Mahashivaratri on the banks of the sacred river Ganga, during the Maha Kumbh in the holy city of Haridwar, was a welcome opportunity for everyone to meet and be in the presence of Sri M, after a long and difficult year made dreary by the pandemic and numerous lockdowns.
Thus began the preparations to plan and implement Sri M’s vision of his Akhada – Yoga Dham. Covid compliances were to be strictly followed, Sadhu Langar Seva was to be held daily, the Dhuni was to be lit and kept alight throughout and yoga sessions were to be held every morning.
To accommodate all, it was decided to celebrate not just Mahashivaratri, but also have two more shivirs with Sri M immediately after that. What a wonderful opportunity to be in the presence of our Guru for almost two weeks!
With the ever changing guidelines from the govt, it was no small feat to find a suitable venue and make safe arrangements for all the participants arriving from various parts of the country. Prem Nagar Ashram – a very beautiful and serene Ashram on the banks of River Ganges was finalised in a short span of time. The ever enthusiastic and dedicated team of volunteers sprang into action and in a record time of two weeks, the entire space was transformed into Sri M’s Akhada, as envisioned by him.
A large waterproof pandal was set up for the Satsang with a stage and seating area, to enable social distancing between the participants. This opened out into a large mango grove where the Dhuni was to be lit up. A lady potter (Kumhar) and a lady priest (Panditayin) from Rishikesh were specially requested to custom design the Dhuni as per local tradition. This area was also flanked by a Panch Pallav (sacred cluster of trees). In the nearby area, 2 large shamianas were erected for dining – one for Sadhu Bhoj (Langar Seva) and the other for all the participants. A designated area to wash the soiled plates, space for footwear and registration counters was marked. The Satsang area also had the kiosks and counters for the The Satsang Foundation projects and initiatives, Help desk, Yoga Dham gift store, Magenta estore, Magenta publications etc so that it was easier for participants to access them.
The day finally arrived and it was a joy to see the participants streaming across to the registration desks. This time around, we tried to introduce technology in our registration process. All check-ins were done through a mobile app available with volunteers at the registration desk. The endeavour was to make the end to end process tech-enabled to ensure a smooth & seamless experience for the participants.
Every morning the program at the Yoga Dham would begin at 6 am with half an hour of yoga comprising of a guided session of Yoga Asanas and Pranayama taught by Yoga Instructors and newly trained teachers from the first ever batch of the Yoga Teachers Training program conducted earlier this year at Bharat Yoga Vidya Kendra in Madanapalle. Yoga Dham became a place that united people from all age groups in their pursuit of practicing the ancient science of Yoga.
This was followed by half an hour of meditation and a short walk with Sri M along the river ghat with a mandatory stop at a local roadside tea stall for a cup of tea and some quality time with the Master.
Following breakfast, Sri M would hold a Satsang introducing and initiating Shivir participants into Kriya yoga.
Straight from the Satsang, participants would rush to take part in the sadhu langar seva, a completely unique experience for all. Sri M described it as the highlight, and the most important aspect of the Shivir. Reliving his early days, Sri M explained to the langar volunteers that a Sadhu’s meals were dependent on Annakshetras and Bhandaras and this was our chance to serve divinity everyday.
It was a glorious sight to see waves of orange clad sadhus flow in and settle under the langar tent. They were given a traditional welcome by washing their hands and sprinkling their feet with water. After they settled down cross legged in the designated langar area, the sadhus would begin the customary chanting while plates, glasses and water were placed before them. Once the chanting was complete, the volunteers served sadhus a wholesome meal consisting of a sweet, roti, sabzi, rice and dal. The enthusiasm to serve the langar was an overwhelming sight. The service was led by volunteers who went down the aisles with a dish in hand. Once all were served and satisfied, envelopes of dakshina were placed by the plate of the sadhus as a gesture of gratitude.
Those who missed out on a chance to serve the sadhus, stood ready to serve water or collect the sadhus‘ plates and glasses after the langar was complete. With more than 450 glasses and plates to be washed daily, the volunteers did a remarkable job. The clatter of steel merged with the laughter and joy with which they worked was unimaginable!
The evening programme began with tea service followed by the evening Satsang with Sri M. Participants were delighted to get quality time listening to Sri M.
The day wasn’t complete without meditation around the Dhuni. This sacred Dhuni was lit by Sri M on the first day and volunteers kept a vigil day and night to keep it alive till the last day. Mahashivaratri was celebrated around the Dhuni with the resounding chants of Shiva Panchakshari and Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. Every day melodious bhajans were sung by the participants transporting people into the ocean of devotion and blissful inner peace. The storytelling session by Sri M near the Dhuni was delightful.
One evening of each Shivir was set aside for Ganga Aarti at the ashram’s private ghat. The ghat was cleaned and decorated with flowers before the Arti. With the sight of the river flowing gently, sound of the Vedic scholars chanting sacred shlokas from the Vedas and the singing of the bhajans by children from Vatsalya Vatika, the atmosphere was charged with a tremendous energy of inner happiness and joy.
Participants left the shivirs with a taste of the ‘inner’ and Sri M’s words resounding in their ears, promises of keeping in touch with new found friends in Satsang and also a pact to practice what was taught by the Guru.