Tapasyalayam, a beautiful, peaceful ashram where Nightingales sing and the Ganga flows swiftly by, was recently the site of a stunning historic event. From May 26 through May 28, over 1000 villagers, scholars and visitors from the UK, Brazil, Germany, the U.S. and India participated in the festival known as Ganga Dasahara, the anniversary of GangaMa's arrival on earth.
In spite of predictions for rain each day, the weather was pleasant and every evening blessing came from the heavens in the form of cool showers. Preparations for the event were managed with the help of a team of local youth from the villages and the team of Purna Vidya volunteers.
On the first day of the Festival, the ‘Nag Devatas’ from the nearby villages of Netala, Nad, Ganeshpur and Hina were welcomed by Swamiji and Ammaji into the Ashram to the beats of the traditional 'dol' (drums). A traditional welcome was also given to the ‘Kalash’ (Pot of Ganga water) with the ‘Danda’ (holy stick of Gangaji), brought that same day to Tapasyalayam from Gangotri temple.
Daily, from 9 a.m. until noon, the priests, along with Swamiji and Ammaji, conducted an elaborate puja to the Devatas. At 2 p.m. each day, Ammaji was guided to the stage by the Netala Village president and the head priest, and invited to occupy the ‘Vyas Peeth’ (seat of learning) to give the daily discourse. Rarely, if ever, has a sadhvi been given such an honor by traditional priests in the Himalayas. Ammaji spoke each afternoon about the importance of maintaining the ancient Ganga culture, and how these villagers are doing that in their daily lives. She spoke eloquently to the village children, youth and adults, reminding them about their duty to protect Gangaji; to help keep her pure and not to pollute the holy waters or the banks.
Each day, village women sang lovely and melodious local Garhwali bhajans, accompanied by musicians and ashram volunteers. Local village girls who have done well in studies were honoured by Swamiji, Ammaji and other dignitaries as part of the ‘Vidya-Danam’, one of the key Purna Vidya initiatives in Education that Ammaji has brought to the area. Through this effort, the daughters of the local villages are encouraged to study and do well in their schools. Each day closed with the ‘Maha-arati’ pooja to Gangaji followed by maha-prasadam for all the hundreds of devotees who attended the function.
On the third and final day of ‘Ganga Dasahara,’ everyone took a dip in the holy waters of Gangaji. A ‘homam’ (fire ritual) was performed, during which everybody gave offerings to the sacred fire. All the priests and villagers who contributed to the success of the function were thanked by Swamiji and Ammaji for their participation.
This festival provided a truly memorable experience to all who witnessed it. The presence of and interaction with the Nag Devatas was a true blessing for the gathering. Each Nag Devata, along with the Danda of Gangaji, departed from the Ashram in the afternoon of the third day to their respective villages, leaving behind a deep sense of loss, as all present related to them as their personal deities seeking their advice and grace in their lives. The presence of the Nagdevatas at the Festival was a joy to behold, leaving everyone who participated feeling grateful for the blessing they bestowed.