Sadhu's, yoga and the Ganges
05.06.2009 - 20.06.2009 45 °C
For me, Rishikesh, located on the banks of the Ganges river, close to its source at the base of the Himalaya's, is the town of the sadhu and yoga. Sadhu's are Hindu holymen, who have renounced all worldly possession to travel destitute on a path to union with their god. To their families they are essentially dead, as they have totally commited their lives to this goal. In truth, however, many sadhu's are devoted to this journey, but many are also almost permanently high due to the large amounts of hashish they smoke in clay pipes called chillums. Lord Shiva, the destroyer, was a reputed heavy stoner and the sadhu follows suit with great abandon. Rishikesh is my first experience of the sadhu en masse and they certainly make for a captvating subject. They congregate on walls, bridges, by the sides of roads, all bearded, braided, many emaciated and all flamboyatly dressed, mainly in orange. Many live in caves on the side of the mountain, and it is possible to go visit them and watch them charge their chillums and light lanterns at night. They are fed by charity, moreover, they perceive that during this spiritual journey they should be provided for in the eyes of god.
Sadhu's flock to rishikesh as it is the first point of the snaking journey of the Ganges, Hinduisms holiest river.Its source is the town of Gangotri, high in the Himalayas, where each year 100,000's of pilgrims, many sadhu's, descend to pay homage to the spot where, in folklore, a beautiful goddess fell to earth, saved only by the dreadlocks of Lord Shiva, and from there was transformed into the mightly Ganga river.
Rishikesh is the self-titled yoga centre of the world. Huge numbers flock here to practice some of the many different forms on show. Some stay in ashrams, as i am, Hindu establishments that offer programmes of spiritual living. These range from strict observances of silence and meditation, to a relaxed peaceful environment, yoga lifestyle and ample free time to pursue other activities, such as reading in the beautful gardens or wandering down to the Ganges to watch families bathing.
My Ashram is called Anand Prakesh Yoga Ashram and is located in the area of Tapovan, which literally translates as 'forest of the yogis.' They teach hathe yoga twice daily, breathing exercises and indian chanting, as well as encouraging guests to contriute to daily life as part of their own karmic yoga. We are fed three times a day with yogic food, consisting mainly of rice, lentils, vegetables and indian bread. Sounds grim to all but the vegan, but is surprisingly tasty, and designed to produce energy for the body to endure the yoga. Often however, due to gluttony and the daily pounding heat, the body is still tired and yoga can be very strenuous. Lights out at 9.30pm and no speaking from 9pm to 9am (this is a rule not observed in my ashram), yoga at 6am and 4pm for two hours, breakfast, lunch and dinner at 8am, noon and 6pm respectively. It is an excellent routine to follow in order to focus on your practice, and all for the bargain price of 400 rupees or £6 a night.
There are two large yoga halls, pretty gardens at front and back, roof terrace and vegetable patch providing organic produce for the food. The staff are very friendly, peaceful and approachable, and contribute greatly to the overall experience. There are two yoga teachers, a phd student in the ancient indian breathing art of pranayama and a 17 year old girl who teaches with a machurity that makies her appear 10 years older. The yoga we practice is the oldest form caled hatha yoga, from which all other branches of yoga stem. The asanas or postures were originally conceived of over 5,000 years ago in the indian sutra's (sanskrit texts), when the yogi's copied them from those of different animals, among them the cobra, camel, locust and scorpion. Each session aims to stretch the whole body, open blocked internal channels through rhythmical breathing and ends with a short meditation. A pleasurable yoga session leaves the body thankful for the experience and often with more energy than at the start of the session. A hard one leaves it sore and tired but is still another step on the road to greater flexibility and a calmer mind.
I recommend Rishikesh highly as a place to visit, not just for its sadhu's and yoga, but also for its beautiful location, harmonious people and inspiring atmosphere. It is ideal if you want to escape the stresses and strains of a hectic, materialistic lifestyle, and reconnect with your true inner self. The Beatles infamously spent time here in an ashram in the 1960's, and were inspired to allegedly write many of the tunes for their celebrated White album. It is not hard to imagine why!