Shyama Charan Lahiri best known as Lahiri Mahasaya (also known as Yogiraj and Kashi Baba) was born on September 30, 1828. He was an Indian yogi and a disciple of Mahavatar Babaji. [Note: Mahasaya is a Sanskrit, spiritual title translated as ‘large-minded’.]
Learning the yogic science of Kriya Yoga from his Gurumaharaj, Mahavatar Babaji in 1861, He propagated the science to the world through His renowned disciples like Sri Yukteswar Giri, who was Paramahansa Yogananda’s Guru.
Lahiri Mahasaya was unusual among Indian holy men: he was a householder, raised a family, and worked as an accountant for the then Military Engineering Department in the British Indian government. Lahiri lived with his family in Varanasi. He achieved a substantial reputation among 19th century Hindu religionists.
He became well known in the west through Paramhansa Yogananda, who had devoted many valuable pages to Him in his Autobiography of a Yogi. Amongst the many disciples that Lahiri had, Paramahansa Yogananda’s parents were some of the noted few. Lahiri Mahasaya prophesied that the infant Yogananda would one day become a yogi: “As a spiritual engine, he will carry many souls to God’s kingdom.
Lahiri was born into a Brahmin family in the Ghurni village, which is the modern-day Krishnanagar town in Nadia district of Bengal Province. He was the youngest son of Muktakashi, the wife of Gaur Mohan Lahiri. Lahiri lost his mother when he was but a child — very little, therefore, is known about her, except that she was a devotee of Lord Shiva.
Even at the age of three or four, Lahiri was often seen meditating, body buried up to his neck in sand. When He was five, the family’s ancestral home was lost in a flood, so the family had to move to Varanasi, where he would spend most of his life. As a child, he studied Urdu and Hindi, and later Bengali, Sanskrit, Persian, French and English at the Government Sanskrit College. He had also studied the Vedas. Reciting the Vedas, bathing in the Ganges, and worshipping were part of his daily routine.
In 1846, he married Srimati Kashi Moni who bore him two sons, Tincouri and Ducouri, and two daughters. His work as an accountant in the Military Engineering Department took him all over India. Upon His father’s death, Lahiri assumed the family responsibilities.
Teacher of Kriya Yoga
In 1861, Lahiri was transferred to Ranikhet, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Lahiri Mahasaya’s spiritual quest reached its peak when he was transferred to the Himalayas. It was there, in Ranikhet, that he met his deathless guru, Babaji Maharaj: One day, while walking in the hills, He heard a voice calling Him. After climbing further, He met His Guru, Mahavatar Babaji, who initiated him into the techniques of Kriya Yoga. Babaji told Lahiri that He would spend the rest of His life spreading the message of Kriya Yoga.
Materializing a magnificent golden palace studded with countless dazzling jewels and gems of all varieties, Babaji Maharaj initiated Lahiri Mahasaya into all the sacred and secret techniques of Kriya Yoga. Lahiri Mahasaya was highly gratified to attain such an inconceivable stage of God-realization. As instructed by Babaji Maharaj, he returned home to perform the worldly duties of an ideal householder. He became a perfectly realized yogi, able to show the path of liberation to householders, brahmacharis, and yogis alike. Word of his spiritual attainment spread, drawing devotees and seekers from all walks of life towards him.
Returning to Varanasi, Lahiri Mahasaya took to spreading the ancient science of Kriya Yoga. Over time, more and more people came flocking to Him. He organized many study groups and gave regular discourses on the Bhagavad Gita at his “Gita Assemblies.” He freely gave Kriya initiation to everyone, including to people of other religious and spiritual persuasions. He encouraged his students to adhere to the tenets of their own faith, adding the Kriya techniques to what they already were practicing.
Siddhi yogi Lahiri Mahasaya’s divine play of miracles was without end. Though he had a physical body, he was also formless. Materializing in more than one place at the same time, he accomplished his work. Kind-hearted and generous, he miraculously saved the lives of many disciples and drew true seekers to him like a sweet and fragrant flower bewitches bees. His state of wisdom and his perfect balance were displayed when he continued a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita, unperturbed, while his family members mourned his daughter’s death.
He continued his dual role of an accountant and a supporter to his family, and a teacher of Kriya Yoga, until 1886, when he was able to retire on a pension. More visitors came to see Him. He seldom left his sitting room, available to all who sought his darshan. He often exhibited the breathless state of superconscious samadhi.
Over the years He gave Kriya initiation to all and sundry: gardeners, postmen, kings, maharajas, sannyasis, householders, people considered to be lower caste, Christians, and Muslims. At that time, it was unusual for a strict Brahmin to associate so closely with people from all castes.
Some of his notable disciples included Sri Panchanon Bhattacharya, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, Swami Pranabananda, Swami Keshabananda, Sri Bhupendranath Sanyal, and the parents of Paramhansa Yogananda. Others who received initiation into Kriya Yoga from Lahiri included Swami Vhaskarananda Saraswati of Benares, Balananda Brahmachari of Deogarh, Maharaja Iswari Narayan Sinha Bahadur of Benares and his son.
One biographer even speculates that Lahiri initiated Sai Baba of Shirdi into Kriya Yoga, based on a passage in Lahiri’s secret diary.
He gave permission to one disciple, Panchanon Bhattacharya, to start an institution in Kolkata to spread the teachings of Kriya Yoga. The Arya Mission Institution published commentaries by Lahiri on the Bhagavad Gita, along with other spiritual books, including a Bengali translation of the Gita. Lahiri himself had printed thousands of small books with excerpted passages from the Gita, in Bengali and Hindi, and distributed them for free, an unusual idea at that time.
In 1895 he began gathering his disciples, letting some of them know that He would soon be leaving the body. Moments before his passing, he said simply, “I am going home. Be comforted; I shall rise again.” He then turned his body around three times, faced north, and consciously left his body, entering mahasamadhi. Lahiri Mahasaya died on September 26, 1895.
Lahiri Mahasaya’s mahasamadhi took place on September 26, 1895, the day of mahastami worship of Mother Durga. As he entered into the eternal abode of God, he said: “Those who practice this immortal Kriya Yoga shall never perish and become orphans. Obtaining this great and immortal Kriya Yoga from Babaji Maharaj, I resuscitated it in this world. In the future, it will spread to every house, and man will gradually move ahead on this path to the ultimate liberation. The path of salvation shall always remain open to mankind. The time has come for my departure. Even this gross body is destroyed and the ever-existent guru is always with you.” Lahiri Mahasaya’s diaries, interpretations, discourses, and exemplary life remain as testimony to his fathomless state of wisdom and spiritual attainment.