Yoga Poornima: Journey into Luminosity

Swami Suryaprakash Saraswati

Rikhiapeeth hosted the first Yoga Poornima from 8th to 12th December 2008, celebrating Sri Swami Satyananda’s 85th birthday. During the program, a Maha Mrityunjaya Yajna was conducted in which Lord Shiva was invoked and worshipped. The word poornima means ‘full moon’, but here it represents the completion of a process or cycle, the culmination of a life journey. When the word ‘yoga’ is added to ‘poornima’, it indicates the attainment of a particular state, where the level of consciousness has reached its evolutionary peak. The moon’s journey starts in absolute darkness on Amavasya and ends in complete luminosity on Poornima. Sri Swamiji embodies that state of complete luminosity.

The highlight of the entire program was Sri Swamiji’s vibrant presence throughout the worship. From morning to evening, he would sit, witness, guide, and fill the entire event, audience and venue, with a magical inspiration. Thousands of people had gathered to receive the blessings of Sri Swamiji and Shiva, and not a single person walked out empty-handed.

Sri Swamiji has said that a yajna is an intense experience that must be lived; it cannot be understood by just hearing or reading about it. Many of the events that occur cannot be intellectually translated and classified. Nevertheless, this is a small attempt to give an idea of the magnitude of this event.

Preparing for a new beginning

For many of us, the yajna was not only a five-day program; it actually began two months earlier. Over two full months of hard work were required to prepare for the yajna. From early in the morning until late at night, we were constantly engaged in preparations. Everything moved very fast: from the packing of prasad that was distributed to thousands, to beautifying the gardens, preparing the venue, stage, decorations, arranging the items required for the worship, maintenance, repairs and cleaning up construction sites. A kitchen was organized to feed over ten thousand people a day; rooms and facilities within the ashram were made ready for one thousand overseas and national guests, plus a hundred other things that kept cropping up in this endless marathon had to be looked into.

Synchronized show

The entire Yoga Poornima program was one huge chain of events, each merging into and overlapping with the next. By 4.00 am the venue was being prepared and the bags of prasad that would be distributed on that particular day were being shifted here. The gates would open at 7.00 am, by which time several queues had already formed. The first line was the crowd waiting to come in. The second line was for the registration counter, where people would receive their entry badges. The third line was for people to sit in the distribution enclosure to receive prasad. In this way, all the lines would start streaming steadily into the venue in an organized and smooth flow.

The actual yajna program started at 8.00 am, by which time Sri Swamiji would be sitting on the stage, behind and in-between the two kirtan groups. On one side were the kanyas and batuks, and on the other the sannyasins. Each group would sing a kirtan, after which Sri Swamiji would ‘fill in the gaps’, as he very nicely put it, before the worship commenced. The worship was conducted by the pandits at the vedi, where the mantras were continuously chanted along with havan and Rudra abhisheka. After the opening prayers by the pandits, Shiva stotras were chanted by the kanyas and sannyasins followed by kirtans, during which the distribution would begin.

While the chanting was going on, streams of people would be filling the venue and preparations in the kitchen would be moving into full throttle to feed the thousands of participants. As the pandits chanted at the vedi and offered oblations to the fire, the distribution lines would be queuing up, with Sri Swamiji witnessing each and every movement. As soon as the kirtans began, the distribution would also begin. The distribution line was led by a young batuk, holding high the banner of the village, town or country that he was leading.

Art of giving

All the items given during the yajna were not gifts, but prasad. As Sri Swamiji said, prasad is not a gift or a donation, neither is it charity. Any item that is given with love for the prosperity and well-being of the recipient and received with dignity and blessings is prasad. Each item that was distributed was first placed as an offering in the worship.

The main focus of the prasad was the villagers, Sri Swamiji’s neighbours. However, prasad was distributed to everyone who attended the yajna. The receiving of prasad was a reminder that the real need is not to only to receive, but to give. That was the example and teaching that Sri Swamiji put before all.

The amount of care and effort that goes into the preparation and distribution of prasad is unimaginable. Each of the several thousand prasad bags that were packed for the yajna were checked by at least two people to ensure that all the items had gone in and were properly packed. Any bag that had the slightest inaccuracy was repacked. Even laptop computers were distributed to some of the senior kanyas, but not before they had received extensive computer training, ensuring that they would be able to use and look after them properly.

Sri Swamiji’s mobile phones

Sri Swamiji wanted to make sure that all the villagers of Rikhia would be present on the last day of the yajna. To ensure this, he devised an ingenious and beautiful strategy. Rikhiapeeth ashram currently has approximately 1,500 kanyas and batuks who come regularly for English, computer, dancing and chanting classes, and programs. All the kanyas and batuks came daily during the Yoga Poornima program. On the third day, all the kanyas were asked to come with their fathers. They all came, were fed, and received prasad. On the fourth day, all the batuks were asked to come with their mothers. They too came, were fed, and received prasad. On the fifth and last day, all the children were asked to bring both their parents, and all the 1,500 children arrived with both parents.

All the parents of Rikhia Panchayat had no choice but to do as their children had asked because, as Sri Swamiji said, these children are his ‘mobile phones’. All he had to do was to tell them, and the parents had no say in the matter.

Culmination of the celebration

The entire program of Yoga Poornima was geared to reach its peak on the fifth and last day of the full moon, when Swami Satyananda was born 85 years ago. The whole venue was buzzing with a mood of festivity and joy. As a culmination to the event, the kanyas performed bharatnatyam, a classical Indian dance. Everyone was spellbound by the graceful movements of the young kanyas.

The ironic part was that Sri Swamiji himself did not wish to celebrate his birthday. “Yoga Poornima is only your way of postponing my further evolution,” he said. Nevertheless, surrounded by thousands who cling to him as a source of inspiration, he continues to guide us all on how to live in a better way with an open heart. During the program, Sri Swamiji said: “I do not want anything from any of you, except a small piece of your heart, that’s all.” One of the little kanyas sitting beside me immediately sprang up: “Swamiji, I will give you a piece of my heart!” Next thing, she turned around to the kanya beside her and innocently asked, “How do you think I should give it?”

Hero of Rikhia

While Sri Swamiji was talking, people passed in front of the stage to offer respects to him. As the line moved, he spotted somebody for whom he had special plans. This person was soon to become the hero of Rikhia village, making headlines in all local newspapers. His name is Rajendar Ramani, son of Tetu Ramani, the village head of Rikhia Panchayat and the donor of the land on which Sri Swamiji now lives.

Tetu’s son, Rajendar, used to come to the ashram when he was a boy. Since he was very keen to study, Sivananda Math sponsored his education and sent him to Munger for high school. Next, he was sponsored for higher study at the Agricultural University of Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, where he acquired a degree in Agriculture. When Rajendar appeared at the program, Sri Swamiji naturally enquired after him, and was delighted to hear that Rajender had just got a job at Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad, a nationally recognized film production centre, where he had been appointed ‘Agricultural Editor’ for television programs on agriculture.

Rajendar was called on stage, and Sri Swamiji proudly related his story to the whole of Rikhia present there. Rajendar was a perfect example of what Sri Swamiji was trying to convey to the people of Rikhia. His message was that they must focus on education and acquiring skills. If they wished to make this effort, he was willing to help them and they could achieve anything, just as Rajendar had done.

Yoga Poornima was a rare privilege to be exposed to the life and teachings of a master, such as Swami Satyananda. However, one must also remember that teachings, no matter how precious, are of little value if they remain confined to knowledge and memory. A teaching or an experience is only of relevance if one can utilize it to improve and transform the quality of one’s life and of those around one. Only then can one grow as an individual, only then can one open one’s heart, and only then will one receive the blessings.