YAA extends sincere gratitude to Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati for the interview and to Aditi M. Gaur for personally arranging this interview for Yoga Awakening Africa to share with its followers!
If you are planning to be in Rishikesh over March 2014, be sure to register and experience the multitude of offerings at the International Yoga Festival and enrich your learning of all that is Yoga under the guidance of revered teachers and spiritual leaders. Sadhvi Bhagawati shares with us her journey, what the International Yoga Festival offers and what the Parmarth Niketan “Save the Ganga” initiative serves to achieve.
Thank you Sadhvi Bhagawati and Aditi!
1. Sadhviji, please share with our readers a little about yourself and your spiritual journey from being a Stanford graduate and living in Los Angeles to taking on the vow of renunciation and living in an ashram in Rishikesh.
I was 25 when I came to India, on a visit as a tourist, with no knowledge at all about India at all. I had graduated from Stanford undergraduate and was actually still in Palo Alto, California, (not Los Angeles,) doing my PhD in psychology. I was an Iyengar Yoga student which was greatly helpful to me physically and emotionally but I never had thought much about spirituality. The only reason I actually even agreed to travel to India was that I was a strict vegetarian and so when India was suggested as a destination, I agreed because I knew that at least I’d be able to easily eat pure vegetarian food without having to worry about speaking the language, quizzing waiters about broths, stocks and sauces, etc. When I stood on the banks of the Ganga, (the Ganges), I had the most incredible, indescribable spiritual experience. It felt as though a veil which I had worn for 25 years was pulled off and I could really see, I could see the incredible divinity, the presence of the Divine wherever I turned…It was truly magical. I knew that this was where I was meant to stay; I knew there was a phenomenal secret here, a secret of life, of joy, of meaning, of purpose, that brought smiles to the faces of even the poorest of the poor and that brought a light to the eyes of people here which no one I knew had. When I finally met Pujya Swamiji, (Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, the President of Parmarth Niketan), I knew that it was here, at His ashram, in His seva, that I was meant to live. The vows of renunciation came automatically, actually. That which I was renouncing paled in comparison to that which I was receiving…. It was the most natural step to take.
2. The International Yoga Festival organized by Parmarth Niketan has been listed amongst the top ten yoga festivals in the world. Since you have been a part of its inception thirteen years ago, please share with us the focus and objective of the festival and what practitioners can hope to experience during the week-long festival.
Patanjali describes 8 limbs of yoga, beginning with the yamas and niyamas, how to live our lives, moving up through asana, pranayama, pratyahara, into dhyana (meditation) and ultimately Samadhi, (divine, ecstatic bliss/union). Most yoga programs offer only asana and perhaps some pranayama. Our goal is really to offer everything. Obviously one cannot teach samadhi, but our philosophy is that if we provide the participants with experiences and classes in the first 7 limbs, the Grace of Mother Ganga and the Himalayan energy will provide that ultimate bliss and union. So we are sure to offer true excellence in asana, from a uniquely wide range of lineages — from traditional Indian ashtanga to Kundalini to Jivamukti to Vinyasa to Iyenger, etc. — and in addition we are sure to offer a lot of programs in philosophy and of course the divine satsang/lectures/discourses by revered saints and yogic masters. We also have programs in mantras, mudras, meditation and reiki. Then, of course we have ecstatic kirtan (devotional chanting), and our world famous evening Ganga Aarti, the lighting ceremony on the banks of the Ganges river. I think it is probably the most all-encompassing yoga festival in the world, and also the only one to take place in the actual birthplace of yoga, in the sacred Himalayan foothills.
3. In these thirteen years how has the yoga scene developed in the country, (India) that is credited with its birth?
More and more people around the world, and of course that includes India, are realizing the great benefits of a yoga practice. As people get more and more stressed, more and more depressed, anxious, restless and aimless in life, they are turning toward the yogic practices for health and balance of the body, mind and heart. It is wonderful to see the interest in yoga blossom around the world.
4. As interest in Yoga increases so does the number of festivals that get launched each year around the world, for a practitioner living outside India, what makes the International Yoga Festival unique?
As I mentioned, I think what makes it so unique is the vast range of offerings beyond just asana. Of course the asana classes are spectacular, taught by world renowned yoga teachers of about 15 different lineages, but there is so much more as well. The spiritual component is truly unique. I always say that you receive not only the teaching, but also the touch and the transformation here. It’s not “religious” of course, as the vast majority of people are from the West, but rather it’s deeply spiritual — offering new practices, new insights, new vision and new experiences which are truly transformative for people of every religion, every culture and every walk of life. This year we also have famous meditation experts coming to teach non-religious forms of insight and awareness-based meditation.
5. Parmarth Niketan’s “Save the Ganga” initiative has recently garnered both nationwide and international attention. Please share with us a little more about this movement and how people who would like to support it can reach out and help.
Yes. Even if one does not see the Ganga as holy or sacred or as the Mother, the river is the actual source of life and livelihood to almost 500 million people. Approximately one third of India’s population depends upon this river for their drinking water, their bathing water, their cooking water and to irrigate their fields. Yet, the pollution levels are tragically staggering. The number of people getting sick and dying due to pollution is truly an issue of human rights, a national medical crisis. We are working on many, many fronts — water clean-up, solid waste management, tree plantation, hygiene/sanitation, awareness campaigns. All help is greatly needed — everything ranging from time to technology. We need everyone from web and print designers to environmental scientists to media and PR. Whatever someone has to offer, it can absolutely be used! People can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for all our projects.
International Yoga Festival details and registration are at www.internationalyogafestival.com
For further information on Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati and “Save the Ganga” initiative, please check the links below.
Websites: http://www.parmarth.com www.gangaaction.org www.divineshaktifoundation.org
Latest newsletter: http://www.parmarth.com/updates/sep2013.pdf
Articles and blog: http://sadhvibhagawati.blogspot.com
Videos: www.youtube.com/parmarthniketan, www.youtube.com/erosspiritual