The Art of Living Foundation has an official biography of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s life, and it seems to be the one repeated in other media. He was born in 1956, and soon showed his spiritual bent, reciting Hindi scripture by heart at an early age. Early in his spiritual maturity, he also served the Transcendental Meditation (TM) guru and mystic Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as a fairly senior and trusted lieutenant. He served as a pundit or reciter of Vedic scriptures in the TM ceremonies. He was largely responsible for spreading the Maharishi’s gospel and activity to South Africa and other parts of the globe. He struck out on his own in 1982.
The Art of Living yoga lineage can be traced through Maharishi to the Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (also known as Ramamurti S. Mishra) and Swami Krishnanand Saraswati, according to the lineages in Kathy Phillips’s The Spirit of Yoga. Deepak Chopra, the best-selling author of self-help books, is also this same branch of the yogic tradition.
Sri Sri is an honorific term that was added to his name after the Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar complained that confusion was arising about who was who. “Sri” means respected one. One “Sri” (pronounced shree) is a term of respect similar to “mister” and the use of two is analogous to “the reverend.” Yoga Journal‘s Emperor of Air contains the best non-official biographical information on Sri Sri that I have found on the Internet.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar does not want his admirers or others to refer to him as a swami, which refers to the member of an ascetic or monastic order, much like a Catholic monk. His followers address him as His Holiness, and more affectionately as gurudev (great teacher) or guruji (respectful, affection are way of addressing a teacher).
India Yogi’s Indian Saints, Mystics, Philosophers and Gurus includes a short bib. Sri Sri and AOL are a potent force in India. As often happens in the developing world, as the movement has increased its international presence, it has resonated more in India.