Time has come for the Hindu World to officially accord the status of a Hindu Shankaracharya to Gurudeva!
Government of India must confer highest civilian award of Bharat Ratna or an equivalent on Gurudeva posthumously for his contribution towards promotion of the essence of Indian heritage, culture and values worldwide through his monastery!
Hindus all over the world, more so in India, the land of Lord Siva and Sanatan Dharma, are amazed to know that a mammoth Siva Temple is being built in Hawaii, so far away from India, in a dedicated and painstaking manner for the past several decades. The temple is known as Iraivan Temple. Iraivan is an ancient Tamil word for God, meaning “ He who is worshipped.” Even more surprising is the fact that Iraivan Temple is being built to fulfill the grand vision of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami [1927-2001], lovingly called as Gurudeva by his thousands disciples, followers and admirers who are spread all over the world. In the line of successorship, he was the 162nd Jagadacharya of the Nandinatha Sampradaya’s Kailasa Parampara and the founding Guru Mahasannidhanam of Kauai Aadheenam, also known as Kauai’s Hindu Monastery. Gurudeva’s mission, received from his satguru Siva Yogaswami of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, was to protect, preserve and promote the Saivite Hindu religion as expressed through its three pillars: temples, satgurus and scripture. This temple was inspired by a series of mystical visions of Siva that came to Gurudeva early in the morning of February 15, 1975, in which he saw Lord Siva seated on a large boulder that was later discovered on the then overgrown property. It is these visions that inspired Gurudeva to begin this exquisite temple, unlike anywhere in the world.
Story of Kauai’s Hindu Monastery is completely woven around the story of its founder beloved Gurudeva who touched the hearts of thousands of people he met all over the world, open heartedly and lovingly. Gurudeva was a shining example of awakening and wisdom, recognised worldwide as one of Hinduism’s foremost masters. Born in California, orphaned at age 11, Gurudeva was raised by a family friend influenced by the spirituality of India, who brought him into the culture and beliefs of Hinduism.
Trained in classical Eastern and Western dance and in the disciplines of yoga, Gurudeva became the premier danseur of the San Francisco Ballet at the age of 19. However at the height of his career he renounced the world and in 1947 he sailed to India in quest of a spiritual master. In a remote Sri Lankan Cave, he fasted and meditated until he burst into enlightenment. Soon after, he met Siva Yogaswami, who gave him the name Subramuniya and initiated him into Hindu monasticism. From there on, the great truths flooded through him like a torrent. What philosophers struggle to explain in complex theories, he articulated in simple language from his own experience. Ultimately, the cream of his inspired talks became the 3000 page trilogy of Dancing, Living and Merging with Siva, the first cogent, comprehensive expression of monistic Saiva Siddhanta in the English language.
Gurudeva’s biggest gift to the Hindu World is the world class magazine Hinduism Today. After being associated with it for over two decades and having represented it in many parts of the world I can say that there is no other magazine in the Hindu world that matches its stature and popularity. Imagine India the motherland of Sanatan Dharma does not publish something even close to the kind of content that is offered by Hinduism Today. Gurudeva ordained that the public service focus of his Saiva Siddhanta Yoga Order would be to support and encourage all traditional Hindu lineages through Hinduism Today- seldom telling their own story but rather fostering Hindu solidarity by focusing on the people, events, philosophy, culture and traditions of the broader Hindu world. Now this was in contrast with the various publications that are published by many of the leading Hindu ashrams and organisations all over the world which only promote their own gurus, traditions and lineages.
Gurudeva widely traveled to uplift Hindu communities on every continent, represented his religion at global conferences and helped establish 37 temples worldwide. An extraordinary mystic, that he was, Gurudeva had many visions of the Hindu deities. He read clairvoyantly from inner plane scriptures and created his own language, Shum, to map for others the profound states he encountered in meditation.
After the mahasamadhi of Gurudeva, Kauai’s Hindu Monastery is headed by his successor Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, who is also called the Guru Mahasannidhanam. When not travelling, Satguru trains the monks, leads the pre dawn meditation, presides at the weekly fire ritual, gives initiation to monks and members, give a weekly inspired talk in the Kadavul Temple and receives visitors. Hindu families come from all over the world for his darshan. During our visit to the monastery, we too were blessed by his darshan and participated in the talks he delivered and satsangs he held for all those attending the annual Gurudeva’s mahasamadhi event which was taking place during the time we were visiting the monastery. Each one of the devotees of Gurudeva I have met whether during my visit to Kauai Monastery or during my different trips to many countries on Hinduism Today assignments, I found them highly devoted to their guru and lineage. They follow the commandments of their guru religiously and are extremely powerful soldiers when it comes to fulfilling the vision of building of a magnificent Siva Temple in Kauai. It is such army of temple builders which has kept the Iravian Temple project alive despite the many ups and downs the world economy has seen in the past many decades. These temple builders have ensured that a minimum amount of money keeps coming as donation so that the project keeps progressing. I must mention that during our visit to Kauai a very loving couple Ishani and her (late) husband Durvasa, dedicated disciples of Gurudeva, offered us accommodation and food at their own home and took care of us so well making our stay in Kauai extremely memorable and comfortable.
I met most beloved and highly charismatic Gurudeva for the first time sometime in 1990’s at Delhi’s Chelmsford Club where he was the chief guest at a gathering organised by the prestigious DAV group which runs thousands of educational institutions all over India. At that time I was a trainee journalist working under the mentorship of my journalistic guru Shri BM Sinha, who was the chief correspondent of Hinduism Today in India. As was perhaps destined, Sinha ji left for his heavenly abode in the hands of Paramacharya Sadasivanatha ji, the second most senior disciple of Gurudeva, during their trip to Bengaluru and this sad development eventually led me to take over the role of India correspondent of Hinduism Today.
During my very first darshan of Gurudeva, I was completely mesmerised by his persona and was immensely fortunate to have been chosen by him to work for and represent his magazine Hinduism Today, for which he assigned me not just with the coverage of all the four Purna Kumbha Melas held in India but also the state of Hindus and Hinduism in over half a dozen countries of South Asia! As India & South Asia, chief correspondent of Hinduism Today I had the honor of interviewing and interacting with the top notch Hindu saints of India not only during the coverage of Kumbh Melas but also when I was assigned to cover their ashrams & highlight their contributions to the Hindu world and Hinduism. What gave me the biggest honor during my over two decades of association with Hinduism Today and Kauai’s Hindu Monastery was when I was assigned to present the prestigious Hindu of the Year Award to some of the great Hindu saints of India. Besides this some of the top saints whom I profiled and interviewed for Hinduism Today were later on conferred with this prestigious award.
To me like many others who met Gurudeva, the world over, the graceful, six foot two, white haired guru was the embodiment of Lord Siva Himself. Even today from the inner world, Gurudeva continues to guide, in magical ways, all who embrace his teachings and his team of over two dozen monks that carries forward his legacy through Kauai’s Hindu Monastery. His light lives on in their spirit and their striving for truth.
After my over two decades of close association with Gurudeva and his team and having personally seen how collectively, along with their dedicated team of disciples, they have promoted and are still promoting the values of Sanatan Dhrama all over the world, I would like to say that Gurudeva, informally, always enjoyed the status of a Shankaracharya of Hinduism. In fact in view of his contribution to the propagation and promotion of Sanatan Dharma all over the world, he deserves to be honored by the Hindu world by being officially ordained as fifth Shankaracharya heading the Kailasa Mutt that today exists as Kauai’s Hindu Monastery in Hawaii. In fact the time to do this has already come. Kailasa Mutt to me will be most appropriate name given to Gurudeva’s Mutt as his guru Yogaswami was an enlightened sage and preceptor of the line of masters known as the Kailasa Parampara which extends back over 2,200 years to Maharishi Nandinatha and his eight famous disciples. The name of the Mutt could also be Nandi Mutt or Nandinatha Mutt in consultation with the present head of the monastery. Not just this, I am sure the time has also come when Gurudeva should be considered by the Hindu World and Government of India for the highest civilian award of Bharat Ratna or an equivalent to be conferred on him posthumously for his contribution towards promotion of the essence of Indian heritage, culture and values worldwide through his monastery with the help of his dedicated team of monks.
Kauai Hindu Monastery, with which i was associated with for over two decades and observed them from very close quarters, i never saw them hobnobbing with politicians of any country or those in power seeking any favors. Their total focus is on promotion & propagation of sanatan dharma, all over the world. Such high level of purity is very rare in today’s times. However the monastery has been maintaining good relationship with the top notch Hindu saints and Hindu organisations, here too the intention is to help them, promote them and their activities through their magazine Hinduism Today and not to seek any personal favors from them. Besides many deserving hindu organisations & leaders were offered financial grants through the monastery’s Hindu Heritage Endowment. Following this laid down policy of keeping away from politics and politicians, me too always kept a guarded distance with the political personalities and focused on building a close working relationship with hindu saints, leaders and organisations all over the world and in India. I must share here that the top most hindu saints of India have very high regard & respect for Hinduism Today and the editorial team of monks managing it. No wonder I always got audience and appointments on a priority basis from some of the extremely busy top hindu saints when I was assigned the job of coverage of all the four kumbh melas and many ardh kumbh melas.
The level of stature and credibility of Gurudeva’s disciples is so high that Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, heading Kauai Aadheenam Hindu Monastery is invited for rendering the opening prayer for the session of the US House of Representatives. The monks help the Hindu Americans in dealing with the issue of California textbooks where in the school textbooks the Hindus were shown in poor light. So much so that when America was confronted with the issues relating to cloning of sheep and the in that context cloning of human beings was also being discussed, the then president of America, Bill Clinton had requested Kauai Hindu Monastery to provide them viewpoint on cloning based on the material available on this subject in the Hindu scriptures. I remember interviewing many top Hindu saints on this subject when me too was assigned to ascertain the Hindu or Hinduism point of view on this highly sensitive and controversial matter. Another great example of the high credentials & credibility of Gurudeva’s team was when Mcdonald’s supersized Hindu Heritage Endowment by mailing them a cheque for $ 2,55,000 for Hinduism Today. It so happened that Mcdonalds deceived the public about beef flavorings in their “vegetarian fries”. They got caught. They were sued. They settled in the court. Hinduism Today’s endowment fund was considered as one of the handful of elite vegetarian friendly institutions in America and therefore chosen as part of the court ordered $ 10 million settlement. The supersized endowment used the fund to educate Americans, especially youth, about the merits of a veggie lifestyle, which has been a Hindu ideal for 6000 years or more. The monastery were humbled to be counted among some of America’s most respected educational institutions.
My personal association with Gurudeva was something I will always cherish not just in this life time but all my future births or even if I am granted shelter in the holy feet of Lord Siva Himself. Gurudeva’s love for Hinduism and Hindu cultural heritage was so deep that he always directed his disciples to wear traditional Hindu dresses. I will always fondly remember my one to one chat with him when I was a part of his entourage to Parmarth Niketan at Rishikesh and he took a few of us out for a cup of tea at the famous Chotiwala Restaurant there. It is this meeting with Gurudeva that inspired me to adorn the Hindu traditional dress of kurta payjama for all the twenty five years that I represented him and his mission all over the world.
I am also tempted to share another very personal incident related to Gurudeva. One night, would be early morning in USA, as a pleasant surprise, I received a call from Hawaii and was connected directly to Gurudeva as he wished to speak to me. He just wanted to check my welfare and convey his blessings for my family. My little four year daughter Palak, who is around 30 years and a journalist now, has written articles for Hinduism Today, that night jumped with joy and said – “Papa God himself spoke to you on phone today.” She said this because we had taught her that Guru in our tradition is to be treated like God himself. That was the only time I had a telephonic conversation with Gurudeva. My only regret in life is that despite being invited I could not visit Kauai during Gurudeva’s life time. However my life long dream of visiting Kauai was fulfilled when wife Renu and myself were invited to Kauai to attend the mahasamadhi of beloved Gurudeva in the year 2017.
Unfoldment of the curtain of a very big glass window at the media studio of Kauai Hindu Monastery by most revered Paramacharya Sadasivanatha Palaniswami, the second senior most disciple of beloved Gurudeva and editor in chief of prestigious world class publication, Hinduism Today resulted in fulfillment of my life long desire and dream of viewing the gold leafed domes of Indian design shimmering in the sunlight, with majestic Mount Waialeale in the background. In sheer ecstasy and wonderment in a split second I was beholding the towers of Iraivan Temple, a pure and powerful white granite wonderment carved in Bengaluru in South India by hand and erected ten thousand miles away on this Garden Island by India’s master stonemasons. During my visits to Bengaluru I had the privilege to visit the site where for many decades now the shilpis have been working almost round the clock in connection with the building of Iraivan Temple.
This spectacular view of Iraivan Temple was savored innumerable times by wife Renu and myself during our five day sojourn in Kauai island. Before visiting Kauai and many other parts of USA during our trip on the invitation of monastery and Hinduism Today team, we were honored for our long association with the monastery and Hinduism Today at a glittering function held in the campus of Victoria University in Victoria, Canada where a few chosen ones including myself were conferred with life time achievement awards owing to our contribution to taking further the mission of beloved Gurudeva of serving Sanatan Dharma in different ways under the direction of the top monks at the helm of affairs of the Kauai Hindu Monastery. Renu and myself are immensely grateful to Victoria, Canada based disciples of Gurudeva, Shamini and Rajan Ramanujan for inviting us to Victoria for the grand function held at Victoria University and taking care of us so well during our stay in Victoria.
Most of us including myself had the honor to be chosen by beloved Gurudeva himself to carry forward his mission as soldiers of Sanatan Dharma. It was a very special day for my wife Renu as well because her contribution for allowing me to use our bedroom in New Delhi’s modest apartment as the office of Hinduism Today from where I was almost working round the clock as a full time reporter, was also so graciously recognised by the Hinduism Today team. I must share that it was quite a challenge for me all through my association with Hinduism Today to keep pace with the speed of my boss, managing editor, Hinduism Today, Acharya Arumuganathaswami who was master in the art of getting his deadlines met by me for each and every feature and cover story assigned to me. At the same time I will always be indebted to him for extending his total and unflinching support and guidance to me for dozens of feature & cover stories assigned to me for which i traveled extensively within India and half a dozen countries of south east asia.
As I walked on the sacred grounds of the South Indian Monastery in Kauai, which is spread out over around 382 acres of gardens, groves, paths, ponds, waterways and forests, I felt as if I had visited it many times before in the past few decades, though it was my very first visit to it. The reason was that I had been in touch with the monks here almost everyday for over twenty years. As Renu and myself walked the grounds accompanied by Acharya Arumuganathaswami, I could feel the rarefied spiritual vibration created by the presence of beloved Gurudeva, who lived here for 31 years, and by his monks’ decades of meditation, worship, single minded harmony and mystic experiences. During our stay for multiple times, we visited the two Saivite Hindu temples, that is Kadavul Temple and the San Marg Iraivan Temple, a rare, all granite Chola style temple currently being carved in Bengaluru, India and assembled on Kauai at the property of Kauai Monastery. Besides that we were taken on a guided tour of the lush temple grounds that are home to granite murtis of Dakshinamurti, Hanuman, Shanmugam, Narmada Lingam, Murugan’s Shakti Vel, Ganesha, Nandi, the Guru Parampara and more.
A typical monks’ day beings with a 5.30 am worship service in Kadavul Temple, followed by a one hour yogic meditation guided by Satguru. Anchored by his contemplative discipline, they turn to their assigned duties: running two temples, caring for the property, publishing, construction, growing food, hosting pilgrims and guiding seekers around the world. Acharya Arumuganathaswami in addition to all this had a special duty of taking care of a hi tech plant where noni juice was being produced. We were presented a bottle of noni juice in our first meeting with him after landing in the monastery, which we consumed throughout our stay in Kauai. It boosted our immunity levels and kept us refreshed and full of unending energy. Paramacharya Sadasivanathaswami has special interest in taking care of the sacred temple gardens which has many sacred and ayurvedic plants from India and Srilanka. Many patches of the garden are so beautifully and imaginatively landscaped. Tropical flowers here include 300 varieties of heliconia and ginger, 250 kinds of ti plants, hundreds of exotic palms, a copious collection of aroids and bromeliads- and even, not far from the wettest spot on earth, an arid garden with cacti, agaves and desert succulents. The garden is one of the biggest attraction for the devotees and tourists visiting the monastery.
We found the monastery also the site of intense activity and global religious outreach, where the resident monks wield the latest high tech computing power to produce Hinduism Today Magazine, books, websites, videos, teaching programs and managing Hindu Heritage Endowment. The monastery also organises Innersearch Travel Study programs where the direct guidance and blessings of Satguru, a highly realised master are available to all those who join this program. Hinduism Today’s article are allowed to be freely published by any publication that helps propagate and promote Sanatan Dharma. Hindorama Magazine, for which I write this article is one such magazine being published from The Netherlands. Now it is in a digital avatar but earlier when it was published as a printed magazine it used to freely reproduce articles of Hinduism Today which fortunately included many of my articles as well.
It is indeed amazing to see how nestled within the monastery’s luxuriant greenery is another world, a high tech media workshop where dedicated celibate monks in hand spun cotton robes, spend their nights, sleeping on the floors, in small concrete structures very much like the caves of ancient times, in the forest area of the monastery, where even electricity is not available. However during the day time they work using their latest model Macintosh with widescreen display – writing, editing, designing and directing by email a skilled international cadre of journalists, artists and photographers, who help create the quarterly journal Hinduism Today. It is distributed to 62 nations and treasured by 1,00,000 readers around the globe. To supplement the in-depth magazine articles, the monks broadcast a daily news feed called Hindu Press International, summarizing a constant stream of short news stories about Hinduism from the world press.
The life of the monks’ revolves around Kadavul Temple, where they perform morning disciplines and hold rotating three hour vigils, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The monks grow much of their own food and keep a small herd of cows for milk, butter, ghee, yogurt and cheese. The wood creations are made from island trees.
During our visits to the monastery, we too like other pilgrims and devotees of Gurudeva performed many sadhanas including meditating on the banks of the Wailua River, walking the Straight Path to God, attending the morning puja at the Swayambhu Lingam, performing abhishekam to the Narmada Lingam on the Path of the Saiva Satgurus, meditating atop Muruga Hill, wandering through the sanctuary and attending pujas at Kadavul Temple.
On the issue of dress code we found that here in Kauai Monastery they were extremely strict, even ahead of many temples in India who are quite liberal in comparison. Guests are encouraged to dress in traditional Hindu clothing when visiting. Alternatively only modest clothing is permitted. No shorts, short dresses, tight fitting yoga pants, t-shirts or tank tops. However polo shirts and long shorts that cover the knees are okay.
Acharya Arumuganathaswami accompanied us to America’s only rudraksha forest located in the monastery where in 1984 Gurudeva planted 108 trees with his own hands. Today the trees are fifty feet tall and produce hundreds of thousands of fruits each year. In Ayurveda, Rudraksha seeds, ground with healing herbs, are given to patients of heart disease to strengthen the cardiac muscle. Here in rudraksha garden, I fulfilled my life time dream of hugging a rudraksha tree and felt spiritually uplifted. I am fortunate that immediately after my association with Hinduism Today, I was gifted malas made out of rudraksha beads of this very rudraksha forest which had the blessings of Gurudeva himself. I have been wearing these malas for the past many decades now!
Devotees and visitors visiting Kauai Hindu Monastery would not like to miss the Mini Mela Gift Shop which displays Gurudeva’s and Satguru’s books, scriptural works of Nandinatha tradition and other carefully selected books, including vegetarian cookbooks, Vedic astrology, health and children’s books. I was surprised to see the mind boggling range of hindu deity murtis of various sizes in granite, semiprecious stone and brass, all imported from India. What I really loved and Renu and myself bought many items that were made using the rudraksha beads grown at the monastery and prepared by temple devotees to support Iraivan Temple. Mini Mela Shop matched the best of variety that is offered in some of the most prestigious Indian emporiums that I have visited and covered for Hinduism Today. Mini Mela also offers altar supplies, crystals, greeting cards, quality incense, posters, jewelry, music CDs, DVDs and a variety of gift items.
Regarding weddings, the policy is that it being a cloistered monastery for monastics, they do not participate in or have weddings on the property. However many couples do come here for blessings in Kadavul Hindu Temple after they are married elsewhere. I would like to mention here that with the blessings of Gurudeva many of his disciples belonging to different nationalities, went for both arranged and assisted marriages of their children among the disciples themselves following the hindu rituals. I found Gurudeva’s book How to Become A Hindu, quite revolutionary as it not only clearly laid down the path to how anyone could become a Hindu, Gurudeva and his team practically converted a large number of seekers and aspirants who wanted to become Hindus by offering them absolutely clear guidelines on this subject on which sometimes there is so much lack of clarity and confusion. I must point out here that many of the monks of the monastery too come from different nations.
Finally the whole world is now keenly awaiting the completion of Gurudeva’s dream project Iraivan Temple. Just before his mahasamadhi Gurudeva had said, “ When you begin the pilgrimage to Iraivan Temple, you drop off and dissolve the karmas of the past. Then because of the direction the temple is facing, the temple gives a new start, a new impetus for a wonderful future. It is a boon giving temple, a life giving temple, a wish fulfilling temple.”
Located in the heart of a traditional Hindu monastery complex reminiscent of ancient mathas and aadheenams of India, Iraivan is more than a temple; it is a pilgrimage destination, a place of sadhana and spiritual rejuvenation. Iraivan Temple is a living edifice that brings ancient tradition into the 21st century, a stable anchor sustaining and strengthening Hindu dharma for our children, their children and generations to come. It is indeed a place where heaven meets earth and Hinduism meets its future!
Photos: courtesy Rajiv Malik and Kauai Hindu Monastery
Kauai, July 2000 – Some photos of the visit of Radjin Thakoerdin (publisher), Kanta Adhin (editor in chief) and son Akash on the occasion of the signing of a cooperation agreement between Hinduism Today and Hindorama magazine of The Netherlands. Hindorama is now an online magazine, please visit this informative and inspiring website www.hindorama.com.