Swami Avdheshanand Giri

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By Krishna Maheshwari

Swami Avdheshanand Giri Maharaj

Sri Avdheshanand Giri Maharaj, Acharya Mahamandaleshwar of the Juna Akhara, is a guru to thousands and an inspiration to millions. Swami Avdheshanand has initiated more than a hundred thousand sannyasins, transformed lives with his social activities, and leads the Juna Akhara[1] into the 21st century.

Childhood

Maharaj was born in a pious brahmin family in the District of Khurja. Even as an infant, he had no interest in his surroundings or playing with toys and friends. At the age of two and a half years, he showed his first interest in becoming a wandering sadhu -- by wandering away from his home. He took a small shoulder sling bag and a local village dog as support, and left. A search party later found him over two miles away at an interstate bus stand.

After seeing this incident, his alarmed father decided that he had to do something to turn the child towards worldly things. He sat the young boy on top of the local potter's wheel. The potter's wheel was churned anti-clockwise and the potter kept turning it until his father completed the japa of 108 Gayatri Mantras. This was done for 140 days.

After this ritual, the young boy started becoming more like other village children. However, Swamiji states that he first remembered his previous births around this time in his life. Swamiji's first real tryst with serious sadhana was in high school, while he was in the ninth grade. During the summer that year, he went to an ashram to spend some time in adhyatmic studies. During one of those times, he observed a sadhu who had been levitating in the air almost one foot above the ground, in the middle of the night. When the ashram administrator found out that the young boy had seen the sadhu's sadhana, he admonished him. The sadhu's response was simply, "What’s wrong with this child watching me? He is going to became a sadhu anyway."

College

While he was in college studying for his Bachelor of Science degree (B.Sc.), he stayed as a paying guest at a local pundit's house. This pundit used to perform puja and katha for various people in the local area. When the pundit wanted to have a puja performed for himself, he asked the boy to officiate the ceremony. At the end of the puja, the boy received his first dakshina.

Later on, the principal of the college requested the pundit to conduct a puja at his home -- but the pundit had a scheduling conflict -- so he pointed to his guest quarters and told him that there was another pundit available whom he highly recommended. The Principal came over to Maharajji’s room to inquire about the pundit. He knocked on the door and was quite surprised to see his student was the pundit the priest had recommended.

The boy conducted the puja at the principal's house. At the end, the principal was very happy about both the quality and depth of the ceremony conducted and the katha that he had delivered. After that point, he started referring to the boy as Punditji, and the boy started conducting puja for other members of the community.

   
Swami Avdheshanand Giri
When you develop a craving to know the Truth, the mountains and caves start attracting you and it happened to me in 1980.
   
Swami Avdheshanand Giri

—Swami Avdheshanand

Once day, he told his father, “One of these days I will be going away for some time, so please do not report the matter to the police. Also, when I will return, there will be a few people with me”. Soon after, he left his home, took sanyaas and left for for the Himalayas.

Meeting his Guru

Wandering for months at the lower ranges of Himalayas, he realized that he needed a teacher to guide him, one who had achieved Bhagwan realization. The young man found his guru, Swami Avdhoot Prakash Maharaj, an elderly sage who was self-realized, god-realized, and an expert in yoga and the scriptures.

Under the master’s tutelage, he studied the scriptures and developed a taste for Sanskrit. Eventually, he received his first formal diksha as a naishtika brahmachari from Swami Avdhoot Prakash Maharaj. Soon after his initiation, his guru left his mortal form and left the young brahmachari to continue his sadhana on his own. In 1985, after five years of intense sadhana, a very different yogi emerged from the caves of the Himalayas. He approached Swami Satyamitranand Maharaj of Bharat Mata Mandir, and soon after, received sannyas diksha and entered the Juna Akhara. His new name was Swami Avdheshanand Giri Maharaj.

Sanyaas

Until now, he had been free and detached, an inner explorer, who gave little thought to the external world. But after donning the ochre robes of the sannyasin, he learned how to became a teacher.

After spending significant time teaching and getting involved in social work, he realized that he needed to become an agent of social reform, not just social help. This, he saw, had to be done through the transformation of the individual, based on the precepts laid down by the rishis of yore.

This realization led the young Maharaj to became a Katha Vaachak[2]. As the popularity of his katha rose, so did his travel. He quickly earned the respect and love of eager seekers around the world.

Visiting his Village

Some twenty five years after leaving his home, he was leading a satsang at which many people had gathered to express their wish to receive diksha from him. Among those people was his bhabhi. When he approached her, she recognized him as her brother-in-law. Excited at this recognition, she went up to him and asked to speak in private with him. When her wish was granted, she mentioned about her much younger brother-in-law who had disappeared twenty five years earlier, and wanted to confirm if he was the same person. Maharajji confirmed that he was her brother-in-law, but that was in the past. His past has been burnt and that now he has no connection to that life anymore.

She, with his permission, informed everyone in the village that their beloved child was now a revered and learned Swami. Later a day was arranged for his visit to the village of his birth. When he returned back home –as he had promised his father - a huge crowd accompanied him. There were officials from both the State and the Central governments, including some cabinet ministers and security officials.

On meeting him, his father remarked “I could never have imagined that ‘some time’ would be twenty five years and ‘few people’ would be this huge crowd with cabinet ministers and security officials in full regalia”.

The Katha Vachak

Swami Avdheshanand Giri-giving-a-lecture-image.jpg

Swami Avheshanand was recognized as a gifted speaker soon after he became a Katha Vachak. He was able to influence his listeners regardless of their age or background. Many people left his kathas feeling an instant connection with him. In the late 80's he quickly became a popular guest speaker. Today, his kathas in India are attended by tens of thousands of people and later televised on several TV channels.

Becoming Acharya of the Juna Akhara

In 1998, the Juna Akhara formally decided to make him one of the Mahamandaleshwars. There was a formal ceremony and a religious ritual, in which his “Mahamandaleshwar Patt-Abhishekam” was done. Immediately after that, he was chosen as the new acharya. This position is designated only by the assigned saints. No one is permitted to ask for it, and no one will be appointed from outside.

As the acharya, Swamiji assumed the mantle of Guru for the Akhara’s numerous devotees. No matter where he is in the world, at 9 am, his doors are open to devotees. With three to four flights every month and an average of twenty days away from the main ashram, Swamiji finds it helpful to plan ahead in detail. Everything is scheduled, even the time allocated for each meal. It is a demanding social routine, far removed from his beginnings as a Himalayan yogi. According to him, it is the meditation which gives him energy, bliss, peace and vitality, and there is nothing more powerful than Dhyaan which introduces one to their own self. When you close your eyes and sit in a proper posture, energy will grow and flow at a very rapid speed - just close your eyes and observe it.

As the acharya, Swami Avdheshanandji also became the preceptor for several sanyassis who were already part of the order and decided to work closely with him. Swami Nachiketa Giri shared, "It is the greatness of Acharya Sri that he has openheartedly accepted me and other sanyassis who are working in his team. I am grateful to him, because after our meeting, my life was transformed. I have been associated with him for over one decade. Whatever sankalpam we undertake is quickly and auspiciously fulfilled. We do them all for the welfare of the society and for the world."

Swami has initiated about one hundred thousand saints from 1998 through 2008. After becoming an acharya, he has been the guiding spirit behind all the activities of both the Juna Akhada and the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha. Harihar Ashram in Kankhal, Haridwar, is the main seat of the Acharya.

Prabhu Premi Sangh

In order to inculcate among his devotee followers the habits of service, self-study and satsang that ultimately lead to the final goal of self-realization, Swamiji founded the Prabhu Premi Sangh in 1991. In 2008, the Sangh had one hundred branches in India and abroad, with a membership running into the millions of devoted seekers. Prabhu Prem Ashram on the bank of river Tangri, in Ambala Cantt, is the headquarters of the Prabhu Premi Sangh. The ashram holds a daily hawan in the morning, a satsang every evening, and an akhand naam sankirtan each day. It also holds an akhand jawala and a go-shala.

Swami Avdheshanand Welfare Association

Swami Avdheshanand Welfare Association (SAWA) is the latest institution founded in Mumbai by Swamiji and engages in social activities under his guidance. These activities cross the fields of education, health care, food and spiritual awareness. SAWA is helping economically deprived children in their education by providing them educational material such as books, note-books, bags and other articles of stationery. More than a thousand children benefit through the activities of SAWA.

SAWA has a mobile dispensary to treat patients of rural areas. It has already provided medical treatment to more than two hundred thousand people. It conducts blood donation camps and eye treatment camps at frequent intervals. It also provides spectacles to the needy. Besides SAWA, the Indore, Jamshedpur and Jabalpur branches of Prabhu Premi Sangh are also serving patients through their mobile dispensaries. SAWA regularly offers food to the needy, and on special occasions, bhandaras are also arranged, where all those present enjoy community feasts.

To propagate spiritual awareness among devotees, SAWA also organises spiritual gatherings on a weekly basis. Rituals like puja, hawan etc, are organized on some of the important Hindu festivals. Besides these, SAWA also organizes the Bhagwan Jagannath Rath yatra every year in Mumbai. More than twenty thousand devotees participate in this grand festival every year.

Service Projects

Swamiji has organized and leads many service projects to educate, train, and feed the common man. Swamiji points out that there is a blurry line between the Juna Akhara and himself because the cooperation within the Akhara is so complete. “My projects, the Juna Akhara and I are so merged with one another that they are just one for me.” And his team’s projects are manifold. They like great ideas and small solutions, trying to make India and the world a better place one step at a time, focusing on basic strategies -- from breeding better cows to creating chemical-free Ayurvedic farms.

Swamiji explains that “Dharma is something that has to be imbibed and adopted in our lives. We ask that devotees spare some time and devote it to projects which serve all people, contributing with both funds and personal energy. We must treat all people as God. Their cities should be clean and green, their water pure. We should offer medical services and education. We want to appeal to the Hindu world. We must understand that wherever selfless service exists, prosperity follows. With samkaras and education, prosperity is bound to come. People will become self reliant and self confident. They will become strong. This is what I see for India.”

Bhopal Project

One new initiative receiving much of his attention is the Bhopal project, an outreach to educate the most promising minds of the next generation- not in the latest fads of the global market place, but in skills meaningful to Hinduism. Though barely underway, this project carries the full force of the Juna Akhara, which is well known for its successful social enterprises.

In this project, their dream is create an institute to teach talented and promising young people Sanskrit, English, Spanish, Chinese and French. In addition, the project aspires to teach the Vastu Shastras (sacred architecture), the Vedas, astrology, Ayurveda and Hindu culture to its students. This will be a higher learning institution to teach not only academic knowledge, but also introduce youth to nature, and to provide organic food for their meals from their own farms. It will prepare them to be sent to countries all over the world, spreading the message of the Sanatana Dharma.

The candidates for this new ambassadorship of dharma are children selected from the schools run by the Juna Akhara and other related institutions. Sannysins teaching at these schools act as talent scouts. The goal is not to create traditional pundits, but rather a new generation of professionals who can interact with other professionals and pollinate society with traditional Hindu values. They may become engineers, doctors or scientists or specialize in skills they learn at Bhopal, but they will be expected to always make a difference.

Shiv Ganga Abhiyan

Shiv Ganga Abhiyan is a joint activity of Prabhu Premi Sangh and Samagra Gram Vikas Parishad, for the development of the rural Vanvasi areas of Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh. This project distinguishes itself from other similar projects by its commitment to preserving the locals' customs and self respect. It stands out for the efficiency of its methods, and has brought extensive positive exposure in the Indian media.

Swami Naisargika Giriji, president of the Sadhvi Shakti Parishad and disciple of Swami Avdheshanand Giri, says, "Swamiji has brought a revolution there. This was an area where people had not seen automobiles. Today they are productive farmers, and there is enough water available for their sustenance. Some are moving out to get education in the cities. For centuries, their goal was to feed themselves, but now Swamiji has connected them to God by establishing Shivlinga shrines in their villages, which gives a higher purpose to their lives. "

This project is well organized and well orchestrated. Work begins by gathering young men who have completed a brief formal education and will live in the village for rest of their lives. Training happens during three- to twenty-day intensive camps. The first step is to train them in team skills and group cooperation. Because the young men are seen as the heart of the village’s transformation, they are taught to lead and make informed decisions. In the middle of a remote, quasi-desert area, they have classes on group interaction, public speaking, time management, event management, evaluation methodology, and how to pass on what they are absorbing. And perhaps for the first time, they see others believing in their potential.

The Shivganga camp training moves from theory to action quickly. A typical program includes:

  1. How to organize the village
  2. Identifying village problems and their root causes
  3. Finding solutions
  4. Establishing a center for bhajans and worship

The initial projects spearheaded by the group are designed to engage the participants and build confidence among them. First, they orchestrate a festival each for Lord Ganesha and Lord Rama, and then hold a community event. Later, the budding entrepreneurs work on establishing a permanent water supply and building a permanent shrine or temple.

Cumulatively, they have constructed 350 to 400 dams, and installed 1300 Shivlingas, one in each village. They have worked on building these dams while simultaneously developing their faith in God. The list of projects in each village continues to grow with the immediate focus on improving education and providing basic medical help.

The result is that the confidence of participating villages has increased, they have developed their faith in God, and large scale conversion has stopped altogether. Where there were no religious events, now, there are priests officiating at festivals with the villagers joining in whole heartedly.

Awards & Honors

  • Shri Shimon Peres, President of Israel, personally invited Swamiji as a representative of the Hindu community in May 2008 along with the former President of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and Shri Ratan Tata to participate in the International Presidential Conference on the subject “Facing Tomorrow”. The conference was focused on the exploration of prominent world leaders, thinkers, artists and scientists including young men and women of exceptional promise and originality. It was attended by 18 heads of state, including George W. Bush, President of the USA, M. Gorbachev from Russia, Tony Blair of the UK and many state representatives
  • Vikram University, Ujjain, conferred on him the honorary degree of D. Litt. for his extraordinary work in Hindi literature
  • Swamiji has been nominated as a member of the World Council of Religious Leaders
  • Hindu of the Year award by Hinduism Today in 2008

Books Published

Gharisth Gita
Journey To Self
  • Sagar Ke Moti
  • Atmanusandhan
  • Atam Avbodh
  • Satyam Shivam Sundram
  • Muktipath
  • Sawaren Apna Jeevan
  • Jeevan Darshan
  • Sadhna Mantra
  • Prerna Ke Pushp
  • Swarnim Suktiya
  • Amrit Ganga
  • Kalapvriksh Ki Chhav
  • Gyan Sutra
  • Journey To Self
  • Atam Anubhav
  • Purnata Ki Aur
  • Adhyatamik Kathayain
  • Sadhna Path
  • Amrit Prabachan
  • Bramh Hi Satya Hai
  • Samhuik Sapthik Satsang
  • Dristhaant Mahasagar
  • Atam Alok
  • Gharisth Gita

Online Media

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Swami Avdheshanand Giri Maharaj's Devi Bhagwat, Part 1

Swamiji is technology savvy and uses it to reach out to his audience. His pravachans are regularly shown on TV on the Aastha, Sanskar, Shradha channels. They are also available online in several places

  • The Prabhu Premi Sangh website has a good collection of introductory videos
  • You Tube contains several video clips of Swamiji making comments, performing Aarti
  • Google Video contains several video clips of Swamiji as well as his rendering of Devi Bhagwat in its entirety.
  • Other websites have started streaming his pravachans as well.

He also makes himself available via both cell phone and email to his disciples and devotees.

Notes

  1. The Juna Akhara is the largest of the thirteen akharas consisting of over 500,000 sadhus and five million sanyassis
  2. The Katha Vaachak is the master of Ram Katha, employing stories, drama, music and debate to elucidate religious concepts. He must be able to speak for hours, keeping the audience immersed in the performance, entranced and spiritually uplifted.

References

  • Swami Avdheshanand Giri Maharaj, in response to a question about his early childhood posed by devotees during satsang
  • Malik, Rajiv, "Swami Avdheshananda Giri, Hindu of the Year", Hinduism Today, Jan/Feb/March 2009
  • Kesari, Somnath, "Shri Juna Akhada - Physical strength, spiritual power," Organiser, August 17, 2008