Thirty of us (a motley bunch from the UK, France, Sweden, Spain and New Zealand) left from London Heathrow on 15th November 2003. After a stopover in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), we first of all went to Rikhiadham, in the newly created northern state of Jharkhand, where Swami Satyananda, my guru, lives. There, we did a week's karma yoga before participating in a five-day yajna from 24th-28th November. It comprised three aspects: Sita Kalyanam, Sat Chandi Maha Yajna and Rajasooya Yajna.
Sita Kalyanam is the marriage of Sita and Rama, which symbolizes the ineffable relationship between the manifest universe and the unmanifest, but which is enacted concretely by the marriage of a man (symbolizing Shiva - underlying consciousness) and a woman (creative energy). There was daily chanting from the Ramacharitamanas, a text in old Hindi.
Sat Chandi Maha Yajna (great ritual to the Cosmic Goddess) is the chanting of a Sanskrit text called Sri Durga Saptashati for the well-being of the world, which symbolizes the constant battle of negative and positive forces in the universe as well as the conflict within the personality of each individual. The whole proceedings, which included a complex fire ceremony, was conducted by the poojaris (specialists who carry out this type of yajna) from the holy city of Varanasi. The mantras flowed and charged the atmosphere of Rikhia and, no doubt, beyond. The mundane becomes transformed so that everything is felt to be sacred.
Rajasooya Yajna (the regal ritual) was started in 2001 when Swami Satyananda made a sankalpa (vow) that for the next twelve years this traditional ritual would be conducted where there would be the giving of prasad (consecrated gifts). Each year there is a specific theme. During the previous two years it was vastra (cloth) and patra (kitchen utensils) which were distributed to all and sundry - to visitorsfrom all over the world and, especially, to thousands of villagers from the surrounding area. No one was excluded or forgotten. This year, the theme was pancha dhanya (the five types of grain) - rice, wheat, maize, barley and millet -which were also distributed to all. It was very moving to see this continuous giving. And, though a cliché, it is true that in giving do we receive; this is a spiritual law. Many, who arrived with half empty bags, departed with so many gifts that they couldn't close their bags or had to buy new ones! This giving - materially, emotionally and mentally - is something that all of us should put into practice as much as we are able. What a lesson!
Everyone had the darshan (vision; meeting) of Swami Satyananda who, at the age of 80 years, exuded vitality and wisdom. He told me I should come every year.
Then, one week in Munger, in Bihar state, at the Bihar Yoga Bharati, the first University in the world dedicated solely to yoga, a visionary attempt to bring yoga into mainstream culture. This could give us a new format for education in the future - real education, which includes developing understanding of our body, emotions and mind, as well as intuitive faculties, which not only help us to become more creative individuals, but can give us insight into our place in the universe. I have many memories of this place since I spent more than half of my 14 years in India within its confines.
In both these places (Rikhia and Munger), we were treated with kindness and respect by Swami Niranjanananda, the Chancellor of the University and President of the Bihar School of Yoga.