International Yoga Day: The master who started it all

In the year 2015, United Nations unanimously passed the proposal of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to observe June 21st of every year as International Yoga day. Even in these times when the interests and beliefs of every nation differ greatly with each other, the proposal of International yoga day faced little to no opposition in the UN. Close to 130 countries co-sponsored the proposal to celebrate international Yoga day on 21st June, making it one of the most supported resolutions in the history of the 193 member body.

But how did this miracle happen? What made yoga which is essentially a religious idea of Hindus, acceptable to so many countries having diverse faiths, languages, ethnicities and races? Who made yoga so popular across the world? How did something that was practiced only by well trained Hindu monks on the Himalayan hills and banks of Ganges became a global phenomenon? Today when almost the entire planet is observing the 4th International yoga day, we’ll look back and honor the ‘Master’ who started it all.

On the year 1920, a young Hindu monk from India landed on the shores of America with a dream in eyes and a mission in mind. The dream and mission of spreading Yoga’s message across the Western hemisphere.

Born as Mukund Lal Ghosh, Yogananda was inclined towards spirituality from a very young age. Many believe legendary Yogi Mahavatar Babaji who is same as Lord Shiva had personally chose Yogananda even before his birth to spread Yoga. There is a scene in the film AWAKE: The Life of Yogananda where Yogananda as a baby is being blessed by his guru’s guru, Lahiri Mahasaya. Lahiri says, “the message of yoga will encircle the globe and aid in assisting in the brotherhood of man.”

Just after landing at US, he represented India at International Congress of Religious Liberals . After that he ventured out for his mission of spreading yoga by founding Self-Realization Fellowship. Along with other methods Swami Yogananda also taught Kriya yoga to the masses, which prior to him was exclusive to the tradition of his Gurus. The Kriya yoga method was transmitted by none other than Mahavatar Babaji (lord Shiva) to Lahiri Mahasaya, who was Guru of Yogananda’s Guru Yukreshwar giri.

However between 1935-36, He had to return back to India to meet his Guru Yukreshwar Giri, with whom his first meeting was at the age of 17. “We entered a oneness of silence; words seemed the rankest superfluities. Eloquence flowed in soundless chant from heart of master to disciple. With an antenna of irrefragable insight I sensed that my guru knew God, and would lead me to Him. The obscuration of this life disappeared in a fragile dawn of prenatal memories. Dramatic time! Past, present, and future are its cycling scenes. This was not the first sun to find me at these holy feet,” so described Swami Yogananda about his first meeting with his Guru in 1910.

Albeit this meeting in 1935 had an entirely different purpose. In India Swami Yogananda founded Yogoda Satsanga. Mahatma Gandhi met with Swami Yogananda during his visit to India. It was also during this visit, Yukteshwar Giri realized that his dear disciple has transformed from being a spiritual seeker to a yogic master and conferred upon him the title of ‘Paramhamsa’ (Supreme swan).

Some days later, Yukteshwar Giri attained mahasamadhi (liberation) and Swami Yogananda once again turned his head towards the West. He arrived once again at America to continue his mission in 1936. During these years he initiated many disciples into his monastic order, most of whom were foreigners. These disciples later spread the message of yoga to each nook and corner of the Western world.

His last days were spent with some of his inner circle disciples at his ashram at Twentynine Palms, California. On March 7th 1957, Swami Yogananda was attending a dinner program for visiting Indian Ambassador to the US, Binay Ranjan Sen, and his wife at the Biltmore Hotelin Los Angeles. At the end of the dinner he recited some lines from his poem ‘My India’, “Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves, and men dream God—I am hallowed; my body touched that sod.” As he uttered these words, he lifted his eyes to the Kutastha center (the AjnaChakra), and his body slumped to the floor. Followers say that he entered mahasamadhi. The official cause of death was heart failure.

Narendra Modi would not have received such support for International Yoga day if there had not been a Paramhamsa Yogananda. Three Indian monks have introduced the West with three aspects of Hinduism. Swami Vivekananda introduced Vedanta, Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada introduced bhakti and Swami Yogananda introduced Yoga.