Monday, January 30, 2012

Yoga and volunteer work in India: a rewarding experience

Doing seva during Yoga Poornima
Doing seva during Yoga Poornima
When I was planning this journey to India to deeply study and practice yoga and meditation I also thought about doing some volunteer work. However I wasn't able to find anything that really inspired me and most volunteering organizations that I found on the web charged quite a lot of money to become a volunteer, so I finally desisted on the idea. Almost a year and a half later I joined a yoga course at the Bihar School of Yoga. The course included a two weeks stay at Rikhiapeeth in Rikhia to participate in two special Indian rituals: the Satchandi Mahayajna and Yoga Poornima. This was a very intense and rewarding experience. My desire to do some volunteer work in India was unexpectedly fulfilled in this ashram and I was able to do both, yoga and volunteer work.

Seva: Selfless Service

Swami Sayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga and Rikhiapeeth, made lots of emphasis on the practice of seva, to fully dedicate oneself to serve others, to work without any selfish interest and without expecting any reward but just to serve. I believe that's good definition for volunteer work. Swami Satyananda considered seva to be the foundation for any other yoga practices. For this reason the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger dedicates a big part of the ashram timetable to seva and The Satchandi Mahayajna and Yoga Poornima Yajna in Rikhia, which are optional programs during the 4 Month Yogic Course, are an excellent opportunity to fully dedicate oneself to do nothing but seva all day long.

Volunteering during the yajnas

Villagers at Yoga Poornima
Villagers at Yoga Poornima
During these events there is distribution of prasad to thousands of villagers from Rikhia and to anybody that comes and join the yajnas. Receiving Prasad is a very common practice in India while visiting a saint or a temple, and it usually comes in the form of some sort of sweet or fruit. During these two yajnas the prasad comes in the form of big sacks containing new clothes, books, blankets, rice, shoes and many other items. But these are not just regular gifts or a charity. A prasad includes the blessings of the Cosmic Forces which has been invoked through the yajna, a tantric ritual.

"Prasad is not a gift or a donation, neither is it charity. Any item that is given with love for the prosperity and well-being of the recipient and received with dignity and blessings is prasad. Each item that was distributed was first placed as an offering in the worship." Swami Satyananda Saraswati

In order to make this happen there is a lot of volunteering work (seva) to do. From preparing the prasad to cleaning toilets, from cutting vegetables to arranging rooms, from painting trees to carrying boxes, there is always plenty of work to do. Hundreds of people from different cities in India and from abroad come to this event as a volunteers to selflessly do any required work and to participate in the yajnas.

As part of the 4 Month Yogic Studies Course at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger we had the opportunity to visit Rikhia in two different weeks. During our first week my assigned duties were mainly to paint trees and also to help with some random construction works. That was really fun to do.

Yoga Poornima Prasad
Prasad waiting to be distributed
On our second visit, when the Yoga Poornima started, my duty was mainly to work at Beth, were the prasad is being packed, shifted for distribution and then distributed to the villagers. That's a very special work to do since you can actually work to prepare the gifts that the villagers would receive. And during the evening, although this was not my assigned duty, I always volunteered for dinner serving. Food serving is one of my favorite sevas, I can totally forget about myself and think only about serving others with a smile on my face.

The Sita Kalyanam Satchandi Mahayajna and Yoga Poornima Yajna

A yajna is a special ritual in order to invoke the Divine Power to receive a blessing. Swami Satyananda introduced these two yajnas in Rikhia not only to provide material benefits but mainly to spiritually uplift the inhabitants of Rikhia and all humanity in general. You can learn more about yajna in Swami's Satyananda Satsanga: "Symbology in Yajna"

The yajnas are very powerful events. The preparations take several weeks but each yajna last for about a week. So, what exactly happen during these yajnas? Well, there is a lot of sacred mantra chantings which creates a very special atmosphere and havans or fire offerings and they are complemented with sketches and dances performed by the children from the nearby villages and a lot of kirtans. Kirtans are Indian devotional chants in Sanskrit. At this ashram the kirtans usually start at a very slow pace and the pace gradually increases until it reaches its peak. By that time everybody is dancing and really enjoying the vibrations. Each kirtan last for about 6 minutes or so.
"Imagine that picturesque scene. The simplicity and richness of that event. The surcharged energy and feeling of unity that it generates. The willpower and stamina that it creates. The immense satisfaction and joy that is felt. The dynamism and power of the mantras which forbid any negative vibrations to enter that sphere. The love and compassion that arises from within. The profound understanding that develops of the role of each and every speck of creation and one's own place within that. That is the purpose of a yajna. Yajna is no different to yoga."Swami Satyananda on Sat Chandi Mahayajna

"Beyond intelligence and intellect there is a much greater power and that is intuition or prajna. Yajnas alter the state of mind and buddhi to give an experience of that. The esoteric nature of a yajna draws out eternal archetypes that are embedded in us. Without our knowledge, with ease and comfort great transformations take place within us. Samskaras from the causal body get a chance to express themselves and thus blockages and obstacles are removed." Swami Satyananda on Sat Chandi Mahayajna
To get an idea of how this actually looks like you can take a look at the short videos below, less than 4 min each (double click to view in full screen).

The girls of the villages are known as Kanyas and the boys as Batuks. These children are an integral part of the yajnas. The girls are conducting all the events, chanting many of the kirtans, doing the Havans and performing special Indian or modern dances. This was actually Swami Satyananda's vision, to give education to the children from the villages in Rikhia to uplift them at all levels, materially, mentally and spiritually. As we were told by Swami Niranjanananda years ago these villagers didn't have almost anything at all, sometimes they even had to live without any food for a week, but now these children are receiving an education, developing self confidence and creating a strong connection with the Divinity from a very young age by being part of these sacred Indian rituals.

What exactly are these two yajnas is a bit difficult for me to explain but here is a good explanation from the Yoga Magazine - Sita Kalyanam website:
"According to tantra, Shiva and Shakti are the two eternal principals or dual universal forces which govern our lives as well as the whole of creation. In tantra there is nothing apart from or above Shiva and Shakti. During Sat Chandi Mahayajna we worship and invoke the blessings of Shakti, our Cosmic Mother or Nature, and during Yoga Poornima we awaken the benevolent force of our Cosmic Father, Shiva. Thus together these two events, each unique in its own way, pay homage to the Mother and Father of the universe and create a full circle or totality of experience.

Through this remembrance of the eternal and abiding cosmic principles, we can consecrate our lives and awaken to its true meaning - understanding ourselves as an integral part of the entire creation. It is a way to give back what we have received and to express love, respect and reverence for the universal forces. In return, the unseen cosmic forces nourish and bring auspiciousness into every aspect of our lives. With the comic forces on our side, we can have happy homes, healthy families, prosperous nations, ecological balance and success in every endeavour. There is really nothing more that we need in life. In the face of such seemingly insurmountable change, the only remedy is to invoke the benevolent forces of the universe, our Cosmic Mother and Father, and seek their compassion for the preservation, prosperity and upliftment of humanity."


Rikhiapeeth is an ashram founded by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. On September 1989 After leaving Bihar School of Yoga, Ganga Darshan Swami Satyananda travelled to Rikhia and for 6 years he dedicated himself to very intense sadhanas (spiritual practices). During this practice he had a vision and understood what was his new purpose and Rikhipeeth was formed. He never came back to Ganga Darshan and stayed in Rikhia until his Mahasamadhi (conscious liberation from the physical body) on the 5th of December, 2009.

Swami Satsangi (Satsangananda Saraswati) is the spiritual guide of Rikhiapeeth. Swami Niranjanananda is the spiritual guide of Bihar School of Yoga, Munger. They were both trained by their guru, Swami Satyananda himself, for this purpose.

Click on these two links to read more about Rikhia
and Rikhiapeeth

Volunteering work in India

If you are interested in coming to Rikhia to do some volunteering work or seva you can either join the 4 Months Yogic Studies Course at the Bihar School of Yoga, in Munger which normally includes a two or three weeks visit to Rikhiapeeth, or you can contact Rikhiapeeth directly to stay at the ashram whenever it is convenient for you and for as long as you want. There are also several yoga courses offered in Rikhiapeeth during the year. But be aware that this is a different type of yoga that must westerners are use to. There is not so much emphasys on the physical postures called asanas but mainly on mental purification through and integral path that combines all the main four yogas.

Contact information

Rikhia Peeth
Village Pania Pagaar
PO Rikhia, Dist Deoghar
Jharkand 814112

Phone: +91 6432 290870 +91 9304 488889
Phone and fax: +91 9204 080006

Contact information of all related institutions: Yoga Vision - contact details


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