Vishnudevananda was a great Yoga guru. The energy of ten rupees, as he said, prompted him to travel the world spreading the Yogic philosophy.
The Beginnings of Swami Vishnudevananda
Vishnudavananda was born in Kerala, in the south of India, on the last day of 1927. His family belonged to a high caste and his father was a Brahmin.
While he was in the military, his turning point came when he read Sivananda’s Spiritual Instructions in a pamphlet: “A gram of practice is worth as much as tons of theory. Introduce Yoga, religion, and philosophy in your daily life, and you will achieve personal fulfillment.”
These simple lines propelled Vishnudavananda to meet Sivananda in Rishikesh at the Himalayas on the banks of Ganges river. Sivananda taught humility to proud Vishnudavananda his guru.
An Important Mission
Vishnudavananda joined the Sivananda Yoga Center in Rishikesh and became a monk at the age of 20 years. He taught Hatha Yoga classes to many students including some Westerners residing in India. Their numbers kept growing.
Vishnudavananda continued to learn from Sivananda for the following 10 years. One day the Guru entrusted to him an important mission: taking Yoga to the West. He gave him ten rupees and had him leave without knowing English beyond a few short phrases.
Vishnudavananda Goes Mainstream
Vishnudavananda traveled to Canada and opened the first of Sivananda Yoga Centers in Montreal in 1959. Other centers followed in the subsequent years. Some of them are in the Bahamas, California and New York.
Vishnudavananda’s idea was to train new teachers so that they could spread Yogic philosophy around the world.
He met The Beatles in the Bahamas where they were shooting their film “Help.” They became friends. Once, Vishnudavananda told the four of Liverpool they would come to perform Sirsasana or Posture on the Head. To which Ringo Starr responded: “How am I going to stand on my head if I cannot even stand on my feet?”
Ringo’s joke reflects how impossible this posture seemed to them, but they did it! After this encounter, The Beatles contributed to the diffusion of Yoga to Western audiences.
The Airplane for Peace (and Yoga)
This is the reason why he is called “The Aviator.” During the era of political upheaval in the ’80s, he thought of a way to reduce tension through Yoga. He found a way by painting a plane with bright colors and called it “The Airplane for Peace.” He traveled to many countries in need of peace like Ireland, Egypt, and Pakistan in this plane.
His motto was “We don’t drop bombs. We throw flowers.”
In August 1983, he announced he would fly from West to East Berlin. “We want to symbolize that we cannot cross borders with weapons, only with flowers,” said Vishnudavananda. “If they shoot me, what does it matter? Many have died from war. I will die for Peace.”
Despite announcing the flight and its peaceful nature, Soviet authorities arrested and interrogated him for hours after he landed in East Berlin in the middle of a farm. They sent him back to West Berlin with a cheese sandwich for lunch.
The Energy of Ten Rupees
Before his death in 1993, Vishnudavananda said everything he had done was all thanks to his Guru who gave him a life lesson in humility.
“The ten rupees given to me by Sivananda have taken me around the world. It was the energy of those ten rupees that made me capable of everything I’ve done.”
Upon dying, following an Indian ritual, they placed his body in the Ganges River, which was the same place where Sivananda and Vishnudavananda met.