|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - March 2017|
International Yoga Festival
by Tarinee Awasthi
The Ministry of Ayush, Government of India, organized the International Yoga Festival in New Delhi, from March 8 till March 10, 2017. The festival celebrated a larger, global shift towards yoga traditions, a shift that seems all the more significant in the context of our current predicaments, ecological as well as political. And it is in this context that a seminar held on the second day of the festival must be considered. This seminar was in honor and celebration of Mahamandaleshwar Shri Swami Veda Bharati-ji and Shri TKV Desikachar.
Shri Swami Ritavan Bharati-ji, Dr. Stephen Parker (Stoma), and Dr. Gopal Krishna Prabhu spoke about Swami Veda Bharati. The session began with a beautiful video of Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, with Swami Rama’s rendition of the Guru Vandana playing in the background. Through the video, not only the beauty of the ashram, but also the very essence of the Tradition was conveyed.
In his presentation, Dr. Prabhu spoke about the observation of the brainwaves produced during meditation, and his experience with Swami Veda. A scientist, he emphasized at some length the centrality of a ‘scientific’ methodology to spiritual practice.
Dr. Parker (Stoma) spoke of Swami Veda’s erudition and drew attention to his mastery over the Tripitaka, and the multifarious expressions of Indian texts and Traditions, in addition to his unmatched competence as a Sanskritist. He also spoke of how Swami Veda was in a state of deep meditation at all times, evidenced by accidental EEG measurements taken as swami-ji talked before an experiment was conducted. However, the most significant part came at towards the end of his talk: that Swami Veda was, ultimately, an embodiment of love.
Both Dr. Parker as well as Swami Ritavan, during the course of the session, often had their eyes shut; the significance of this need not be emphasized.
When Swami Ritavan came, he seemed to speak not for himself, but for the Tradition itself; he simply wondered how one could speak of such an embodiment of love as Swami Veda was, and instead led the audience into a meditation, which he hoped was the gift that Swami Veda would have passed on had He been present. (It was as though he was present.) What distinguished the session was the absence of any sense of loss, not only in the sense of honoring the message and life of Swami Veda, but in a much more substantial sense of being conscious of His embodied form having been only one manifestation, and the awareness that He and His Grace were real, substantial, palpable. In this way, Swami Ritavan conveyed two crucial aspects of the Tradition: persistence, and love. I am reminded of something Swami Veda wrote, that a friend sent to me recently, “Love, joy, consciousness, and God are all synonyms…Love is not a feeling; it is a force, a palpable force.” The reality and realization of this idea were manifest.
This is why, while the seminar was an occasion for joy and pride at the celebration of one’s own Guru-Teacher-Master and an expression of his presence, it was also a re-invocation of love as a “palpable force” into a sphere usually dominated by physical exercise or intellectual discussion…or by an interest in power. This is rendered all the more significant in the backdrop of yoga being brought into the spotlight by the United Nations and the Government of India. In the moment Swami Ritavan emphasized love, and led everyone into meditation, as a gift of love, it seemed to me that Swami Veda would have suggested this as the way out of many of our current predicaments. And who better to preside over it than Swami Veda, who is an embodiment of Love (that is joy, that is God, per His own writing), and in many writings (for example, Sadhana in Applied Spirituality) emphasized the very practicality of this path, not only in one’s personal life, but as having the potential to truly influence the world.
The tributes to Shri TKV Desikachar were rich and loving, and focused on the adaptability of his method, which never compromised the purity of the tradition he stood for. His relationship with his father, and his son (who also spoke) were also discussed. Shri Navtej Johar, a renowned dancer, spoke of the importance of his teacher and of Yoga in his life and his artistic work. He also referred briefly to Desikachar’s association with Shri Swami Rama.
The speakers all honored both the great teachers the session was dedicated to. In the first address by the session co-chairs, Dr. MV Bhole-ji spoke about the contributions and projects of Swami Veda Bharati, while the second address, delivered by Swami Anant Bharati-ji, was much more personal. Swamiji referred to his long association with Swami Veda, and reiterated the importance of adhering to the eight-fold yoga as described in classical texts through his own experience with yoga. He spoke of various practices and processes associated with yogic practice.
The exhibition that accompanied the program also created a unique opportunity, because it was not merely an exhibition of books and CDs, but many people came up and asked questions about the practices at the Ashram and the nature of the Himalayan Tradition. Shri Rabindra Sahu’s patient and simple responses to the many forms of the question “what kind of meditation do you teach” were a perfect representation of the Tradition. Shri Rahul Kataria also provided valuable advice to many interested people there.This Yoga Festival is of immense significance because it centers on a way of being, a way of knowing, and a way of loving that modernity seems to have forgotten, and postmodernism has never approached. It represents neither a looking back, nor a looking forward, but the possibility of the ever-present Eternal.