“English people are tremendous workers. Give them an idea, and you may be sure that that idea is not going to be lost, provided they catch it.”
Captain James Henry Savier and Mrs Charlotte Elizabeth Savier did not practise any particular religion for twenty years. They were in search of something that was refreshing and elevating. They first heard Swamiji in the middle of 1896. The speech impressed them so much that they exclaimed, “This is the man and this is the philosophy that we have been seeking in vain all through our life!” Swamiji had said in his speech: “This separate self must die.” It caught their imagination. They learnt from him that Advaitism is the last word of religion and thought, and the only position from which one can look upon all religions and sects with love. They were enormously inspired. Their desire to sacrifice everything for the highest was genuine. As they were immensely influenced by Swamiji’s profound message, they decided to assist him in his mission of Vedanta.
The impact of Vivekananda’s lectures on English intelligentsia during his visit to England was impeccable, and the progress of his work on Vedanta remarkable. A well known journal in London wrote: “His gifts as an orator were high.” Swamiji was quite happy that his words were seriously received by them. On his return, he said in Calcutta: “If you once know how to reach it (English heart), if you get there, if you have personal contact and mix with him (an Englishman), he will open his heart, he is your friend forever, he is your servant. Therefore in my opinion, my work in England has been more satisfactory than anywhere else.”
Meanwhile, Captain Savier checked with Miss Macleod with the question, “Do you know this young man? Is he really what he seems?” She answered, “Yes.” Then he said, “In that case one must follow him and with him find God.” Subsequently, he asked his wife, “Will you let me become the Swami’s disciple?” She replied, “Yes”, and posed the same question to him for her own sake. Captain Savier impishly replied, “I don’t know…” When Mrs Savier had a chance to speak to Swamiji privately, he addressed her as “Mother” and said, “Would you not like to come to India? I will give you of my best realisations.” The Saviers were unlike other aristocratic couples of the Victorian era. Captain Savier was in the British Army and had stayed in India for five years. Both were middle-aged ~ the Captain was 51 and his wife 49. Though disciples, their relationship with Swamiji was parental, “always seeking to protect and provide him.” They espoused Swamiji’s cause, disposing of their property and valuables. Within six months of their acquaintance, they set out with him for India.
Before leaving for India, Swamiji visited Europe along with the Saviers. During this travel, Saviers had observed Swamiji intimately and had understood what it means to be Vedantist. The appeal of Advaita Vedanta, as he conveyed to them, fulfilled their need of a way of life. Mrs Savier later wrote: “In fact Vedanta has had a re-birth from the knowledge in the grand archives of the distant past, and is today becoming more widely known than ever before, finding acceptance of many conscientious, reasoning minds of the Western world. The practical application of its tenets shows its adaptability to human needs, and is most important for a direct demonstration of the value of principles, leading upwards and onwards to higher spiritual developments.”
Mrs Savier wrote: “Every phase of human activity, and every department of knowledge had interest for Swamiji, and his mental attitude of cheerfulness and kindness, combined with his fine intelligence and personal charm, made him the most delightful of the companions.” At Kiel, Swamiji spent a pleasant day “in the society of Dr Paul Deussen, Professor of Philosophy in the university there, a man of rare philosophical grasp, standing foremost in the rank of European Sanskrit scholars.” They returned to London on 17 September 1896, accompanied by Prof. Deussen.
Saviers didn’t miss a single lecture of their Master. Once their journey to India was finalised, they offered the entire proceeds of the sale of their belongings to the monastery that Swamiji planned to set up in the Himalayas. “He refused to accept all the money, requesting them to keep some for their future.”
Swamiji left for India with the Saviers from Naples on 30 December 1896 and arrived in Colombo on 15 January 1897. The disciples witnessed an unprecedented reception given to their Guru. After visiting various places Saviers settled in Thompson House at Almora. Here they began working for the revival of Prabuddha Bharata started by Swamiji himself. The journal used to be published from Madras under the editorship of one of his committed followers, BR Rajam Iyer. Vivekananda told them: “The journal (PB) has got over three thousand subscribers. It was first printed on my advice, and has gradually become a notable instrument for the dissemination of Vedantic knowledge. I don’t wish that it should be discontinued. I am giving you a capable editor (Swami Swarupananda).” Swarupananda was Swamiji’s dear disciple who was extraordinarily bright and the former editor of the reputed journal. Dawn.
A printing press and other materials were brought from Calcutta, 1500 miles away. They published its first issue within two months in August 1898, with Captain Savier as its manager. A subscriber Sant Nihal Singh wrote: “They had performed almost a miracle. The two persons who, between them, bore the brunt of this transition, were an English woman and her husband ~ Mrs CE and Catain JH Savier. Never before had a noble lady been led by her maternal instincts to assume an obligation that called for such ceaseless vigilance and drew upon the art and science of management, quite to the degree that Mrs Savier had been.”
For the monastery, Saviers purchased a tea estate owned by a Scotsman in the region of Kumaon on 2 March 1899. The place was known among the villages as Maipat, the place of the Divine Mother. The mountain dweller believed that there was a stone shrine to the Divine Mother in the estate. Swarupananda renamed it as Mayavati, the abode of Mahamaya. Saviers established the monastery on this 25-acre forestland, at an altitude of 6,400 feet, 50 miles from Almora, which commanded a magnificent view of the snowclad Himalayan peaks. “We have brought a homoeopathic chest and and the poor people are constantly coming to us for advice and medicine,” said Mrs Savier in a letter. They renounced all comforts and amenities of life. There was no electricity, running water and proper food. It was a secluded place in dense forest infested with tigers and other animals. They named the monastery as Advaita Ashrama.
Captain Savier suddenly died on October 28, 1900. In keeping with his wish, he was cremated according to Hindu rites. Mrs Savier remained undaunted even after the deaths of her mentor, Swami Vivekananda, and her close assistant, Swami Swarupananda, who passed away when he was only 36. As she fought age and ilness, her health didn’t permit her to continue at Mayavati. She went over to her nieces in England, and accepted her death quietly like a Vedantist, meditating on her Guru, Ishta (chosen ideal) and India. She passed away on 20 October 1930. Her last rites were performed according to Hindu rituals. The example of this English couple is indubitably a saga that glorifies humanity in this day and age.
(The writer is with Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur)