Born in Dabhoi in Gujarat on 30th August 1883, Jagannatha Ganesha Gune joined a college in Baroda after his matriculation in 1903, quite a late age for someone like him to pass that secondary examination. On the very first day in his class the Sanskrit teacher started teaching Bharthari's Nitisataka, the first verse of which reads as follows: Ajnah sukhamaradhyah sukhataramaradhyate visesajnah; Jnanalavadurvidagdham bramapi naram na ranjayati. (Easy is to satisfy an ignorant person ; easier still is to satisfy a learned person. But even the creator cannot please a fellow who is endowed with a little of knowledge but who is not clever enough). Gune shot his first question to the teacher : "Sir, why is it sukhataram? Should it not be sukhataram grammatically?" The question had something to do with the adjectival and adverbial forms respectively of a given word. The teacher was a bit taken aback at the question. Instead of answering the question, he said : "So you are Gune who studied earlier in Poona. I am glad you have come here. But you know the answer yourself, I guess. Please tell it to others also in the class." With some hesitation, the boy hazarded a guess which proved to be the right answer. After all, he had been trained by the legendary Vinayakrao Apte at the school in Poona in 1898 and 1899, the school presently called the Nutan Marathi Vidyalaya to which Swami Kuvalayananda owed more than he could simply thank it for, as evidenced by a letter he wrote in 1963 (see letter 96 here). This was recounted to me by Swamiji himself way back in 1963 in the course of a casual conversation. I suspect that he was trying to elicit the answer for that question from me so that he could measure the depth of my own knowledge of Sanskrit grammar which was, and unfortunately also continues to be, meagre. It was during this conversation that he also told me how he came to take the name 'Kuvalayananda' in 1923 or thereabouts. One of the Sanskrit texts of literary criticism that he had to study in college was Kuvalayananda by Appayya Dikshita. He was so fascinated by the text that he took that for his name when the time came. And that name is a household name today in the world of Yoga in all its aspects - spirituality, scientific studies, physical culture and therapeutic intervention.
While specializing in Sanskrit and Philosophy, the young Gune got acquainted with a rather unusual sort of person from Bengal who was then working as Lecturer in a college in Baroda. This was Aurobindo Ghose who had later on a stint as a revolutionary freedom fighter before establishing his own Ashrama in Pondicherry. Outside the college, Gune also became a pupil of Professor Manikrao who was reputed as a physical culturist. During the three years of training under him from 1907 to 1910 Gune acquired not only high proficiency in physical culture but also an acumen for analysis of physical exercises from the physiological point of view. They were also the days when Bala Gangadhara Tilak happened to be the shining star in the national political struggle against the rapacious and repressive British colonialism. Gune was drawn towards the camp of Tilak and had to remain underground for some time because of his active participation in the movements launched by the Tilakites in Baroda and Surat. Graduating from college in 1910, this young man, charged with the idealism of Tilak, took to the traditional mode of propagating ideas through Kirtan-s and roamed around in the villages of Gujarat singing panegyrics to the Home-rule movement. The political firmament, however, lost a potential star-fighter when J.G. Gune decided to join the Khandesh Education Society as a member and teacher in 1916. This society had the rate distinction of grooming many an ardent nationalist, for which reason the British rules viewed it with some suspicion all along. It was only natural that Gune should have opted for this society, in whose National College in Amalner he served as Principal for a few years. The college itself was locked up by the red-eyed British colonial government in 1920, but Gune continued to be associated with the Khandesh Education Society till 1923.
In college Gune was a sanskritist, teacher of philosophy, educational administrator and informal guide to the spirited nationalist youth. But simultaneously he was also a fine physical culturist outside. Another dimension was added to his personality and this turned out to be a turning point in his life - when he came into contact with a formidable Yogi in Malsar near Baroda. He was originally from Bengal, but had been in a place called Kanakeswar near Alibag in Maharashtra, presently in the Raigad district. He was known for his severe austerities there, having subsisted only on green chillies and a little butter - milk for years on end, thus earning the nickname of 'Mirchibaba'. This saint became the guru of Gune who took to Yoga with all seriousness and devotion. Soon he became an adept in Yogic practices under the loving care of Madhavadasji of Malsar, after whom Kaivalyadhama Sriman Madhava Yoga Mandira Samiti is named. Apart from the techniques of Yoga the pupil was also introduced to the intricacies of its meaning and efficacy. The rationalist in Gune could hardly have accepted anything without questioning persistently. As it happened, Madhavadas himself was not averse to any scrupulous analytical forays into Yoga because he did not consider it to be beyond all investigations, unlike some diehards who assert so even when we are on the threshold of the 21st century. Gune and Madhavadas were made for each other in a way and both found fulfilment in each other as time passed.
Swami Kuvalayananda preferred to remain incognito most of the time. That was in tune with his philosophy of life. One could hardly see any photograph of his at his residence or in the institution. In the publications also we see photographs of the subjects but hardly any of the head of the experimental studies, namely, Swamiji himself. So is the case with his poems. He hardly ever told us about his contacts and correspondence with such towering personalities as Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, etc. It was only when we looked at his old files that we discovered it.
For a long time we had been planning to bring out an anthology of his letters so that Swamiji could speak directly to his readers. His deep thinking and great concern for Yoga are clearly discernible in many of these letters. He is quite a revolutionary in the field of Yoga. He never accepted anything without having it verified through scientific methods.
I am sure the letters published here will be useful to those who wish to have their thoughts shaped along rational lines and also to view tradition rationally. I am thankful to Dr. G.R. whom I view as my own brother for the efforts he has put forth in preparing the volume. The entire credit for the publication goes to him. My thanks are also due to all those who were associates of Swamiji and who have encouraged us to bring out this anthology.
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