The PioneersMr. & Mrs. Sevier

Old view of Ashrama
Mrs. Sevier

Henry Sevier was a non-commissioned officer in the British army. He and his devoted wife, Mrs. Charlotte Elizabeth Sevier, were earnest seekers after truth. However, the hunger of their soul was not appeased by what they received from the churches. Swamiji was then — in the spring of 1896 — in England in the course of his second visit there. He was delivering his famous Jnana Yoga lectures that captivated his listeners.

Coming out of one of the Swami’s lectures Mr. Sevier asked me, “You know this young man? Is he what he seems?” “Yes”. “In that case one must follow him and with him find God.” He went and said to his wife, “Will you let me become the Swami’s disciple?” She replied, “Yes”. She asked him, “Will you let me become the Swami’s disciple?” He replied with affectionate humour, “I don’t know....”‘ This was the effect of their meeting Swami Vivekananda.

As they associated with Swamiji, they came to know more and more of his wonderful personality and within a very short time made him their spiritual guide, placing themselves and their resources unreservedly at his service. The Swami with the unerring vision of a seer knew their hearts and accepted them as his disciples.

Old view of Ashrama
Mr. Sevier

At the end of his strenuous summer work in 1896, the Swami badly needed rest, and the Seviers arranged a six weeks’ trip for him to Switzerland, themselves accompanying him and bearing the expenses of the journey. Amids the Alpine scenery was where Swamiji told his disciples of his desire to found a monastery in the Himalayas for the training of students and preachers of Advaita.

The idea appealed to the Seviers and their whole life henceforth was devoted to the fulfilment of it.B. R. Rajam Iyer was the editor of Prabuddha Bharata — then published from Madras— in May 1898. The magazine had ceased publication after the June 1898 issue. Wishing to revive the magazine, the Swami told the Seviers that here was an opportunity for a great work — the kind of work that they contemplated doing. Said he to Mr. Sevier, ‘I am giving you a capable editor. Swami Swarupananda has particular experience in that line, and with the help of yourself and Swami Turiyananda, he will easily be able to run it.’With Swami Swarupananda the Seviers made a tour into the interior of Almora District. In the course of an extensive and diligent search they came upon the beautiful estate of Mayavati with its thickly wooded hills spread over an area ranging from 6000 to 7000 feet in elevation, the Ashrama being at 6400 feet. Fifty miles east of Almora, it commanded a magnificent view of the snow ranges.

The pioneer’s lot is always a hard one. In a time-worn hill-house high in the forested Himalayas, the Seviers and an ochre robed Sannyasin — Swami Swarupananda — lived in the wild mountain region of Mayavati under instructions from Swamiji, charged with establishing an Advaita Ashrama.

Captain Sevier, whom all at the ashrama including Mrs. Sevier used to call ‘Pitaji’ (meaning ‘venerable father’), was the manager of the ashrama, Swami Vimalananda the assistant-manager, and Swami Swarupananda the editor of Prabuddha Bharata. Captain Sevier’s life was extremely austere, not unlike that of a monkc, and he toiled hard for the ashrama. Even in appearance he resembled a monk: He wore a dhoti draped in the South Indian manner and all his clothing was dyed a light ochre. That a European, born and brought up amidst luxury, could in his later years so completely accept the Indian mode of thought and way of life, and for the sake of his Guru voluntarily embrace poverty and austerity, rendered the monks speechless with wonder.

Mrs. Sevier’s life at Mayavati was also a unique one. It was a life of consecration and service. She combined in her life the best of Eastern and Western nunhood. She was intensely active, and wished the Ashrama members also to be so. Despite her comparatively frail body she was seen engaged in something or other. Her cheerful countenance was an index to the serenity of her mind. Her very presence was a continual benediction. In the intervals of household work, she assisted in the editing of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, or The Life of Swami Vivekananda, or in reading proofs of these or of the Prabuddha Bharata, while sometimes she contributed articles to this magazine. Two little brochures, A Breath from the Himalayas and In the Land of the Mummies, were subsequently published out of these articles.

Over a period of years Captain Sevier had suffered a chronic illness (urinary troubles), and eventually his health took a bad turn. Lending a deaf ear to the urging of others, he consistently refused to travel to Almora for treatment by physicians. Firm in his resolve and depending solely on the will of the Lord, he quietly bore the pain of his malady on his deathbed.

Old view of Ashrama
Sevier's Bunglow at Mayavati

At length this dedicated devotee attained peace supreme and was released from the body on 28 October 1900. As had been his wish, on the bank of the stream that runs below the Ashrama, his body was cremated and obsequies performed in accordance with the Hindu custom: ‘covered with garlands, the Brahmins carrying the body and the boys chanting the Vedas’. Swamiji was then in Egypt and a feeling gripped him that the good Captain, of whose ill-health he had news, had departed from this life. He booked his passage on the earliest available steamer bound for Bombay hoping to see his dear Mr. Sevier alive, and arriving at Belur Math on 9 December 1900, heard that Captain Sevier had become one more martyr to the cause. Mrs. Sevier bore itall calmly, a true Advaitin that she was, and this brought forth from Swami Vivekananda the reaction, ‘Lord bless her, dear brave soul!’

A very brief obituary note appeared in Prabuddha Bharata, November 1900, p. 175: 'It is with deep sorrow that we announce the passing away on Sunday the 28th October last of Mr. J.H. Sevier, the joint founder of the Advaita Ashrama, and a tried friend of India and the Indians. A staunch follower of the highest Vedic philosophy, with the characteristic liberality and man and noble, and a heart loyal and true, while his absence from us in the body is loss irreparable to us, ours is not the wish to drag him back to the concerns of this shadow existence by selfish thoughts. May he, if Karma’s debts should remain, find in a higher form of life, — as we doubt not he has — conditions and opportunities for a greater and fuller realization of the Eternal Truth, the Ever-permanent One Being towards Which his highest aspirations were here directed; and may the harmony of ‘Hari Aum Tat Sat,’ which he loved to hear and meditate upon, and which vibrated around him in forceful, peaceful waves during his freedom from the flesh, sent out with the whole- souled earnestness of devoted and loving hearts, accompany him in his pilgrimage to a higher sphere and act as a guiding force in shaping his further evolution to the Perfect! Hari Aum Tat Sat!'