Krishnanand Saraswati was described by one diplomat, IP Singh, after 30 years of seeing him at work in India and abroad, as 'the greatest man I have met. He comes closest to my idea of a Universal Man - an embodiment of humanity stretching its hands towards perfection.'
Swami Krishnanand Saraswati, who was revered far beyond India, died suddenly in Mauritius at a time when the Silver Jubilee of his first visit to the island was celebrated. It was a fitting end to a life given to the service of others: the ceremonies were held on 13 and 14 August, he enjoyed the further celebration of his 92nd birthday on the 22nd, and then, during the evening of the 23rd, he died.
Between our first meeting in 1964 - an Indian friend in Nairobi had suggested he should call on me - and the last in 1991 'Swamiji' (as his friends affectionately addressed him) seemed almost unchanged physically. And his laughter as resounding, his mind as acute, with a remarkable knowledge of international events. Over the years, whatever the problems one might share with him - whether personal or political or to do with one's writing - his advice was always wise. I did not realise at first that to devotees he was 'His Holiness': as Dr Sylvia Arnold, who had met him in the Belgian Congo in 1958, has remarked, he surely did not like the title, because he was far above the much-publicised 'ego of a guru' and never acted in his own personal interest.
His background was sophisticated: born into the royal family of Jodhpur, his name had been Bhavani Singh and, after obtaining an MA and LLB at Benares Hindu University, he became district magistrate on the borders of Gujurat and Rajasthan. In 1937 his life was transformed. Initiated into the order of Saraswati and named after Krishna, during a long meditation in the Himalayas he formulated the two guiding principles of his life - dedication to God and service to humanity. For 10 years he collaborated with Mahatma Gandhi in spreading the Hindi language. Then, what began as a response to appeals from Indian communities in Kenya during the Mau Mau conflict and in Mauritius on the verge of independence developed into a life spent travelling to displaced or expatriate Asian communities, 'scattered' as he put it 'all over the world' - in Africa, in Britain and Europe, even Afghanistan and, briefly, the United States.
He was active in some 70 countries with friends of all races and religions. His spiritual influence was such that, after training more than a score of followers in Ghana, during 1957 he laid the foundations for the Hindu Monastery of Africa, where devotion found practical expression through social work. But he was no proselytiser: he thought religions divisive. His teaching was as much through example as his quiet words and his plain advice about yoga. Of those books in airport kiosks by writers claiming to be 'experts' on yoga, he once remarked: 'Yoga is much more than standing on your head and making those difficult postures . . . yoga is a decision for the whole life. Yoga means the union of soul with God and yoga is the path.' For him God was suffering man and service to him was yoga.
The Human Service Trust, founded some 25 years ago, was a practical example of that philosophy. Penniless himself - friends or some group who had heard of 'Swamiji' would send an air ticket with their appeal for his presence, would meet him at the airport and put him up - his method was to inspire the prosperous to give to those in need. Invited to the Erasmus University in Holland, he watched open-heart surgery. Afterwards the professor and his team were moved to donate their instruments to hospitals in Mauritius. Among the many who have benefited were victims of a cyclone in Andhra Pradash and a flood in Gujarat. The Prime Minister of Mauritius has spoken of the thousands of youths who 'owe their life-philosophy to Swamiji, who set up training for young people in voluntary social work.'
In India eight eye-camps have provided operations, medicines and spectacles to patients. Wherever he went he helped keep cultures alive: his visits to Bristol or Bradford or Brent were marked by exuberant performances of music, song and dance.
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