Rishikesh is a truly magical place, located in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. The deep, green River Ganga flows peacefully through the forested valley. Rishis, sages and yogacharyas have come to these Himalayan hills for thousands of years, seeking spiritual truth and freedom.
It is said that yoga originated in Rishikesh, evolving from the practice of deep meditation. These hills of the Ganges are a timeless spiritual pilgrimage, made famous in the west by The Beatles, who came seeking spiritual truth, one love and world peace. Their legacy of love and peace is the satsang of western yogis, hippies and spiritual seekers in Rishikesh today.
This beautiful Himalayan town is nestled into the green hillside on the banks of the Ganga, bustling with ashrams, yoga shalas and ayurvedic centres. Orange robed sannyasins, yogis and cows walk the tiny streets, alongside bicycles, fruit sellers and street food stands. The streets are lined with market shops selling colourful Indian textiles, yoga music, yoga books, incense and Ganesha figurines. This place lives and breathes yoga from sunrise to sunset.
In this picturesque valley of colour and nature, I attended the International Festival of Yoga at Parmarth Niketan Ashram. It was a soul moving experience with an incredible energy. Chidananda Saraswati (the founder and spiritual leader of the ashram) had invited international presenters of yoga and meditation from around the globe to demonstrate their forms of yoga, sharing these with yogis from 55 countries worldwide. The Parmarth program began at 4am in the morning and finished at 9pm at night, including: meditation, Osho meditation, morning sadhana, surya namaskar, kundalini, ashtanga, vinyasa flow, hatha, iyengar, jivamukti, Shinto yoga, Sufi meditation, Buddhist meditation, yoga nidra, traditional dance and so much more. Inspirational spiritual leaders were present at the festival, including Mooji and Babji; their philosophy of gratitude, love and truth is deeply inspiring, reflective and moving.
This international exploration into the world of yoga took place as the power and current of Ma Ganga, Mother Ganga, flowed by. She is a spiritual metaphor for consciousness: although she is ever moving, flowing and changing direction, the power behind her current is unchanging, the deep eternal energy beyond the flow of life.
The Yoga Festival represents the immensity of the spiritual movement around the world. Yoga is a unique way of life in every corner of the globe; it is practised with faith, belief and constancy. The festival has grown by eighty percent this year, reflecting a world awakening to the universal soul that flows within every heart that beats.
Yogis gathered in the juice bars along the River Ganga, drinking natural fruit juice and Indian chai, watching the Ganga flow through the green hills of the Himalayas. People had come to do yoga, to hear the spiritual leaders, for mediation retreats, to study; everybody had come with a purpose to learn, to deepen, to come closer to their spiritual home. Conversation circled around yoga, unity, world peace, love and gratitude.
Sunset was a wonderful part of the day. As the golden sun began to sink into Ma Ganga, the festival would gather on the banks of the river at Parmarth Niketan for Aarti. A puja fire is lit and we would sing beautiful bhajans to the setting sun, blessing the day and sending our love and gratitude to the divine light that flows through this world, our hearts and the universal soul.
As John Lennon sang, ‘You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, I hope someday you will join us, And the world will be as one’.
On my last day in Rishikesh, I experienced the Festival of Colours, the Holi Festival. On this day, all of India throw bright, vivid Indian colours over each other’s body, face and clothes in powdered Indian dye; a human rainbow of vibrant colour. This festival celebrates that good overcomes evil, colouring your heart with joy, love and brightness. Even the cows in the streets were coloured with goodness and joy.
An inner light, a radiance shone with every sunrise over the hills and with every sunset into the Ganges. Rishikesh lives in my heart.