*THE LAST DAYS* (of Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati)

By Sri N. Ananthanarayanan

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It was the year 1960. In the Sivananda Ashram, after Arati at the night Satsang, a few visitors were gathered around the Master. The Master made kind enquiries of each one by turn, and one of them told him that he was about to retire from service. This set the Master in an introspective mood and he suddenly asked, "Have I retired? Or am I retiring?" The words were spoken softly, but they had an ominous meaning.

Two years sped by. In May 1962, coming out of the Ashram office, the Master posed for the camera with a visitor. After the photograph was taken, the visitor thanked the Master, took leave and went away. The few people who were around were also preoccupied, and for a brief moment the Master was left alone in his chair, with only a close disciple standing nearby. All at once he turned to the disciple and said, "Na ham, na tum, daftar gum."

It was a favorite expression of the Master. He had voiced it many times before to many persons, to convey the ultimate Vedantic truth that the world ceases to exist for the man who attains the Turiya state; but strange to say, that day his abrupt utterance, intentionally directed perhaps, made such an impact on the disciple that the latter felt absolutely uncertain and unhappy.

Four months later, during his birthday festivities, the Master displayed great hesitancy in inviting the assembled devotees to the succeeding yearís birthday celebrations, though each year it was his usual wont to do so. Devotees thus got another clue as to what was in store for them.

The clearest indication came early in 1963, when at a night Satsang, the Master openly invited all who wanted Sannyas to get initiated on the Sivaratri Day in 1963 itself. "Who knows what may happen next Sivaratri?" he said.

A disciple protested that the Master should not speak in that strain, but the Master summarily silenced her, saying, "Oh, keep quiet! You donít know a thing."

About April 1963, the Master became unaccountably serious-minded in his attitude to men and matters. His deeds began to take on an unusual complexionófor instance, the economy drive which he instituted in the Ashram administration. It was difficult to understand how the large-hearted Master could impose cuts even in the petty allowances of the Ashram workers, but he did it. He slashed many other items of expenditure, large and small, with such meticulous care that the institution debts fell steeply in just one month.

But the Master did everything so jokingly. "Economy sir, economy!" he used to say, whenever anyone went to him with an indent. No one, however, could sense a deeper purpose behind his actions. The truth was that the Master was preparing to leave, and wanted the Ashram to be free from financial problems.

On several occasions during May and June that year, the Master called for the calendar, each time from a different person. Once, he flung the sheets up to June at one stroke and started looking into July. When a disciple wondered what it was all about, the Master exclaimed, "Oh, you donít know!" And after fingering through the dates, he returned the calendar to him. Few could guess at that time that the Divine Master was fixing the auspicious date and time for his own Mahasamadhi.

Starting from May 1963, the Master began to give daily tape-recordings on returning from the office. Unmindful of the strain, he would read loudly, forcefully and inspiringly from his printed books and typed sheets, and a disciple would record them on the tape. The Master was particular about this work. Once in ten days he would ask, "How much matter have I given? How long will it run?" He was so intensely eager to serve humanity even after he was gone from physical view.

This inordinate desire to serve people found its outlet in many ways. While the Master had all along been regularly contributing articles to several journals as a vital part of his programme of disseminating spiritual knowledge, during the months preceding his Mahasamadhi he sent an unusually large number of articles to an equally large number of journalsóservice unto the last, the maximum good to the maximum number.

Several times during the tape-recording days, the Master expressed sentiments such as these: "The sight is getting dim; take whatever you want on the tape now itself. The hearing is getting dull; tell whatever you want to tell now itself. The tongue is getting inarticulate; ask whatever you want to ask now itself."

As the Master was signing the letters one day, he said rather jokingly, "Sight is getting dim. Hereafter I canít sign, sir," and he glanced at the disciple who held the signature pad, as if to ascertain whether the latter had understood the implication of what he said.

June 21, 1963 was to prove the last day that the Master attended the office in the Ashramís Diamond Jubilee Hall. After work he came out as usual and, as he neared the neem tree outside the cashierís office, he stopped for a while and deliberately looked around at the devotees following him. He exclaimed, with his characteristic sense of humour, "Oh! The celestial car is going to arrive from Brahmaloka. Who are all coming?"

Murari Lal, a Lucknow advocate, said at once, "Swamiji, Iíll follow."

Dr Devaki Kutty, another devotee, did not reply, but just smiled. The Master smiled back, "Hím, after some time." But as far as he himself was concerned, the celestial car was to come in just another twenty-three days.

Back in his room the Master developed a pain in the hip-joint and, as much as he wished, he could not attend the usual night Satsang. Diathermy was administered and some medicine given.

The next day again he could not go to the Ashram office. He attended to his correspondence, despatch of free book-packets and other work from where he was, but at night the pain grew more intense.

The following morning the Master came to the verandah of his cottage to see the mail, and to tape-record the dayís quota of spiritual exhortation. He gave a little dictation also, but went in early. His pain worsened and he was examined by Dr O.P. Kapur.

On a subsequent day, despite his illness, the Master began dictating as usual. After a few sentences he said, "Happiness comes when the individual merges in God." There was a pauseóa minute, two minutes, three minutesóbut the Master said nothing. The waiting disciple asked if he would proceed with the dictation.

"Porum," the Master uttered in cryptic Tamil. It meant "enough".

"Happiness comes when the individual merges in God." This was the last dictated sentence of Swami Sivananda, author of hundreds of inspiring books on man and his destiny. The peerless teacher had summed up his great teachings in that one sentence, and he was soon to practise what he preached. He was to totally merge in God, within weeks of the above sentence.

On the midnight of June 23-24, the Master wished to go to the toilet, but found a leg paralysed. Despite the handicap, he came out to the verandah on the 24th, at his usual morning hour. He had high blood pressure and could talk only with difficulty. In that condition he still wished to give a recording, but was gently prevailed upon by the devotees to desist from the attempt.

Earlier it was arranged that the Annaprasana ceremony of a devoteeís child would be performed that day in the Masterís presence. Rice kheer had been prepared for the occasion, and the ceremonial first feeding of cereals to the child was gone through as scheduled. The Master blessed the baby.

When the ceremony was completed, the manager of the Ashram press presented to the Master the first copy of a reprint of his Kundalini Yoga. He took the book in his hands and, full of appreciation for its neat get-up, fondled it as a mother would fondle her new-born. But as he tried to turn the pages, the onlooker could see the Masterís hand visibly shaking.

At the lunch table again, the Master could not pick up the towel with his left hand when he tried, nor could he perform his usual salutations to Mother Ganges after taking his meal.

On June 25, doctors from Dehra Dun and Lucknow examined him. The Master attempted to speak, but his articulation was not distinct. The Dehra Dun doctor spoke softly, "Swamiji, you should not worry about anything. You should not think anything."

Quick came the answer, "Oh! How can it be possible? I have to think of many things. I have to take care of so many people."

That was only one facet of the Masterís extraordinary personality, a facet which showed the shepherdís concern for his flock. The other facet, the transcendental consciousness of the Divinity that was Swami Sivananda, was quite different. Only a year earlier, the Master had remarked to a disciple, quite casually, "I cannot think," hinting thereby that he had attained a realm which thought did not touch, and where the mind was no more.

At about noon, Colonel M. S. Rao, then personal physician to the Indian President, came hurrying from Delhi.

"How are you, Swamiji?"

To this kind query of the doctor the Master replied, "I am perfectly all right."

It was characteristic of the Master. Whenever anyone enquired about his health, he would invariably say, "Most wonderful!" How else could it be for one who was all the time in unbroken communion with the Lord?

The Master conversed affably with the doctor and took his food. The same evening, however, he had difficulty in swallowing. He was not able to take even the medicinal tablets. They were powdered, mixed with honey and then administered to him as a paste.

It was July 6, 1963, the Guru Purnima day. No one was permitted inside the Masterís Kutir. Ashram inmates and visiting devotees solemnly celebrated the sacred occasion in the Ashram premises outside.

The same afternoon, as a disciple helped the Master to turn in his bed, he asked him if he wanted anything.

"Nothing," said the Master, and after awhile, recited the following lines from the Brahma Sutras of Bhagavan Vyasa and the Yoga Darshana of Maharishi Patarnjali:

Tattu samanvayaat
Tasya vachakah pranavah
Sa tu deerghakala-nairantarya
Satkaaraasevito dridhabhoomih.

Could it be that the compassionate Master was giving the devotees his instructions on the most auspicious Guru Purnima through these scriptural utterances? Could anyone give better instructions, and in such a succinct manner? In those three verses the Master had instructed that Brahman was the goal, and that to attain the goal, one should repeat Om and engage in spiritual practice for a long period with faith and devotion.

From that day onward the Masterís condition began to improve. Again the disciples began to allow visitors inside his Kutir. On July 8, he was wheeled to the verandah, and at his bidding the doors of the verandah opening onto the river front were thrown open, enabling him to drink his fill of the beauty of the holy Ganges to his heartís content. Ganges Darshan to him was always a spiritual feast.

As the Master sat gazing at the holy Ganges, a group of devotees gathered around him in sad silence. Some wished to see how far the Master was able to use his limbs. Paper, pen and spectacles were brought. The Master wrote in legible hand: "Serve, love, meditate, realise."

During his illness the Masterís condition seemed pathetic to the onlooker. One eye was closed, the mouth was sore, so that he could not talk properly; and one leg was completely paralysed. For days and nights he had to lie on the same bed. Evacuation had to be done from the bed itself. It proved a severe strain to his ailing body. Despite so much of physical suffering, not once did the Master murmur or show dejection in any manner. On the other hand, at every opportunity he cut jokes, making his attendants laugh. His inner joy was manifest in all that he said and did.

The Masterís body position had to be changed every two hours to prevent bed sores. Each time his body was turned, he must have suffered excruciating pain, but not once did a remark escape his lips over what was being done to his weak frame, nor did his face show a painful expression.

In health and in sickness, the Masterís gracious manners and natural kindness suffered no change. All who went to him during his last illness felt his irresistible love the same as ever.

When Nityananda, the horologist called, the Master asked him at once, "Has mother come?" Whenever Nityananda came to Rishikesh he used to bring his mother along, and the Master remembered it.

On the arrival of Pannalal, his beloved disciple, the Master greeted him with great affection, "It is a long time since I saw you." As the disciple devoutly prostrated and stood up, the Master patted him on the back many times, as much as to say, "Be bold. Be courageous." Tears trickled down his cheeks. On more than one occasion during his last days the Master showed in this way his feelings of deep affection for some of his dear disciples.

One day, the Masterís eyes rested on Vanamamalai, a devotee from Madurai in the far South. Immediately a question rang forth from the Master, "What about your sisterís marriage?"

Swami Sivananda was a Master of rare compassion. He was intimately familiar with the personal problems of his innumerable devotees. He remembered those problems in separate compartments of his memory, treating them as his own and helping in every case. Thousands loved him as much for this intensely human nature as for his spiritual guidance.

One day, the ailing Master was turned in his bed and made to lie on his back. A little while later, he called out, "Oh! Sarvanabhava ointment is falling from above. Each take a tube."

At what exalted level of consciousness the Master was at that time the human mind cannot conceive.

On another night the radio in an adjacent room was playing soft music. A noted Nadaswaram player was on the air in the national programme of the All-India Radio. The Master was in bed with eyes closed, and his disciples thought him to be asleep. Mark their pleasant surprise, when at the end of the recital, he opened his eyes, beckoned to a person standing nearby and instructed, "Oh! Write to the artiste that I enjoyed his recital. Convey my thanks to him."

Among those who called on the Master during his last illness was the then Indian Health Minister, Dr Sushila Nayyar. In spite of all his physical disability, the Master exchanged greetings with her, gave her books and breakfast, chanted the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra for her health and welfare, and gave her his exquisite sermon of "serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realise". He finally invoked the Lordís blessings on her.

On July 10, the Master expressed a desire to see the Ganges from where he lay in bed. An intervening wall obstructed the view. So the direction of the bed was suitably changed to enable him to view the holy Tirtha, which he loved so much, on whose banks he had lived for almost forty years, and on whose glory he had written a book.

On July 12, Dr Devaki Kutty gave a paper and pen to the Master. The Master wrote: "Remember; forget." The pad was raised to enable him to write more, but he gestured so as to say, "That is sufficient." He told the doctor, "Remember you are Devi, and not Devaki Kutty." First a piece of written instruction, and then a verbal explanation of that instruction to ensure correct understanding. It was love heaped upon love!

The same day the Master was given a sponge bath by nurse Sundara Behn. He presented her with a silk sari, as a token of his gratitude for her devoted service. It was almost a sacred principle with the Divine Master that he never let go unrewarded the slightest service done to him. The reward was in every case greater than the service rendered.

On the midnight of July 12-13, the Master did not sleep, but went on writing Om on his right thigh with his finger. Now and then he rested awhile and then started again in the same manner. Two fans were working in the room, besides an air-cooler. The attending disciple became concerned that the Master might suffer exposure, and covered his hand with a cloth whenever he stopped writing. But each time the Master threw the cloth aside to resume his writing of Om. The hand was thus covered a dozen times, and a dozen times he threw aside the covering. After 2am, however, the Master slept a little.

On July 13, he did not take his full breakfast but was content with an iddli, a little mango juice and some milk. At l0am he was brought to the verandah as usual. Normally he sat there for half an hour, but that day he rested for just ten minutes, with a straight gaze intently fixed on the Ganges. Then he said abruptly, "Well, go inside." He was taken in. In the afternoon he had diarrhoea and free functioning of the kidneys.

At about 9pm an electric massage was administered. The machine made a croaking noise. The Master commented, "You see, frog is crying!" People around were grieved over the Masterís health, but could not help letting out a smile at his remark.

Just then a close disciple of the Master came in. He was bare above the waist, and his bulging stomach showed to prominence. The Master saw him and exclaimed jocularly, "Oh! Put the machine on his belly."

His mood turned a little serious, however, when the doctors began to apply the electric massage to his face.

Overtired as he was, he said, "Enough, enough!" The attitude of the Master at that moment revealed extreme dispassion. He wanted nothing. After all, what could all the doctors in the world do when the call had come to him?

After many motions and free urination, the stomach became quite empty. He lay on his bed totally relaxed like a child, tapping the pillow with the fingers of his right hand. Or he moved his right palm lightly over his stomach in gentle circles. He had nothing to accomplish now; his work was over.

On July 14, Colonel Puri came to examine the Master. As he tapped with his rod to test the reflexes, the Master said, "Doctors are very cruel."

"Yes, Swamiji, what can be done? It is our duty," said the doctor, and added, "Swamiji, you will be all right shortly."

"Yes, I must," said the Master, "I have many things to do."

"You will do, Swamiji, but with a handicap."

The Master heard the doctorís words clearly and gave him a steady look. Then in his unfailing hospitality saw to it that the doctor was offered uppama, coffee and books. He finally concluded with a farewell and an "Om Namo Narayanaya".

After the doctor had left, and before he could take his own food, the Master developed fever and began to shiver. The breathing hardened. He took two or three spoonsful of Horlicks, and at about 3pm asked for water. As was the usual practice the disciples wanted to give him barley water or jeera water, but he wished to have Ganges water, pure and simple. The water was brought. The Master, who had experienced difficulty in taking the smallest quantity of solid or liquid, gulped down half a glassful of Ganges water without apparent troubleóand with that the Being that was Swami Sivananda laid aside its mortal vesture. It was now 11.15pm.

The time the Master chose to merge with the Supreme proved to be a holy Muhurta of extreme auspiciousness. It presented an exalted planetary position on the last limit of Uttarayana, and just before the commencement of the "Southern Path". An expert horologist, who was also a capable astrologer, had mentioned only upon the morning of that fateful Sunday, that round about midnight there was going to be such an unparalleled and auspicious planetary conjunction that any Yogi who was getting ready to depart would never wish to miss it. The prediction proved correct and the Master chose the moment.

The end was so unexpectedly sudden that for a while the disciples were dazed. They knew that their Gurudev was gone, but the heart refused to believe it, the mind declined to recognize it. Time itself seemed to have come to an end. But soon the growing realization of what this staggering event meant to the outside world, gradually penetrated beyond the dazing shock, and immediately telephonic and telegraphic messages were sent in all directions.
 

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