New York Times, Aug. 21, 2002
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Swami Satchidananda, the guru with the gigantic cottony beard who opened the Woodstock festival by calling music “the celestial sound that controls the whole universe,” died on Monday in Madras in South India. He was 87.
He lived in Yogaville, Va., a community he founded, and was in India attending a peace conference.
The swami, who used a title given to Hindu monks, arrived on the crest of a wave of fascination with India in the 1960’s, as sitar music, meditation and incense became standard features of college dormitory life. With a gift for irony, a mischievous sense of humor and a disarming way of ending his sentences with a slight “hum,” he gave lectures that were part of the fun.
Peter Max, the artist of psychedelia, invited him to the United States in 1966, and his disciples included celebrities like the singer-composer Carole King, the jazz musician Paul Winter and the actors Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern.
Among the many Indian gurus then appearing in America, he was regarded as more tolerant of the often heavily medicated flower children. He attributed their frustrations to failed institutions and offered his teachings as a way to escape drugs.
“They are all searching for the necklace that’s around their necks,” he said of the Woodstock generation. “Eventually they’ll look in the mirror and see it.”
Over time, his influence deepened, as he established ashrams, or places of worship, and yoga training across the United States, including his Light of Truth Universal Shrine (Lotus) on 750 acres on the James River in Virginia. Corporations asked him to counsel employees, and medical centers sought his advice on nutrition.
Dr. Dean Ornish, the scientist and author who showed that cardiovascular disease can be reversed through diet, exercise and relaxation, became a vegetarian and started meditating on the basis of the swami’s advice. “I felt better,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1998. “I felt peaceful.”
Ramaswamy, as his given name was then, was born in Chettipalayamm to a family of wealthy landowners on Dec. 22, 1914, a time seen as having propitious astrological energy because Jupiter was aligned with Uranus under the sign of Capricorn.