Satyananda was born as Samuel Evans Stokes, Jr. The Better India on Wednesday, 16 August 1882 (age 63 Years; at the time of death) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. His zodiac sign was Leo. He was an orchardist, author, and politician.
Satyananda Stokes’s father’s name was Samuel Evans Stokes Sr., who was an engineer-businessman, and the founder of Stokes and Parish Machine Company in the USA that manufactured elevators. Samuel Evans Stokes Sr. was well known for his contribution to elevator technology in America. His mother’s name was Florence Spencer.
Wife & Children
Satyananda Stokes’s wife was Priyadevi Stokes who was born Agnes Benjamin. She was a Rajput girl. Satyananda Stokes got married to Agnes on 12 September 1912. Agnes’s father was a first-generation Christian.
Samuel built a two-story building with sloping roofs that were made up of slates and wooden beams and big windows on the ridge above Thanedhar in Shimla. He named it “Harmony Hall.’ This house portrayed western influence.
A Saviour of Lepers in India
Samuel inclined towards the service of mankind at a very young age. However, his father tried hard to convince him to opt for the family business. At the age of 22, Samuel quit his studies at the University of Yale to dedicate his entire life and time to humanitarianism. In 1905, Samuel came to India. Initially, Samuel worked for the poor and needy lepers patients in Mumbai, India but the severe climatic conditions in the summers in Mumbai, propelled him to move towards hilly areas of Himachal. Later, he was sent to Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, where he worked for the medication of patients who were ruined by a major earthquake. Subsequently, he started serving lepers at Leper Home Sabathu, Solan, Himachal Pradesh, where he earned the admiration of the leper patients for his selfless service to cure them. The local people wondered why a foreign man was helping and serving the poor patients. Samuel changed his eating habits and attire to come close to the Indian people.
Role in India’s Independence Movement
While living in India, Satyananda Stokes witnessed the atrocities of the British Rule in India. In the late 1920s, Stokes raised his voice and stand against British rule against the “Impressed labor’ in India, where Indian men were impelled to join the British Army. He wrote many letters to the British government and challenged them not to force the local Himachal people into labor. In these letters, Stokes mentioned himself as an Indian. Satyananda took India’s political struggle sensitively, and he actively participated in India’s freedom struggle. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre in April 1919 shook the soul of Stokes when the British cops shot dead about one thousand innocent people of Punjab. This incident prompted him to join Indian politics, which was one of the easiest ways to exclaim against the ferocity of the Britishers in India. In 1921, Stokes joined the Indian National Congress. He represented Kotgarh at the Nagpur session and held a unique position in the All India Congress for being the only American man in the party. He represented the Indian National Congress along with Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. Stokes was arrested by the British Government under the charges of sedition at Wagah (a village and union council located in the Wahgah Zone of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan), when he opposed the visit of the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, to India in 1921.
Apple Cultivation in Himachal Pradesh
In 1916, after four years of marriage, Stokes brought a new variety of apple grown in Louisiana, United States to Himachal Pradesh, India. He was inspired by the favorable climatic conditions of the Himalayas. Stokes started farming the new variety of apples in the farmland he had purchased near his wife’s village. He had ample contacts in Delhi that made it easy for him to enter the export business and earn a good life. Shortly, he inspired many of his fellow farmers and local villagers to grow apples, and he assured them of any assistance they would need in cultivating, vending, and transporting the apples all over India. Newton Pippins, King of Pippin, and Cox’s Orange Pippin were the types of apples planted by Stokes in 1916 in Himachal Pradesh. However, these apples were sour in taste and were not cultivated by the local Indian farmers as the general Indian public liked the apples with a sweet taste.
An Accomplished Author
Satyananda Stokes, apart from being an illustrious savior of the leprosy patients in India and an active participant of the Indian struggle for freedom from Britishers, was a prominent author who brought out many books specifically based on nationalism and the meaning of life. Some of those books are-
• ‘Arjun: The life story of an Indian boy’- 6 editions published between 1910 and 1913 in English
• ‘National self-realization and essays’ – 3 editions published in 1977 in English
• ‘Satyākāmā, or “True desires” (being thoughts on the meaning of life)’- 8 editions published in 1931 in English
• ‘The failure of European civilization as a world culture’- 5 editions published in 1921 in English
• ‘National self-realization’- 5 editions published in 1921 in English
• ‘The love of God: a book of prose and verse’- 6 editions published between 1908 and 1912 in English
• ‘To awaking India’- 3 editions published in 1922 in English
- Satyananda Stokes belonged to a rich American business family.
- Young Samuel did not acquire business skills as he was not interested in his father’s business.
- Stokes’s religion was Quaker (Christian (Protestant)) before his arrival in India, but he adopted Hinduism after his arrival in India. The Better India
- In the beginning, Satyananda Stokes’s parents were not happy with his decision to go to India and serve the poor.
- After Satyananda’s arrival in India, his parents believed that Satyananda was happy and satisfied with his work in India, and they also sent him some money from the US. Samuel spent the whole sum for the welfare of the lepers and local needy people in India.
- Reportedly, Samuel was a self-restraint person when he was young, and even after coming to India, he never lost himself in Indian religious rituals. He occupied a simple Christian sannyasi life and lived among the Indian villagers.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury once visited Viceroy at Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, and he advised Satyananda to form an order of Franciscan Friars, an order of monkhood pledging to help the poor, diseased, and dying. Satyananda applied for an order of monkhood and lived in confinement; however, his membership in monkhood lasted only for 2 years.
- When he got married and settled in a village near to his wife’s house, he grew wheat and barley at Barubagh. The vegetables like peas, beans, lima beans, pumpkins, potatoes, and cabbages were cultivated by him. He adopted the way of living of the local farmers, and he would often relax in the evening with a ‘hookah.’
- The teachings of Mahatma Gandhi inspired Stokes to wear only Khadi during the Indian Independence Movement.
- On Stokes’s arrest at Wagha, while opposing the visit of the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII to India in 1921, Mahatma Gandhi said-
That he should feel with and like an Indian, share his sorrows, and throw himself into the struggle, has proved too much for the government. To leave him free to criticize the government was intolerable, so his white skin has proved no protection for him…”
- Stokes started a school in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, and named it Tara High school in 1924. He established this educational institution in memory of his son who died at the age of 8. Girls’ education was the main motto of the school. Hindi, English, Religion, Horticulture, and self-defense were the main subjects he taught to the local and poor children of the villagers.
- Stokes was not able to deal with the loss of his eight-year-old son. Intense grief in his heart inclined him towards religion and spiritualism, and eventually, he adopted Hinduism under the guidance of Arya Samaj in 1932 and changed his name from Samuel Evans to Satyananda Stokes. Agnes, the wife of Stokes, respected the decision of her husband, and she also changed her religion from Christianity to Hinduism. Moreover, just like her husband, she changed her name from Agnes to Priyadevi.
- Stokes read Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads in English when some saints on their way to Kailash Mansarovar Yatra inspired him. Later on, he learned the Sanskrit language.
- ‘Paramjyoti Mandir or the Temple of Eternal Light’ was a temple built by Satyananda near his home ‘Harmony Hall’ in 1937.
- A veteran Indian Business Tycoon, Kishore Birla, financially supported Satyananda Stokes with an amount of Rs 25,000 to motivate him to build this ‘Paramjyoti Mandir.’
- Spiritual Leader The Dalia Lama sums up Stokes’s ideology of life-
The true expression of nonviolence is compassion. Some people seem to think that compassion is just a passive emotional response instead of a rational stimulus to action. But to experience genuine compassion is to develop a feeling of closeness to others combined with a sense of responsibility for their welfare.”
- According to Asha Sharma, the great-granddaughter of Stokes, Staynananda’s contributions to the Indian Freedom Struggle and cultivation of apples in Himachal are something that lost in history, and his contributions were never acknowledged on any bigger platforms. She mentioned this in her biography about Satyananda Stokes, ‘An American in Gandhi’s India’ in which she wrote,
Even though he has a unique history in India, not many have heard of him. The Himachal farmers may remember him as the only who gave them a livelihood through apple trees, but his contributions to the Indian freedom struggle are not widely known.”