Approaching the Akhara on the Friday before the program and the butterflies in my stomach had butterflies in theirs. Twenty of us had travelled together to Rikhia after three weeks in Munger completing our TTC with Swami Vedantananda. Some had never been to India before, let alone Munger or Rikhia! - and didn't know what to expect. I had been the two previous years and still didn't know what to expect! Rikhia is always a unique and overwhelming experience, that was all that was certain.
Sri Swamiji was there on the first day, though not to welcome us, as he had said quite clearly, but to inform us that this year the kanyas - or virgins - were the hosts, not he, nor Swami Niranjan or Swami Satsangi, but 500 local girls, all under 12 years old. He explained how their virginity is not a physical thing, but a mental, emotional, sensual one, an innocence which most of us have lost and don't know where to look for it within us. The worship of the Cosmic Mother as a kanya is an ancient tantric concept, and a simple and beautiful one, as Sri Swamiji went on to say, to encourage us to find this innocence and purity within ourselves.
The girls' confidence would put most of us yoga teachers to shame. Their effortless leading of joyous kirtans, mc'ing of events and little four and half year old Sita leading the shanti path in English at the end of each session was an amazing and humbling experience.
The giving of prasad is an essential part of these yajnas and this year's chosen prasad was grain - and plenty of it - to rich and poor alike, locals and overseas guests. As Sri Swamiji reminded us, this giving is not charity, for charity is the mother of poverty. It is a giving of blessings from the Cosmic Mother. In the West we may ease our conscience by sending the occasional cheque to a charity for one cause or another, not really knowing where the money goes, but here there are no administrators or directors or marketing executives to take their cut, each and every penny is spent providing items of use to families in the villages Sri Swamiji has adopted, to give them the experience of receiving - maybe for the first time - as Swami Niranjan said, to strengthen and develop their communities, to develop their quality of life, and everybody loves receiving gifts!
Sri Swamiji returned on the last day to oversee the worship of the kanyas - 500 girls dressed in their new uniforms, fed and worshipped by Sri Swamiji, Swami Niranjan and Swami Satsangi too. It was a moving experience that defies all explanation. The whole Rikhia experience defies explanation or logic and the first thing one must remember is not to ask "Why?" Rikhia seems to get bigger each year and I heard that there were 8,000 people there this year, with an endless flow of prasad, loaded by a human chain into cars, load after load, thousands of bags of rice, wheat, millet, maize and corn, and blankets and clothes and utensils, school bags, books, and much more, a bag for everyone who was there.
Hundreds of devotees, sannyasins, BYB students and guests worked and worked throughout the program, doing everything from cleaning the toilets to packing prasad, to serving food, like ants a friend said, the only difference being we were not working to sustain our own small community but were serving others - offering our work as service to a higher force, to guru, to the Cosmic Mother. Dedicated to one man who himself is dedicated to serving God for the greater good of all those who are near him, and inspiring thousands of others to do the same in their own lives - to give, give, and give some more.