Anirvan, Sri
(1896–1978)
   Baul and Samkhya author and guru
   Sri Anirvan was an important scholar and writer of commentaries on traditional Hindu sacred texts, a practicing BAUL, and a spiritual seeker who espoused the SAMKHYA philosophy of Hinduism.
   The future guru was born Narendra Chandra Dhar on July 8, 1896, in Mymensingh, East Ben-gal (now Bangladesh). His parents, Raj Chandra Dhar and Sushila Devi, were cultured, pious middle-class Hindus of the Kayastha caste. Poor but deeply committed to spiritual values, they provided Narendra with an environment of love and harmony. He learned PANINI’s SANSKRIT gram-mar at an early age and daily recited chapters from the BHAGAVAD GITA. At the age of seven, he had a vision of an exquisitely beautiful young girl, whose image became for him a symbol of a mystery to be addressed. This image was a benign influence that deeply influenced his SADHANA (spiritual path) and became a presiding deity of his life. Later he recognized in this vision the Divine Mother, born of perfect wisdom, the Uma Haimavati of the Kenopanishad.
   At age nine, in a state of SAMADHI (blissful con-sciousness), he experienced the boundless Void and saw the sky (AKASHA) with its myriad stars enter into him. The akasha became his symbol of free-dom and detachment; his meditation on it became part of his teaching. At age 16, upon completion of his secondary education, he left Mymensingh to live in Assam with his family’s guru, Swami Nigamananda, who was building a new ashram near Jorhat. Narendra worked on the building site until he was awarded a state scholarship to study Sanskrit and Indian philosophy. He specialized in study of the VEDAS and stood first in the University of Calcutta (Kolkata) Sanskrit examinations at both the bachelor’s and the master’s levels.
   At age 22, having completed his studies, Nar-endra returned to the ashram, where his guru initiated him into sannyas (renunciation) and gave him the name Nirvanananda. In 1920, at age 34, he left the ashram after serving as teacher and administrator. He changed his name to Anirvan to signify that he was no longer bound by the vows of sannyas. He spent the next 12 years travel-ing widely in the Himalayas in quiet retreat and MEDITATION.
   In 1944 he began living in a house near Almora, Uttar Pradesh, where he began to trans-late Sri AUROBINDO’S The Life Divine from English to Bengali and began to write his own commen-taries on the Vedas. Here he met a Swiss woman, Lizelle Reymond, who became his pupil and biographer. Her work became his line of transmis-sion to the West, and they remained in intimate contact for the rest of his life.
   Living in Almora, Shillong, and finally Cal-cutta, Anirvan continued to write and to give lectures on the UPANISHADS to small groups of dis-ciples. Bedridden after a fall in 1971, he remained in the care of two disciples in Calcutta. He con-tinued to be a quiet seeker with a spiritual jour-ney based on the teachings of PATANJALI and the SAMKHYA philosophy of Hinduism. He identified himself as a BAUL, although he did not belong to a formal organization of Bauls. He especially liked the freedom of spiritual expression taught by the Bauls and some of his writing is collected as “Let-ters from a Baul.”
   His statement of his mission was clear: “My ambition is not very great. It is to live a life rich in impressions, luminous to the end; to leave behind a few books embodying my life-long search for Truth, and a few souls who have caught fire. My aim? Simply to inspire people and give them the most complete freedom to live their own life. No glamour, no fame, no institution—nothing. To live simply and die luminously.” Anirvan wrote some 20 books, most of them commentaries on the scriptures and philosophical systems of India. All but two English volumes were published in Bengali. Anirvan died on Fern Road in Calcutta on May 31, 1978.
   Further reading: Shri Anirvan and Lizelle Reymond, To Live Within: Teachings of a Baul (North Yorkshire, England: Coombe Springs Press, 1984); Sri Anirvan, Inner Yoga (Antaryoga). Translated from the Bengali by Simanta Narayan Chatterjee (New Delhi: Voice of India, 1988); ———, Buddhiyoga of the Bhagavad Gita and Other Essays (Madras: Samata Books, 1991).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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