International Yoga Festival – Day 6 and 7
March 6: Concluding Ceremony of International Yoga Festival
Yogis and presenters from over 50 nations, including Kenya, Ukraine, the United States, Mexico, Peru, Japan and Thailand colourfully celebrated the concluding ceremonies of the world-renowned International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh today. They were joined by dignitaries including H.E. Dr. Aziz Qureshi, Governor of Uttarakhand and HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, President of Parmarth Niketan, Founder of Ganga Action Parivar and Co-Founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance.
The concluding ceremonies took place while the sun set serenely over the azure blue flow of the River Ganga. As participants from six continents and 50 countries raised their voices in songs of togetherness, messages were brought forth that that a more peaceful world can be forged through mutual-understanding.
Said HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji: “India should never be seen as a mere piece of land. It is a land of peace. Today, as we celebrated together, the illusory differences of nations, language and race were erased, and all were able to enjoy true harmony. Such togetherness is a natural outcome of yoga, which reminds us that we are all members of one family, united by the ties of Divinity.”
Said HE Governor Dr. Aziz Qureshi, “Pujya Swamiji is truly a divine symbol of peace, prosperity, progress and humanity. It brings me great happiness to see the International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan blossoming under His vision and blessings… It is also a great honour to welcome the seekers and participants from over 50 countries to this sacred land of Uttarakhand. Their coming together, in itself, is a message of the power of Yoga to break through all borders and boundaries of caste, cultures and creeds.”
The presenters and participants were unanimous in their love and appreciation for what the Festival has given them. They said, “We have never before experienced a feeling like this. Looking around us, seeing the flags of so many nations, brought tears to our eyes. We realized that all differences are but surface-deep. Underneath, we are the same. We are all brothers and sisters.”
Sadhvi Bhagawatiji of Parmarth Niketan, explained “This yoga festival brings together people of every country, every culture, every creed and every colour. It is a true union, a “yoga” of peace and love. Together, we have enjoyed a beautiful week of being taught, touched and transformed. We have learned together, grown together and come together. Through this International Yoga Festival, at Parmarth Niketan’s divine, peaceful abode, on the banks of Mother Ganga, yoga has united the world.”
Prior to the Concluding Ceremonies, the sixth day of the week-long International Yoga Festival celebrated a wide spectrum of practices. As the sun rose over the Himalayas, hundreds of participants gathered for Kundalini Yoga, taught by Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa and Gurushabd Singh Khalsa of California, USA, on Parmarth Niketan’s Ganga Ghats.
Throughout the day, participants had a wide range of classes and programs to choose from, including a graceful Dance of Prana by India’s renowned yogacharya, Deepika Mehta, Yuuva Yoga led by award-winning Yogi T.A. Krishnan and Yuva Dayalan, and Somatics Flow Yoga by Siddharth Ingle of Ireland and Gayatri of Sweden.
Later in the morning, an inspiring spiritual discourse series was held in which award-winning author, Jeffrey Armstrong (Kavindra Rishi) of Vancouver, Canada discussed “Ishvara Pranidan: The Lost Secrets of the Devas.” He explained: “Yoga teaches us to get in touch with the Source of All Love and have a direct, personal relationship with the Source of Everything. This world is difficult because it is made of unconscious energy. We are conscious energy, but the full potential of who we could be has been subdued to come here. Our atma has gone to sleep and we get amnesia.”
His talk was followed by a discussion on the “Psychological Perspectives of Yoga” by the renowned yoga expert and author, R.S. Bhogal of Kaivalya Dham, Pune, India.
After enjoying their lunches sitting at tables in the lap of the Himalayan Foothills, participants benefitted from unique classes, including a special class on “The Moon Sequence” by renowned Ashtanga Yoga Teacher and martial arts expert from USA, Matthew Sweeney. Matthew explained, “Chandra Krama is a gentle and flowing vinyasa practice intended to help the student connect with the phases of the Moon. The first salutes are offered as a prayer to Parvati, the daughter of the mountain. The Moon Sequence focuses on the hips and the lower spine and will help you to find and release many of your tensions and restrictions in the lower body.”
China’s David Wei gave a beautiful class on “Using the Principles of Taoist Yin Yang, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Buddhist Yoga, and Chinese Massage for Inner Meditation.”
Padmashri Bharat Bhushan gave a class in Bharat Yoga and Maa Gyan Suveera led the Reiki sequence.
As a special, inspiring program, Shri Mooji, a beloved spiritual leader in the Advaita Vedanta tradition from Jamaica, led an enlightening question and answer session.
Said Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, “This year’s International Yoga Festival was a sangam of all nations, bestowing greater harmony to nearly one thousand lives directly, and innumerable thousands through those the participants will touch.. United through the yoga of togetherness, the participants will make their own lives, their families, their communities, their nations and our entire world more peaceful places through their noble actions and open hearts.”
Said HE Governor Dr. Aziz Qureshi: “Through yoga, all the barriers between men are demolished. I wish you all, when you come again next year, that you return with the message that the narrow divides that tear apart humanity have disappeared.”
Quotations from Participants:
Mina Khagram-69 Nakuru, Kenya: “‘This is my 8th year here. Initially I came for the yoga, but now I return for the people.’
Vik Shah- 31, Bangalore, India: “Practicing Kundalini with such amazing instructors on the Ganges with this diverse community has been an incredible experience.”
Ivana Crmcic – 32, Zagreb, Croatia: “I am the Croatian ambassador for a yoga initiation program for children. I have to come to here to see all these gifted global teachers and to learn from them. I am so glad I have come.”
Naima Kirkefeldt -33, Fakse, Denmark: “My desire for self-love brought me here. I am deeply impressed by the festival, and was truly in awe of Shivamani’s performance.”
March 7 – Final Day of International Yoga Festival
People from 50 nations join hands in historic declaration, perform ceremonies and new art of Ganga Yoga, clean Ganga by hand and say, “Ganga’s Rights are Our Rights.”
Rishikesh- Yogis from more than 50 nations joined hands today for a cleaner, greener Ganga and all the waters bodies of the world, during Parmarth Niketan’s world-famous annual International Yoga Festival.
As the day began, hundreds gathered on Parmarth Niketan’s ghats alongside the banks of the Ganga to perform the newly-developed art of Ganga Yoga, which was developed by American yogacharya, Laura Plumb, with the inspiration, blessings and teachings of Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, President of Parmarth Niketan, Founder of Ganga Action Parivar and Co-Founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance.
Laura explained: “Go with the Flow. Let Go & Let Ganga. Surrender to divine will. Open your heart and recognize its natural generosity. Let yourself be a river of love. Be the compassion we all seek in the world. Give and Forgive. Pujya Swamiji always says, “Ganga gives and she forgives.” Ask yourself, by Ganga’s example, what are you ready to forgive? How can forgiveness open the rivers of compassion in your own life? Ganga teaches us generosity of heart. She purifies our past, refreshes our soul, and carries us to the ocean of the heart. Through Ganga, we learn to be a river of love for the world.”
Afterwards, attendees held brightly-coloured flags representing their many countries, including Brazil, South Africa, the United States, France, Iran, Australia, Turkey, Japan and Russia and joined hands in a pledge to protect the Mother Ganga, their local rivers and water bodies and all the water bodies of the world. They sang songs in praise of Ganga, India’s National River, played Holi joyously with flower petals and powder in the colours of the sun and performed a water ceremony with prayers for water, sanitation and hygiene for all. Joy, ecstasy, overflowing peace and ebullience were felt by all.
Said HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, “Yogis from around the world have come together today to declare that the River Ganga is a global treasure which should be kept in a clean, green, free-flowing state for all. Far too many travellers are seeing Mother Ganga’s waters tainted with sewage, trash and toxic chemicals. They are witnessing dry rocks where She once serenely flowed. Now is the time to plant trees, to stop polluting, to be the change. It’s something each one of us can so easily do, and if we all do this together, enormous transformations can be achieved. Today you are all now Yogis for Ganga!”
The participants expressed their love for Ganga, their commitment to Ganga and their devastation at seeing what is happening to Her waters. They could be heard expressing: “I am devastated to see that such a holy river, the Mother Ganga is being polluted by billions of litres of chemicals and sewage every day. This makes no sense to me. That is why I am here today. People should understand that the Ganga is in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. She must be seen and protected as part of our global heritage.”
To show their commitment against the millions of tons of solid waste which enter the Ganga and its tributaries every day, the international participants waded into the river to collect trash from the waters and from the banks. They then reassembled on the ghats of Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, to take a holy dip in the river they call, “Mother,” to the melodious sound of Vedic chanting by Parmarth Niketan’s young Rishikumars (Gurukul students).
Explained Sadhvi Bhagawatiji of Parmarth Niketan, “As we clean the banks of Mother Ganga, we are actually cleaning our own hearts, minds and souls. We are purifying ourselves through this action of service to the Mother Ganga. First, we give a bath to Mother Ganga, then we take our own holy baths.”
During the event, a historic “Yogi’s for Ganga Declaration” to Protect the Ganga River was endorsed by hundreds of participants. The Declaraton, was written by Western-born yogis who came together and said they wanted to impress upon the world the crucial role the Ganga River plays culturally and environmentally.
States the Declaration, “It is from the banks of the Ganga that the art and practice of yoga was born. Her waters have supported the growth of civilizations and have inspired poets, saints and sages. She is the lifeline for some 500 million people, as well as for countless species of plants and animals, some of which can be found no place else on this Earth. We, as travellers to and within India, expect Her waters to be clean and serene. We expect them to nourish us and to inspire us.Yet, we see rubbish mar Her banks and lyrical flow. We learn of billions of litres of sewage and toxic chemicals that are permitted to foul Her waters every day. In some places, we are startled to see that there is no Ganga at all, because Her waters have been diverted or extracted to the point in which there is nothing left but dry rocks and parched dreams.”
The declaration also calls for the protection of all rivers and sources of water worldwide.
Said Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, “All rivers connect to the seas, which connect to all continents. Just as yoga is for everyone, so is the Ganga. Water means life. It is what builds societies and holds us all together. Without water, there can be no life. That is why all rivers in all nations must also be revered and protected.”
Said yogacharya, Laura Plumb of the United States, “Mother Ganga gives and gives like the most perfect of mothers, never expecting anything back in return. Yet, She is in great trouble, as are so many water sources world-wide, due to the poor choices of mankind. I have personally pledged to help not only Mother Ganga, but to try to ensure the rivers in my home area are also improved. This for me has become part of my spiritual practice, as important as my morning asanas, japa and meditation.”