RĀMA TĪRTHA, SVĀMĪ (1873-1906), who, after Svāmī Vivekānanda, by whose personality he was deeply influenced, created a powerful influence with his quiet spirituality, was born on 22 October 1873 at Murālīvālā, a small village 5 km south of Gujrāṅwālā , now in Pakistan. He came of a family of Gosvāmī Brāhmaṇs who had originally migrated from Swāt in the North-West Frontier Province to Gujrāṅwālā . His father, Hīrānand, was a man of very modest means. The childhood of Svāmī Rāma Tīrtha, whose original name was Tīrath Rām, was spent in poverty. His mother died when he was barely one year old. He and his sister, older than him by one year, were brought up by his father's sister. At two he was betrothed, and at eleven married. Struggling against difficult circumstances, he passed the Matriculation (then called Entrance) examination conducted by the Pañjāb University, Lahore. He wished to continue his studies and join a college at Lahore, but his father insisted that he take up a job under the government which in those days was easy to obtain and fairly lucrative. But Tīrath Rām's urge for learning led him to Lahore, against the wishes of his father. He entered the Forman Christian College, run by an American mission. He was awarded a studentship of eight rupees per month by the municipal committee of Gujrāṅwālā . The college confectioner was so much taken up with his deeply religious nature and sobriety of character that he offered him free meals daily at his home. Tīrath Rām passed his Intermediate examination and won a scholarship which enabled him to continue at the college to study for the Bachelor's degree. For his M.A. in mathematics, he went over to Government College, Lahore, from where he received the degree in 1895. He returned to his old college as a lecturer. His second appointment was at Oriental College, Lahore. But his real avocation lay elsewhere. His spiritual quest led him to break away from all worldly concerns. Taking his leave of the family, he proceeded to live in Uttarā Khaṇda region, in the higher Himalayas, close to the source of the holy Gaṅgā. Early in his life he had come under the influence of Bhagat Dhannā Mall; finally the model for him was Svamī Vivekānanda. At Rishikesh, on the Gaṅgā, he distributed among the sādhūs whatever he had with him and sat down on the bank of the river, determined to attain self-realization or to put an end to his life. In a mood of self-enlightenment, he uttered these words: "Blessed am I: I have embraced that Beloved. Is it joy? Or is it death in joy? Desires are dead. As I look out, each leaf, each flower, welcomes me with 'Thou art that.'"
He returned from the mountains to Lahore and resumed teaching mathematics, but his inner spiritual urge was far from dimmed. The birth of a second son at this time, instead of binding him closer to the world, had the contrary effect of sundering whatever bonds tied him to it. He again retired to the Himalayas and sat long hours meditating on the banks of the Gaṅgā. Early in 1901, a few days before Vivekānanda's death, he resolved to take the vows of a sannyāsī or monk. He was, by now, already living in a state of complete renunciation and was at heart a true sannyāsī; only the formal ritual remained to be performed. Shaven clean, he entered the Gaṅgā, entrusted his sacred thread to the holy river, chanted the sacred syllable Om for some time, and put on the sannyāsī's ochre robe. As he emerged from the river, he sat on the bank, in silence, for hours. 'Tīrath Rām now became Rāma Tīrtha, to signify that he had turned the course of his life backwards, from pravṛtti towards nivṛtti, from the outer world to the inner. He began to live all alone in the forest, not meeting even his companions except at fixed hours.
Once as Svāmī Rāma Tīrtha was staying at Ṭehrī in the Himalayas, the ruler of the territory called on him to seek spiritual guidance. He was so deeply impressed by the Svāmī's company that he arranged for him to travel to Japan to represent Hinduism at an inter-religious conference. In Japan he met another dynamic personality, Pūran Siṅgh, the famous Sikh mystic and poet of Punjabi. The spell that Rāma Tīrtha cast on Pūran Siṅgh is described by the latter in his own words: "I was much too vibratory to have any patience for listening to him. I would run to and fro. I would go out of his room aimlessly and come back aimlessly. I neither could stay with him for long, nor could stay away from him... I loved him, I liked him and if I were a girl, I would have given him anything to win him."
In 1902, Rāma Tīrtha travelled to the United States of America where he spent about two years preaching Vedānta, Indian spirituality. He used to cut wood in the forests of Shasta mountain in return for the hospitaliy of his hosts, Dr and Mrs Albert Hiller. While in America; he tried to create contacts for some students to come out of India and study in this country. The lectures he delivered in the United States fill three volumes of about 500 pages each. His lectures were aimed at bringing home to men their essential oneness with the Eternal. He also extolled the principle of work, sure in his belief that hard work brought one the real joy of life. He held all religions in equal respect and showed special appreciation of Sikhism, Islam and Christianity.
On the day of Dīvālī, l7 October 1906, when Svāmī Rāma Tīrtha was only 33, he gave up his body to the Gaṇgā. That it was not a case of accidental death by drowning is borne out by his address to death, discovered on his writing-table a few days after his passing away: "O Death! Certainly, blow up this one body. I have enough bodies to use... I can roam as a divine minstrel, in the guise of hilly streams and mountain brooks. I can dance in the waves of the sea. I came down from yonder hills, raised the dead, awakened the sleeping, unveiled the fair faces of some and wiped the tears of a few weeping ones... I touched this, touched that, and off I am..."
Gurdiāl Siṅgh Khoslā