Who is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar?
‘My vision is a violence free, stress free world’, stated the spiritual leader and humanitarian ambassador, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has long been working towards building peace among nations. He is the founder of the ‘Art of Living Foundation’, which is one of the world’s largest humanitarian, non-governmental organizations and is known for its great services to mankind. As a child, he was extremely gifted and always dreamt of building a peaceful world. Today, he propagates his ideologies through the countless ‘ashrams’ and Art of Living institutes all around the world. A universally revered saint, Ravi Shankar is a multi-faceted social activist and his humanitarian initiatives include conflict resolution, trauma relief and poverty assuagement. He claims deep meditation and a potent breathing technique known as the ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ can be directly integrated in one’s daily life to calm the mind and to bring about positivity and vigor. His preaching and ideologies have reached out to over 300 million people around the world through personal teachings, social interactions, public events and Art of Living workshops. Numerous honors have been bestowed upon this great personality for his unequivocal contributions to humanity.
Early Years & Education
Ravi Shankar was born to Smt. Visalakshmi Ratnam and R.S. Venkat Ratnam in Papanasam, Tamil Nadu, India. A child prodigy, he was able to recite verses from the Bhagwad Gita, an ancient Sanskrit text and also started practicing meditation with his parents by the age of four.
He began studying Vedic literature with Sudhakar Chaturvedi and simultaneously attended the school at MES in Bangalore. In 1973, at the age of 17, he graduated with degrees in both Physics and Vedic Literature.
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Rise To Fame
After graduation, he travelled with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi under whose tutelage he started giving sermons on Vedic science in Ayurveda centers. During this period, he became the Maharishi’s close friend and confidante.
Through the 1980s, he travelled around the world and preached spirituality wherever he set foot. He established the Art of Living Foundation in 1982 and in 1983 he held the first Art of Living course in Europe, Switzerland. In 1986 he travelled to California for an Art of Living workshop and soon became extremely popular with the masses in America.
Towards the end of the 80s, he introduced a series of effective breathing exercises called the ‘Sudarshan-Kriya’. It is said that the inspiration to come up with a new breathing technique, came to him while he was meditating on the banks of the Bhadra River in Shimoga, Karnataka.
In 1997, he founded the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), a humanitarian organization that aims to bring sustainable development to rural areas and revive human values and morals.
Teachings & Philosophies
He is one of the greatest advocators of spirituality and has emphasized time and again that spirituality fosters human values such as love and compassion and can be embraced by people of all faiths. In his view, a ‘violence-free society’ can be achieved through spirituality and not solely through religion.
He believes that meditation should be practiced every single day, in order to feel rejuvenated and re-energized. He also arranges for ‘Satsangs’ (group meetings) where his innumerable followers can listen to his discourses and meditate in unison.
According to his philosophy, omnipresent God lies within everybody’s heart. He preached that every religion has three features associated with it, viz. customs, symbols and values, all of which are essential ingredients for building a peaceful and united world.
One of his other standpoints is that it is easy for humans to judge others and that people should not become too rigid when it comes to forming opinions or viewpoints. This could affect their morals or character and can in turn, affect society at large.
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Humanitarian Efforts & Current Activities
He has been globally recognized as an ambassador of peace, receiving numerous awards and accolades for the same. He spreads his vision of non-violence through the Art of Living Foundation and to date, involves himself in countless other charitable works.
In 1992, he started the prison program, to rehabilitate prison inmates and help them get respectable jobs after their release.
He visited Pakistan and Iraq in 2004 and 2007, repectively, and met political and religious leaders to promote global peace. It was after this, that he became involved in ‘interfaith dialogue’ and is currently a member of the ‘Board of World Religious Leaders’.
In the wake of the 2004 Tsunami, volunteers from the ‘Art of Living Foundation’ provided the tsunami victims with aid, food and shelter. Apart from this, his volunteers have also been a part of the ‘Hurricane Katrina’ relief team.
Shankar launched ‘Volunteer for a Better India’ initiative on December 5, 2012, following the brutal Delhi Gang Rape Case in 2012.
Recently, he launched the ‘NONVIO’ Movement with the aim of eliminating violence for good. It encourages individuals to pledge against violence with the help of social and online media.
Sri Ravi Shankar has reached out to millions of people worldwide through a powerful and unique breathing technique called ‘Sudarshan Kriya’, a continuous breathing rhythm that harmonizes the body and mind and helps individuals find inner peace. The core of all Art of Living courses, the ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ breathing technique were reviewed by a number of medical institutes and has been accredited for improving one’s immunity and enhancing brain function.
‘Celebrating Silence’, a book by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is regarded as one of his most influential publications to date. It is a collection of the weekly discourses in chronological order from the years 1995–2000. The book sold over 1.4 lakh copies in the first two weeks and still enjoys great popularity.
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Awards & Achievements
He was conferred the title of ‘Yoga Shiromani’ by the President of India in 1986.
He was awarded the ‘Guru Mahatmya Award’ by the Government of Maharashtra in 1997.
He was presented the illustrious, ‘Global Humanitarian Award’ in Illinois, USA in 2005.
He was honored with the ‘Leadership Award for Extraordinary Promotion of World Peace and Harmony’ by Amity University, New Delhi in 2007.
In 2009, he was listed as the 5th most powerful person in India by the Forbes Magazine.
In 2010, he was presented the ‘Atmajyoti Award’ for his humanitarian efforts in New Delhi.
He was honored with Paraguay’s highest civilian award, the ‘National Order of Merito de Comuneros’ on September 13, 2012.
Today, the Art of Living Foundation is present in over 152 countries, with over a million followers. There are a number of other institutes and ashrams, such as, ‘Ved Vignan Mahavidyapeeth’, ‘Sri Sri Ayurveda’, and ‘The Sri Sri School for Performing Arts and Fine Arts’ and ‘Sri Sri Pre-University College’ which carry forward his legacy
This spiritual leader’s ‘Art of Living’ course is a part of the training program for NASA Astronauts.