Head of Rishikesh's well-known ashram, Parmarth Niketan, Swami Chidanand Saraswati is not only a karma yogi devoted to providing myriad services to the needy but also the inspiration behind the multi-volume Encyclopaedia of Hinduism
Service Above Self
Jai Gange. Hail Mother Ganga.The sun's setting rays fall on the waves and the flames of the diyas burn bright floating with the breeze. The crowd at the Parmarth Niketan ghat doubles. Today Swamiji will also be present at the evening aarti at the banks of the Ganga. The daily ritual starts with a havan (fire ritual). Then there is the famous Ganga aarti. Bal munis with their traditional dress of dhoti, kurta and gamcha come to attend this special event. Three big diyas are lit and passed around to the crowd at the end.
Swami Shukdevanand (1901-1965) established Parmarth Niketan in 1942. To administer it, the Shukdevanand Trust was registered in 1962. The trust aims at spreading spiritual awareness, charitable services and youth education programmes.
Mahamandaleshwar Swami Asanganand Saraswati, managing trustee of the trust since 1992, is an acharya in Vedantic and Sanskrit literature. He came to Parmarth Niketan in the 1960s and began his sadhana (practice) under the guidance of Swami Shukdevanand.
While other ashrams are mere pilgrim spots, Parmarth operates for the good of the society also. On its premises are an allopathic charitable hospital, homoeopathic pharmacy, nature cure and yoga center, Sanskrit college, mother's training institute, music school, sanskar vidya mandir and a gurukul. The ashram also holds many health camps all over the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.
There are many statues of Hindu deities on the premises. Pilgrims come from many places here to do puja and perform havans. Bhagavad Gita discourses are held from early morning till late at night. There are around 1,000 rooms.
The day begins with puja in the main temple. "Instead of prasad (offerings), we prefer to distribute tulsi (basil) and small peepal trees," says Pratibha Joshi, yoga teacher who also manages the gurukul and day-to-day running of the ashram. There are yoga and meditation classes every morning and evening. Simple, nutritious food is served in the canteen.
The ashram is developing its backyard into a virtual Garden of Eden. Called Shangri-La, this holy sanctuary will consist of meditation gardens, healing pools, fountains, streams and walking paths.
Two books about Swami Chidanand Saraswati are distributed free of cost. "We always ask Swamiji why he doesn't charge for them. But like a true server, he says that it isn't worth it," says Bhagwati or Phoebe Garfield. Earlier an actress in Hollywood, Phoebe came to Rishikesh quite some time ago. She acts as personal assistant to Swami Chidanand and has been formally initiated into the sect.
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