The Yoga Tutor

Swami Gitananda Giri

By: Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani

Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri, at the age of 88, was one of the most potent and effective forces in the field of ashtanga yoga worldwide. Trained in modern allopathic medicine, he combined the ancient traditional spiritual sciences with a modern scientific temperament.

His students around the world were attracted to his clear, rational, scientific expositions of ancient philosophical and spiritual concepts. A practical man to the core, the technology of yoga which he transmitted to his students has proven an effective method of attaining perfect health, well being, personality and intellectual development.

Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj was the purveyor of a vast, scientific, rational and systematic body of yoga knowledge. He embodied in himself the Bengali tantric tradition of his life-long guru Sri Kanakananda Swamigal with the Shiva Yoga and ritualistic expertise of the line of gurus of Sri Kambliswamy Madam, as imparted to him by his predecessor Sri Shankaragiri Swamigal.

The vast living and vibrant knowledge which he imparted so freely to hundreds of thousands of students included a complete and rational system of Hatha Yoga practices which provided a base for the higher techniques. For those who prepared themselves properly, he offered a complete system of jnana yoga techniques to purify, steady and cultivate the mind, and free it of hang-ups and false concepts and conditions. Those few who were able to deepen, concentrate and purify themselves sufficiently were led along an amazing path of raja yoga practices, which initiated the disciple into the psychic world of spiritual energy, colors, forms, sounds and shapes, sensitizing the seeker to the meditative qualities of mind and matter.

Swami's expertise and contribution to Indian society was recognized by the Central Government when he was appointed in March, 1985, as a member of the prestigious Central Council for Research in Yoga, under the Ministry of Health, New Delhi. In 1986 the President of India, Sri Gnani Zail Singh, awarded him the title of Yogashiromani at the World Yoga Conference in New Delhi. Swami Gitananda looked every inch a Rishi, with long flowing white hair and beard and a majestic stance. His magnetic personality dominated the stage wherever he went.

He was a marvellous orator, capable of holding crowds of thousands in thrall with his large-hearted humor and resonant voice. When he entered a room, all felt the effect of his presence. A disciple once described Swamiji as, "A locomotive engine which can pull innumerable cars along behind with its sheer strength and power." A strict disciplinarian, Swami Gitananda did not allow his disciples to make any excuse for the deviances from the yoga path. He cut away layers of false conditioning with a single stroke with his sharp tongue, totally transforming the lives of all who came in close contact.

He would often joke, "I am not here to make money or gain your votes. Therefore, I do not have to please you. My joy is to help you grow. And to grow, you have got to shed all this false conditioning which binds you back." His approach to living was entirely positive. "Iti, iti. God is This. God is that. Everything is God," he would say. He was a born teacher and taught yoga his whole life from the age of 13, even while in the midst of a busy professional and family life. For most of his life, he was an inveterate traveller. He made ten world tours, spreading the message of his gurus. He set up Ananda Ashrams wherever he travelled and lived in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe and Australia.

Swami Gitananda was one of the active founders of the modern yoga sports movement, and had done preliminary work towards getting yoga asanas accepted as a demonstration sport in the Olympic games. He was the sponsor of the First International Yoga Asana Championships in January, 1989, in Pondicherry. He had also sponsored four World Yoga Conferences in Pondicherry and was the inspiration for the two International Yoga Festivals held in 1993 and 1994 in Pondicherry by India's Department of Tourism which attracted over 500 delegates from 26 countries. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami recently said, "Nowhere in the world have I seen hatha yoga performed as well as it is at Swami Gitananda's ashram."

One of his foremost messages was, "Yoga is a way of life." He was an exemplar extraordinaire of his own words and lived life fully, consciously and skilfully. One of Swami Gitananda's major projects was the upliftment of village children through yoga and the Carnatic cultural arts. To this end he founded the Sri Kambliswamy Yoga and Cultural Arts Program, in which more than 10,000 children studied Yoga, Bharata Natyam (traditional dance) and Carnatic vocal music free of charge. He was the author of 25 books on the science of yoga and publisher of the international yoga journal, Yoga Life. He was a popular though somewhat controversial figure in Pondicherry as his outspoken and forthright views were not always understood.

His vibrant personality, however, touched everyone, and he was open to all. His roar woke many a sleeping soul to the higher values of a truly human and humane existence. He will be sorely missed by all who understand the need for and value of the ancient life principles contained in ashtanga yoga, especially for modern man who, lost in the mad melee of materialism, cannot see the path out of all this madness.

Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Guru Maharaj, like the Rishis of old, shouted for those with ears to hear: "Lo! A way has been found! A way has been found out of all this darkness!" And he, like the true guru that he was, led hundreds of thousands of persons along that path to light.

Yogamaharishi Dr Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj was born on July 24, 1907, in Maharajganj, northern India, to an Irish mother and a Sindhi father. He attained Maha-Samadhi on December 29th, 1993. The work and teachings of the great Guru are being carried on by his son and successor Yogacharya Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani and his wife-disciple Yogacharini, KalimamaniSmt. Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, who is the resident Acharya of Ananda Ashram.

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