Local festival / beach celebration
Local festival / beach celebration

As mentioned in yesterday’s entry, I had an unexpected evening activity the night I arrived at Avdhoot Ashram.  Vikar asked if I wanted to attend the local Aarti.  Apparently, the sunset fire ceremony takes place in various spots along the Ganga, though nowhere with as much pomp and circumstance as Parmarth Niketan where I had been staying.  Of course, I replied yes.  I was looking forward to seeing this part of the Ganga since we were a ways away from where I had been staying before.  Apparently, we were a little way away from the Ganga as well since Vikar started preparing to take the scooter out.

Oh my, here we go.  I was about to get on the back of a scooter in crazy Rishikesh where drivers get inches away from the people or vehicles they are next to or passing.  And possibly sitting sideways like many of the women do on the backs of scooters, often without wearing helmets while the men in the front sometimes do.  Thankfully, Vikar instructed me to sit behind him normally straddling the saddle when I asked if I should sit sideways like the other women.  He did not offer me a helmet, nor did he wear one, like most people in Rishikesh.  This is one of those travel moments where I trust the situation even if bordering on dangerous and make a prayer to Great Spirit for protection.  I used to make reiki symbols for protection in my mind or in the air when previously traveling, but I honestly have not been very connected to my reiki practice as of late so relied on faith and knew deep down everything would be ok.  Vikar put his aviator sunglasses on and we were off!

With ashram yogi, Vikas
With ashram yogi, Vikas

Our ride was probably only about ten mins long in a VERY chaotic outdoor market and shopping area with people absolutely everywhere!  We made our way down to where the Ganga was and parked the scooter along with many others arriving at the same time.  It was a zoo of colors and people!  Literally everywhere!  Amplified music was playing which had already become commonplace to my ears.  And a large stage with seating was being set up.  In the distance, were what looked to be a few thousand people easily on the beach in front of the Ganga.  It felt like leftover Diwali with noisy firecrackers going off non-stop everywhere.  Wowzers, this was some Aarti!

Except… that it wasn’t.  Vikar smiled, turned to me and said, “Now I know what’s going on.  This is a festival!  I actually wouldn’t have come down here if I knew what was going on.”  In a way, I was glad he hadn’t.  This wasn’t a place I wanted to stay for very long, but it was definitely still a sight to behold.  I always loved looking at all the women dressed in their beautiful clothing, whether they were saris or even their regular street clothes.  Then, they still wore beautiful long blouses and always had scarves.  The men, on the other hand, all wore regular boring street clothes unless they were holy men dressed in orange, long robes or the white wearing yogi’s.

There was a huge pole constructed in the middle of the beach with streamers hanging down from the middle with colorful flags hanging off.  On the water’s edge, women were making offerings and one woman dressed in a long beautiful bright green sari standing in the Ganga caught my eye.  Stunning!  It mostly seemed like a huge party with people coming down to gather and just hang out with one another.

Vikar explained that this was the way the lower class celebrated festivals in India of which there were many.  He didn’t even know what this particular festival was.  He said that affluent Indian people would not gather like this, would not have noisy firecrackers and make such a loud crazy fuss.  Some less affluent families also wouldn’t gather this way.  He explained that he came from a village about 80 km from Delhi that is not very safe but is successful in farming.  His family wasn’t very wealthy but was quite spiritual and never celebrated any of the mainstream holidays, including Diwali.  He didn’t miss it either.

His life had changed drastically in the last three years upon becoming a yogi.  Prior to that, he had actually had a very successful career as a chemist at Proctor & Gamble.  He got paid very well, including living in an apartment that P&G paid for in a wealthy and super clean area of India.  He said he did miss the cleanliness of his old city but nothing else.  He said he also hadn’t been back to visit his village since becoming a yogi.  His mother had come to visit the ashram once.  He had fully and completely immersed himself in his new yogic life.

Vikar became a yogi after studying with his Guru-ji a little while and fairly quickly was asked to come to the ashram.  Everything would be taken care of for him there.  He says he owes it to his karma that he was chosen for the path of a yogi.  The physical problems he’d had with his digestion as a youth and ongoing painful leg muscles all went away with the strict practice and sattvic vegetarian diet of a yogi.  He witnesses the problems so many people have, including those with a lot of money and wouldn’t trade his life in at all — where everything is provided for and he is problem-less, healthy and happy.

You almost wouldn’t recognize Vikar from his old Facebook photos.  He has lost so much weight from the time he came to the ashram three years ago and looks like a very healthy new man now.  He is 28 years young with a large amount of responsibility running and teaching at the ashram.  He offers complementary daily afternoon yoga classes to devotees of his Guru-ji when there isn’t a group visiting.  He would never dream to charge them as their families regularly contribute to help support the ashram.  And he’s about to start his very own first 200-hour Yoga Alliance certified teacher training with 15 students starting early December.

I felt extremely grateful to have gotten connected to Vikar and Avdhoot Ashram and was looking forward to spending enough time there to drop in to practice and keep learning more.

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