Paving through the 200 hours Yoga Teachers Training, Rishikul Yogshala on the 25th of August 2017, opened its doors to Lord Ganesha, one of many Hindu gods worshiped in India. For 10-days, we witnessed the God of prosperity being worshipped in a magical manner. Our participation in this special celebration lasted for 10 days.
So, who is Ganesha, you may ask?
Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. He is the only god with elephant head and human body. The God of ‘new beginnings’ is believed to be responsible for prosperity, good fortune and removing the obstacles.
Throughout India, people pay their respect to Lord Ganesha. And, in Rishikul, we also celebrated Ganesha Chaturthi. The celebrations of this holy fest commence on the 4th day of Hindu calendar, and lasts for about 10 days.
A beautiful and colorful clay statue of Ganesha was brought to the school and placed in the easy-to-access downstairs area for everybody to pay their respects to the deity. The unique sound of the conch horn inaugurates the puja (prayer) ceremony. The sound is not the only surprising thing. This prayer ceremony is full of rituals that are more than intriguing and mesmerizing for everybody. The 2-hour ceremony is led by pujari, a Hindu priest, who chants the Vedas continuously throughout the prayer offering, while performing different rituals.
At Rishikul, we were lucky to enjoy the ceremony led by Shiva, whose strong and absorbing voice seemed perfect for the mantra chanting. He is also one of the most welcoming people, keen to invite everybody to participate or just observe, regardless of their religion or nationality.
Sitting in front of Ganesha’s statue is both fascinating and tiresome. A lot of people who are not used to sitting with crossed legs on the floor have to shuffle around as we go along.
The participation is not very demanding and doesn’t require familiarity with the process. It is easy to observe when to release flower petals and, when to hand those back to the priest or shower those in front of the statue.
One of the most special parts of the experience is the moment of drinking the holy water and receiving the ‘Tilaka’ mark on the forehead. This makes you feel really connected and belonged, while it also looks very beautiful since it marks the place of your third eye chakra. The ceremony is concluded by another ‘Tilaka’ marking and a gift of delicious Indian sweets and fruits, not just for the Lord Ganesha, but also for all the participants. All the rituals and chanting is repeated without fail every morning for 10 days of the Ganesha Chaturthi festival. It is a very unique and powerful way to start the day.
The last morning ceremony included the fire ceremony (Agni-Yagya). A ritual involving a mix of holy herbs and spices being thrown in the fire by all the people gathered in a circle around the fire. This purification ceremony is followed by color celebration.
Ganesha statue is carried out to the street where a bunch of musicians wait playing lively music. All the students and teachers from Rishikul Yogshala were dressed head to toe in white, but not for long. Stepping outside is like entering a giant rainbow crowd. Everybody is throwing colorful powders in the air. People laugh and dance in front of the statue that slowly starts to make its way down to the River Ganges. Previously white clothes then looked like multicolor tie-dye patterns and, people’s happy faces became unrecognizable under the layers of vivid colors.
As we walked down the streets of Rishikesh, dancing, throwing more colors up in the air and laughing, other people joined in, smiled, danced and took photos along. It is hard to describe in words, the atmosphere and the level of happiness that was accompanying us all the way to the Ganges. It was pure fun, both locals and foreigners blended together in this street dance celebration. The colorful powders made everything around look like a Disney movie and, the music made it impossible to stand still.
For those couple of hours, we were all in love. We were all carefree and playful.
When we finally reached the river and honored Ganesha one last time, the statue submerged under the water and so did we.
The colorful clothes become white again as we playfully splashed each other in the river.