Sita Kalyanam 2002

Elaine Benson, UK

Today, December 9th, will bring the culmination of the yajna, which has been built up over the past four days. Swami Niranjanananda suggested yesterday that we fast today for spiritual reasons, and also so that people attending the yajna who might not normally benefit from a square meal could have ours. I've skipped breakfast.

Arriving at the area of worship, I guessed it was going to be a red-letter day when I saw the beautiful robe Swamiji was wearing. After a few words of greeting and a brief introduction to the day, we had a rousing kirtan and Swamiji then began to make Paramahamsaji's chair ready for him.

The swamis who were arranged closely around Paramahamsaji's chair stood up, and then Paramahamsaji arrived. He is quite small, looked young and fresh and he was dressed in a robe that matched Swami Niranjan's. Paramahamsaji settled in his chair, the swamis sat down, and there he was, as if he'd been sitting there for hours, totally relaxed with a few close friends. (I don't know how many people attended the yajna, but it must have been thousands.)

First Paramahamsaji spoke about next year's sankalpa: "Grain will be the gift, in all its shapes and forms." Paramahamsaji says that when a man dies of hunger, God dies, because man is the only creature who knows God. If you feed man, you feed God. Paramahamsaji spoke of the importance of establishing and maintaining rural life both in India and in our own countries too.

When Paramahamsaji talks it feels very intimate, as though he is speaking to you personally. He laughs a lot and is very bubbly and humorous. He explained clearly and simply the various stages of the yajna, so that we could understand what was happening and feel part of it.

The Acharyas opened the ceremonies with chanting. Then 108 virgins (one for each aspect of the Goddess), 107 little girls and one little boy, came into the area of worship. The children looked like beautiful dolls dressed in traditional Indian costumes; they were brought in a few at a time by Swamiji and some of the other swamis, holding their hands and leading them to their places up on a table top, so that they could be seen by all. It was very touching to see them all seated, still and quiet, looking out at all the people, obviously feeling the sense of being involved in something very special. In front of each child a place was set for a meal. The virgins were prepared with garlands, then a fire ceremony was conducted for them, their feet were painted and they were given a meal, which they ate without seeming to do too much damage to their outfits; they were very, very well behaved. When the meal was finished, all the virgins filed past Paramahamsaji to receive their prasad, lovely little suitcases full of goodies. Paramahamsaji loved this and did his little girl voice in reply when they greeted him; it was very comical and made the children feel at home.

There was so much going on all the time and it was such a spectacle, I find it hard to recall everything; it was very colourful and stimulating. Finally the Goddess was invoked and the sankalpa fulfilled - "Peace, prosperity and happiness to all".

Lots more people received gifts, mountains and mountains of them, as they had been doing for the last four days. Many people were brought to Paramahamsaji to be greeted and blessed. It was also good to see Paramahamsaji and Swami Niranjan together. Total love. Swami Niranjan was so tender in his attention to Paramahamsaji, adjusting his garland and head-dress, making sure his microphone was in the right place, looking to every detail of Paramahamsaji's comfort, and protective like a father to a child.

Paramahamsaji talked about the Vedas and how the Vedas had sanctioned animal sacrifices at yajna, but the Buddha had felt it, and when Paramahamsaji said this he put his hand to his heart, as if this had been where the Buddha had felt it. So after the Buddha's time white cucumbers were substituted for animals in the sacrifice. A sacrifice had to be made to the Goddess and this was done by Paramahamsaji's representative, Swami Niranjan. The Acharyas duly came over and presented Swamiji with quite a fierce looking sword and he went back to the Goddess with them and performed the sacrifice.

Paramahamsaji and Swamiji were both anointed by the Acharyas and so was Poorna, Paramahamsaji's dog, who had taken part in the whole festival. The fire ceremony came last and it took much longer on this final day, as the flames had to go higher. This was achieved by pouring melted ghee into the fire. It was fascinating to see the silhouetted figures of Swamiji and the Acharyas pouring the ghee through a long pipe into the growing blaze, all the time the Acharyas continuing to chant. At the end of the ceremony, fire was offered to everyone present and then water was scattered over us and we all lifted our hands to receive these blessings.

A symbolic wedding between Sita and Rama took place next, the Acharyas again chanting the ceremony. Now the rituals were completed.

During the day Paramahamsaji sang here and there between his talks. He explained that in yoga we have peace, in yajna we have prosperity, not in money, but in spiritual wealth, so in fact we have everything, which is what I think we all felt, and what we know in our lives every day through belonging to the Bihar School.

The day seemed to have passed in no time. Paramahamsaji left at the end of the wedding ceremony without any fuss, just as he came, such a beautiful presence, and then he was gone. It had been a wonderful week. I had travelled to India with the sole purpose of seeing Paramahamsaji and my mission was accomplished. He was just delightful in his humour, flowing with fun and laughter and lots and lots of wisdom: you could listen to him forever.

The whole yajna had been organized and conducted with such grace, purity and precision. Swamiji had been anywhere and everywhere the need for him arose, having time and energy for everyone. The gifts, which were so 'what was needed in the moment', had flowed endlessly, we ate delicious food, it was like seeing a miracle happen. No one could fail to be humbled by the sheer scale of the yajna, by its generosity and love, combined with so much practicality and making such a difference to so many people's lives.

It was a wonderful experience to know and be part of it, and to know that I would be able to bring some of Paramahamsaji's love and his sankalpa back home with me to share in my little bit of the world.