For the yoga-enthusiasts of Assam, December 12 is a very significant day. This day is celebrated to commemorate Yoga Guru Swami Shivananda Saraswati’s return to Assam after his spiritual voyage and his final settlement at Umachal Yogashram on Nilachal hills in Guwahati in 1929.
Swami Shivananda had a great contribution to the physical and health science of this region. He showed how a healthy life could be lived through yogic practices. Health and happiness were his chief aim behind establishing Umachal Yoga Hospital, the first yoga hospital in India. But the yoga hospital did not come overnight. It took him a lot of patience, perseverance and endurance.
Like other great men on earth, Swamiji also faced many odds and challenges in his life. Born to Ramchandra Mukherjee and Tarangini Devi in a village called Badlapara of Barishal district in Bangladesh on July 4, 1900, Swami Shivananda was very sympathetic and thoughtful from his very tender age. Other’s pain pained him deeply. And he never accepted anything without knowing its real nature.
This led Swamiji to leave the material life at the age of 12. He went to Kokilamukh Asom Bangiya Saraswat Ashram near Jorhat to learn yoga and physical science systematically under the guidance of Swami Nigamanada Saraswati. After ten years of rigorous study and practical training, he went to Dibrugarh where he rendered philanthropic services as a novice hermit. There he was ordained by Swami Umananda Saraswati.
After his ordination, as most of the monks do, he set out for pilgrimage across the country. During his holy voyage, he halted in many places (of India). However, none of the places could anchor him. Be it the lack of spiritual ambiance in the places he visited or destiny’s call, he came back to Assam.
It was December 12, 1929, Swamiji return to Assam and then established Umachal Yogashram on December 28, 1929 near the Shaktipeeth kamakhya temple. The Yogashram added another valuable item to the treasure trove of Nilachal hills, which was earlier believed to be a home to the occult and tantric practices. Earlier tantrism (a science of studying body), being practiced in solitude in the caves, was thought to be a practice for the ascetics only for their realization of the divinity within. Swami Shivananda drew the attention of the people to the therapeutic use of this practice as well.
His initial stay on Nilachal hills was exceedingly challenging. Except for the natural stillness of the hilltop, nothing seemed favourable to his meditative practice. His main distraction came from the wild animals that even posed a threat to his dear life.
Miserably, many a time he had to be face to face with a ferocious tiger. However, he tackled it non-violently with the technique of ahimsa— the first step of Yama. It is a technique to subdue hatred and radiate love and compassion. As Patanjali says, if a man is established in non-violence, in his presence, enemies and animals will drop their animosity and radiate love. This Swamiji practically demonstrated later on by establishing a welcoming bond with the wild animals on the hills.
Swamiji’s Yoga hospital attracted many people from the state and beyond. The healthy and unhealthy alike thronged his ashram for health, happiness, and well-being. Seeing people’s interest in the efficacy of yoga, Swami Shivananda wrote a book titled ‘Yogabole Rogarogya’. Incredibly, the book got wide recognition and acceptance. Today the book is available in several languages—Hindi, Assamese, Marathi, Malayalam, French, English, and Spanish.
What is more, the English version of the book ‘Yoga Therapy’ initiated a good number of groundbreaking researches on yoga abroad in connection to which Swamiji often got an invitation from the overseas yoga enthusiasts as well as yoga researchers. Later he wrote quite a number of books that also earned him both popularity and money.
It is said that he built Umachal Yogic Hospital (in 1963-64) with the revenue generated through his books. It opened before the ailing masses a door to great hope and faith, particularly before those who could not afford pricey allopathic treatment and thus wanted to go for a natural cure. For, in Swamiji’s healing process, as the beneficiaries said, just a fortnight’s training and regular practice of asana, pranayama, and dhouti brought the sick back to their health.
Then, yoga’s efficacy lies in its practice. Alienated from the practice, it loses all it’s worth. This is probably what has happened to Umachal Yogashram that seems to be losing its yogic ambiance that once used to fill the air of Nilachal hills.
Today standing before Umachal Yogic Hospital one would wonder how this then majestic institute has worn almost an abandoned look with few or no patients and without a regular yoga therapist to treat the patients if there is any. It would certainly be an awful experience for any yoga enthusiast to see how this hill’s glorious yogic tradition is likely to be buried under the present ashram dwellers’ ignorance and negligence about the importance of the place and the significance of the practice as well.
However, Indian Yoga Culture and Yoga Therapy Centre of Central Gotanagar in Guwahati— a branch of this Yogashram— is actively working to carry forward the legacy of Swami Shivananda. Apart from the therapeutic treatment, currently this center is imparting several diploma courses on yoga through its sister institute Purvanchal Yoga Mahavidyalaya, which is affiliated to Krishna Kanta Handique State Open University.
Assam Yoga Mahotsav is one of the major events organized by this organisation. Generally spanned three or four days, the event is featured by various yoga-related programmes, viz., yogasana competitions, yoga teachers’ orientation programmes, seminar on yoga, yoga quiz, mass meditation practice, and many more.
Celebrations or observations are a means of nurturing a tradition. Highlighting on the works and legacies of Assam Swami Shivananda Swaraswati, the celebration of Assam Yoga Mahotsav is a sincere way of nourishing the rich yogic tradition and practice of this region.