A special program based on the Srimad Bhagavatam was held at Rikhiadham from 8th-14th September 2003, and the Bihar Yoga Bharati students were blessed to be able to attend. Swami Sivananda's birthday and Swami Satyananda's 56th anniversary of taking sannyasa were commemorated during this period, and the BYB Convocation was also held.
From 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day everyone gathered in the yajnashala. With Swami Niranjan overseeing, two pandits, a father and daughter from Varanasi, related stories from the Srimad Bhagavatam, which is regarded as a very significant scripture, and as more important than even the Bhagavad Gita. We were told that just to be present in its vibrations while it is being chanted or related is a great blessing, and Swami Niranjan instructed us to imbibe all that was happening. The Srimad Bhagavatam is made up of bountiful stories from the lives of the 12 incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the sustainer, the divine energy that preserves and nourishes all of creation. These stories are filled with characters that attract and inspire, and are wonderful vehicles for communicating instruction and inspiration, and for provoking contemplation.
The pandits told the stories with great skill, art, understanding and feeling. Kirtans and bhajans were used as a part of the storytelling, and the pandits would seamlessly turn in mid-sentence from talking to wonderful singing and again back to talking.
Many stories were related from the life of Sri Rama early in the program, as he represents the ideal man, the example we can look to in our lives. The final half of the program was devoted to the life of Lord Krishna, from his birth and childhood, to his marriage, to the rasa lila with the gopis, and to his giving of the teachings in the Bhagavad Gita. Lord Krishna was the focus, as the most perfect incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
A deity was installed on the stage on a beautifully decorated shrine. The decorations, in shape and form and colour, related to the particular form of the deity that was the focus of that session. For the birth of Lord Krishna, a sweet baby Krishna was installed on a swing, decorated with nourishing fruits. For Krishna's marriage to Rukmini, pink lotuses and opulent decorations were in abundance. Each day the shrine was richly decorated with garlands of flowers, arranged on the shrine in special patterns. It seemed that the divine energy was present in these shapes as much as in the beautifully dressed figures.
On Monday 8th September, the program began with Sadguru Vandana and Guru Stotra and other chants in celebration and commemoration of Swami Sivananda's birthday. Diksha was given to those who had asked for it, including many of the new BYB students who received mantra diksha.
On Thursday 11th September, we were given the opportunity to have darshan of the Akhara area, where Swami Satyananda resides and where he performed his panchagni sadhana. Under the hot midday sun (just one fire, and not at its hottest!), we sweated while we walked through the akhara and absorbed its atmosphere, with a cloud of incense, the blowing of the conch and the beating of the hand drum. This was an intensely moving experience for many, and a great blessing.
On the evening of Friday 12th September, we commemorated Swami Satyananda's 55th anniversary of taking sannyasa. Swami Niranjan said that this moment of dedication and surrender to his guru is the moment in his life that Swami Satyananda always remembers and keeps alive.
On the same evening, the BYB Convocation was held and the students who had graduated from the MA/MSc courses of 2001-2003 were given their degrees. The Vice-Chancellor, Swami Shankarananda, having remained quiet about who the customary chief guest would be, announced to the delight of all that the chief guest was Lord Krishna! Swami Niranjan explained that the convocation was held on this day as it was Swami Satyananda's day of dedication, and it was also the day that the students would be dedicating themselves and their lives to yoga. He gave the students a threefold mandate. Firstly, to strive for excellence in life and perfection in yoga, secondly, to strive to uplift themselves spiritually throughout their life, and thirdly, to serve others. Students also took vows in Sanskrit before they received their degrees, including to be truthful and to live according to dharma. Swami Niranjan wished the students well in their lives, and ended the evening with the blessing "May Lord Krishna keep you always".
During our stay in Rikhia, many changes occurred in us and in others present. The most noticeable and immediate change in the students was the growing feeling of equality and connection. In our special BYB uniforms, we all shared this unique experience with each other and with all those around. Our hearts were strongly and deeply affected; our faces softened, relaxed, bloomed and sparkled as we opened up. This feeling translated into our behaviour. We began to help others more and to treat others with more care. The barriers that separated us from each other began to dissolve. During the after-lunch rest period, the volunteer Hindispeaking students would tell some of the stories from the Srimad Bhagavatam program to the non-Hindi speaking students. It was deeply moving, both to hear the stories themselves and to be hearing them from fellow students.
Each day of the program, everyone performed their seva duties. The seva for many of the students was serving at meal times. Serving food to the kanyas became our sadhana, and our way of participating and connecting with the spirit prevailing at Rikhia. That spirit of giving and abundance was there in our seva. Each day the kanyas ate first; they were ushered to the eating area, seated and served. After their meal, the kanyas would line up and more students would pour water from jugs and help them wash their hands. We felt this was a very important part of the whole program. Without the presence of the kanyas and the opportunity to serve them, the program would have been incomplete.
We focused on how to do our best. Each day our methods and our system improved. Small details like timing of dishes and portions extended to imparting a feeling of care for each kanya. We recognized their individual differences, learnt their names and helped them to feel comfortable, doing what we could to assist. We were manoeuvring up and down rows, bending to serve, straightening to walk, making way for each other to pass, and running to the kitchen to get more food on the command: "Go!" Each student played their part, cooperating, taking charge, assisting the flow.
This was our sadhana. There were difficulties too. People were stretched, and friction was generated. We had to deal with ourselves. Some people got sick, some were overwhelmed. There was resistance, questioning, and withdrawal; we experienced and observed all these things happening. But, somehow, we found a way to manage. We learned to ease up, let go of our hard-held ideas and give our energy to the serving duty. It became more about 'us' and less about 'me'. This process we went through was transforming. We realized that we were being showered with blessings in abundance, and that the only limit was our capacity to be aware of this and to perceive it, and to take it in. We felt incredibly grateful for this experience, and feel a strong determination to use this wonderful energy in a positive way.