Free Press Journal

Documentary – Awake: The Life of Yogananda – A spiritual odyssey 

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Cast: George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, Deepak Chopra, Krishna Das, Amitabh Bachchan

Directors: Paola Di Florio and Lisa Leeman

The late great Ravi Shankar, the late Beatle George Harrison, Bollywood’s Amitabh Bachchan, Jesuit scholars, Western academics et al, the makers of this biopic on the life of Paramahansa Yogananda leave no stone unturned to promote the legacy of a seer widely regarded as the Father of Yoga in the West and whose bestselling autobiography was mandatory reading for Steve Jobs’ staff.


It is well known that true yogis have the ability to be immune from the elements and Yogananda belonged to this cadre, unlike Mahesh Yogi who left the Beatles disenchanted by his inability to control his fever. Harrison would remain an ardent practitioner of yoga and Indian spirituality to the end; his discipleship is caught on camera in this award-winning documentary populated by devotees who found inspiration in Yogananda’s writings and teachings.

Using newspaper cuttings and sepia movie clips, the Academy award nominated director, Paola di Florio retraces the life of the long-haired Paramahansa by taking the viewer through vintage Kolkata, Ranchi, Varanasi, the US and the director’s own initiation into Kriya Yoga.

Naturally, there are interviews with leading American practitioners of Kriya Yoga, as well as Deepak Chopra, well known allopath and holistic health pioneer who combines Biblical theology with Eastern spirituality and there’s Bikram  Chopra, who patented his “invention” hot yoga and has been raking in the moolah ever since, in the West, specially the USA.

Their path has been made easy by the pioneers like Yogananda, who was born in India in 1893 and went to the United States in 1920, where his initial attempts to spread the gospel of yoga was, sometimes opposed by men folk, alarmed at the influence exerted over their wives and daughters. (Paramahansa Yogananda’s 45 year old bond with a fellow yogi would be broken when the latter would leave to marry a white devotee).

As the viewer sees, the Swami also had to address a whites only audience – racial segregation laws were firmly in place – but Swami circumvented it by holding yoga classes for blacks. He would continue to live and teach in the West for more than 30 years in which time he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship and the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India which carries on his spiritual legacy worldwide today under Sri Mrinalini Mata, one of his closest disciples.

Today, yoga is enshrined with its own special day not only in the US but across the globe. Narrated by Anupam Kher, this biopic releases a week ahead of the International Yoga Day, which is celebrated on June 21.