Sri Mix-up-a-lot.

Via on Nov 15, 2011
-photo courtesy of Harpers Bazaar Magazine photo credit: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Sir, Sri, Swami…my head is swimming!

Since I started studying Yoga beyond asana, my head has been swimming with Swamis, Sadhus, Sris (Shrees, Shris…sigh), Sannyasis, Satgurus, and Shankaracharyas.

Spell check pretty much hates me.

It took me awhile to realize that the authors and masters I was studying weren’t all of some same surname, Swami. And with that recognition, I felt more aware of the fact that I was completely befuddled as to what is an actual name and what is a title in this culture.

My journey into moniker messiness began during my first yoga teacher training curriculum when I studied Sri Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Pronunciation issues aside, I wondered who this three-termed man was. Google found me his bio.

Oh boy. Looked like I had a lot more names to Google.

Satchidananada’s full name/title, via his website bio, is H.H. Sri Swami Satchidananda, the H.H. (I think) meaning “his holiness.” By his students he is also called Sri Gurudev. According to Swami Rama, gurudev is “an enlightened master or guru,” a spiritual guide. Confusingly, this guy is also formally called Gurudeva. Anyways, before he became HHSSS, Satch was simply named Ramaswamy. After meeting his own Gurudev, H.H. Sri Swami Sivanandaji (aka Swami Sivananda Saraswati!?) and becoming a sannyasin (monk), he was named Satchidananda with attached titles.

Get it? Me neither. But I’m getting there. As I continue my studies, I decided it was time to start sorting out these culture-based confusions with a quick reference guide to some of the Indian and Yoga names, labels, and titles that one might run across in Yoga study. The backslash denotes alternate spellings.

  • Sri/Shri/Shree- honorific; Sanskrit; used as a polite term of address; somewhat equivalent to “sir” or “Mr.” but can also be attached to the name of a god to denote supremeness and divinity (Source, Source)
  • Swami- Sanskrit; A monk from one of the ten orders of renunciates established by Shankaracharya. (Source)
  • Swamiji- Sanskrit; A respectful form of address used in referring to a monk. (Source)
  • guru- noun; Sanskrit; “teacher” or spiritual master (Source)
  • Gurudeva/Gurudev- title, address; Sanskrit; “One who dispels the darkness of ignorance; a spiritual guide” (Source)
  • Satguru/Sadguru- title; Sanskrit; “true guru”, denoting one who has been enlightened, liberated, and guides others on the path (Source)
  • sadhu/shadhu- (Source)
  • sadhaka- (Source)
  • raja/rajah- noun; Indian, derived from Sanskrit; a prince or king; monarch (Source)
  • rani- noun; Indian, derived from Sanskrit; queen (Source)
  • Maharaga/Maharajah- title; Sanskrit; “great king” or “high king” (Source)

Add edits or additions in the comments below!

About Clare Polencheck

Clare L. Polencheck is a yoga instructor and portrait photographer in Minnesota. With an open mind and eager heart, she strives to live and write from a Christian-Yogic spiritual perspective, and is humbled to share tidbits of her lessons as a teacher of asana, a student of her students, and a pupil of Universe. Learning to go with God’s flow is her goal and mantra.

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