‘Banaras’ or ‘Kasi’ or ‘Varanasi’, a mystical city, well known for its grand history, the holy river Ganga, its 84 Ghats, Food, and the legendary belief of liberation after cremation.
It was winter like never before. Delhi gets pretty cold and misty in the winters, but Varanasi felt colder with its unique sense of mysticism, old world charm, and riverine geography. For me, it was a complete change from the retro locales to the oldest living city in the world. As I walked into the lanes near the Assi Ghat in the morning, I'd see the effect of the climate on the apparel of the boys and girls - colourful mufflers, scholes, shawls and sweaters had just begun to shine having come out fresh from the drycleaners. Hapless animals that are often seen straying on roads were invisible. Perhaps they had sought shelter somewhere. And the chaiwallahs had just begun to make merry as their best season of business had arrived. And the first thing that I did that morning was to sip the kulhar ki chai. I just couldn't resist it even though I was not sure as to if one should eat or drink anything at all before visiting the Ganga.
Perhaps, it was somewhere between 5-10 degrees centigrade. In this cold, I didn't expect to see anybody taking a dip in the Ganga - it'd be icy cold I thought. But I still made it to the Ghats to get a view of the river and guess what I found. People were bathing in the waters.
GEOGRAPHY & HISTORY
In recent years the Ganges River has drawn attention for its ungodly level of pollution. But the bathers are immune to all this. Nearly 2.5 million of them come each year to Varanasi, this holiest of cities, on the banks of the most sacred of Indian rivers. According to Hindu legend, Lord Shiva unleashed the Ganges from the knot of his hair. For centuries, its rich floods lent fertility to the soil of the central Gangetic plains and nourished some of India's most prominent ancient civilizations.
Varanasi is a heap of mismatched temples and narrow steps located on the Ganges' crescent-shaped Western bank, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It is a city of scholars, home to one of Asia's largest Universities. It is a city of temples, including the gold-plated Vishwanath sacred to Shiva; and the hundreds of small temples that dot the waterways and alleys. It is also a city of legends. Old Varanasi's ancient ruins lie on the Rajghat plateau, in the northeastern part of the city. Here, archaeologists discovered pottery that went back to 1000 B.C., and broken masonry from as late as A.D. 1500, suggesting the area has been continuously inhabited for 2,500 years. It is one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities.
Varanasi's legends go back some 10,000 years, to the oldest epics of Hindu literature, including the Puranas, the Vedas and the Mahabharata. They say Varanasi is the city of Lord Shiva, who walked here with his wife Parvati at the beginning of time. It could also be the battlefield where Lord Krishna set fire to a duplicate but imposter Krishna, or the place where Lord Rama came to do penance after slaying the demon Ravana. In a country where most cities have at least two names, Varanasi has over a hundred. The locals still call it Banaras, perhaps after the mythological king Benar. The Jataka Tales, a collection of ancient Buddhist folk stories, refer to the city as Jitwari, the place where business is good, or as Pushwavati, the flower garden city, or as Molini, the lotus garden city.
KNOWING VARANASI FROM THE BOAT
Perhaps, there are very few cities that can be known better from water than from the ground. Varanasi is one of them. Varanasi or ‘Kasi’ is the city of Ghats whose soul is the Ganges (Ganga Maiyaa).When I was young, a wise man had told me that if you want to know Varanasi hire a boat. So that’s what I did. And I had this gut feeling from the moment I had arrived on Assi Ghat that every ghat here has a story. So I searched for a good boatman and what I got was a 15 year old boy.
I hired Prakash and his boat from Assi Ghat to Manikarnika and back to Assi. Along the way, I expressed my inquisition and the boy began narrating me the stories of Varanasi's famous Ghats, the sets of steps that lead from the alleys of Varanasi down to the river. Each ghat was constructed by a different medieval king, and though they are young compared to the ancient ruins on Rajghat, the Ghats have inspired their own mythology. The most famous is the Dasashwamedh Ghat, where the father of Lord Rama once sacrificed 10 horses in an appeal to the sun. At Kedar Ghat a priest used to perform a daily prayer to Lord Shiva. One day he became ill and couldn't perform the prayer, telling Lord Shiva, "You will have to come yourself.” "So Lord Shiva rose from the water in front of the ghat," Prakash says.
Heavy black smoke rises from Harish Chandra and Manikarnika Ghats. These are the burning Ghats, where relatives bring their loved ones to be cremated. According to Hindu legend, those who are cremated in Varanasi will achieve enlightenment and be free of the cycle of death and rebirth.
Nearly 300 bodies are cremated every day. As I look at the sun rising behind the Ghats, I wonder as to if this is the best city to die. The bathers are out in full force. Some lather up, while others dance and sing in the water. In the narrow alleys behind them, the city of Varanasi is just waking up.
BEYOND THE GHATS
For all those moments when I thought that the real soul of Varanasi had been covered in the river, the Ghats, their stories, and the lanes, I was so, so wrong. For some hidden secrets were yet to explode upon me. The good thing was – I didn’t throw in the towel. I was hungry for more, just like any good traveller. And so my search for Varanasi’s hidden secrets continued. And so in two days I found myself standing at the doorway of ‘Naglok’. This is the place where Maharshi Patanjali had meditated at the mouth of the gateway to Naglok. It is believed that this place is the portal from Naglok (the world of the nagas) to Bhulok (surface earth).
This place has remained quite a secret in Varanasi since it is located behind a gym. Most tourists don’t come to know about this. Perhaps, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But by visiting such places, what one can learn is that ‘that’ which is a surprise or miracle for us living in the retros is actually quite a regulation reality for the people who live here.
FOOD & ENTERTAINMENT
Varanasi is not short of any colour irrespective of wherever you are coming from. The cuisine of Varanasi is lip smacking. The lanes near the Ghats are full of food outlets that offer delicious Vegetarian food. The poori subzi, jalebi, dosa-vada, kachodis and samosas are fabulous.
A unique Varanasi drink I found and enjoyed a lot was the ‘Blue Lassi’.
If you have a sweet tooth, do pay your visit to the Kedar Ghat. The range of sweets here is out of this world. And if you go to Varanasi, know one thing that no meal in Varanasi is complete without - the special Benarasi Paan (a betel leaf delicacy).
A rickshaw ride in Varanasi is a must. The lanes are full of rickshaws and a ride is very economic too. Varanasi is famous for its evening Aarti at the Dasashwamedh Ghat, its range of Indian saris and linen clothes, handicraft items, and its cultural events.
Ghats: Assi Ghat, Tulsi Ghat, Dashaswamedh Ghat, Kedar Ghat, Harischandra Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat (last two are burning ghats).
Market: Godolia market is crowded with shops of all kinds. Whether you are game for buying handicrafts, jewellery, saris, or sweets, this is the place.
How to Reach: Air/Rail from Delhi. Road conditions are not good hence not recommended.
An Extraordinary Afterlife Experience that Led to Transformation…
I have written a dozen books on near-death experiences (NDEs), four of which are New York Times bestsellers. The subject of NDEs is one I’m devoted to, and as a result I am constantly in contact with researchers in the field of near death studies as well as those who have had the experience.
NDEs are extraordinary. The idea of leaving one’s body at the point of death, traveling to a Heavenly realm and seeing beloved relatives who have passed, is truly the hero’s journey of our modern age. People who could have died are now kept alive with technology and medicine that didn’t exist just a few years ago. It is because of those advances that the threshold of death is pushed back and NDEs become deeper and the stories richer. It is these stories that may eventually answer mankind’s greatest question: What happens when we die?
Which brings us to Dr. Rajiv Parti, former chief of anesthesiology at Bakersfield Heart Hospital. His is most likely the best NDE I have ever heard, not just for the experience itself, but for the transformation it led to.
The Turning Point
In 2008 Rajiv Parti, MD, was Chief of Anesthesiology at Heart Hospital in Bakersfield, California. He derived his identity and happiness from the incredible amount of wealth and prestige his job gave him. He lived in a mansion, had several luxury cars, and was able to purchase any material goods he wanted. For some reason this made him feel invincible.
In August of that year - everything changed. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A routine surgery to treat it, in the same month, led to complications that left him incontinent and in excruciating pain. He was forced back into surgery three times between Aug and Dec 2008.
The cancer was gone now, but he was living in pain; impotent, incontinent and wearing diapers. He was prescribed pain meds and soon learned firsthand that his body had a quick dependency on pain medication. He became an addict and within time was diagnosed with depression, too.
On December 14, 2010, he went to UCLA Medical Center for the surgical placement of an artificial urinary sphincter. After this surgery he became very sick, running a fever of 104-105. He could not urinate and his pelvic area was red and swollen. Heavy antibiotics were prescribed, but he was not getting better.
Ten days later, Christmas Eve 2010, Dr. Parti was admitted to the emergency ward of the UCLA hospital for severe infection and fever. Emergency surgery was called for immediately to drain the pelvic region of infection and remove the artificial sphincter. His last waking memory had been the searing pain of a catheter being inserted in him to drain his urinary bladder.
Separation from Physical Body
His next memory was of no longer being in his body. He had been given anesthesia, but instead of being “put out” in the traditional sense, Dr. Parti was outside of his body. It was here, dying and heavily anesthetized, that he “woke up.”
Although deeply asleep from anesthesia, he was very aware that his consciousness had separated from his body. From a vantage point near the ceiling he could see the surgeon cut him and then all of the operating room personnel react as the odor of the pus from his infected abdomen seeped throughout the room. He saw a nurse apply eucalyptusscented water to the surgical masks of everyone performing the operation. He even heard the anesthesiologist tell a joke so dirty that he blushed when he later told it to the anesthesiologist in the recovery room.
Dr. Parti’s senses became so acute in this out-of-body state that he could hear, see and smell things outside of the operating room. He then left the operating room and began to drift toward familiar voices in India, where he could hear his mother and sister talking about dinner preparations for that night. They finally decided to have rice, vegetables, yogurt and legumes. He could see that it was foggy and frigid that night, and since there was no central heating in the house, they were bundled up to protect from the cold. A small electric heater glowed, helping to take the chill out of the room.
Rather than being fearful, Dr. Parti became euphoric. People are never far away, he thought. He had the sense of his presence spreading around the world, a feeling of oneness with the world and everyone in it.
An Unexpected Fear
Fear found its way into the situation. He had the feeling of being pulled into a bleak darkness, one that was filled with the screams and sounds of fighting. His awareness drifted from the physical world of the operating theater in Los Angeles and the kitchen conversation in India to a place where a great wild fire was raging. He could see lightning in dark clouds and smell the odor of burning meat. He realized that an unseen force was pulling him into Hell, leaving him “in the midst of souls who were screaming and suffering.” What is my Karma, he wondered. What did I do in my life or past life to deserve this punishment? In the middle of all this, Dr. Parti began to have the strong awareness that the life he was living was very materialistic: His life was always about him. So much so that when he met new people Dr. Parti asked himself, “What can I get from this person?”
Realization and Transformation
The truth dawned on him there in Hell: that the life he was living on earth was without love. He was not practicing compassion or forgiveness towards himself or others. He also had an unsavory tendency to be harsh towards people he perceived to be lower than him in social or professional status. He felt deeply sorry for the lack of kindness in his behavior, wishing he could have done certain things in his life differently. As soon as he had that realization, Hell faded away.
As Raymond Moody, MD, the father of near-death studies, wrote, “(Dr. Parti’s NDE) is one of the most astounding and complete near-death experiences I have heard in almost fifty years of investigating this phenomenon, one of transcendence and transformation.”
These two elements, transcendence and transformation, are what interests me most in near death experiences. In the research I have done and studied, I rarely meet a person who hasn’t been transformed by their NDE. These people become kinder, gentler versions of the person they were before their NDE. Sometimes this change is so complete that they are no longer recognizable. That was the case with Dr. Parti. His brush with death opened an entirely new world to him – an other world if you will – that replaced the materialistic world he had so carefully constructed.
“Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely." – Buddha
Yogic & Healthy Recipes for Your Palate – The Food that Heals
Check out the tasty green recipes to add to your diet -
Salads offer us a healthy meal option that is quick and easy to make. This nutrient rich salad recipe offers us an incredible amount of Vitamins - A, B, C, E, and K; along with iron, calcium, zinc, omega-3’s, antioxidants, fiber and so much more.
Utilizing healthy oils, vinegar, lemon and black pepper will help to reduce the dry, cold qualities of the salad, making these nutrients easier to digest and absorb.
Those with a strong Vata imbalance (i.e. chronic constipation, insomnia or debilitating anxiety) should avoid this recipe and all raw foods until balance is found; otherwise it is suitable for Vata types in the warmer months and in moderation.
4 large leafs of Romaine Lettuce, chopped
4 cups of baby spinach (Pitta types substitute with 4 cups of chopped kale leaf)3/4 cup chopped cucumber10 pitted and sliced kalamata olives7 artichoke hearts, sliced thinly1 small avocado, peeled and cubed3-4 tbsp of raw hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds (unsalted)3 tbsp of goat cheese feta crumbles (optional)2-3 tbsp olive oil (Pitta types substitute with sunflower oil)1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (omit for Pitta imbalance)Juice from 1/2 of a lemon (Pitta types substitute with lime)Fresh ground black pepper to taste (omit for Pitta imbalance)
Chop up the lettuce, spinach, cucumber, olives, artichokes and avocado. Add to a large bowl.Toss thoroughly, until all of the ingredients are evenly dispersed.Add the hemp seeds (or other options), along with the feta cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and black pepper.Gently toss again.Indulge and enjoy. Remember to always eat sitting down, with awareness and surrounded by good company!
Green vegetables are a source of vitamins and minerals and must be an essential part of our diet. They are also rich sources of fiber. Integrating them into daily meals does not necessary mean, having unwanted portions of greens on your plate.
The below recipes with some of the most nutritious green vegetables, will leave you tempted to have larger portions of these veggies on your plate next time!
Asparagus and Broccoli, taste okay when boiled and sprinkled with salt and pepper, but for most of us foodies, just the thought of that sounds like pure torture! The recipe below can be applied to either asparagus or broccoli, and both taste wonderfully delicious prepared this way!
One inch of ginger gratedOne clove of garlic gratedOne bunch of Broccoli cut into medium florets or 6 cups of Broccoli(for asparagus) One bunch or about 20 small asparagusOne table spoon of chilli oil (Laoganma)Salt to tasteGround Pepper to tasteOne tablespoon olive oil
Parboil vegetables, drain and keep asideHeat oil in a saucepanAdd the ginger and garlic, and sauté for 2 minutesAdd the vegetables, followed byheat for 2 to 3 minutesRemove from heat, and sprinkle ground pepperServe hot!
If you do not have chili oil at home, you can make a batch of at home, and store it in the refrigerator.
CHILLI OIL RECIPE
Cut about 20 dry red chilies into fine small flakes.
Toast the chilli flakes, a handful of pepper, and 2 teaspoon of crushed pepper in a super hot pan for 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and add one teaspoon salt and two cups of sesame oil to the mixture. Store in a cool place.
(Indian dish made from rice and lentils)
Just as any Khichdi dish, this meal is considered healing to the gut and the digestive system. The mung bean and rice combination makes Khichdi a perfect protein, containing all of the 9 essential amino acids. It also contains a high level of copper, zinc, calcium and magnesium due to the nutrients the sesame seeds provide. The carrots add a nice boost of Vitamin A, K and biotin; along with the sweet potato nourishing us with a large dose of Vitamins A, B and C.
Altogether this is an easy to digest nutrient rich meal that will help to revitalize the body, build healthy tissue, increase immunity and heal the gut and colon.
5 c filtered water (or 50/50)1/2 c mung beans whole/split, soaked overnight1/2 c brown rice/basmati rice1 medium carrot, grated with a cheese grater1/2 of a small sweet potato, chopped into 1/2” cubes2 tbsp of Rasayana Ghrita/Organic Ghee or coconut oil15-20 raisins2 tbsp shredded coconut2 tbsp cashew pieces (substitute with almond slivers)1/4 c sesame seeds, freshly ground in a spice grinder or food processor1.5” cube of fresh ginger grated1 cinnamon stick1/2 tsp turmeric1/4 tsp cumin seed1/4 tsp fennel seed1/4 tsp fenugreek seed1/4 tsp brown mustard seed1/8 tsp ground pippali (aka Indian Long Pepper)Juice of 1 lime, freshly squeezed5-7 sprigs of cilantro, finely chopped2 green onions, choppedSea salt or himalayan salt to tasteFresh ground black pepper to taste
Grind the sesame seeds into a paste using a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder or a food processor.
Melt the Rasayana Ghrita (or Organic ghee/coconut oil) in a medium to large sauce pan on low heat.Add the cumin, brown mustard seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, pippali, shredded coconut and cashew pieces.Sauté in the ghee for 3-5 minutes until the seeds start to pop and the coconut and nuts begin to slightly brown. Stir every 30 seconds to avoid burning.Add the water and increase the heat to high; bring to a boil.Reduce the heat to low and add the cinnamon stick, mung beans and brown rice. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Keep a slight crack in the lid to avoid overflow.After 20 minutes, add the chopped sweet potatoes, grated carrots and raisins.Cook for an additional 30 to 35 minutes over low heat. Stir every 5-10 minutes.Once finished, the beans should be split open, the rice very soft. If there is too much crunchiness, add a bit more water and cook until everything is at the desired consistency. Stir every 5 minutes.After the cooking process is done, add the sesame seed paste, grated ginger, turmeric, lime juice, chopped green onions, cilantro, black pepper and salt to taste. Stir together until everything is evenly mixed.Serve in a bowl.
Spicy Pumpkin Mash
Pumpkin is an extremely nutrient-dense food, meaning it is chock-full of vitamins and minerals but low in calories. Consuming one cup of cooked pumpkin would provide well over 100 percent of our daily needs for vitamin A, 20 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, 10 percent or more for vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium, copper, and manganese, and at least 5 percent for thiamin, B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
This pumpkin mash is a zesty alternative to the regular pumpkin mash and tastes great with bread. It is super easy to prepare and can be prepared just before serving.
Serves 3-4 as a side dish, vegan, gluten-free.
About 850 gm pumpkin or squash, peeled as best you can & cut into 1 inch cubes2 tbsp olive oil2 tsp punch phoran (a whole spice mix containing cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds & onion seeds) available from Indian food stores1 onion, finely chopped2 cloves garlic, finely chopped1 tbsp minced ginger1 red chilli, finely chopped1/2 tsp red chilli powder1 tsp turmeric1 tsp garam masala1 tsp dry mango powder/amchur1 tsp brown sugar/jaggery/palm sugar220 ml (1 cup) veg stockSalt & black pepperA handful of fresh coriander, chopped plus leaves for garnish
Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the panch phoran (seeds) and cook until they start to pop.Then add in the onion and cook for about 5 minutes until softened.Add in the garlic, fresh chilli & ginger and cook for another 2 minutes.Throw in the chopped pumpkin/squash and add the chilli powder, turmeric and sugar.Stir well to coat the pumpkin, then add the stock and season well with salt & black pepper.Lower the heat slightly, cover with a lid and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft and mushy.Mash the pumpkin in the pan with a wooden spoon and add the garam masala and dry mango powder.Stir well, adding in the fresh coriander and cook for another few minutes.If it is too watery take the lid off to let the liquid evaporate. If you would like a smoother consistency you could blend/process the pumpkin at this point.Serve hot/warm garnished with coriander leaves.
Experience the fresh Himalayan breeze, the enchanting serene nature, the quiet and peaceful environment, the green meadows, the most endearing and exotic panoramic views of the Himalayas in your Dehradoon-Mussoorie-Dhanualti trip.
DEHRADUN : IN THE MAZE OF THE RISPANA
When we came close to Dehradun, the mountains appeared in their full bloom – lush, green and dense. The Rispana river was dry and all stones but nevertheless adding points to the beauty of the ever so famous Doon Valley. And even though Dehradun is just the beginning of the Himalayas, one can inhale fresh Himalayan air here. A few deep breaths in and deep breaths out – and you won’t even know when you cross the tunnel, the mountains and make your way through to Dehradun city which, like all urban townships, is busy and bustling.
Being a tourist hotspot, Doon is full of some amazing hotels and resorts but we decided to go further up the hills a little and take shelter in ‘Forest Avenue’ – a beautifully furnished and elegantly designed hotel with all facilities. After breakfast in the morning, first thing on our hit list was Robbers Cave. According to a famous theory, robbers used this place as the shelter to conceal themselves from the British. Also known as Gucchupani, this place is simply awesome with lots of open area and a water stream flowing amid the rocks. Just walk into the stream barefoot and enjoy the tranquility that will be stamped in your soul forever, compelling you to visit the place again and get buried in the snow of placidity of the water stream.With trek weary legs we returned to the avenue only to have lunch and then check out..
MUSSOORIE : CAUGHT UP WITH THE MOUNTAINS
In our mini maruti, we zipped off to Mussoorie - a place I had always avoided considering it ordinary. But one of us had insisted this time. And to be honest I was stumped when we reached there. On the way I had been singing ragas in praise of the Khardung La Pass undermining the beauty of Mussoorie but the moment our car stopped near the Mall Road to get a view of the valley below, I won't lie - I found Mussoorie a real beauty.
Mussoorie reminded me of Rusty, the legendary character created by Ruskin Bond who fascinated so many children.
It's nice height and deep view can give the weak hearted a chill up their spine. When we entered Mall Road in search of a hotel, it was night actually, and I found the market a few notches below the Mall Roads of Shimla and Manali. We checked into Hotel Abhinandan - a budget hotel with a good view. That folded up our second day on the road. After some deep sleep, the next morning seemed pretty fresh. We went for a walk on the Mall Road to experience a Himalayan morning and then stopped over at a stall for hot tea with matthis (an Indian snack). In Mall Road we huddled over a cup of steaming chai, standing in the morning. We had slept late hence the walk in the woods were skipped but the same can't be said for the buffet breakfast which was quite sumptuous. While the rest of the gang literally unleashed themselves upon the parathas, I stuck to my favorite - corn flakes with milk.
Observing life on the Mall Road, I was reminded of Lansdowne. It gets quiet out here up in the hills. People perhaps like it quiet here where nature is in its full bloom, going about their own business at an altogether different pace and vigor. The rain had only added to these elements that day. So we checked out at 11 am and zipped off.
DHANAULTI : BECOMING ONE WITH NATURE
And as our tyres kept splashing pools of water on the mountain way to Dhanaulti, there was a childlike excitement at everything we saw on the way – the Mussoorie forests with its langoors (Asian monkey), the amazing array of mountains resting upon the bosom of mother earth, the Himalayan air pumping fresh energy into our system - the trip was in itself a paradise. The altitude soared higher and the driving got more slow and watchful as we approached Dhanaulti. It took us over an hour to reach the hamlet which is considered a tourist's paradise. Located at a pretty high altitude, Dhanaulti promises one of the most endearing and exotic panoramic views of the Himalayas.
Dhanaulti is a small town near Mussoorie, beautifully nestled amid the lofty Himalayan peaks. It can be a destination in itself, but it’s more of a serene pit stop for travelers heading for longer journeys. Thus, places to visit in Dhanaulti are not any grand attractions, but small and beautiful places that offer solitude and peace, close to nature.
Dhanaulti is situated at an altitude of 2286m, and is known for its quiet environs amidst the alpine forests of Deodar, Rhododendron and Oak.
There are very few hotels here in Dhanaulti and don't expect too many eateries. So whatever you find, go with it. We were in the hunt for samosas and found none, saw the Kanatal Camp from a distance which is famous for its adventure activities. It was really cold and also drizzling. In fact, when we got out of our car near the Eco Park, we found snow forming at the corners of the road. We snapped a few pictures but it had really got dark and the wind was blowing strong in the woods. Pankaj pressed the accelerator yet again and we drove towards Chamba. But the moment we came out in the open, we’re in the face of the storm. The wind was blowing heavily now. One of our friends was quite concerned actually but the rest of us kept a brave face just to boost his morale.
We kept moving as there was no point halting in no man's land. In an hour, we reached Chamba where we found samosas and tea. It was really cold. Full of green meadows, places like Chamba and Dhanaulti deserve a stay but keeping the weather conditions and Yoga festival itinerary in mind, we surged ahead towards Rishikesh.
Yoga introduced to America by Swami Vivekananda in 1893 and further popularized by some other great masters from India, is now a $20 billion dollar industry.
Yoga represents a philosophy comprehensive enough to embrace the whole of knowledge, everything that was, is and must be. Yoga is the master of all sciences. By integrating the material and transcendental divine, yoga enables one to lead a balanced life with the optimum level of physical, mental and spiritual well being. Yoga is also the greatest and most difficult of all the arts. It is the discipline in life of coming in conscious contact with the divine or ultimate consciousness - The source. So, yoga calls for self-conscious human beings to understand mentally and intellectually its philosophy, to follow it as a path systematically, and to experiment within life, and experience the new level of consciousness, that in the end results in enlightenment.
HISTORY OF YOGA
The birth of human civilization (oldest) is known as Indus Valley Civilization, or Sindhu-Saraswat tradition is as old as 5000 B.C. The oldest text Rig-Veda is considered to be written prior to 1900 BC, around 3100 BC before Saraswati river went dry in 1900 BC.
A beautiful verse from Rig-Veda explains all about Yoga: When a Yogi has control on his 5 organs of action, 5 organs of perception and mind through the power of Yoga, and in this way when he does meditation, then he sees God (Rig Veda Mantra I, Sukta 93 Mandal 9).
There are as many as 900 texts that were written and available during the period until 300 AD, in which references about philosophy, practices of yoga are explained in detail. These texts are classified into two groups - Shruti and Smriti. Shruti is authoritative texts, while Smriti is secondary texts. All these texts prove the continuity of yoga tradition during the period of over 8000 years.
The following Shruti Texts have many references of philosophy and practices of Yoga: The four Vedas, namely, Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sam-Veda and Atharva-Veda.
Aryankas (texts written perhaps in forests by masters), specially Aitareya and Shankhayana (name of texts).Brahman Granthas (name of texts).Upanishads (32 out of 108 Upanishad texts essentially belong to Yoga).
2. Smriti Texts
The following Smriti Texts refer about Yoga practices:
Dharma Shastra (27 texts which refers about Yoga).Mahakavyas (the Epics; they include Mahabharata and the Ramayana)—Bhagvad Gita— the famous text is a part of Mahabharata, has 30 million copies in over 30 languages of the world.Puranas (the fables or writings)— 18 Puranas.Sutras (proverbs or aphorisms)— there are as many as 100 texts under this category which explains about Yoga.Agamas (the philosophies; including Mantras, Tantras, and Yantras)— 250 texts.Darsanas (the philosophies; including the Vedanta)— there are total nine divisions out of which six are known as followers of Vedic Principles.The rest three non-followers of Veda are Jainism, Buddhism, and Charvaka.
Many great masters during the period beginning from 700 AD until the present time have immensely contributed and have written very authentic texts on Yoga. Kabir, Rai Das, Meera, Sahajo Bai, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Mother Teresa, Telanga Swami, Swami Rama, Osho, Maharshi Raman are few of the many names who influenced the entire humanity.
Journey of Yoga to America
Swami Vivekananda in 1893, Mastmuni in 1919, Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920, Indra Devi (Russian Born) in 1947, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi in 1960 are a few of many who popularized Yoga in different forms and styles in America.
The most notable who laid the foundation and awakened the American mind to think beyond their own set of paradigms of life, was Swami Vivekananda. In 1893, in the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, USA, the speech of Swami Vivekananda is well remembered. This marked the beginning of the interest of Americans in Indian Philosophy, particularly Yoga. The very first phrase used by Swami Vivekananda, "Sisters and Brothers of America" mesmerized the audience present there. According to one conservative estimate, over 17 million Americans practice yoga 2-3 times a week in one or the other schools of Yoga. Yoga is now a $20 billion dollar industry and is increasing at the rate of 30% annually. The first ever Yoga center was established by two monks of Swami Vivekananda, known as Vedanta Society of Chicago.
YOGA: A Science of making a better person
I was asked by an audience in Indonesia, after a lecture on Yoga, "I am a Christian, and can I practice Yoga?" I was really amused by his question and said, "If you are a Christian and practice Yoga, you become a better Christian. If you are a teacher and practice Yoga, you become a better teacher. If you are a husband, and practice Yoga, you become a better husband."
Yoga discovers the Real Self (that dwells within every human being) guided by Peace, Harmony, Love, Delight and Wisdom. And when one discovers and brings these attributes into one's life, one evolves consciously, drops all his/her inhibitions and awakens inherent latent traits that makes him wiser and wiser, besides attaining physical, mental and emotional well being. That is why, Yoga is also termed as a way of life that harmonizes every layers of Human Existence i.e. Body, Life and Mind. A simple query to yourself, followed by contemplation as how to be a good/better person in personal, professional, social lives, will take one to understand the philosophy of yoga and encourage him to practice yoga in order to bring about the fundamental changes in life.
Join us for the world famous annual International Yoga Festival in 2018 -- uniting yogis of every culture, colour and creed together in a one-world yogic family, expanding global consciousness, and bringing healing to the planet, one person at a time!
Come, Connect, Embrace, and Evolve
Come home to Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga, the home of the ancient yogis, sages and seers. Each year the International Yoga Festival grows and expands, embracing more and more people from more and more countries around the world. In 2017 we had nearly 2000 participants from 101 countries!
Connect with like-minded, conscious yogis and paradigm-shifters from every part of the world. Whether you are already undergoing a personal transformation or are in search of transformation, whether you are already an active co-creator of your own divine life or you would like to become one – the Festival is for all! Befriend a community that becomes family for life.
In the 7 day immersion and celebration, you have the opportunity to embrace every major style of yoga, learn from enlightened Spiritual Leaders, Master Yoga Teachers, Evolutionary Thought Leaders, and Wellness Specialists from the around the world. Awaken to the best version of yourself and ignite your inner light through this not-to-be-missed event at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, the largest ashram in Rishikesh and one of the largest interfaith yoga institutions in India.
The programme offers an extensive schedule of possibility, starting with Kundalini sadhana at 4 a.m. for the intensely committed and ending at 9:30 pm with traditional cultural song and dance, kirtan and enlightened entertainment on the banks of Ganga. You can customize each day as per your personal needs. We also have a Sacred Sound Stage for you to come, unwind and awaken through the power of sound.
Come Home to the Himalayas….
Awaken, Connect, Discover a New You.
Come bathe in the energy of the towering Himalayas and majestic Ganga River. As you sit and watch the flow of the river, you’ll connect deeply with your own inner divine flow.
For 2018, give yourself the best gift in the world– the gift of yourself, awakened and illuminated at this life-transforming event! The International Yoga Festival is organised by Parmarth Niketan Ashram in association with the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India, Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board & GMVN.
Talking about Tea & Yoga, I have found green tea a very common preparation in Yoga studios. Green tea is very light and healthy. But I’d suggest one thing – the gap between a yoga session and any sort of consumption must be at least 1 hour. There are some other great variations of tea, particularly herbal tea, that have become quite famous of late. I have tried ginseng tea and found it extremely refreshing. In fact, if any tea has given me the maximum energy and vitality, I’d be unhesitant in naming ginseng tea. It is without doubt my favourite.
Having said that, I must confess here that while I have been able to prepare tulsi tea, ginger tea, and gur gur chai (butter tea) at home with the raw ingredients, I have been relying on packaged ginseng tea for its preparation. Ginseng roots required to make this kind of tea have stayed out of my reach till date. But the availability of good quality herbal tea in the market these days has made the task of tea passionistas easier. Particularly those who look at tea as a healer rather than as a feeler. In fact, herbal teas are good alternatives to regular tea, simply because they are caffeine-free and have numerous health benefits. They have been imbibed nearly as long as written history extends.
There is nothing more satisfying and enjoyable than the fresh taste of herbal tea. This delicious and nourishing beverage makes a lovely compliment to your morning, revered companion in the afternoon and helps us relax (which we all deserve) in the evening.
How to prepare
Herbal Tea is an herbal infusion made from dried flowers, leaves, seeds or root. Generally it is made by pouring boiling water over the plant parts and letting them steam for a few minutes. The seeds and roots can also be boiled on a stove. These are then filtered and sweetened if desired and served. This kind of chai has many health benefits and is often consumed for its physical or medicinal effects especially for their stimulant, relaxant and seductive properties.
1. Firstly, Tea fulfils the water requirement of the body if consumed 2 or 3 times a day, as many people don’t drink plenty of water, and if sufficient amount of water is not consumed then many problems can occur.
2. The tea made from Mint aids in relaxation; relieves stress, and helps proper digestion.
3. Basil Tea or is prepared by putting about Tulsi chai 1 to 2 spoonfuls of basil leaves in 250 ml of boiling water. Then it should be steamed for about 2 minutes. Drink 2 to 3 cups of basil tea a day, best after each meal. It helps treat intestinal colic, gastric ulcer, bloating/swelling of the abdomen, anorexia, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, insomnia, lesions and inflammations in the mouth.
4. Similarly the Cardamom tea helps, Elaichi chai for it eases stomach cramp, stimulates digestion, and reduces gas and flatulence. Cardamom is the queen of spices and the flavour is absolutely ecstatic.
5. Fennel tea ( ) is beneficial for Saunf ki chai appetite, and also soothes sore throat and cough.
6. Ginger tea helps improve circulation, relieves cold and flu, and regulates blood sugar.
7. Rosemary tea is good for joint pain and headache. Also stimulates liver.
8. Green tea has a super effect on health as this tea inhibits the growth of Cancer cells. It is a powerful anti oxidant, kills Cancer cells without damaging the healthy cells, reduces the Cholesterol level, and helps to reduce thrombosis.
9. Cranberry tea is good for Urinary tract infections. Drinking one or two cups of herbal tea is very beneficial for health and is the solution for many daily problems like stress, indigestion, cough, cold, bad circulation etc. If you drink more than one cup of coffee per day, try replacing some of that coffee with herbal tea. Most herbal tea doesn’t have caffeine. However green tea does. But green tea too has many health benefits.
The traditional Indian chai prepared with milk is actually considered toxic and that’s why I always stayed away from it. But herbal tea sans milk is quite the opposite and considered to be a great detoxifier. In fact, it has been found that herbal tea helps to cut the body fat by 50%, and is an extremely effective energy drink.
I’ll admit it; I’ve not always been the biggest fan of herbal teas. Sometimes, they can taste very plain. But time and again, I have stumbled upon a blend that changes my mind. It’s possible for caffeine-free blends to be every bit as delicious as a tea-based one. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of trial and error. And considering the benefits that they bring to us, it's worth every bit.
The Bali Spirit Festival is one of the brightest Yoga festivals that happens around the world every year. This year 2018 was no different. Held at The Bali Purnati Centre of Arts in Ubud, Bali where the Bali Spirit Festival saw its 1st edition years back, the 2018 edition was hence themed as “Back to its Source”. And all Yoga seekers know very well that “Back to its source” is the very meaning and goal of Yoga practice as well.
Bali Purnati was lush greenery combined with fantastic work by the organizers. The 7 day festival had healing huts where more than 20 healers were at work healing people, sessions by over 100 experts from across the globe that begun from early morning and went on till the evening, the Dharma Fair with over 50 vendors exhibiting and selling Organic, Yoga and Herbal products, a beautiful pool, the Kids’ Zone with a lot of fun and activities for all the children and the Coco Love Stage for musical performances and sessions.
The much awaited festival began on 2nd April and concluded on April 8. While the festival had been organized just perfectly and very organically, what really stood out was the spirit, the freedom, the celebration of life that happened at a mass scale. Thousands of participants, over 100 experts, loads of soulful music, lush greenery, local Balinese cuisine, and the best thing certainly was the environment. You hardly find it in your city life. It was not an escape but a platform to learn, learn to express, learn to live consciously, learn to share, and learn to love. Every soul seemed to be having the time of their life. And remarkably, even with so many people at one place, there was no chaos, no mismanagement. Everything looked and felt perfect and so well organized
The morning Yoga and breathwork sessions were really amazing. Even the panel discussions at the media centre were a great learning. Tymi Howard, Amber Sawyer, Bex Tyrer, Cat Kabira, Chocolako, Ebony Smith, Janet Stone, Leo Rising, Mark Whitwell, Nadine Mcneil, Nino Mendes among others. The nights were dedicated to DJ music and dance. It was really hanging out till late night. ...
What makes Bali Spirit Festival unique is the diverse West meets East cultural fusion across the festival programming and venue. Attendees experience Balinese culture, spirituality and mesmerizing nature, the perfect setting for attendees to evolve, connect to each other and be creatively inspired. The feeling of community and practice of karma yoga and giving back is strongly felt at Bali Spirit Festival.
BaliSpirit Festival continues to support change and transformation: for attendees, communities and Bali BaliSpirit Festival is one of South East Asia’s biggest annual yoga, dance and music festivals. The goal of the BaliSpirit Festival is to awaken and nourish each individual’s potential.