Swami Yogananda becomes Paramhansa Yogananda
In July 1914, Swami Sri Yukteswar initiated his disciple, Mukunda Lal Ghosh, into the swami monastic order. Mukunda took the name “Yogananda,” and initiation conferred upon him the title “Swami.” In 1935, after fifteen years in America, Swami Yogananda returned to India. His guru then bestowed on him the further title “Paramhansa,” which replaced his former title of “Swami.” From then on, Yogananda signed his name “Paramhansa Yogananda”.
Here is a sample of his signature, taken from the first edition of Autobiography of a Yogi. Every edition of Autobiography from 1946 until 1956 had this exact signature.
Six years after his death, Yogananda gets a new signature
In the July-August, 1958 issue of Self-Realization Magazine, for the first time Yogananda signs his name in a new way. “Paramhansa” has now become “Paramahansa.” From then on, every edition of Autobiography had the new signature.
Signature changed by SRF in 1958:
Yogananda’s actual signature:
Look closely and you will see that the altered signature has seven “a”s. The original six are all distinct one from another. The new seventh “a” is identical to the first “a” in Yogananda. Quite apart from the fact that Yogananda died in 1952, and therefore was not available to sign his name after that, clearly the seventh “a” has been inserted into Yogananda’s original signature.
SRF made no public announcement of the change. The new signature just started appearing it as if Yogananda himself had written it this way. Only in 1981, when people somehow found out and raised a hue and cry about it, did SRF feel it necessary to explain. Their response was a “publishers note” in the 1981 edition of Whispers from Eternity.
Pundits said Yogananda was wrong
SRF claims that Yogananda followed the Bengali spelling, rather than the correct Sanskrit spelling. An Indian pundit advised them that “Paramhansa” actually has a different meaning from “Paramahansa.” The change was made, SRF says, in order to insure that Yogananda retains the respect and regard he so richly deserves.
There has been much debate since then as to whether that pundit’s advice was accurate. David Frawley, an internationally known Vedic scholar, says there is no difference in meaning between the two spellings. Swami Kriyananda agrees. Kriyananda was with SRF at the time the change was made. Kriyananda argued strongly against it, but to no avail. In a recent letter, he addresses the issue.
“‘Paramhansa’ is how Yogananda himself wrote and signed his name. It was SRF who added the ‘a’ on the advice of a pundit in India. This title, however, is written both ways in that country (and not only in Bengal, as SRF asserts, though Bengali is itself a language and not a dialect). In any case, it must be understood that the English transliteration is into our relatively restricted Roman alphabet, and must necessarily represent an attempt, therefore, to approximate the sounds of the spoken word.
“To me, two factors are decisive here: first, that Yogananda himself spelled his title without the ‘a’; and second, that the people of India don’t pronounce that middle ‘a.’ Westerners, finding themselves saddled with so many ‘a’s, generally linger on that middle one, thus: ‘Paramaahansa,’ as if gathering strength for the final assault. Apart from the obvious objection that this is forgery, the additional ‘a’ changes the vibration of his signature.”
For 23 years, SRF simply acted as if this was Yogananda’s actual signature, and would be pretending still if the public had not demanded an explanation. Swami Kriyananda states, “This is a serious example of SRF’s readiness to lie in Yogananda’s name. To pretend that Yogananda himself endorsed this change, and to advance one’s pretense to the point of actually changing his own signature, seems not only wrong, but gravely wrong.”
In Yogananda’s own words, Autobiography of a Yogi, first edition, 1946
The next afternoon, with a few simple words of blessing, Sri Yukteswar bestowed on me the further monastic title of Paramhansa.
“It now formally supersedes your former title of swami,” he said as I knelt before him. with a silent chuckle I thought of the struggle which my American students would undergo over the pronunciation of Paramhansaji.
(In a footnote, Paramhansa is defined)
Literally, param, highest; hansa, swan. The hansa is represented in scriptural lore as the vehicle of Brahma, Supreme Spirit; as the symbol of discrimination, the white hansa swam is thought of as able to separate the true soma nectar from the mixture of milk and water. Ham-sa (pronounced hong-sau) are two sacred Sanskrit chant words possessing a vibratory connection with the incoming and outgoing breath. Aham-Sa is literally, “I am He.”
Early SRF publications announce Yogananda’s new title
Inner Culture Magazine, December 1937:
During Swami Yogananda’s visit to India in 1936, after fifteen years’ spiritual work in America at the command of his great master, Swami Sri Yukteswarji of Puri, the latter honored him with the title of Paramhansa. Param means “supreme” and hamsa means “soul”. It is the highest spiritual title which a divine guru-preceptor can bestow on his disciple. It is never merely a title, given without reason or just in recognition of material service to others. The guru only bestows it on his disciple when the latter has reached a very high state of Cosmic Consciousness, Divine Joy, Wisdom-Bliss and Godcontact in Self-Realization.
Announcement in every issue of Inner Culture Magazine, 1940-1943
The English equivalent of Paramhansa is “Master”. The title Paramhansa supersedes the title of Swami. The followers of Yogananda’s teachings now address him, in accordance with his Guru Sri Yukteswarji’s wishes, as Paramhansa (or Paramhansaji. Ji is a term of respect in India and is always used when addressing a spiritual teacher, as Guruji, Yoganandaji, Mahatmaji, Swamiji, etc.).
The title of Paramhansa was bestowed on Yogananda when he visited his Guru in India in 1936.