Swami Tapovan Maharaj
"He came from nowhere, existed everywhere, and ultimately went to be everywhere."
Swami Tapovanam was a saint of the highest order, a strict teacher, a compassionate mentor, and a poet whose every thought pulsated with extreme awareness, and a sage of unsurpassed wisdom and tranquility.
Video on Param Guru Swami Tapovanji Maharaj
Birth And Youth
In his late 20s he moved to the town, and although he wasn’t living in the countryside, he would still wake up at 3am, walk 2 miles to a river to have a bath. He then spent hours in a sequestered spot, repeating holy names and meditating. He would return home by 8am to attend to his other duties. Even while he was attending to worldly work, his mind was fixed on God. Surrounded as he was by luxuries and tempting sensuous charms, he devoted all his time to the efforts of Self-Realization. He contribitued series of articles, and also delivered several lectures on religion and morality. His pleasing voice, elegance and lucidity of expression in critically analysing even complicated subjects, the smooth unbroken flow of words, were all evident oh his depth and sincerity. As his fame spread, he was invited to colleges and clubs to speak, he was often required to offer speeches at large gatherings to receive all-India leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and poet Rabindranath Tagore.
When his worldly duties were fulfilled, Swami Tapovan, unable to control his spiritual hunger, left home in search of the Truth
Swami Tapovan Maharaj was born in 1889 on the auspicious Suklapaksha Ekadasi day of Margaseersha month in Kerela. At a very young age and even before the days he took on the saffron, he was leading the life of a Sannyasi. He would have an early morning bath, smear sacred ashes and devote all morning to bhajan and studies even without breaking his fast. Although coming from a rich and highly respectable family, divinely noble qualities filled his veins. Sri Swami Tapovanji was indifferent to all sensual pleasures and spent most of his time in deep thought. During his youth, he loved to spend time in solitude reading more and more spiritual books. The beauty of nature would charm him, thus he would spend his days in solitary forests. Only on hills and in forests on the banks of rivers and on the shores of lakes did he find peace of the soul. He had already learnt the whole Geeta by heart, every day he recited all 18 chapters contemplating on the meaning of each stanza.Here was a bachelor, eligible in every way – rich, handsome, learned yet young. However, his thirst and desire for spriitual knowledge didn’t allow him to get distracted by anything.
For 7 years, he travelled widely , and soon after started to spend time in the company of sages, visiting temples, sincerely studying the scriptures and observing austerities. Swami Janardhana Giri of Kailash Ashram in Rishikesh initiated him into sannyasa with the name, Swami Tapovanam – a forest of austerity and penance.
Of countless Sannyasi-mahatmas dwelling in those regions, he is the Crest-Gem. Uttarkashi receives its lustre from his presence there. To the vast majority, Uttarkashi means Sri Tapovanji – its name has become synonymous with his. Many Masters and Seekers would often be seen sitting there at his feet and drinking the highest knowledge of Vedanta that rained from his lips.
He moved to the secluded forest and higher up in the Himalayas, living in sacred Uttarkasi. There he lived a life of extreme tapas (austerity), spending his time in study, reflection and meditation. Swami Tapovanam chose to live in the the small, simple one-room thatched hut, in front of which the sacred River Ganga flows, in the remote mountainous area of Uttarkashi in Uttaranchal.
Life As A Sanyasi
Over those early 4-5 years, Swamiji’s fame spread around Rishikesh. His spirit of dispassion, sacrifice and thirst for knowledge evoked the admiration of all those who came into contact with him. Devotees now flocked to him vying with one another in offering him service. But he hardly made use of their offers. Eager to study Vedanta, men and women came to him from far and near and sat at his feet all day long. For one or two hours every morning he would conduct a session, but soon after the devotees started increasing, the man who loved solitude, began to dislike the change. Swamiji who loved solitude made it a habit to leave Rishikesh as soon as the weather improved and go higher up to Uttarkasi. Though long past the stage of youth, yet he had trained himself to a hard life. He seldom wore footwear. He raversed the rough rocky ground and the mountainous tracts without hesitation every year. During summer, he would leave Uttarkashi and go to Gangotri on foot.
The morning bath of the icy cold Ganges – this sage would never miss even a day throughout the year. A long evening walk in the Himalayan solitude was a favorite item in his routine. He had marvelous fortitude, Titiksha, and he was a Sannyasi in every inch of him.His life reveals, therefore true adherence to the minutest principles of Sannyasa. Even though he has innumerable devotees ready to lay their wealth at his feet and to look to his smallest comfort, yet the Swamiji has stuck to the Sannyasa life.
The Himalayan Hermit
Swamiji’s favorite spots in the Himalayas were Uttarkasi, Gangothri and Badri. Sometimes his sanyasi disciples accompanied him to these places in their eagerness to learn more of Vedanta. Although many had the good fortune to be instructed by him, none had the privilege of being initiated into Sanyasa by him.
Swami Tapovanam–The Param Guru
Tapovan Maharaj was a loving yet strict teacher who had high expectations of his students, insisted on complete concentration and set exacting standards of behaviour. He led a life of exemplary literary achievement and scriptural scholarship, rigid austerity and discipline and extraordinary spiritual experiences. He was held at the highest respect and devotion in the world of ascetics and sages. Swami Shivananda used to refer to him as “the glory of the himalayas”
The compassionate sage shared words of wisdom with all devotees who came to him in search of spiritual knowledge, but rarely did he accept resident disciples.
When Swami Tapovanam did accept a resident disciple, the latter was trained under the strictest conditions. There were few who could undergo and survive such hardships, but those seekers who did, were blessed by the Master with supreme Enlightenment.
Swami Tapovanam & Swami Chinmayananda
He had many seekers who came to study under him, but only a few could endure the rigorous life and completed their studies. One of these students was none other than Swami Chinmayananda. Swami Chinmayananda lived with Tapovan Maharaj in Rishikesh, Uttarkashi and Gangotri, moving between the three holy places according to climate during the year. He had to bathe in the icy Ganges twice a day, eat whatever food came his way as alms – often too little and tasteless, do chores related to the care of his teacher and the ashram, studying long hours and sleeping very little, He learnt a lot not only from his Guru’s words and teachings but also his way of life – his loving manner with devotees who came to visit him, his deep joy in being one with nature, his chaste habits, his humility despite his profound scholarship and his constant bliss in the thought of the lord.
Once when they were moving from Uttarakashi to Gangotri, Swami Tapovan Maharaj often stopped abruptly in the trek, alert and thrilled, tense and silent, now lost in wonder at the snow-peaks, now aghast at the thundering laughter of the Ganga rushing down to serve mankind in the plains below. Swami Chinmayananda recalled, “I had watched him. Even a long-tailed tiny bird fluttering across the bridle path was sufficient to make him stand still, bathed in joy, whispering silently his homage to the Creator!”During his walks, Shree Tapovanji once stopped in the middle of a walk to point out a spot in the distant sky where the golden color had suddenly changed, into a blue splash. On another occasion, he often cried, “Why can’t man see the Divinity behind that mad painter who has painted this inspired beauty?”
The Lion of Vedanta
Staring in the clouds, on the auspicious occasion of Magha Pournima in Uttarayana at Bramha Muhurta at Uttarkasi, Swamiji entered into eternal Samadhi. It was Febryary 16th, 1957.
It is said that, compared to the treasure of Realisation, even to wish for the position of Indra and Bramha is petty. When such is the case, to run after temporry things of this little earth is the pettiest of ambitions. Better aim at a lion and miss it, than hunt a jackal and kill it. The ancients have said, this great detached Mahatma did something more rather than aim at a lion; he himself became the grand King of the forest. "Swami Tapovanam is indeed a vedantic lion, a dwelling in majesty in his own regions of the great Himalayan range.", Swami Sivananda.