Warning: call_user_func_array() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'nggallery_add_action_head' not found or invalid function name in /homepages/13/d168846385/htdocs/lightwaves.cc/wordpress/wp-includes/class-wp-hook.php on line 288

Radha’s Life of Service part 1

September 25, 2007 by Lightwaves

radhadancehead.jpgIn a continuing series of articles, Swami Durgananda will present her research into Swami Radha’s life before and after she met her guru, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, India.
Swami Durgananda is a long time disciple of Swami Radha and one of the senior residents at Yasodhara Ashram. Her journey is beautifully documented in her biography – In Durga’s Embrace: A Disciples Diary.

Swami Radha is one of the foremost spiritual teachers and interpreters of ancient yogic texts of our era. But that is not how she began her life in Canada in the 1950’s.
In Germany before the Second World War Sylvia Hellman had already had professional careers in photography, advertising, writing and dancing. In Montreal, she found clerical work to support herself, but impelled by her innate desire to help, she soon began offering her talent as a solo dancer to charitable causes. She also taught evening classes, in both dance and photography.
She kept her press notices from these events and recently Swami Durgananda has been sorting them for the ashram’s archives. Here is a look at this remarkable woman’s first years in Canada through the newspaper clippings she saved.

When I moved to the Ashram in 1983 I was just beginning to learn about yoga and getting to know Swami Radha. She often told stories about the six months she had spent in India with her guru, Swami Sivananda of Rishekesh. It wasn’t until later, however, that I pieced together the story of what had happened prior to that time in India.

radhaphoto.jpgThe newspaper clippings show how she used the talents she already had to build her new life in Canada. In an early clipping, dated May 12, 1952, less than a year after her arrival in Canada, the Montreal Herald announced, “New Canadian Heads ‘Y’ Photography Class”. The story mentions that although she was a professional photographer, “dancing was her first career, and she has appeared in ballets on the stages of most large European cities. Later she studied photography and specialized in snapping theatre personalities for newspapers. She has also done considerable work in the advertising field. She is, in fact, interested in anything creative.”

Another headline from the Montreal Herald, September 24, 1952, tells us “Classes in Modern Dancing Begin Tonight at the YWCA”, and then “…the beginning of the YWCA’s first experience in modern and character dancing here in Montreal.…” In the article Sylvia Hellmann remarks that “because it [character dancing] represents a good deal of effort [for the student]….she has arranged to take no more than 15 pupils to a class. This quota has already been filled…”
A column called The Roving Reporter in the Westmount Examiner on June 25, 1954, gave an account of Sylvia’s performance for the Cancer Aid League and then tells about the curious event that started her career in dance. “While in Germany Sylvia, then sixteen, found a purse belonging to Bertha Trempe and returned it…She refused the reward so the famous dancer invited her to a private preview.….From a strict well-to-do family, Sylvia had never been allowed to dance.” Speaking of that event to a group of students, Swami Radha told us how she had been alone in the hallway and, entranced by the music, she began to move to it. Miss Trempe saw her and immediately recognized her talent, but Sylvia’s mother would not have approved of her dancing professionally, so Bertha Trempe taught her secretly. Her professional career began when Miss Trempe included her, anonymously, in one of her productions.
The numerous clippings about her dance performances in 1954, the year prior to her trip to India, reveal an intense commitment to use her talents for charity performances. shows her dedication to selfless service even before she knew that this was a spiritual practice in the Ashram she would be visiting in India.

radhamain.jpgPictures in the Montreal Herald Feb.19 and 20, 1954, show her in costume and tell of a performance to be given at the Westmount Women’s Club luncheon later that week, which would include authentic Japanese and Persian dances. On March 17, 1954 the Daily Standard Freeholder included a photo of her in costume for her performance in aid of the Community Nursing Registry.

The Archives contain a copy of her program for a performance on March 20, which must have demonstrated why she had been so famous as a dancer in Germany. First, she performed Japanese, Persian and Egyptian dances, and then a Hindu temple dance. After intermission, she performed a series of interpretive dances with such titles as Illusion, Dream of Love, The Disappointed Bridegroom, Firebird, and the Dance of Death.

Around this time Sylvia Hellman had the experience of meeting Swami Sivananda in a meditation session. This was the beginning of her shift from an intense focus on dance performances to the study of yoga. Following her return from India, the newly created Swami Radha gave talks and showed slides about her experiences there. This will be the focus of the next Lightwaves story of Swami Sivananda Radha’s early years.

⎯Swami Durgananda


  1. Thanks so much, Swami Durgananda, for now sharing in this way what you have been finding for all these years in the archives. There is something so ‘real’ about seeing the actual clippings and also having the stories. We know a lot about the last half of Swami Radha’s life. These articles will help round out the whole story of her life.

    Comment by Janet Gaston — September 27, 2007 @ 5:45 am

  2. Thank you, Swami Durgananda, for sharing with us all. I enjoyed your book so much that I continue to read it on an ongoing basis–often considering just one or two of your daily entries at a time. Your recollections and reflections are very inspiring.

    Comment by Kevin Midbo — September 27, 2007 @ 7:46 am

  3. Thank you, Swami Durgananda. I appreciate so much knowing more about Swami Radha before she went to India. It helps me understand why I immediately trusted her teachings and feel a kinship to her. That she was led to the Order of Saraswati makes complete sense. I look forward to learning some of the dances at the ashram. (Great excuse to return soon.)

    Comment by Heather Herington — September 27, 2007 @ 8:33 am

  4. Dear Swami Durgananda, When I first read Swami Radha’s autobiography, for some reason I was particularly struck by her early life in Montreal, and curious to learn more about it. I realize now that she was a great artist. As an artist, I am fascinated by the relationship of art and creativity to the spiritual path. Several of the yoga teachers at the centre where I study Iyengar yoga are interested in painting and singing. I have had the experience that a fundamental transition in my asana practice will have some unexpected correspondence in my painting practice. Thank you very much for your archival discoveries.

    Comment by Joan Douglas — September 27, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  5. Dear Swami Durgananda,
    I just finished reading your book, Durga’s Embrace, and really enjoyed it. I was particularly interested to read about your life and your relationship with Swami Radha. It was wonderful to click on my e mail today and now read more about the life of Swami Radha. I find her dance/performance background to be fascinating, and I would like to hear more about her past. She did not talk about this part of her past very much in her books. Thank you for sharing these things with us.

    Comment by Linda Shevloff — September 28, 2007 @ 1:47 am

  6. Thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Wahoo — October 6, 2007 @ 10:28 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

What is 12 + 15 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)