A homecoming for kindred spirits
Starting off as a writer and healer, Chitra Jha has evolved into a veritable New Age guide to hundreds of women who follow her Facebook posts religiously and throng her Maika retreats to heal and grow spiritually. Ritu Gupta Ahluwalia, one of her admirers and beneficiaries, writes about the experience of being part of Chitra’s trailblazing sangha and how it changed the lives of all those associated with it.
One of the most basic of human pursuits is the deep need to belong. From being hunter-gatherers, who moved as tribes, to more organised and evolved social circles segmented by religion and culture, our association has been our identity.
Sangha, as my friend Priyanka Ghode shares, comes from two words: ‘Sah,’ meaning ‘together’ and ‘anga,’ meaning ‘a part of the body.’ If sangha is the body, its people are the different parts, who come together and feel that they belong to each other, sharing a common intention or a goal, thriving on mutual love and respect, and living in complete awareness.
The concept of ‘sangha’ or ‘community’ has been in existence since the time of Buddha or, maybe, even earlier. Gautama Buddha professed ‘Sangham Sharanam Gachchami,’ which means ‘to take refuge in the sangha’ or ‘to be in sangha.’ The sanghas were created for people who came together as followers of someone or of a common belief. The late Swami Kriyananda’s Ananda Sangha is one such intentional community.
Chitra Jha’s sangha is a unique community of women who come together to share, learn, heal, and grow with each other’s support. When I had begun following Chitra Jha’s posts on Facebook in 2014, little had I known that one day, I would become a part of her inner circle and find my own community of like-minded friends as well. I first came to know about Chitra at Dr Newton Kondaveti’s workshop, where a stall displayed the book she had co-authored with him. When her name popped up in the ‘suggested friends’ list on Facebook, I sent her a friend request, which was quickly accepted by her.
I found that Chitra freely shared her life lessons on her Facebook timeline, which was very inspiring. I could glean many useful insights from her posts and found her refreshingly different from other healers. The healing industry is full of people who have a lot of undigested gyan (knowledge). Whereas, her posts, even when she shared wisdom from other masters, were very real and relatable.
Besides me, other women too were hooked onto Chitra’s posts, and we were becoming a community of our own. Like others, I too was eager to experience Chitra’s energy in person, and when she announced her Reiki workshop in Ambala in 2016, I grabbed the opportunity. Upon attending her workshop, I found her to be very clear, grounded, and open. Her energy was warm and self-assured. The workshop content was dynamic, and Chitra brought her unique authenticity to her programmes. Later, to get the group in sync, she created a WhatsApp group of all the participants to help them get a better insight about their issues. The Sangha grew organically before my eyes and has become a veritable force in itself.
Chitra says, “The purpose of the Sangha is self-empowerment, authenticity, being true to our selves, personal as well as collective growth, and the need for a like-minded-and-like-hearted-souls group.
I did not create the Sangha; it just got created—organically. First, on Facebook and then, as we met in person, the bond strengthened.”
Chitra’s is not a closed community with rules and regulations. Rather, it is an ever-flowing, ever-changing, ever-evolving river. People come, people go, people stay, people grow. It is all about individual freedom. The shared stories of laughter and triumph, as well as of sorrow, grief, anger, sickness, and what have you, keep the Sangha in the flow of love. Their subjectivity holds them together in a space of mutual nourishment.
Chitra adds, “Our activities include, primarily, my workshops (both on WhatsApp and in person); and then we have the Maika retreats, workshop tourism, travelling together, and peer support circle. Now we are considering (and sincerely working towards) creating a Co-Operative Living Space, where some of us pool in our resources to live together while growing our own food: at least, vegetables, herbs, and fruits.”
Be as you are
The Maika Sangha, as Chitra calls her sisterhood circle, is an intentional community where participants feel a sense of belonging. It started as a circle of friends coming together, sharing personal stories, learning from each other and grew organically into an intentional community and continues to thrive on the basic intention of self-empowerment, authenticity, and personal as well as collective growth. In my personal experience, what makes our Sangha different from the other sanghas is the ‘freedom to be.’ There are no set rules, no life members, no guru. There is no fixed name either. We call it ‘Maika Sangha’ for it is a gift to us women who come together to celebrate the joys of being in our Maika (the parental home of a bride). It begins with Chitra’s WhatsApp and in-person workshops. People join in as participants (some for the first time), derive value from the self-work done in the workshops, and begin yearning for more. Some become repeat participants, and somewhere in between their shared stories of laughter and triumph as well as their sorrows, grief, anger, pains, sickness, and a lot of clearing up, growth happens. And just like that, the Sangha grows. We become friends connected with love.
Selfless support from sisters
Unlike the clichéd sanghas where everyone follows a guru and his teachings, Maika Sangha is like coming home to your own people. There are no followers—no one is followed. Participants together seek personal and collective growth, holding the space for one another, striving to live each day in complete awareness, acknowledging everything that rises from within them, and feeling their feelings fully.
Sonnal Pardiwala, a Reiki practitioner from Mumbai, says, “I have been part of this Sangha for two years now. The workshops held me in my tender moments of grief and bereavement during my mother’s demise and father’s estrangement. When I needed funds for my husband’s dream, the Sangha members came forward and offered generously, including Chitra Jha herself, without asking the what, where, or why of the need. The funds that were raised aided the travel, venue, and pre-production work. Their generosity touched me deeply and gave me hope that humanity hasn’t ceased to exist. I felt held, supported, and heard. I do not have relatives on any side, but I know I can call my Sangha, should I need any help, be it emotional, physical, or financial. Of all the support, the emotional one makes the deepest difference. I can be honest, transparent, and candid about all that I am. I love the Sangha for all the belonging it gives me.”
Manju Garg Dhingra, a former banker and Chitra’s follower, says, “In 2016, while staying at Hyderabad, I chanced to read a few of Chitra’s posts on Swabhav, Swadharm, and Sanskar and was drawn to her like one possessed. I immediately got tickets booked for Ambala, where she was staying at that time, and I was more than happy to meet her. She did a Family Constellation on me along with ancestral healing. I felt on top of the world while leaving that space. The next day again, I met her with my husband and our friend, and they were also mesmerised by Chitra. We purchased all her books and returned happily. I got enrolled for the Family Constellation workshop, which was to be held at Zorba, and was a part of the WhatsApp group, but as destiny would have it, I got diagnosed with breast cancer and could not make it to the workshop. I was heartbroken, but she guided me so well all through my trial, that the testing time passed off pretty easily. I hold immense respect and gratitude for her in my heart.”
“Since then, I have been observing a huge dynamic growth. I am someone who had been so caught up in the whirlwind of life that I hardly had time for myself or for the fulfilment of my own desires and passions. As there was nothing like personal time or ‘me time’ in my schedule, I could not make any meaningful, deep relationships as they require a lot of time and free mental space. Chitra’s Sangha fulfils me on that front too. I have made so many meaningful relationships and friendships through Chitra’s Sangha. I have learnt so much by being a part of her WhatsApp workshops and in-person workshops that I feel like a totally different person.”
“The Maika retreats and tourism workshops add an altogether divine flavour to the entire experience. I always remember and bless Chitra and my Sangha with a smile on my lips.”
Since it is an organically formed sangha, Chitra cannot tell how many people are there in it. “Every month, I have had 100 people in my workshops, for the past 30 months or so. Some are repeats and some are new faces. So I do not care to keep tabs of how many people profess by my Sangha,” she says.
Together in peace
We are our stories, as they say, and there is no bigger joy than to have your own people to share it with, in a non-judgemental space where each one thrives and shines through their truest potential. Our Sangha is one such community. We work harder than yesterday each day. We rise, we fall, we break, and we rise again and shine brighter together, building on our friendship and remaining in gratitude towards the Grand Overall Design that brought us all together through Chitra Jha.
Today, as we stand, Sangha activities involve Chitra Jha’s workshops both on WhatsApp and in person, and also the Maika retreats, workshop tourism, travelling together, and peer support circles. The seed has been sown for having a Community Living Space, where some of us, the Sangha members, intend to pool in our resources and develop a permaculture farm where we can live together in harmony with nature, grow our own vegetables, herbs, and fruits and celebrate life, thereby creating a better, happier, peaceful world TOGETHER. A place that we call OUR HOME!
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