The PioneersSwami Swarupananda

Swami Swarupananda

Swami Swarupananda

In the year 1897 Swamiji arrived at Kolkata from the West, and was staying at the monastery which was then in Nilambar Mukherjee’s house. People in large numbers gathered everyday to hear him speak. One day a group of young men came to see and hear Swamiji, who, with his eloquence and captivating personality, captured the hearts of his listeners. After Vivekananda had spoken to them and as evening was fast approaching, the visitors left one by one after offering their salutation to Swamiji. But one person stayed back. That was Ajay Hari, later Swami Swarupananda, who was about twenty-six years old then.


Swarupananda’s pre-monastic name was Ajay Hari Bandyopadhyaya. He was born on 8 July 1871 at Bhavanipur in Calcutta in a Brahmin family. Born in a Vaishnava family, he imbibed the qualities of piety and humility, and took delight in rendering service to fellow men.

Once during his boyhood days Ajay Hari was passing through a crowded street. An old beggar woman had fallendown, pushed aside by a careless passer-by. The few grains that she had acquired by begging lay scattered on the road. Shaken by the loss, the sobbing old woman was picking up the grains from the dusty ground. None had a word of sympathy for her, and none bothered to help her. The sight of human woe affected his health and spirits, and never for the rest of his life was Ajay free from physical ailments caused by mental anguish.

He read a number of books during his student days. He had a passion for Sanskrit, and with great interest he studied the language, becoming quite a master of it. He was, therefore, very enthusiastic about preserving Vedic religion and heritage. His efforts to gather the youth of the locality and shape their life on a strong moral basis through a number of uplifting programmes, was unparalleled. A monthly magazine named Dawn, the Organ of the school, was also started by Ajay, who became its first editor.. Ajay inspired and helped his friend Satish Chandra to start in 1897 a ‘Dawn Society’ These describe in a nut-shell the make-up of the subject-matter of this chronicle prior to his coming in contact with Swami Vivekananda.


At his first meeting in 1897 Ajay introduced himself to Swami Vivekananda without the slightest hesitation and, moved by a divine urge, expressed his desire to take to the life of a Sannyasin. Swamiji did not give a direct answer but just smiled with a benign countenance, being immensely pleased at Ajay Hari’s firm resolution. This was Ajay’s first meeting with Swamiji. The light had been lit.

Swami Vivekananda

Days passed.The fire of renunciation raged furiously within him. He again met Swamiji, who spoke about the hardships one has to undergo in taking on the ochre robe. Ajay Hari was undeterred and assured Swamiji that his decision to renounce hearth and home was final and irrevocable, that he would dedicate his life for ‘the liberation of the self and the good of the world’. Swamiji was extremely happy. He took him into the Order and allowed him to stay in the monastery. After a few weeks’ stay at the Math as a novice, the most notable moment arrived in the life of Ajay Hari. Swami Vivekananda was then performing for his would-be Sannyasin disciple the Viraja Homa — the sacred ritual that precedes the Sannyasa ceremony. After the Homa, Swamiji initiated the young Ajay into Sannyasa, the sublime Ashrama which has come down to us from the hoary past of the Vedic age. Ajay Hari was given the name Swami Swarupananda.


In 1898 Swamiji stayed in a bungalow of Lala Badri Shah called Thompson House in Almorah In this secluded retreat, Swarupananda had the great opportunity to serve Swamiji, his beloved Guru, and to stay close to him. No doubt, he accumulated much that was to stand him in good stead in his spiritual journey.


This time an incident occured which would change his life. This was the demise of Rajam Iyer, the brilliant young founder and editor of the Prabuddha Bharata — a tireless worker and an inspired devotee rolled into one. His passing away resulted in the discontinuance of the journal, which was being published from Madras. Swamiji asked Mr. Sevier to help in the publication of Prabuddha Bharata. Mr. & Mrs. Sevier took up Swamiji’s idea as a command and a blessing, and shortly Prabuddha Bharata (Awakened India) started coming out again, serving to illumine the heart of many an aspirant, under the editorship of Swami Swarupananda.


Swami Swarupananda had thus the blessed privilege of being the Founder-President of the Advaita Ashrama.

Old view of Mayavati Ashrama
The phenomenal growth of the Advaita Ashrama, and of the Prabuddha Bharata as also the publication of many books during the initial days were all due to the tireless efforts of the Swami. By that Swamiji was very happy, and he wrote in one of his letters to Brahmachari Harendranath in August 1900, ‘Tell Swarup that I am very much pleased with his conducting of the paper. He is doing splendid work.’


Swami Vivekananda, the inspiration behind the whole edifice at Almora, paid a visit to it in 1901 by when it had shifted to Mayavati. It was indeed a memorable event for Swami Swarupananda. Swami Swarupananda thus had the blessed opportunity to serve Swamiji again. Swamiji gave him his own ideas and directions as to how the Mayavati Ashrama should progress and Swami Swarupananda carried them out faithfully.


To start with, Swarupananda educated the hill people on modern methods of cultivation. We must not forget that the rains in the hill region are always uncertain so, the poor had always to depend on the mercy of nature. With assistance from Mr. MacConnell, Swami Swarupananda endeavoured heart and soul to disseminate among the hill-dwellers the know-how in the field of agricultural production. He also started a small school for the hill children. Not content with this he started a charitable dispensary which, later taking the shape of a hospital with many modern amenities, to this day caters to the ailing people of the area.


In 1906 the doctors pointed out that the Swami Swarupananda was suffering from weakness of the heart. 6 June 1906, the Swami made his way to Nainital via Almora. On the way he got soaked in rain and became the guest of Lala Amar Shah at Nainital. The Swami, the very next day, became quite ill of common cold and fever. One day his ailment took a turn for pneumonia. On 26 June he nearly lost the faculty of speech. Lala Amar Shah and his friends began to serve the Swami whole-heartedly. Expert physicians were called in. But all this was in vain. On 27 June at 2 p.m. he entered final beatitude.