When You First Called Me Radha: Poems by Swami Sivananda Radha

Swami Sivananda Radha. When You First Called Me Radha: Poems. Toronto: Timeless Books, 2005. Paperback, 71 pages.

Swami Sivananda Radha (born Sylvia Hellman, née Demitz) can be counted among the few Westerners who have succeeded in integrating East and West in their own psyche. Born in Berlin in 1911, she had a successful career as a dancer before World War II

interrupted her life. Along with her first husband, she helped the persecuted to leave Germany, which in the end cost her then husband’s life. After being married to her second husband for only eighteen months, he died suddenly of a stroke in 1949. Not only did this tragedy prompt her to relocate to Canada, it also made her question the purpose of life at a deep level.

Then, in 1955, she traveled all the way to India following an inner call from her guru—the world-famous Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. After only a few months in his hermitage, the swami initiated her into the monastic order. A year later, he sent her back to Canada, where she opened an ashram as directed. This became Yashodhara Ashram located since 1963 in beautiful Kootenay Bay, British Columbia. Swami Radha wrote about her experiences in India in her autobiography Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search (1981).

She also authored several other significant works, including Kundalini Yoga for the West (1978), Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language (1987), Mantras: Words of Power (1994), and Realities of the Dreaming Mind: The Practice of Dream Yoga (1994). She died in 1995, and so the present book is published posthumously by Timeless Books, a company launched by Swami Radha herself in 1978.

I am not inclined to read, much less to review, poetry books. But when I opened When You First Called Me Radha, I was immediately impressed and enchanted by the very first poem entitled “ Gebet zur göttlichen Mutter” (Prayer to Divine Mother) composed in German and then translated into English by Swami Radha herself. I felt encouraged to read on. The rest of the prayers—all in English—are uniformly sensitive and inspiring. They tell of her love of and devotion to the Goddess ( Radha), to Krishna whose magical flute playing interrupts her quiet meditation and wants to make her dance to his rhythm, and not least to her guru in whom her soul found refuge. They are an intimate record of her spiritual struggles and triumphs.

As Clea McDougall, the editor of Ascent magazine and the writer of the Afterword to this book, explains: “These poems had special significance to her. As a very public spiritual figure and teacher, poetry was a refuge for her, a place to express her pain, her doubt, her love, and her longing.” I agree but they are much more than that. For me, Swami Radha’s poems are signposts of the enduring grace in her life and of the constant effort to remain true to her highest spiritual aspirations.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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