Exclusive: No spices, no sex and plenty of yoga make Swami Sivananda the oldest living man on earth


Photojournalist Pragati Gupta with Swami Baba
By SHAMLAL PURI Senior Editor, UK shamlalpuri4@gmail.com

Worth Noting:

  • Meet the world’s oldest man – Sivananda Baba, believed to be the world’s oldest living man. Records show Kane Tanaka of Japan as the ‘oldest man’ aged 117 years going into 118. But Sivananda beats his record by at least seven years.
  • As it was known, Varanasi is a bustling city on the banks of the revered Ganges River
  • My journalistic sense sparked off that curiosity to meet the revered Baba. As travel to India is banned due to Covid-19, I requested my friend, the well-known Indian photojournalist Pragati Gupta to fix a meeting, Baba sent a personally written invitation to us in his clear handwriting. This could have easily out my handwriting garnered from so many years of writing reports into shame!

It was a typical day at Abu Dhabi International Airport. International passengers were walking either for their onward flights or making a beeline for the arrivals at the immigration desks.

Baba Swami outside his house. Photo Pragati Gupta.
Swami Baba with his deviotees and photojournalist Pragati Gupta

The flight from India had just landed. Among the scores of newly disembarked passengers was a short, slim, relatively alert man, just five-foot-two inches tall. He walked with a recycled teenager’s enthusiasm to reach the immigration desk at the arrivals. Looking remarkably unlined for his age, anyone looking at him may have guessed him to be around 60 to 70 at the very most.

After standing in the queue, he walked to the young Arab immigration officer, greeted him and handed over his Indian passport. The immigration officer smiled vaguely, returned his greeting and opened his passport in his usual business-like manner, flipping through the pages.

He asked him the purpose of his visit to the United Arab Emirates. The man replied to conduct yoga sessions and to meet Indians living in the country.

Baba says he is fut wuth daily yoga

He looked at the smiling passenger waiting in anticipation of his passport stamped with the oval-shaped arrival stamp. He looked at the passenger’s details and suddenly did a double-take as if he had touched a live electric wire. He gawped, rubbing his eyes in disbelief. He then looked again at his newly issued passport. His year of birth read 8th August 1896. That made him 124 at that time.

The officer stared at him, craned his face forward to take a closer look, and returned his gaze at the passport in disbelief. He jumped from his seat and walked to his senior with the thought the passport could be forged, or it may have an error. He had never seen anyone of that age travelling before.

The immigration officer’s senior looked in disbelief. They said the next course of action was to call the Indian authorities to confirm.

Indeed, the passport was genuine, and so was the passport holder! Moreover, he was given the arrival stamp promptly!

In the news…Baba gets his covid injection in India hich was covered by a local (Indian) newspaper.

But Baba is a seasoned traveller. In addition, to the United Arab Emirates, his recent foreign trips have also taken him to the United Kingdom, France. Spain, Germany, and Switzerland before returning to India. He has many devotees among the diaspora. He usually travels with a group of devotees.

When writing this, Baba was travelling from his hometown Varanasi to Kolkata by road – a 675 km journey.

Recently, Baba was the oldest man in the world to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Meet the world’s oldest man – Sivananda Baba, believed to be the world’s oldest living man. Records show Kane Tanaka of Japan as the ‘oldest man’ aged 117 years going into 118. But Sivananda beats his record by at least seven years.

As it was known, Varanasi is a bustling city on the banks of the revered Ganges River

The evidence, Baba was born in August 1896. Photo Pragati Gupta.

My journalistic sense sparked off that curiosity to meet the revered Baba. As travel to India is banned due to Covid-19, I requested my friend, the well-known Indian photojournalist Pragati Gupta to fix a meeting,

Baba sent a personally written invitation to us in his clear handwriting. This could have easily out my handwriting garnered from so many years of writing reports into shame!

Before we took up the invitation, we wanted to verify Baba’s biography. Even the Indian authorities checked out his age from a temple register before issuing him with a passport. Temple records of Indians much younger than him are kept to this day as they are believed to be authentic and passed on to future generations.

His life and simple living show a fantastic story. He shuns all luxuries and lives the life of a monk. He is a brahmachari (celibate) who shuns sex.

His parents Shrinath Ghoshwami and his mother, Bhagboti Debi and grandmother, used to make rounds of their village seeking alms.

From the age of four, he drank rice water and recalled, “In my childhood, I slept many days without eating anything.”

Swami Sivananda was born in the Indian village of Haripur, in the Sylhet district of what is present-day Habibgunj district of Bangladesh. At the age of four, Baba’s poverty-stricken parents were forced to send their son to Navdeep in the present-day Nadia district of West Bengal.

The young boy returned home two years later to find that his sister had died due to hunger and lack of medicines. Then, barely a week after his arrival, Baba’s parents also passed away.

That was the day Baba vowed to eat only on half a stomach.

As a teenager of 16, Baba went to West Bengal and acquired Vedic knowledge under the guidance of Baba Omkar Nand in Nadia district.

Vrindavan captured his heart and after taking initiation from the Ashram, stayed on for two years. Finally, in 1979 he moved to Varanasi, where he settled.

Baba is a strict disciplinarian and follows a set routine. He lives the life of a hard grind. He sleeps on the floor and uses a wooden slab as a pillow. He has renounced all joys of life and avoids taking milk and fruit, calling them “fancy foods.”

Our inevitable question was – what is the secret of his long life? He says no sex, no spices and daily yoga

Baba wakes up at 3 am. His mind clock is set to that time. After freshening himself, he starts meditation and chanting, followed by a yoga session before starting his typical day.

He has a simple breakfast of poha (puffed rice). This takes him to lunch, where his meal consists of dal, roti and boiled vegetables. Dinner, he repeats the lunch menu. That is the reason Baba looks much younger than his years – and healthy too. He is fit without any medical complications.

He grew in an era where there was no electricity, no modern communications, and no gizmos. These things do not allure him. He mainly loves his own company. In a life that most of us live in the fast lane, we are often victims of our own depression, diseases drowning us in tablets and other medications. Baba has no depression.

When Pragati said that I had assigned her to meet him at his Ashram, Baba blessed both of us. So much is his humility.

Kolkata resident Mamoni, a devotee of Baba whom he calls Didi (sister), said that: – Baba is like a child. He is also stubborn.  Even at this age, he listens to his heart.  Taking the duty of being a sister, I also advise Baba to rest and eat at times.  But Baba is stubborn like children and merges in his yoga, meditation, ignoring her.

Baba’s devotees mostly live with him.   They spend all their time in Baba’s service.

Baba stays out of politics, controversy and happenings on the Indian political stage.

After knowing this much, I saw a natural glow on Baba’s face and happiness in his eyes clearly, but he did not see the greed of anything.

He runs his Ashram (sanctuary) without any donations. He concentrates on his yoga

Baba has also taught yoga abroad and has many diasporic followers. His fans include many Bollywood celebrities.

When Baba asked, Pragati told him this interview was assigned by my colleague Shamlal Puri in London who couldn’t travel because of Covid restrictions. He thanked us both very heartily and gave many blessings!

He was very welcoming and hospitable. My team enjoyed a dish of pulses, rice and spinach and potatoes made without garlic or onion – plain and simple but delicious. Simple food is Baba’s concept of long life!!.

Baba serves the local community with selfless devotion. His Ashram distributes oils, spices and other daily essentials to more than 500 leprosy patients,

Everyone visiting the Ashram becomes a member of Baba’s family.  Baba himself lives m a small room devoid of any luxury.

Baba says. “this earth is my home and all humans are my own family.”

The world has taken note of Baba’s contributions and awarded him with the Yoga Ratana Award and Rai International Award.

Rightly so, Baba’s entry as the world’s oldest living man should now be noted by the Guinness Books of Records in its next edition. Of course, the Guinness Book of Records owes this to posterity.

Additional reporting and photos by Indian photojournalist Pragati Gupta.

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