On the 25th October I took a train to Deoghar, Bihar, in order to visit a gurubhai of mine whom I had not seen for quite some years. He is Swami Satyananda, who has lived at Rikhia as an avadhoota sannyasin for eleven years, practising the severe austerity of Panchagni tapas. He performed this difficult tapasya for six continuous years. Each year, from Makar Sankranti to Karka Sankranti, he sat for six months at a stretch under the sun with four other fires behind and before him and to his right and his left. This was from sunrise in the morning until sunset in the evening.
Sri Swamiji had also been wishing to meet me. I arrived on the morning of October 26th and stayed for four days until the night of October 29th. It was a truly revealing experience. He is the founder of the International Yoga Fellowship (1956) and the Bihar School of Yoga (1963), which has its headquarters in Munger, Bihar. The Bihar School of Yoga has become a world-wide organization, conducting systematic courses and giving yoga training and other skills to thousands of aspiring students from all over the world.
From 1968 onwards Swami Satyananda visited many countries abroad, but in September 1988 he decided to withdraw from all activities and secluded himself in a small village. This village is named Rikhia Dham and has become a holy place because a Dashnami sannyasin has settled down there. Swami Satyananda calls his ashram Sivananda Math. It has a number of residential quarters, each one of which contains a temple dedicated to an expression of divinity. I stayed in the Dattatreya Kutir. There is a Raghunath Kutir, a Ganesh Kutir, a Sivananda and Shankaracharya temple known as Akhara, and so on.
Sivananda Math runs a forty-bed charitable hospital called Amrit Kalash, with indoor and outdoor sections, both working with sincerity. The main objective of the Math is to uplift the underdeveloped rural people and give them a sense of self-respect. Literacy is encouraged. The Math serves the village community in a number of important ways. It bores tube wells for irrigation. It builds houses for those who have no dwelling. Roads are constructed to previously inaccessible areas. Help is given to set up schools. Very old and somewhat disabled people beyond the age of sixty-five years are given Rs200/- per month as a sort of personal pension so that they need never go for even a day without a daily meal.
Another revolutionary measure is the successful abolition of the unfair and degrading treatment meted out to the unfortunate widows in Hindu society. Swami Satyananda has succeeded in abolishing the term 'vidhava'. The widows are now addressed as 'divya', for they represent an aspect of the Divine Mother. The villagers have accepted the idea of seeing these divyas wearing normal saris like other women as well as a few simple ornaments, except for sindoor and the mangalasutra. Sri Swamiji helps in their rehabilitation and assists them in higher education if they wish. I have never seen the like of it anywhere else in the whole of Bharatavarsha.
To provide employment for younger people he prompts his devotees to give three wheelers, tempos and even tractors. If they have to cover a long distance to go to their workplace, a bicycle or scooter or motorcycle is gifted to them.
However, the most extraordinary seva is the gift suitcase presented to newly wed couples. The contents of this suitcase are comprehensive and selected with great thought. The overall cost of the suitcase and contents comes to between Rs60,000/- to Rs65,000/-. The contents include a set of gold and silver jewellery for face, hands, feet and toes, a complete daily needs set containing a large tube of toothpaste, tooth brush, tongue cleaner, cake of soap, hair oil and a box of bangles. A cosmetic set in a plastic bag contains nail polish, kajol, sindoor, bindi, hair clips, ribbon, alata, face powder, lipstick and comb. Also included are a stainless steel thali, glass and katori, shawl, chunri, sari, pants and shirt, handkerchief and towel plus underwear and a colourful gamcha. Wrist watches for both the bride and the bridegroom, socks for both, a pair of lady's shoes and a pen set in a box are also part of the gift suitcase.
Swami Satyananda's band of sannyasins and brahmacharis, who number nearly one hundred in Munger and Deoghar, are deeply devoted to him and ever ready at his service. To see their devotion, their spirit of guru seva as well as their selfless service to the poor villagers is an elevating experience in itself. During my stay Swami Niranjan took me to visit a cluster of very ancient temples nearby. The local belief is that these temples are thousands of years old, dating back much before the birth of Jesus Christ.
Our departure from Rikhia on the 29th October was very late at night. No matter how much I requested Swami Satyanandaji to kindly retire for the night at his usual routine hour, he was not prepared to listen to me and insisted upon coming out from his quarters and seeing me off in the Math car even at that midnight hour. This visit to Sivananda Math at Rikhia Dham was the most important part of my October program. It has been a visit that has given me great satisfaction and very great happiness.