Respected Shri Sushil Kumar Shindeji, the Honourable Home Minister of India and Respected Shri Harish Rawatji the Honourable Chief Minister of Uttarakhand came to Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh to welcome and address the nearly 600 participants from almost 50 countries who have come to take part in the 15th annual, world famous International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan Ashram.

Hon’ble Shri Shindeji was so impressed to see all the people who have come from every corner of the Earth to imbibe the divine nectar of yoga in its birthplace in the lap of the Himalayas.

The theme of the program, explained Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, the President of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, founder of Ganga Action Parivar and co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, is “Safe Uttarakhand, Sacred Uttarakhand.” Pujya Swamiji emphasized that the International Yoga Festival, with its blossoming success and expansion year by year is a wonderful way to show that this holy land of Uttarakhand is both safe and sacred.

Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji said: “The International Yoga Festival is not only a festival OF yoga, but the festival itself IS ‘yoga,’ a union of North and South, East and West, a union of countries, cultures, creeds and colors, coming together to imbibe the divine nectar of yoga on the banks of Mother Ganga and the sacred Himalayas.”

Said Shri Sushilkumar Shinde, “”I have come to have the darshan of all the international delegates who have come to learn yoga, to teach yoga and learn the Indian culture. You have all seen this pious place and you are learning yoga. Pujya Swamiji was saying that today there are 600 people here and tomorrow there will be 1,000, then 5,000. I think that the people who have come here will definitely go back and teach others and give the diksha of yoga to others.”

Said Hon’ble Shri Harish Rawatji, Chief Minister of Uttarakhand: “I am grateful for Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji for giving me this opportunity to listen to the views of the various people who are attending the International Yoga Festival about Mother Ganga, our Himalayas and about Uttarakhand.”

Short talks were given by some of the yogacharyas, namely Laura Plumb of San Diego, USA, Gabriela Bozic of Germany, Deepika Mehta of Mumbai and Tommy Rosen of Los Angeles, USA. Each of them expressed their great joy to be here. As Tommy said, “We are so honored and joyous to be here at Parmarth Niketan in the beautiful, divine area. This place, this area has a special gift which not only helps us learn yoga but also heals. This land is a healing land.” Deepika Mehta, the yoga teacher to the Bollywood stars explained that: “Coming back to Parmarth is coming home for me. It is such an honor to be here. I teach all over the world, but my heart is here.”

There also was an emphasis on the sanctity of Mother Ganga and the need for protection and preservation of Her waters. Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, explained, “People come from all over the world, drawn by the power, the divine Shakti of Mother Ganga. Otherwise, one can learn yoga in any city of any country across the globe. Why come here? Because there is a divine, sacred, holy energy here which pulls people from every corner of the Earth. In other parts of the world one must “practice” yoga and meditation. Here, by the grace of Mother Ganga, yoga and meditation just happen automatically.”

Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji said, addressing all the nearly 600 participants and more than 50 yogacharyas and presenters: “Here, in these sacred Himalayas, in the land of Mother Ganga, is the birthplace of yoga, and now you are all needed to come forward for Ganga. You are all now Yogis For Ganga!” He led a pledge in which all the participants and yogacharyas raised their hands and stood up and pledged to give their time, talent, technology and tenacity to help keep Ganga, and all the water bodies of the world, clean, green and safe. Beautiful yogis from several countries dressed up as Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Narmada and other rivers to show case the glory of our water bodies and presented sacred rudraksh saplings to the Honourable dignitaries.

Hon’ble Shri Shindeji said: “Pujya Swamiji, for the last so many years has worked to maintain the piousness of the Ganga and to keep Ganga clean. It is unparalleled in the history of humanity that Pujya Swamiji is doing this work….I have been seeing Pujya Swamiji since the days when I was CM of Maharashtra. He believes in action. Whenever He came, He talked less, but believed in action.”

Hon’ble Shri Harish Rawatji said: “Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji is the roaming Ambassador of Mother Ganga. All over the world, through the message of Mother Ganga, He is giving the message to humanity that we should preserve water for not only today, for the future also. For the future of mankind, as well as the survival of the entire humanity and the entire globe. This is wonderful.”

Prior to the event, Hon’ble Shri Shindeji, Hon’ble Shri Harish Rawatji and the revered saints performed a Water Blessing Ceremony led by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji in which sacred water was poured onto a globe as a prayer that all people, from all countries, all cultures and all walks of life should have access to clean, sufficient water.

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The morning began with Odaka Warrior Flow asana and pranayama led by Roberto Milletti of Italy, a heart chakra opening through tai chi, chi gong and hatha yoga led by David Wei of China, Sukshma yoga with Swami Yogananda and Deep Yoga practice led by Laura Plumb of the USA.

Then the morning intense asana classes took place with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa of California, USA teaching Kundalini yoga, Padmashri Bharat Bhushan teaching Bharat Yoga and sun meditations, Sri H.S. Arun of Bangalore teaching Iyengar Yoga, and an enthralling discourse/workshop titled, “The One Plan: Asana, Pranayama and Meditation – Your daily spiritual practice” by world renowned supermodel turned yogi Yogi Cameron. Yogi Cameron, originally from Iran, is a student of Sri V. Vasudevan of Kerala. His workshop helped participants bring asana, pranayama, meditation and Ayurveda into their daily practice, for health of the body, mind and spirit.

After enjoying their lunch sitting on tables in the sunshine and dining tents, some highlights of the afternoon included a discussion on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Dr. T.S. Rukmini of Canada, Somatics flow by Brian (Siddharth) Ingle from Ireland and Gayatri Schriefer from Sweden, a class in which students are introduced to a combination of classical asana and somatics, a system of neuromuscular re-education to rediscover the body’s innate potential for awareness and healing. They also learned Jivamukti yoga with Gabriela Bozic of Germany, Reiki from Maa Gyan Suveera and Mudras from Siddhi of Germany.

A special talk was given this afternoon by Rujuta Diwekar, India’s bestselling author, famous nutritionist and dietician to the stars. Rujuta’s talk was titled “Mitahar – the yama of eating” and she spoke passionately and convincingly about the correct way of eating which is the exact opposite of the deprivation and restriction so many “diets” espouse. Her talk was hugely popular and everyone walked away looking at their daily menus and their relationship with food in a brand new way.

In the evening, all participants took part in the sacred and divine world famous Ganga Aarti ceremony at Parmarth Niketan followed by a satsang and question-answer session with Pujya Sri Shankaracharya Swami Divyanand Teerthji, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, in which the participants opened up their hearts and asked questions about a wide range of topics ranging from Indian and yogic philosophy and culture to personal, intimate questions about their own lives and how to live in a peaceful, yogic manner.

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