Swami Kesavananda was a freedom fighter, social reformer, great saint, educationist and member of Rajya Sabha from India.
Swami Kesavanand was born in a poor Dhaka family in December 1883 in village ‘Magaluna’ under Laxmangarh tehsil of Sikar district of Rajasthan. His father’s name was ‘Thakarsi’ and mother’s name was ‘Sara’. Village Magaluna was settled in the area of Fate Khan Nawab Fatehpur in 1451 by his own descendant ‘Maluji Dhaka’, 13 generations before Swami Keshwanand.
Swami Kesavananda’s childhood name was Birma. When Birma was 5 years old, his family left Magaluna and moved to Ratlagarh city. Apart from Birma, his father Thakarsi, mother Sara and cousin Ramlal were in his family. Ramlal’s parents had passed away in childhood, so he was being maintained by Thakarsi. Thakarsi used to carry the goods of Seth (merchant) from Ratangarh to Delhi on his camel, he used to get one and a half rupees as wages for this work. He died in 1890 when Birama was 7 years old.
Eventually the mother and son settled in Kelaniya village in the present Sri Ganganagar district in 1897. However, this was not the end of their misfortunes, with the specter of famine slowly emerging on the horizon. The water crisis was also getting worse. The water wells had also dried up. The oppressed rural peasant society of that time was buried under the slavery of feudal lords, kings-nawabs and foreign rulers. Under these circumstances Birma’s mother Sara died in the village of Kelaniya in 1899.
Sun. In 1899, the greatest famine in history forced Birma to leave the desert area and he went to Punjab for a livelihood. There he contacted Mahant ‘Kushaldas’ of the ‘Udasi Sampradaya’ and expressed his desire to learn Sanskrit. Mahant Kushaldas advised that as a Jat caste they would not be allowed to learn Sanskrit. Birma became a sanyasi (saint) from a ‘Jat’ to learn Sanskrit in 1904. He was educated at Sadhu Ashram Fazilka (Punjab). He learned Hindi, Gurmukhi and Sanskrit languages at the ashram. In the year 1905, on the occasion of Prayag Kumbh Mela, Mahatma ‘Hiranandji Avdhoot’ conferred the title of “Swami Kesavananda” on Birma.
Sun. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, which had a deep impact on the collective psyche of Punjab, Swami Kesavananda was also not untouched by it. He started attending the meetings of Arya Samaj and was impressed by its philosophy. He started attending Congress meetings. He met ‘Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’ in the Ahmedabad session of Congress. ‘Pandit Madan Mahan Malaviya’ also influenced him. He attended the Delhi session of Congress in 1919 under the chairmanship of Madan Mahan Malviya. He joined the Indian independence movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Due to Mahatma Gandhi’s participation in the non-cooperation movement, he was imprisoned for 2 years and was kept in the Ferozepur (1921–1922) jail. Swami Kesavananda’s role in the freedom movement became so important that in 1930 he was appointed the Adhinayak (Leader) of Ferozepur district to conduct the freedom movement in that area. He was arrested again in 1930, but was released after the conclusion of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact.
work as a teacher
Swami Kesavananda, an orphan, illiterate, nomadic man who never received formal education, was the founder of more than 300 schools, 50 hostels and innumerable libraries, social service centers and museums. In 1911, within a few years of his initiation into the ‘Udasin Dasnami sect’ as a sannyasin, Swami Kesavananda started the “Vedanta Pushpa Vatika” library inside the premises of Sadan Ashram Fazilka.
The following year, he started a Sanskrit school at the same place. In 1932, Swami Kesavananda was made the director of the Jat school, Sangaria, which was on the verge of closure due to lack of funds. He moved from village to village to collect funds and was successful in starting the closed school, which was renamed as “Gramotthan Vidyapeeth”, Sangaria in 1948. Swami Kesavananda developed a museum inside this school with a valuable collection of rare documents. Gramotthan Vidyapeeth, Sangaria became an inspiration to the teachers from far and wide.
Swami Kesavananda was a great social worker. He was always associated with the spread of education, social and village upliftment. He was associated with the establishment (1917–1932) of Sahitya Sadan, Abohar, Ferozepur district in Punjab. He started his proclamation of spreading the knowledge of Hindi with the Hindi-Forum in the city of Abohar. He established ‘Nagri Pracharini Sabha Sansthan’ at Abohar in 1920, which was renamed as Sahitya Sadan, Abohar.
His services for Hindi
Swami Kesavananda started a press (printer) “Deepak” at Abohar in 1933 and published material in Hindi language and distributed to villagers free of cost or at very nominal cost. Sahitya Sadan, Abohar developed as an institution with Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan. He organized the 30th All India Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in 1941 at Sahitya Sadan, Abohar. He was awarded the title of “Sahitya Vachaspati” in 1942 in recognition of his services to Hindi.
- Swami Kesavananda was presented “Abhinandan Granth” on 9 March 1958 by the then Chief Minister of Rajasthan. He was a member of Rajya Sabha for two consecutive terms in 1952-58 and 1958-64.
- The Department of Posts, Government of India issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor on 15 August 1999.
- In 2009 “Swami Kesavanand Rajasthan Agricultural University” was named after him.
Swami Kesavananda passed away on 13 September 1972.