Shyama Charan Lahiri (30 September 1828 – 26 September 1895), best known as Lahiri Mahasaya, was an Indian yogi, guru and a disciple of the Kriya Yoga master Mahavatar Babaji. In 1861, he was chosen by his guru to revive the yogic science of Kriya Yoga to the public after centuries of its guarding by masters.
He was unusual among Indian holy people in that he was a householder: marrying, raising a family, and working as a government accountant, he lived with his family in Varanasi rather than in a temple or monastery. Throughout his life, he spread Kriya naturally and rarely sponsored any organizations; nonetheless, his pious living attracted followers, and he became the guru of many advanced Kriya disciples, such as Panchanan Bhattacharya and Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. For his exceptional lifestyle as an “Ideal yogi-householder”, he became a spiritually inspirational figure and achieved a substantial reputation among 19th century Hindu religionists.
He became known in the West through Paramahansa Yogananda, a disciple of Sri Yukteswar Giri, and through Yogananda’s 1946 book Autobiography of a Yogi. Yogananda noted his “Christlike life” and considered him a Yogavatar, or “Incarnation of Yoga,” since Lahiri himself was chosen by the yogic masters to disseminate the principles of yoga to the world. The book notes that as a guru, Lahiri was conscientious and understanding of his disciples; he carefully directed them according to their natural inclinations. Stressing the practicality of Kriya, he yet allowed students the freedom to worship based on their own backgrounds. He also bravely accepted social outcasts and those of other faiths as his students, despite being a high-caste Brahmin in an orthodox Hindu society.
Many miraculous instances of his life are also detailed in the book, such as being initiated in a luminous palace materialized by Babaji and reviving a disciple from death. During his retirement years, he often remained continuously in a meditative state in his home parlor without needing sleep, and often without even leaving for other parts of the house; disciples and wandering monks would visit him both by day and night.
Trailanga Swami, the famous saint of Varanasi, had praised Lahiri Mahasaya in the following words, “Lahiri Mahasaya is like a divine kitten, remaining wherever the Cosmic Mother has placed him. While dutifully playing the part of a worldly man, he has received that perfect Self-realization which I have sought by renouncing everything – even my loincloth!”