Tribute to a Life of Dedication

Ratna Beohar, Raipur, Ammaji's sister

Swami Dharmashakti Saraswati, whom we affectionately call Ammaji, was born in the early morning hours on 19th May 1924, Buddha Poornima, in Sahaspur Lohara, Rajnandgaon district in the state of Madhya Pradesh, now Chhattisgarh. She was the eldest of all siblings in the family. Her father, Sri Govardhan Lal Srivastava, was a lawyer in Chuikhadaan and she spent her childhood there.

Ammaji was a talented and accomplished child from an early age. Her nature was very sattwic and loving. She had spiritual inclinations from the beginning. Receiving her education at home, she did not attend regular school. She received the legacy of literary pursuits from her father in abundance. Sri Govardhan Lal Srivastava had been a freedom fighter and wrote poems to inspire the nationalistic spirit. Ammaji was deeply influenced by her father's personality and she imbibed his qualities of steadfastness, courage, bravery and a strong resolve. She was a devotee of Rama and loved the Ramayana from her early childhood. This virtue became the reason for her marriage.

Ammaji's father-in-law, Sri Dhanu Lal Srivastava, was the tehsildar, district officer, of Dhariya. He was a friend of Ammaji's father and would often visit their home. Impressed with Ammaji's nature and sattwic qualities, he decided to accept her as his daughter-in-law and fixed the marriage with his son, Satyavratji. Ammaji went to live with her in-laws at an early age. Fortunately, she found the environment there similar to her father's home. Satyavratji was a cultured, gentle, hardworking and talented person.

Satyavratji was born on 26th June 1914 in Chuikhadaan. He was the third of four brothers and had a younger sister. He received his education in Rajnandgaon and at Robertson College, Jabalpur. After completing his studies, he was employed in the service of the Raja of Baikunthpur. The Raja was pleased with his work and nature. Later he took up a post with the B.N.C. mill in Rajnandgaon. Ammaji and Satyavratji carried out their family responsibilities very well.

Rishikesh

Time moved on and though they were blessed by God with everything, they remained deprived of the joy of parenthood. The reason for this was a strong destiny. On a special occasion in Ammaji's family, a learned pandit had made the prophecy that four generations hence a divine incarnation would be born to a daughter from that family. Ammaji belonged to the fourth generation from the time this prophecy had been made and even her astrological chart showed that she would have a very great child indeed, born with a saint's blessing. Given this background, how could it be that they would experience normal or regular parenthood? They were patient and the situation became more and more favourable.

In April 1953, Satyavratji went to Nagpur on some office related work where he met a South Indian gentleman who was a disciple of Swami Sivananda. This gentleman invited Satyavratji to visit Sivananda ashram in Rishikesh. When Satyavratji returned to Rajnandgaon, he took leave of absence from the mill and Ammaji and he went to Sivananda Ashram. There he was introduced to Swami Sivananda. Being good at shorthand, he would make notes during Swami Sivananda's discourses and later type them out for Swami Sivananda.

He had already become quite close to Swami Sivananda. It was here in Sivananda Ashram that he first came in contact with Swami Satyananda and both of them felt an immediate affinity towards each other. Satyavratji and Ammaji stayed in Rishikesh for a few days and then returned home. Later he took his annual leave and accompanied by Ammaji returned to Rishikesh. During this visit, a program was fixed to receive diksha from Swami Sivananda, but Ammaji felt reluctant about doing so and only Satyavratji took diksha. It was then that Swami Sivananda said, "Her guru will come to her house."

First chapter

It was a tradition to celebrate Ganesh Utsav in Rajnandgaon and the people said to Satya­vratji that since he went to Rishikesh so often, it would be good to invite a sannyasin from there for a program. Satyavratji and Swami Sivananda used to correspond with each other frequently and in one of his letters Satyavratji requested Swami Sivananda to send a sannyasin to Rajnandgaon. The reply was that Swami Satyananda was the only Hindi speaking sannyasin at the ashram, had a lot of responsibility upon his shoulders and could not be spared. He would be able to visit them only after he started on his parivrajaka life.

In May 1956 Satyavratji received a letter from Swami Satyananda that he had left the ashram in Rishikesh and was living as a parivrajaka. They should let him know the details of their plans for him to travel to Rajnandgaon. Satyavratji immediately came home, informed Ammaji, went to the post office and sent a money order with the travel fare. In June 1956 Swami Satyananda first set foot in Rajnandagon and their home became his base. This is where the deep relationship of guru-disciple and guru-bhai commenced and was to last all through their lives.

In this way Swami Satyananda left his guru's ashram and set off to accomplish his guru's work. The first chapter was Rajnandgaon. His co-workers were Satyavratji and Ammaji. He used to say to them, "The two of you are the wheels on which my chariot of yoga will surge ahead. It is you who will do all the work because I will be travelling around a lot and your home will be my contact address, my base." Satyavratji used to organize his programs. Swami Satyananda used to spend the chaturmas period at a village close by. During that time, Ammaji had a strong feeling to receive diksha. Swami Satyananda said he would not become a guru. There were many clashes between the imminent disciple and the guru. Ammaji used to even fight with him.

Eventually the hopeful disciple saw her dream turn into reality. One day when husband and wife had gone to meet Swami Satyananda, he told Ammaji that he would visit their home, she should invite everyone, she was going to receive a new birth and all should attend. At the appointed hour, Swami Satyananda arrived. Everyone was gathered and in the presence of all, he initiated Ammaji into the Rama mantra and said, "From now on, your Basanti didi is Dharmashakti." He used to tell Satyavratji, "You are the truth of my vow and that is why your name is Satyavratananda and she is the strength of my conviction and her name is Dharmashakti."

Guru's grace

So the years passed. While talking to Swami Satyananda one day, Satyavratji asked him to give Dharmashakti a blessing. Swami Satyananda took the two of them to Rishikesh. After paying their respects and receiving the blessings of Swami Sivananda, they proceeded towards the source of the holy river, Ma Ganga to pray for Swami Satyananda's manas putra. The time had come. The prophecy made by a learned pandit four generations ago was about to be fulfilled. Ma Ganga gave her blessings. Satyavratji and Dharmashakti became the medium and the sankalpa of a realized guru. On the day of Magha Poornima, 14th February 1960, the dawn witnessed the descent of a shining star onto this earth. The world received a shining star in the form of Niranjan.

A woman had been yearning for motherhood and a child was blessed by the grace of his guru. Along with that child, she became a mother to hundreds and thousands of people. The child began to grow in his mother's loving nurture and care. On the other side, the work of the guru gathered momentum.

For the first time the world was introduced to Yogavidya and Yoga magazines in 1962. The seed sown by Swami Satyananda, his sankalpa for the welfare of the world, was taken forward by the complete dedication and efforts of Satyavratji and Dharmashakti. Many thousands joined the movement and the caravan grew and flourished. The time had come for the fulfilment of the sankalpa which was the reason for Niranjanji's birth. At the time when a child needs his mother the most and craves the shelter of her lap, it was at such an age that a mother sent the apple of her eye with all her blessings and total dedication to embark on that tough path in order to fulfil the guru's work. Such great people might have existed in the past and we have read about them in the scriptures, but we now witness it with our own eyes.

The work goes on

When the child Niranjan was planting the flag of his guru's work all over the world, the blow of merciless fate was waiting. That unfortunate day, 31st December 1971, came. When returning from work Satyavratji met with an accident and left this earthly plane. Despite the tragedy of a husband's loss, this lone woman shouldered the responsibility of the guru's work with the same courage, bravery and restraint as she had done in the time of Satyavratji. She used to look after the work of Yogavidya and Yoga along with Satyavratji and she took on that responsibility single-handed after his demise. As long as she was in Rajnandgaon, she fulfilled that task with complete and total dedication and success. She had her guru's full support and just kept going. In 1985 it was on guru's order that she wound up operations in Rajnandgaon and came to live in Munger. Following his instructions as a divine mandate, she made Munger her permanent home.

Ammaji led a different life, she had a different identity. From everyone's Didi in Rajnandgaon, she became Ammaji to everyone in Munger. The nurture, love and affection which is the birthright of each child was showered with open hands upon everyone. The ashram became like a home to many people because of Ammaji who had love, affection and compassion for all. She also had an incredible memory. Events long forgotten by most others were indelibly etched in her mind. When she talked about those times it was as if the events had only just taken place yesterday and the past would come alive.

Time was moving along and Ammaji was thoroughly involved in ashram activities. Whatever the need, she was always prepared and fulfilled the requirements accordingly. When Ammaji came to Munger, Sri Swamiji gave her even more responsibilities which she carried out impeccably. As the chairperson of the Panchdashanam Paramahamsa Akhara as well as General Secretary of the International Yoga Fellowship, she took her guru's work further ahead.

The wheel of time

The wheel of time kept on moving. Nature's laws sought their fulfilment. As the time to move out of this earthly plane drew near, what would be the best way to make this transition? Mother Nature chose a perfect occasion – the festival of spring, Basant Panchami, a period of celebration. Destiny willed it that there were hundreds of people present to bid her farewell. Even those who were not expected to be there at the time found that providence had brought them along.

The time was most con­ducive. On 12th February, Devi Ma's tangible presence and the intangible shelter of the guru could be felt by all as the entire family was gathered for the Basant Panchami celebrations. Ma Dharmashakti lived the full meaning of the name given by her father – Basanti or spring. On 13th February, twenty-four hours after her mahasamadhi, Swami Dharmashakti Saraswati was given bhu samadhi, burial, to the chanting of mantras and stotras. Her body was soft and looked alive.

Now, no matter where in the ashram we may be, her presence is all-pervasive and tangible, and we offer a hundred salutes to such a mother, the embodiment of love.