May 7, 2017


By Alex Hankey PhD

In the course of over 50years teaching and research on the Vedic sciences and their different applications, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became the 20th century’s greatest commentator on the Rig Veda, of which he made the first complete video recording in the early 1970’s with the help of Brahmarishi Devarata from Karnataka, reputedly the greatest Rig Veda pundit of his generation. This paper starts by tracing the events leading up to the recording: Maharishi’s intellectual roots in the Vedic tradition; the roles of his Master, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, and of Kashmiri Shaivism from his deep and long-time friendship with Laxmanju, the head of that order in the mid-20th century. Following the recording of Rig Veda suktas, Brahmarishi Devarat and Maharishi commented on various richas that had been recorded. Their commentary, which remains on videotape in the library of Maharishi Vedic University is unique. The most famous previous commentary, that of Sayana, had dealt with relative and mundane aspects of the richas, for the purpose of explaining their meaning on that level to pundits of his time. In contrast, Brahmarisihi Devarata and Maharishi’s commentary is the first authoritative one from a purely adhiatmic, spiritual perspective. It elucidates the Rig Veda’s deep inner structures and spiritual meaning, as is here shown from various different perspectives.

His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had an essentially unique training at the hands of his spiritual master. Swami Brahmananda Saraswati had become the Shankaracharya of the northern monastery of the Shankara order, Jyotir Math (literally, the ‘Monastery of the Spiritual Light’) at the ripe age of 72, after being begged to take up the position for almost quarter of a century. Those who experienced his presence reported that he carried a quality of spiritual atmosphere which was unparalleled at the time. He had long been regarded as the greatest authority of his age on Hindu spirituality and its Vedic antecedents. Having left home at age nine with his mother’s blessings to become a renunciate, his manifest devotion led him to be compared with Prahlad and others of India’s renowned child saints. Five years later, at age fourteen, he finally found a master meeting the supreme standards he had set – a realized soul who was both a life-long celibate and an authority on Vedic philosophy – in Uttar Kashi on the upper Ganges in the Himalayas. In the hands of Swami Krishnananda Saraswati, he was soon sent to practice secret techniques of realization alone in a cave some way from the ashram, and attained realization shortly thereafter. After two decades spent in his Master’s company, he was finally initiated as a full, renunciant Dandi Sannyasi at the Kumbha Mela in Prayag at age 36. His Master then directed him to perform Tapas for the next 12 years, for which he repaired to the upper reaches of the river Narmada, living in the village traditionally said to harbor the place where all the life force of the planet retires during the mahapralaya – a place said to be like a bridge between worlds.  Returning for similar 12 year periods twice more, he finally became Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math shortly before the young Mahesh joined him.

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