International Yoga Festival, 2015 at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh: Welcome Home!

It is a chilly evening at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, it feels like a warm evening on the Ghats by the River Ganga. I can see golden yellow lights in the distance rising upwards, towards the sky, as if in awe to the hundreds of hands folded unitedly in celebration of the symphony of the divine Ganga Aarti. I close my eyes, breathe deeply and sense the calming, earthy aroma that seeps from the lighted diyas and the incense-scented yagna fire. The entire arena is wrapped in a high-pitch crescendo of delightful chants and prayerful hymns that seem to perforate even the subtlest of spaces that often lie beyond the ordinary perception of the human eye.

I feel it. It’s an inescapable force…

Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh

It was exactly 5 days back when I had expressed wonder at the words ‘Welcome Home’ printed on one of the pages of my journal kit that was handed to me on the day of my registration at the International Yoga Festival (IYF) 2015. After all, Parmarth Niketan Ashram was not my home?! How could it be? Agreed, it was housing people from nearly 60 countries under one roof but still. I mean, here, I knew no one. Moreover, I thought, home has memories… a feeling of togetherness, something that you could hold on to, right? But, this was the first time I was visiting Parmarth Niketan Ashram – ever. So, my memory bank was empty. Then why was I being welcomed as if this was the place I actually belonged?

What did the word home really mean?

Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh - Arjun and Shri Krishna on a chariot

No matter how hard I tried to analyze, the meaning failed my small inquisitive mind. And yet, knowing it to be coming from the insightful brains behind the IYF set-up, I intuitively sensed a great profundity in these seemingly simple words. There was something about the tagline that seemed remarkable besides the fact that I loved the sound of it.

International Yoga Festival 2015 Yoga schedule - Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh

Soon enough though, I got busy in understanding the thin booklet of Yoga classes’ event schedule that seemed easier to grasp instead. Days were neatly packed with a variety of Yoga/ satsang/ lifestyle healing/ kirtan/ asana/ pranayama classes from world renowned spiritual masters and world-class Yoga teachers specializing in multiple styles of Yoga including Hatha Yoga, Kundilini Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Power Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Shinto Yoga, Sufi, Music, Reiki and so many other such yogic traditions descending from authentic traditional lineages - each of them scheduled in different time slots from 4 in the morning to 9.30 in the night. The array of Yoga classes on offer just blew my mind - it was phenomenal! Why! After all, the program was being held in Rishikesh - one of the best yoga teacher training destinations in the world.

International Yoga Festival 2015 classes  - Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh

The festival commenced with a loud cheer from Rain Gods above - a heavy mist hung gently swooping over the peaceful Mother Ganga, almost embracing the mighty Himalayan mountains for the first two days. In the beautiful words of the ever-cheerful Sadhvi Bhagwati Saraswatiji, the director of the IYF, it meant a blessing of the Aakash Ganga flowing from the Heavens above. To mere mortals like me, however, caught unprepared by the sudden presence of the wintry weather, it meant a lot of shivers. The shivers became particularly visible when it came to the sessions held at the Yoga Ghat where the freezing waters of the Ganga dissipated with the breezy curtains of the hanging clouds to balloon into a chilly breeze.

Overcast sky by the River Ganga at Rishikesh -Parmarth Niketan Ashram

One such shivering instance that I can vividly remember at this point is the interactive session by Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa in the Yoga tent by the River Ganga on the second festival day. We had joined hands with the person sitting next to us and were asked to brandish our hands back and forth like a wave, for 3 continuous minutes. After the end of the activity, we came back to rest pose and closed our eyes. All of a sudden, I felt the warmth of a shawl or a jacket or something on my back. In a flash, I turned back and indeed! It was the jacket of my Canadian partner, with whom I had joined hands a minute ago.

‘You are shivering. Give it to me when you are warm.’

She whispered with a radiant smile – her warmth banishing away the chill off the cold air blowing down on me.

International Yoga Festival 2015 snapshots - Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh

While the diversity offered in Yoga classes at any one given time slot would leave us participants divided amongst different groups, the lunch and the dinner times brought each one of us, together. Most of us were strangers, from 60 different countries belonging to a plethora of faiths and religions and it was here, that we huddled together, as one big family. Although at first I thought this was a place I - a thick-skinned introvert - could never really belong but eventually I opened up. I was almost forced to. The whole energy in the environment was so friendly and encouraging that I never realized when I broke open my self-imposed confines of silence to step into a lively retreat. Soon, I was meeting, talking, socializing with a wide variety of people of all age.

I felt a part of the place.

A place that was abuzz, reverberating in giggles and laughter and tales and conversations over pure vegetarian sattvic meals and fresh, frothy hot cups of coffee.

International Yoga Festival 2015 Lunch - Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh

So, much to my sheer delight, by the end of the festival, I had chatted with a musician from USA who had recently authored a book on spirituality called ‘The Knowledge of You’ and was here searching for interested publishers, a sadhu who described bathing in the waters of the Ma Ganga as life transforming, a student from Rome trying to decode the meaning of life and a Yoga teacher from Poland trying to hone her passion on topics which ranged from anything to everything, from light-hearted to the more serious ones. Some of these people I conversed with, I never did meet again and today I wonder, if I ever will...

now that I realize the deep impact they left on my memory, deeper on my soul...

A sadhu by the River Ganga at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

To further wash away any perceived physical or racial demarcations that existed within this family, there came the gala celebration of Holi in true international style. Under the mask of colors, no one was dark or fair or wheatish anymore but very simply – Humans – a wonderful creation of the talented Supreme. We danced to the thumping beats of the world-celebrated drummer Sivamani and grinned at the witty remarks by the highly acclaimed Indian Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev.

Holi with Yoga festival delegates at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh

There was an unseen bond of love, faith, compassion and unity that, I felt, we touched on not only on the Holi day but over the entire course of the International Yoga Festival. That bond of togetherness, that yoga, the union of self with the other was so full of peace and radiated such celestial warmth that it was easy to get inspired and transcend to an alien world. Alien because this was a world that seemed springing out from a different foundation. This was a world where it was okay to cry like a 5 year old or laugh like waters gone wild. A world where material things had little importance making way for the real beauty taking more prominence, the way things were always meant to be, so that focus rested more on the inward journey as a way to lasting bliss and happiness.

The magnetic charm of Mother Ganga inspired all of us.

Contemplative mood by the river Ganga - Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh

The Ganga River... not just any river, but a reservoir of love, warmth and blessings. I loved sitting by Her side, often. Barefeet. Often simply staring at Her flowing from far in the horizons. Listlessly. Letting myself still, with time. In awe and admiration, feeling deepest gratitude for every minute of my intimacy with her.

She danced aesthetically, softly and gently. Unmindful of the rough rocks and bumpy stones that seemed to obstruct, unmindful of the interlinked chains that seemed to restrict - She gushed forth playfully, like a little girl in sheer delight. Every breath of Hers, impregnated in love, kindness, compassion and blessings. Love that was coming directly from Lord Shiva. The Supreme.

I heard no words, there weren't any and yet I could hear every wave of Hers,
giving me a song for life.

Sunset by the River Ganga at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

This was the same life which was reflected in hundreds and thousands of rishis and seekers, over times immemorial, who had found peace and enlightenment in their journey to nirvana. A life which was rooted in love, purity and unconditional acceptance - no matter what background you belonged, what baggage you carried, what scars you revealed - manifested in ever lasting divine love for others as well as your own self.

Whenever I touched Her waters, I felt all my tensions released, instantly. There were no secrets between us, she knew all my fears, all my worries, all my sorrows and yet allowed me, to just be with Her. With every beat of my heart tuned to every note of Hers, a frequency of love, compassion and grace channeled into something that was higher, something that was beyond the mind, the body and the intellect.

... Sabse Unchi Prem Sagai ...

The melodious voice of Sadhvi Abha Saraswati, more fondly known as Mataji, bursts through the dancing lights twinkling in the inky darkness of the cool wintry night. And, a misty veil descends on the cover of my eyes… just like that. Out of nowhere. I am immersed in a calming confidence; something ticks within… what… I don’t really know. As I bask in the blissfulness of the moments, there’s a flicker within; it’s trickling down from my cheeks, flowing down the face.

I am left shaken, stunned… and speechless.

The elaborate Ganga Arti at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh

Tha Ganga Arti has reached its climatic peak and here I am, feeling more than just being a name. Fire offered to the God - Arti. I can feel the heat as if I have always been a part of it. The fire of the arti is slowly melting 'me' away, the me that I had been clinging on, all this while. I feel different. Someone who is more vulnerable, yet beautiful and strong. I am happy just being. Like  a wave. Happy being in commune. By the lap of my mother. In the graceful shadow of my father. In harmony with so many of my brothers and sisters. Dancing to the tunes of the riveting cosmos. At peace with my own self.

I feel like, I have just arrived.
I feel like, I am home.

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  1. Indeed there is something special about Haridwar and Rishikesh. Had visited both these places last may. Had even visited Parmarth Niketan. Reading your post all the memories resurfaced. Wish to attend the Yoga Festival sometime. You are indeed a lucky girl to have attended it. What fees do they charge? Also would be happy to hear from you as to what all you learnt about Yoga in your stay.

  2. Looks like a wonderful time.

  3. Lovely pics..great description too

  4. I used to do a lot of yoga when I was in China. Nowadays I don't have a patience anymore, but attending the International Yoga Festival would be a great experience.

  5. Arti, Great post on IYFest, Awesome photos, Thanks for sharing. ~da

  6. Dear Arti, such an amazing experience! Yes, its wonderful to find your enlarged family of spiritual friends, and this festival sounds so special! As always, you captured the atmosphere so well with your words and pictures - thanks!

  7. Thanks for the post, I must try Yoga the next time I'm in India


  8. Yes, even I felt the same when I witnessed the awesome Ganga Arti.
    The Yoga ground looks fine, Arti!
    How true! Wish there was no discrimination on any grounds...

  9. Love the pictures, I have been to Rishikesh but it was a treat to read it through your eyes.

  10. What a wonderful and meaningful experience must it be, I love the words and story here Arti, as you always so eloquently describe your experiences

  11. I have goosebumps reading this, Arti. What a beautiful experience... must have taken you to a different world altogether... inspiring totally!

  12. Awesome! I love yoga thanks to you!

  13. Felt deep inside me awakening reading your experiences . Thank you Arti for sharing. Namaste

  14. Just a beautiful and enlightening experience you had with the international yogo festival at Rishikesh. Looks like a lot of fun and learning that's petty self changing. Nicely written.

  15. Wow! What a truly, almost life changing, experience this was. I have always wanted to attend a Yoga retreat. Hopefully some day I will. This was a spiritual experience and meeting so many different people must have been an astounding experience. Thank you for sharing it with us.


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