Swiss Nayana


…left her body on 14th September 2016.


Prem Nayana (aka Emilie Mahler) was born into a large family (in the b/w photo she is the third from the left) in summer 1940. She grew up in Rüti, Zürich Oberland, Switzerland and studied to become a nurse. Because of her good marks she later became a teacher in a nursing school and could go to Hong Kong with the Basler Mission, an Evangelical Missionary Society. For four years she worked in health centres in small villages around Hong Kong.

Being very good at languages she quickly learned to speak Cantonese fluently and there is a beautiful story going around the Basler Mission and her family: In a restaurant in Hong Kong a waiter was so excited to see a foreigner speak his language that he called his boss from the kitchen to show him this foreigner who spoke perfect Cantonese. They also remember that after the four years in Hong Kong the mission had intended to send her to Indonesia but then she met red-clad Bhagwan-people and this changed everything…

She took sannyas in the late seventies and was an active part of the Zurich commune, called Gyandip first and later Kota. Chandrika who was one of the centre-leaders says, “I immediately remember her special, warm laughter. She was a very kind and warmhearted women, always ready to support.”

After her commune time she travelled for many years on her own in the Australian outback. One story goes that once it took her three days to dig her car out of the mud; she had just wanted to park it by a lakeside. Another time, when sitting on the ground she suddenly saw a pair of huge bird’s feet in front of her. Frightened and without knowing what to do next, she just slowly looked up – and the bird flew away. These are the stories she told her family back home but, to some of us who met her in Pune 2, she also shared her deep respect and love for the indigenous people of Australia and her adventures in the Himalayas.

Here sister Lydia says, “Nayana was adventurous and a fearless traveller, but it also felt as if she was escaping from something.”

From the last photos in the slideshow you can see what a talented weaver she was.

Nayana died in the Hildegard Hospice in Basel, Switzerland, surrounded by two siblings, Eduard and Lydia as well as Gabriel and Zita who lived in the communal house where she had stayed over the summer.

Text and photos thanks to Rafia, Lydia and Chandrika

Rafia (aka Denise) writes:

Beginning of last summer I heard from a friend that Nayana, a dear friend of ours from the commune days in Switzerland, had ‘appeared’ on Facebook; we had not heard from her in years. We only knew that she had come back to Switzerland from extensive travelling in India, in particular Dharamsala.

After having found out her whereabouts and speaking to her on the phone I visited her on a Sunday afternoon in the countryside of Switzerland, a place where she had lived for the last seven years.

A big hello and a lot of joy to see each other; many memories and questions where shared as we strolled along a small river from the bus stop to her small flat. She was weak and slow and we sat down on all inviting possibilities. It was obvious that her body was struggling. She did not like to talk about it when I asked her. Among friends in our commune we used to call her way of avoiding questions, “she behaves like a Chinese,” and so she was again. She just mentioned that ‘it’ had come back and that ‘they’ pulled on her.

While drinking tea in her flat I was glad and relieved to hear that she was planning to move the following day to one of her sisters’ who lives in a Catholic communal house in Basel. To me Basel also seemed much more convenient for my next visit. Nayana wanted to give away as much as possible; she insisted I take two of her handwoven cushions (real pieces of art!) and a heavy book she wanted me to read. With warm hearts and a big hug we departed.

After my summer vacation my mail to her never got answered, so I phoned her new number and talked to her sister, Lydia. She told me that Nayana had died in a hospice in Basel.

I heard that after moving into her sister’s house she had preferred to be on her own, as she had done throughout her life. Less and less she came out of her room to make a cup of tea or soup. Her sister made it a point to go and look for her if she did not see her in the morning. Also a big bell was installed in the house so that everybody could hear when Nayana needed help.

On her birthday everybody in the house went to sing for her, as it is customs in the community. Nayana enjoyed it so much that she asked them if they would come again. So they visited and sang for her every morning and evening.

At first Nayana didn’t want to see a doctor but, as weakness and fears grew, she changed her mind. She even agreed to take some pills. She used to be a nurse, a very dedicated one, and all her life she deeply mistrusted doctors.

After her death her brother arranged that the body be kept in state for three days before cremation. When I heard all this from Lydia I felt very grateful because I knew that everything happened the way that suited Nayana perfectly, and I was reassured that life and his people received the care they needed.


You can leave a message / tribute / anecdote using our contact form (please add ‘Nayana’ in the subject field)…

Nayana’s warmth and kindness remains precious to my heart. I met her in the late seventies in Gyandip and Kota, Zurich. As a ‘newbie’ in red dress I was sometimes ‘overwhelmed’. Her presence has been a sunray!
Prem Parimal

Dear Nayana, I remember the last time we saw each other in Pune. You had just come back from travelling in the East and you presented me with a wonderful stone – no idea what it is called – which I treasure and take with me wherever I move. It is dark blue, sparkling and in my chakra stone collection it represents the third eye. Each time I see it, I think of you. I wish you a wonderful journey on, Nayana! With much love,

I first met Nayana in 1980 in Pune. Soon after I had arrived it was her 40th birthday. We always had a very warm connection, in Pune 1 and in the Commune in Zurich, in Pune 2 we both worked in the Video Departement. I remember she used to smoke beedis. We had so many deep and funny chats. Much later Nayana went to travel again, and we all lost sight of her. I was looking for her, searching her in the internet, I did not know if she was still among us. Then last spring suddenly my phone rang, she had found me! I was so happy to hear from her. She sent me a book and, as always, she used just one word to describe what it was all about for her: ‘suchness’ She very much loved Osho’s discourse series on Ta Hui, the great Zen-Master. Nayana, even in death there is such a sweetness in your face, just like a Chinese Zen-Master. Be home in Suchness, beautiful friend,

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