RISHIKESH: The 29th annual, world-famous International Yoga Festival (IYF) at Parmarth Niketan, on the banks of River Ganga, which began on March 2, saw more than 1,500 participants from 92 nations.
The IYF offered daily classes from 4:00 am until 9:30 pm, with more than 80 revered saints, yogacharyas, presenters and experts from nearly 18 countries around the world.
Ashtanga Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Bharat Yoga, Ganga Yoga, and Somatics Yoga were just a few of the nearly 200 different offerings throughout the week.
There were also classes in meditation, mudras, Sanskrit chanting, reiki, Indian philosophy and spiritual discourses to be held by revered spiritual leaders from India and abroad.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, in 2015, the United Nations named June 21st as International Yoga Day, leading to a resurgence of yoga practitioners across borders.
Last year, Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, President of Parmarth Niketan and founder of the International Yoga Festival, and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Director of the International Yoga Festival, led International Yoga Day events at the United Nations in New York.
Yoga, once an art restricted only to the sages of the high Himalayas, is now practiced by some 300 million people worldwide, making Parmarth Niketan’s International Yoga Festival a tremendous draw for individuals from around the world.
Says Pujya Swamiji about the festival: “Yoga is all the way from the United Nations to the United Creations on the banks of Ganga!”
The festival was inaugurated by the Vice President of India M Venkaiah Naidu on March 3. at 11:00am.
The festival this year will also be blessed with the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who will attend the Ganga Aarti as well as lead a special meditation and inauguration of Parmarth Niketan’s Lord Buddha statue.
On the eve of the festival, participants joined together for a special Ganga Aarti ceremony.
The first day of the festival saw a beautiful tapestry of participants representing the world’s faiths, nations, cultures, races and regions as Argentinians, Afghans, Israelites, Iranians, Japanese, Kenyans, Italians, Americans, Yemenis and people from numerous other nations formed bonds of togetherness under the common flag of yoga.
The first day of the festival began at 4:00 am with Kundalini Sadhana led by Gurushabd Singh Khalsa from California, followed by pre-breakfast classes including, Vinyasa Yoga with Akira Watamoto of Japan, Vinyasa Strength with Krishnamurthy Mohan Raj of China, and Kundalini Yoga with Gloria Latham of Canada.
After breakfast, the morning intense asana classes took place with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, founder of Golden Bridge Yoga in California, teaching Kundalini yoga, Deborah Langely of Australia teaching Lotus Flow Vinyasa, H.S. Arun of Bangalore teaching Iyengar Yoga, as well as Mert Guler of Turkey leading a beautiful Sufi Meditation class. Joanna Faso of the US taught a Sanskrit Mantra Workshop focusing on the Maha Mrtyunjaya mantra.
Later, the Spiritual Discourse Series commenced with a highly-motivational address by Sri Shankaracharya Swami Divyanand Teerthji and renowned biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton, who uplifted and inspired the audience with a talks on the influence of our thoughts on our cells and the importance of spiritual practice.
The highlights of the afternoon included a talk on the role of yoga to make a healthy world by Dr. Ishwar Basavaraddi, a Bhakti Yoga session with Daphne Tse of US, a Cosmic Intelligence Plus Meditation with Maa Gyaan Suveera, Maharishi Meditation with Laura Plumb of California, and Raga Sound Healing with Tilak Vishvas.
The later afternoon classes included Kundalini Yoga classes with Tommy Rosen and Kia Miller of California, Yin Yoga with Yujia of China, Lila Yoga with Eric Kaufman of Pennslyvania, Yogi Yoga with Mohan Bhandari, originally of Rishikesh and now of China, as well as a beginner’s introduction class to meditation and asana with Katie B Happy of California. On the Sacred Sound Stage, Cheryl Friedman of US led a session on “Vocal Bliss: Finding Your Soul Voice.”
There was also a special advance Holi celebration with eco-friendly colors along the banks of Ganga, filled with music and dancing. On march 3, there will be a burning of the Holika effigy.
During Ganga aarti, Sadhvi Bhagawatiji explained to all the participants about the deeper meaning of Holi and the story of the devotee Prahlad with what Holika represents.
After dinner, participants were thrilled to have the special occasion of a concert by world famous percussionist Sivamani – a true ecstatic experience of drums, music and rhythm, soul, and dance — alongside renowned violinist and composer Balabhaskar.
Sivamani’s style is deeply profound and mysterious at one moment; tantalizing and exuberant at the next. However, augmenting the brute power, are his rhythmic style and harmony, which surrounds the discerning listener with warmth, joy and bliss.
Kia Miller, from California, said of the meet: “Attending the IYF in Rishikesh is a must for all serious practitioners who want an authentic India experience and introduction to the holistic approach of yoga. We practice on the banks of Ganga, listen to satsangs with living Saints and master teachers, and commune with like-minded people.”