When the invitation to the yajna first arrived at Satyananda Yoga Centre in London, my immediate reaction was one of great joy at the prospect of seeing my beloved Guru again. And as I continued to read, I was delighted to discover that this yajna was, in some way, celebrating the feminine, the Divine in its female aspect. As I had been planning to take six months away from the Centre, for myself, by myself, and prepare for the next decade and my progress towards 'Cronehood' a kind of Menopausal Vision Quest this invitation seemed to offer the perfect start to such a venture.
And I was not disappointed! However, it will take a long time to fully digest this experience and to assess the subtle yet powerful transformation that has surely taken place in all of us who were there.
At the time of writing, my mind is full of a myriad colourful images, dominated by red and pink and flowers and more flowers. And amongst the flowers, my Beloved, moving here and there; on one level aware of everything going on around him, talking, laughing, gesticulating, dancing, giving garlands, and on another level he was perhaps sitting on Mount Kailash, a million miles from Rikhia, perfectly still and at one with the universe. And when I looked at him and experienced his Shiva aspect, it was more than I could bear and I had to close my eyes, only to be filled to overflowing with such intensity of feeling that I almost wished I could close my heart as easily as my eyes. And each day he continued to give me more and more and still more the sound of his voice calling my name, kneeling before him as he placed a garland of flowers around my neck, his wonderful satsang on women, his tenderness with the children as he drew them to him to join the dance, and on another occasion asking the women to join him as he danced the dance of Shiva, and, again his little conversations with his neighbours as they came forward, rather shyly, to receive their rickshaws, carts and bicycles it was, and is, endless.
On many occasions I found myself wondering if the extraordinary diversity of people and their activities was a normal part of a yajna? Are the local drummers always invited to add their heartbeat to the rather mechanical precision of the pandits' chanting? Are women and foreigners normally allowed to participate in the aarti? And as Paramahamsa Satyanandaji himself explained, the presence of a young married woman at the Kanya Kumari Pooja was breaking new ground, making a very powerful statement to women in India and worldwide. What a beautiful ceremony that was, with the enchanting little girls in their colourful attire, their painted toes being tenderly washed and dried by the long, slim fingers of Swami Niranjan, their timidity gradually dissolving in the warmth of his smile, as he fulfilled his role with perfect naturalness and humility.
It seems to me that the underlying message of the yajna was that of oneness, unity in and through diversity. Ultimately we are all one, and on a practical, everyday level we can also function harmoniously together, treating each other with respect and affection, whatever the more orthodox folk may feel. And I pray that they will allow themselves to be touched by this message, and open up to the presence of the Divine in the whole human race, not just as a theory, but as a living reality.
Before coming to Rikhia I had not realised that the yajna was also an important initiation for Swami Niranjan, and amongst the many powerful and touching memories of him during those days, I would like to mention just two, which I hope will stay with me forever. I was privileged to be sitting nearby when Swami Niranjan did full pranam to his mother, Swami Dharmashakti, and to Swami Atmananda, in a gesture of such humility and tenderness that it took my breath away. And this was preceded by what I felt was the most beautiful, potent and extraordinary, event of the whole yajna when my beloved Swamiji handed over the symbols of his authority, the crystal ball and crystal mala, to my beloved Crown Prince. At this moment I finally understood that spiritually they are indeed one. And time stood still as a few tears slowly trickled down Swami Niranjan's cheeks, the only visible movement between them.
The most significant part of the yajna for me was being in the presence of Paramahamsaji again. For many of us, particularly from the West, having heard stories of his life in seclusion and his concentration on his sadhana, it would be easy to imagine him as having become withdrawn and introspective. What I saw, however, was an incandescent fireball, fairly crackling with energy! He is the very embodiment of dynamism, still with his immense good humour and attention to detail, and awareness of the minutiae of our daily lives.
His energy seemed to affect everybody. Each morning, as all the helpers went about their duties in preparation for the day's programme, nobody seemed to walk. Everybody ran! And not only that, they ran cheerfully!
Another source of inspiration was in watching Swami Niranjan at work. As the chief performer of the yajna, he was required to be present and active in all the many hours of pooja and ceremony involved in the yajna rites, and as well as that, he was working from before dawn to late at night each day, overseeing all the arrangements, carrying out his many duties, and acting as a Master of Ceremonies in between parts of the programme, providing bilingual explanations on what was happening. And somehow he seemed to find the time to also give personal attention to so many people. Never before have I seen such giving.
I had a similar impression of Swami Satsangi. She was everywhere at once, unfailing in her patience and care for people, whatever their backgrounds or their demands, tireless, friendly and always compassionate.
When the yajna was over and we had returned to Ganga Darshan, I felt that something in me had been profoundly changed, and when I looked at the faces of others who had been there, people from all over the world and from all walks of life, I could see that change reflected there too. It seems to me that all of us who had come together for this time, whether physically or in spirit, have been through a process of diksha. Perhaps you could say we have been splashed with the droplets from Swami Niranjan's diksha! And that is a transformative process which will manifest in some shape or form in the lives of each and every one of us in our vast, extended, global family.
History was made at Rikhia. A hundred years back Swami Vivekananda did Kanya Pooja at Kanya Kumari in secrecy. In this century it is the first time Kanya Pooja has been held, and in the tantric tradition this is the first time it has been held publicly. Vivekananda gave us the message of Vedanta, Swami Sivananda gave us the message of yoga, and Satyanandaji gave us the message of Tantra. Vivekananda gave us the goal which we have to reach, Sivanandaji showed us the path which we have to walk, and now Paramahamsaji has accelerated the process by opening up the tantric practices to everyone. So history was made at Rikhia in the tantric tradition, in the spiritual tradition.
I was allocated a job in the yajnashala and as I am from South India, I was watching the pandits very closely. We have to give them full marks. One hundred percent perfection should be there and the pandits followed all the rules and regulations meticulously. In South India the Brahmanical power is very strong. Knowledge gives power and this power and authority can be misused. But the pandits who conducted this ceremony had not only knowledge and humbleness, but real wisdom.
In those few days I feel that Swami Satyanandaji gave us two things. One is the goal we have to reach. By rubbing two pieces of wood together, the fire is created with which we burn all our sins and in that fire we surrender our individuality. That is the real symbolism behind the yajna surrendering ourselves totally. For that he also gave us a very simple sadhana: begin the day with 'Sri Ram Jaya Ram'. It looks very simple but it is most difficult.
There were many memorable moments. One was the karma yoga. For the first time I experienced a sense of timelessness and desirelessness. By doing work for the guru to the best of one's ability, one can have this experience and feel blissful.
The classical vocal music on the first day was like a triveni, with the music in praise of the Mother, the blessings of the Mother and the blessings of Paramahamsaji. Pandit Jas Raj, the vocal maestro, wanted to continue singing bhajans, and Swami Satsangi took us inside the Akhara. After some time I came out and looked around. Paramahamsaji saw me from a distance. I was standing in darkness, so he said, Is that Rishiputra? What are you doing there? He was not expecting me to be there in those quarters at that time. I said, Swamiji, we are singing bhajans here in the Akhara. He said, You mean to say you are inside the Akhara? Yes, I replied, and Paramahamsaji said instantly, So you people have pacified my Akhara. His love, his compassion and his greatness are without any bounds, without any limits.
We arrived in Deoghar listless and tired, from all over the globe, none of us knowing what we were coming to other than the Sat Maha Chandi Yajna, whatever that was! The next morning at 7.30 we walked through the gates of the Akhara and sat down to be bathed for the next seven days in an incredible and unique experience.
In front of Ganesha Kutir another open sided, thatched roofed kutir has been erected, and in the centre, a fire pit or dhuni about 5 feet square, with the edge of the dhuni adjacent to Ganesha Kutir having a large vulva shaped carving on it. Opposite this, on the outside 'wall', is Chandi Devi, the murti, inside her own small house, garlanded, clothed and glowing!
On the right of Chandi Devi sat the Brahmin priests, white clothed, upright, with bright shiny eyes, and amongst them the person being prepared to be the main poojari or performer of the worship, Swami Niranjanji.
On the first day, we all sat as the priests chanted mantras in perfect Sanskrit, and Swamiji performed rituals. This whole day was preparation preparation of both Swamiji and the mandir.
The next day we arrived at 8.00am and sat down in front of Paramahamsaji at the back of the Akhara for satsang until 10.00am, when we left and did parikrama or perambulation of the mandir. We then went to Sivananda Math for darshan of Christ Kutir, a new kutir Paramahamsaji had built. Once outside the Akhara we walked down to a large area where a large festival tent was erected and people were selling everything from malas to bananas!
At 2.00pm we returned to the Akhara where the pandits' chanting was followed by the divine voice of Krishna Devi, a renowned Indian singer and story teller. Kirtans from BSY swamis were sung until 5.00 pm when aarti was performed of both Chandi Devi and Paramahamsaji.
Each day was attended by thousands of Indian nationals as well as at least 500 foreigners. Twenty-five litres of Ganga water, collected from Gangotri, were used in the pooja. Every morning fresh flowers were delivered from Calcutta by night train. This was no small affair! The whole event had the air of both a festival and a pooja, and that was only what we mere mortals could perceive.
During the satsangs Paramahamsaji talked of many things, such as the importance of bhakti wake up with God's name and go to sleep with God's name. (To aid waking up with God's name, Paramahamsaji has a wake-up clock, that sings Ram kirtan!) He also talked of the phenomena of Ganesha drinking milk, and said it was a sign that a saint would be born, the saint of the next century. Just as Christ was born on the turn of the century and Buddha before him, so there would be a new saviour born. He talked of the importance of women and how they are to be worshipped and respected and how this whole pooja was for the Divine Mother. He talked of how all religions are one and we should stop our petty sectarianism; it is of no importance if God is called Rama, Allah or Christ we should unify. He said how the Ramayana had shown him bhakti before his understanding was just intellectual, but this book had awakened bhakti in him.
There was one important announcement, which was that Swami Niranjanananda is now receiving everything and taking over from Paramahamsaji, who says that he now wishes to go into deep silence, not just for a week or a few months. Swami Niranjanananda is now the Guru and the ceremony is a tantric ceremony to transfer the power to him. Just as Swami Sivananda transferred the power to Paramahamsaji, so he is transferring it to Swamiji.
This was the theme of the last day, where we fasted and watched as Swamiji worshipped nine young virgins and one young newly-wed woman; the pandits chanted and performed havan and then Paramahamsaji crowned his successor with his crystal mala and crystal shiva lingam, which he had received from his female tantric guru. He declared Swamiji to have passed all the tests with flying colours and to be the new Guru. Now Swami Niranjan will take spiritual charge and give people the inner guidance. Swamiji then prostrated before Paramahamsaji and his mother, who was sitting close by. This day ended with aarti and prasad, with Paramahamsaji coming over and eating with us all and chucking us out when we had finished!
It is impossible to condense eight days of this calibre of experience into a few paragraphs; visions of Paramahamsaji dancing like Lord Shiva, local drummers joining in with the high class Brahmin priests, swamis dancing to kirtan or bowing respectfully as they received garlands from Paramahamsaji there is always more to add. All of us who were there will have different memories, different images and hopefully this will just be one of a myriad of reports that will paint a picture for those unable to attend.
The most remarkable event of the yajna for me was the total presence of Paramahamsaji, my Guru. For the last few years he has been a little inaccessible and unfamiliar. But this time he was absolutely, completely here with each one of us, no matter how unimportant. Dipping into his memory he recalled an anecdote, a name, a place. He had an 'eye' on everything a chair for an old lady, toilets, a seat for everyone and he supervised the whole ritual. I have seen my Guru as a conductor of the symphony of life. The amazing and complex Devi worship unfolded like an ancient story, as if we were being projected into the memory of humanity. The adoration of the nine virgins was, for me, the shock between innocence and knowledge, learning and surrender. Paramahamsaji was like a firework exploding into a thousand stars, lively and joyful, deep and mysterious. It was a unique show.
Swamiji called us and many of us came, not having the faintest idea what we were going to experience during the eight intense days of the Sat Chandi Maha Yajna. We had been told that transmission of something very great was going to happen, but somehow I felt that there was much more behind the whole event than I could perceive. At times I feel that we have been witnesses of an event which will influence history into the next millennium.
Many times old childhood samskaras came up. My religious education was in a Protestant church and that means: a simple, clear, white stone building, without any decoration except the cross and white flowers; organ music and chorales with music of Bach. No bells, no wall paintings of saints, no Mary or other female beings, no processions. My programming was that the Catholics were not so sophisticated and needed that 'tingle-tangle', which was unnecessary for us.
Oh, how necessary it is to open the heart to the incomprehensible. The happenings in Rikhia were so completely opposite and today I can still recall many little moments and hear the chanting very clearly, especially Aim Hreem Kleem, Aim Hreem Kleem, the beeja mantras for Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga. However, to talk about these impressions is impossible for me. I have to assimilate, let it become one not only with my unconscious but with my whole being, so that knowing and understanding can arise from inside. It was not only when the two great souls stood eye to eye with each other, or when Swami Niranjanji was lying flat in front of the virgins, or when my Guruji put beautiful malas around my neck that tears were flowing. The water taps opened many more times. Often I just stood up or bowed down, not with my old and pain tortured body, but internally, being ready to receive and fulfil whatever order I was given, with a sankalpa on my lips. However, even the word sankalpa obtained another meaning for me, reached another dimension.
I am pondering if it could have been an often open, often secretly repeated ancient ritual, which we, the people from the West, are ready to experience again, after a long time of ignorance? Have these rituals not also happened in our own culture, only that we have forgotten all about them? Do we have some role to play in the coming century, building a bridge and being a messenger between East and West and man and woman, between nations and races? These eight days may have been necessary for people like me to experience from the inside and not with the intellect. The whole process is not yet finished and I wonder how it will be when I have to resume my normal teaching with people who were not at the yajna? For them it is important to know that all the items which were brought from all over the world, from a small pen or toy to a cow or a rickshaw, were beautifully and perfectly organised and taken out into more than forty villages.
One picture will forever be in my heart and that is the last moment, when Swami Niranjanji stood in the glowing light behind Paramahamsaji, with the most beautiful mala all around, shining in copper gold, like the sun and the golden moon, the king of kings and the queen of queens.
And the question in my heart remains: Who are you? Two in one or one in two?
I came to the yajna quite open and without expectation, not having any idea what a Sat Chandi Maha Yajna would be except that it was the worship of God as the Cosmic Mother. It was a feast for all the senses, so much to see, hear, feel etc., and due to the absence of intellectual analysis, because for the most part we didn't know what was happening, there was no mind, just the experience.
This experience is difficult to put into words as intellectualising it cannot capture the feeling. I know that we were all privileged to be there and that we witnessed a history that has touched us all on a deep level and will probably take years to 'understand'.
As cultures ultimately reach their zenith and ultimately destroy themselves, it is the female aspect which recreates and renews. In our societies which have become dominated by the male left brain technologies this is a refreshing, if not a new thought and one that many of us will have become more aware of from being at the yajna. I think we will take back to our countries a more gentle approach to the feminine aspect from a softness that is coming from within.
One humorous impression, with a serious message, I take back is of Paramahamsaji first introducing us to his wake-up clock. The message was that instead of waking up in the morning and thinking, and I quote, this bloody world, we should wake up to the sound of God's name, sit up and chant God's name to start the day.
The second impression I take away is one of the most stunning images I have ever seen. On the penultimate evening at the end of the aarti, Swamiji was standing behind Paramahamsaji. The scene was lit up in the darkness because it was being filmed. I have rarely seen them so physically close together and as I looked from one to the other, standing and sitting so still, so strong, with eyes closed I felt there was no separation between them.
And the third image, which I will never forget, was when Paramahamsaji gave Swamiji the sphatik mala and Shiva lingam. As Swamiji knelt in front of Paramahamsaji he had a look of total one-pointed devotion and dedication and this for me symbolised the essence of the guru-disciple relationship, service and sannyasa. As Swamiji continued to focus on him it felt as though he were seeing Paramahamsaji in more than just his physical form and it reminded me of that moment in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna revealed himself to Arjuna in all his splendour. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and that impression will stay with me always.
Paramahamsaji made me a film maker at Rikhia. The experiences of a film maker are always subjective, never objective. Never before have I seen three such beautiful faces. There is no camera that can hold such pictures. There are no eyes that can behold such beautiful faces. One is of Paramahamsaji. I have seen every pore, every detail of his face, all the different expressions. And I have seen Swamiji in some very intense moments. I thought I also felt it sometimes. And the Devi there was no statue, but it looked so alive that I can never forget it.
On the day when Paramahamsaji was garlanding all the acharyas and all the senior swamis of the BSY family, he suddenly looked back and said, Hey, how did I forget you. Come, come, come. Then he said to me, Your heart is your camera and your two eyes are your lens. Whatever pictures you take, preserve them there. It was a beautiful moment. He also blessed me, keeping his hand on my head.
But the spectacular thing was the shiva lingam and the passing on of the crystal mala. Three years ago I had a dream that an unknown sadhu, a giant figure with a beard and hair, had passed on a similar lingam, a sphatik lingam with a tiny jyoti inside. When I told Swamiji about that experience he said, You are lucky to have had the darshan of the Lord in that form. I was really lucky to witness it for the second time.
Paramahamsaji was saying so many things but my mind had totally stopped. I had a similar experience in 1994 when I was filming the satsangs at Alakh Bara for a month, three feet away from Paramahamsaji, five hours a day, without moving much. But when people asked me later what he had said, I didn't know. It really took a long time for me to come back. Even now I think I am there, not here.
As for taking a resolve, I forgot that we had to do so. I sat in front of the Devi every day, looking at her, getting spun out. I never knew what was going to happen next but something would prompt me to turn my head to the other side. I would see something interesting happening and run there with my camera.
We have been given a lot more than we could ever have expected. I have never received so much love in my life and I don't know if I will ever receive it again. Irrespective of anyone's status, Paramahamsaji gave everything to everybody. He tried to relate to everybody who came before him on their plane.
I think that everything I've experienced up to this point in my life was a preparation for what I experienced at the Chandi yajna. It has changed my life and will probably continue to do so as I carry on my ashram life just seeing Paramahamsaji in his relaxed fashion, Swami Niranjan going about his duties, flowing with the cosmic vibrations, and everyone just melding in to form the whole event. We have all been affected in different ways and our awareness has been awakened to different levels. I feel very privileged to be a part of this wonderful global family. As Paramahamsaji says, we're moving on now, we're in the second generation, we're looking for that new inspiration and drive. I feel that it's going to take a little time for me to come back to earth, settle and then go on steadily towards the new century. I feel very excited about this we couldn't be in better hands.
I was part of the organising gang and it was my privilege to be working at close quarters with Paramahamsaji. While we were working he would give instructions and advice too. Some things really sank in. One day he said, The aim is not to be precise, but to be perfect. I thought for some time about what on earth he meant. So it was a continuous satsang for us. I really don't know how much I have understood, but on a few occasions I could feel a thrill, especially when the yajna fire was lit. I could see how the fire was built up just by rubbing two pieces of wood together. The purity of that really struck me. When the shiva lingam was given to Swamiji I felt a non-intellectual appreciation of what was happening. I earnestly feel that this is the time when I should make a sankalpa to make a change. I am a difficult person to change but now I think something should happen.
Many times I witnessed Swami Niranjan receiving instructions from Paramahamsaji. I was amazed at the direct and often blunt way in which Gurudev spoke to Swamiji and very impressed by Swamiji's humility and willingness to serve. The guru-disciple relationship was a living reality. This impression also helped me to understand Paramahamsaji's directions and interactions with us during morning satsang. His inclinations were very clear. Some senior swamis have become masters and not disciples. He said that he wanted the same openness with us as he had with Swami Niranjan and Swami Gyanprakash, but this was not possible because of our self-importance. Paramahamsaji's instructions to the old generation to be re-initiated reflected his view that some swamis in senior positions were in danger of losing the quality of discipleship altogether.
It came to me as an inspiration and as a heartfelt truth that the symbolic structure of a yajna was in the form of a yantra, arranged into a mandala and empowered by mantra. I understood that as disciples and as an institution we are all part of an intricate yantra resembling on a larger scale the dimensions of a mandala. Every step in the yajna was of equal importance and interdependent for its success, as are we for our spiritual growth.
The Sat Chandi Maha Yajna created a reflective mood and I have begun to realise that the relationship I have with the Divine is very deep. The subtlety of awareness is more and more. As a sannyasin I may have a role to play but more important is that I remain fearless, humble and detached from the world and life. The events of the yajna were for me a deepening dedication to truth and dharma. May all of us who were there quickly transcend any identification of self-importance or seniority and re-engage ourselves in seva to the divine life.