It was into a pious Brahmin family of ancient lineage that Lahiri Mahasaya was born September 30, 1828. His birthplace was the village of Ghurni in the Nadia district near Krishnagar, Bengal. He was the youngest son of Muktakashi, the second wife of the esteemed Gaur Mohan Lahiri. (His first wife, after the birth of three sons, had died during a pilgrimage.) The boy’s mother passed away during his childhood; little about her is known except the revealing fact that she was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva,7 scripturally designated as the “King of Yogis.”
The boy Lahiri, whose given name was Shyama Charan, spent his early years in the ancestral home at Nadia. At the age of three or four he was often observed sitting under the sands in the posture of a yogi, his body completely hidden except for the head.
The Lahiri estate was destroyed in the winter of 1833, when the near-by Jalangi River changed its course and disappeared into the depths of the Ganges. One of the Shiva temples founded by the Lahiris went into the river along with the family home. A devotee rescued the stone image of Lord Shiva from the swirling waters and placed it in a new temple, now well-known as the Ghurni Shiva Site.
Gaur Mohan Lahiri and his family left Nadia and became residents of Benares, where the father immediately erected a Shiva temple. He conducted his household along the lines of Vedic discipline, with regular observance of ceremonial worship, acts of charity, and scriptural study. Just and open-minded, however, he did not ignore the beneficial current of modern ideas.
The boy Lahiri took lessons in Hindi and Urdu in Benares study-groups. He attended a school conducted by Joy Narayan Ghosal, receiving instruction in Sanskrit, Bengali, French, and English. Applying himself to a close study of the Vedas, the young yogi listened eagerly to scriptural discussions by learned Brahmins, including a Marhatta pundit named Nag-Bhatta.
Shyama Charan was a kind, gentle, and courageous youth, beloved by all his companions. With a well-proportioned, bright, and powerful body, he excelled in swimming and in many skillful activities.
In 1846 Shyama Charan Lahiri was married to Srimati Kashi Moni, daughter of Sri Debnarayan Sanyal. A model Indian housewife, Kashi Moni cheerfully carried on her home duties and the traditional householder’s obligation to serve guests and the poor. Two saintly sons, Tincouri and Ducouri, blessed the union.
At the age of 23, in 1851, Lahiri Mahasaya took the post of accountant in the Military Engineering Department of the English government. He received many promotions during the time of his service. Thus not only was he a master before God’s eyes, but also a success in the little human drama where he played his given role as an office worker in the world.
As the offices of the Army Department were shifted, Lahiri Mahasaya was transferred to Gazipur, Mirjapur, Danapur, Naini Tal, Benares, and other localities. After the death of his father, Lahiri had to assume the entire responsibility of his family, for whom he bought a quiet residence in the Garudeswar Mohulla neighborhood of Benares.
It was in his thirty-third year that Lahiri Mahasaya saw fulfillment of the purpose for which he had been reincarnated on earth. The ash-hidden flame, long smouldering, received its opportunity to burst into flame. A divine decree, resting beyond the gaze of human beings, works mysteriously to bring all things into outer manifestation at the proper time. He met his great guru, Babaji, near Ranikhet, and was initiated by him into Kriya Yoga.
This auspicious event did not happen to him alone; it was a fortunate moment for all the human race, many of whom were later privileged to receive the soul-awakening gift of Kriya. The lost, or long-vanished, highest art of yoga was again being brought to light. Many spiritually thirsty men and women eventually found their way to the cool waters of Kriya Yoga. Just as in the Hindu legend, where Mother Ganges offers her divine draught to the parched devotee Bhagirath, so the celestial flood of Kriya rolled from the secret fastnesses of the Himalayas into the dusty haunts of men.