I had been given not seva but darshan. During the Convention my duty was to scan barcodes on the badges of the thousands of Indian national delegates as they filed past into Paduka Dashan for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The day before the Convention kicked off I still thought it was a fool's errand. The tablets were scanning slowly and the database seemed patchy. The early arrivals on whom we tested the systems appeared suspicious of what we were doing and impatient for their dinner. There was jostling and pushing in the queue. The swiping team was tense and bickering, and our legs ached.
Then the Convention started and everything began to flow. We had been instructed to make the swiping of barcodes – and everything about meal service – a positive experience; and a peaceful festivity descended over all the proceedings. The kitchen was running day and night, quietly and efficiently; the YUVA boys directing the flow of traffic were well-drilled and disciplined; and the Ganga sparkled in the background. When I directed people for troubleshooting ("No meal coupons purchased.") I would see the smiling face of my fellow swiper, looking after everyone, flexible, polite and friendly. The high spirits and sense of peace and order started to be reflected in the queue in front of us – even when the crowd extended all the way to the Polo Ground.
Once again each of us had been given the exact seva that we needed. One of our team leaders, a sannyasa trainee, confessed that he had felt such an intense desire to scan barcodes that he had thought of leaving the ashram to work in a supermarket. Instead, here he was in Paduka Darshan, scanning to his heart's content and devising ever better and faster ways to facilitate the flow of crowds gathered in front of us. For my part, I was pretty sure that I had no barcode scanning samskaras to exhaust. But something else began to stir in me.
I had come to hold a dim view of humanity after ten years of working in war-torn countries: in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. My world was full of people who propagated hate and fear, and who made a living from the suffering of others: corruption and venality, murder, rape and torture.
Then, all of a sudden, at the gates of Paduka Darshan, I experienced humanity in all its grace and beauty. First, one delegate would look into my eyes and smile, then another, and another. Scanning barcodes became something sacred, a practice of japa in which we connected and greeted each other with mantra and open hearts: Swipe. Pause. Meeting of eyes. Hari Om, you can go. Swipe. Pause. Eyes. Hari Om. Swipe. Pause. Eyes. Hari Om. Hari Om. Hari Om.
I struggled to keep down the emotion and joy that washed over me. I was brimming over with all that I had received, the love expressed in kirtan and havan and satsang, in film, song and dance at the Convention and Golden Jubilee. As I looked into the faces above the badges I was scanning, I could see the same joy reflected back, bright eyes in a thousand faces of devotion, smiling at me with each Hari Om. By the time Amargeet sang "Lord let me see your face in every face I see . . . ," in the closing session of the Convention, there was no stopping the tears.
We have come from Malaysia to participate in the celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of the Bihar School of Yoga, and to express our solidarity with the mission of Sri Swami Sivananda, Sri Swami Satyananda and Sri Swami Niranjanananda, and the yogic vision that they have propagated through the Bihar School of Yoga.
It is indeed a blessing from paramguru Sri Swami Satyananda and my guru, Swami Niranjan, that I am present here today with the universal Satyananda Yoga family to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Bihar School of Yoga.
Malaysia has a special place in our tradition, as this was the land where Swami Sivananda lived and worked as a doctor for ten years and decided to dedicate himself to spiritual life. In his own words, "It was a journey from Malaya to Himalaya." Therefore, Malaysia is part of the spirit of the tradition even though the system of Satyananda Yoga is relatively new here.
We hope that in the years ahead the great teachings of our gurus will come back from the Himalayas through the plains of Munger and Rikhia to the shores of Malaysia.
There were lots of little things to marvel at during the Convention: the unseasonal blossoming of flowers; the circling of eagles in the sky when the energy was particularly high; the usefulness of the survival kits we were all given. (During an early satsang, Swamiji asked those wilting in the sun why they weren't shielding themselves with the umbrellas they had received. The ashram was awash with brollies thereafter.)
Of all the small wonders I observed during the Convention week, one struck me particularly: the central role of children in running the show. Everywhere I looked, members of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal (BYMM, or the Children's Yoga Fellowship) were performing some vital task: checking ID badges, directing the flow of traffic, distributing dish-washing water, leading kirtans. They performed their duties so capably and confidently it was easy not to notice their youth, but when I thought about it, I realized what a big deal it was: the organizers of this mega event had deliberately entrusted its smooth running to some school children. On reflection, I think this was a masterstroke. The children not only worked like troupers, and amplified the atmosphere of joy, they were the most persuasive of ambassadors for yoga.
Nowhere was this more apparent than during a workshop delivered by sixteen-year-old Sannyasi Amargeet. With angelic poise, Amargeet told the assembled crowd about a project BYMM had run in conjunction with the Yoga Research Foundation. The young people wanted to assess the effects of yoga on children their own age, so they had designed a program to judge its impact on physical, mental and emotional growth.
The findings Amargeet presented were impressive: almost all the metrics showed that yoga significantly accelerated young people's development. There was one puzzling anomaly in the results, but the young researchers welcomed this, Amargeet explained, because problems tend to lead to insights. The slides we saw were nowhere near as compelling as Amargeet herself. She exuded intelligence, composure and positivity, and as I listened to her speak, I thought there was no greater evidence of yoga's efficacy than the young people themselves.
Before a group of kanyas from Rikhia took to the Convention stage to perform a dance, one of the girls addressed the crowd in flawless English and explained that for many of them this Convention was an extraordinary opportunity. Some of the children had never before left their village of Rikhia, and here they were on a vast stage performing to an international audience of thousands.
None of this is to diminish the efforts and achievements of the grown-ups who contributed to the Convention's slick running. However, my abiding memory of the week will be of the army of young yogis: their shining eyes, their tireless efforts and their dazzling talents. What a beautiful portrait they made of yoga's capacity to transform.
In Satyam Vatika, inside Ganga Darshan Vishwa Yogapeeth, there is a small mysterious looking building called Yoga Drishti.
During the Convention, each day after lunch, a group of people would collect outside Yoga Drishti with no small amount of excitement and curiosity, and wait for their turn to go into the Yoga Drishti 5D Theatre.
The people were given a pair of 3D glasses as they stepped into the 5D theatre and took their seat in one of the twenty-four special motion chairs.
Then the doors closed and the spectators would navigate their way through wind, water, smoke, soap bubbles and snow as they closely followed Kundalini Ma on her journey upwards from mooladhara chakra all the way up to sahasrara.
Once they entered the brightly coloured spinal column on screen, they listened to the role and symbology of each chakra and watched lotus petals open up, animals take their rightful place in each chakra and elements unfold their beauty and fury. As Kundalini rose steadily, the sadhakas not only experienced her upward movement but were pulled, pushed, shaken and twisted in all directions – thanks to the unpredictable motion chair.
Fifteen minutes later, a slightly dazed group of smiling people were surprised to find that they were standing again in Satyam Vatika, the beautiful garden of Satyam.
My seva was with a small group of sevaks whose job it was to clean the glasses and theatre between shows, organize people into groups and learn as much as we could about the running and maintenance of the theatre.
I found it to be a most enjoyable experience as we saw group after group of smiling faces emerge from the theatre. At the same time, we could hear the akhand kirtan nearby in the Amphitheatre.
I came as a visitor to this impending great event about three weeks before the start. Initial preparations were already well established within the gardens and lawns of Ganga Darshan. There was a buzz of activity everywhere. Satyam Yoga Prasad pandal was a book pavilion with a difference where every person who wanted would receive as many books as they could carry. It had been erected and finished in fine orange and yellow cloth and inside a path lined with tables snaked up and down the whole pavilion. Nearby a huge air-conditioned cinema had been created. In between the two a darshan pavilion and a souvenir pavilion were arranged. All finished in fine coloured cloth.
Volunteers, sannyasins, devotees, Indians and foreigners, from every part of the globe and from every walk of life, all with one intent, to bring this event about, were running ceaselessly, not in haste, but energetic determination.
In the centre of all activity was Swami Niranjanananda, Guru, guide, organizer, convenor, chief speaker and host to the Bihar School of Yoga Golden Jubilee, celebrating 50 years since the original inauguration. With 20,000 registered delegates confirmed, Swamiji had drawn a line and all further applications to attend had been returned with a 'no space available' note. Swamiji, sat in the Convention Command Centre pavilion meeting with a constant stream of groups coming to him to receive precise detailed instructions on their duties, some for accommodation, some for kitchen, some for special arrangements for VIP public figures, dignitaries and celebrated saintly yogis. There were a myriad of details for Swamiji to attend to from transportation arrangements to seat mat designs, to seating arrangements, introductions for speakers, and so on, the lists of minutiae were endless, and to all Swamiji remained unfazed balanced giving intelligent direction.
The Convention was a multifaceted event with simultaneous divine activities. As well as Satyam Yoga Prasad, Cinema, darshan of Swamiji and Souvenir stall, there was akhand kirtan by various groups from around the world, and simultaneous tantric havan reviving almost forgotten and lost ceremonies in the beautifully prepared yajna vedi.
The main event of the WYC 2013 was of course the speeches. Not to be outshone by the other activities, WYC 2013 was held at the nearby Polo Grounds inside a combination of three vast steel framed canvas pavilions beautifully finished internally with white cotton lining and carpeted in red and green. The stage was also large and to the side a smaller stage for the kirtanists.
23rd October arrived and the Convention was about to begin. Thousands filed into the colossal pavilion, awed by the size and ordered arrangement within, delegates humbly took pre-decided seating and waited with an air of enthusiastic expectancy for the program to begin. Thousands and thousands of delegates, all registered, accommodated and served with food, some from the furthest corner of the planet and some from the town of Munger itself were now ready for the grand spiritual event.
By 8 a.m. everyone was seated and the magic started with a vedic inauguration by eight pandits from Varanasi chanting from ancient vedic scriptures with the same ancient enunciations and the same intonations and emphasis that are the tradition since 5,000 years, they anointed the sacred images of Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda, then they anointed Swamiji and Swami Satsangi. The voices of the pandits refrain echoed throughout the entire immense arena and the vibration was transformed from one of expectancy to a unifying bond of love for Guru, God, Jnana and Yoga. This bonding vibration was a characteristic feature of each and every session throughout the Convention and such comments were heard and overheard amongst the crowds before and after each session. Spiritual yearnings of devoted delegates were triggered by the echoes of that ancient vedic chant invocating the divine to bless this occasion. It was grand.
Swamiji began with a fine welcome to all. Then he outlined the essence of previous WYCs, starting with the first one by Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh in 1953, where it was declared that Divine Life is the birthright of everyone and he initiated the teaching of yoga openly to everyone.
The second World Yoga Convention was held in Munger in 1973 by Swami Satyananda. After this convention yoga spread like wildfire. The third World Yoga Convention was held in Munger by Swami Niranjan in 1993 and after this convention the practical and divine aspects of yoga were taken to different aspects of society, to industries and corporate.
Now the fourth World Yoga Convention was being held here to celebrate 50 golden years of Bihar School of Yoga. With some 36 speakers and a very talented group of musicians and singers from Munger Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal nothing could go wrong. Among the speakers were lawyers, judges, doctors, scientists, scholars, yoga teachers and eminent psychiatrists. All had devoted a good part of their lives to yoga and yoga sadhana. As well, prominent yoga luminaries from India and abroad were a feature among the presenters.
It was a truly spiritual event, with yogic discipline. The precise order of everything from security arrangements to seating, from bags for shoes to safety deposit arrangements, from timings for discourses to timings for entry and exit gates made this event an exercise in the discipline of a yogic event. True, everybody did not get what they wanted, they were not free to wander here and there, but they did get what they came for, a well-organized event free from calamities.
Until the end it was a truly magic event, that common bond had found its way into so many diverse personalities, Munger town people who normally dissociate themselves with ashram activities found themselves greeting visiting delegates with joyful Hari Om and grumpy shopkeepers looked up and smiled at visitors passing through. On the world stage, the whole program was beamed over the internet and messages from all over the world came in reflecting a glow in their happiness with the experience.
If you are reading this but could not manage to come, know that you have missed out on the experience of a lifetime.
The evening dedicated to paramguru Swami Sivananda began with a unique dance presentation performed by sannyasa trainees. The dancers from four different countries performed an offering to Devi, in the form of an Odissi style dance. This intricate Indian dance was presented with confidence, grace, beauty and precision.
Swami Sivananda was famous for his English kirtans and songs. The sannyasa trainees presented a selection of his English songs and bhajans, often adding a slight modern twist, with great devotion and purity. The sannyasa trainees were joined by Swami Niranjan and enthusiastic audience members as they sang Swami Sivananda's compositions which are saturated with his teachings.
A special guest, Swami Yatidharmananda of Rishikesh, performed a magic show. His unique magic act combined tricks and illusions with the teachings of his guru, entertaining and inspiring all.