The Kanyas and Batuks of Rikhia: Hosts of the Sat Chandi Mahayajna, Rikhiapeeth, 2007

Swami Kriyabhava Saraswati

“I am the Universal Mother and you are all my children.
I am forever ready to shower my grace upon you.”

With these words, the Divine Mother’s most beautiful form – a kanya – welcomed delegates and devotees from all over India and the world to Rikhiapeeth for the twelfth and final year of the most sacred and auspicious events of Sat Chandi Mahayajna and Sita Kalyanam, which were part of the greater Rajasooya Yajna. During this opening address not a whisper could be heard from the more than 10,000 delegates, yet each soul rejoiced at the reminder that it is loved, protected and cherished. Worldly worries were forgotten, anger and fear released just by hearing these words spoken with clarity and conviction. In the presence of this truth, spoken by a child, innocence and trust were restored. These words awakened the vibrating presence of the Cosmic Mother, which lasted throughout the entire program and beyond.

The kanyas and batuks of Rikhia, on behalf of Swami Satyananda, were the official hosts of this exceptional international event. They opened their hearts and welcomed all to this five-day worship and invocation of the Divine Mother. The 1,008 kanyas and batuks are the ‘adopted’ children of Sri Swamiji. They are the children of his neighbours and live in the heart of his spiritual community. The walls around the Alakh Bara by no means indicate the boundary of this community, rather the whole of Rikhia Panchayat is his ashram. These blessed children have all been born within this extended ashram since Sri Swamiji came to Rikhia in 1989, the majority of them since the Rajasooya Yajna began in 1995.

Sri Swamiji explained: “The priest will be a kanya, the caterer will be a kanya, the singer will be a kanya, the controller of every ritual of this yajna will be a kanya. They will be our hosts. This is the most ancient concept of Shakti Tantra.” The kanyas and batuks executed every aspect of this sacred tantric worship: greeting guests at the reception desk, seating, worship, pooja, prasad distribution, serving of meals and announcements. These innocent and pure children, aged between six and twelve years, conducted a flawless and uplifting event with confidence, poise, grace and joy. The spirit of yajna is love, sacrifice and service. As hosts, the kanyas and batuks embraced and shared this spirit above and beyond expectation and set such high standards that we now need to reconsider our understanding of these concepts.

These children attend daily classes at the ashram in English and many also participate in computer, surya namaskara and Bhagavad Gita classes. Sri Swamiji also provides them with chanting and kirtan programs to unlock the blockages of the mind and expand the consciousness. A regular feature of their ashram routine is the chanting of spiritual texts such as Bhagavad Gita (every Ekadashi) and Ramayana (every Poornima). Each evening they run to the ashram to attend the kirtan and chanting satsangs, which they love. Another much anticipated weekly event is the viewing of films on Sunday afternoons in the sadhana hall (Yajnashala). The kanyas and batuks have been shown a wide variety of international films and documentaries. This exposure is expanding their awareness and making them more aware of the world around them. It also provides a much deserved break in their hectic weekly schedule to enjoy and relax in their second home, the ashram. As a result, their minds are sharpened and they are free to express their full potential.

Sri Swamiji has full confidence and trust in the capabilities of his kanyas and batuks. He has said repeatedly: “These children are very brilliant.” Hosting the Sat Chandi Mahayajna was an opportunity for them to express their innate potential and creativity in a positive and constructive way. Every child shone brightly and touched the hearts of all. It was the highlight of their year; a time to challenge themselves, to practise their English, to serve, to love, to be worshipped and to welcome the world to Rikhia!

Their spontaneity and sincerity in action and subtlety in communication exuded refinement and training. However, the polished coordination, timing and fluidity of events was not a result of individuals being intensely trained for specific duties. It is a natural result of regular and continuous exposure to the ashram environment and its activities, which is awakening their innate potentials and intuition. As a result these children are responsible, capable and confident. They are able to adapt and excel in any given situation. They have demonstrated these qualities repeatedly in their management and execution of the numerous events conducted in Rikhia ashram during the year, including Chaitra and Ashwin Navaratri, Guru Poornima and Krishna Jhoolan.

During the Sat Chandi Mahayajna, the personal attendants of Swami Niranjan and Swami Satsangi were not the usual geru-clad swamis, but rather a group of alert and attentive kanyas and batuks. Their willingness to serve and assist was remarkable. As Swami Satsangi and Swami Niranjan moved amongst the delegates, they were flanked by their ever-ready assistants who diligently cleared the path before them. These children of around ten years of age skilfully manoeuvred amongst the devotees, passing messages and calling guests as directed. When Swami Niranjan or Swami Satsangi stood, they stood; wherever they walked they were surrounded by smiling children. From early morning until the conclusion of the final program, these kanyas and batuks were on duty, ever ready to serve, assist, dance or sing – all in the name of duty!

These children confidently guided and assisted their guests at every step throughout the program. The delegates followed their directions unquestioningly as their instructions were delivered with innocence and joy. Everyone was aware that the kanyas and batuks were the mediums of Sri Swamiji and understood that to follow their guidance was to follow His will. They were the directors and by allowing them to fulfil their duties, we were also fulfilling ours.

Throughout the five day program the kanyas won the hearts of all with their extensive and diverse repertoire of mantras, stotras, vedic hymns and much loved Devi kirtans. The kanyas have been expertly trained in kirtan and chanting directly by Swami Satsangi. They have a well earned reputation as spirited kirtanists with faultless timing and pronunciation. Their performance was supported by batuks on harmonium, mridang, and manjira along with a lively ‘dancing’ group. This year, their innocence, purity and spontaneity captivated the audience and led to new depths of devotion. The power of the mantras was overwhelming. Sri Swamiji has spoken extensively on the benefits of singing kirtans. He says: “Through kirtan you can reach the pinnacle of spiritual experience.” The truth of this mandate was evident as the presence of Devi Ma was palpable when her name was on everyone’s lips.

The kanyas and batuks love to dance with abandon and this program was no exception. Their very groovy and well coordinated dance moves were loved by all. The innocence, joy and love seen in these children was awakened in all. Sri Swamiji had said: “Let us experience this yajna like these children, with innocence, purity and spontaneity.” On many occasions Swami Niranjan and Swami Satsangi were up dancing with the children, as children. The kanya’s kirtans, along with the captivating dancing crew, gave everyone an opportunity to reconnect with the inner child and to express love and uninhibited joy. The kanyas and batuks could sing and dance for hours; their ceaseless energy and enthusiasm is contagious and none were willing to let the kirtans end until they heard: “The words of our next kirtan are . . . ”

“A yajna cannot be complete without daan, or giving.” The distribution of the yajna prasad to every family of Rikhia panchayat was done through the kanyas and batuks. They also distributed prasad to Santhali villagers, gramins, old age pensioners, widows, sannyasins and delegates. Their dedication to this duty increased throughout the five days as their understanding of ‘prasad’ unfolded. Prasad is not donation or alms, nor is it charity. Sri Swamiji has told us that: “Prasad means that which is offered to and received back from God. Prasad is from the hands of the Divine Mother.” The kanyas and batuks were these hands. They were involved in all aspects of prasad, from the checking of village lists prior to the distribution to the collecting of the tokens and the actual giving at the distribution point. The batuks willingly assisted those who needed help to carry their numerous prasad items. Thousands and thousands of families were blessed by the yajna prasad and every item was given through the hands of a child.

“Kanyas on bhoj duty should now go to the dining area to serve the prasad to the devotees of the yajna.” This daily announcement (by a kanya, of course) called the nearly 150 children involved in the daily lunch serving to the kitchen. They undertook this mammoth task with skill and sensitivity. Their intuitive understanding and coordination allowed the feeding of over 10,000 guests to be done efficiently, ensuring that all the delegates were fed before the next session of the program recommenced. They saw the guests as ‘their’ guests and served each person individually with this understanding.

During the Kanya Pooja, the kanyas radiated poise and self-confidence. The presence of Devi was felt as they entered Tapowan in their stunning new red Nepali dresses and beaming smiles. These young girls were the centre of attention with the eyes of the world on them, yet they remained composed and calm. They filed in, smallest first, with perfect coordination and timing. This was their day to shine.

Sri Swamiji oversaw all aspects of the preparation and execution of this ancient tantric worship. He ensured that the traditional rules of eligibility were maintained and that none of the strict rules of this worship were broken, thus ensuring its success. The Kanya Pooja was performed by the pandits, Swami Niranjan and Swami Satsangi under the watchful eye of Sri Swamiji. During the pooja the girls sat peacefully as the sacred mantras permeated the atmosphere and the rituals were performed. Everything seemed perfectly still, but the atmosphere was charged with mantras and the presence of the Divine Mother as Sri Swamiji himself performed the arati to invoke her.

The kanyas were worshipped by dressing, feeding and the giving of prasad. By superimposing the image of the Divine Mother on the kanyas and through their worship, we receive the blessings which flow through them. By worshipping and giving to these children in the form of Devi, we are expressing our love and devotion to God as it is ‘She’ who has been invoked into many forms and radiates on the smiling faces of these kanyas.

The simplicity and purity of heart of these young girls makes them perfect channels for Devi Shakti as they can contain the energy and power of Devi. They laugh, cry, learn and play. Yet according to the ancient wisdom of Shakta tantra revealed by the rishis, they are the embodiment of divine energy. They are a medium to invoke Devi and are a pure channel for us to worship God in a human form.

After completing the invocation and worship of the Divine Mother with mantra, ritual, arati and ‘feeding’, the Gauris (older kanyas) and the batuks filed into Tapowan to join the second part of the pooja, the Bhoj or ‘feeding’. The 1008 places had been pre-set with mathematical precision. The careful preparation ensured that no detail was overlooked from the method of serving to the extensive number of utensils required. Every spoon and napkin had been counted and re-counted. The serving teams moved skilfully along the narrow rows, ensuring that every child received as much as they wanted of the numerous and elaborate items. Swami Niranjan and Swami Satsangi moved amongst the seemingly endless rows, ensuring every plate was full and calling for pulao, dal and other items as required. The success of this epic event showed in the contented looks on the children’s faces.

After Bhoj, the final stage of the pooja was concluded with the giving of prasad. All the kanyas and batuks received a schoolbag full of grains, clothes and stationery packed so that all the items were appropriate to their age. Each child was individually presented their prasad by Swami Satsangi and as they left they thanked their beloved Sri Swamiji in their own way with a heartfelt “Bye-Bye Swamiji”. They left the yajnasthal proudly carrying their new schoolbags on their backs and wearing smiles on their faces. Amongst the “Namo Narayans” could be heard the familiar phrase, “See you soon.” Before leaving, a small kanya beamed a smile and asked, “What time does English class start tomorrow?” To witness their energy, enthusiasm and versatility is a gift. These children take everything in their stride, worshipped as the Divine Mother one day then ready for English class the next. For them it is just another day and experience in their exciting and varied life in Rikhia.

Kanya means ‘virgin’, and represents our soul which is virgin and uncontaminated. The kanyas who are worshipped as Devi on the final day of the Sat Chandi Mahayajna represent that pure spirit or virgin soul within us all. The kanya or virgin is considered to be the true embodiment of the Cosmic Mother or a living manifestation of the Divine. The qualities of divine grace we can identify in these kanyas lie uncontaminated and luminous within us all, yet we are unable to see it. The Kanya Pooja enables us to worship that pure spirit or divine energy in a manifest form.

Do not see these kanyas as merely children. Do not bring them down to fit your worldly, material understanding. Rather, recognize and worship them in their highest form, the Divine Mother, then you too will reap the grace that flows through them. Sri Swamiji has asked us, “Can you think of your little daughter as the replica of the Divine Mother? Can you see the goddess in the kanyas.” There are manifestations of the Divine everywhere, even in your own home and family. If we can open our hearts and minds to perceive her multiple forms, then her grace will surely enter and transform our lives.

These kanyas and batuks, like all children, are our future. The skills and potentials they demonstrated during Sat Chandi Mahayajna give us a glimpse of how great that future will be. With the faith and trust that Sri Swamiji puts in them, there is no limit as to what each one will achieve. The benefits of this auspicious undertaking will be felt and seen for generations to come, here in Rikhia and throughout India and the world, as the grace and love of Devi has touched the lives of all who have come as children seeking her blessing.

This 2007 program was the final year of the greater Rajasooya Yajna and completed the twelve year sankalpa of Sri Swamiji. The Rajasooya Yajna is conducted by one who is a conqueror. Sri Swamiji successfully conducted this historic event as he is the conqueror of our hearts. The culmination of this sankalpa marks the victory of his conquest.