Recent Spiritual and Cultural Leaders

Besides the reform movements themselves, there are a number of notable leaders who sought to revitalise Hinduism from a mainly spiritual platform and who prepared the way for propagating it beyond India and making it accessible to the modern world. Three of the most influential are listed below:

Aurobindo Ghose (1871–1950)

After graduating in Cambridge, England, Aravinda Ghose returned to India with strong sympathies for the Indian nationalist movement. He spent a year in jail, where he is said to have heard God exhorting him to dedicate his life to the spiritual upliftment of India and the world. After his release, he went into self-imposed exile in the French colony of Pondicherry, where he devoted his life to yoga and to writing on spiritual matters. His ashram attracted many people from India and abroad. Aurobindo, as he became known, attempted to formulate an integral yoga which synthesised Hindu spirituality with modern ideas and an active role within the world. His ideas stimulated great interest amongst intellectuals and artists. After his death, his disciples planned to develop Auroville as a model city for the modern world. Their work continues today.

Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950)

Ramana Maharshi, “the sage of Arunachal,” was a widely recognised Hindu mystic who attracted many followers from both East and West. As a boy of fourteen, he had a near-death experience and, perceiving the self as different to the body, left home to become asannyasi. Despite his taking a vow of silence, many people sought his advice. He established an ashram, which was visited by many influential people. Ramana Maharshi was considered an extraordinary personality and his ashram became renowned for giving all its inhabitants a deep sense of peace and tranquillity. Ramana Maharshi is credited with establishing the relevance of the Advaita philosophy to the modern world.

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896–1977)

Unlike the previous two saints, Bhaktivedanta Swami initially had little apparent success in India. Born into a traditional Bengali Vaishnava family, he became a follower of Gandhi. He entered householder life and was deeply affected when he met his spiritual master, who instructed him to preach the message of Chaitanya in English. He later took sannyasa and at the age of 70 begged passage to New York on a cargo ship. Despite obscurity and poverty, he established ISKCON, which became perhaps the most successful of all the new Hindu-related movements springing up in the 1960s. Bhaktivedanta Swami, known affectionately as Srila Prabhupada, established over 100ashrams worldwide, and translated more than 70 Vedic texts into English. He passed away in 1977, having established a governing body of his senior disciples to manage the movement after him. He emphasised the practice of devotion to a personal God, in the form of both Radha and Krishna, and the chanting of the now-famous Hare Krishna mantra.