It was only during my experiences at the Sat Chandi Maha Yajna that I appreciated what my old school motto 'Serviam' - "I shall serve" truly meant.
I was part of one of the serving teams that fed the thousands that attended the yajna over the five day event. It reminded me of the miracle performed by Jesus at the wedding at Canaan. When food and drink seemed to be dwindling, more appeared as if by magic.
I have never served such a wide cross section of society and divinities before: the angelic gregarious kanyas, local policemen on late duty, VIPs, cheeky young boys trying to connive extra sweets, boisterous villagers, and a committed posse of sannyasins who were always the last to be fed.
Serving can be a thankless task, but that is when you remember that it is about giving of yourself with no expectation of praise nor appreciation. I tried to meet every challenge with good humour: from finding a secret cache of jalebi late at night to maintaining my humour when everyone wanted water at the same time. I saw how maintaining my balance and good mood helped in a small way to uplift and help those who were waiting hungrily to be served.
Serving is self-energizing. Late at night just when you think you can serve no more, you can and you do. You give of yourself when you realize that these hungry diners are equally tired from working all day. I found it to be a dynamic way of learning compassion. It is the time when you are really serving; I could have claimed my job's worth and pointed at the clock and gone to bed. I later connected this experience with what Swami Niranjan said: Ask yourself how much am I willing to let go to imbibe spiritual life? So I had effectively decided to try this out. Forfeit a few extra minutes of sleep to serve others. At that moment you feel as if you are trying to connect to the divine within, the part of you that prompts you gently to make the most uplifting choice between serving just two more people or feigning tiredness and escaping to bed.
So to conclude, my time at Rikhia enabled me to reconnect with that part of me that loves to serve and in doing so I witnessed a devotional quality to my behaviour. I remember from my school days one of the nuns explaining to us that it is in giving that you receive. My time in Rikhia certainly gave me an experiential understanding of my nature.