Today the participants for the 15th annual world famous International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan ashram arrived in time to participate in a special Mahashivratri program. Since 1999, Parmarth Niketan has been hosting this world renowned event which has grown to international acclaim and which grows in size year after year. Yogacharyas, teachers, students and seekers come from every corner of the globe to participate in this program. This year there are more than 550 participants from 46 countries.

This evening, the participants joined together a special Shiv Abhishek puja just prior to the Ganga Aarti. Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati explained that Lord Shiva is represented, most commonly, either in the form of Nataraja — the Cosmic Dancer, or in the form of meditating, or in the formlessness aspect of the Shiv Linga. “It means,” she said. “That even while we are dancing or doing yoga, we are also meditating, and even while we’re meditating, we are dancing. And whether we are dancing or meditating or doing yoga or doing anything else, we should always stay deeply connected to the Supreme, Infinite Reality which is beyond names and beyond forms. When we offer our abhishek to Shiva it is a symbol of offering ourselves, our devotion and our surrender.”

After the abhishek puja there was a special prayer for all of those who lost their lives, their families, their homes and their livelihoods in the tragic Uttarakhand floods last year.

Following the puja and prayer, they gathered for the divine Ganga Aarti ceremony. As Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, the President of Parmarth Niketan explained, “The Aarti is divine Happy Hour. All over the Western world as the sun sets people gather in the pubs and clubs for Happy Hour. But we gather here on the banks of Mother Ganga for our Happy Hour, which is a Happy Hour with no hangover and where the happiness lasts much longer than 60 minutes!”

All of the participants could be seen swaying and clapping with closed eyes, clearly enthralled by the beautiful, soul-stirring experience. Pujya Swamiji emphasized, “At the Aarti we give thanks to the Divine, by any name, any form, any religion. All day long the Divine bestows upon us the light of life, the light of grace and the light of His blessings. At the Aarti we offer back the light of our thanks, our love and our devotion.”

Following the Aarti, the participants were treated to a special cultural song and dance performance by Smt. Sharmila Bhartari who was joined by girls from several of the local schools. The dance was dedicated to Lord Shiva. The international participants were thrilled to see the great creative flow and expression of the Indian dance. Said David Rogers from USA: “Even though we may not understand the words in Hindi or Sanskrit, the meaning is so deep and so profound that we can feel it and understand it in our hearts and souls.”

After dinner there was a special Mahashivratri puja with abhishek and kirtan until late in the night. “What an amazing way to start our yoga festival!” the participants could all be heard exclaiming after the puja. Said Chandanni Miglino of UK, “Yes it is late and we have been traveling for so many hours. But we are so rejuvenated, so energized from this divine energy and experience already.”

Starting tomorrow morning, March 1, there will be classes from 4:00 am until 9:30 pm with more than 50 yogacharyas, presenters and experts from more than 15 countries around the world. Kundalini Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Bharat Yoga, Deep Yoga, Shintoh Yoga and Somatics Yoga are just a few of the more than 60 different offerings throughout the week. There are also classes in meditation, mudras, reiki, Indian spices and much more. Further, spiritual discourses will be held by revered spiritual leaders from India and abroad. There will also be cultural dance/music performances highlighting the culture of this Himalayan Garhwal region as well as Odissi and South India style.

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