“Truly there was never a time when I was not, nor you, nor these lords of men. And neither will there be a time when we shall cease to be from this time onward” (Sri Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita 2:12).
Those of us who have been fortunate enough to hear the unique songs of the great Swami Sivananda of Divine Life Society in Rishikesh are familiar with the name of Shanti Devi, who Sivananda commemorated in these verses:
“Here’s a challenge to the disbelievers
in the Hindu theory of transmigration.
Have you not heard the thrilling narrative
of Shanti Devi and her past life?”
For those who have not heard the thrilling narrative, we offer this short video documentary on Shanti Devi at the end of this post, which includes interviews with her brother, and her sister and son in her previous life.
And for those who wish to go to the heart of her amazing story, we recommend the book “I Have Lived Before,” the official biography of Shanti Devi written by Swedish journalist Sture Lonnerstrand who met and became good friends with her in India in the late 1950’s, and visited her again thirty years later.
An amazing story of past life recall
Her story is one of the most amazing and best documented cases of past life recall in modern times, at one time attracting the attention of all of India and Mahatma Gandhi himself.
Born in Delhi in the 1930’s, Shanti Devi spoke very little during the first four years of her life, until one day she declared to her family that “This is not my real home! I have a husband a son in Mathura! I must return to them!”
At first her family paid little attention to this, but Shanti persisted. When one of her teachers sent a letter to the address Shanti Devi gave as her real home, he received a reply from Kedar Nath, the husband of her previous life, verifying his wife Lugdi Devi had died while giving birth to their son about fourteen months before Shanti Devi’s birth.
When Kedar Nath visited Shanti Devi and her parents in Delhi under a false name, she immediately identified him as the husband of her previous life. This eventually let to her visit to Mathura, where she demonstrated knowledge of the smallest details of her life as Lugdi Devi, leading others to her old home, accurately describing what the neighborhood looked like in earlier years, and even identifying her sister and her son from her past life.
The investigation which captured India’s attention
News of this spread throughout India and eventually led to Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Shanti Devi, and his appointment of a commission to carefully investigate the case. The Committee of Inquiry’s conclusion: this is a genuine case of reincarnation.
In her interviews with Lonnerstrand, Shanti Devi shared an openness about her experiences that allows us to understand the uniqueness of her situation. Many of us have intuitions about previous births, an unexplained familiarity with a new place or person, or even more vivid memories in dreams or meditation. By their nature these are short-lived experiences, from which we stand apart.
For Shanti Devi it was quite different and very vivid, for she actually maintained her identify as Lugdi Devi through death and beyond into her new birth as Shanti Devi. “My earlier life was still with me and had never really come to an end. It was my Real life, the other was like a dream.”
In effect, she experienced herself as an adult woman growing up in a child’s body with a name, parents, and a location that were not her own, all the while retaining memories of her adult life that became more and more detailed as she grew older– quite distressing and confusing, to say the least!
The secret of Shanti Devi’s experience
How could this happen? As far as we know, Lonnerstrand is the only person with whom Shanti Devi shared the secret of this continuity of identity. As Lugdi Devi she was a great devotee of Lord Krishna, and his divine Name was ever on her lips and in her mind, so much so that it became one with her breath and heart throughout the day and night. She explained that as she passed into the darkness of death she continued the repetition of the Divine Name and it became the center of her experience in the next world.
“I had almost reached a state of eternal bliss and salvation…but I made a mistake. I was far too eager to come back to earth again, longing to see my son and yearning for my husband Kedar Nath.
“My love was egoistical, greedy and demanding. I still loved myself even when I was dead. Therefore I had to experience death’s next stage, reincarnation.”
As Swami Sivananda sang, this is a “thrilling narrative,” and we recommend to all who wish to understand the mystery and reality of reincarnation.