Agehananda Bharati, Swami

Agehananda Bharati, Swami
   Western Hindu monastic
   Swami Agehananda Bharati was an Austrian-born Hindu monk and an important scholar of Indian culture and languages.
   Leopold Fischer was born in Vienna, Austria, on April 20, 1923, to a retired cavalry captain, Hans Fischer, and his wife, Margarete. In a youth of considerable privilege, Leopold and his brother Hans were closer emotionally to their governess, Frau Blumel, than to their parents, who, according to Leopold, were not interested in understanding and communicating with their sons. At age 13 Leopold joined the Indian Club, as he was already keen on India and all things Indian, and began to study HINDI and classical SANSKRIT; the next year he decided to become a professional Indologist. On his 16th birthday, after Hitler took over Austria, Fischer took an oath to fight for India’s freedom and became a member of Hitler’s “Free India” Legion, an organization based on anti-British politics and Aryan racist thought. Also on his birthday, he took vows to become a Hindu by honoring the five things of the cow (milk, buttermilk, butter, urine, and dung) while renouncing the sixth thing of the cow, namely, its flesh. He was given the Hindu name Ramachandra by a traveling Hindu preacher, Bhai Sachidanand. During the war, he served with the Indian Legion of the Ger-man army in the European theater, expanding his language skills to include several contempo-rary Indian languages.
   In January 1949, Fischer landed in Bombay (Mumbai), having written to many Indian con-tacts he had made in Europe. He lived in RAMA-KRISHNA ashrams, first in Calcutta (Kolkata), then in Almora. After two years, he decided that the Ramakrishna Math was not his ordained path; nor was its founder, Swami VIVEKANANDA (1863–1902), his ordained teacher, and he became a novice in a Hindu monastery. He was initiated into the Dasanami SANNYASI order of Hinduism by Swami Vishvananda Bharati on the banks of the Ganges at BENARES (Varanasi), where he became Agehananda Bharati (bliss through homeless-ness). In this initiation into monasticism (DIKSHA), he became the first Westerner to embrace monas-tic Hinduism fully. He then began a 1,500-mile trek of India on foot as a mendicant monk with a begging bowl.
   Agehananda Bharati continued his scholarly activities in such diverse subjects as cultural anthropology, South Asian studies, linguistics, and comparative philosophy. He taught at Delhi University, Banaras Hindu University, and Nalanda Institute in India; at a Buddhist academy in Bang-kok, Thailand; and at the University of Tokyo.
   In 1956, Bharati immigrated to the United States as a research associate for Washington University. In 1957 he joined the anthropology faculty at Syracuse University and became the Ford-Maxwell Professor of South Asian studies. He became a U.S. citizen in 1968. His publica-tions include 500 articles, essays, and books that report on Hindu monasticism and worldview and have been widely read by scholars and general readers alike.
   His interpretation of Hinduism through anthro-pological and personal lenses have been influential among Western Hindus as well as scholars.
   Agehananda Bharati died of cancer at a friend’s house in Pittsford, New York, on May 14, 1991, at the age of 68.
   Further reading: Swami Agehananda Bharati, The Tan-tric Tradition (London: Rider, 1965); ———, The Light at the Center: Context and Pretext of Modern Mysticism (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Ross-Erikson, 1976); ———, The Ochre Robe: An Autobiography, 2d ed. (Santa Bar-bara, Calif.: Ross-Erikson, 1980).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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