Guru Dev Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati

Painting of Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswti by M T V Acharya
- Guru Dev -
Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati
Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath [1941-1953]
(painting by M T V Acharya)

In 1959, when Maharishi first arrived in the West he proclaimed:-

'My life truly began 16 years ago at the feet of my master when I learned the secret of swift and deep meditation, a secret I now impart to the world.1
His master was Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a spiritual leader famous in Northern India, held in high esteem by his many disciples and devotees both young and old. 
It is written that on Thursday, 21 December 1871 (Vikram Samvat 1928, Marg Shirsh Shukla Dasmi) in the village of Gana close to Ayodhya, Rajaram Mishra was born. After leaving home at the age of nine years old, he roamed in the Himalayan hills and eventually found a guru who named him Brahmachari Brahma Chaitanya.In 1904 at the age of thirty-three years old, his guru initiated him into monkhood as a sannyasi and gave him the name of Swami Brahmanand Saraswati. 
Swami Brahmanand led a solitary life, living mainly in forests and jungles, taking shelter in natural caves. For food and drink he would take what nature offered, and supplemented his fare with the gifts brought to him by well-wishers who would seek him out.
In a chance meeting at the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad in 1930, his guru, Swami Krishnanand Saraswati, told Swami Brahmanand:- 'You have stayed a long time in the jungles and mountains. Stay near the towns now, so that some of the people can benefit."
So it was that Swami Brahmanand Saraswati became a little more accessible, known for his spiritual radiance and knowledge. In fact, so high was his spiritual reputation that he was nominated to take the most presitigious and powerful position in Indian society, that of Shankaracharya, becoming Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math on 1st April 1941. 
His ashram in Varanasi now became the official seat of the Shankaracharya, though he travelled widely across India sharing his wisdom and reviving the religious and spiritual traditions wherever he visited. Fortunately, when giving spiritual talks Guru Dev would sometimes alude to former incidents in his life, and these precious recollections later formed the basis of his biography, which therefore reads like an autobiography at times. 
Before Guru Dev became Shankaracharya, on September 14th 1940 someone by the name of Raj Varma made his way across Jabalpur to where Guru Dev was staying, in order to become an initiate of Guru Dev:-
'So before sunrise Dr. Varma came full of joy to his initiation. Guru Dev did the puja with his fruit and flowers and then gave him his mantra and asked him to sit down.... After some time he told him to open his eyes slowly.
He asked him how he felt. Dr. Varma said he felt very good and happy.

Very good,” said Guru Dev, “now you go home and sit in your room and do three rounds. Then come out slowly, have breakfast and then open your shop and do your work. In the evening after closing your shop go to your room and again do three rounds. Come out slowly and have some food and then you can come to me and tomorrow morning before sunrise come again to me and report your experiences.

So the next morning Dr. Varma was most happy to report all the beautiful experiences he had had during the day, business was so good, customers were so friendly and told him he looked so good, he managed to do so many things. But as to his meditation he was not quite happy. He said: “I felt so happy with mymantra, but i kept forgetting it while my fingers were moving automatically. In each round this happened! What can I do about it?!”
a wonderful smile was on Guru Dev’s face.
FOUND!” he exclaimed. “You have learnt to transcend the mantra! Excellent! You transcended the mantra which wants to go back to the source. The best thing that can happen! When you are aware of having forgotten the mantra you quietly pick up the mantra again and continue happily. This was very good meditation. Continue meditating like that now and tonight and report to me tomorrow morning.” So very happy checkings followed.’
 - April 1988, Seelisberg.
Dr Varma had a nephew by the name of Mahesh, and this young man became captivated by the idea of joining the Shankaracharya's ashram, He quickly made himself busy there dealing with Guru Dev's correspondence before becoming Guru Dev's secretary. Indeed, he fulfilled that post for about a decade, become eventually becoming a student monk, when he was known as Brahmachari Mahesh.
Mahesh Prasad - later known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Brahmachari Mahesh
later known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Apparently Mahesh first met the guru in the city of Jabalpur in central India (this being Mahesh's hometown where it is said he worked sometime as a clerk at the Gun Carriage Factory). He recalls:-
'I was fond of visiting saints, and when I heard there was a saint - this was in some Summer vacation - "Some saint has come but it's very difficult to approach him and he is far away," and all that, all that. Then I made more enquiries; "Where is he? And what?", then I found one can only see him about midnight or something, because no one is allowed to go there, and you have to go in all darkness without making noise and all kinds of things. I met some friends here and there and just we went there and, on a small house somewhere far into the, in the forest somewhere. There was a terrace, small terrace, and there, it was all dark, absolutely dark. About ten or eleven we arrived there. I and someone or two more.
And there was a brahmachari on the ground floor. He said, "How you are here?" and "Who told you?" and, "You are not expected to come!"
And said, "So maybe we forgot our way and we are here then, darshan coming;. And tell us about the saint, and we want to hear.." I said.
And he said, "Don't talk, don't talk, just sit quietly." And he disappeared and he went up and after about half an hour he came back. He said, "Follow me very quietly." I said, "Alright, alright." We quietly went up, there was nothing to see, it's all dark and somehow we felt someone was sitting on a sort of chair or something, reclining, comfortable. We sat down quietly, we found two or three other men were also sitting. No one was talking, whispering, it was all dark, everything. It so happened, about maybe fifteen, twenty minutes passed and it happened that far distance a car was coming and it showed the light on the terrace, and that was the first sight of Guru Dev. Just on the flash of the car, maybe a mile away from the car, but it just turned, it just turned for a moment and I was.. it was just enough to have a glimpse of him. And then I thought, "Yes, it seems the time has come." That one glimpse of a flashy light and that was enough to take decisions.
Then I came, and I came, and I came, and I said, "Could I not be at your service?"
He said, "What you are doing?"
"Oh better finish your studies."
"And then, where will you be?"
"Oh you will find me somewhere."'
'And I was asked to complete my studies. And then I did not argue with him because once I saw him, I know he knows best and whatever he said was my action.'
'Then Guru Dev was gone back to the lonely forests. It was hard to locate from where he had come and where he had gone, because those who knew him were strictly prohibited to tell others his whereabouts. There was no way to keep contact with him.'
'About three years later, I saw him in the market of a big city of north India, being carried in a big procession. And this was when he visited the city as Shankaracharya of north India.'  
'He had become the Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath. To become a Shankaracharya is a very, is a democratic thing. All the pandits and saints and all that, they join together and they elect the Shankaracharya. The head of the custodian of Hindu religion.'
The young Mahesh joined the guru's busy ashram at Varanasi (Benares) and discovered dozens of learned people there:-
"Right in the beginning, I joined the ashram, I came, and then I was amongst thirty or forty brahmacharis, and pandits and all that, all that. And they were very wise people, pandits of all the six systems of philosophy, and pandits of all the smrittisshrutis, and all that. The whole learning round about Shankaracharya was vast retinue of learned people and I was absolutely insignificant. I had some knowledge of Hindi, and some of English, and a little bit of Sanskrit, but in that big huge learned assembly, this was absolutely insignificant, and English, of course, it was not necessary at all.
And then it was about a week and as everyone in the morning would go and do the prostrations and come out and then there was nothing to do. And one week passed and then I thought. "It's ridiculous to waste all this time." Was just once in the morning and once in the evening, go and prostrate and come out. So I made friends with a man who was cleaning his room, something like that, like that. Adjusting his table, this, this, this.
I said, "Oh, could you not take rest? You must be feeling very tired," and something, something.
And I said. "I could..."
But he said, "You can't. You can't come in this room," and this and this.
But I said, "Maybe when Guru Dev is not here, when he is taking his bath, and I could clean or something."
And he said, "Yes, that time you can come but get out quickly, and don't disturb things." Like that. So I started on that, some cleaning of the floor, something, something, adjusting something.'
During a temporary absence of the pandit who dealt with the training of pandits of the ashram, Mahesh saw an opportunity to assume the role of clerk to the guru. He checked through the incoming mail and offered to read certain of the letters out loud to Guru Dev.
'One letter was there. It came for his blessing from some state in India asking that they are going to perform a big yagya and they want the blessings of Shankaracharya. And that letter was there and that date was approaching, about a week was left. And that I thought was a letter very responsible for the organisation to answer.
And I asked Guru Dev, "Oh, oh, the answer of this letter?"
And he would just not mind it, because in his eyes just one organisation doesn't mean anything, or something.
But, I thought it's a very great responsibility of the organisation, it's if someone wants Shankaracharya's blessing then it's for the organisation to reply, and reply his blessings and create goodwill and inspire that organisation.'
Over the following days Mahesh repeatedly attempted to solicit a response from the guru but without result, and then went so far as to suggest that he write something himself, He recalls:-
'One day I said, "It's only about four, five days left. Shall I make a draft and read to Guru Dev, or anything?"
And He said, "What you will write?" And that was the end he said.'
Mahesh returned to his own room to gather his thoughts:-
'I said, "Now come on, I have to write an answer to this. What? What? How to write? What to do? Now supposing if I was a Shankaracharya? What I'll say in that letter?" And I just imposed Shankaracharyaship on myself. And I said. "Yes, all the religious organisations look to Shankaracharya, head of the religion. The main thing is, that they should get inspiration from the blessing of Shankaracharya. As an organisation doing this great yagya, inspiring the people in the locality for religious life, so they should have the approval of Shankaracharya for this good act of religious value." I somehow wrote. And in the evening - it was just a very short thing, because nothing very long has to go from Shankaracharya, who is a great authority on religion, so very short inspiration. I made some few lines.
In the evening when I opened the door and entered and I read out that thing, in one simple breath quickly. And it sounded so apt, so appropriate.
And then he said, "Will these people get it if you write? Then send it."
I said; "Yes, they can get it, it's yet four days."
That's all he said.
Then I quickly wrote and put on a seal of Shankaracharya and did the whole paraphernalia, and sent it. From that day probably I gave an impression that I could write something useful. That was the first thing. And from there, the letters came to me for replying and I was replying and sometimes reading to him.'
Wishing to get even closer to the guru he attempted to attune himself to the master's thinking:-
'And it took about two and a half years, and I thought two and a half years were wasted, but it came out to be quite early to adjust myself to his feelings. And the method that I adopted was just to sense what he wants at what time - what he wants. I picked up activity as a means to adjust to his thought, to his feelings.'
'Just about two and a half years for my thoughts to be mainly flowing in tune with his - how much perfectly, there was no way to measure, but I knew I was making very, very rare mistakes, no mistakes almost.'
'And from there on for me the whole thing was very light and beautiful, no obstacles, clear, everything. Then I was living around him without even feeling that I was living. It's a very genuine feeling of complete oneness with Guru Dev, just like that. People who have seen me moving with Guru Dev know that I was not as if in this isolated, single body or something. '
'Even ignorant people like me were blessed, and this was his great, extreme value of adaptability, He could adopt [sic] himself to even such sheer ignorance, and raise the value. This adaptability is what I found most useful for me, as far as Guru Dev is concerned. Very great fortune to have found him..'
In his role of secretary he collated some of Guru Dev's lectures which were published by the ashram

- Guru Dev -
Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati

- Guru Dev, Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswati -
at Bandha, near Bheraghat, Jabalpur M.P. India , Guru Purnima day, July 3rd 1947
[from far left of photo - Shri Kirti Bhanu Rai,  unknown guard,  Pandit Shri Ishwar Dutt Shukla ji, unknown,
Guru Dev (seated) then, Swami Karpatri, Pandit Shri Dwarika Prasad Shastri ji, unknown guard,  Shri Jugal Kishor Shrivastava on far right
sitting to left front of photo is Shri Krishnanand Saraswati Ji, sitting to right, unknown]
Photograph courtesy of Shri Umesh Shrivastava

Guru Dev's teaching was firmly based on traditional wisdom, shined and polished by his own experience. We see example of this in his reference to the central yoga doctrine contained in Patanjali's Yoga sutras - 'yogash-chitta-vritti-nirodhah' - 'yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of consciousness' (YogaDarshanam 1:2).
Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswati states:-

'We are told the"yoga" of stopping the fluctuations of consciousness

The ultimate aim is this,
that by the practice of having stopped the fluctuations of the inner self,
to experience the Supreme form of the Self.
Calm without a wave in any part of the pool of water,
that manner a person can see his own face.
That really is the method,
stopping  the fluctuatations of the consciousness is really giving a clear reflection of the imperishable Self in the instrument of inner vision.
This indeed is "darshan" (sight) of "atma" (self or soul).'
- 'Shri Shankaracharya Vaaksudhaa'  (published 1947)

- Guru Dev -
Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati
[to right of photo, standing, is Brahmachari Mahesh, later known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi]

A small book of quotations from Guru Dev was produced, entitled 'Amrita Kana' ('Ambrosia Droplets'), compiled by Brahmachari Shri Mahesh ji, to which he contributed a very lengthy introduction in praise of the guru. 

cover of Amrit Kana of Guru Dev
अमृत कण - 'Amrita Kana'
The book of quotations was published in the 1952 to1953).  
Shortly after the introduction of the book of quotations had been completed, a visit was arranged to Delhi. On Wednesday 15th October 1952 (several weeks before theguru's arrival there) the brahmachari convened a press conference:-

The Great Saint of the Himalayas is Coming
to Shower His Blessings on the Metropolis.

The Statement issued by: BAL BRAHMACHARI SHRI MAHESH JI.
Press conference convened by Shri Shankaracharya Reception Committee, Delhi on the 15th Oct., 1952 at 5 p.m. in the Young Man's Tennis Club Queen's Gardens, in connection with the visit of HIS HOLINESS SHRI JAGATGURU SHANKARACHARYA MAHARAJ OF JYOTIRMATH.
My own self in different forms.
It gives me a great pleasure to welcome you all and have your company here this afternoon. It gives me enough encouragement and support to acquaint you with the details of the mission for whose fulfilment His Holiness Shri Jagatguru Shankaracharya Swami BRAHMANAND SARASWATI MAHARAJ will be visiting your city about the 12th of November 1952 and stay here for about a month for Dharmopdesh.
Swami Brahmand Saraswati Maharaj, the present Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath Badarikashram (in the Himalayas) is a magnetic personality with a sweet amalgam of High Wisdom and Love of humanity. He combines in himself the Knowledge of the self with the mysterious powers -- the siddhis arising out of yogic perfection and hard penances, which he has undergone throughout his life. He is a great living yogi and scholar and is revered by millions of Hindus as their Supreme Religious head.
This great Saint of the modern age was born in U.P. in a well to do and renowned Brahman family in 1871 and was enthroned to the seat of His Holiness Jagatguru Shankaracharya in 1941 at Benares, during the ninth session of the All India Sanatan Dharma Maha Sammelan convened by the Bharat Dharma Mahamandal in conjunction with a countrywide support of almost all the ruling princes and different socio-religious institutions all over the country. It may be recalled that it was a long persuasion of about twenty years which could convince Param Virakt Swami Brahmanand Saraswati to accept the great responsibility of the Shankaracharya at the age of seventy.
From the tender age of nine when he came out of his home in Search of God, till this time, his life was mostly spent in the lonely hidden regions of the Himalayas, Vindya Giris and the Amarkantakas which are rarely frequented by men and are chiefly inhabited by wild animals. For years together he has lived in hidden caves and thick forests where even the midday sun frets and fumes in vain to dispel the darkness that may be said to have made a permanent abode there in those solitary and distant regions.
But today he is easily accessible as he is now the presiding head of Shri Jyotirmath which is the greatest religious institution of the Hindus of Northern India, covering all different creeds and sampradayas and branches lying under the fold of Hindu Religions.
One unique principle of the great Sage that distinguishes him completely from other living saints of today is that he does not accept money as gift from his visitors or disciples.
This brief description attempts to mirror a few hurried and short glimpses of the life journey of this great living sage who has actually transformed into a living fact the inner latent potentiality of the soul. He has known the great universal Truth, whose realisation is the aim of the entire scheme of life. For him the mists of ignorance have completely disappeared and having known the Divine Reality he has verily become an embodiment of the great Divinity.
His aim of life, if the life of a realised soul can be said to possess any such aim, is to broadcast the message of the Great Divine light that he has himself realised, the Light that is the Soul of all human beings. Having himself attained the pinnacle of Self development, he aims at transforming the worldly minded people into the Godly minded, and through his inner Divine touch to change the materialistic hearts of iron into spiritual hearts of gold.
His entire personality emanates the sweet perfume of spirituality. His face radiates that rare light which comprises love, authority, serenity and self assuredness that comes only by righteous living and Divine Realisation -- one feels as if some ancient Maharishi mentioned in the pages of the Upanishads has assumed human form and feels that it is worth while leading a pious life and to strive for the realisation of the Divine.
His Spiritual teachings are simple and clear and go straight home to heart. He strictly adheres to the course of inner development laid down by the Systems of Indian Philosophy and ethics and he raises his voice never in opposition but always in firm support of the Truths and principles contained in the Hindu Scriptures.
According to the tradition from the worldly point of view, the dignity of the Shankaracharyas throne has got to be maintained by the rich paraphernalia around his Holiness, but those who have come in his contact know the fact that the private life of the Sage is quite simple and renunciation.
I believe that he is a living embodiment of titanic spiritual force. If I were asked on the basis of my personal experience, about the living saints of today, as to who is the greatest amongst them, I would unhesitatingly name Shri Jagatguru Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswati Maharaj of Jyotirmath the Beacon Light of the holy sanctuaries of the Himalayas.
Shri Shankaracharya Maharaj has clear insight into the mind and the thoughts of the modern age. His teaching and commandments are based on sound reasonings which are quite agreeable to any reasonable thinker. He is a great critic of prejudices and narrowmindedness arising out of irrational love of caste, creed, nationality or any "ism". His life is a living proof of the Truth of the Vedas and Shastras. He has opened a new era of renaissance of True Religion. He extends his recognition to anything that is good in any religion. He is accessible to all. Everyone can enjoy and derive benefit from his holy Darshan and elevating discourses.
He is coming shortly to shower his blessings on the busy and restless souls of the metropolis. I beseech you, my friends, to extend your hearty co-operation for the great cause in the interest of each individual of our society, in the interest of our nation and in the interest of the world at large. The great Saint of the Himalayas is coming in your midst and in the fitness of the great occasion, I appeal to your good sense to extend your valuable support so that his elevating discourses may reach the masses in every nook and corner of our country and abroad.
Thanking you for giving me a pertinent hearing, I would like to say something, in short, about the shrine of Jyotirmath, the prime spiritual centre of Northern India and the headquarter of Shri Shankaracharya Maharaj. Jyotirmath is one of four seats established by Adi Shankaracharya in this continent -- two thousand and five hundred years ago. It is situated in the heart of the Himalayas 173 miles up from Hardwar and only 18 miles south of Shri Badrinath and may be said to be the queen of the Himalayas for natural beauty and spiritual values. Jyotirmath it was that the first Shankaracharya selected for his stay in Himalayas where he taught the highest philosophy of existence -- the Vedanta - to his disciples, wrote his immortal commentaries on the eleven principle Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras and established a seat of Spiritual light to function as sansorium (sic), a supreme centre of the Eternal Religion of India to keep the Light of Pure civilisation and culture burning for all the millennium to come. It is an ancient culture centre of yoga, the Light House which has preserved and disseminated the Light of the Sanatan Dharma all the way down the ages.

'Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President of India,
& President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad, Delhi, 4th December 1952 
Amongst those seeking audience with the guru was the President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad. When the president came to Guru Dev for darshan it seems the guru explained many things to him, placing great emphasis on how important it is for a ruler to consult with maharishis and yogis in order to be able to make balanced decisions. He told him very clearly:-

जब से महार्षियों का सम्पर्क राजाओं ने छोड़ा तभी से रसातल को चले गये।
' jaba se mahaarshhiyoM kaa samparka raajaaoM ne chho.Daa tabhii se rasaatala ko chale gaye .'
('[Things] have gone to hell since raajas neglected to keep the company of maharishis.')
Maharishi & President of India
President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad on a visit to Guru Dev in Delhi, on 4th December 1952 attended by Brahmachari Mahesh (later known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi)

The guru was by now in his eighties and because of concerns about his health he returned to his ashram in Varanasi and stopped touring. However, after some months a decision was made to travel to Calcutta for a speaking engagement. Whilst staying in Calcutta it was necessary for doctors to attend the guru and apparently he breathed his last on Wednesday 20th May 1953 (vaisakh shukla saptami 2009), barely a fortnight after his arrival in the city.  
The guru's body sitting upright and cross-legged was then transported back by train from Calcutta to Varanasi for the funeral rites of jal samadhi (immersion in water). The lifeless body was taken to Brahmanivas Ashram in Varanasi from where it was then taken by boat to Kedar Ghat and then to Kedareshwar Mahadeva Mandir, from where the seated corpse, sealed in a stone casket alongwith some personal effects, was ceremoniously lowered into the River Ganga.


Jay Guru Dev
- Guru Dev -
Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati

It is told that when Guru Dev had initially been offered the post of Shankaracharya he was very reluctant to accept the honour and capitulated only after considerable persuasion. It is said that Swami Karpatri (1905-1980), his long-time disciple since 1927, managed to persuade him and that Guru Dev then declared:-
'You want to put a lion to chains who moves about in the jungle freely. But if you so like, I honour your words and am ready to shoulder the responsibilities of the piiTh (monastery) management. By shouldering this responsibility, I would be serving the cause for which Adi Shankaracharya stood. I fully dedicate myself for the mission.'
(ref: 'Sadhus of India: The Sociological View' - B.D. Tripathi, Pilgrims Publishing, 2004, p221)
He went on to give more than thirteen years of conscientious service.
After having participated in the installation of his gurubhaiee (brother disciple) Swami Shantanand as Shankaracharya, Maharishi withdrew from ashram life to spend time alone at a remote location in north India. Later, when asked about the conditions there, about whether there were any wild animals in the caves, he replied:-

'Some wandering monks and sannyasi sit in caves like that, but where I stay in a small Ashram in Uttar Kashi, the cave is like a small basement under a room. The entrance is through an opening only big enough for one person to enter. Down there is quiet. No sound. Cool in summer. Warm in winter.'
'Food is not always needed, but when I am eating, a man comes from the village and cooks vegetables. I do not break silence by seeing or talking to anyone.' From time to time he met with an elderly sannyasi , identified by Swami Srikanta Bharathi as Tat Wale Baba and later confirmed by Maharishi himself.


  1. Very lovely. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Wonderful website. Thank you. I need the contact information for the current Shankarchara of India Northern Seat. Do you have an email or mailing address for him and also his name. I am not able to find it online. Any help will be greatly appreciated. Send to


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