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Applause inside the palatial Darbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan rang high and loud on Monday when 125-year-old Swami Sivananda walked up barefoot to President Ram Nath Kovind to receive the Padma Shri award.
The 125-year-old yoga practitioner won the hearts of people all over the country when videos of him prostrating before Prime Minister Narendra Modi before receiving his honour went viral on social media.
So, who is he and why has the government decided to honour him?
Swami Sivananda’s life
The oldest man to be conferred with the Padma Shri award, Swami Sivananda is a monk from Varanasi.
Born on 8 August 1896, in Sylhet district (now in Bangladesh) of undivided India, Swami Sivananda lost his mother and father at the age of six. Due to abject poverty, his parents could feed him mainly boiled rice water during his childhood days.
News agency PTI reports that following his parents’ demise, Swami Sivananda was brought to his Guruji’s Ashram at Nabadwip in West Bengal. Guru Omkarananda Goswami brought him up, imparted all practical and spiritual education, including yoga without school education.
He follows a simple belief that has been inculcated in him since a young age: “The world is my home, its people are my fathers and mothers, to love and serve them is my religion.”
The 125-year-old has lived a disciplined and well-regulated life with early morning yoga, oil-free boiled diet and selfless service to mankind.
He believes yoga is the way to lead a healthy life, it controls the senses, mind and will. It is a way to god and divinity.
According to the Rashtrapati Bhavan communique, he stands strong enough to perform yoga for hours. Sivananda sleeps on a mat on the floor and uses a wooden slab as a pillow. Fit without any medical complications, he practices Yoga every day and performs all rituals on his own
Swami Sivananda has been serving leprosy-affected people at Puri for the past 50 years.
It has been reported that he has served at least 400-600 leprosy-affected beggars with dignity at Puri by personally meeting them at their hutments.
The government in his press release wrote, “He perceives them as living God and serves them with the best available items. He arranges different materials like food items, fruits, clothes, winter garments, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking utensils based on their expressed need.”
He also encourages others to hand over different items to the affected people to make them feel the joy of giving so that later on they are motivated to do such humanitarian work in their respective areas.
Swami Sivananda has received various awards including the Yoga Ratna Award in 2019 at Bengaluru.
He was also awarded with the Basundhara Ratan Award by Respect Age International for his contribution to society on 30 November 2019.
Twitter celebrates Swami Sivananda
The 125-year-old unassuming way of receiving the honour at Rashtrapati Bhawan — he was dressed in a simple white kurta and dhoti — has won the hearts of people on Twitter.
From ministers to industrialists to the common man, all applauded him and celebrated his simplicity.
Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju was one of the first to honour the 125-year-old, tweeting, “So heart touching.”
Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, was also stunned and impressed in equal measures. He took to Twitter to share his appreciation, saying that the man’s grace and dignity was both humbling and inspiring.
Former Indian cricketer VVS Laxman also hailed the 125-year-old’s humility.
At the time of this copy being published, the video of Swami Sivananda receiving his well-deserved honour had already garnered over 300,000 views and more than a million likes.