The annual International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh took place this year from March 1st-7th, 2011. The festival was jointly organized by Parmarth Niketan Ashram and the Uttarakhand Tourism Department.
Since the first year Parmarth Niketan Ashram and Uttarakhand Tourism organized the International Yoga Festival in 2001, the festival has grown each year in size and scope. This 2011 International Yoga Festival drew over four hundred participants from thirty-six countries across the world, including Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and many more.
The event featured world-renowned teachers such as Shiva Rea, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Dr. David Frawley, Kishan Shah, Sadhvi Abha Saraswati, Deepika Mehta, and more. In fact, this year the yoga festival hosted more than thirty teachers from fifteen countries. The week-long festival offered around twenty classes a day that students could choose between, spanning many disciplines and branches of yoga. During the course of the week, participants had the opportunity to experience the following types of yoga and disciplines:
- Kundalini Yoga
- Iyengar Yoga
- Ashtanga Yoga
- Vinyasa Yoga
- Nada Yoga
- Sukshma Yoga
- Power Yoga
- Yoga Therapy
- Bhakti Yoga/Kirtan
- Power Pranamayam
- Yoga nidra
- Jivamukti Yoga
- Deep Yoga
- Odaka Yoga
- Shinto Yoga
- Kriya Yoga
For participants of the yoga festival, the week was more than just a learning experience. The yoga festival was a chance to imbibe the sacred science of yoga at its source, in the holy land of the rishis on the banks of Mother Ganga. In addition to the international teachers, the International Yoga Festival hosted some of India’s leading saints and spiritual leaders, including H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, H.H. Pujya Sri Shankaracharya, Bhanpura Peeth (Swami Divyanand Teerthji), H.H. Pujya Swami Dayanandaji, Dr. David Frawley, and Sadhvi Bhagwati Saraswati. Students had the rare blessing to receive the satsang and divine words of each of these spiritual masters. One participant wrote, “A highlight of the festival for me was meeting [H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Sarasatiji]. His presence is simply overwhelming and his insight, reverence, and a manner make him such a real saint to me.”
Further, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, the President and Spiritual Head of Parmarth Niketan, is committed to karma yoga, taking “yoga off the mat” and putting into practice the principles of yoga in real life, in service to the world. This year, participants got to take part in a large clean-up along the banks and waters of Ma Ganga in Rishikesh. Participants collected trash found along the banks of Ganga and then cleaned the ghats of Swargashram, Rishikesh.
Another “yoga in action” event that took place at the International Yoga Festival this year was the fourth annual Yoga Aid Challenge. In this event, participants from all levels of ability gathered to complete 108 sun salutations that had been sponsored online to raise money for the charities India Heritage Research Foundation, Africa Yoga Project, and 4oneworld. These charities are providing life-changing education projects for impoverished children in India and Africa. Participants fully enjoyed the event, feeling the sense of satisfaction that comes from doing something good for others in need.
In addition to the events and courses that happened throughout the days of the yoga festival, participants also got to participate in various cultural events during their stay at Parmarth Niketan Ashram. On several nights, music and cultural events complemented their experience each evening. Uttarakhand Tourism organized entertainment the first night, with a troupe of dancers, musicians, and singers performing traditional Garwhali songs and dances for the festival attendees. On another night, children from Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, Arunchal Pradesh performed traditional Tibetan songs and dances, followed by children from the Parmarth Niketan Gurukul performing traditional dances from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab.
In addition to enriching cultural programs, participants of the International Yoga Festival also got to join in on various religious programs at Parmarth Niketan Ashram. Each evening, students got to take part in the daily aarti ceremony along the banks of Ma Ganga. Participants felt the aarti ceremony to be “magical and full of energy,” “very moving,” and “emotional.” One participant wrote that it was “one of the most touching ceremonies ever attended.” Another wrote that the aarti “feeds [her]soul. At first I felt like an outsider and it was hard to get into it, but then I felt the strong energy, the Divine presence, and my heart and soul opened.”
On Mahashivratri, a special abhishek puja was held along with the chanting of mantras and singing of kirtan, a ceremony which many participants said was one of the highlights of their week.
Overall, participants truly enjoyed their experience of the International Yoga Festival. Words participants used to describe the event included “uplifting,” “loving,” “transformative,” “powerful,” “blissful,” “enlightening,” and “inspiring,” among many others. Participants thoroughly enjoyed having access in just one festival to such a diverse range of yoga disciplines and world-renowned teachers, as well as getting to meet so many like-minded fellow yogis and seekers from all over the world. One student wrote that “learning from so many teachers made me get the inspiration to continue my yoga studies.” “Being at Parmarth is a feeling of a big family gathering in one wonderful home,” said one participant.
Yet, much deeper than that, by living at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, by being in the satsang of so many of India’s greatest spiritual masters, students were able to completely immerse themselves in the ancient culture and spirituality of yoga and of India, a priceless gift that can only be received here in this beautiful land along the banks of Ma Ganga. Participants used words to describe Parmarth Niketan Ashram such as “magical,” “breathtaking,” “peaceful,” “supportive,” and “inspiring.” One participant described Parmarth as “a stunning example of a true ashram…it lives the truth of the teachings and is always in service.” Another participant simply wrote, “It is home.”
The 2011 International Yoga Festival was indeed a success. Participants were able to leave with not only fit and flexible bodies, but also with a new sense of joy, peace, and spiritual connection in their hearts and minds. While many participants were sad at having to depart, many have already said that they will definitely return for years to come to attend the International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
Countries Represented in International Yoga Festival 2011
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- Russian Federation
- South Africa
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
- United States