Shyama Charan Lahiri was born on 30th September, 1828 in a village Ghurni to parents, Gour mohan and Muktakeshi Devi. Lahiri learnt English, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu besides Persian, sanskrit, Vedas and Upanishads. He married in the year 1846, at the age of eighteen. Until the age of thirty three, Lahiri lived an ordinary worldly life, as a house holder. Thereafter, he met his Gurudev Mahavatar Babaji on the Drongiri Mountains in Himalayas. By the grace of Babaji, he entered the domain of spirituality by which he easily ascended the gradual steps of Yogasadhana. Lahiri Mahasaya set an example for mankind that practice of sadhana with strong determination can result in spiritual attainment.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 30th, the year 1828, this divine child caused his descent at village Ghurni, his parents being Gour Mohan Lahiri and Muktakeshi Devi, second wife of Gour Mohan.
By his first wife, Gour Mohan had two sons, Chandrakanta and Sarada prasad and a daughter, Swarnomoyee. His first wife expired in the course of a pilgrimage. Then, Gour Mohan married for the second time.
Five years after the advent of Shyama Charan, Muktakeshi Devi gave birth to a daughter named Sulakshana. Thus, Gour Mohan had three sons and two daughters.
Gour Mohan was a virtuous, devout and religious person. He used to engage himself performing puja, reading the shastras and discussing religious facts. He was also an earnest devotee of yogasadhana. He had sincere regard for all Gods and Goddesses.
Muktakeshi Devi too used to daily worship the household deity, Shiva with sincere devotion. Muktakeshi Devi was extremely compassionate.
The dear child of Muktakeshi Devi grew up gradually. He was affectionately named Shyama Charan by everyone. In those days there was a general practice of naming children after Gods and Goddesses. It would serve the purpose of calling the children as well as remembering God.
Sometimes Muktakeshi Devi would lull the child to sleep or sometimes take him to the Shiva temple, place him beside her and worship Shiva with rapt attention. The child would also be keeping his eyes closed, be seated like Shiva.
Again, she would sometimes accomplish her tasks by making the child sit on sandy banks of the river. The child would smear sand all over his body and assuming the posture of Shiva, sit down with eyes closed.
Childish impudence was rarely found in this divine child. Instead, he could be seen wandering in the realm of thoughts stoically, as though he wanted to establish an union with the Infinite. By observing the attitude and behaviour of this child, many guessed that he was not an ordinary child.
One day, Muktakeshi Devi was absorbed in deep meditation of Shiva with the child seated beside her. The child also was sitting with closed eyes emulating his mother.
Suddenly, a handsome, large-built Sanyasi with matted hair appeared before the temple and addressed Muktakeshi Devi as ‘ Mother ’. She became unnerved and lifted the child on her lap.
The Sanyasi said, “ Mother don’t be afraid. I am a Sanyasi, there’s nothing to be afraid of me. ”
The Sanyasi stated :
“ That son of yours is not an ordinary human child ; it is I who have sent him to this earth, to show the esoteric path of sadhana to countless people, distressed with the worries and woes of family life
“ This child himself will maintain a family existence and attract others to practice yoga sadhana.
“ Mother, you have nothing to fear. I shall constantly keep a watch upon him like a shadow. ”
After this the Sanyasi departed with gentle steps.
Gour Mohan went to Kashi with his sons and daughters by a long water route. There, his eldest son, Chandrakanta had purchased a house in advance at Simon Chauhatta, an area of Madanpura. Everyone then started residing in this house.
When Shyama Charan completed five years of age, Gour Mohan began to consider about the education of his son. Being a scholar himself, he could appreciate the value of education.
In those days, people with an English education could easily acquire jobs. Thus, he had no conservatism for languages. For whatever reason it might be, to keep in accordance with the spirit of the age he admitted his son to ‘ Joy Narayan English School ’ at Garureswar locality established by Raja Joy Narayan Ghosal of Bhukailash.
After this, at the age of twelve, Shyama Charan was admitted to an English medium school which was a branch of Government Sanskrit College. Later, this Government English School was converted into a college and he had studied here for a period of eight years till 1848. Then he was twenty years old.
Besides English, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu, he learnt Persian also. In addition to this, he studied Sanskrit, the Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptural texts from his teacher, a Maharashtrian Pandit named Nagvatta, who was well versed in the scriptures.
Shyama Charan married in the year 1846 at the age of eighteen while he was a college student. Amongst the Bengalees like Gour Mohan who settled in Kashi, Pandit Vacaspati Devnarayan Sanyal Mahasaya of Belur in Howrah District of West Bengal was one of them.
He had a cordial relationship with Gour Mohan. It can be heard that the great Tailanga Swamy would accept alms only from the house of Devnarayan. Vacaspati Mahasaya lived in the ward of Khalishpura near Gour Mohan’s residence. For this reason, he would occasionally come to Gour Mohan’s house and discuss the sastras with him.
Vacaspati Mahasaya was a widower. He reared his three sons and only daughter Kashimani, on his own. Kashimani used to visit Gour Mohan’s residence alongwith her father and play there.
The women-folk of the house would jokingly ask her “ Whom will you marry ? ” The child used to then point at the handsome Shyama Charan. Gour Mohan gave in marriage to his son, Shyama Charan nine year old Kashimani.
Shyama Charan possessed a good health. He practised a few physical exercises and was an expert swimmer. He was industrious and brave by nature.
He never used to waste time gossiping with those of the same age. He never committed any unjust action and had a keen sense of judgement in all respects.
In the year 1851, at almost twenty three years of age, Shyama Charan was appointed as a clerk in the Public Works Department, Military Engineering Works at Gazipur.
Later, he had to work at different locations like Mirzapur, Buxar, Katua, Gorakhpur, Danapur, Ranikhet, Kashi etc. on transfer. At the end of his service period, he was promoted to the post of barrack master.
During his service at Gazipur, his salary was not enough. For this reason, he earned an extra amount by teaching Hindi and Urdu to a few English army officers, retained this small income for his personal expenditure and sent his salary to Kashi, for household expenditure. In the year 1852, the Gazipur office being shifted to Kashi, he arrived here on transfer.
On 31st May of that year, his father departed for his heavenly abode. After his father’s demise, a family dispute ensued with his brothers. Peace loving and religious minded Shyama Charan always avoided discord.
In the year 1863, a long period after his marriage, his eldest son, Tinkari Lahiri Mahasaya was born on the holy bathday of Bhagavan Jagannath.
Kashimani Devi was an extremely quiet, compassionate and accomplished housewife. Despite the acute financial stringency, she managed the household affairs with supreme patience.
By virtue of her judiciousness and sound domestic management, she saved from her husband’s petty income from which Shyama Charan purchased a house at Garureswar in the year 1864 and thereafter started residing there.
Here, on the day of the Car Festival in the year 1865, their youngest son, Dukari Lahiri Mahasaya was born. In this very house their eldest daughter Harimati, second daughter Harikamini and the youngest daughter Harimohini were born respectively in the years 1868, 1870 and 1873. Shyama Charan effected his mortal existence in this house.
After being transferred to a few places, Shyama Charan was posted at Danapur office. While staying here, he engrossed himself in austere sadhana.
At this time, he maintained such a secrecy that none knew about his sadhana. Guru imparted - yoga sadhana became his mainstay.
By the grace of Babaji Maharaj, he entered the domain of spirituality by which he easily ascended the gradual steps of yoga sadhana. After completing his daily official task, he engaged himself in deep sadhana in seclusion. During this period, he made exemplary progress in yoga sadhana.
The taciturn yet affable Shyama Charan was industrious. He would never advocate idleness. It is for this reason the austere practice of yoga sadhana could not deter him.
From this period onwards, Shyama Charan would constantly remain absorbed in self-introspection and a stoical attitude towards all aspects could be thus noticed. Because of this, his boss would affectionately call this Bengali gentleman, ‘ Pagla Babu ’.
One day, Shyama Charan found his boss much depressed and asking him the reason for this, learnt that the boss’s wife was suffering from such a serious illness that her life was endangered. The boss was extremely anxious because he did not receive any news for a few days.
Compassion arose in Shyama Charan. His benevolence brought about it’s outpourings. He assured his boss that he would in a short while bring the news of his wife.
The boss had been residing in India for a long time. He had heard many tales of supernatural powers of the Indian yogis, yet credence refused to come easily in an incredulous mind. So, he gazed helplessly at Shyama Charan.
Shyama Charan entered a solitary room of the office and absorbed himself in dhyana. After some time he came out from the room, informed his boss that his wife was improving and that her letter was on it’s way. He also apprised him the contents of the letter.
After a few days the letter duly arrived and noting a similarity in the contents as stated by Shyama Charan, he was astounded.
After a few months, his wife arrived at Danapur from England. Many a time, English women would frequent the offices of their husbands.
One day, she came to her husband’s office along with him. Suddenly, seeing Shyama Charan, she recognized him and was amazed. She told her husband that during her illness, this Sublime Soul had appeared by her bedside and it was by his grace that she was freed from her afflictions !
From this time, he commenced imparting initiation in society. A florist would sell flowers at the entrance of Kedareswar temple. He was the first disciple in society to receive initiation from Shyama Charan.
When flowers bloom, bees swarm in search of honey. Similarly, people seeking salvation gradually swarmed to him. Though he preferred to remain unobtrusive, his renown as a Yogic Preceptor gradually effloresced.
Husband’s immensity of progress in his yoga sadhana was unknown to Kashimani Devi. One midnight, on awaking from her sleep, she could not find her husband, so she lit a lamp and searching for him found him seated in Padmasana in levitation in a corner of the room !
By observing this extra-mundane yogic wealth of her husband, tears streamed down Kashimani Devi. She begged pardon with folded hands because many a time unknowingly she had been wrongful towards him.
After sometime, when Shyama Charan reverted from the transcendental state, Kashimani Devi begged apology and prayed for yogic initiation. The following day she was initiated into yoga. Her father was a renowned pandit and because of this, since child-hood she had the habit of worshipping idols. After initiation, she practised yoga sadhana.
Idol-worship was never practised by Shyama Charan. He would remark that the basis of religion is yoga. Self-realization is not possible without yoga sadhana.
Without self-realization, soul consciousness is not possible and without soul-consciousness, salvation cannot be attained.
Vacaspati Devnarayan Mahasaya, aged father-in-law of Shyama Charan was a devout, renowned pandit. Being attracted by the remarkable yogic attainment of Shyama Charan, he also obtained initiation from him. Since then he never addressed him as ‘son-in- law’.
Affectionately he used to call him ‘ Yogiraj ’. From then, Shyama Charan gradually came to be known as ‘ YOGIRAJ ’.
Yogiraj used to say that :
“ It is imperative for everyone to still the mind. If the mind cannot be stilled, sadhana cannot be practised, the worldly actions also cannot be accomplished in an immaculate manner.
“ Since the breathing motion is external, the mind is externally oriented. When the breathing motion becomes internal through yoga action, the mind becomes internally oriented and still.
“ Through the still mind, the subtlest of the subtle eternal existence of God can be ascertained. It is absolutely imperative to keep the mind under control rather than be controlled by the mind. Everything pivots around the mind. Without Yoga-action the mind cannot be kept under self control. ”
Yogiraj would attire himself in a dhoti, waistcoat and punjabi. He would wear canvas shoes outside and wooden sandals at home.
He never took any breakfast. However, in the morning, he would take a little amount of ghee and sugar. For lunch, he would take rice with vegetables.
He was a strict vegetarian. He would drink great quantities of milk.
Yogiraj was averse to the promulgation of his tenets to the insincere. He never wanted anybody to take a photograph of him. Once his devotees had decided to take a snap of him and thereby invited Gangadhar De, a skilled photographer and devotee of Yogiraj. After this they prayed for his consent. Yogiraj remarked :
“ There is no need to take a photograph. If a photograph is taken; then, in the future, all will abandon sadhana ... and start worshipping the photograph. ”
But the devotees were dogged in their determination, repeatedly entreating Yogiraj. He finally agreed. All devotees along with Gangadhar Babu were elated and made arrangements for the photograph to be taken. By going near the camera, Yogiraj in a childish manner started enquiring about it’s various mechanisms. Gangadhar Babu being inspired, started explaining about the different parts of the camera.
Eventually, at the time of taking the photograph, Gangadhar Babu was faced with an acute problem. In the viewfinder, the Image of Yogiraj was not being reflected. He thought that there must be some defect in the camera. But on examination, it was found that the images of others were being reflected on the viewfinder.
It was now that Gangadhar Babu understood the actual matter. He saw that Yogiraj was smiling mildly. Gangadhar Babu prayed with folded hands now: “Kindly have mercy, otherwise the photograph cannot be taken and the desire of devotees cannot be fulfilled. ”
Yogiraj now gently said : “ Take the snap. ”
It was now noticed that the Image of Yogiraj was being reflected on the viewfinder.
The photograph which millions of his devotees possess today is the one which Gangadhar De had snapped on that day. Excepting this, no other snap of Yogiraj had been taken.
Chandra Mohan De, a neighbour of Yogiraj, was a young man who had passed his medical examination and returned home.
One day, Chandra Mohan came and paid obeisance to Yogiraj and prayed for his blessing. He blessed him and enquired of him about the many facts of modern medical treatment. Chandra Mohan was a new doctor and his enthusiasm was endless. He explained various aspects of the developments in medical science. Yogiraj desired to know what the definition of death was in medical science.
Chandra Mohan explained what the definition of death was.
Jocularly and administering a gentle smile Yogiraj said :
“ Examine me and see Chandra Mohan, whether I am alive or dead ? ”
Chandra Mohan examined and was amazed. There was no sign of life in the body. The heart beat was also static. Chandra Mohan was speechless.
Suddenly Yogiraj banteringly stated :
“ Chandra Mohan, you should then give me a death certificate ! ”
Chandra Mohan was even more nonplussed. He started thinking what to reply. Abruptly an idea flashed across Chandra Mohan’s mind. He said - “ I would have given you a death certificate, but you are still talking. A dead person is unable to talk. ”
Yogiraj laughed and remarked :
“ You are right. But remember, much remains to be learnt beyond your modern medical science where the latter cannot reach. But yogis can easily attain the quest for that knowledge. ”
Shyama Charan was assiduous and industrious. He inspired several social welfare services. It was through his endeavours and the co-operation of the then notable persons of Kashi like Ramkali Chowdhury, Girish Chandra Dey, Kashinath Biswas etc., that the Bangalitola High School was established.
Despite working for the whole day at office, performing the functions of a private tutor and executing household responsibilities, he would remain engaged in various types of social welfare activities.
Due to his industrious nature and firm determination, the austere practice of yogas adhana in his sadhana life could not tire him. By existing within the family precincts, he set an example for mankind that practice of sadhana with strong determination can result in spiritual attainment.
After the Bangalitola High School was established, Shyama Charan became it’s Founder-Secretary and remained so throughout his life. He desired that everyone should receive education and become well established in life. He undertook all sorts of endeavours for the development of the school. He was observant as to whether the pupils were receiving proper education and the properties of the school were being properly maintained. He would pay surprise visits to the school to observe whether the teachers were discharging their duties perfectly.
In those days, female education was not in vogue. But he advocated the necessity of female education. So he set up a girls’ school with the assistance of some eminent persons.
His Highness the Maharaja of Nepal appointed him tutor on 24th March 1864, for the fourth prince, Narendra Krishna Sha alias Khala. Her Highness, the Queen of Nepal again appointed him for the same job on 4th March, 1866.
Yogiraj had two sage-like sons, Tinkari Lahiri and Dukari Lahiri and three daughters Harimati, Harikamini and Harimohini. Harikamini, the sixteen year old married second daughter, had come to her father’s house.
Suddenly, she was afflicted with an attack of asiatic cholera. Kashimani Devi requested Yogiraj to make some arrangements to save the daughter, He being present how could she die ?
Yogiraj remained unperturbed as though nothing had happened. Kashimani Devi repeatedly kept on entreating Yogiraj to save the daughter by any means. The Great Yogi without speaking a word gave the root of Apamarg and two and half peppercorns and instructed - “ Grind these two together and feed her. ”
Kashimani Devi thought since her daughter was married, it would be better to administer medicine to her according to the doctor’s advice. If not, then if something untoward happened they would be reprimanded by the daughter’s family of in-laws.
Therefore, without giving the medicine as instructed by Yogiraj, she started administering the doctor’s medicine to her daughter. But the daughter died the next day.
On that evening, like other evenings, Yogiraj was explaining the Gita and his most worthy devotee pandit Panchanan Bhattacharya Mahasaya was reading the shlokas of Gita. Many devotees were listening. At this moment, loud wails from the room above could be heard. This perturbed everyone present.
When asked the reason for this, Yogiraj replied :
“ The second daughter has expired, therefore everyone is crying. Perhaps the relatives and neighbours who will take her to the burning ghat have come. ”
Bhattcharya Mahasaya closed the Gita and said - “ Let the explanation be stopped for today. ”
Yogiraj solemnly expressed :
“ Let them do their task, you perform your task. ”
The next day, Rajchandra Sanyal Mahasaya, brother-in-law of Yogiraj came and asked him : “ Does the misery that occurs to an ordinary person with the loss of dear one, occur to you ? ”
Yogiraj smiling gently replied :
“ Everyone feels the misery but there is a little difference in the case of a knowledgeable person.
“ If a marble stone is struck on the firm ground it leaps up and retreats, but if struck on a soft clay ground, the marble gets embedded in it.
“ Similarly, misery cannot render blows to a knowledgeable person. Blows do afflict him but it cannot create any impact on him. An ignorant person laments when afflicted. ”
By maintaining a family existence like a water drop on a lotus leaf, this noble household Yogi easily remained unaffected by all sorrows and afflictions.
Gopal Chandra Bandopadhyaya, an eminent homoeopath of Kashi, along with one of his friends, would visit Mahatma Trilinga Swami. Bandopadhyaya Mahasaya was the disciple of Yogiraj. One day, both friends requested Yogiraj to meet Trilinga Swamiji.
In Kashi, Trilinga Swamiji was widely known. He earned the reputation of a living Shiva. The silent Swamiji would sit at his ashram at Panchaganga Ghat.
Seeing Shyama Charan along with Bandopadhyaya Mahasaya, Swamiji stood up, proceeded quickly towards him and accorded him a warm embrace.
After, they paid homage to each other, they stood in silence for a few minutes. On observing the union of two noble souls, tears of devotion rolled down Bandopadhyaya Mahasaya. After this, they left for their respective destinations.
The devotees present there were not familiar with Yogiraj. They had never seen Swamiji tender a loving embrace. On asking out of curiosity, the silent Swamiji wrote down his reply on a slate :
“ For attaining that ‘ One ’, the ascetics have to abandon even their loin cloth, but this Mahatma, by remaining within the family precincts has attained that ‘ One ’. ”
He desired that everyone should progress in the spiritual path by maintaining a family existence. If anyone expressed their desire to take sanyas, he would make efforts to caution them from doing so, send them back home and remark.
“ The life of a sanyasi is austere. If any error is committed by a house-holder, he can be forgiven, but a sanyasi has no reprieve.
“ The garb of a sanyasi is the external manifestation of spirituality ; but non-desirous of self-revelation the quiet household sadhaka’s unostentatious sadhana has no external manifestation.
Nevertheless, many of his disciples were anchorites also. Since he would impart Sanatana Dharmas intensely esoteric Kriya yoga initiation to men of all castes, different types of criticisms were raised. With a gentle smile he would reply to his critic –
“ I see ignobility in nobility, again nobility in ignobility. Fortunately, I have entered the true path. When I see humanity within a human and if he wishes to be enlightened, then it is My responsibility to enlighten him. ”
Yogiraj retired from service in September 1880. His monthly pension was fixed at rupees twenty nine, four annas and six pies.
Being difficult to maintain his family with that paltry sum, he engaged himself as a private tutor for teaching the scriptures to Pravunarayan Singh, son of Iswari Narayan Singh, the King of Kashi. His tuition fee was fixed at the rate of thirty rupees per month. Everyday the King’s boat would come to take Yogiraj to the Ramnagar palace on the other side of the Ganges.
One day, as usual, in the morning Kashimani Devi was worshipping Shiva, when Yogiraj arrived and stood in front of the door. Kashimani Devi pondered that as Yogiraj normally never came to that spot at that time, what could be the reason for his coming there suddenly that day ? Kashimani Devi turned back and looked.
Yogiraj smiled gently and in a specific tone stated to Kashimani Devi :
“ Look, the purpose of my advent has been completed. It is time for me to depart now. I shall be in mortal frame for another six months only and then depart. None of you should grieve over this. I am making only you aware of this.
“ After my departure, keep my mortal frame in the room I stay for I shall mark my readvent.
And, if this is not possible bury me in that room. ”
The Yogi had decided the day and time of his sublime departure and was preparing to dissolve his worldly activities. Nearly three months in advance, he had declared this to a few of his advanced devotees.
Gradually, the appointed day started approaching. A month before the completion of six months, he effected the origination of a carbuncle on his dorsal area. Using this carbuncle as a pretext, the Yogi commenced arrangements for departure. Receiving the news, his eldest son Tinkari Lahiri Mahasaya, who was employed in Delhi, shortly reached home.
Hemchandra Sen, his devotee, an eminent physician of Calcutta Medical College, on receiving the news came to Kashi and began treatment on Yogiraj. But no sign of recovery could be noticed. Hembabu decided for an operation and begged the consent of Yogiraj. Yogiraj mildly smiled and stated :
“ It is better to stay within the rules of nature. ”
The doctor understood that Yogiraj was not agreeable to an operation .. therefore he abandoned the idea and cleaned and bandaged the wound.
Yogiraj himself used to prepare neem oil and administer this for the various afflictions of his devotees. This oil was now applied on the wound of Yogiraj. But there was no alleviation of the carbuncle.
Krishnaram, a Rajput Brahmin devotee was perpetually serving Yogiraj and remained with him like a shadow. He served Yogiraj intently.
Yogiraj was immensely appeased by the tireless efforts of Krishnaram. The day before the departure, he affectionately called Krishnaram and said :
“ Krishnaram, I am well pleased by your service. Tell me what you want ? You will get what you want. ”
With tearful eyes, quivering voice and with a mind steeped in devotion, Krishnaram replied - “ I have nothing to ask for. I have only one prayer, to obtain a place at your Lotus Feet. ”
Yogiraj smiled gently and remarked :
“ It will be so, krishnaram. ”
Krishnaram then lay prostrate at the Lotus Feet of Yogiraj.
Swami Pranabananda was staying in Udaipur then. Hearing about the Final Moment of his Gurudeva, he started making arrangements to reach Kashi soon. Suddenly Pranabananda saw that his Gurudeva assuming a subtle form appeared before him and said :
“ Pranabananda, there is no use for haste. I shall depart before you reach. ”
Pranabananda began crying. Yogiraj comforted him saying :
“ Why are you crying ? Though the body departs, the Essence of Sadguru remains. I am always present. ”
Another devotee of Yogiraj, Panchkori Bandopadhyay was residing at Haridwar then. A few days before the departure of Yogiraj, Bandopadhyay Mahasaya saw the resplendent image of Yogiraj appear before him and say :
“ Come to Kashi immediately. ”
Bandopadhyay Mahasaya arrived at Kashi immediately and noticed his Gurudeva deciding to leave his mortal frame.
Only a small amount of light would enter the room Yogiraj would inhabit as it did not have sufficient windows and doors.
The Yogi was lying extremely indisposed in the afternoon, a day before his departure. His eldest son, Tinkari lahiri Mahasaya was engaged in keeping a close watch upon his father, from the parlour adjoining the room. Suddenly he noticed his father leave his bed, walk up to a bookcase fixed on the wall of the room, go through some books, eventually walk back to the bed in a healthy and able manner and lie down.
Yogiraj seated himself in padmasana. Looking towards his tearful devotees he remarked :
“ The time for my departure has arrived. Do not grieve. Though the mortal body disappears, the Essence of the Sadguru remains. I am always amidst you. ”
At the auspicious juncture of Mahashtami and Mahanavami sitting on the same bed, Yogiraj effected his sublime departure in Mahasamadhi. It was 5.25 in the evening, 27th September 1895, Friday.
Source : “ Purana Purusha .. Yogiraj Sri Shyama Charan Lahiri ” by Dr. Ashok Kumar Chatterjee