Swami Manmathan

Swami Manmathan Featured

swamySwami Manmathan was a social crusader from Kerala who formed a passionate commitment to the progress of people in the mountain area of Uttarakhand. For years, he fought alongside the people of Garhwal, spearheading movements and working for change. After 15 years of wandering the hills, he settled down to establish the Shri Bhuvneshwari Mahila Ashram in 1977.

It was from here that he continued his work until his martyrdom in 1990. Swamiji was born into a Menon family in Kerala, but he said little about his past. He first came to Uttarakhand to study under the guru, Swami Purshottam, with whom he lived in a cave near Gullar for a number of years studying the scriptures. From there he moved on to an ashram in Rishikesh in the early 60's. He soon discovered, however, that the way of puja, or personal enlightenment, was not for him, and he embarked, instead, on a course of action, karm.

There was no lack of work for him here in the mountains of Garhwal, and for 15 years he roamed the area working with the impoverished and neglected peoples. His first initiative, in Uttaranchal, was to upgrade a junior high school in Gullar. From there his efforts broadened to health services and beyond.

Swamiji participated in and lead a number of important social movements in Garhwal, and they are still remembered by the people today with satisfaction and a great sense of achievement. The most famous movement involved the eradication of animal sacrifices at the Chandrabudni temple. He was also involved with the university movement, which evoked dramatic reactions and a visit from Mrs. Indira Ghandi, as well as the Silkot-Tea Estate movement in 1974-5.

swamy4In 1977, Swami Manmathan decided to focus his attention on the oft-overlooked women of the mountains, and he opened SBMA as a shelter for destitute women and children.

After thirteen years in Anjanisain, the old wanderlust began to nibble at the Swami's feet once again. In Anjanisain, the ashram had transformed the once barren hillside. Swamiji's efforts, along with his friends and followers, had lead to the creation of a demonstration farm, orchards and a dairy unit; the balwadi had grown to a primary school; weaving, knitting and sewing centers had been set up; and an alternative energy sources farm had begun. Funding was finally flowing in from various agencies after seven years of work with no aid.

After beginning all this, Swami Manmathan began to envision himself back where he began, on the road launching social movements. Prohibition in Uttarakhand had been repealed under strong pressure from the liquor lobby, and Swamiji saw an opportunity for broad community mobilization. Also, he dreamed of reviving the movement for a separate Uttaranchal state.

Swami Manmathan never got the chance to move on, however. Men with such an ability to invoke thoughtfulness and change pose a threat to the lobbies and institutions that they oppose. They are perceived as dangerous.

On April 6, 1990, Swami Manmathan was assassinated in his room at the ashram.

His ideas and struggle have lived on in the various people who he influenced and with whom he worked. From Cyril Raphael, to Gyanu (current SECRETARY of the SBMA) and to Bulbir, an ashram child who is too young to remember the Swami but who constantly hears stories of his deeds. Then there are the innumerable local people who fondly recall when the Swami stood next to the road passing out vitamins to the women walking by, all the while generating health awareness. Even the international volunteers, who pass through this institution and leave with a better idea of what it means to help people and create positive change in such a unique environment, are influenced by the late Swami Manmathan.

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