Swamis And Swami
Om Namo Bhagavate Sivananda
An offering at the
Feet of the Holy Master
Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji
The members of the Sivananda Yoga Centre who wear orange clothes are
‘swamis’. Traditionally, we address them as ‘Swami’ or, with affectionate respect
The word ‘swami’ means ‘one with the self’ and often refers to a
sannyassin (renunciate) of the ten-branched order of monks and nuns founded by Sri Shankara circa
Disciples of Shankaracharya established four maths (monastic
institutions) at, respectively: Joshi in the north; Sringeri in the south; Puri in the east: and
Dvaraka in the west of lndia. Each math under a pontiff with the title Jagatguru Shankaracharya.
The Shankaracharyas’ duties are to teach from their comprehensive knowledge of the scriptures and
provide counselling if or when consulted by Dasanama (Ten-name) Swamis connected to their maths,
Each swami has access to the same math and has the same agnomen as the swami who initiated him/her
into the order. These names set out below their respective maths are:
Dasanama Swami can initiate into the Dasanama Order: a Saraswati can make only Saraswatis: a Giri
only Giris; etcetera.
Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was initiated by a Saraswati,
so swamis initiated by Gurudev’s initiates are all Saraswatis.
The preparation for sannyass includes essential education in Sanatana
Dharma (Hinduism), instructions re conduct and duties, disciplinary training, and a careful
assessment of the candidate’s suitability. At the outset, the candidate must be widowed, or
unmarried and single. Being a monk or nun, a sannyassin cannot ever be married.
In many of the institutions run by sannyassins, formally initiated
monastic brahmachari(ni)s wear the yellow robe, in the Divine Life Society they have the agnometi
There are two main kinds of swami, whether Dasanama or of another
Jnana Sannyassins - elderly
or widowed Vanaprastas, not of the ten-branched order, who renounce during a public Viraja Homa
Dasanama Sannyassins - single
persons who are initiated by their senior swamis. with or without Viraja Homa.
The title ‘Paramhansa’ does not refer to an order or rank within an
order but is a subjective recognition of attainment by admirers.
The initiator of a swami must receive the initiate into the order
while physically present in person at the ceremony, or in writing or other visual evidence for
public announcement and scrutiny.
At initiation the swami is instructed in certain mantras which must
henceforth be recited daily in addition to the usual vedic prayers in Sanskrit. From this
religious, occult and mystical rite, there emerges a being who is no longer of this
The swami wears gerua (orange cloth) to represent the embers of a
cremation fire. What has come forth from the fire is a being whose blessings and prayers are
regarded as especially effective because they are presumed to express God’s will. In the absence of
murtis (images; icons) the swami’s body may be used for puja (ritual worship) and arathi (light
waving ceremony). His personal effects are protective talismans and whatever food is proffered to
him/her becomes prasad (sanctified nourishment).
The swami’s name. often with the suffix ‘ananda’ (bliss of) is at
appellation of deity or some spiritual quality, state, experience or practice.
The swami’s inner duties are ahimsa (harmlessness) and meditation.
His outer seva (service) is mainly teaching, spiritual guidance, intercessionary prayer, satsang,
and the offering of whatever spiritual gifts manifest themselves through his/her person. He should
avoid referring to his pre-monastic state but, whilst free from attachment himself he should be a
counsellor and comfort to others in their mental-emotional disturbances and
When a swami dies, funeral rites are unnecessary - the body was
symbolically cremated at sannyas diksha (initiation) and (ideally) the swami has not identified
with a physical form. Therefore, the body is simply committed to the Ganges or summarily buried or,
for convenience, cremated without ceremony and the ashes scattered without trace.
Other orders of sannyassins include:
Udasis - a Sikh order
founded by Srichand, son of Guru Nanak.
Yatis - a Jain order with
two groups: Svetambaras who wear white, and Digambaras who are nude.
Kabir Panthis - who follow
the teachings of Kabir, in twelve groups.
Nagas - nomadic worshippers
of Lord Siva who are nude.
Dadu Panthis - descended
from Dadu, disciple of a Kabir Panthi: Vishnu worshippers who also use Kabir’s writings.
RamaSanehis – founded by
Ramcharan in l718 in Rajputana, in two groups:
Mohinis who wear red, and Videhis who are nude.
Kovilur Math - a saivite
Dharmapuram Adhinam - a
saivite Tamil order.
Kanphatas - saivite
devotees of the legendary yogi Goraknath.
Parinamis - founded by Sri
Parinnath in 1675 at Jamnagarh near Rajkot; they study his teachings and worship
Nimbarka Sampradaya, and Ramanuja Sampradaya - Vishnu worshippers who wear gems like Dasanama swamis
Rarely encountered smaller groups, offshoots of the orders mentioned
above, tiny groups engaged in various forms of ritual, and Hindu devotees of Jesus Christ and/or
Monks and nuns of Buddhist and Lamaist orders.
The above information was taken mainly from the book “All
about Hinduism” by Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj founder of the Divine Life Society and the
Sivananda Yoga Centre
N.B: Please note that the term “Swami” has sometimes been applied
rather loosely in the west. The only swamis are those whose initiations, disciplines and lifestyles
conform to the patterns and descriptions given above. Once initiated, there is no return to