna was undoubtedly a bhakta or devotee, Vivekananda himself appears more as a karma yogi, and he was inclined to interpret Krishna's teachings to Arjuna as call for Indians to renew their masculinity and act with energy. In the nineteenth century, 'physical culture' acquired a new-found prominence in Bengal, and there was a widespread belief that vigorous exercise, as much as the eating of meat, would provide a fresh burst of life to what Macaulay had described as the 'feeble constitution' of the Bengali. It is certainly arguable that Vivekananda ascribed to the colonial representation of the Bengali/India as a man given to effeminacy and without the 'manly' characteristics so highly esteemed in Victorian England, just as he perceived that Indian spirituality had been reduced to devotionalism. On the other hand, the dichotomy of Western materialism and Eastern spirituality appears often in his voluminous writings, and it informed the lectures with which he regaled his audiences in the West. It is no accident that he is now trumpeted as a figure consonant with India's aspirations to be a strong nation-state, and that his devotion to the motherland is summoned as a model to India's youth. Vivekananda may not have been without a vision of India's spiritual conquest of the world, and it is perhaps as a testament to that highly problematic vision, which would embrace the idea of a 'Greater India', that India recently built the Vivekananda Rock Memorial just south of Kanyakumari, India's southern most tip. Among diasporic Hindus, likewise, Vivekananda -- far more so than his master, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa -- remains a favorite figure, and his pictures and statues adorn Hindu homes and cultural centers in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Trinidad, Fiji, and elsewhere.” ==



Professor Lal wrote: “Little is known of the life of Tukaram, who was born in 1608 in the village of Dehu on the banks of the river Indrayani into a low-caste Sudra family. Since it was common in Maharashtra at that time for the Brahmins to refer to all non-Brahmins as "Sudras", it is not commonly realized that Tukaram’s family were landowners, and that they made their living by selling the produce of the land. Tukaram’s father had inherited the position of mahajan, or collector of revenue from traders, from his father, and Tukaram in turn was the mahajan of his village Dehu. At a relatively young age, owing to the death of his parents, Tukaram took charge of the family, and before he was twenty-one years old Tukaram had fathered six children. The devastating famine of 1629 carried away Tukaram’s first wife and some of his children, and Tukaram henceforth lost interest in the life of the householder. Though he did not quite forsake his family, he was unable to maintain his second wife or children, and was ultimately reduced to penury and bankruptcy, besides being stripped by the village of his position as mahajan. [Source: Vinay Lal, professor of history, UCLA ==]

“In the meantime, Tukaram turned to poetic compositions [abhangs], inspired by his devotion for Lord Vithoba [Vitthal], the family deity. He is said to have been visited in a dream by Namdeo, a great poet-saint of the thirteenth century, and Lord Vitthal himself, and apparently was informed that it was his mission to compose abhangs. In so doing, Tukaram incurred the wrath of the Brahmins: not only had he dared to impinge upon the prereogatives of the Brahmins, who believed themselves to be the only true custodians, interpreters, and spokesmen of religion, he compounded the offence by writing in Marathi rather than Sanskrit. According to legend, the local Brahmins compelled him to throw the manuscripts of his poems into the river Indrayani, and taunted him with the observation that if he were a true devotee of God, the manuscripts would reappear. It is said that Tukaram then commenced a fast-unto-death, invoking the name of God; and after thirteen days of his fast, the manuscripts of Tukaram’s poems reappeared. Some of his detractors turned into his followers; and over the course of the few remaining years of his life, Tukaram even acquired a reputation as a saint. In the forty-eighth year of his life, in 1649, Tukaram disappeared: his most devout followers believed that Vitthal himself carried Tukaram away, while some others were inclined to the view that he had been assassinated, though no one has ever offered an iota of evidence to justify the latter interpretation.==

Tukaram ascending to Vishnu heaven

“It is uncertain how many poems Tukaram composed, but the standard and most frequently used Marathi edition of his poetry, which first appeared in 1873 from the Indu Prakash Press with funding by the Bombay Government, and has often been reprinted, brings together 4,607 poems. Several manuscripts in Marathi exist of his poems, but some poems are found in only one manuscript version; often poems found in several manuscripts show variations; and there is no single mansucript in Tukaram’s own handwriting with all the poems that are attributed to him. Though Tukaram’s place in the history of the development of Marathi is deemed to be inestimable, and he has been credited with being the single most influential figure in the history of Marathi literature, the body of scholarship on Tukaram outside Marathi is rather small, and translations of his work are woefully inadequate. The only nearly complete translation of Tukaram into English, entitled The Collected Tukaram, was attempted by J. Nelson Fraser and K. B. Marathe, and published in Madras by the Christian Literature Society (1909-1915). A more recent translation of a selection of Tukaram’s poetry by Dilip Chitre has been published as Says Tuka (Delhi: Penguin, 1991).


Professor Lal wrote: “Mirabai is the most famous of the women bhakta poets of north India. Though there is some disagreement about the precise details of her life, it is generally agreed that she was born in 1498, the only daughter of a Rajput chieftain and landlord by the name of Ratan Singh, in the neighborhood of Merta, a fortress-city, founded by her grandfather Rao Dudaji, about 40-50 miles north-east of Ajmer. Her mother died when Mirabai was only four or five years old. Mirabai is said to have been devoted to Krishna from a very early age, and in one of her poems she asks, "O Krishna, did You ever rightly value my childhood love?" As her father was away much of the time, she was then sent to be raised at her grandfather’s house. Other members of the family were also inclined towards Vaishnava practices, and in this environment Mirabai’s own religious sentiments could grow freely. Upon the death of her grandfather, her uncle Viram Dev took her into his charge, and it is her uncle who consented to have her married off to Bhoja Raj, the heir apparent to the throne of the famous warrior Rana Sanga of the House of Sisodiya. There were no children from this marriage, and in the event Mirabai took no interest in her earthly spouse, since she believed herself to be married to Krishna. Her husband died sometime before her father passed away in January 1528 in a battle with the Mughal Emperor Babur in which her father-in-law was also seriously wounded. The standard narrative is that at this vital juncture Mirabai was left vulnerable to the hostility of her conservative male relatives, and that this hostility increased as Mirabai became visibly detached from the affairs of the world and her obligations to her in-laws. [Source: Vinay Lal, professor of history, UCLA ==]


She began to frequent the temple, discoursed with the sadhus, and apparently danced before the image: as she put it in one of her poems,
I danced before my Giridhara.
Again and again I dance
To please that discerning critic,
And put His former love to the test.
I put on the anklets
Of the love of Shyam,
And behold! My Mohan stays true.
Worldly shame and family custom
I have cast to the winds.
I do not forget the beauty of the Beloved
Even for an instant.
Mira is dyed deeply in the dye of Hari. [Alston, p. 39]

A much younger male relative, Vikramajita, is described as having locked her into a room, but when that failed to bring Mirabai to her senses, he attempted, unsuccessfully, to poison her. It has been suggested that her relatives expected her to commit sati, or self-immolation, after the death of her husband; indeed, in one of her poems Mirabai wrote, "sati na hosyan girdhar gansyan mhara man moho ghananami", "I will not commit sati. I will sing the songs of Girdhar Krishna." Sometime around 1538 Mirabai arrived in Vrindavan, where she spent most of the remainder of her life before moving, shortly before her death, to Dwarka. One of the most famous anecdotes from her life, quite likely apocryphal, relates a meeting she had in Vrindavan with Jiva Goswami, a renowned Vaishnava of the Chaitanya school. Jiva Goswami at first refused to meet with her since she was a woman, whereupon Mirabai is said to have retorted: "I used to think that the Lord Krishna was the only man in Vrindavan and that all the rest of the inhabitants were gopis. Now I’ve discovered that there’s someone else here besides Lord Krishna who thinks of himself as a man." Different traditions relate that Mirabai met Chaitanya, Tulsidas, Akbar, and Tansen, but none of these have ever been authenticated, and there is an inconsistency in the chronology, since Mirabai lived several decades before Akbar. Mirabai most likely passed away in 1546, but here too the evidence is very scanty. [See also "Mirabai: Poetry"

Famous Modern Gurus

Osho, better know as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, established a number of communes in the 1970 and 80s that attracted thousands of followers, known for practicing free love and wearing beads with images of Osho on them. Osho established his first commune in Pune, India and later founded another one near the town Antelope Oregon. He made a fortune from selling books audio tapes and meditation classes. He collected dozens of Rolls Royces before he was deported from the United States in 1985. He returned to Pune and died there at the age of 58 of a mysterious illness in 1990. In recent years his commune has become a resort with waterfalls, tennis, devotees in maroon bikinis and black pyramid meditation hall with a state of the art sound system. See Separate Article FAMOUS GURUS

Sathya Sai Baba

Satya Sai Baba is an Indian guru with over 100 million followers in 133 countries. Regarded as a "living god, he has a large afro, wears flowing orange robes and sometime wows his follower by pulling wristwatches out of thin air and making holy ash appear in his hands. He says he is the reincarnation of a 19th century holy man and claims to possess miraculous healing power. Devotees say Baba has met them in their dreams and given them advise that prolonged their life.

To celebrate his 70 the birthday, two American charitable organizations gave him $50 million and a Japanese business man gave him 29 pound in gold at a party attending by 10,000 people including government ministers and people from 137 countries. Saib Baba has been accused of fleecing his followers and engaging in sexual trysts that may have had something to do with a sensational murder at his retreat in the mid-1990s. Professional magicians say that his materializations are achieved through sleight of hand. He has been praised for funding development projects like $6 million scheme that brought drinking water to 700 arid rural villages. See Separate Article on SAI BABA

Mata Amritanandamayi, between known as Ama, is a woman who has millions of followers and is said to be divine. She has attracted stadium of followers who wait in line for one her trademark “darshan” hugs. Among here devotees are A,P.J. Abdul Kalam, the Indian President and father of India’s nuclear weapons program, and Linda Evan, of the television show Dynasty. By one estimate she has given out 20 million hugs. Some of her followers passionately kiss and stroke chairs that she sat on. Ata was born into a lower caste family and was expelled from her village after having a vision of God.Ama is known for having a very savvy marketing team. She is involved in bringing information technology to rural areas, She has worked with Sabeer Bhatia, the founder of Hotmail an other American entrepreneurs. With hre money she has established a medical school, 800-bed hospital, a university and thousands of homes for the poor. See Separate Article MATA AMRITANANDAMAYI DEVI: THE HUGGING GURU

Parthasarathy: Corporate Guru and CEO Swami

Swami Parthasarathy is a guru known in the U.S. for his lectures to high-powered corporate types. Born in 1927, he is the founder of India's Vedanta Academy southeast of Mumbai and has lead seminars at Lehman Brothers, Microsoft, Ford, New York's exclusive "21" club and New Jersey's Young Presidents Club. He has authored a dozen books, including “Governing Business Relationships,” several of which have reached the bestsellers list in the United States. Even when was in his eighties he went for daily three-kilometers jogs supplemented by yoga for strength and was able to out-bat and out-run amateur cricket players half his age. Exercise is a god example, he said of something that is "uncomfortable" but yields dividends later. [Source: Tamsin Carlisle, The National, November 22, 2010 ^=^]

Claudia Wallis wrote in Time, “Parthasarathy (the stress falls gently on the third syllable) has been traveling the globe for 35 years, speaking to business people — including at such bastions of commerce as Wharton, Kellogg and Harvard business schools — luring them with assertions about learning to improve concentration and productivity, eliminate stress and develop their intellectual discipline and overall well-being. His message derives from his lifelong study of the ancient system of philosophy called Vedanta, the focus of a nonprofi t academy he established 19 years ago outside Mumbai (formerly Bombay). [Source: Claudia Wallis, Time, October 18, 2007 ]

“Known to his full-time students as Swamiji (swami for spiritual teacher; ji, a title of respect), he is well aware that he is his own best advertisement: he glows as disciples introduce him as a man who has had the same weight and waist size for 60 years and who can still swing a mean bat on his cricket team. He loves to mention his similarly consistent record in marriage: “One wife, 52 years,” he boasts.

A pioneer in a field called “karma capitalism,” Swami Parthasarathy was born into a prosperous business family in Chennai, India but does not consider himself a management expert. "I left my roaring shipping business, my Rolls-Royce and my family," he told The National. "Since then I have not tried to earn anything. But how many people stay in a hotel such as this? I don't even know who is paying. It's certainly not me. Everything is taken care of...Money is the easiest thing to make when you have intellect." ^=^

Parthasarathy Lifestyle and Philosophy

Swami Parthasarathy

Parthasarathy gets up at 4:00am daily to write for two hours. But after 6:00 am, he says, the quality of his output falls off. "Please don't ask me why, because nobody knows why it is so, but whatever satva you have surfaces between 4am and 6am," he said. Satva is one of three states of mind that, according to Vedanta, contribute to individual personality. It is a state of poise, serenity and maturity that leads to contemplative objectivity. The other two states are Rajas, which dominates the daylight hours, is a state of "frenzied activity with a lot of mental agitation" that causes people to rush and worry; and Tamas, which surfaces after dark, manifests itself as lethargy, indolence, inertia and sleep, resulting in recklessness and heedlessness. Greed and lust are additional manifestations. While it may be tamas that underlies the drive to accumulate material wealth, and rajas that fuels it, only satva furnishes the means to succeed through increased personal productivity. [Source: Tamsin Carlisle, The National, November 22, 2010 ^=^]

"The intellect should lead the mind," the swami told The National. "People resist the concept, so I explain it in language they understand. People run after instant pleasure, but this is not what will help them. "Whatever is pleasurable in the beginning is detrimental in the end; whatever is unpalatable in the beginning is pleasurable in the end." ^=^

“Organizing your mind to organize your desk is a technique Swamiji shares with other practitioners. The same goes for his emphasis on exercise, healthy diet and moderating expectations...Parthasarathy, who studied international law at University College, London,” says that he starts his day at 4 a.m. and ends it at 9:30 p.m., never needing a break or vacation, though with plenty of time to maintain his health with yoga and cricket. “You believe work tires you? Work can never tire you!” he scolds. “What tires you are your worries about the past and anxiety for the future.” The undisciplined mind, he says, too easily slips into the past and future, veering toward likes and dislikes that prevent you from staying focused on your present objectives. And thus he dangles the possibility--irresistible to this audience-- of being both less stressed and more productive.

Lecture by Corporate Guru

Claudia Wallis wrote in Time, The private dining room in Manhattan’s timelessly tony 21 Club is packed with more than 60 CEOs, corporate presidents and managing partners. They represent a cross section of mostly midsize New York City-area businesses. There’s a biotech exec from Manhattan, an aerospace guy from Long Island, the head of a jewelry fi rm in New Jersey, a manufacturer of architectural lighting--all of them members of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), an international fraternity of business leaders who have won their corner offices by age 45. [Source: Claudia Wallis, Time, October 18, 2007 ]

“This group of overachievers has filled every seat to hear from a man who will let them know that, despite the title on their business cards, they are functioning at less than full throttle, distracted by needless anxiety and basically missing the boat on their voyage through life. He’s a man who adds new meaning to the phrase business guru: 80-year-old Swami Parthasarathy...As he takes the podium in his spotless white tunic and trousers, a vertical line of red dye on his forehead, Swamiji is the picture of unbowed vigor, with a voice that crescendos to full boom when he’s making a particularly insistent point. “You are the architect of your fortune. You are the architect of your misfortune,” he thunders. His topic, “Managing Stress Through Self-Management,” seems perfectly pitched to this crowd of overtaxed self-starters.”

Larissa MacFarquhar wrote in The New Yorker, ““Stress!” he declared in a dramatic undertone, his hands clutching the lectern. The room hushed; the Young Presidents chewed their roast beef very quietly. “Stress is entirely an internal phenomenon!” Parthasarathy shouted. “You are the architect of your fortune, you are the architect of your misfortune. Don’t blame the stars! Blame yourself! A man goes to his lawyer to divorce his wife and says, ‘What’s the fee?’ ‘Five thousand dollars.’ ‘How long it takes?’ ‘Six months.’ ‘I pay you ten thousand dollars, you make it three months.’ Another man is desperately waiting to marry the same lady! What’s this? The lady is the same who produces agony to one and ecstasy to another! Therefore I put it to you for your consideration: stress is in you. Period.” [Source: Larissa MacFarquhar, The New Yorker, October 15, 2007 +/]

“The Swami said he would not offer them solutions to stress—he would speak only of its origin. “You go to a friend’s house, there’s a peculiar foul smell,” he said. “You ask your friend, ‘Look here, what’s happening, there’s a funny smell.’ The friend rushes to get some fresheners and starts spraying all over the place. And you say, ‘Look here, I’m only telling you there’s a funny smell.’ So the second time he gets some perfume and dabs it on you. The third time you pick up a curtain and there’s a decomposed rat. Now I ask you, do I need to give solutions?” +/

“Swamiji, like any good management guru, pushes his newest book, “The Fall of the Human Intellect. ”After the 21 Club lecture, the audience lingers for another 45 min., asking questions about health, marriage, reducing stress... A honcho asks Swamiji a question that brought titters of recognition from fellow ypoers: “What if you want to shoot for the stars? How can you manage your expectations?” Swamiji nods. He explains once again that a calm intellect is a more productive intellect. But then he concedes that in coming before this group of strivers, he had to manage his own expectations.”

Followers of the CEO Swami

Swami Parthasarathy at the Vendanta Academy

On why he attended the lecture, Steven Silverman, 51, president of Kurt Versen lighting, told Time, “There’s nothing but stress — personal, work, health-related. Wallis wrote: “Silverman says he does some yoga and meditates a bit, “so I’m open to this. You try to get some balance in your life.”Swamiji’s message, delivered in part via that transcendental software, PowerPoint, and some well-placed jokes, is that stress is not a function of external demands — the number of employees and dollars to manage, e-mails to answer, strategic plans to complete or loved ones to placate. Stress is internal, he insists. Make a rational assessment of your situation with all its requirements and flaws — consider, for instance, the past behavior of your customers, your colleagues, your spouse — adjust your expectations accordingly, and the stress will vanish. He gives some quick examples. “I’m in New York. [Source: Claudia Wallis, Time, October 18, 2007]

Larry Moon made the trip last January with his wife. CEO of the Sandstone Group, a family-owned holding company in Milwaukee with 150 employees, Moon, 53, says he was an unlikely prospect for a week of vegetarianism, quiet study and yoga. “A year ago, if you said I’d go a week without eating meat, I would have said you are crazy.” But after six days with Swamiji, Moon is not only “about 90%” vegetarian; he’s also a man transformed. He now rises early every morning to study Vedanta.

“I’ve not missed a single day,” he says in amazement. At the end of each evening, he spends 10 or 15 minutes reflecting on his day- -”like doing a superfast advance through a DVD,” he explains. “To be diligent and focused like this, I can’t even tell you how unusual it is for me. My nickname when I was growing up was Fast-and-Sloppy.” Reading and rereading Swamiji’s writing is like practicing a musical instrument, Moon says, bringing fresh insights that have changed him. “My ability to work without a break is very different. My ability to not get flustered or to spin out of control is much better.” The foot-high piles that used to clutter his office are gone. “I just worked my way through them,” he says. The 1,000 unanswered e-mails are also history. “Now when I leave my office, I have between two and 10 e-mails in my inbox.” Not surprisingly, he sleeps better.

But some corporate coaches insist that working on your mental outlook is not always enough. “Can you be in a toxic work situation and have a great attitude?” asks Maynard Brusman, a consulting psychologist and executive coach in San Francisco. “Sometimes you have to help the environment change as well.” And not every chief executive is ripe for an attitude adjustment.

Surfing Swamis

Swami Bhakti Gaurava Narasingha, an American Hindu monk who has been living in India for four decades, opened the country’s first surfing ashram near Mangalore on the southwest coast in 2009. Rhys Blakely wrote in The Times of London, “At the Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram, ripping down the face of a glassy, peeling wave on a plank of polystyrene is considered a form of meditation. Set near the beach amid rice paddies and coconut groves, the commune has already attracted a handful of global surfing superstars, hundreds of Western amateurs, and scores of curious villagers. “For some people, surfing is almost a spiritual thing,” Swami Narasingha said, explaining the link between the sport and his interpretation of Hinduism. “It’s to do with a very mellow connection to the ocean.” [Source: Rhys Blakely, The Times of London, October 22, 2009 **]

Swami Bhakti Gaurava Narasingha

“Life at the ashram does not conform to the all-night party culture often associated with surfing, nor does it fit the common preconceptions of monastic life. Swami Narasingha—who also goes by his given name Jack Hebner—does not drink or smoke and is a strict vegetarian. His followers are expected to live similarly abstemious lives. He took a vow of celibacy three decades ago and couples who stay at his ashram are requested to refrain from sex during their stay. **

“The monks who live at the ashram wake at four am to chant “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna”, but they do not beg for alms. Instead they earn money by doing freelance web-design work through a contractor in San Francisco and by running a local bottled-water company. Swami Narasingha also owns an art gallery in Bangalore. The “Surfin Swamis”, as the community has become known, also rent boards and rooms to visitors. Swami Narasingha believes his is the only surfing ashram in existence—a claim that appears credible. Historically, the ocean has been looked upon with suspicion in Hinduism, the religion followed by 80 per cent of Indians. **

“According to some interpretations of Hindu mythology, the ocean—or “dark water”—is a resting place for the gods. Those who venture out into the sea risk disturbing them and could face the wrath of demons and monsters. In more modern times, a reluctance to enter the water may have more to do with the pollution that blights many beaches, which are often used as al fresco lavatories. But Swami Narasingha believes that attitudes are slowly changing and that India is well on the way to becoming a global surfing hotspot for the sport’s cognoscenti. The beaches around his ashram get about 40 days “of really great surf” a year, he says. That may not sound like a great hit rate. but he adds that the real action is found at a small number of “secret offshore islands, where the waves are as good as Hawaii or anywhere in the world”. **

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Swami Parthasarathy at the Vendanta Academy, Vendanta Academy, and the surfers, Surfing India

Text Sources: Internet Indian History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin; “A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples” by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.