Arya Sangha or Assembly of the Wise

The Lion's Roar: Siddhas of Lanka (2)

This was no everyday ascetic, but one who loved a drink and a cigar, says Manik Sandrasagra as he writes to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of the enigmatic German Swami Gauribala Swami.
Gauribala Swami: The greatest showman of them all. Photo ©  Dominic Sansoni
Gauribala Swami: The greatest showman of them all. Photo © Dominic Sansoni

It was my good fortune that on returning home in 1971 I found in Sri Lanka an Arya Sangha from the four quarters of the world still enjoying her felicity. After five years in a material world in North America I never expected to meet an enlightened Siddha roaming around this island roaring like a lion and living the myth in modern times.

Peter Schoenfelt alias Nyanakhetto Thero alias Swami Gauribala Giri alias German Swami came to Sri Lanka in 1936, escaping from a Europe that was witnessing the rise of Hitler. His brother Malte, Paul Zils who contributed greatly to the art of film documentation in this country, and several young Germans in their twenties came at the same time to Ceylon in search of ‘an island of light' or Dhamma Deepa - located somewhere in the mystic east.

For them Lanka had the same symbolic value as for the ancients. It was magical and the abode of the wise. This movement east (German: Morganlandfahrt) mostly of Germans of Jewish origin is well documented in the 1932 book Die Morgenlandfahrt (Journey to the East) by Hermann Hesse.

I first met Gauribala Swami in 1971. He was staying with Mike and Elizabeth Wilson on Barnes Place in Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo-7. A bare bodied European dressed in a white un-seamed cotton cloth and being called Swami was being treated with great respect in the household when I was introduced to him. He called me ‘the crown crested gem' which I did not know was the meaning of my name.

From the beginning I noticed that unlike holy men, he made no secret of the fact that he enjoyed a drink and a Jaffna cigar and was living life to the fullest. Happiness and mischief permeated from every pore of his being. This was no ascetic or saint. He was Rabelaisian.

I however was shocked, being at that time a brainwashed subscriber to Galle Road civilization and its morality. I expected Swamis to be saintly and holy, but as Swami explained, swa means 'self' and mi means 'man' – the word swami meaning 'a man who is himself', that is, a free man.

Go to "The Lion's Roar: Siddhas of Lanka" Part 3

Courtesy: The Sunday Times (Colombo) of 9 September 2007

"The Lion's Roar: Siddhas of Lanka" Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 |

Life and Times of German Swami | The Bohemian Swami