It was more than 30 years ago that Swami Nirvanananda, an Italian student of agriculture and music, traveled to Puri, India, after having read the book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahansa Yogananda. A book that transformed his life’s direction with Guru Yogananda Paramahansa serving as an inspiration and inner teacher. In India he met Father Marian, a survivor of the Nazi death camp of Dachau, who had started a village for lepers. Touched by the work of Father Marian and all that he witnessed in India, Swami followed his heart and embarked on a project to build a school for the children of the lepers’ families; even if the children were themselves healthy, they were not allowed to attend a normal school. This was the beginning of the Beatrix School and a life long journey that continues to this day – a journey of bringing education, simple needs and food to thousands of children in need through his Shanti Puri Friends Foundation
Following the completion of his first school, it was not long before more and more children asked to attend the Beatrix School – there was such a need and none of the children in the area had access to schooling. They were well aware that even a basic education offered them the chance at a decent life. After a few years a larger school was constructed that could take children from kindergarten up to the tenth class. Currently more than 900 children are studying there. Beyond academics, the schools are also rooted in spiritual principles with the children beginning each day with half an hour of yoga and meditation. This program of bringing in silence and movement had an immediate impact on the children, bringing a clarity that enhanced their learning abilities. The benefits extended through to their families and on into the whole community.
After the success of the Beatrix School, Swami opened other schools near Puri, in India. One at a fishermen’s village, and three other schools in more remote areas of Orissa. Those schools are solely for girls, being the most disadvantaged among the children. One school was built to offer handicapped girls an education alongside much needed physical therapy and rehabilitation. Another school was created to give shelter and educate homeless girls who had been living on the street. With nurturance and care a human being can flourish. Many of these girls are now married, have become mothers themselves and living normal lives.
In 2016 Swami Nirvananada joined GPIW and members of the Contemplative Alliance on a ten day journey to Ladakh in Kashmir. On a three day visit to the Mahabodhi Center, Swami was moved by the many children and elderly that Bhikkhu Sangasena, a Buddhist monk, was caring for there. The Mahabodhi community was in need of housing for more girls to be able to attend school and this prompted Swami Nirvanananda to send support for the construction of a hostel for two hundred additional girls who would not otherwise have the chance to be schooled, many of them living in remote villages in Ladakh.
It’s remarkable that all this work could be accomplished by chanting devotional music all over the world. For more than 30 years Swami has been traveling across the globe, sharing his songs of love and devotion with many while collecting donations for these schools. He was gifted with a beautiful voice for a reason — and an ability to write melodies that move the soul. He might sing in English, Italian, German or Sanskrit but the real language that comes through is that of love.
Some may think that the measure of a life is: “How much did you love?” But truly the only question is: “How many souls did you make happy?” We are responsible for spreading joy and peace in this world becoming the humble instruments of Divine Will. ~ Swami Nirvanananda