Activities of Sivananda Math: Rikhiapeeth 2008

Sivananda Math is a social and charitable institution founded by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in 1984, in memory of his guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh. The aim of the institution is to facilitate the growth of the weaker and deprived sections of society. It also aims to uplift the impoverished in rural and backward areas, by following the precepts of seva (service), karuna (compassion), prem (love) and sneha (affection).

January

The New Year was graced by the most precious gift of all, darshan of Swami Satyananda. Guests and residents were blessed with an inspiring satsang and the New Year dawned with Swami Satyananda’s spontaneous and potent message for 2008: “The happiness you are searching for lives within; it is not outside.” The kanyas welcomed the New Year with a havan by chanting the mantra of peace, plenty, prosperity and well-being given by Sri Swamiji for Rikhiapeeth, Aim Hreem Kleem Om. Satsang was followed by guests witnessing Sri Swamiji’s central teaching of ‘giving’ as they attended the distribution of Prasad to villagers in Tapowan.

The distribution of Prasad on New Year’s day was a continuation of the distributions that began on the first day of the 2007 Sat Chandi Mahayajna, and which continued up until Makar Sankranti on 14th January 2008. Daily distribution of Yajna Prasad was conducted, reaching out to over 250 villages from 19 panchayats of Swami Satyananda’s ever expanding family. More than 20,000 families were the recipients of utility kits consisting of: karhai, steel ghara, topia, glass, thali and katori, quilt, bedcover, blanket, dari, towel, bucket, calendar, cardigan, sweater, shawl, sari, thermal underwear, shirt, dhoti, muffler, cap, shoes and socks, ribbon and comb, rice, coconut and mustard oil – all the necessities of a household! The old age pensioners and widows of Rikhia Panchayat received additional warm clothes. In addition, schoolbags, stationary and notebooks were distributed to thousands of students from the local schools. Swami Satyananda’s sankalpa for peace, wellbeing, plenty and prosperity for all manifested in a continuous flow of material and spiritual wealth which was distributed for over one month to tens of thousands in the form of Devi Prasad.

Makar Sankranti

Makar Sankranti was celebrated on 14th January and just like the sun, radiating warmth and light, Swami Satyananda came out to bless all present with satsang and darshan. This was followed by the final distribution of Prasad to villagers in Tapowan. The highlight of distribution was the smiling and glowing faces of the deserving moped and wheelchair recipients, which were presented with on behalf of Sivananda Math.

The day was concluded with a bhoj for the kanyas and batuks, their parents and the senior citizens of Rikhia Panchayat who receive a monthly stipend from Sivananda Math. After the bhoj, the kanyas and batuks received yet another new outfit and their fathers received a shirt and a shawl. The old age pensioners departed with their arms full of practical items including: kurta, lungi, lota, mustard oil, jaggery, dal, rice and assorted seasonal vegetables.

On Makar Sankranti, the graduating kanyas and batuks received Prasad of a suitcase filled with materials to help them in the next stage of life. Each year the children who have reached the age of thirteen graduate so that they can persue their further studies and responsibilities. They have been closely associated with the ashram for many years and continue to regularly attend the ashram events.

English and computer classes for the kanyas and batuks resumed on 21st January after a prolonged break for the Yajna. The children were enthusiastic and excited about returning for classes. Throughout the month of January, selection of new admissions for kanyas and batuks was conducted. The only thing that is required of the children is that they attend their local schools and that they come for English classes daily. In total, over 600 new admissions were taken from the villages of Rikhia Panchayat which took the total number of kanyas and batuks to 1,465. These children represent all the families of the villages of Rikhia Panchayat.

January also saw the recommencement of the Sivananda Charitable Dispensary, the ongoing clinic located at Rikhiapeeth, which was established in 1991 with the aim to provide much needed essential medical facilities to the poor and underprivileged. Many medicines had been donated by devotees from around the world during the Yajna period and it was a mighty task to sort and classify the medicines so as to best utilize them for those in much need of treatment. In the month of January, over 500 patients were treated for various ailments and 20 new tuberculosis (TB) patients were admitted for specialized treatment.

On 27th January, Sivananda Math, in co-ordination with Sikar Nagrik Parishad Trust, Kolkata, and Kumhartolly Seva Samiti, Deoghar, conducted an eye camp for the local villagers, during which over 1,000 patients were treated. The enthusiastic team of volunteer doctors, sannyasins and ashram guests came together with heart, head and hands, to provide the utmost care and consideration to the patients thus ensuring the camp’s success. As the doctors carried out all medical examinations and assessments, 100 patients were identified for cataract operation, 450 patients were in need of spectacles and 700 required medicines for eye infections.

February

Basant Panchami

Basant Panchami (11th February) is a day which represents new life and is dedicated to Devi Saraswati, who is the goddess of wisdom and learning. Early in the morning the kanyas and batuks came to the classroom on the second floor of Tapowan building to perform puja to Saraswati, whose murti (statue) is a central feature of the ashram classroom. The kanyas offered flowers, fruits and incense to Saraswati and lit the deepak. They chanted Saraswati Vandana – seeking the blessings of Saraswati Ma for knowledge and wisdom, and help with their studies.

A havan to invoke the benevolent grace and blessings of Saraswati was followed by bhoj and Prasad for kanyas and batuks, senior citizens and guests.

March

Shivaratri

Shivaratri Sadhana Shivir was conducted from 4th to 6th March. Hundreds of participants followed a full-day schedule which included morning class of chanting led by kanyas, followed by asana and pranayama class, mid-morning class of antar mouna and ajapa japa and afternoon class of yoga nidra. Daily evening programs of havans, prayers and kirtans were dedicated to the worship of Shiva. This shivir allowed participants to prepare for the auspicious day of Shivaratri through swadhyaya, satsang and seva.

Worship of Shiva is very special in Rikhiapeeth because it is the tapobhumi of Sri Swami Satyananda and is located in Baba Baidyanath Dham, an awakened shrine of Shiva where a sacred jyotirlingam is venerated.

On the special day of Maha Shivaratri, 6th March, Sri Swamiji gave darshan in the morning and the new junior group of kanyas led the chanting for the first time. This new generation of kanyas, who had only recently begun their training, chanted the challenging mantras of Chamakaprashnah and Rudraprashnah with impeccable timing and pronunciation. These kanyas are being expertly trained by Swami Satsangi to chant the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Vedic mantras, bhajans and an extensive range of much loved kirtans. Those who were fortunate to hear them could not comprehend how these young kanyas who were just beginning formal education in Hindi and English could be so pure and perfect in chanting these sacred mantras! The innocence, purity and confidence of these junior kanyas stirred devotion and admiration in all present. Their flawless debut left no doubt that with further training their innate potential would continue to blossom.

Shivaratri is Lord Shiva’s favourite occasion because this is the night when Shiva, the cosmic consciousness, will unite with his consort Parvati, the individual soul. In recognition of this sacred event, the kanyas chanted the sacred verses of the Ramacharitamanas that describe the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. This chanting is especially powerful, as each of us represents Parvati, the jivatma or individual soul, and on Shivaratri we aim to unite ourselves with Shiva, the universal soul.

Initiation into mantra, jignasu and karma sannyasa was given to hundreds of aspirants on Shivaratri by Swami Niranjanananda and Swami Satyasangananda. During the evening havan, Swami Niranjan gave Poorna Sannyasa initiation to three aspirants.

On Shivaratri, as day turned to dusk, then dusk into night, a powerful havan was conducted on the Tapowan vedi with several thousand in attendance including residents, guests, kanyas and batuks, and many local villagers who had been invited to come and offer their worship to Shiva, the adiguru. The atmosphere was charged and the presence of Shiva was palpable.

The batuks conducted Rudra abhisheka under the direct guidance and direction of Swami Niranjan. This was their first opportunity to conduct a puja of this magnitude and was a great step in their training in havan and worship, which they are receiving in the ashram. Just as the kanyas are being trained in chanting, kirtans, Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita, so the batuks are receiving direct training in worship, havan and puja. The offerings to the sacred lingam were conducted in full view of an awe-inspired audience. The power and presence of Lord Shiva was felt as each of the prescribed items was poured over the venerated lingam.

The Rudra abhisheka was followed by havan and the chanting of Shiva Sahasra Namavalih, the 1,008 names of Shiva, and then an extensive repertoire of Shiva kirtans which had many people up dancing in the spirit of ‘Nataraja’.

Swami Satyananda has said, “God is wherever you are. God is not far from you. He is closer than your own breath, closer than your own prana, closer than your own mind. He is so close to you, just turn your mind within and you will see Him.” This was truly felt by all those fortunate to attend the Shivaratri worship which went well into the night.

Yoga Teacher Training Camp

From 10th to 30th March, students participated in the Yoga Teacher Training Camp in English. This course was led by Swami Sumitrananda and Swami Nityachaitanya who guided and supported students through it. The comprehensive course was aimed at those wanting to teach yoga in their communities, and also provided individuals a deeper understanding of their own yoga practices. Asana, pranayama, meditation, shatkarmas and seva combined to bring a wholistic experience of yoga and ashram life. Students were fortunate to have illuminating satsangs with Swami Satsangi who gave insights on different aspects of spiritual life and yoga practices.

April

Shimoga Course

A special children’s course was conducted from 19th to 24th April for a group from Shimoga (Karnataka) who came to Rikhia for ashram life and yoga. During their stay, cultural programs were conducted and audio-visual films of Ramayana and other children’s documentaries were shown to the children and kanyas and batuks of Rikhia. The children and their guardians had several enlightening satsangs with Swami Satsangi who addressed issues relating to the wholistic development of children and yoga in a practical and applicable way.

Chaitra Navaratri

From 7th to 15th April, the intense nine-day Navaratri anushthana was conducted at Rikhiapeeth during which the entire Ramacharitamanas was chanted by the hundreds of devotees participating in this anushthana. The daily path was led by Sannyasi Mantranidhi and the kanyas of Rikhia. The fast pace of the recital and the large numbers of guests, residents and kanyas and batuks in attendance created an intense atmosphere which continued to escalate through the anushthana. Devi mantras were recited and havans conducted in the evening after which the kanyas enthralled everyone with their kirtans and dance.

On the auspicious day of Navami, Sri Swamiji was present for the final session of the Ramayana chanting, the ideal climax to the anushthana. After darshan, the kanyas, batuks and old age pensioners of the Panchayat were served bhoj. Thereafter, they received Prasad in the form of grains, clothing and accessories.

May

Children’s Course

During the month of May, Rikhiapeeth was filled with vibrancy and joy as children from all over India, including Raipur, Bilaspur, Bangalore and Bhagalpur, gathered to participate in Rikhia’s unique Children’s course. The activities conducted during this period were specifically tailored to meet the energy and needs of children. A balanced combination of yoga, seva, games, kirtans and dance provided the children with a range of activities in which they could express their creativity and individuality. The ashram environment is perfect for children to develop a well-rounded personality, clarity of mind, self-confidence, as well as the realization of an aim or goal in life that they can work towards. The children had several satsangs with Swami Satsangi in which they received guidance and direction on how to fulfil their goals in life.

The children came with or without their guardians and joined fully in the ashram activities. The senior kanyas conducted chanting classes to teach the visiting children the Bhagavad Gita and in reciprocation, the visiting children taught new games and songs, and helped the kanyas and batuks with their English classes. Evening programs were a mix of chanting, kirtans and cultural items as the children shared their creative talents in dance and song. Children who come to Rikhiapeeth are always sad to leave and many describe their time here as “the best days of my life!”

Akshay Tritiya

On the holy day of Akshay Tritiya, 8th May, the doors of Badrinath temple are opened for all devotees to worship Lord Narayana. On this auspicious occasion, in Rikhiapeeth residents and guests opened the doors of their hearts with prayer, havan and kirtan to invoke the blessings of the Lord. To prepare for this event, hundreds of guests attended the Akshay Tritiya Sadhana Shivir from 6th to 8th May, which combined asana, pranayama, meditation, seva and satsang.

Akshay Tritiya has earned itself the status of a festival which is inherently perfect. The word akshaya literally means that which is constant, stable and is never destroyed. On account of its indestructible force, all the words you speak, thoughts you think and acts you perform on this day become a part of your hard disk and remain with you life after life.

On this auspicious day, Lord Narayana was worshipped by the chanting of Sri Vishnu Sahasra Namavalih, the 1,008 names of Lord Vishnu. The kanyas and batuks along with the senior citizens of Rikhia Panchayat and gramins all attended. After the havan, they were invited to a special bhoj.

June

Ashram Life

As the summer heat reached its peak, the activities of Sivananda Math continued, executed largely by the efforts of those who were willing to step outside their daily lives and experience Ashram Life.

Sri Swamiji has said: “The greatest lesson we have to learn is the lesson of life. And this becomes available to us when we decide to step out of our routine existence and adopt some different ways to live by, even if it is for a short time. One of these ways is ashram life, where you can stay for a few days as a sannyasin and live a life that is diametrically opposite to yours and learn how to deal with different situations, different people, different problems and, at the same time, also learn to deal with yourself.”

Throughout the year, from January to September, Rikhiapeeth offers the opportunity for householders from all walks of life to spend time in the ashram and experience the joys of living life in the spirit of tyaga, seva and samarpan, and enjoy the benefits derived from that. Thus, their stay in the ashram, whether long or short, becomes an important medium for character and personality building, bringing fresh energy, momentum and direction into their lives. During their Ashram Life stay, people are fully involved in the activities of Sivananda Math in the spirit of seva.

Daily Satsang

In Rikhiapeeth, a contributing factor to the maintenance of the high level of focus and inspiration is the daily satsang program for all residents and guests. Every Ekadashi, an akhanda Bhagavad Gita path and every Poornima, Sundarkand path (from the Ramacharitamanas) are chanted by all present. Each day of the week is dedicated to a particular worship with the chanting of appropriate prayers, havans and kirtans: Shiva Mahimna Stotram every Monday, Hanuman Chalisa on Tuesdays, Sri Rama Stuti on Wednesdays, Guru Paduka Stotram on Thursdays, Saundarya Lahari on Fridays and Mahamrityunjaya Mantra havan for universal peace, health, prosperity and happiness of all is conducted every Saturday. On Sundays, the kanyas and batuks of Rikhia enjoy the latest release of popular and educational movies, and for a couple of hours Yajnashala becomes a cinema hall! In 2008, the kanyas and batuks and local villagers were also fortunate to have the opportunity to watch the epic films of Ramayana and Shiva Maha Purana.

July

Nada Yoga Course

A group from Italy, led by Swami Anandananda, conducted a Nada Yoga Course at Rikhiapeeth from 8th to 14th July. It was a comprehensive course that led participants through the more subtle aspects of nada yoga while giving them an opportunity to engage in seva and satsang. The aim of such courses is to provide spiritual education and knowledge through the medium of yogic science and culture, as originally inspired by Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. A main feature of the course was the satsangs with Swami Satsangi, who addressed questions on many aspects of spiritual life and yoga practices. Swami Satsangi gave insights on how the ancient practices of yoga are applicable and beneficial in today’s modern world.

Guru Poornima

For thousands of years, devotees have celebrated Vyas Poornima or Guru Poornima as a day of worship of guru on this full moon of July. On this sacred day, spiritual vibrations flow in abundance and we can receive the grace and blessing of all gurus, those who are present today, who have ever lived and those who are yet to be born. Guru Poornima is of utmost importance to all disciples for offering devotion and surrender at the feet of guru.

In preparation for the sacred guru puja, hundreds of aspirants and devotees attended the three-day Yoga Sadhana Shivir held from 16th to 18th July. By attending daily classes of asana, pranayama, mediation, yoga nidra and by participating in seva, satsang and prayer, participants were able to tune their hearts and minds to receive the radiant grace of guru shakti. The shivir was also an opportunity to renew dedication to guru.

Daily evening satsangs of prayer, havans and kirtans dedicated to guru were conducted, during which the kanyas and batuks were offered Prasad of a beautiful designer outfit from Spain and a lovely traditional dress from Chennai. The kanyas and batuks who had graduated also received Prasad of a beautiful outfit.

During the Guru Purnima anushthana, the kanyas and batuks, gramins and senior citizens were invited for daily meals in the ashram. The kanyas proudly informed guests that the preparations for the Annapurna Kanya Kitchen were going on in full swing. This grand undertaking of Sivananda Math will facilitate the kanyas and batuks and senior citizens, over 2,000 people, to have daily meals in the ashram. Preparations for this massive undertaking have been ongoing throughout 2008 and are nearing completion.

On the auspicious occasion of Guru Poornima, 18th July, thousands were blessed to witness the sacred guru puja and havan performed by the kanyas and also by the darshan of Sri Swamiji. His presence gave us the opportunity to thank him for the inspiration and joy he brings into our lives. After satsang, guests were guided for parikrama during which they had the opportunity to offer pranaam and dakshina to Gurudev. As the seeming endless line filed past Sri Swamiji, the kanyas continued to sing from their extensive repertoire of guru kirtans including one of their favourites: Charano Se Hamko Laga Lai Ho, Rikhiya Vale Baba; Rikhiya Vale Baba, Satyananda Baba.

In the presence of Sri Swamiji, bicycles were distributed to kanyas who had shown dedication and commitment to their studies in the hope that the bicycle would help them to continue their studies, enabling them to fulfil their dreams and ambitions for the future. Awards were also presented to 108 deserving kanyas and batuks who had excelled in a particular area of wholistic development.

August

Sri Radha-Krishna Jhoolan

Sri Radha-Krishna Jhoolan, the annual five-day worship of Radha, Krishna and Bal Gopal, was conducted at Rikhiapeeth from 12th to 16th August for the local villagers who come in the thousands to swing the swing (jhoola) of Radha-Krishna and Bal Gopal. Each day between 5–8 pm, the Yajnashala was filled to capacity as people came together from Rikhia Panchayat and from around the world and India to worship Sri Krishna with havan, naam sankirtan and arati. The capacity of the sadhana hall seemed to expand, enabling thousands to receive darshan of Sri Krishna. The celebration was blessed by the presence of Sri Swamiji who daily attended the three-hour program bringing joy and bliss to all present.

The five days were a celebration of pure bhakti and devotion. Each evening, the kanyas of Rikhia sang innumerable Krishna kirtans with joy and love, and shared their favourite stories about Sri Krishna. Krishna loved music, so by singing the many names of Krishna, the Lord was invoked and invited to join in this celebration of bhakti. The kanyas and batuks danced for hours as a way to express their love and offer worship to Krishna. Vrindavan was recreated as the kanyas and batuks of Rikhia became the gopis and gopas of Vrindavan, and the presence of Sri Krishna was felt in the hearts of all those fortunate to attend.

Throughout the five days of Radha Krishna Jhoolan, bhoj was conducted daily for the kanyas and batuks of Rikhia and their parents. This bhoj was part of the worship of Krishna and sweets were freshly prepared and served in abundance. Diksha was conducted on 12th August and mantra, jignasu and karma sannyasa initiations were given to hundreds of aspirants by Swami Niranjanananda and Swami Satyasangananda.

It is believed that wherever there is music, song, dance and nice food, Krishna can be found! The Radha-Krishna Jhoolan at Rikhiapeeth was testimony to this, as throughout this memorable five-day worship the presence and grace of the Lord was felt by all.

Krishna Janmashtami

On 24th August fell Bhadrapad Krishna Ashtami, the birth of Sri Krishna, which is celebrated as Janmashtami throughout India. This auspicious day was celebrated by offering kirtans, prayers and arati to Bal Gopal. The sacred Bhagavad Gita was also chanted.

September

Bhagavad Katha

Rikhiapeeth was honoured to welcome renowned Swami Govinda Giri from Pune, who came to glorify the life of Sri Krishna during the Bhagavad Katha, which was conducted from 1st to 8th September. This event was held in tribute to our Param Guru, Swami Sivananda, whose Janmotsav is celebrated on 8th September.

The katha was held daily in three-hour sessions that were an interactive mix of kirtan, stories and bhajan. Kanyas and batuks were dressed as the swarupa of key figures such as Vaman, Krishna and Rukmini, which they all loved. The kanyas and batuks along with large numbers of village guests and over 600 other guests attended all sessions. Their regular attendance in large numbers added to the dynamic nature of the katha. The katha was blessed when Sri Swamiji attended its seventh and final day.

Throughout the katha, a puja was continuously conducted at Parna Kutir in Sri Swamiji’s puja area. The chanting of Srimad Bhagavatam and the ritualistic worships were an essential part of the success of the event.

To conclude the auspicious Bhagavad Katha and to celebrate Param Guru Swami Sivanandaji’s Janmotsav, a havan was conducted by the kanyas and batuks, during which the Bhagavad Katha Prasad was given to the guests who came from overseas and different parts of India.

12th September

A special evening of havan, kirtan and prayer was dedicated to Sri Swami Satyananda’s Sannyasa Divas. On 12th September, in 1947, Sri Swamiji received initiation from Swami Sivananda into the Dashnami order of sannyasa, on the banks of the Ganga. Swami Satyananda does not call this Sannyasa Divas, he calls it Samarpan Divas, a day when he had surrendered.

In the words of Swami Sivananda, “Few would exhibit such intense vairagya at such an early age. Swami Satyananda is full of Nachiketa vairagya.” Swami Satyananda followed with faith his guru’s command, “Work hard and you will be purified. You do not have to search for the light; the light will unfold from within you.”

On 12th September, we honoured the life of Swami Satyananda which is one of total surrender and dedication to the guru and upholding the tradition of sannyasa. On this day we prayed that may his life be a source of inspiration for each and every one of us in our spiritual journey.

Yoga Teacher Training Course

A Yoga Teacher Training Course in Hindi was conducted from 5th to 25th September at Rikhiapeeth. Participants successfully completed the course under the guidance of Swami Nityachaitanya. During the course, the students had the opportunity to attend the Bhagavad Katha in addition to their daily classes. Swami Satsangi gave several satsangs and answered the participants’ questions. Her satsangs gave an insight into the role and responsibilities of a yoga teacher in today’s society and also on different aspects of spiritual life and yoga practices.

23rd September

On this very special day in 1989, at exactly mid-day Swami Satyananda set foot in this remote village of Rikhia for the first time. When Sri Swamiji came to Rikhia, it was a very desolate place, with no roads, no electricity, no houses, no food, no health care, no clean water and no clothes. It was one of the poorest panchayats in India’s poorest state. And now, within twenty years, Rikhia has been blessed with peace, prosperity, plenty and health. As declared by Paramahamsaji, Rikhia is now Rikhiapeeth where the dictum of ’Serve, Love, Give’ is practised and lived.

This place was revealed to Swami Satyananda on 8th September, 1989, during his early morning meditation. At that time Sri Swamiji was observing chaturmasa at Neel Parbat of Juna Akhara at Trayambakeshwar in Maharashtra. As 8th September was Sri Swami Sivananda’s birthday, Swami Satsangi reached there early in the morning with prasad of the puja done for him.

He immediately directed her to go to Deoghar and locate the place he had seen in his meditation. Soon after that on 23rd September, Swami Satyananda came here to live in seclusion and to lead the life of a Paramahamsa. Here he performed the most difficult tapasya of Panchagni and ashtottara-shat-laksha mantra purascharana.

To commemorate this special day, the Teacher Training Course students organized a cultural program in co-ordination with the kanyas and batuks. A wealth of talent was displayed including Ganesh Stuti in Telugu, yoga demonstrations, comedy acts and dance performances. The kanyas and batuks also performed, and their display was a fitting tribute to the sankalpa of Sri Swamiji.

October

Ashwin Navaratri

From 30th September to 8th October, the nine-day anushthana of Ashwin Navaratri was observed. Navaratri is an event that occurs twice a year, once in the month of Chaitra and then again in Ashwin. During Navaratri, which literally means ‘nine nights’, devotees flock to Rikhiapeeth to partake in the sacred opportunity to worship the Divine Mother and Sri Rama. This Ashwin Navaratri was particularly auspicious as a mandala of murtis (statues) was invoked and placed throughout the anushthana on the stage in Yajnashala. These silent witnesses blessed the nine-day worship and their presence brought a dimension of the sublime. The kanyas and batuks were fascinated by the colourful murtis and studied their elaborate designs and intricacies in detail and with great reverence.

Diksha by Swami Niranjanananda and Swami Satyasangananda was conducted on 5th October. Hundreds of aspirants received mantra, jignasu and karma sannyasa initiation.

On the auspicious day of Navami, the ninth day, Sri Swamiji was present to bless the sacred anushthana. After the final session of Ramacharitamanas was completed, the kanyas performed a beautiful dance that they had especially prepared to welcome Sri Swamiji. This dance was a classical temple dance from Orissa dedicated to the Mother Goddess in Her various manifestations of Durga, Uma and Parvati. The dancers described Her beautiful body bedecked with jewels and went on to end with salutations to the Divine Mother, guru and the audience. The kanyas learnt this challenging traditional dance within only a few days and worked very hard to be able to perform it with grace, confidence and poise.

Diwali

Diwali literally means ‘a row of lights’ and it is one of the favourite celebrations of Rikhiapeeth, because on this day we worship the beautiful Devi Lakshmi and pray to her for prosperity in the coming year. Hundreds of guests, villagers and the kanyas and batuks attended this special festival which brings about unity and instils charity in the hearts of people.

The ashram was beautifully decorated and looked stunning, with thousands of flickering lamps covering the entire campus to welcome Goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi Ma was worshipped with chants and havan in Yajnashala and the stage was lit by 108 candles. Diwali is also the day that commemorates the return of Sri Rama to Ayodhya, so the kanyas invoked Lord Rama through a beautiful classical bharatnatyam dance performed to the chanting of Sri Rama Stuti.

After the conclusion of the dance, guests were guided to a candle-lit Akhara and Sarovar darshan. As guests meandered through the sparkling puja area, the atmosphere was transcendental. Sacred mantras played in the background and the lights illuminated the puja area where Sri Swamiji had performed the Panchagni among other rigorous sadhanas. To be blessed with darshan of this sacred place was a gift, and as people sat and reflected on the essence of this festival of lights, a sense of the sublime enveloped all in what can only be described as an out-of-the-world experience.

November

Raas Lila

The Raas Lila was conducted in Rikhiapeeth from 12th to 13th November for the spiritual upliftment of all fortunate enough to attend the program and especially for the villagers of Rikhia Panchayat.

Acharya Swami Fateh Krishna Goswami and the members of Radha Kripa Ras Lila Trust, the famous story tellers of Vrindavan, came to glorify the Ras Lila over two nights through vibrant dance, song and narration. This event was an important part of Swami Satyananda’s sankalpa to spiritually uplift all present, especially the villagers of Rikhia Panchayat.

The Raas Lila of Krishna with the gopis and Radha is a very important event in the history of humankind. It took place five thousand years ago on the full moon night of Kartik Poornima in Vrindavan, the town where Krishna spent his famous childhood. The Raas Lila was greatly enjoyed by all, and the bliss and joy of Sri Krishna, one of the greatest figures to appear on earth, was felt by all.

After the conclusion of the Raas Lila, a special dance performance for the audience of several thousand was conducted by the kanyas and batuks. The kanyas of Rikhia performed a modern style dance and on popular demand, the Rikhia Boogie Woogie Dance troupe was invited to perform one of its special dances. This group of older batuks loves to dance, and they spend all their free time practising all the latest Bollywood moves. They are encouraged to perform in the ashram as it develops their self-confidence and gives creative expression to their youthful energy. Sri Swamiji has always said that children should be taught dance, as it is a positive form of expression. All the kanyas and batuks love to dance; they can dance for hours and not get tired. They also love to watch dance performances, so before the introductions were complete . . . “Now I invite the Boogie Woo . . . ” there was a roar of approval and joy, and a great rush to get the prime viewing seats!

Chakra Sadhana and Prana Vidya Courses

A Chakra Sadhana Course was held from 21st October to 5th November and a Prana Vidya Course from 12th to 19th November. The two comprehensive courses were guided by Swami Muktidharma and Swami Karmakaruna of Anahata Yoga Retreat, New Zealand. Sincere participants gathered from all over the world to participate in these unique courses that offered advanced practical and theoretical classes along with an experience of ashram life. The meticulously planned syllabuses led students systematically through experiences of the chakras and prana with the help of asana, pranayama and mediation.

The courses were conducted in the newly completed complex of Patanjali Ashram, the site of the much anticipated Yoga University. The completion of Building Three which contains spacious classrooms and sadhana halls was a result of tireless effort and it was fitting that the building be initiated by these advanced yoga courses. Students were fortunate to have satsangs with Swami Satsangi who addressed many questions on different aspects of spiritual life and yoga practices. Swami Satsangi gave aspirants insights into how to apply yoga in their daily lives and presented a scientific basis for the benefits of a yogic lifestyle.

December

Sat Chandi Mahayajna and Yoga Poornima

The year 2008 heralded the beginning of a new era, as for the first time the consecutive worships of Sat Chandi Mahayajna (28th November to 2nd December) – the worship and invocation of the Divine Mother, was followed by Yoga Poornima (8th to 12th December) – the praise and glorification of cosmic consciousness, the Divine Father, Lord Shiva.

The combination of these two events allowed thousands of devotees from all corners of India and the world to worship the two founding principles of our existence, Shiva – the cosmic father and Shakti – the cosmic mother. Their complementary nature allowed these two grand events to flow smoothly, and bring a sense of completeness and unity.

During Sat Chandi Mahayajna, the kanyas and batuks of Rikhia, the hosts, excelled once again by conducting all aspects of this grand event. Their enthusiasm, ceaseless smiles and joy were contagious. The energy of Devi Ma was palpable as the smallest of the kanyas danced and danced and danced . . .

Every morning, the worship began with the kanyas’ dance. The kanyas performed their wonderful Mangal Nritya in the traditional bharatanatyam style. In a very short time the kanyas had mastered the different styles of classical dance forms and were very happy to be able to perform for Sri Swamiji and Devi Ma. The audience was spellbound as these young girls who were the very embodiment of Devi’s shakti performed each dance elegantly with grace and poise. In the ashram the kanyas and batuks have perfected English, computers, chanting of the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, kirtans and now dance. This is the true definition of expansion of mind. These dances were a true tribute to the sankalpa of Sri Swami Satyananda that is being fulfilled at Rikhiapeeth to work towards the upliftment of those who are the most neglected of our society.

Yoga Poornima was a five-day glorification of the supreme consciousness, Shiva. Learned pandits from Varanasi conducted daily havans, and chanted the mantras. Daily, the kanyas chanted the Shiva Mahimna Stotram, a hymn praising the glory of Lord Shiva. This Sanskrit stotra is known as Lord Shiva’s favourite and its stirring beauty connected all present to the divine vibrations of Shiva.

Shiva is known as adiguru, the first guru, as it is from him that the guru parampara evolved. By worshipping Shiva, the form of auspiciousness, we invoke the grace of guru ta ttwa in our lives. Shiva is Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram – Truth, Auspiciousness and Beauty. Combining this worship with the celebration of Sri Swamiji’s life is only fitting, as we are celebrating the guru tradition that our beloved Sri Swamiji has exalted. Therefore, in essence, we are worshipping two great yogis. Shiva is the king of yogis and Sri Swamiji, after the successful culmination of the Rajasooya Yajna, has also been proclaimed a king, the king of hearts.

Yoga Poornima was held to honour the birth of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, which took place on the full moon night or poornima, of Margasheersha, in 1923. Sri Swamiji’s life has been one of total surrender and dedication to his guru Swami Sivananda, who gave him the mandate to reveal the true essence of yoga. The five-day Yoga Poornima celebration was a tribute to Swami Satyananda, who has inspired millions to live the divine life. During the five-day event, sannyasins offered their praise and worship through kirtans which were dedicated to Shiva and guru. The combined contributions by kanyas and sannyasins gave this event depth and stirred devotion in all present.

Mrityunjaya Mahadev is the ishta devata of Swami Satyananda, so Mahamrityunjaya havan was the best way to celebrate his most auspicious birth. The sacred Mahamrityunjaya mantra was chanted all day long for the peace, health and prosperity of all. It is a centuries old technique from the Krishna Yajur Veda that bestows health, wealth, long life, peace, prosperity and contentment. We cannot underestimate the power of this ancient mantra and in today’s troubled and turbulent times, it is the panacea for all ill. Sri Swamiji has vowed to ‘Serve, Love and Give’. We can all witness giving in the form of Prasad, but sometimes we must rely on faith. We must trust in the subtle influences of this powerful mantra because that too is a form of giving. To bring peace, prosperity and health through a universal mantra is giving in its greatest sense, as the subtle vibrations not only influence the lives of those immediately present, but also the whole creation.

The principles of ‘Serve, Love and Give’ are practised and lived in Rikhiapeeth. The Sat Chandi Mahayajna and Yoga Poornima were an opportunity for all to experience and partake in Sri Swamiji’s mantra, “Give, give and give.” Throughout both these five-day events, Prasad was continuously and generously distributed to thousands of families from Rikhia Panchayat and surrounding panchayats.

Throughout these events we were witness to Sri Swamiji’s central teachings of giving. His family is extensive and forever expanding, as his loving and caring embrace extends beyond Rikhia Panchayat to provide for the needy and deprived. These families walk up to 50 kilometres to receive his grace in the form of much needed basic necessities such as blankets, rajais, new clothes, grains and cooking utensils.

In addition to the distribution to villagers, four deserving kanyas were also presented laptop computers. This special Prasad will help them to pursue their dreams and quest for knowledge because in today’s world one must be an adept at computers to be literate in the true sense of the word . Deserving kanyas and batuks were also presented Prasad in the form of digital cameras and CD players.

What many do not realize is that this distribution of Prasad continues long after the crowds have left Rikhiapeeth and returned home. The sannyasins of Rikhiapeeth continue the distribution for over 800 hundred families daily right up until Makar Sankranti, 14th January. Therefore, from the beginning of Sita Kalyanam on 28th November 2008, until Makar Sankranti, 14th January 2009, Prasad was offered to over 200 surrounding villages which constituted over 20,000 families.

Although Sri Swamiji usually remains in seclusion, throughout both these events he blessed all participants by giving so much of his time and love. From morning to night, he was present for all sessions, giving satsang and presiding over all proceedings. His constant presence made these events unforgettable.

Kriya Yoga and Tattwa Shuddhi Sadhana

Following the Sat Chandi Mahayajna, international aspirants participated in the Kriya Yoga and Tattwa Shuddhi course held from 15th to 21st December, conducted by Swami Satyadharma and assisted by Swami Nirmalratna and Swami Nityachaitanya. The highlight of this advanced course for students and teachers alike were Swami Satyasangananda’s enlightening satsangs on deeper aspects of the kriya practices and their relevance in daily life. The kriya yoga practices taught in the course have been handed down by Swami Satyananda who in the early years taught these practices to students from all parts of the world. The practices have been formulated and structured in such a simple format that they can be easily incorporated in daily life and bring physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Christmas

To celebrate the spirit of Christmas, on 24th evening, a colourful cultural program was conducted in Christ Kutir which was a highlight for the kanyas and batuks of Rikhia. Guests and performers included the monks and nuns from St Francis Mission and Father Thomas, BYB students from Munger, international groups from all over the world and guests from Rikhia villages and Deoghar. The evening was thoroughly enjoyed by all as entertaining and inspirational pieces in music, dance, song, drama and comedy were performed which captured the true meaning of Christmas. A special feature of the program was the havan dedicated to worship of Christ and procession and puja of Baby Jesus offered by the kanyas. As the program concluded, Santa Claus and Shakti Claus (dedicated disciples who learned their art of giving from Swami Satyananda) distributed Prasad to all. The kanyas and batuks received stationary and new outfits. All guests received new Rikhiapeeth T-shirts and bags, both affixed with the sacred Sri Yantra, a symbol of Rikhiapeeth.

Initiation was given by Swami Niranjanananda to spiritual aspirants from around the world on 24th December.

On 25th December, a merry Christmas was shared by all as the auspicious day was marked with the darshan and satsang of Swami Satyananda, transporting everyone to a dimension of bliss.

A New Year Begins

As 2008 drew to a close, we could reflect on the past year and also look forward to the new year. During 2008, Sivananda Math extended its activities in many areas including education, construction and medical care, and providing basic necessities for the underprivileged and neediest within our society. It also conducted many events and programs for the spiritual upliftment of all present, especially the villagers of Rikhia Panchayat. This continued expansion and success of the activities of Sivananda Math was possible due to the sankalpa and continued blessings of Sri Swamiji and the tireless efforts of Swami Satsangi in directing the various activities. The mantra of Swami Satyananda which is also the foundation of Sivananda Math is ‘Give, Give, Give’ and this is made possible by the generous contributions of devotees from India and around the world, who give so much of their time, resources and energy.

On New Year’s Day, the kanyas gave a message to us all. The innocence and sincerity of their message is testimony to the success of Sivananda Math’s activities within Rikhia Panchayat: “Today is also the day for making sankalpas. We kanyas too have decided a sankalpa. With guru as sakshi, we kanyas and batuks who are the very lucky children of Rikhia Panchayat, make our sankalpa and pledge to fulfil all the dreams that Sri Swamiji has for us because he has always supported us. On this day we wish for peace, plenty, prosperity and health not only for our homes, panchayat and country, but for the whole world.”