- Lahiri Mahasaya
- (1828–1895)kriya yoga teacherSri Lahiri Baba, also called Yogiraj, was a mod-est but intensely pious and learned man. He was a disciple of the legendary BABAJI, an honored teacher of KRIYA YOGA, and a pioneer in women’s education in India.Born as Shyamacharan Lahiri to Gourmohan and Muktakeshi Lahiri on September 30, 1828, in the village of Ghurani in the Punjab, Lahiri Mahasaya was raised in a pious family of devout followers of Lord SHIVA. Gourmohan Lahiri was a recognized pundit and scholar of King Krishnana-gar’s court. In early childhood, Shyamacharan’s mother would find him smeared in ashes and sit-ting in MEDITATION with his eyes closed. The most significant of these events took place when both mother and son were completely absorbed in the worship of Lord Shiva in the temple. Muktakeshi opened her eyes upon hearing “mother” from an unknown voice. Standing before her was a monk draped in a saffron cloth with locked and matted hair. The monk was the immortal yogi, Babaji. He told her that he had initiated her son for the pur-pose of liberating both saints and householders from worldly suffering using simple techniques of SELF-REALIZATION. He assured her that her son would remain in the world and would be a highly respected being committed to the God-realization of others.In 1832, a flood destroyed the family home and killed his mother. Shyamacharan moved with his father and sister first to Calcutta and then to BENARES (Varanasi), a city holy to Lord Shiva. As a boy, he was humble, quiet, calm, and detached. He attended an English school and studied SAN-SKRIT, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, and English. At age 12 he entered Sanskrit University in Benares. In 1848 he completed a degree in English, with significant study of Indian philosophy and literature, as well as Western philosophy. He studied the VEDAS with the noted Maharashtrian Sanskrit scholar Pundit Nagabhatta. He later continued Sanskrit study under the tutelege of Pundit Devanarayan Gho-sal Vidya Vachaspathi from Bengal. Gourmohan was proud of his son’s achievement, but was also concerned that his quiet nature would lead him to asceticism, so he arranged for a marriage. The wedding took place in 1846; Shyamacharan was 18, and Kashimoni was 10, as was common prac-tice of that time. During their 47-year marriage, she remained completely loyal and supportive of her husband’s goal of self-realization. They lived a simple, impoverished life in the early years of their marriage. As Kashimoni grew older, she became an advocate of the education of women at a time when it was unpopular. Her husband taught her to read.One day, Kashimoni had a profound vision and saw her husband to be none other than an incarnation of Lord Shiva himself. From this point onward, her commitment to God was intensified and her support for her husband’s work increased. From 1851 to 1888, he worked as a clerk in public works and tutored children of kings and merchants. Some of these students would later take YOGA initiation from him. In 1888, he opened a Bengali school, of which he remained secretary throughout his life. He later established a school exclusively for women, an unprecedented action for the time.On November 27, 1861, BABAJI called on him. Leaving his wife in Kashi (or Benares) he set out on a journey to Ranikhet, not know-ing why. There he met Babaji, who claimed to have been waiting for him for quite some time. With just an extension of his hand onto Shyamacharan’s head, an electromagnetic force passed through his body, and slowly he started to remember his past life as an ascetic. He now fully recognized Babaji and the place where they were. With their reunion, Shyamacharan’s path was clearly defined, and thus began his life as Sri Lahiri Baba, also called Yogiraj. He went on to initiate many students, including his wife, in the lost practice of kriya yoga. This technique integrates the use of mantras and meditation to endow calmness and control on the body and mind. In his lifetime, Lahiri Baba did not author any books, but his teachings, when imparted, inspired many books by his disciples. He died on September 26, 1895.Further reading: Paramahansa Prajnanananda, Lahiri Mahasaya: Fountainhead of Kriya Yoga (Orissa: Graphic Art Offset Press, 1999); Paramahansa Yogananda, Auto-biography of a Yogi (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fel-lowship, 1969).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.