Swami Sivananda was christened as Kuppuswamy after his birth in 1887 in the village of Pattamadai on the bank of the river Tamraparani in South India. His father was Vengu Iyer, a great Siva Bhakta, and mother Parvati Ammal, an equally great god-fearing lady.
As a boy Kuppuswamy showed pity to the poor, fed the hungry at the door, and made his father throw a pie into the hands of paupers passing by. He often got cakes and sweetmeats from his mother and distributed them liberally to his younger companions, dogs, cats, crows, and sparrows, himself not eating a bit.
He was a topper in his school. In the college he used to take part in debates and dramas. He then went to the Medical School in Tanjore to study medicine. In 1913 he left India as a doctor and reached Malaya where he worked very hard. Hopeless cases came to him and he cured them. People declared that he had a special gift from God for the miraculous cures effected. To poor patients he gave them money for special diet or to cover their expenses after discharge from hospital. He gave money away liberally as one would give water.
Once a poor man came to him at dead of night in pouring rain. His wife was in birth pangs. The doctor rushed to help her and then stayed outside the hut in spite of the heavy incessant rain. Only after the safe delivery did the doctor return home the next morning !
In spite of his busy life, he served Sadhus, Sannyasins, and beggars. Once a Sadhu gave him a book “Jiva Brahma Aikyam” by Sri Swami Satchidananda. It ignited the dormant spirituality in him. He began to study the books of Swami Rama Tirtha, Swami Vivekananda, Sankara, Imitation of Christ, the Bible, and literature of the Theosophical Society.
He was very regular in his daily worship, prayer and Yoga Asanas. Study of sacred scriptures like the Gita, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata, and the Ramayana was done with great devotion. Sometimes he conducted Nandanar (the scheduled caste devotee who was not allowed inside the Shiva temple and he cries to lord Shiva and says the bull (statue) is obstructing his darshan as he stands outside the temple. The bull moves to the side and Nandanar has darshan) Charitam (saga) and sang Bhajans and Kirtans. He practiced Anahat Laya Yoga and Swara Sadhana.
As days passed, he reflected more and more and wanted to renounce the world despite his wealth having accrued without his asking for it and an enjoyable life easily awaited in future. But he renounced the world like Prince Siddartha, in 1923 leaving for India quitting Malaya for good.
Landing at Madras he began his pilgrimage. At Benares, he had the Darshan of Lord Visvanath. At Dhalaj, a village on the bank of the Chandrabaga river, he met a postmaster and lived with him. He acted as the postmaster’s cook. It was the postmaster who suggested Rishikesh when he wanted a place for solitary meditation.
He reached Rishikesh in May of 1924. The next month came Swami Visvananda Saraswati. The doctor saw a Guru in the monk and the monk saw a disciple in the doctor. Dr Kuppuswamy was initiated into the Sanyas order and Swami Vishnudevanandaji Maharaj, the Mahant of Sri Kailas Ashram, performed the Viraja Homa ceremonies. The Guru named the doctor as Swami Sivananda Saraswati.
Staying in a small dilapidated hut Swami Sivananda did intense tapas. Often he he would stand up to the hips in the ice-cold Ganges in winter mornings and commence his Japa, coming out only when the sun appeared. He practised silence. He would spend more than twelve hours in daily meditation. With all his intense tapas, Swamiji did not neglect the sick.
He visited the huts of the Sadhus with medicines, served them, and massaged their legs. He begged food on their behalf and fed them with his own hands when they fell sick. He brought water from the Ganges and washed their kutirs. He attended upon cholera and small-pox cases. He carried sick persons on his back to the hospital. With some money from his insurance policy that had matured, Swamiji started a charitable dispensary at Lakshmanjula in 1927. He really saw Lord Narayana in all of them.
Swamiji practiced Yoga and studied the scriptures. He traveled length and breadth of India, conducted sankirtan and delivered lectures. He visited Aurobindo Ashram and met Maharishi Suddhananda Bharati. At Ramana Ashram, he had Darshan of Ramana Maharishi on the Maharishi’s birthday. He also went on a trip to Kailas-Manasarovar and Badri.
He then returned to Rishikesh in 1936 and formed The Divine Life Society on the bank of Ganga. The Society grew and is now the headquarters of a world-wide organization having a large number of branches both within and outside the country.
His book on Yoga is to be seen to be believed as it simple and easy to understand. He also started Sivananda Ayurvedic Pharmacy in 1945 and Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy to impart systematic spiritual training to resident sadhaks, and also to spirituality seekers visiting his ashram. He also convened the World Parliament of Religions in 1953, at the Sivanandashram. Sivananda Eye Hospital was formally opened in December of 1957.
On 14th of July 1963, this earthly child-like saint entered Mahasamadhi leaving behind an everlasting memory.