Rishikesh: Parmarth Ashram and Aarti

Bella Sol Padilla

Today, we had the opportunity to take a day trip to the beautiful city of Rishikesh, which is just a short drive away from the Ashram where we are staying. Rishikesh is a very holy place located on the banks of the Ganga river. It is also a notorious spot because it’s where the Beatles visited on their trip to India in 1968. We had the opportunity to actually visit the Beatles’ Ashram. After our short drive, we walked the streets and took a hike up to the Ashram. Nestled between the Himalayan mountains, the Ashram’s scenery was breathtaking. Among the bungalows and meditation caves, there was a mosque. As we explored the mosque, we climbed to the roof where there were more meditation caves. I climbed the ladder to reach the hut, and from there, I took in the view of the city and the mountains. I felt the breeze flow through my clothes and scarf. It was truly a thrilling experience.

After visiting the Beatles’ Ashram, we had the lucky chance to have a Satsang with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati. She is a renunciate and resident of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, where she hosts Satsang and participates in Aarti. During our Satsang, we had the opportunity to ask her questions about spirituality. Her presence was absolutely divine, and she spoke so much truth that I was deeply touched by our interaction. The structure of a typical “Values Class” interview was completely wiped away. Instead of an interview, we had a heart-to-heart conversation. She spoke about her life struggles and the path she took to become a spiritual leader. We got to ask her questions about how to find our own path as we get ready for the next steps into adulthood. Our time with her moved me in such a way that I found myself at the brink of tears. I feel blessed to have seen what Rishikesh had to offer.

Ona Musoll-Buendia

Today, from the Sri Ram Ashram, we took a day trip to the beautiful, lively city of Rishikesh, located beside the Holy Ganga River. Our whole day was filled with amazing experiences: visiting the Beatles Ashram, exploring a market, and speaking with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati. However, the most impactful experience for me was the sunset Aarti at part of the Ganga located outside of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram.

Aarti took place on the bank of the Ganga River. Upon arrival, I removed my shoes and socks to feel as connected to the marble ground as possible. We were then ushered to the main platform where the ceremony was taking place. I sat right in front of the three men and boys who were leading the prayers. In front of the platform, a huge statue of Lord Shiva resided, flanked by two Indian flags. Indian music played loudly as the men chanted their prayers quietly. In front of them, there was a red and white rectangular fire pit adorned with marigolds. Inside, ceremonial kindling and purifying oil were added to feed the fire. Each time they said a prayer, the boy in front of me would hold a pinch of it, seemingly to bless it, before throwing it into the flames. The smoke from the fire enveloped my face as I heard the overwhelming yet peaceful overlap of the music and chanting. It helped me focus solely on what was happening in front of my eyes.

Looking around, I noticed people experiencing the Aarti in different ways. Some sat in prayer position, meditating, while others jumped up and down, dancing to the music. I appreciated seeing how Aarti could be interpreted in various ways, as it made me feel comfortable experiencing it in my own way.

As the sun set, its golden glow reflected off the side of the Shiva statue, casting beautiful shadows. The Ganga water glimmered in the dim light as it flowed slowly. Once it was dark, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati and H.H Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji emerged and led a prayer. Closing my eyes, I felt extremely calm, my hands in prayer position. I reflected on my identity and made a vow to always remain true to myself, unaltered by anyone or anything. Ashram boys dressed in orange and yellow brought out small oil lamps resembling metal round trays with fires burning from resin. I was fortunate enough to receive one of these lamps and participate in the light offering.

The sunset Aarti was a magical, spiritual experience for which I am immensely grateful to have been a part of.