Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (12 January 1918 – 5 February 2008) was born Mahesh Prasad Varma and obtained the honorific Maharishi (meaning “Great Seer”)and Yogi as an adult.He developed the Transcendental Meditation technique and was the leader and guru of a worldwide organization that has been characterized in multiple ways including as a new religious movement and as non-religious.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became a disciple and assistant of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, the Shankaracharya (spiritual leader) of Jyotirmath in the IndianHimalayas. The Maharishi credits Brahmananda Saraswati with inspiring his teachings. In 1955, the Maharishi began to introduce his Transcendental Deep Meditation (later renamed Transcendental Meditation) to India and the world. His first global tour began in 1958. His devotees referred to him as His Holiness, and because he often laughed in TV interviews he was sometimes referred to as the “giggling guru”.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Maharishi achieved fame as the guru to the Beatles, The Beach Boys and other celebrities. In the late 1970s, he started the TM-Sidhi programme that claimed to offer practitioners the ability to levitate and to create world peace.The Maharishi’s Natural Law Party was founded in 1992, and ran campaigns in dozens of countries. He moved to near Vlodrop, the Netherlands, in the same year. In 2000, he created the Global Country of World Peace, a non-profit organization, and appointed its leaders. In 2008, the Maharishi announced his retirement from all administrative activities and went into silence until his death three weeks later.
The Maharishi is reported to have trained more than 40,000 TM teachers, taught the Transcendental Meditation technique to “more than five million people” and founded thousands of teaching centers and hundreds of colleges, universities and schools,while TM websites report tens of thousands learned the TM-Sidhi programme. His initiatives include schools and universities with campuses in several countries including India, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
The Maharishi, his family and close associates created charitable organization and for-profit businesses including health clinics, mail-order health supplements and organic farms. The reported value of the Maharishi’s organization has ranged from the millions to billions of U.S. dollars and in 2008, the organization placed the value of their United States assets at about $300 million.
The birth name, birth date, and caste of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are not known with certainty, in part because of the tradition of ascetics and monks to relinquish family connections. Many accounts say he was born Mahesh Prasad Varma (Hindi: महेश प्रसाद वर्मा) into a family living in the Central Provinces of British India. A different name appears in the Allahabad University list of distinguished alumni, where he is listed as M.C. Srivastava. and an obituary says his name was “Mahesh Srivastava”.
Various accounts give the year of his birth as 1911, 1917 or 1918.Authors Paul Mason and William Jefferson say that he was born 12 January 1917 in Jabalpur, Central Provinces.The place of birth given in his passport is “Pounalulla”, India and his birth date as 12 January 1918. Mahesh’s father is identified as a local tax official in the civil service though some sources say he worked in the department of forestry, and others that he was a schoolteacher. Srivastava is the name of his nephews and cousins. Mahesh came from an upper-caste family, being a member of the Kayastha caste, a high-status caste whose traditional profession is writing.
Mahesh studied physics at Allahabad University and earned a degree in 1942. While a few sources say that he worked at Gun Carriage Factory in Jabalpur for some time, most report that in 1941, he became an administrative secretary to the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (also known as Guru Dev) and took a new name, Bal Brahmachari Mahesh.Coplin refers to bala brahmachari as both a title and a name, and considers that it “identified him as a fully dedicated student of spiritual knowledge and life-long celibate ascetic”.The Maharishi recalls how it took about two and a half years to attune himself to the thinking of Brahmananda Saraswati and to gain “a very genuine feeling of complete oneness”.
At first Brahmachari Mahesh performed common chores but gained trust and became Guru Dev’s “personal secretary”and “favored pupil”.He was trusted to take care of the bulk of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati’s correspondence without direction, and was also sent out to give public speeches on Vedic (scriptural) themes.:22
Brahmachari Mahesh remained with Swami Brahmananda Saraswati until the latter died in 1953, when he moved to Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand in the Himalayas. Although Brahmachari Mahesh was a close disciple, he could not be the Shankaracharya’s spiritual successor because he was not of the Brahmin caste. The Shankaracharya, at the end of his life, charged him with the responsibility of travelling and teaching meditation to the masses, while he named Swami Shantananda Saraswati as his successor.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, concerned about his health, became increasingly secluded in two rooms of his residence. During this period he rarely had “face-to-face” meetings and instead communicated with his followers “almost exclusively by closed-circuit television.”
On 12 January 2008 – his ninetieth birthday – the Maharishi declared: “It has been my pleasure at the feet of Guru Dev (Brahmananda Saraswati), to take the light of Guru Dev and pass it on in my environment. Now today, I am closing my designed duty to Guru Dev. And I can only say, ‘Live long the world in peace, happiness, prosperity, and freedom from suffering.'”
A week before his death, the Maharishi said that he was “stepping down as leader of the TM movement” and “retreating into silence” and that he planned to spend his remaining time studying “the ancient Indian texts”. The Maharishi died peacefully in his sleep of natural causes on 5 February 2008 at his residence in Vlodrop, Netherlands. The cremation and funeral rites were conducted at the Maharishi’s Allahabad ashram in India, overlooking the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers.
The funeral, with state honours, was carried by Sadhana TV station and was presided over by one of the claimants to the seat of Shankaracharya of the North, Swami Vasudevananda Saraswati Maharaj. Indian officials who attended the funeral included central minister Subodh Kant Sahay; Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal; and former Uttar Pradesh assembly speaker and state BJP leader Keshri Nath Tripathi, as well as top local officials Also in attendance were thirty-five rajas of the Global Country of World Peace, one-time disciple Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and David Lynch.A troop of uniformed policemen lowered their arms in salute. The funeral received its status as a state funeral because the Maharishi was a recognised master in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta founded by Shankara.
The Maharishi is survived by a brother and “a number of nephews” One nephew, Girish Chandra Varma, is chairman of the Maharishi Vidya Mandir Schools Group and a “senior functionary of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement in India.Other nephews include Prakash Shrivastav,[president of Maharishi Vidya Mandir Schools and Anand Shrivastava,chairman of the Maharishi Group.
In its obituary, BBC News reported that the Maharishi’s master had bequeathed him “the task of keeping the tradition of Transcendental Meditation alive” and that “the Maharishi’s commercial mantras drew criticism from stricter Hindus, but his promises of better health, stress relief and spiritual enlightenment drew devotees from all over the world”.Paul McCartney commented saying that “Whilst I am deeply saddened by his passing, my memories of him will only be joyful ones. He was a great man who worked tirelessly for the people of the world and the cause of unity.”