On 14th February, the children of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal celebrated Bal Yoga Diwas, a celebration that turned out to be a. truly memorable and touching event in Munger, opening the eyes and hearts of thousands who were involved or had just seen or heard about it.
Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal means 'Children's Yoga Fellowship'. It is a movement which aims to spread the message of yoga through the children, to the children. It started in 1995, when seven children came to Swamiji in Munger expressing their desire to learn yoga. Every Sunday they would come to the ashram to practise and learn yoga. Those seven children gradually became 10, 20, 40, 80 and the number of children craving yoga multiplied by the day. Soon many of them were becoming well versed in the practices and techniques as well as in the theory of yoga. In this way, BYMM became a unique movement with its slogan being "Yoga by the children for the children".
As the numbers grew, divisions were made to distinguish between the different categories of practitioner, instructor, teacher and propagator, and each was given a different uniform. Today this movement has grown to a body of 80,000 children throughout India and is ever increasing. They have conducted yoga training programs in schools all over Bihar and throughout India. Along with yoga the participants are involved in various activities to develop the different aspects of their personality: karate (especially for the girls, to make them more assertive); singing, chanting and music (especially for the boys, to make them softer and less arrogant); arts and drama (to develop and express their creativity); and English (to enhance their communication skills).It is also important to know that this movement is totally independent and separate from the ashram, in the sense that it does not pertain to Bihar School of Yoga, Bihar Yoga Bharati, Sivananda Math, Yoga Research Foundation or any other existing institution. The only link, if any, it has with the ashram is that Swami Niranjanananda is their patron and inspirer, someone whom they look up to, and that they use the grounds of the ashram for their weekly meetings.
In 2000, the leading children of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal had a dream to celebrate Bal Yoga Diwas, Children's Yoga Day, in 2004. A celebration in which thousands of yoga-children would gather in Munger, officially proclaimed by the President of India as the 'City of Yoga'. Since then the children have been planning and preparing for the grand event by spreading the message (of yoga) from door to door and from shore to shore in their simple, organized and efficient manner.
These children are not wealthy children from developed cities, but rather belong to a medium class of the poorer regions of India, most being the sons and daughters of artisans and craftsmen and receiving a very basic education (mostly all in Hindi).
In May 2003, when the President of India visited Ganga Darshan, they prepared an invitation which 500 children signed, sharing their good sentiments and inviting the President to come and join them in their Bal Yoga Diwas. He was moved by the children's simplicity, sincerity and enthusiasm and the reply was an instant order to his personal secretary to note the date in his diary - he would be coming!
Now the sparkling young promises had a new guest to entertain - the President of the Republic of India. Where else in the world have children invited and entertained the president of a country? WELCOME TO MUNGER, THE CITY OF YOGA!
To appreciate the amount of work, planning, and dedication put in by the children to make the program an historic event which has put Munger on the world map, we need to appreciate the scale and dimensions of the program. A total of 20,000 children, who were involved and had experience in yoga as part of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal for a considerable length of time, would gather on the Polo Ground at Munger for Bal Yoga Diwas.
Having the President of India as their Chief Guest, they had to submit to the local authorities, administration and police details of the names and addresses of all 20,000 children as well as those of the teachers, guardians and additional invitees. It was the children who prepared, checked for accuracy and submitted all the lists to the concerned authorities. Having the program held on a public ground, they had to book it and make the necessary arrangements to ensure that the program, with a crowd of over 20,000 children, went smoothly. Can you imagine what a massive job was involved? Can you even think how long it would take just to inform 20,000 children who are spread out all over an entire district? Maybe a couple of days, a week, or two? That would be the normal length of time, but not for the children of Munger, most of whom don't even have a telephone, let alone e-mail. A notification came from the President, 48 hours before the Big Day, informing of a change of time in the program. Instead of coming at 11 a.m., as per the plan, he would now be landing at 2 p.m. Within 24 hours, each and every child was informed of the change in time - such was their organization and efficiency.
The core administration group amongst the children numbered about 50, and for about a week beforehand, none would have had more than four hours sleep, if any at all. Day and night they were preparing for the event, working as a team, in unison, with a common cause, without any hang-ups or head trips like most of us would have had -fighting and arguing with anybody who comes in the way of our egos.
For about a week before the program, the entire town of Munger was buzzing with activity. And the strangest thing was that nobody had any idea what was going to happen. Preparations were underway in full swing, but what for? Nobody knew. People would see red flashes of the Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal children in their uniforms. Some racing on their bicycles to deliver messages, others buzzing on their motorbikes, some walking in and out of the administration's offices. The whole of Munger entered into a new gear of dynamism. Banners appeared every two blocks all over Munger, wishing Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal a 'Happy Yoga Day'.
A funny incident happened. A reporter from a local television channel thought he would try his luck and do a pre-coverage of the event before anybody else. He appeared at the ashram gate and said: "I would like to take a few shots and prepare a report of the program which is about to happen." The answer he received was: "Well the ashram is not organizing the program and knows nothing, you'll have to ask Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal." He asked: "Where can I find their office?" He was told: "They haven't got one." Again he insisted: "Where can I find them." The reply was: "Well, right now they would be everywhere." Somehow the reporter managed to get hold of the addresses of four of the Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal children. He went to their homes and got the same answer. The conversations with their parents went something like this: "Knock Knock!" "Yes?" "Is such and such there?" "No." "Where can I find him?" "I don't know." "When will he come back?" "I don't know." So you can imagine the atmosphere of intense activity which had caught hold of Munger in that week.
The 14th of February finally came. From 12 noon, when half the world was celebrating Saint Valentine's day with their sweethearts and beloved, the children of the City of Yoga, were gathering at the Polo Ground in perfect lines, absolute discipline and military punctuality as per the plan so carefully devised. It was a sunny and clear day and the seeds sown in 1995 would soon be blossoming before the world in their full colour and splendour. By 2 p.m. 20,000 children had been sitting under the blazing sun for about an hour, without a single complaint, or needing to go to the toilet, drink water or even chat among themselves, such was their discipline.
At 2.30 p.m. the faint sound of a helicopter could be heard from a distance and it soon landed on the Polo Ground. Another helicopter would follow, they were the security forces. Finally, as the Royal Helicopter of his His Excellency, the President of the Republic of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, approached the Polo Ground through the spellbound air of Munger, 40,000 hands (i.e. 20,000 x 2) waved away enthusiastically from the ground to greet the majestic figure and leader of the country. The helicopter landed, creating an enormous cloud of dust, which was not enough to move or break the discipline of the 20,000 flowers whose one point of focus was and will always be - the Sun of Yoga.
The President landed and addressed the children. His speech was divided into two sections. He spoke in English and asked Swami Niranjan to translate the gist into Hindi. It was a sight to see. The political (and material) leader of a country addressing the children, and the spiritual leader of the most well-established and developed spiritual institution translating. It was a very moving scene. Another striking aspect is that nobody was celebrating the President's visit to Munger, they were all celebrating Bal Yoga Diwas, at which the President was the Chief Guest.
In brief, the President spoke on the importance of living in a righteous manner and encouraged the children to learnand keep the flame of curiosity always burning inside them. He emphasized the importance of effort and how nothing is impossible. If one's determination is strong, the word impossible has no place in their dictionary. He also told them to look after their environment, to be clean and to plant trees. In this manner he inspired the children to improve the quality of their lives. He said: "When there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world."
The children then asked some questions to which the President gladly replied. The current, future and past Presidents of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal (also children) addressed the President of India, expressing their gratitude and feelings on behalf of everybody for having joined them in their Bal Yoga Diwas and giving him some more background on the fellowship of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal. It was incredible to see the confidence and tranquillity with which the children delivered their speeches, remaining totally unaffected (i.e. practical and spontaneous pratyahara) by the thousands of people and the entire camera crew in front of them.
The President of India, having a tight schedule, couldn't stay for long, and at about 4 o'clock, headed back towards the helicopter and took off, still contemplating and assimilating the unique experience which he had among the 'Children of Yoga'.
Bal Yoga Diwas was truly an achievement. As we know, in English the word yoga is translated as 'union'. So the literal meaning of Bal Yoga Diwas would be 'Children's Union Day'. Not only were thousands of children united, but also the entire town of Munger, which stood spellbound in admiration at the way in which events unfolded. With their innocence, sincerity, simplicity and courage, the children managed to unite the hearts of all who participated in the program. During the program, six police officers were injured by a crowd at one of the Fort gates. The officers' duty was to keep the crowd out, avoiding at all costs the use of violence. Their adherence to duty made them restrain from using violence, causing their injury. The next day the children called the police officers in front of the town and honoured them with gifts for having maintained their positions. The comment from the authorities was: "In honouring us you have now increased our responsibility, for now we MUST ensure the safety of each and every child."
It is in the lives of the children of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal that yoga has really flowered. Many of us teach and preach yoga, but very few of us live and experience yoga. We have thousands of teachers and preachers, but very few practitioners in the true sense. This is not, however, the case with the children of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal. Children are like clay, they can be moulded into any shape, whereas with grownups, the frame is fixed and one has to function within those parameters and boundaries. It is therefore said that children are our true fathers. For we have forgotten how to be like children and have become too important and complicated.
Let us all now resolve to learn from children. Let us be innocent and simple, playful and cheerful.
A new generation has begun, different to the ones seen and known till today. Bright and full of vitality and creativity, they represent the dawn of a new yet ancient culture. For our guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, has told us many times that: "Yoga will emerge as a mighty world culture and change the course of world events." You have just seen a glimpse of 'The Beginning'.