|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - January 2019|
December Youth and Children’s Retreat
by Tarinee Awasthi
Yoga Youth and Children’s Retreat (December 24th-30th, 2018) at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG)
Just like the past few years, in accordance with what Swami Veda Bharati-ji willed, in the last week of 2018, Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama was filled with the sounds of children as they were exposed to the routine, ethos, and spirit of the ashram and as they explored the physical space as well as the possibilities inherent in the subtler manifestations of the Ashram.
The day they arrived, Swami Ritavan Bharati-ji led the Guru Puja, which served as a keynote for the entire retreat, imbuing it with a certain sacred joy. The day also marked the beginning of two things which remained constant through the Retreat: a fire offering in the evening led by Swami Ritavan Bharati-ji, followed by lessons in meditation from Swamiji in the Initiation Room. Swamiji’s presence and his love, which was soaked in the grace and blessings of the Lineage, were an inexpressible privilege shared not only by the children, but also those of us looking on.
Christmas was marked by worship offered to Mother Mary in the morning, and Swamiji drew our attention to the resonances between seemingly diverse traditions, which are perhaps accessible when the seeker is truly immersed in the experiences of any one of them. Late afternoon, the children from the ashram family who were to leave in the evening received their presents from Swamiji. Celebrations in the evening began auspiciously with Swamiji’s address, and the Italian Group, led by Debora Ghiraldelli, told us the story of the birth of Baby Jesus, through narrative and music. There was a certain sense of suspension of time itself and a collapse of distance as we heard the story, and it served to emphasize the sacred nature of this instance of coming together. This was further accentuated as Pierre-ji led everyone in singing ‘Silent Night’.
We even had Santa Claus (Yoong ji, very graciously…but don’t tell the kids!) come in with his delightful reindeer and give out presents! And yet, for all the presents the children got, the most precious were sacred Rudrakshas they received from Swamiji himself.
The day after Christmas, the older children were led by Divya-ji in a workshop which compelled them to contemplate more deeply about certain questions about the origins and sources of true happiness, and in the afternoon, Maithili Didi introduced the children to the story of Rama. Her interaction with children was beautiful, and almost as a microcosm of the larger tradition of the Ramayana, it was explored in prose, poetry, song, and art! Again, in line with the Ramayana tradition more generally, the children were exposed to the more mystical aspects of the narrative in an almost effortless manner.
That evening, children from Bhagaban Dev-ji’s Navaprabhat Ashram performed a dance and a play which was performed entirely in Sanskrit. These addressed grave questions of female foeticide and more generally suggested an approach to gender which, rather than being located in a cultural vacuum, drew upon traditional portrayals of the feminine to fashion a response to these issues.
On the 27th, Yuko-ji introduced calligraphy through the characters representing ‘Light’ and ‘Love’, which were both thoughtfully selected and beautifully explained by her. Of course, the kids also had a great time making a bit of a mess!
After dinner, the kids discussed how various global problems are tied up with human frailties which spiritual systems seek to address and chanted from the Ramcharitmanas.
Over the next two days, two very special guests, Tanya and Prashant, came to lead the children in one of the activities they seemed to enjoy the most. They ran a workshop called ‘Mitti ke Khel’, where they were taught to fashion various objects out of clay, which were then baked before they painted them. Through this, they were not only encouraged to let their creativity run free, but also introduced, subtly, to ideas of collaborative effort, and the futility of competition.
On the last day, the children walked alongside the holy waters of Ganga to our other ashram on her banks, Sadhana Mandir, and the sacred space therein which was the kutiya of Sri Swami Veda Bharati-ji. This visit beautifully exemplified that which was initiated during Guru Puja the first day, and reinforced through the worship offered to Mother Mary, the remembrance of Sri Rama, and most importantly, the one hour of yajna and meditation with Swamiji, which was when that which informs all our endeavours as a Sangha was most palpable. Effortlessly, all of this became part of what the children did through the day, and under the loving care of the ashram teachers and our volunteers, the children learned the basics of hatha yoga, and breathing practices, the ashram prayers, and even thought about why yoga matters.
That evening, we all reflected on the retreat, and watched beautiful videos about Sadhana Mandir and Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, followed by a lovely video put together by Yuko-ji, who then read out Swami Ritavan Bharati-ji’s ‘Spiritual Message for This Holy-Days Season’, and showcased the children’s handiwork, while also reflecting on the retreat and presenting the ‘Spiritual Journal’ put together by Veda Youth for the children. As Swamiji reminded us, this was a coming together of family; and the presence of Yoong-ji, a deeply revered family elder, during this time was a beautiful privilege.
Everyone at the ashram pulled together, from classes to snack-time to workshops—and crucially, in creating a loving atmosphere such that some of the kids (and their parents) were reluctant to leave! Adhikari-ji, Pierre-ji, Ramprakash-ji, Meena-ji, Ramcharit-ji, JP-ji, Mamta-ji, Surendra-ji, and Gita-ji were always there to guide the children, of course, but also the Veda Youth volunteers, while Yeahee-ji, Mahimah-ji, Tejaswini mataji, and Kapoor mataji made sure the children were lovingly cared for. Divya-ji facilitated everything, and without her the retreat would have been impossible to run, and Rabindra-ji’s loving (sometimes stern!) guidance and leadership of Veda Youth was indispensable. Namita Sinha, even though she couldn’t be present at the retreat itself, provided invaluable guidance. For everyone there during this time, the ashram was pervaded by a joy, a holy celebration of that which Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama embodies.